Good things come in small packages, 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 doctored mix. 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 piecrusts, 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.
MUFFIN-TIN APPLE PIE
2 Granny Smith apples
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 premade piecrusts
Peel, core and chop the apples.
Combine and toss the apples, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.
Unroll the piecrust 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 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 apple pies in a preheated 425-degree oven for 15 minutes. Allow the tiny pies to cool within the muffin tin before removing them.
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