The Muffin Tin – A Versatile Kitchen Tool

I recently challenged myself to de-clutter my life and started by going through at least one drawer, closet, cupboard or shelf  each week, getting rid of what we don’t use.

For the past two weeks,  this project had me immersed in over 200 food and wine oriented magazines saved from 1998 to present.  I’d kept them arranged by season for seemingly easy access to seasonal ideas; but haven’t used them in a while, so thought it time to do a purge.  I went through each, pulling out recipes, tips, or stories I wanted to keep…there were several…I am making good progress, am almost done.

What has been most interesting was seeing if the predictions these journals made 5 – 10 years ago came true.  There were many forecasts about up and coming hot chefs in America, identification of  food trends, and restaurant and wine critiques.

Several of these chefs are now seen on various food shows.  As far as food trends, a couple key ones stand out as “building momentum” over the past ten years. They include the “small plate – small bites” movement; and use of molecular gastronomy in developing interesting, powerful flavor experiences.  I think both these trends can directly apply to the development of creative dishes for thoughtful,  appealing, satisfying (yet non-filling),  contemporary afternoon tea menus.  Funny how new ideas and methods can revitalize old traditions.

While flipping through a 2004 Gourmet Magazine, the below recipe caught my attention.  An individual frittata.  I love using muffin tins (molds) for two reasons…portion control and ability to individualize each – developing small plates of foods.    It  struck me how this simple tool, available in most homes, continues to offer versatility in creating unique savory and sweet individual items.  While I love this recipe, I was a bit amazed when it said to use a nonstick muffin pan with 6 (1 cup) muffin cups – that is a giant muffin size.  My tins are smaller,  either holding 1/3 cup or less…over the years guess I’ve been downsizing my tin sizes.  I made this flavorful recipe for a quick, light dinner.

Eggs baked in muffin cups

Petite egg fritatas baked in muffin cups

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Recipe from an old Gourmet magazine

Recipe from an old Gourmet magazine

Gourmet Magazine 2004 – the recipe calls for one cup muffin cups – quite large… i made this with regular sized muffin cups – they hold 1/3 cup so I got to eat three frittatas as one serving.

I was inspired to make these individual frittatas…

I adapted Gourmet’s recipe a bit, using mostly egg whites in my prosciutto encrusted frittata.

Here is the Gourmet recipe: Special equipment: a nonstick muffin pan with 6 (1 cup) muffin cups (I used a pan with 12 (1/3 cup muffin cups)…a great size.

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium zucchini (1 lb. total) – halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/8 inch slices

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup fresh minced chives

1 1/2 ounce grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano

10 large eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat oil in a 12 inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, then saute zucchini with salt and pepper, occasionally stirring, until just tender (about 4 minutes). Let this cool a bit.  Whisk chives, zucchini and 1/2 the cheese into the eggs. Divide mixture among oiled muffin cups and bake until puffed and set.  About 14 minutes for the large cup tins.  Remove from oven, sprinkle with rest of the grated cheese and place under a broiler until browned, 1 to 2 minutes.

Below are a few of my favorite muffin tins…the square mold in interesting and one I use for savory and sweet cakes.

My favorite square muffin tin

My favorite square muffin tin

Then there is the mini muffin tin…I use this a lot!  It is useful for creating small flavorful bites that won’t fill guests up or have them feeling guilty either.IMG_1424

mini quiche using the square tin

mini quiche using the square tin

Going through these magazines inspired me, I have a list of several recipes I plan to use in the near term…most trending towards small plate sizes.  Will be using my various molds and muffin tins for many.  Try it.  Things cook quicker in individual sizes, so watch your timing.

The magazines I rifled through included: Bon Appetit, Gourmet ( you should see mine from 1976 -78, I am not getting rid of those), Wine Spectator, Food and Wine, Martha Stewart Living.  Will share some of my “finds” in future posts.

Tasting Heirloom Tomatoes, Tomatoes, and More Tomatoes

As I was leaving my exercise class this morning I got a text from my sister letting me know that, in a few minutes,  “Mr. Tomato” was going to be at our local nursery, Plant Depot, in San Juan Capistrano.  I decided to head over to see if I could find out why my heirloom tomatoes were less prolific this year versus last. Instead, I walked into a nice surprise…a good crowd of gardeners (also tomato eaters) and an impressive set up for the class.  Long tables filled with scores of plates mounded high with diced and cherry tomatoes sat waiting to be pierced with toothpicks for tasting.  Over 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes were on display. (Did you know there are hundreds of heirloom tomato varieties?)

We were asked to taste and score which we preferred.  This was serious business that took concentration. Whether tasting butters, wines, teas, or tomatoes – tasting against another like item is the best way I’ve found to discern flavor differences and determine preferences for use of the ingredient.

This was such a spontaneous event for me, and I was so excited about tasting, that I forgot to take any photos…so instead, you get to see how my beautiful, albeit, limited production of heirlooms came out this season from my garden.  We grew 10 varieties…the good news was that some of the ones we grew, were my favorites from Mr. Tomato’s tasting.  My favorites for flavor, color, and size were:

Abraham Lincoln – Green Zebra – Brandywine – Legend – Porkchop – Old German – Snow White Cherry – Andrew Rahart – Arkansas Traveler – Black Cherry – Kellogg’s Breakfast

Next year I plan to plant most of these.   The mix of flavors from acidic to sweet, colors, red, brown, yellow, greens, and sizes cherry to large will deliver beautifully on a platter offering freshness, sweetness and a bit of zing.

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Heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes

As we come to the end of the “great” tomato season, I hope to have a few more opportunities go enjoy salads like this one.  After that, I move on to other veggies in the fall and primarily only have roasted tomatoes til next season’s crop comes in.

Enjoy

Eating Memories – The Joy Of Low Brow Foods…

I was sitting on the beach the other day savoring a one ounce bag of one of my favorite indulgences…Fritos corn chips,  (it’s o.k., I’m on vacation 🙂 ).  I portioned out three chips at a time, determined to make them last.  About every five minutes, I would extricate three more chips from the tiny bag, then wrap the bag up tight, and bury it in my extra towel so no sand or dampness would affect my little treasure. I’d crunch on two, then hold the last one in my mouth to slooowly disintegrate, challenging myself not to chew…thus extending the luxury of the salt and coarse texture while sucking in the flavor of toasted corn. Deelicious!  It was a focused, determined, and completely satisfying consumption, as good as anything I’ve ever eaten anywhere.  In between crunching, I’d distract myself for the next few minutes by continuing my reading…this time from a compilation of food essays I’d been meaning to get to for awhile called Eat, MemoryGreat Writers At The Table, edited by Amanda Hesser.  

Coincidentally, one of the essays I read while under my umbrella, listening to waves crash,  and luxuriously letting my last corn chip dissipate into bits of soggy corn  made me think about a strong memory of eating Fritos in my youth. (My friend H. would say, “Are there really any coincidences? Really?”)  The essay, Dining Room Wars by R.W. Apple Jr., reflects upon Apple’s culinary experiences as he wandered the world for the New York Times. He writes that, “when it comes to food, I am neither High Church nor Low–or rather that I am both at the same time.  I get as big a kick out of a good Chicago hot dog as I do out of a first-rate …Maine lobster.”  That’s how I felt about my 18 Frito chips this day.

You probably have a few low brow, or “low church,” food moments of your own.  Consuming them may bring back an important point in time in your life.  For me, eating Fritos conjured up happy family times through my late teen years during the last years of my father’s life.  As a family, we gathered around one of our few t.v. viewing experiences,  excited to be together watching our favorite college football team, either UCLA or USC,  in the Rose Bowl where they often annihilated some midwest team.   Mom (Betty)  would put out a large dish of Fritos corn chips and Lay’s potato chips with Lipton’s onion dip.  This combination of chips and dip became a New Year’s Day tradition for us for decades.

This time, relishing in the corniness of my Fritos chips got me thinking about how much I love ground corn. Polenta (which is ground corn) is one of my “go to” ingredients for a side dish or part of a main course or a small bite item for an afternoon tea or appetizer with a bit of wine.

Polenta takes on the flavors of whatever you put with it (kind of like tofu does only you can make polenta decadently flavorful with butter, cheese, and other delights).  A perfect combo is polenta with grilled sausage or polenta with sauteed wild mushrooms, or roasted peppers, or spicy sausage and tomato sauce with parmesan cheese … I could go on and on…I love a fine grind for soft polenta and a coarser grind for making a firm polenta, one that can be grilled after chilling.

Often I get requests to make my polenta bites, topped with a full-flavored item such as roasted peppers soaked in good olive oil and a bit of garlic, or a scintillating olive tapenade, or prosciutto.  Below is the recipe for this dish.  It’s quick to make and can be made ahead of time…at least a day ahead.  Top with your favorite topping just prior to serving.

Just like Fritos corn chips, these polenta bites exude the satisfying taste of ground corn.
Polenta, cooled, cut into rounds with centers dug out a bit, waiting for a filling

Polenta, cooled, cut into rounds with centers dug out a bit, waiting for a filling

 

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Polenta squares filled with roasted mushrooms and shaved parmesan

Polenta squares filled with roasted mushrooms and shaved parmesan

RECIPE from Tea With Betty: A Tea Manual

POLENTA BITES

These tasty holders absorb the flavors of whatever you put in or on them. They’re best with the polenta served warm. If using a cold topping, warm the polenta cutouts in the oven for a few minutes at 350º F, then immediately top and serve.

Makes approximately 36 1 ½” rounds (or whatever shape you choose to cut them into).

PREP TIME:   15 minutes                 TOTAL TIME:  1 hour 30 minutes (includes chilling and topping time)

1 cup fine polenta (ground corn) – get the best quality you can find (I get mine from an Italian store – usually Claro’s Italian Market)

4 cups water

½ teaspoon kosher salt (optional)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional) (but butter really makes this smooth out and taste luscious)

Variations depending on which topping you plan on using:

add ½ cup grated parmesan – if topping with bleu cheese, prosciutto, olive tapenade, tomato, or roasted peppers or…

add zest of one lemon – for a lighter taste if topping with Boursin cheese or pequillo pepper topping.

Bring 4 cups of good, fresh water to a boil and add kosher salt.

Slowly pour 1 cup of fine polenta into the boiling water, whisking as streaming the polenta into the boiling water.

Switch to a wooden spoon and stir mixture continuously for approximate 8 minutes.

Add butter, parmesan, lemon zest (whichever ingredients you choose) during the last minute of cooking.

Immediately pour mixture into a 9” x 12” Pyrex dish or baking sheet, spread out evenly, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in refrigerator 1 hour or more. Cut into shapes and top with your favorite topping.

Serve at room temperature if you like.  For the most flavor, grill, fry, or warm your cutout polenta shapes prior to serving, then top with your topping of choice.

Use any shape cutter you prefer; I use a 1 ½” cutter (pictured).  Cut each piece, then use a small spoon (a grapefruit spoon works well) to dig out a bit of the center of the polenta and put it aside for some other use.  You now have a nice little well that will hold your topping in place. If you don’t dig out a bit of the center, your topping can slide off.

Enjoy…

Taking Afternoon Tea With My Daughter…At SimpliciTea

When my daughter called to invite me to tea at a new tea house in Rancho Cucamonga, Ca., I was thrilled.  One of my favorite things in life is to take tea with her…just the two of us.  We only had to re-schedule our date once and made it there last week.  SimpliciTea is the name of this contemporary tea house.  They know their tea and had a steady stream of clients filtering in who got their tea to go.  Several others came in alone and relaxed into their lunch with their freshly steeped iced tea – that was nice to see, it is a comfortable place to go with others or alone.  It was certainly an iced tea day as it was 100 degrees outside…

The decor is clean, sleek, comfortable and inspiring.  Their mission is to take your stress away and provide a haven for their guests…(their street address is on Haven Avenue 🙂  I love their teapots, bodum double walled cups and their service.

They state on their website:

“We are a contemporary tea lounge in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Our mission is to introduce and educate people about the beautiful world of tea, as well as provide a space where people can leave reality, forget their problems and simply breathe for a little while. We aim to provide the best quality products, service and environment for each and every guest who walks through our front door.”

They achieved all that for us.

Love the tea service...double walled Bodum cups and Hue tea pots

Love the tea service…double walled Bodum cups and Hue tea pots

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We ordered panini type sandwiches for lunch – which were abundant with flavor and quality ingredients.  Our tea (we both opted for Jasmine Pearl) was steeped to perfection…and re-infused for our seconds.  We relaxed, felt de-stressed and ended up trying out their scones too…which were warm and flaky and truly generous in size, albeit a bit sweet for me.  But I am a bit boring in that I prefer a scone without too much sugar or white chocolate chips (as the scone of the day had).  They served them with creme fraiche and choice of jam… we love cream fraiche with our scones.

Their prices are quite reasonable.  Similar to Tranquil Tea Lounge in Fullerton, Ca…this is a spot you can go to several times a week and have excellent tea along with food to your liking…meal or snack…

We’ll be back.

It’s A Great Time To Be A Foodie…

And a tea lover too… Between the fabulous restaurants, more and more incredible chefs, focus on quality ingredients of which we can know their origin, and accessibility to exciting niche products through the internet (including whole leaf, single estate teas)…it is a fun time to be “into” food and beverage.  The quality available is awesome.  Another great thing that has been emerging around us are local chefs offering “the cooking class.”  Classes range from professional culinary to cooking enthusiast level.  These, along with food focused t.v. shows, are exposing us everyday cooks to exciting new techniques and ingredients.

This week, we got invited to the opening party for a contemporary, small class, culinary school in Anaheim, California.  The owner is one of our favorite pastry chefs, Chef Katie Averill. A few years ago we used to indulge in her delectable desserts every Friday night at our favorite haunt… She was co-owner of this fine French bistro near us.  Through the magic of internet, my husband has kept in touch with Katie…she just opened Eat Street Culinary.  I am truly looking forward to taking classes from her, particularly her chocolate class.  I need help in handling chocolate (which is a bit ironic in that I sold chocolate for a living for over 20 years 🙂 ).

Here are a few photos from the opening reception:

Eat Street Culinary - cute give-a-ways at the opening...looked like sandwiches (inside were t-shirts)

Eat Street Culinary – cute give-a-ways at the opening…looked like sandwiches (inside were t-shirts)

 

Ready to cook... row of Kitchenaide Mixers

Ready to cook… row of Kitchenaide Mixers

 

Six outstanding work stations with Wolf ranges

Six outstanding work stations with Wolf ranges

 

photophotoHousemade smores

Mmmmmm  Smore

Mmmmmm Smore

 

It was interesting seeing what small bites the Eat Street crew served at their opening…there were scrumptious looking small burgers (sliders), fresh looking shrimp lettuce cups, chicken skewers drenched in a creamy coconut dipping sauce…nice wines and waters…a great start for what we wish to be a truly successful business.   Check out their class calendar on the Eat Street Culinary website.  Maybe we will see you in class.