I've already watched Elf twice, and December has barely begun. Since there's a good chance I'll watch it a couple more times before the Dec. 25, it seemed like the perfect Christmas movie for an easy dinner and a movie night. Any Elf-lover can probably guess where I'm going with this…
I'm not alone in thinking Elf is one of the best Christmas movies of all time. Good Housekeeping ranks the holiday movie, which stars Will Ferrell, James Caan and Zooey Deschanel, at number eight out of 72 festive films. IMDb lists it in the number nine spot out of 100, and Rotten Tomatoes ranks it number 25 out of 100, with a "Certified Fresh" score of 85%.
Naturally, I was inspired to make an Elf-style spaghetti. But instead of heaping a few fistfuls of candy and marshmallows on top of buttery noodles and drowning it all in maple syrup, I asked chef Heather Pelletier of in New York, N.Y., to create a maple-based pasta you could actually enjoy for dinner (or breakfast, we don't judge), ideally while watching Elf.
For dessert, we blended together a peppermint milkshake, inspired by Buddy the Elf's journey from the North Pole, through the Candy Cane Forest, on his way to find his dad in New York City. This dinner and a movie combination is both festive and fulfilling, with just the right amount of sweetness to make everyone feel like their favorite giddy Christmas elf.
"We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup,” Buddy says in the film. Rest assured, you'll be hitting several of the major elf food groups with this meal.
Dinner starts with a bowl of pasta, fittingly topped with maple-infused meatballs. To balance the sweetness, Pelletier adds bacon to the mix — essentially grown-up candy. If you're having doubts about putting maple syrup in your meatballs, it's very similar to a maple breakfast sausage, which is also one of our favorites.
Instead of a red sauce, Pelletier created a buttery bacon pan sauce that's both silky and creamy. "This recipe is a bit of a mashup of a cacio e pepe and a carbonara, with the idea of breakfast floating in mind (a la Buddy) but much more suited to a delicious and filling dinner," says Pelletier.
Pelletier also notes: "If you have a meat grinder of any kind (perhaps an attachment for your mixer?), feel free to grind the bacon [for the meatballs]. If not, a small dice will be fine." She also says to mix the meatballs by hand, because "using a mixer will result in a tougher meatball." And while you can start cooking your meatballs right after rolling them, Pelletier suggests freezing them first, so they hold their shape and make less of a mess.
The Candy Cane Forest Milkshake is made using your favorite seasonal peppermint ice cream. We used Friendly's Peppermint Stick ice cream, but are also fans of McConnell's Peppermint Stick. There's also an option to add vodka to your shake ... to help get the grown-ups into the holiday spirit.
The Elf recipes
Maple Bacon Meatballs and Pasta
by chef Heather Pelletier
For Maple-Bacon Meatballs, about 25
1/8 cup maple syrup
1 cup Panko, bread crumbs
3/4 cup whole milk
2 pounds ground pork
10 ounces bacon, small dice or ground
1 cup grated pecorino or parmesan cheese, packed
2-½ teaspoons salt
For Pasta, 2 servings
½ pound spaghetti
2 ounces thick bacon, diced
½ small onion, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces (½ stick) unsalted butter, divided
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup pecorino or parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
1. Pour milk and maple syrup over the Panko in a large bowl; mix to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the liquid.
2. Add ground pork, bacon, eggs, cheese and salt to the bowl and mix thoroughly by hand.
3. Scoop and roll the mixture into roughly 1-ounce balls. ("Bigger is fine too. We were just attempting to emulate candy on top of pasta," says Pelletier.) Freeze for at least 2 hours.
4. Heat 3 cups vegetable oil in a medium sauté pan to 350 F, or until a bit of meat sizzles when dropped in. Add the balls in small batches and cook, rolling around to brown all sides nicely. Take care not to overcrowd the pan; too many meatballs will drop the temperature of the oil dramatically.
Chef’s note: Smaller meatballs should be cooked through by the time they are browned. Bigger meatballs may need to bake in a 350 F oven for about 10 minutes to finish. If you prefer not to fry, roll the balls with a bit of oil on the outside and bake in a 350 F oven for about 20-25 minutes.
5. Drain the cooked balls on a towel and reserve while pasta cooks, or freeze for later.
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the bacon and onions with half of the butter and as much freshly ground black pepper as you like (hint: more is better). The bacon will develop some color and a bit of crispness, while the onion softens and also gets slightly browned. In the process, the butter will also brown (but be careful not to have the heat too high or the butter will burn); low and slow is best.
3. When everything is browned and the onions are softened, deglaze with the white wine. Cook just until the wine no longer gives off an alcohol smell, and reduce by about half.
4. Add cooked meatballs to the pan and turn off the heat. Meanwhile, cook the pasta to al dente and drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
5. Add the pasta to the saucepan, along with the remaining butter, cheese, maple syrup, and pasta water. Turn the heat on low, and gently stir until everything melds together into a silky sauce.
Chef’s note: Check for seasoning — if your pasta water was salted, that along with the cheese and bacon is likely enough salt. Plate into two bowls, with as many meatballs as you like cascading over the spaghetti-like candy, and garnish with chives for a colorful touch.
Candy Cane Forest Milkshake
by Jenny Kellerhals
Makes two small milkshakes
1 pint (2 cups) candy cane or peppermint-flavored ice cream
½ cup milk
3-½ ounces vodka, regular or peppermint-flavored (optional)
Chocolate syrup (optional)
Whipped cream (optional)
Candy Canes (optional)
Spoons or straws
1. Add slightly softened ice cream, milk and vodka (if using), to a blender or food processor. Pulse blender until the milkshake comes together. Add ice cream to thicken, milk to thin.
2. Pour milkshake into two small glasses or one large glass, garnish as desired and enjoy.
Alternatives: Instead of peppermint ice cream, add ½ to 1 cup of smashed candy cane pieces to vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Blend with the milk and vodka to fully incorporate and soften the pieces.
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