I am an avid purchaser of dubiously useful single-application kitchen tools. Miniature doughnut pan? Why yes please, I’ll take two. Three different types of pastry tips? Got ‘em. I also own a hard-boiled egg slicer, tart pans of every conceivable dimension, at least 3 vintage pie servers, and a drawerful of cookie cutters in completely unnecessary shapes like corgis and the letter M.
Suffice to say, there isn’t a ton of space to spare in my kitchen. So discovering multiple (and unexpected) ways to use my pans, pots, and tools makes me happy.
One particular victory in this regard is with the muffin pan. I know that 6 ways to use your muffin pan! reads like a Buzzfeed article headline but bear with me please.
As a single adult, I’ve dealt with the conundrum of how to cook for one (or two) for years now. I’ve slowly gathered tricks along the way, but it took me an embarrassingly long time to uncover the best one: embracing the freezer.
As a child, our freezer was a gold mine of the best food in the house. So naturally I’ve long thought of a freezer as merely a stash spot for ALL GOOD THINGS: chocolate chips and extra brownies and stacks of buttermilk waffles. I considered the freezer an off-limits dessert cache, not a practical tool for meal planning.
And here’s the secret that everyone else already knows: You can, and should, be freezing all manner of foods. Freeze ice cube trays of pesto for a single serving pasta dinner. Freeze extra meat. Freeze loaves of bread and biscuit dough and unbaked cookies.
More specifically when cooking for one, use your muffin tin to freeze food. Portioning out things like macaroni and cheese, chili, or fruit puree into a muffin tin makes it easy to thaw out just the amount you need.
See, if you search for“best freezer meals”, you'll mostly turn up articles about how to freeze entire family-sized quantities of casseroles and the like, but who wants to unthaw an entire casserole at once? If you’re cooking for one, it gets a little tiresome to eat the same thing ever night. So dole it out into muffin tins, freeze it, and eat just a meal’s worth whenever you want it.
I have (shocking I know) multiple sizes of muffin pans. I like to use the biggest one (which is really a hamburger bun pan) for things like baked pastas and baked oatmeal. Smaller ones for mini frittatas, meatloaves, frozen smoothies, and that sort of thing.
Try this yourself! Freeze your meal in the muffin tin for at least 20 minutes, then pop it out of the tin and store the frozen rounds in a bag to save space. When you’re hungry, pull out just one or two to defrost and eat.
Mac and cheese is an excellent candidate for muffin tin cooking. Here’s the recipe I used last week, which yields a basic but wonderful baked pasta with plenty of cheese and some breadcrumbs for crunch.
Baked Mac & Cheese
1 pound dried pasta (a short variety like elbow macaroni or penne)
5 cups milk, warmed slightly
5 cups shredded cheese (I like a mixture of cheddar, Gruyere, and Parmesan)
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon grainy mustard
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, optional
Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a muffin tin (or, if making a larger portion, butter a 3-quart casserole dish or something of similar size).
In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk constantly for 1 minute.
Add the warm milk to the butter and flour, whisking constantly. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
Stir in the nutmeg, salt, and mustard, then immediately add the cheese and stir until smooth.
Pour the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce and stir to coat evenly.
Divide the pasta between the prepared muffin tins (or pour into your casserole dish).
Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and parsley, if desired. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.
Remove from the oven. If planning to freeze the muffin tins, let them cool, then pop the entire muffin tin into the freezer for at least 30 minutes. Once mostly frozen, pop the tins of pasta out and store them in a plastic bag in the freezer. When ready to eat, just heat up one at a time in the oven or microwave.