Hellooooo summer! I hope everyone had a lovely Memorial Day weekend. Mine was great: mini golfing, happy hour, quality time with my guy and a big surprise birthday party/cook out for a friend. Most people I know kicked off the weekend of summer with a party and there will be plenty more between now and Labor Day.
It got me thinking about easy ways to feed a crowd, besides a package of hot dogs and a bag of chips. The best kind of food for a party is something people can just grab and go. Individual portions, cute presentation, easy transportation… It all brought me to my muffin pan. Here’s three ideas I have, and trust me, they aren’t muffins.
Baked Mac & Cheese
If you are headed to a cook out, you can pretty much expect a big bowl of slimy pasta salad, sitting out in the sun all day. But if you were going to an authentic barbecue spot, you’d be served warm, gooey mac & cheese.
I started by making a big batch of macaroni and a sauce of cheddar cheese, milk & butter. Use whatever recipe you like or you can make the kind out of the box if you want to keep it even simpler. I lined the muffin pan with cupcake liners and sprayed them all with a little cooking spray. Fill the cups with the pasta, making sure you don’t go over the rim. Then I mixed equal parts Italian bread crumbs & Parmesan cheese, with a dash of Cajun seasoning, and sprinkled it over the top of each cup.
At this point, you could cover with foil if you are traveling somewhere. All it takes to finish these up is to bake them for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. I haven’t tried it out yet, but I’d love to see how they turn out by putting the pan on the grill. The pasta is cooked, so it’s really just about getting that bread crumb topping crunchy & golden.
What you get is an adorable side dish that’s so easy to serve. It stays contained and doesn’t spread all over the plate. It’s so easy, but guests will be so impressed. They are great for dinner at home too, because they help with portion control and kids will love them.
These probably aren’t the first thing I would think of for a cook out, but a rainy summer day? A game night with friends? A casual pot luck dinner? These will blow everyone’s minds.
I used store bought pizza dough, the kind that comes in a 13 oz tube. I needed two of them. I divided it equally into a dozen parts and flattened them into circles. At this point, you can stuff these however you’d like. I made three kinds.
- Mozzarella, fresh basil & pesto
- Cheddar, bacon & pickled jalapeño
- Mozzarella, spinach, carmelized onion & blue cheese crumbles
Put the ingredients in the center of a dough circle, then carefully stretch the edges over the stuffings and pinch together. Place seam side down in a greased muffin pan. Brush the top of each calzone with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan (or garlic powder, or Italian seasoning, or all three!). Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes until golden brown.
I served mine with some marinara (great for the pesto) and ranch dressing (great for the bacon/jalapeño) to dip. The spinach/onion ones were so creamy from the two cheeses inside, I didn’t bother to dip those in anything at all!
These were so delicious and a huge hit all around. I still recommend a fork and knife, but my husband dove right in and ate it by hand. Just beware of molten hot cheese! These also keep in the fridge really well for a couple days, so you could totally make these ahead of time and reheat them.
I used cinnamon raisin bread and cut it into small, uniform cubes. Then I whisked together a tradional French toast batter of milk, eggs, sugar & vanilla in a large bowl and added the bread cubes. Let them soak for about 5-10 minutes, stirring a couple times to make sure they all get saturated. Place the mixture into a greased muffin pan and bake for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees. I serve mine with maple syrup and a little powdered sugar.
This is awesome for a breakfast or brunch with friends and family. French toast can be messy and tedious, because you can only cook a couple pieces of bread at a time on the stove top. This way everyone has a perfectly sized, perfectly warm helping of French toast at the same time. You could even plastic wrap the pan and travel with it before baking it off. I had leftovers, and reheated them later at night, topped with some cinnamon ice cream. Yum! Double duty, breakfast & dessert!
I hope you try some of these tricks out. They are three well-loved and familiar recipes, simply scaled down to, well, muffin size. I promise these will be the star of your summer gatherings. Do you have any ideas for a creative muffin pan hack? Let me know.