Good things come in small packages, which is an especially entertaining notion on Thanksgiving. On the day of excess, the word "small" fits about as well as the belt around your middle.
But when the packages are breads, side dishes and desserts made in muffin tins, it all starts to make sense. You're using every other pan and bowl you own to make the annual feast, so why not haul out the muffin tins? They are good for plenty beyond cupcakes and muffins, including side dishes special enough for the holiday table.
Besides adding whimsy to the plate, foods prepared in muffin tins cook faster than they do in larger pans. Quick-cooking diva Rachael Ray is a vocal cheerleader for meatloaf made in muffin tins. The standard loaf needs about an hour in the oven; the individually sized versions take about half that time.
We've tinkered with Ray's Stuffin' Muffin recipe to create a simpler version. Her stuffing is made from scratch; ours is a mix that has been doctored. Still, delish, as she would say.
Here's the beauty: Apple Stuffin' Muffins can be popped into the oven after the turkey comes out. While the big bird is resting, your little mounds of stuffing studded with apple, celery and onion are baking to a delicious golden brown.
There are three sizes of muffin tins. The standard 12-cup tin, a mini-muffin tin (12 or 24 cups) that's perfect for bite-sized tarts and small appetizers, and a six-cup jumbo tin for oversized offerings. There are also muffin-top tins developed for people who think the only good part of the muffin is the slightly crispy top.
Muffin pans are not always metal. Pliable silicone molds work well, too, but their floppy nature makes them a challenge to handle. Place them on baking sheets to transport to the oven and for easy removal. Metal pans should not be too thin or you'll risk burning the outside of the food before the inside is done.
Sweet Potato Phyllo Purses are sophisticated sides, with dramatic flair. Baked, mashed sweet potato is mixed with feta cheese, honey, cayenne, cinnamon and chopped pistachios, then scooped into layers of phyllo dough pressed into muffin cups. Bring the corners together, like the classic chef's beggar's purse, and sprinkle with more nuts. They don't take long in the oven and are a lovely alternative to the cloying marshmallow-sweet potato goo.
Hash Brown Potato Nests can be made as appetizers in a mini-muffin tin or as a larger side dish in a 12-cup tin. Make the crispy nests a day ahead, cool, then refrigerate. To recrisp, place in a 350-degree oven for about five minutes. Watch closely. We piled our nests with sour cream, bacon and chives, and a delicious appetizer would be smoked salmon, sour cream and red onion.
Confetti Muffins are studded with sauteed red and green peppers and seasoned with tarragon and basil. They are an interesting alternative to traditional rolls. Make them several days in advance, cool and freeze. They are best served warm, so reheat them in a low oven.
Muffin Tin Apple Pie and Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins are both fitting dessert offerings. For people who struggle with pie crusts, the muffin tin version is most forgiving. The rustic look is good here. Serve with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The cheesecake muffins can serve as a sweet nosh after dinner or as breakfast the morning after. Or maybe as a midnight snack. They are yummy, and if you make nothing else in your muffin tin, make these.
They are truly good things in small packages.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.
Muffin Tin Apple Pie
2 Granny Smith apples
¼ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 premade pie crusts
Peel, core and chop the apples.
Combine and toss the apples, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.
Unroll the pie crust on your work space. Sprinkle with flour and roll a bit thinner with a rolling pin. With a 4-inch (diameter) cup, glass or bowl, cut out 6 circles. (If you don't have enough dough, use the second crust.) Place one crust circle in each of 6 standard-sized muffin cups, and press to mold it to the inside.
Evenly divide the apple mixture into the muffin cups.
Knead the leftover crust pieces and roll it out with your rolling pin. Cut thin strips of crust and place them over the little pies, first one way then the other, making a lattice on each.
Cut off any excess crust from the thin strips and press the edges of the top and bottom crusts together by pinching or using a fork.
Bake the muffin tin apple pies in a preheated 425-degree oven for 15 minutes. Allow the tiny pies to cool within the muffin tin before removing them.
Hash Brown Potato Nests
1/2 pound frozen shredded hash brown potatoes thawed
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup sour cream
5 bacon slices, cooked crisp, crumbled, divided
2 teaspoons chives, sliced thin, divided
In a medium bowl, mix together potatoes, onion, egg, salt and pepper. Generously butter or coat 6 cups in a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray. For each nest, spoon 2 tablespoons of the mixture into the palm of your hand, squeeze out excess liquid, form into a ball and fit into a muffin cup, pushing mixture up the sides forming a basket. Repeat this process until all 6 muffin cups are formed.
Bake on bottom rack of oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until crispy; check frequently. Remove from oven to cool on a rack. Baskets can be made ahead of time; put them in the oven at a low temperature to crisp up before filling them.
In a small bowl, mix together sour cream, salt, pepper, crumbled bacon and chives (reserve some for garnish). Spoon filling into each nest, garnish and serve.
Note: Using a mini-muffin pan, this makes 12 appetizer servings.
Source: Adapted from finedinings.com
Sweet Potato Phyllo Purses
2 medium sweet potatoes, baked, cooled and peeled
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup roughly chopped pistachios, more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
2 tablespoons honey
Coarse salt and ground pepper
5 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly mash sweet potatoes in medium bowl and add feta, 3 tablespoons pistachios, cinnamon, cayenne and honey. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Lightly oil 6 standard muffin cups. Lay 1 sheet phyllo on a work surface and, with a pastry brush, lightly brush with oil. Stack 4 more phyllo sheets on top, brushing each with oil. Cut into 6 squares. Gently press one square into each muffin cup and fill with 1/4 cup sweet potato mixture. Gently fold over corners of phyllo to enclose filling. Brush tops with oil and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon pistachios. Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool in pan, 5 minutes. Serve packets warm or at room temperature.
Garnish with chopped nuts.
Source: Janet K. Keeler, St. Petersburg Times
Apple Stuffin' Muffins
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 red apple, cored and chopped in 1/4-inch cubes
1 box stuffing, prepared according to box directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium-sized skillet, melt butter. Add onion and celery and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add apple and cook for another minute.
Place prepared stuffing in a bowl and add sauteed mixture. Toss lightly.
Lightly grease 12-cup muffin tin. Using an ice cream scoop, mound stuffing into tins.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until top is brown and crusty.
Source: Janet K. Keeler, St. Petersburg Times
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/3 cup chopped scallions
1/3 cup minced sweet red pepper
1/4 cup minced green bell pepper
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
2/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
In a large bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. In a skillet, saute scallions and peppers in butter until tender. Stir in parsley; cook for 10 minutes. In a bowl, beat eggs, sour cream and mustard. Add scallion mixture. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins
Nonstick cooking spray
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 (14-ounce) package pumpkin quick bread
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup chopped pecans
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray.
Beat cream cheese in medium bowl with electric mixer until soft. Add egg, sugar and lemon peel. Beat until smooth.
Place pumpkin bread mix into large bowl. Remove 3/4 cup dry mix and set aside in small bowl to make topping. Add milk, oil and egg to remaining bread mix in large bowl. Stir 50 strokes or until blended.
Fill each muffin cup with about 1/4 cup batter. Make indentation in batter with small measuring spoon sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Put 1 heaping tablespoon cream cheese mixture in center of each muffin.
Add melted butter to reserved dry mix. Stir with fork until crumbly. Add pecans. Crumble about 1 tablespoon over each muffin.
Bake 20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Remove muffins from pan. Place on baking rack to finish cooling.
Makes 12 muffins.