Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cookbook Review -- Muffin Tin Chef

I’ve been seeing more and more recipes using muffin tins on cooking shows lately, and not just for muffins or cupcakes.  As Matt Kadey, author of Muffin Tin Chef, points out, muffin tins are a useful tool for creating dishes that look great and, because they’re all the same size, make for instant portion control.  Another advantage is that because of their shape, foods in muffin tins often cook more quickly than they would in a baking dish.  You can make fun, portable food, which the Kady himself – a photographer and adventurer in addition to nutrition writer and cookbook author – no doubt had in mind as well.

Muffin Tin Chef contains an interesting array of dishes, from breakfast through dessert.  Some of the recipes, like French “Toasties” (actually more like bread pudding baked in a muffin tin) and Pancetta Cups with Fig Jam (slices of pancetta baked in mini-muffin tins until crispy, then filled with fig jam) are things I’ll definitely make for guests.  The recipe for lasagna rolls is intriguing too, because it’s often a chore to lift a heavy lasagna pan out of the oven and really tough to get picture-perfect slices.  Muffin tin portions solve these problems nicely.  You’ll probably want to double the recipe and freeze half for a quick meal.

The photos in the book show food that you’d be proud to serve at a party, all beautifully golden brown on the outside and colorfully garnished.  And for the most part, the recipes seem easy enough to make.  Kadey gives readers two major caveats, though, and they’re worth paying attention to.  The first is that baking times are all approximate, and it can take much longer than the recipe suggests for a dish to be done.  A lot of that variation depends on the materials the muffin tins are made of.   Food tends to stick less to silicone muffin cups, but will take longer to bake and, in most cases, won’t really brown.  For some recipes, like those that start with raw meat, Kadey gives an internal temperature for the finished product.  It would be helpful if more of the recipes had a finishing temperature, because it’s not always easy to tell that they’re done. 

The second is that you almost always have to grease the muffin tins to keep the food from sticking (even the silicone ones, believe it or not), and after Kadey says this in the book intro, he doesn’t mention it again.  If you randomly flip to a recipe without reading the book intro, you might not grease the tins and end up with the food permanently bonded to them. 

Two other things to watch out for are recipes that use pastry for a crust (either pie dough or puff pastry) and Kadey’s use of whole-grain pasta in recipes.  It’s a good idea to pack as much nutrition and fiber in as you can.  Whole grain pasta doesn’t cook the same way that regular pasta does, though, and the line between not done and mush goes by pretty quickly.   This is fine if you’re cooking pasta, putting sauce on it, and serving right away.  But pre-cooking the pasta and then baking it with other ingredients can turn whole grain pasta into a gummy mess.  Regular pasta is more forgiving, so I’d use it instead of whole grain in these recipes.

The pastry issue is more problematic.  You’re taking a circle of pastry and making it into a cup shape, and this makes pretty large folds of pastry inside the cup.  Those folds don’t bake at the same rate as the pastry on the outside, so you often end up with swaths of gooey, undercooked pastry on the inside.  I admit that I sometimes have food texture issues, so you may not be as bothered by this as I am, but I think it definitely detracts from the finished product.

In the end, while there might be some trial-and-error getting a few of the recipes to turn out the way you’d like them to, most of them are adaptable to different ingredients and flavors.  You can take the 100+ recipes here and create many more.  So dig your muffin tins out of the back of the cupboard and give it a try!

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