‘Tis the Season to Indulge

It’s no secret that I love food.

All things food.

I love it so much that while cresting the hill of 25 and preparing to face the inevitable metabolic slow down that was about the rear its ugly head, I began working out religiously just so I could maintain my eating habits – for the most part. Of course I’m wiser with what types of foods I injest for my overall health’s sake, I’ve just managed to make sure when I do indulge it is at least a little less guilt free.

As all good food lover’s know, the best foods seem to be more delectable, more delicious and more sinful around the holidays – especially at Christmas time. I am pretty sure the increased enjoyment stems from being surrounded with people that you love (for the most part), the indulgent tendancies of the season of the adult juice type variety and the magic of the lights dancing off the tree.

There are even some foods that just don’t seem right to be caught enjoying at any other season or time throughout the year and some that just don’t taste the same when not reserved for the holidays. Some of my favourite foods, flavours and treats include:

1. Gingerbread: this goes for men, houses, stars, snowmen and the flavour in general – especially whilst being enjoyed in a hot beverage. Gingerbread is exclusively a Christmas taste and is not transferable to any other season or combinable with any other offers.

Source: Deviant Art

Source: Deviant Art

2. Coquilles Saint-Jacques: this is a dish that we traditionally eat during our Christmas dinner with Michael’s family and if you have not had it, I suggest you find a way to experience it soon. Michael’s mom makes the best version I’ve ever had and as with the majority of her dishes, has ruined it for me everywhere else, ensuring I only eat hers. It’s SO good. Mashed potatoes? Yum. Scallops? Yum. Lobster? Yum. Shrimp? Yum. (Sorry, JQ). It’s is literally my favourite things baked together in a decorative shell. Don’t believe me? Here’s a recipe that is closer to Pina’s then I have traditionally seen.

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3. Eggnog: Seriously, only good at Christmas. It doesn’t matter who you are, you cannot drink the stuff after December leaves us. I’m pretty sure there is a clause somewhere that changes the taste of all eggnog served outside of the last month of the year.

Yum.

Yum.

4. Chestnuts: I know, I know – a Portuguese that loves roasting chestnuts, how original. However, chestnuts, especially roasted are only enjoyable near Christmas. I am sure some crazy person once decided to roast chestnuts in July, but I’m also pretty sure the reason you’ve never heard a song about them in the summer is because they’re not nearly as enjoyable or even required at any other occasion.

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Delicious

5. Candy cane: small, medium or large, cane, stick or crumbled, traditional candy cane flavour or flavour shot of peppermint in your hot coacoa – candy canes are not a year round item. They are a short lived item on the store shelf, which is good news for people like me that get headaches when they injest too much of the candy cane’s sugar.

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Pretty

Whatever your favourite foods, tastes and treats are this Christmas, I hope you enjoy every delightful bite you may take, drink you may sip and embrace you may steal. Merry Christmas, everyone!

~Toni

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

An absolute favourite in our home, Spaghetti alla Carbonara originated in Italy – Rome to be specific and is a pasta dish traditionally consisting of egg, cheese and bacon.

I was first introduced to this recipe by Michael. It was his go-to dish to impress me with when we first started dating long before I knew how simple it was to whip together, as its richness in flavour would make you think it took ages to assemble. Over time it has become one of my personal favourites to whip up and Michael assures me that he’s met his match in the Carbonara game – an accolade I am proud to have earned.

Michael’s mom, Pina was the first to share with me the origins of the dish, explaining that the village would feed the Charcoal workers this hearty meal as it was filling,  easy to cook in large batches and fairly inexpensive to make as pork based meats, cheese and pasta are in abundance in Italy.

While there are many variations and versions of Carbonara – including the cream based sauce, chicken and garlic additions of the western world, and Michael’s and my very own mushroom and onion versions – the best in my opinion is the basic, traditional version.

To start you will need:

A good cut of bacon – if I’m not able to get to our local butcher, I prefer President’s Choice, naturally smoked bacon. You can also swap the bacon out for pancetta, or add in chicken breast in addition to the bacon.

Parmigiano Reggiano – not Kraft Parmesan (aka salt), REAL Parmigiano Reggiano, wax case and all. As this is a staple in our home, I usually buy a fair size piece and then grate it myself – however if I’m tight for time I cheat and buy the pre-grated container at the local butcher, Dipietros. You can also request to have it grated at most meat/deli counters in your local grocery store.

Parmigiano Regiano

Parmigiano Regiano

Eggs – the rule for quantity required is one egg per serving or person eating, plus one. So if I am making enough pasta for 4 people, I would need five eggs for the sauce base.

Pasta – traditionally a spaghetti dish, however many types of pasta can be used in this recipe and it works well with fettuccine or linguine. I however prefer tradition and usually use spaghetti.

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To begin, you will need to cut your bacon into roughly one inch chunks and then separate the slices onto a plate.

I use kitchen scissors as I find it a bit easier and faster

I use kitchen scissors as I find it a bit easier and faster

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Once this is complete, cook your bacon until it is the perfect texture of almost crunchy, but with a little bit of flex to it still. I use a deep pan for this to avoid splatter.

A tip for dealing with the bacon grease: line a bowl with tin foil and drain off the grease into the bowl. When the grease is cooled, you can wrap it up in the tinfoil and throw it away, minimizing the mess and clean up.

Mmmmm bacon

Mmmmm bacon

I drain off the grease as I go to avoid 'boiling' the bacon in its own fat and to cut down on splatter

I drain off the grease as I go to avoid ‘boiling’ the bacon in its own fat and to cut down on splatter

Perfect!

Perfect!

Once the bacon is done cooking, drain off any excess grease and pat dry with paper towel, setting it aside. This is where I start the pasta, bringing the water to a boil, adding in the spaghetti, a pinch of salt and about a teaspoon of olive oil to avoid sticky noodles.

Once the pasta is started, I grate the Parmigiano using a hand grater.

A gift from Piña, my favourite grater.

My favourite grater.

You will need enough cheese for the sauce - one scoop per serving - as well as to garnish/ taste once plated.

You will need enough cheese for the sauce – one scoop per serving – as well as to garnish/ taste once plated.

Now, for the base of the sauce! In a separate bowl, crack your eggs using the rule of one egg per person/serving, plus one.

A serving for four = five eggs

A serving for four = five eggs

To keep the eggs from congealing from the heat of the pasta, add a small splash of extra virgin olive oil – less than a teaspoon.

Just a splash!

Just a splash!

Using a fork, beat your eggs with the olive oil until combined.

The blur is my hand and the fork - I'm so fast!

The blur is my hand and the fork – I’m so fast!

Once the egg and olive oil is ready, add in your Parmigiano using the same rule as the egg. As I am a Parmigiano addict, I make sure mine are heaping scoops.

Mmmmm Parm...

Mmmmm Parm…

To finish the sauce, add in your bacon and stir.

Mmmmm bacon...

Mmmmm bacon…

Ready for the pasta

Ready for the pasta

When your pasta is ready, drain, rinse and return it to the pot. Pour in your sauce and stir – based on the type of pasta I use, I usually use a pair of tongs to turn over the noodles in the sauce to avoid ruining the integrity of the noodle. The heat of the noodle will slightly cook the eggs, with the oil keeping it creamy and rich.

Your pasta is now ready for plating! Be sure to garnish with a few more scoops of Parm and a bit of cracked pepper to taste.

Voila!

Buon appetito!