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[Photographs: Donna Currie]

I love thinking outside the box—or bowl, or spoon, or whatever—when it comes to kitchen gadgets and tools. Many common gadgets have uses beyond what they're sold for, and it makes them so much more valuable than those one-trick gadgets that you seldom use. And it's just plain fun to be creative.

Silicone muffin cups are a prime example. Sure, we know they can be used for baking muffins and cupcakes. 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, I came up with 12 ways to get silicone muffin cups working harder in my kitchen. They went from being "ho-hum, I can cook muffins," to something I reach for more and more often.

Cups for Mise en Place

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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 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 most of the silicone muffin cup sets come in a variety of colors, you could group items based on color.

Spoon Rest

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Spoon rests 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, 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 you'll probably want jumbo muffin cups for your bigger spoons. Standard muffin cups are fine for small spoons.

Snack Holder

Portion control here. Fill a standard 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 it takes less space in the dishwasher than a plate.

Melt Butter

Since silicone muffin cups are flexible, you wouldn't want to fill them completely with liquid, but they're fine for melting or softening small portions of butter or chocolate in the microwave.

Separate Eggs

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Whenever I need to separate an egg, it seems like I have to use bowls that are needlessly large. Standard muffin cups are nice and compact for small tasks like separating an egg or two, and you can use the jumbo cups if you need a few more eggs.

Freeze Large Ice Cubes

Larger pieces of ice look much more interesting in a glass or floating in a pitcher or punch bowl. You can buy ice cube trays to make giant cubes, but why not use those silicone muffin cups you already have? Freeze ice or juice in them to float in a pitcher of punch, sangria, or margaritas. You'll want to have these sitting in a muffin pan or on 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 in your freezer. When they're solid, just pop the ice out of the cups and drop them into your pitcher or punch bowl.

Hold Pots

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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.

Standard muffin cups are fine for fingertip protections or for grasping round pot lids. Jumbo cups give a little more protection for larger handles.

Unscrew Bottles

Silicone is grippy, so when the cap of the ketchup bottle is stuck, use one of these to help remove that stubborn cap. Silicone is pretty sturdy, but it still can be damaged. For rough treatment like this, you might want to use less-pretty muffin cups that you might not use for serving.

Gelatin Molds

Make individual servings of gelatin and pop them out for serving. You could also use these for molding other treats, like chocolates, Rice Krispies treats, or even brittles and barks. If you make your own ice cream, you could freeze some in these cups and unmold to serve. Mini muffin cups are great for one bite treats—they hold just a little more than a tablespoon.

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.

Freeze Herbs and Fruits

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 the standard or jumbo cups 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—just make sure that the cubes you're making aren't too big for your blender.

Cook Eggs

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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. You could also 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.

To 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. It's not terrible, but not quite good enough for photo-quality presentation.

Peel Garlic

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

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

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