Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_MUFFIN_FI_001

Do You Know the Muffin Pan?

One piece of cookware that can do more than you think

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I hope the giddiness I get from not following the rules anymore never fades as I go further into adulthood.

For example, I slept perpendicular-ly on the bed last night. Why? (Well, partially because I’m pretty short). BECAUSE I CAN. Deal with it.

This may be most exciting with food choices. Want to have Nutella for (not with) lunch? You’re allowed. And even if your idiosyncratic cravings don’t flout nutritional wisdom, it’s liberating just to know that nobody’s watching what you do anymore. (Things I have eaten as meals in the past month include: a chicken finger wrapped in a slice of plastic American cheese; a tub of hummus; a batch of miniature donuts; a carrot; wine; a jar of sun-dried tomatoes I got free from work; and a bag of popcorn drizzled with hot sauce.) Again, deal with it.

Now, consider the muffin. Muffins are a more socially acceptable way to do exactly what you secretly want to, which in this case is have cake for breakfast. And now, consider the muffin tin, which is a tool you can use to make all sorts of things that aren’t muffins. It’s meta. It’s also an entertaining way to eat, whether you’re serving yourself dinner or offering your friends nibbles from a tray at a sophisticated soiree. Here are a half dozen non-muffin muffins to try.

Mini Frittatas
Yes, I just wanted another excuse to make a frittata. But this is my favorite. Whip up any regular frittata mixture — a good basic one is about six eggs, 3 slices cooked, chopped bacon, ¼ cooked onion, a handful of wilted spinach, ½ chopped tomato, and salt and pepper to taste. If you have scallions, corn, or crumbly cheese, toss that in, too. Then instead of baking in a cast-iron skillet, pour the mixture into a muffin tin’s (lightly greased) receptacles, filling them not quite all the way to the top. Bake for 10 minutes at 375, or until set.

Single-serving Au Gratin
Peel and thinly slice several potatoes (or sweet potatoes). Layer each greased cup with slices and grated cheese (try Parm or Swiss) and finely chopped onion, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Pour a tablespoon of heavy cream or milk over each cup. Cover the whole pan with foil and bake for a half hour at 375. Then remove the foil and bake another 10-15 minutes. They’re small, so they don’t count. If you’re counting.

Baby Meatloaf
I guess it’s not really a loaf anymore, but Meatpods doesn’t have the same ring to it. Use any meatloaf recipe (I used ground turkey, chopped onion, and diced red bell pepper because that’s what was in my fridge. Blended it with garlicky adobo seasoning and poof, actually tasted good.). Spoon the meatstuff into greased muffin cups and throw some barbecue sauce on the top of each because, hey, who doesn’t like more barbecue sauce? Bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 450.

Frozen Stock
If freezing stock or lemon juice in ice cube trays wasn’t extreme enough for you (or if you regularly use 1/8 cup or ¼ cup amounts), measure your liquids and freeze in muffin tins instead for easy storage and use in future recipes.

Puffins in a Blanket
For that name, you’re welcome. Prepare a batch of pancake mix. In each greased muffin cup, bury a cocktail weenie or a chunk of breakfast sausage. Then, pour mix to fill the cup. Bake for 15-ish minutes or until set. I do recommend advertising these as plain cornbread, sans weenie, then waiting for the reaction.

Fail-safe Dessert
This isn’t really a recipe, I know. But spoon any kind of pudding or custard into the bottom of a paper-cup-lined muffin tin, then sprinkle a layer of crumbled cookie or brownie, then top with a dollop of whipped cream. No baking, no burning, no setting the fire alarm off. Which I only did twice during testing for this story so A+ for me.

Illustration by Claire Jelly.

Mara Miller is a writer and editor who lives in Fairmount. She studied Classics at Haverford College. Cursed with a parent with mad cooking skills, Mara spent the first 18 years of her life being fed delicious cuisine and the next several subsisting on dining hall mystery meat and granola bars. Then she got a kitchen. Her Kitchen Hacks column is for the aspiring mediocre chef in all of us. Follow her on Twitter: @maralmiller.

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