Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Muffin madness

New Year's Day is always kind of a sleepy day around our place. Once we get up, have breakfast with my best friend and her husband, and they toddle off home, we don't tend to get up to much. It's snowing rather heavily today as well, so we thought it might be a good day to just lay low. Breakfast was bacon and eggs, toasted english muffins and coffee - nice and simple. I wasn't up to anything more elaborate, even though it wasn't a terribly late night for us. We're so boring - I think we were in bed by 1 a.m.

I should say that, for a chain restaurant, dinner last night at the Keg was very pleasant indeed. We went to the one that's housed in a heritage stone mansion in west Ottawa, and it's still divided into rooms, with classy antiques here and there, lovely decor, and a lot of Christmas trees at this time of year. We stuck to the stuff they do well - steak - and were not disappointed. Chris and I both had the filet mignon, and while both our steaks were cooked less than we had specified (medium for him and medium-rare for me), the meat was so tender and flavourful that it ended up not mattering to either of us. The portion was generous, but not ridiculous, and it came with a huge baked potato, sauteed onions and mushrooms, slightly oversteamed green beans and a very tasty house salad with balsamic dressing. Oh, and a little pot of sauce Bearnaise (evil! delicious! laden with cholesterol!) on the side. The steak didn't really need it, but that didn't stop me from dipping my vegetables in it.

My best friend and I both skipped dessert (too full!) and went straight to coffee, but the boys had what looked to be a fairly serviceable creme brulee. Chris said the custard was a bit less firm than he's used to, and the crust wasn't even, but the flavour was good. I'm getting pickier and pickier about my creme brulee so even if I'd had room, I'm not sure I would have bothered. In any event, 20 minutes later I was so full I'm sure I would have been very sorry indeed after a brownie sundae or the like.

So. The Keg: good, if you stick to the basics. Now: muffins. Twenty of them, to be exact (though there are currently only 18 remaining). I decided that a quiet afternoon was the perfect time to stock the house with easy-to-transport reasonably healthy baked goods for breakfasts. I am sick beyond reason of granola bars, but I love having something easy to bring with me to work for my ten o'clock nosh, and muffins are infinitely variable little packages of goodness. I had plenty of raw ingredients on hand, so I surfed around the archives of one of my very favourite food blogs, Baking Bites, until I found two recipes I wanted to try: Carrot, Apple and Honey muffins, and Vegan Chocolate Walnut muffins.

I followed each recipe to the letter, save for subbing regular milk for the soy milk and pecans for the walnuts in the chocolate muffins (thus rendering the vegan muffins un-vegan, but still delicious) so I've linked directly to each recipe if you want to try them. And you should. The carrot and apple ones are subtle, and the spices could probably be kicked up a notch, but would be excellent with a smear of peanut butter or cream cheese. The chocolate ones taste ridiculously decadent for how healthful they actually are, and need no embellishment, save perhaps a hot cup of coffee or tea.

Baking is such a great way to spend a slow, mellow afternoon, and we'll be enjoying the results for two weeks (with careful freezing, of course). I'm enjoying stocking the freezer lately, actually - I made a huge pot of ground turkey and mushroom bolognese sauce last week and froze half of it in two-to-three serving containers, for quick dinners. I'm hoping to get some soups and chili put away in the next couple of weeks, to be able to give myself regular breaks from cooking over the winter. I mean, I love to cook, but once in a while it's great to not have to think about it.

In other food news, I received a 6 qt. Crock Pot for Christmas, and I'm christening it tomorrow with some chicken taco filling - just a couple of breasts, some chicken broth and taco seasoning. I think it's going to be very, very tasty. I shall report back, with photos.

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