Thursday Dinner: Tortilla Española

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So, a tortilla is a tortilla except when it’s a tortilla. Yeah, it confused me too. In Mexico and most of Latin America, tortillas are those disks made of corn or flour and used to make tacos and burritos. In Spain, a tortilla is an omelet made with fried potatoes. Actually, that describes a tortilla española. The traditional, or French omelet, is called a tortilla francesca.

Linguistics aside, breakfast for dinner is a popular concept around Al Dente HQ (particularly with The Wife) so this was worth a try. Like any good omelet, the tortilla is scalable. I had a bunch of poblano peppers on hand, so I used those instead of Anaheim chiles. I was not going to pay the premium for serrano ham, but one could use cooked chorizo. Or mushrooms. Or caramelized onions if you are feeling adventurous. Continue reading

Thursday Dinner: Mozzarella Stuffed Pork Pizzaola

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There’s something cathartic or therapeutic about using a meat hammer. For this dish, I had to take four 3-inch pieces of a pork tenderloin and pound them to 1/4-inch thick. After a long day at the office, I’m not sure that there is a better investment of upper body strength.

When I was a child, my parents had this massive gavel-like hammer with a flat wooden side and a steel side for tenderizing. Mine is about 1/3 of the size and solid steel (thank you Oxo). The extra-heavy hammer transfers a lot of energy to the meat, flattening it nicely and without a lot of effort. Continue reading

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Meatless Monday: Lemon Pasta with Kale and Goat Cheese

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Around here at Al Dente HQ, kale usually comes in the traditional curly form. It’s the most widely-found variety of the veggie at farmer’s markets and grocery stores, and usually the cheapest and easiest to work with. I’ve seen the red variety at the market before, but never ventured in that direction.

This week, I picked up a bag of Tuscan kale, known also as Lacinato or Dinosaur kale. From One Green Planet:

Lacinato Kale (also known as Dinosaur) is a kale variety that features dark blue-green leaves with a slightly wrinkled and firm texture. The hearty leaves of Dino Kale are tall and narrow and retains its firm texture even after it has been cooked. It has a slightly sweeter and more delicate taste than the curly kind with its flavor described as deep and earthy, but not so bitter with an almost nutty sweetness.

Continue reading

Grocery List: September 28, 2014

2014-09-27 at 10-40-40NOTE: I am in Ithaca today for the first of two Walk To End Alzheimer’s events this week. We’ll close the books on the shores of Cayuga Lake around 2:30 p.m., take care of some data on Monday and Tuesday and flip into full-speed ahead mode for our largest event, the Walk in Syracuse. We’re expecting about 1,500 people then. There’s still a chance to contribute to The Chain Challenge if you haven’t done so already.

I work for a charity that focuses on the brain, and the disease that kill off its cells with aging. Yet, I’ve been focused squarely these days on why our brain does something else; why it allows us to make mistakes.

By all estimates, I’m good at what I do. More than merely serviceable, but not perfect. I make a typo here and there, and I’ve been known to recall jobs from the printer because me, my boss and my boss’ boss missed an error on a print job. Like I said, not perfect.

When I was working in college athletics, I found myself in a particular rut that I could not escape. Basically, everything I touched at work turned to manure. I would put more pressure on myself to be perfect and find that the mistakes would come fast and furious. Finally, a co-worker sat me down and explained the secret:

“You’re not a doctor. You’re not a paramedic. You’re not a firefighter. No one is going to live or die because of what you do.”

It’s not that I shouldn’t take what I do seriously, but that I ought to keep things in perspective. It helped; it’s been a good reminder over the years. It’s like a reset button. Have you noticed that you just don’t make one mistake, that they snowball and eventually swallow you? Eh, maybe it’s just me.

I’ve thought about why I make mistakes. I’m an obsessive writer but a terrible self-editor. I don’t like wasting words or sentences. I like my writing to follow a particular rhythm or cadence. Sometimes I focus so much on what I think I’m writing or want to write, that I often times miss what I actually write. And, when I go back to reread it, it looks fine. Apparently, this is called typoglycemia. For instance:

I cdn’uolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg: the phaonmneel pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rseearch taem at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Scuh a cdonition is arpppoiatrely cllaed typoglycemia.

So, that’s one explanation.

A team of researchers from Princeton looked at mistakes and came up with the theory that mistakes are caused by bad information going into our brains, rather than the brain itself making an error. So, if you are provided bad information to begin with, your brain is not what makes the mistake.

I can accept this as a partial explanation. If I write something based on wrong information given to me by someone else, then what caused that mistake? Bad information given to them? Good information that became bad information like the telephone game? Or is it because the information originated with someone that is wholly incompetent?

Joseph Hallinan’s 2009 book, Why We Make Mistakes, blames our brain and its shortcomings, particularly in terms of context. He looks closely at the cell phones and driving, pointing out that the brain cannot handle multiple processes at once. Our brains are faulty and we don’t do ourselves any favors by adding distractions (cell phones) when we need to concentrate (on the road).

So, why do we make mistakes? I have no idea. I’m sure there are three or four of them above that I haven’t noticed, even though I’ve read through this piece twice before pressing the SCHEDULE button. But, we are human. We make mistakes. And, no one is perfect.

The dilemma is this. If our brain is truly getting bad information from other sources, how do we program our brain to listen to accurate sources of information and shut out the bad information? And, if what do we do when the bad sources of information are part of the resources that you are given to work with?

I’m still working on all of this. In the meantime, here’s a grocery list.

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Tuesday Dinner: Roasted Green Chile and Pork Stew

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Now, Rick Bakas typically builds a solid recipe at his blog, The Traveling Palate. This one has been stuck to my wall for a while, in anticipation of Hatch chile season.

Two weeks ago, I went to Wegmans and they were overflowing with Hatch chiles. Tom, one of the in-store chefs at the Fairmount Wegmans, was roasting them up front. They were selling them frozen, fresh, roasted, chopped up… My point is, there were a metric ton of Hatch chiles in that store. Continue reading

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Wednesday Dinner: Sopa De Lima

2014-09-17 at 17-08-53Lime is not what one would expect to find on a list of soup ingredients. Soups usually evoke carrots, celery, and bay leaf from your flavor memory, not cilantro, chili peppers and lime.

This soup bears a striking resemblance to sopa de lima, or Yucatan lime soup. Budget Bytes, the website where I found this, took some short cuts away from authentic, but not enough to affect the integrity of the traditional sopa too greatly. Continue reading

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Tuesday Dinner: Tagliatelle with Pancetta and Mozzarella

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The cooler air and shorter days mean the return of sauces, soups and pastas. I hold out hope that I can get one or two more grilling days in this fall, but that remains to be seen. I’m not one of those people who will grill year round. I’m lacking a deck or patio door allowing me easy entry and exit from my house. We keep our grill in our detached garage, meaning that I have a 100 or 150 foot walk from my house to the garage. Not going to happen.

So, consider this recipe as part of the transition in seasons.  What caught my eye in this dish from Vikalinka was the use of fresh mozzarella in the sauce. I was hoping that it would melt more than it did, but the softened cheese added a lot of great flavor to what might be an otherwise ordinary pasta dish. Continue reading

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Meatless Monday: Brothy, Garlicky Beans

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Convenience. It’s typically why I don’t use dry beans, going for the canned variety instead. While I plan dinners ahead of time each week, I rarely decide a given evening’s more than a few hours in advance. Soaking beans overnight requires more planning than the average Al Dente meal receives.

So, canned it is. Except when it isn’t. One of the things that stood out to me in Merrill Stubbs’ recipe at Food52 was the rapid soak-and-cook method of handling the beans. It worked…sort of.

I was a little disappointed that the beans weren’t softer, even after soaking them before boiling. In total, I soaked the beans for two hours, boiled them then let them sit for another hour. They were still a little too hard.  Continue reading

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