No, I haven’t lost my mind.
At least not yet.
I also haven’t disavowed my expert training at the Culinary Institute of America or forgotten all the hours I’ve slaved behind the stove in fine-dining restaurants over the years. Actually, all of that has put me in the perfect position to understand that good food, dare I say great food, isn’t a matter of where it’s eaten, what plate it’s on or what brand of silverware it’s eaten with.
It’s about the food.
And I’m not alone. Everywhere you look, world-renowned chefs, even some with 3 Michelin stars, are exploring the real world outside their lavish dining rooms and glistening kitchens, a world where the real people live, people who enjoy a more common fare.
That world makes up about 99% of us, and I live in that world, too. As a matter of fact, I have a foot firmly planted in both hemispheres. I love Le Bernardin equally as much as I love cheap fish tacos from a neighborhood food truck.
All this is to say that everyday fare is quite often every bit as tasty, glamorous, and trendy as any fine-dining experience.
Sometimes, it’s even better. So, what’s the next big thing coming down the everyday popular pike? It just might be the muffin. But not the image of the muffin that just popped into your head when you read this. I’m talking about a muffin meal.
What’s a muffin meal? Well, a muffin meal is basically some version of a main course dish prepared and baked in a muffin tin shape.
Typically, the muffin meal has a crust or outer shell of some sort and a filling, such as meats, vegetables or other savory (not sweet) fillings.
A cousin to the calzone, pastry, strudel, and Wellington, muffin meals are a kind of one-stop shopping experience for your appetite. You can even eat some totally out of your hand, which eliminates the plate and fork. That makes them a perfect solution for casual meals and people on the go.
For the same reason cupcakes became THE craze in the dessert world, muffin tin meals are poised to be the next unconventional and extraordinary food experience coming to a neighborhood (or a kitchen) near you.
Maybe YOUR kitchen?
If you’d like to get ahead of the curve, let me give you a couple of tips and some recipe ideas to get you started. Once you see just how easy they are to make, you can play around with some of the variables (like crusts & fillings) and find a few combinations you really like.
First, the BEST advice I can give you is what kind of muffin tin to use.
Hint: it’s not tin.
It’s not even metal.
Silicone muffin tins are absolutely THE best. They’re absolutely and unquestionably non-stick and by far the easiest to clean.
Buy one with large cavities (usually they’re called Jumbo) that hold anywhere from ¾ cup to 1 cup of product. I prefer using a 6-muffin tray rather than individual cups because individual cups tend to flex too much as you place your crust or ingredients inside. Second, keep your crust on the thin side. Otherwise, you’ll discover that the final meal is more dough and less filling than you’d like. Lastly, the more sauce you use, the more likely you’ll need a plate (or a bib). Just enough sauce is perfect.
The Crusts: Here are some suggestions on crusts you can choose from. Pick one that best suits your filling.
- Pillsbury “Grands” Biscuits: Separate each biscuit and roll out individually onto about a 6” diameter. Line the inside of your muffin cups from the bottom to the top rim.
- Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Shells: They come in packages of 6. Thaw, stack two on top of one another, and like the biscuits above, roll out into a 6” diameter, and line your cups.
- Wonton Wrappers: Use thawed and pliable. They should be 6” x 6”. Place one on top of another, at right angles to each other so it would look like an 8-pointed star. Spray the muffin cup and both sides of the wontons with vegetable spray, and press down into the cups evenly. Trim any excess that wildly comes out and over the edges of the cups.
- Filo (Phyllo) Dough: Thaw and unfold. Lay approximately 6 sheets, one on top of another, after brushing melted butter or spraying each sheet with vegetable spray. Cut into 6” x 6” squares, and like the wonton wrapper, gently press down into the muffin cups.
The Fillings: This is almost the easy part because the options are nearly endless. You can almost always raid your fridge and find some suitable fillings to make a delicious meal. Here are some obvious choices:
- Lasagna (Filo or Wonton Crust)
- Marinara, Ricotta Cheese, Mozzarella Cheese, Ground Beef
- Chicken Pot Pie (Biscuit or Puff Pastry Crust)
- Nino’s Country Chicken Gravy, Pulled Rotisserie Chicken Meat, Thawed Frozen Vegetable Medley
- Breakfast Muffin (Biscuit or Puff Pastry Crust)
- 2 Eggs Beaten with 2 TBSP Milk. Add Cooked Breakfast Sausage, Cooked Potatoes, Sautéed Onion, Chopped Cooked Bacon or Ham and Shredded American Cheese. Diced Peppers are optional.
- Seafood Muffins (Any Crust)
- Crab Meat, Cooked Shrimp, Cooked Scallops (Chopped). Add a bit of Sautéed Onions & Bell Peppers, Garlic, a pinch of Bay Seasoning and enough Mayonnaise to just bind together.
- Sloppy Muffins (Biscuit or Puff Pastry)
- Fill with your FAVORITE Sloppy Joe mixture (Nino’s Perhaps?) and then top with Shredded Cheddar Cheese.
Again, these are just suggestions to get you started. You can get as simple or as gourmet as your inspiration (or budget) will allow.
We also have these ideas and more in our Recipe Section of the website for your convenience
Baking Tips: Depending on your crust and type of filling, you can expect your muffin meals to take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to cook. The best way to gauge whether they are done is to look for three things. One is the color of the crust and filling. The second is that the fillings, in most cases, will puff up slightly as they become fully cooked. Lastly, the muffin filling will generally be firm to the touch once done.
Give these muffin meal ideas a try and get ahead of the food curve in your neighborhood. Then, let me know which combinations you enjoyed the most.