Food & Drink

Mighty but tiny tastes: Making the most of your muffin tin

Chicken Pot Pie Cups. (Johanna Huckeba/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Chicken Pot Pie Cups. (Johanna Huckeba/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
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Sometimes, you just don’t want to bother with pots and pans.

Sometimes, you want small portions, like tapas. Sometimes, you just want a change.

It is for all of these times that muffin tins were made. Sure, you can use them to make muffins or cupcakes or, best of all, Yorkshire pudding. But an actual trend these days is to use them to make dinner or at least party appetizers.

I set out to explore the limits of muffin tinning by making four radically different types of entrees. One is a breakfast, because breakfast is the most important meal of the day and also because breakfasts are fun to make. If the breakfasts can be eaten with your fingers, so much the better.

One of the dishes I made is a muffin-tin version of macaroni and cheese, because, frankly, it’s macaroni and cheese. No further explanation is needed, right? Another dish just uses the muffin tin to make exceptionally clever buns for muffin-sized sliders.

And one violates my own principle against using prepared doughs (such as puff pastry or biscuit dough) in the muffin tin because I simply couldn’t resist the concept: miniature chicken pot pies with store-bought crescent-roll dough as the crust.

The Chicken Pot Pie Cups, as they are called, do take some work. If you are tempted to believe that meals — or at least appetizers — cooked in muffin tins are easier to make or less time-consuming than their full-sized siblings, you would be mistaken. To make Chicken Pot Pie Cups, you begin by making chicken pot pie.

That means a fair amount of chopping and dicing, and the making of a roux. And because I did not have any cooked chicken on hand, I also had to cook some chicken.

The only part that is simpler than regular chicken pot pie is the use of refrigerated crescent-roll dough in place of homemade puff pastry. If you use store-bought puff pastry, then there is little difference at all — at least in the process of making it.

The real difference is in the eating. These little two-or-three-bite-sized cups are delightful simply by virtue of being small and portable. They are like ordinary chicken pot pies, but more fun.

Fun is key to enjoying Mac and Cheese Cups, too. This dish also requires doing it the hard way by making your own macaroni and cheese, but it is a simple, pared-down version.

No Worcestershire sauce, no ground mustard, no eggs. This mac and cheese is just the basics: butter, flour (OK, you do make a roux), milk, cheese and macaroni.

Once you make it, you bake it — in a muffin tin, of course. The point is to get the macaroni and cheese to set, so you can eat it with your fingers. You get all the wonderful flavor of mac and cheese, without any of the cheese goo.

Next up were Ramen Sliders, which are only partially made in muffin tins.

The slider part is especially creative: you mix ground beef with the seasoning packet from a package of beef or pork ramen and chopped scallions. You cook it in tiny burgers and top it with a slice of hard-cooked egg, a squirt of sriracha and, if you’re adventurous that way, a piece of kimchi.

So where does the muffin tin come in? They’re how you make the bun. Only it isn’t a bun, it’s the cooked noodles from that package of ramen. Placed in the bottom of muffin tins and baked, the noodles become crisp and crunchy.

To be honest, the ramen buns are not the best-tasting thing in the world. They are not bad by any means, but the sliders might be better if they were served on actual buns.

The ramen buns are more of a novelty, a conversation starter. Still, I’m glad I made them. Once.

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I saved breakfast for last, Hash Brown Cups. These are just what they sound like, shredded potatoes cooked inside a muffin tin and then filled with scrambled eggs.

The potatoes are baked, not fried, so you might think they would be relatively healthful. Alas, something is needed to hold the potatoes together, a glue of sorts, and that glue is four tablespoons of butter. That works out to a teaspoon of butter in each cup that is eaten in one, or no more than two, bites. No wonder they taste so good.

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