Food & Drink | June 2016

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Beyond Muffins

We have a pretty good collection of cast-iron cookware, the kind of quality pieces that are passed down from generation to generation. We didn’t inherit any of our pieces, however.

I think the first one we owned was a 10-inch skillet that a public relations person sent me when I was the food editor of another publication some years back. When we got things like that in the mail — and we did quite often — we were encouraged to give them to the marketing office where they would eventually be sold in a twice-yearly company-wide auction, and all of the proceeds would be donated to charity. But we could keep items we received if they could be used for research, or something like that. We still have that skillet and a smaller one we found at a local Goodwill store.

At an antique store on the outskirts of McGregor, we bought a 17-inch-long oval pan that was pretty rusty. It required a lot of scrubbing and seasoning and scrubbing and seasoning before it could be used. (We used it for wild mushroom bread pudding, which is pictured in the November 2015 edition of this magazine.) We also have a long rectangular griddle we can use on the stovetop, and after a recent shopping excursion we have the really cool square skillet used in the photo this month.

One thing that has eluded us is a cast-iron muffin tin.

We have one with star-shaped muffin cups that we got in Dallas several years ago, but we can’t find one with round cups. Our search for such a pan led me to discover that one of the first references to muffin cups was in The Pennsylvania Farm Journal in 1853, in which bakers were encouraged to “butter your muffin cups.” Elsewhere in that same issue another recipe says to cook muffins “on a hot greased griddle,” which was the most-popular method for cooking muffins at the time.

This month we use our muffin pans — sadly, the non-cast-iron variety — to cook many things other than traditional muffins and cupcakes. One of the most popular recipes at our house is meat cups, a delicious, quick dinner with a totally unappetizing name. It’s almost a sloppy Joe in a cup. Leftover meat cups can be easily refrigerated and reheated the next day. In fact, almost any type of dish can lend itself to being made in a muffin tin, from breakfast to appetizers to dessert.

The Recipes

Meat Cups

  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 can (8 ounces) flaky biscuits
  • 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Heat oven to 400 F.

In a skillet, brown the ground beef and drain. Add barbecue sauce, onion and brown sugar; mix well.

Press each biscuit into an ungreased muffin cup, making sure the dough goes up to the edge of the cup. Spoon the meat mixture into the cups and sprinkle on some cheese. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the cups are golden brown. Makes about 10 servings. ­


Kale Cups

  • 1 bunch kale, ribs removed and roughly chopped (8-10 cups)
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon miso, preferably white or yellow (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest 
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried red chili flakes (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds

Heat oven to 400 F.

In a food processor, pulse kale until finely chopped. (You’ll probably need to do this in two batches.)

Add kale to a large bowl, along with ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, shallot, garlic, miso, thyme, lemon zest, nutmeg and chili flakes. Mix well until all the ricotta has blended in with the kale.

Divide among 10 medium-sized muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool for several minutes before unmolding.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat and toast sesame seeds until golden, for about 3 minutes. Serve kale cups with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds on top. Makes about 10 servings.


Caesar Salad in Parmesan Cups

For the Caesar dressing:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained and diced (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Parmesan cups:

  • 1 1/2 cups Parmesan, finely grated
  • 3 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
  • Croutons (homemade or store-bought)
  • Bacon, crumbled (optional)

Heat oven to 350 F.

To make the dressing, place all the dressing ingredients in a blender (or use a hand-held mixer) and blend until well combined. Pour into a bowl and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. (This can be made a few hours ahead.)

Tip: You may want to make the Parmesan cups in small batches of 2 or 3, since you need to work quickly as they come out of the oven.

To make the Parmesan cups, place 2 tablespoon-sized mounds of grated Parmesan on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Make sure the mounds are at least 2 inches apart. Flatten out the Parmesan mounds to form circles approximately 3 inches wide.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 5 minutes, or until Parmesan begins to bubble and turn golden in color.

Remove cups from the oven and, working quickly, peel each circle off the tray; press into a muffin tin to form a cup. Use a spoon to flatten the bottom of the cup and ensure all of the corners are pressed in.

If the Parmesan cups begin to harden and become difficult to shape, return them to the pan and place back in the oven for another 30 seconds or so to make them soft and more pliable. Repeat with the remainder of the cups.

Try not to assemble the dish until right before serving to ensure the cups don’t lose their crispness from the salad dressing.

In a large bowl, toss lettuce with the dressing. (You may not need to use all of the dressing.) Fill each cup with Caesar salad and top with croutons and bacon. Makes approximately 8-10 cups.


Yeast Rolls

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 envelopes dry yeast
  • 1/16 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Combine sour cream, butter, sugar and salt in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes, or until the butter has melted. Stir and let stand until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the mixture reads 105-100 F.

In a mixing bowl, combine the sour cream mixture with eggs and beat until blended.

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water in a small bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Add the yeast mixture to the egg mixture and mix well. Add flour gradually, beating constantly until fully incorporated. The dough will be sticky. (Mixing dough is easier with a stand mixer and dough hook.) 

Oil another bowl. Place the dough in the oiled bowl, turning to coat the surface, and let rise, covered, in a warm environment, for 2 hours.
Spray muffin tins with nonstick spray.

Punch down the dough and shape into 2-inch balls, adding additional flour if needed to make the dough easier to handle. Place the dough balls in the muffin cups and let rise for 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350 F.

Bake rolls for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately brush with melted butter. Makes about 2 dozen rolls, or about 12 rolls in jumbo muffin cups.


Crustless Chocolate Cheesecakes

  • 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped and melted

Heat oven to 275 F. Spray a muffin pan (or a mini-muffin pan) with nonstick spray.

In a mixer, beat together cream cheese and vanilla until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar until the mixture is fluffy. Beat in flour and then, one at a time, beat in eggs. Add chocolate and beat until everything is well-blended.

Pour the mixture into the muffin pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes (or 15-20 minutes if using a mini-muffin pan), or until a tester inserted in the center of a cheesecake comes out clean. Makes about 12-16 cheesecakes (or 24-30 if using a mini-muffin tin).­


Quiche Muffins

  • 16 ounces cottage cheese
  • 3 egg whites
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 10 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 2 green onions, chopped

Heat oven to 400 F. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray.

Place cottage cheese in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl.

Process egg whites in a food processor until foamy. Add eggs, buttermilk, flour, baking powder and salt; process until smooth. Stir in cheese, bacon and green onions.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Makes about 10 muffins.


Carrot Muffins

  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup pecans, chopped

Heat oven to 350 F. Spray muffin tins with nonstick spray.

Using a mixer, combine all ingredients until well-blended.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Makes about 12 muffins. (Six jumbo muffins will bake for 30-35 minutes, or bake in a loaf pan for 45-55 minutes.)