There’s a reason brunch is such a popular pastime, and it’s likely the same reason diners like Denny’s serve giant omelets and greasy potatoes at all hours of the day: breakfast fare is the bomb. It’s nutritious (well, when it’s not doused in oil or fried), filling, and undeniably comforting. Yet even though we have much love and appreciation for eggs, pancakes, and other supposed hallmarks of the morning meal, how many of us actually eat these things in the morning? At 7 a.m. on a given weekday, are the majority of us whipping up frittatas or are we racing out the door with a piece of toast haphazardly smeared with jam?
Hence the increasing popularity of breakfast for dinner, or “brinner,” as it’s called in some circles. Often considered the last resort of the truly exhausted come dinnertime, brinner has far more benefits than just simplicity. When you sup brinner-style, you’re also eating economically (eggs and grains don’t cost much), healthfully (eggs and grains are also nutritional powerhouses, plus they lend themselves well to vegetables), and perhaps most importantly of all, enjoyably.
When it comes to one-skillet meals, few are as easy as the basic egg scramble or omelet. Throw some oil or butter, eggs, and a handful of veggies into the pan, and you’ve got a nutritious and delicious meal in mere minutes. But if that sounds too basic for your brinner, there’s more than one way to cook an egg. Frittatas and quiches are a simple, tasty variation on the usual omelet; try a crab avocado fritatta or a crustless quiche, which takes even less prep. Breakfast casseroles, like an asparagus, mushroom, and goat cheese concoction, bring the one-pot method to the baking dish. If you’re craving pizza, Smitten Kitchen has a delectable recipe for breakfast pizza that you can easily tailor to fit your tastes.
The spicy, robust flavors of Mexican dishes make for terrific additions to the dinner plate as well. All you need are eggs, tortillas, beans, cheese, and salsa to make anything from serrano chile–spiked chilaquiles to hearty huevos rancheros (which are like chilaquiles, but without tortilla chips mixed into the eggs).
Waffles, Pancakes, and Muffins
The trend of pairing fried chicken with waffles that’s spread over the past few years may have triggered a newer trend of usually sweet breakfast foods’ turning savory. Modern variations of waffles, pancakes, and muffins make them more appropriate for evening eating. (Not that there’s anything wrong with eating a plate of syrupy waffles on a Wednesday night; sometimes you have to do what feels right.) Cheddar and green chile waffles would taste great with a poached egg on top, or as an accompaniment to a Mexican-inspired dish. If that combination sounds like a stretch, check out Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis’s cinnamon and pancetta waffles, which are mostly sweet with just a hint of salt. Pancakes can also be made sans butter and syrup—use smoked salmon or tomato-chard sauce as toppings instead.
Even muffins, which are really just glorified cupcakes most of the time, can be transformed into appetizing companions to soups and salads. AllRecipes.com has two popular recipes—one that uses zucchini and another that opts for a Parmesan-rosemary blend—that are appetizing alternatives to the standard dinner roll. For something truly unique, try Heidi Swanson’s pumpkin and feta muffins.
Oatmeal, Polenta, and Other Grains
We may think of oatmeal as being solely a vehicle for fruit, milk, and sugar, but like any other grain, oats are bland and can take on a plethora of flavors. Think of them as grits, which are served both sweet and savory. According to New York Times food writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman, oatmeal works well with soy sauce and scallions. (His take is similar to the Asian breakfast staple congee (also called jook). Throw a couple of eggs on top (poached, scrambled, hard-boiled, or whatever your preference) and you’ve got a balanced, comforting start to dinner. If oats aren’t your thing, polenta is a great substitution; look at this breakfast polenta for ingredient ideas.
Bacon is having a moment right now, which means other traditional breakfast meats will have their fifteen minutes soon enough. Get on the bandwagon early with recipes like sausage and cheese breakfast casserole and corned beef hash with poached eggs. Or bring pork products to even more indulgent heights with Real Simple’s grilled ham and cheese waffle sandwiches and Martha Stewart’s Savory French toast BLT.
These recipes are fun and fancy takes on the breakfast-for-dinner trend, but keep in mind that a crucial part of the enjoyment of eating eggs and pancakes for dinner is that it’s uncomplicated. At its essence, brinner should be easy and stress-free; otherwise, the comforting aspect goes right out the window. When you want breakfast to feel more like an event than a mere substitution for usual dinner fare, any of these recipes should suffice. But when you’re looking for the satisfaction and simplicity of breakfast at night, stick to what you know and love. Everyone has their own version of brinner that works for her. After consulting my coworkers, for example, I learned that scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms and buttered toast make for a fine dinner, as does “eggs in a basket” (an egg cooked in the middle of a slice of bread and sprinkled with cheese and chives), served with a side salad or hot tomato soup, as well as a chorizo-infused breakfast burrito.
But regardless of whether you choose dishes that you know like the back of your hand or try something a bit more involved, breakfast fare remains the perfect antidote to dinnertime doldrums and a break from routine that allows you to revisit oft-neglected breakfast goodies. And with the right recipes for inspiration, you may never again think of eggs, oatmeal, and the like as mere morning staples.