Muffin Tin Tapas

August 7th, 2013 · 25 Comments · Dinner, Picky Eating

I think by now I’ve made it clear how much of an inspiration Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book has been in my life. Not because the recipes are good — quite the contrary, in fact. With brilliantly nostalgic (but not-so-appealing) names like Ham Lime Supper and Fast Cheese Scallop, I’ve never been tempted to cook even one. The writing, on the other hand, holds up remarkably well. A former ad copywriter, Bracken is the master of the zinger, and sets up a chapter like nobody’s business. Whenever I’m in a rut (writing, cooking, or both) I find myself breaking open my way-yellowed, barely-bound paperback copy, then inevitably following Andy around the house reading entire paragraphs to him (“..And now listen to this one!”) Like this intro to her chapter about entertaining.

“When you hate to cook, you should never accept an invitation to dinner. The reason is plain: Sooner or later, unless you have luckily disgraced yourself at their home, or unless they get transferred to Weehawken, you will have to return the invitation.”

Last year, while I was at an impasse writing my own book, I remember reading Andy the first page of IHTCB, then him replying, “I know what you mean. Every sentence is perfect.”

Well, this morning I started flipping through it again and came upon the section where she compiles seventy-five of her most favorite household hints. (But not before she ridicules the whole concept of household hints up and down and all around, God love her.) And then I saw this one:

“You can get a small sick youngster to eat more food, more happily, if you serve him an eight-course meal in a muffin tin. Many little bits of things — a spoonful  of applesauce, a few green beans, a few little candies, etc — are more appetizing than three items in quantity.”

I’m not sure what age she was talking about when she refers to a “small sick youngster” but I’d be willing to bet that this trick might work nicely for small youngsters who aren’t sick…for small youngsters whose parents would do just about anything — including make muffin-tin tapas (with cupcake papers!) after clocking nine hours at the office — to get their finicky eater excited about trying something new. When Abby was a toddler suffering from her own bout of ingestus particulare, I know she would’ve been all over it. Above, I put together a sample selection of what might work in our house: cheddar cubes, broccoli, turkey meatballs, yellow peppers, baby ravioli, apricot halves. But I’m willing to bet you know better than me what should be in yours. Let me know how it goes.

My battered, but well-loved I Hate to Cook Book (open to the tip section), given to me by my Uncle Mike, and, incidentally, winner of a 2011 Dolly Award.

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25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Debbie // Aug 7, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    This is why I love this blog!! So simple and so fun. My kids thank you for rescuing them from the endless PB & J sandwiches this summer!

  • 2 lauren // Aug 7, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Not to mention this is so much easier than cutting things into stars and hearts. On another topic, do you have a good turkey meatball recipe?

  • 3 Marianne // Aug 7, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    OMG, my mom had this cookbook when I was a kid! I think she actually cooked up some of the stuff for us. I’ll have to see if she still has it.

  • 4 Darah // Aug 7, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    When I do muffin tin lunches/dinners my kids think I am the best mom ever. The trick is to save it for when you literally have nothing except tiny bits of things left in the fridge- then you can put off grocery shopping even longer!

  • 5 Robin // Aug 7, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    The quote about accepting a dinner invitation and then having to return the invitation reminded me of Laurie Colwin. It must have been in “Home Cooking” that she defined a social life – you invite them, they invite you, then you invite them, etc., etc. How I miss her! What a wonderful writer.

  • 6 AnneL // Aug 7, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    Ha! I recently pulled my mother’s old copy of TIHTCB off of a shelf and enjoyed as well as realized that the hot tuna sandwiches with cheese that my mom used to make actually came from there.

  • 7 CJ // Aug 8, 2013 at 2:02 am

    You have made me laugh. You can read paragraphs of that to me any time. Great idea about the muffin tin though.

  • 8 pq // Aug 8, 2013 at 7:21 am

    I have that same paperback, inherited from my mother, and the illustrations are winners, too. Who wouldn’t prefer to wrap their hands around a dry martini instead of a wet flounder at the end of the day? I don’t think I’ve made anything from it either, except perhaps the chocolate dump cake, which is a classic mix-in-the-pan that everyone probably knows already anyway. I wonder if Peg is still alive? Off to the Interwebs!

  • 9 Sarah F. // Aug 8, 2013 at 9:01 am

    I am TOTALLY using this idea. We have a three year old who constantly changes her mind about what she likes/what she doesn’t like. Every day. So this is a great idea!

  • 10 Summer Lily // Aug 8, 2013 at 9:44 am

    This is such a great idea! I will definitely be trying this with my 3 year old. I already give her little bits of about 6 different things each night…but love the cupcake tin idea.

  • 11 Rachel Maier // Aug 8, 2013 at 10:17 am

    This post saved me! I was completely uninspired in the kitchen yesterday, and the prospect of watching my 2 1/2 year old pick at and complain about and refuse to eat her dinner made me crazy. Enter this idea.

    Turns out she had fun, ate well, and betrayed her secret love for sugar snap peas. I guess she’s a veggie eater after all! Thank you for the inspiration!

  • 12 Carrie // Aug 8, 2013 at 10:37 am

    What a fabulous idea! Makes an “empty the fridge” dinner look fabulous and intentional!

  • 13 Jesse // Aug 8, 2013 at 11:04 am

    i’m all about little bits of this and that adding up to a proper dinner. in our house, proper dinner means you ate mostly healthy stuff and stopped when you were full.

  • 14 Nancy // Aug 8, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Cute! Bento boxes exercise a similar magic with small portions of a variety of foods

  • 15 Tina B. // Aug 8, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    My now-3 yr old went through a phase where she’d only eat out of a pooh-bear themed divided plate, and every section had to have something in it or she’d refuse to touch it at all.

    I will confess to cooking for my toddler, and with my toddler, out of this book: Cook it in a Cup! http://www.amazon.ca/books/dp/0811859568 You can make a whole meal in cupcake-cups, mostly in the microwave, and then serve it in your divided plate or 6 cup muffin in. For parties, break out your mini muffin ins. The microwave fake frittata is the easiest breakfast ever. When your toddler isn’t going to have more than a bite of each dish anyway, you want to minimize your work/time investment. :)

  • 16 Divya // Aug 8, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    “I read your newsletter, do I win the Franny’s cookbook?”

    Also, I love your site, your book and basically….well…you! :)

  • 17 SMS // Aug 8, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Just reading through the “Look Inside!” on Amazon, and I’m cracking up. I love to cook, but this kills me. What a great voice.

    “Finally, and worst of all, there are the big fat cookbooks that tell you everything about everything. For one thing, they contain too many recipes. Just look at all the things you can do with a chop, and aren’t about to!”

  • 18 Julie // Aug 8, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    This technique works around here! So does calling dinner “happy hour” and serving it tapas-style. It’s all about the marketing, isn’t it?

    Oh and also, I read your newsletter, do I win the Franny’s cookbook? (<—- That seems so greedy to say, but I'm nothing if not a rule follower.)

  • 19 Jessica Lea // Aug 8, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Too funny! Love our honesty – and Peg Bracken’s! “I read your newsletter, do I win the Franny’s cookbook?” Winner, winner?? ;)

  • 20 Linnea Beckwith // Aug 9, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    My mother used to make these for us! My brother and I loved “muffin tin lunches”! Now I know where she got the idea, I know she had a copy of that cookbook floating around…

  • 21 Allison // Aug 12, 2013 at 10:54 am

    I might try a variation on this for my daughter’s b-day party. Such a good idea for dinner, too. Anything to confuse/distract them from whining!

    I read your newsletter, do I win the Franny’s cookbook?

  • 22 Heather // Aug 12, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    My mother called this a surprise plate :)

  • 23 Lee // Aug 17, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    Huh, we’ve been doing this for years. I didn’t know it was originally a Peg Bracken idea. In our house it’s devolved to “muffin cup lunch” = a lunch made up of at least 4 different little things, not even in muffin cups. Conveniently, it’s a great way to use up things like that half-cup of leftover cooked rice.

  • 24 Susanna // Sep 4, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Only this evening I turned to the 75 hints page and realised I DID have a lamp with a cord that is too long and so I HAVE wound it round a broom handle. I cannot wait to see the result in the morning.

    I pinched my mother’s original hardcover UK edition IHTC books and IHTHousekeep and, like you, I am in awe of Peg Bracken’s writing. Good tip about getting inspiration from her syntax and rhythm for blog tips.

    Cheers

  • 25 Jennifer (aka Hint Mama) // Mar 24, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    I love this way of describing muffin tin meals:) I’ve also heard them called preschooler bento boxes. I just wish I known that muffin tins make great (and budget-friendly) toddler plates before I shelled out money on special toddler plates. More on that, and a link to your fun post, here: http://hintmama.com/2014/03/24/todays-hint-the-budget-friendly-baby-toddler-plate/

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