Wednesday, May 7, 2014

12 Reasons Why You Need Silicone Muffin Cups (that have nothing to do with baking muffins)

I love thinking outside the box - or bowl, or spoon, or whatever - when it comes to kitchen gadgets and tools. So when the New York Baking Company sent me some of their silicone baking cups, I thought, gee, everyone knows you can use these to make muffins and cupcakes.

That would be sort of a lame blog post.

But what else could they be used for?

They're oven, microwave, and freezer safe. And you can wash them in the dishwasher. That means there are a lot of possibilities.

After some brainstorming, here's my top 12, in no particular order:

12) Spoon resting

Spoon rests are a good idea - they keep your counters clean when you're cooking and stirring and then you need to find a place to set that spoon. But ... but ... when I'm cooking, I'm probably cooking more than one thing. I have the pasta and the sauce and the vegetables. Or the potatoes, the vegetables and the stew. Or the oatmeal and the ... uh ... oatmeal.

Sometimes I use a small plate and I can put two spoons on that. Or I just mess up the counter by leaving the spoon there.

Or, I could grab a couple silicone cups and use those as spoon rests. They don't flatten completely, so they might not be ideal for every shape and size of spoon you have, but they worked well for many of the medium and small ones I have. For big spoons, you'd need larger cups.

11) Snack holding

Portion control here. Fill a little cup with your afternoon snack instead of eating out of the bag. Heck, even if your snack is an apple, this is a fine little container, and takes less space in the dishwasher than a plate.

10) Butter melting

These are a little thin, so they're not great for holding large quantities of liquid, but they're fine for melting or softening small portions of butter or chocolate.

9) Egg separating

Whenever I need to separate an egg, it seems like I use bowls that are needlessly large. These are nice and compact for small tasks like separating an egg or two. Since they're small and flexible, you wouldn't want to use them for separating a half-dozen eggs, but one or two at a time is fine.

8) Ice making

Larger pieces of ice melt slower. Freeze ice or juice in these to float in a pitcher of punch. Or sangria or margaritas. You'll want to have these sitting in a muffin pan or on a tray, or in a baking pan while they're freezing, since the cups are flexible. When they're full of water, they'd be hard to move around.

Then just pop the ice out of the molds and drop them into your pitcher or punch bowl.

7) Pot holding

Silicone makes a great insulator, so these cups can be used for grasping the hot knob on a pot lid, or grabbing the pot handles. You might not want to hang on too long, or take a screaming hot cast iron pan out of the oven, but you can drag a pot off a burner using these to keep your fingers from frying.

Since they're small - I mean, we're talking muffin cups here - you're going to want to use these for fingertip protection. There's not enough coverage if you need to use your whole hand to grasp. But sometimes fingertips are all you need.

6) Bottle unscrewing

Silicone is grippy, so when the cap of the ketchup bottle is stuck, use one of these as a cap gripper. They're not big enough for large jars, but they're fine for smaller bottles.

5) Gelatin molding

Make individual servings of gelatin and pop them out for serving.

You could also use these for molding other treats, like chocolates or Rice Krispies treats, or even brittles or barks. If you make your own ice cream, you could freeze some in these cups and unmold to serve.

On the savory side, put polenta into the cups, filled about halfway, and let them chill. When they've set, you can pop them out and brown on both sides to serve.

4) Herb or fruit freezing

A lot of folks will blend herbs with olive oil and freeze cubes in an ice cube tray. You can do the same thing with these cups, and if you fill each with a small amount - a couple tablespoons - you can stack a few of them for freezing. Then just pop the frozen disks out of the cups and toss them into a freezer bag.

If you make smoothies regularly, you could freeze fruit in these cups along with some water or juice, then pop them out of the cups and put them into a plastic bag in the freezer. When it's time to make smoothies, just grab one or more fruit selections and blend away.

3) Egg cooking

Toss some marinara, canned diced tomatoes, or your favorite salsa in a cup, add an egg on top, and bake until the whites are set and the yolks are cooked but runny. Or, you could use these for poaching. Have some simmering water in a frying pan, add the cups with eggs in them, cover the pan and let them cook at a gentle simmer until they're as firm as you like.

Did you know that you can cook scrambled eggs in the microwave? You wouldn't want a whole yolk exploding in the microwave, but scrambled is fine. Cook for 30 seconds at a time and stir in between.

ITo get your eggs to slide cleanly out of the muffin cup when you poach or scramble, butter the cups first (or spray with some oil), otherwise you'll get a bit of egg stickage.

2) Garlic peeling

You know those silicone tubes that can be used to peel garlic? You can do the same thing with one of these. Just put a garlic clove in the center of the cup and roll it on the counter or between your hands.

1) Mise en place-ing

This is probably my favorite. Mise en place is French for "use every bowl you have to hold measured ingredients." Or something like that.

Okay, it really is about having everything measured, prepped, and ready to go before you start cooking. It makes cooking easier, since you don't have to stop and hunt for that jar of dried oregano in the middle of cooking. These cups are great for measuring out herbs, spices, salt, chopped garlic, and other small amounts of ingredients.

Depending on what you're prepping, you can stack these in order of use. Spices would be fine to stack, separated eggs wouldn't work as well.

Or, since the set comes with four different colors, you could group ingredients into different colors based on when they're added to the recipe.

So what else could you do with these baking cups? Tell me your best ideas.

Disclaimer: I received these cups from the manufacturer.