Tag Archives: Labor Day

The Al Dente Labor Day Guide to Cooking Something Awesome Because Summer Is Almost Over And You’re Hungry

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It’s Labor Day Weekend. No, really I looked at the calendar and everything (Side note: Lately, I’ve been having a problem remembering simple things like appointments, what day it is, people’s names… I’m also not sleeping well. According to the WebMD Symptom Checker, I could have Lyme Disease, brain cancer or early-onset Alzheimer’s. My co-worker, Katrina, a social worker and one of our dementia experts, seems to think I may be a hypochondriac. She may be closer.) and this Monday is Labor Day.

Labor Day is awful because of its connection to the school calendar. It was awful as a kid because it meant school started that week. It was awful in college because it meant that I would have to start paying attention in class. It’s awful as an adult because I married a high school teacher that drifts manically between emotions. If anger turned outward is rage and anger turned inward is depression, anger turned sideways is a teacher 10 days before the first day of school.

But, as you watch the summer drift away into a pile of leaves that become compacted into 3 feet of snow because your town cut its budget and can’t afford more than one fall lawn waste pickup, you have an entire three-day weekend to embark on one last summer cooking challenge. Not just shrimp cocktail, but grilled shrimp on a skewer. Not just chicken breasts, but a spatchcooked herb-grilled chicken. Not just…you get the idea.

So for you, dear reader, I offer some ideas of what you should cook this weekend. Your grocer and butcher have meat. Your fishmonger has fish.

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Not At All Complicated Meat Dishes

Photo Jun 28, 12 24 50 PMBurgers Because America!

See the froth? It's time to flip your 'shrooms.
See the froth? It’s time to flip your ‘shrooms.

Not-Meat Burgers for the Vegetarian Chick That Haunts You


Fish! Because It’s Good! (Except for Tilapia)

2014-07-04 at 11-39-18Side Dishes Because You Got Invited To A Cookout


What is this?

NOTE FROM JARED: Today is Al Dente’s third anniversary. My first post follows. Thanks for reading and I’m looking for to three more! (Admittedly that doesn’t sound too exciting, but take what you can get, right?)


Apologies if this post sounds like my seventh-grade “What did I do last summer” essay.

My earliest memories take place in a specific kitchen. Rewind to the early 1980s on the Syracuse’s Northside. My maternal grandmother, Concetta Mancini, hosted the big dinners in her turn-of-the-century colonial on Mary Street (Remember that Italians, like most Catholic families, are matrilineal. Everything goes back to the mother’s side of the family. There are exceptions, but this is the general rule.). Christmas and Thanksgiving were at my aunt Carolyn’s, but the dinners that mattered were here. I still remember the flecked countertops, the big stove with a pot of something simmering (the stove was always heating something), the window over the sink that looked out at the driveway…and the food.

Our family hails from the Molise region of Italy, more specifically Campobasso. My father’s family is from Ferrazzano; my mother’s was from different places in and around Campobasso. I have never been to Italy and know little about this region. What I can tell you is how my grandmother’s cooking influenced me.

Sarah Vowell, in Partly Cloudy Patriot, writes that it was years before she learned that not everyone ate a potato with every meal. It was quite a shock to me that not everyone ate pasta two or three times a week. And, don’t get me started on where the sauce came from. A jar? What do you mean? Your grandfather on your father’s side doesn’t grow the tomatoes so your grandmother and mother can crush and seed them?

Labor Day weekend meant two things in my house–the start of the school year and gagging. And the two were not related. I don’t know if you have been around tomatoes being crushed and strained, but it is not fun. Worse was the smell of a rotten tomato that slipped through the QA team of mom and grandma. They would run the tomatoes through an electric tomato crusher, which separated the seeds from the pulp, leaving behind the makings of the next year’s sauce and a wretched smell.

If Labor Day was our annual rite of a season’s end, then New Year’s Eve marked the beginning of the cooking calendar. New Year’s was held at my house each year and was “our holiday.” And, until the day my mother died in 1997, we had the same menu. On the Eve: Fried smelt, red clam sauce over angel hair, shrimp cocktail, bacon-wrapped scallions, cipollinis, roasted red peppers (which were roasted on our back deck for a number of years), broccoli, baccala, and an assortment of cold salads, many with fish. On the Day: French onion soup, prime rib, baked potato and a bunch of vegetables of which I had no particular interest. Easter had nothing to do with chocolate. Sure, I got my share, but for me it was about the ponzat (sp), or stuffed veal leg breast. And on, and on.

By my junior year of college, I was living in an apartment and cooking for myself. My experiments went mostly wrong, but by senior year I was making my own sauce and freezing it and am certain that I was the only person to ever borrow the RA’s hammer for the purpose of pounding veal for scallopini.

Today, through all of it, cooking is a therapeutic release. I can’t fix a damn thing. I can’t change my car’s oil. I’m useless with a golf club. But, you give me a couple of hours notice and I’ll assure you that you will eat well. It’s my art. It’s my release. It’s what gets me through. And I’m happy to share it.

Pickling Without Canning: Intro

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I’ve talked about Labor Day weekend in the past, but let me rehash it here again. When I was a child, Labor Day was harvest weekend around my house. My grandfather had this massive plot of land that he, and others, farmed (dare I say) commune-style. He grew everything: massive braids of garlic, root vegetables, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers… After 25+ years at Carrier Corporation, he retired to farm the fields behind his house. For years, I thought my grandfather was a farmer by occupation.

Labor Day weekend meant smells and not all of them were pleasant. In the garage, my mother and grandmother would crush tomatoes through a massive contraption that separated its fruit, seeds and juice. In the driveway would be my father, roasting an endless supply of bell peppers over a flame. Neither of these smells were particularly inviting.

Once the tomatoes were done and the peppers scorched, the fun would move inside. Brines would be concocted on the stovetop for the heads of eggplant that had just been peeled and julienned. The bell peppers that did not meet the grates of the grill were chopped and washed. Both veggies would be piled into jars, along with the tomatoes (the peppers would go in little baggies and be frozen, along with blanched escarole).

And then the water would come to a boil. For hours, my mother, grandmother and father would seal Mason jars and boil them so that they could stand up on the basement shelf for the next year (Some of those tomatoes would make their way to a stock pot to become marinara sauce, which would then lead to the next phase of Labor Day weekend…pasta making.).

I love the idea of pickling, canning and this sort of thing. I don’t like the idea of spending time doing it, burning my hands or inadvertently giving The Wife and I botulism because I did something incorrectly.

My idea of pickling is something that can remain stable in a refrigerator after sitting for a week or two. I’ve done garlic and sweet dill pickles successfully in the past, but decided to branch out this year. Since it is the first week of September and the best of the summer produce is out right now, I’m going to post my recipes for those of us that are too lazy to spend a Saturday afternoon boiling Mason jars.

Grocery List: September 1, 2013

I can't find the grocery list, so here is a picture of The Kid and I on the couch.
I can’t find the grocery list, so here is a picture of The Kid and I on the couch.

Allow me to work blue for a second.

Fuck September.

In college, I disliked April because it was the busiest month of my year. September has since ascended to the top spot. The Labor Day weekend tease gives birth to an immediate gear shift to school and my walkathon season (a period of time where I work 20 consecutive days without a break, and a total of 26 out of 28 days). It’s the month where The Wife and I are at our most miserable, often times annoying each other by just being in the same room.

Suffice it to say, I was not ready for September 1 to hit the calendar today, especially since the weather (80 and sunny) is teasing you into believing that it is still summer out. I would just assume have it drop into the 50s and begin the seven-month slog of cold Northeast temperatures.

But enough of my insipid whining.

We’ll end summer much in the same way we started it with clams provençal for dinner. I’m also clearing out some of the meat from the freezer over the next few days. And, I’m going to share pickling recipes that do not require canning and burning your hands on hot Mason jars. So, it should be a busy week.

That said, fuck September.

Meatless Monday: Go Veggies’ lentil burgers

One of the things I love about the CNY Regional Market is the vast variety of vendors.  Vegetables aside, I counted two seafood stands, four cattle or pig farms, two dairy farms, five bakeries and two or three “miscellaneous” type vendors. One of the latter was a stand from Go Veggies, a Buffalo-based cafe that makes vegan food for its diners and for sale.

The Go Veggies story is actually pretty cool. The owner, a native of Sri Lanka, is a computer programmer turned chef, who opened his business in a shared community kitchen. The popularity of his product propelled him into his own space and, later, a cafe on Bryant Street. His business plan includes a booth at the market.

The Wife and I were intrigued by the stand and the sign for carrot burgers. The hook for me, though, was the lentil burgers also for sale. We picked up a package of four for $7, got our cooking instructions (more on that later) and made our way through the building. The ingredients were simple: lentils, carrots, chickpeas, brown rice, and spices. The burgers are packed to about 1/2-inch thick and frozen, separated by sheets of wax paper. Continue reading Meatless Monday: Go Veggies’ lentil burgers

Labor Day weekend: Off the clock

Like you’ve never just stared at a fire before…

No grocery list. No summary of yesterday’s trip to the market. This is the post for this weekend. As summer draws to its bitter end, we’ll put the keyboard aside for a couple of days.

If you are cooking out this weekend, here are a few of our favorite grilling recipes: