Breakfast-For-Dinner Shame Should Be Put To Bed
A couple of years back, I was trying to help a friend come up with some quick and easy dinner plans. She was swamped at work, her husband was out of town, and her two young kids needed the usual amount of attention. I asked what she'd been cooking lately. She listed a handful of dishes — nothing fancy but certainly nothing to sniff at. Also, she admitted with some level of embarrassment, they'd been having a lot of breakfast for dinner.
There always seems be some shame in having breakfast for dinner. Every time someone scrambles up an egg, or plops some pancake batter on the griddle, there's an accompanying feeling of not being a Proper Adult. PAs clearly know the difference between breakfast and dinner, and feed their family the appropriate meal for the hour (and also never, say, get past-due notices for their forgotten health insurance copays). But I argue that we should let go of those prejudices.
Breakfast foods have a lot to recommend them. They usually involve pantry staples (eggs, flour, potatoes), which have the benefit of being both readily on hand and fairly inexpensive — a boon for a weeknight supper. Admittedly, a pantry focus means that these dishes aren't always as vegetable-filled as we may like. But there's no rule against adding a salad, or a side of broccoli. Breakfast-for-dinner also features a welcome relative ease of preparation, as well as the slightly topsy-turvy, wearing-pajamas-to-school fun of busting out morning food as the sun goes down.
So, yes, you can flip up a short stack of syrupy pancakes and bacon, or a plate of sunny side ups and hash browns and delight everyone at the dinner table. But why stop there? Why not, say, make savory pancakes studded with peas? Or bake the eggs in a seasoned sauce, which they'll sop up deliciously, and swap in a nice crusty loaf for the usual toast slices. And, delightfully, standard hash browns can be cooked to crisp perfection in a waffle iron, for a latke-like hybrid of the best of breakfast. Or even — oh, delight! — fry up a saucy plate of fried tortillas for one of the best Mexican breakfast-for-dinners in town?
With a roster like this, there is clearly no shame in serving morning meals out of turn. They make for an easy, thrifty, dare I say fun home-cooked dinner, sure to delight everyone at the table. Which is what any Proper Adult aims for, anyway.
I first saw the delightful idea of cooking hash browns in a waffle iron on the blog Tea and Cookies — and promptly wondered why we didn't always make them this way. I adapted a version of my favorite latke recipe, for a more cohesive hash-brown cake. Smoked salmon and sour cream make a great topping, but you can also use a runny poached egg or a dollop of sour cream and applesauce.
Makes about 4 waffles, depending on the size of your iron
3 medium or 2 very large russet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 yellow onion
1 large egg
1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt
Several grinds pepper
High-heat oil (such as grapeseed or canola) for greasing the waffle iron
Sour cream, chives and smoked salmon for serving, if desired
Line a strainer with a large piece of cheesecloth or a loose-weave dishtowel, and place in the sink or over a bowl. Shred the potatoes and onions on the coarse holes of a box grater and place the shreds in the lined strainer, alternating between the two and mixing the shreds together (the onions will help keep the potatoes from discoloring).
Pick up the ends of the dishtowel or cheesecloth and gather it around the load of shredded vegetables. Twist and squeeze to wring as much liquid as possible from the mixture, twisting further as more liquid is released. When it's as dry as possible, place the wrung-out mixture in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the egg, flour, salt and pepper.
Preheat a waffle iron (if it has settings, go for medium-high). Brush generously with oil, then add enough of the potato mixture to form a solid layer. Brush the top of this mixture with additional oil, then close the lid and press down firmly. (The potatoes will resist more than a batter, so you want to press down enough to ensure full iron contact, for maximum crusty results.) Bake until the waffle is well browned — at least 5 minutes and possibly longer (again, depending on your iron). Serve, topped with sour cream and smoked salmon, if desired.
It's hard to imagine a better sloppy breakfast than tortilla chips simmered in a flavorful salsa, topped with a crumble of cheese and onions and cilantro. You can enjoy as is, or bolster things further by adding a fried egg or pairing with some beans and rice. And while the simmering sauce (adapted from a recipe in Rick Bayless' Mexico: One Plate at a Time) isn't too hard to make, you can easily swap it for a similar amount of your favorite jarred salsa.
Makes 4 to 5 servings
8 medium (2 ounces) dried guajillo or California chilies, stemmed and seeded
1 cup tomato puree
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 dried chipotle chili (optional, if you favor a bit of smoky heat)
1⁄4 teaspoon sugar
Vinegar or lime juice (optional)
6 cups Mexican-style thick tortilla chips
1/2 red or yellow onion, diced or sliced
Mexican crema, creme fraiche or sour cream thinned out with a little milk
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco, cotijo or mild creamy feta cheese
To make the sauce, heat a heavy Dutch oven over high heat. Add the chilies, pressing them down with a spatula, until they toast and become aromatic. If the skillet is hot, this should just take a few seconds per side. Transfer to a small bowl, cover with hot water and let soak for 15 to 20 minutes to soften (you may need to weigh them down with a spatula or another bowl to keep them submerged).
When the chilies have toasted and soaked, drain and transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the tomatoes, garlic and 1 cup of water. Process to yield a smooth puree.
Heat the oil in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and when hot, add the chili puree. Cook, stirring often, until it thickens to the consistency of tomato paste (about 20 minutes). Add the broth and chipotle chili if desired, then simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Season with the sugar and salt to taste (the chips will contribute salt, so you don't need to be too aggressive), adding a splash of vinegar or lime if needed to perk up the flavors. You should have about 4 cups of brothy sauce.
To finish the chilaquiles, stir in the chips until they're coated with the sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and turn off the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes, then uncover and check the chips (you want them softened, but not mushy). Serve, topped with the onion, crema, cheese and cilantro to your taste.
This North African dish is in the same family as Israeli shakshouka or Italian uova in purgatorio, poaching eggs in a seasoned tomato sauce (and then sopping them up with some nice crusty bread). Ras al hanout spice mixture, an aromatic combination that varies shop to shop, would be the typical seasoning, but with just a few pinches of a few different spices you can create your own version. The tomato sauce can be made long in advance, allowing more time for the spices to infuse.
Makes 2 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 cups tomato puree
6 cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
1 stick cinnamon
A few blades mace
1 pinch saffron
1 dried rosebud (optional)
1 handful each chopped cilantro and parsley
8 small green olives
4 large eggs
Salt and pepper
Crusty bread for serving
Heat an ovenproof skillet over medium heat. (If you don't have an ovenproof skillet, use whatever skillet you have, then transfer to ramekins or oven-safe containers before adding the eggs.) Add the oil and the garlic, and saute a few minutes, until the garlic becomes light golden.
Add the turmeric and paprika, and stir for a minute to toast. Then add the tomato puree, cardamom pods, bay leaf, cinnamon, mace, saffron and rosebud (if using). Simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 10 minutes, until the tomato puree reduces somewhat and becomes infused with the seasoning.
When you're ready to make the dish, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Fish out the inedible aromatics from the tomato sauce, and adjust seasonings to taste. If you don't have an ovenproof skillet, you can divide the sauce between two oven-safe ramekins or other containers at this point. Tuck the olives into the sauce.
Make four divots in the sauce, and crack an egg into each one. Drizzle with a bit of additional olive oil (or, if your friends have been kind enough to send it from Morocco, argan oil), and transfer to the oven. Bake until the whites are set and the yolks are runny (or firm, depending on your taste), 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, and serve with crusty bread for scooping.
This classic Finnish dish, adapted here from the classic 1908 cookbook Kotiruoka (Home Cooking), is something between a pancake and a popover — one big, eggy poof. Sliced up into squares, it makes a perfect breakfast-for-dinner, either topped with sweet jam or savory fish/cheese/vegetables.
Makes 8 servings as a snack, 4 as a light meal
3 large eggs
3 1/4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
Toppings of choice (jam, cheese, asparagus, smoked fish)
Beat the eggs for several minutes, until thick and light. In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, flour and salt in a separate bowl, and then mix with the eggs. Let the batter rest 10 minutes.
While the batter is resting, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a jelly-roll pan (or similar pan with a thick rim) with overhanging parchment paper, if you have it, and grease the parchment paper. Otherwise, grease the pan liberally and hope for the best.
After the batter has rested, pour it into the prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, until fluffy and lightly golden in some spots. Cut into squares while still warm, and serve with desired toppings.