Christmas Dishes

I started my Christmas morning off with a 8 mile run. The first miles were nice and easy, but I was really enjoying myself by the end and finished up with a 7:36 last mile. Whee! Even though it’s tough to hit the road early, getting my run out of the way in the a.m. really frees up the rest of my day. If I wait till after breakfast, my run usually doesn’t happen (or I end up running in the dark). The weather here in Pennsylvania is cold, but I’ve been eating lots of comfort food to keep me warm and fueled. First up, a rustic loaf of homemade bread (it made the kitchen smell a-m-a-z-i-n-g). I was skeptical of a bread recipe that didn’t require a stand mixer or a lot of muscle, but Mark Bittman’s speedy no-knead bread proved to be a winner.

So easy to make and excellent with butter!

I’m always encouraging my family to eat healthier, but it’s a delicate balance between cooking healthy dishes and cooking dishes they will actually eat. For example, my Thanksgiving roasted grapes and Brussels sprouts dish did not go over so well (even though I thought it was delicious). Since I genuinely love to cook, I usually offer to do the bulk of the holiday meal preparation for my immediate family. When deciding on the menu for Christmas Eve, I was tempted to use whole wheat pasta instead of regular and substitute lean turkey for ground beef. But then I thought…what’s the use of cooking dishes that my family doesn’t love? Thanksgiving and Christmas only come once a year – a little real bacon and pasta never hurt anyone. Of course, I couldn’t resist a few healthy updates, but for the most part I think the changes went un-noticed (Grandma would have commented otherwise…) So even though they don’t often make an appearance on the blog, today’s recipes feature beef, bacon, and regular ‘ol white pasta. And the results are delicious – I promise!

Megan’s Pasta Carbonara (serves 6)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb dry spaghetti or linguine
  • 4 slices of center cut bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • chopped scallions or parsley, for garnish

Directions:

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt liberally, and cook pasta for 7-8 minutes
  • Meanwhile, heat the bacon in a cold frying pan and cook until crispy, add 1/2 cup dry white wine to deglaze the pan, and then remove from heat
  • Reserve 1/2 cup of hot pasta water and then drain pasta thoroughly
  • Add pasta to the bacon-wine mixture and toss until combined
  • Add 1/2 cup hot pasta water to eggs and whisk thoroughly (this is called tempering – it prevents the eggs from scrambling)
  • Pour the egg-water mixture over the pasta, add the cheese, salt, and pepper and toss thoroughly until pasta is evenly coated
  • Allow sauce to absorb into the pasta, about 2-3 minutes. Garnish with scallions or parsley. Buon Appetitio!

*Unlike traditional pasta carbonara, this version doesn’t contain any cream, but the eggs, grated cheese, and center cut bacon (lower in fat and sodium than regular bacon) still provide plenty of flavor.

Baked Meatballs (makes about 24 meatballs)

Ingredients:

  • 1.25 lbs 85% lean ground beef
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs fresh rosemary, minced (don’t leave this out – adds great flavor!)
  • splash of Worcestershire sauce (I was out so I substituted soy sauce)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  • Mix together all ingredients in a bowl and lightly combine with your hands (don’t overmix or meat will become too tough!)
  • Form into ping-pong sized balls and place on baking sheet
  • Bake for about 10 minutes, until no longer pink inside
  • Combine with tomato sauce and simmer on medium heat until both sauce and meatballs are hot

*Since these meatballs are baked and not fried they are a little healthier. They were also surprisingly moist – I think the key is not to overwork the meat. That makes it tough and dry!

Pumpkin and Pineapple Upside-Down Pie for dessert – from the best bakery ever!

I ate this chocolate cupcake a few days ago, but I thought it was too cute to leave off the blog. Plus it was less than a dollar! I love non-NYC prices.

Happy Holidays from me and Kiwi, the cat!

Question: When you cook for others do you try to “healthify” your dishes? Or do you go with classic recipes?

  • AR

    If I cook for anyone else, I don’t really modify things all that much unless someone tells be they don’t eat/don’t like something.

    It’s actually funny though, I’m at my parent’s place for the first time in a year or so and the frig is full of fat free everything and the freezer is full of veggie burgers. It’s kind of trippy because I think they’re adding fattier stuff back for fun because my mother commented on the fact that the cupcakes I brought clearly had real butter. Oops.

    I’d totally try that Carbonra though, not usually my thing but sounds pretty awesome ;p

  • Damnit AR, I wanted to be the first to comment! Do you even KNOW how hard it is to beat Marie and Amy and all those other bloggers?! Haha.

    Anyways, my family makes sure to finish the 2% milk and get 1% milk before I visit home and they stock up on ice cream (not quite as much as yours has though!) because I eat it all, but I only eat it because it’s there! They hide other unhealthy food too, it’s funny!

    I wish you many more happy miles in NEPA! I ran with an old HS teammate today who told me he’s been training with someone. I asked who, it was Brian Sell! hahaha I thought he retired.

  • this all looks totally delicious! i especially like the idea of no-knead bread. that’s comin’ next on my cooking repertoire for sure.

    good for you for catering to your family. i think there’s a fine balance between introducing them to healthier, more whole foods but also giving them what they loved. you made a WHOLE meal with REAL ingredients – and if that means beef and white pasta, so be it. you didn’t use weird mixes to make the meatballs or anything, so i don’t think it’s a big deal at all. getting people to eat whole foods, in my opinion, is the first, most important major step before you convince them that whole wheat pasta isn’t weird and is actually yummy, and that ground turkey is a fine replacement for ground beef. i think you made the right choices 🙂

    if anything, i have the opposite problem – i comre home and want richer, more unhealthy foods than my family eats! for example, i could easily eat a vegan diet here just by accident – between the sprouted grain breads, soy milk, whole grains, sunshine burgers and soy ice cream in the freezer, it’s almost too crunchy over here 😉 luckily i’m not at my parents place and am away at an inn eating ridiculously indulgent desserts at country restaurants. holler back, yo.

  • 99% of the time, I modify recipes to be healthier. I am always appalled how much butter/oil/etc is called for in various recipes that is totally unnecessary. Maybe you don’t change the entire recipe, but there is always SOME tweak you can make that usually cuts the calories without changing the integrity of the dish. While I hate that Hungry Girl tends to use lots of crappy ingredients (e.g., fake sugar and processed foods), she does a good job teaching you how to swap things out to make your meals healthier.

    The 1% of the time I don’t change recipes are the rare occasions when I bake. I usually try to find the healthiest proven recipes I can, but I don’t know enough about food chemistry to know how to modify a recipe without destroying it.

  • It depends on the occasion. If it’s for people I know who would be game to try something new, I’ll do it if I think it makes a legitimate improvement. When I’m cooking for myself, I usually opt for a healthier preparation, since I think stuff like whole wheat pasta and olive oil in place of butter tastes better, and most sweet recipes tend to call for way more sugar than I tend to like. However, when I bake Christmas cookies to send out to relatives every year, I stick with the classics.

  • Looks like a great weekend! And congrats on that fun run. I agree: it’s a delicate balance between encouragement and preaching healthy eating. There’s actually an article in this issue of Women’s Health about this! I usually try to lighten up dishes, but I’ve definitely had some flops by making things that were a little too “out there.” It’s tough because people want comfort food around the holidays, but I also want my arteries to be able to breathe!

    Merry Christmas, Megan 🙂

  • Yeah, it’s hard cooking for people with different eating habits. I think you did right. When you’re hosting, it’s not really the time to go for all the low-cal/fat versions. BUT I do think it’s a great idea to sneak in healthy sides!

  • ZOMGZfluffykitty! Hi Kiwi!

    I also started off my Christmas morning with a chilly early morning run – it’s the only way to get ‘er done.

    I tend to tone down the spiciness of stuff when I cook for me fam….but that’s about it!

  • I’d say about half my family likes to eat healthier like me so I always go for healthier cooking. Hope the other half follows too!

  • that photo of you with your cat is ridiculusly adorable. vacation defined?

    i think you did great adapting to what your family likes – you used real food, which in my opinion is the healthiest thing of all, even if it’s meat or butter or whatever. my family is pretty easy since they’ve always appreciated home-cooked food, so while i don’t necessarily try to healthify things, i might interject occasional comments (i.e. what about using organic dairy). some of this has caught on – my mom now purchases wild fish and organic chicken broth, but then she buys conventional cheese and perdue chicken, so it’s a work in progress. 🙂

  • Looks so delish! I find it hard to not try to “healthify” recipes when cooking for others since I naturally seem to do it. But sometimes I’ll calm down and just use the called for amounts of butter, oil, etc. If I do try to sneak something by people it usually works though (or so I think…). Now trying to get my dad to actually eat a vegetable? That is the true challenge. The man is hopeless.

    Hope you had a great Christmas Megan!!