Pasta Carbonara

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What kind of family-style food chronicle would this be if I didn’t tell you all about our relationship with Pasta Carbonara, our favorite family supper? Carbonara, as we affectionately refer to it, is probably the one and only meal I prepare that provokes J to shout for joy, that is, other than bacon. But Carbonara has lots of bacon in it, along with eggs and cheese, so there you go.

Every night, as the sun makes its swift departure behind the neighbor’s roof, J drops his light saber and comes nosing around me as I get pans moving around in the kitchen.

“What’s for dinner?”

If, as happens 6 out of every 7 days, I answer (in my best Mrs. Cleaver voice): “Why, all your favorites, dear; chicken nuggets, scrambled eggs with pickles on top, and a great big pile of French fries”.

“Oh, boy, Mom, thanks!” (gives me a big bear hug, and skips off to wash his hands).

HA! No, sillies, that’s not what happens.

Basically if the menu consists of anything other than Carbonara, he falls on the floor in a raging, apoplectic fit. Kind of like Jake La Motta during the steak scene in Raging Bull, except he doesn’t throw any food at my head (that would merit a time-out, for sure).

I have to admit, that Carbonara is also one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. My husband holds the title of Official Maker of the Carbonara, but lately, I’ve tinkered with the tried-and-true recipe (because that’s what I do), and now have made it even more comfortable and delicious.

Bring on December

Palate Pleaser

My kids love to play the favorites game: What’s your favorite color? Flower? Cookie? I usually wiggle out of this kind of cross-examination by stating in a vaguely diplomatic tone, “I like all colors/flowers/cookies, because each is the best in its own special way”. Needless to say that answer just doesn’t inspire them. Kids crave definitive answers, not blurry, meaningless statements that could have been scripted by a government speechwriter.

But, as far as months go, I’m unequivocal – December is my very favorite month of the year. Yes, and the fact that my birthday arrives right at the beginning only helps to kick-start the upcoming weeks of celebrating. What can I say? I’m a party girl at heart, plus it’s a great excuse to stock up the wine cooler with all things sparkly.

I was seduced by the photo of this drink in Mario Batali’s Holiday Food cookbook, and it is now my official “house” drink. Not sparkling wine, but a colorful (read: festive) kind of liquid appetizer that precedes a glass of champagne, the sort of concoction that’s perfect for say, about five o’clock in the afternoon, when it’s just about dark, the neighbor’s Christmas lights ignite, and a fire is crackling away in the living room. Happy December!

Italian Tangerine Sparkler

For one drink

Slice a thin wheel from one plump tangerine, and set it aside. Squeeze the juice from the tangerine into a tall ice-filled glass. Pour in some sparkling water, or better yet, Blood Orange Italian Soda (my favorite is made by Archer Farms at Target) then top with a big slash of Campari. If you intend to enjoy a more debauched evening, then add a splash of citrus-flavored vodka as well. Float the tangerine slice on top and drink.

Copyright (c) 2006 FamilyStyle

Call me Wholesome

If there ever was a day to make bread, today is it. Outside, it’s gray, cool and stormy, pretty much as it’s been all week. It really feels like fall now.

The other day I put my basil plants out of their misery – although they were extremely happy this summer and on into early autumn, growing 3 feet tall and almost as wide around – their stems grew mustard-colored, the leaves shriveled up, and last Friday the whole plants just toppled over like tipsy ballerinas. In their place, I put out some heirloom pumpkins that I’d found I needed when I saw them displayed at the farmer’s market. Don’t laugh; my friends and family know well enough by now that I will release untold dollars from my wallet on large, heavy fruits when they have names like Lumina, Cinderella and Old Zeb and come in every autumnal color on the Martha Stewart paint chart. Plus, the guy at the market said they bake up real good. I’ll let you know how they taste in a few weeks, when I try them out.

But back to baking. It’s not that I think making bread should be relegated to those infrequent days when you are cozily nestled inside, but it’s definitely more satisfying. I do cheat a little, however. I want the wonderful homemade bread smell on my cozy inside day, but I also want to have more time to spend reading stories to my son, and to myself, for that matter.
My method is to haul up the handy bread machine that lives in my basement, and I highly recommend brushing the dust off of your machine, if you have one, to make only the dough for this bread. In fact, I might as well say that dough is the only thing you should make in the bread machine. Why do you need a dry, oddly shaped bread-like door stopper with strange holes on the bottom? Well, you don’t. But without a bread machine’s dough cycle, you will have a hard time duplicating the warm, humid atmosphere that dough needs to “proof”, or develop. All you need to do when the dough cycle ends is to take the dough out of the machine and fold it into a loaf pan for one more rise, then stick it in a regular oven to bake. So easy, so good.


One more thing: I recently tried a new Gold Medal “artisan” bread flour called “Harvest King” – at least, it’s new to me, but when I looked it up on the General Mills website, they seem to be saying it’s been around for a few years. It makes outstanding bread.

Favorite Buttermilk Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from Beth Hensperger

1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons softened butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups stoneground whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vital wheat gluten (optional, but gives machine-made dough a loftier texture)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (I use SAF)

Put everything in the bread machine in the order listed and press the “dough” cycle button.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
When the dough is ready, gently form it into a plump log shape on a lightly floured surface. Transfer the dough to a loaf pan coated with nonstick spray, tucking the ends under. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let it rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until top is browned and bottom sounds hollow when you thump it. Cool as long as you can before cutting into it, or the crust will get soggy.

Copyright (c) 2006 FamilyStyle

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