Tag Archives: New Year

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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.


Christmas 2013: Calamari Salad

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No real story here. This is a standby side for our holidays and a rather typical salad for an Italian Christmas or New Years Eve. It made its return as the seafood accompaniment to the meat-wrapped meat entree I prepared.

My father’s version is good, but it’s not quite as balanced as the version served at Asti Caffe and Trattoria in Syracuse, which this salad is patterned after. Continue reading Christmas 2013: Calamari Salad

Like me. Please.


My New Year’s Resolutions/Things I Wanted To Do post referenced my desire to grow the readership of Al Dente and establish the blog as a place to visit. With that in mind, I’ve set up a Facebook page to act as a space to collect posts, photos and otherwise interact on things related to Al Dente. When new posts go live, they will appear in your stream when you login. I’d appreciate if you, kind reader, did two things:

1) Like the page. You can do so by visiting the page and clicking Like or by scrolling down the page and clicking Like on the Facebook box in the left column.

2) Share the page with your friends. Facebook, after all, is about sharing.

Thanks for your support of the Al Dente blog. Here’s a cute video of of a duck following a dog:

Saturday dinner: Veal stew forestière


I thought it was funny that The Kid woke up at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday. She usually makes it until 6:30 or 7 on the weekends. I found it funnier when I got home from my Starbucks run that it felt about as warm in my kitchen as it did in my driveway.

“Hey,” The Wife bellowed from our living room. “Is the vent in the kitchen blowing cold air?”

It was.

Thus, a serious of dominoes fell. I called the furnace repair company, The Wife took The Kid to The In-Laws’ house. I sat/napped in the cold until The Furnace Guy came and fixed the issue (apparently, I need a new inductor). We laid out $210 for a service call, labor and $3 worth of “inductor lube” (The Furnace Guy’s words, not mine). The Wife and The Kid came back, after extending a dinner invitation to The In-Laws. I went to Wegmans.

IMG_1751Had it just been The Wife and me, I was going to make duck, fulfilling one of my New Year’s Resolutions/Things I Want To Do in 2013 list. With an additional three people for dinner (The Wife’s aunt Barbara usually joins after the trio attend Saturday evening mass.), I scratched the bird and went for something we have not had here in a while: veal. Continue reading Saturday dinner: Veal stew forestière

Al Dente’s New Years Resolutions

I hate New Years Resolutions. They don’t stick. The first and only one I ever made really wasn’t a resolution. It was more or less a starting point: the beginning of The Weight Loss Story.

Rather than make a hard and fast list of “resolutions,” I’m going to make a list of things I’d like to try harder to achieve or do. I’m certain that this will go nowhere, but why not. At the very least, it will give The Wife or a few of my friends something to hang over my head.

In 2013, I:

  • Want to market this blog better. I’ve been puttering around at a static readership number for about a year. I want to push that needle further to the right.
  • Am going to make a greater effort to read everything written by Sean Kirst. Syracuse is blessed with a columnist with immeasurable passion and fire. I once saw him go fire and brimstone at an awards lunch over trash on the side of the road. I wish I could channel my emotions in as productive of a way as he does.
  • Am going to give Thai food a better shot.
  • Am going to sit down for a meal at a Vietnamese restaurant.
  • Will try to be as complimentary as I am critical of people. It’s something I’ve been working on, but I think that if I put it on screen and look at it, it might happen.
  • Will not go out for lunch as much. $6 here, $8 there…it adds up after a while.
  • Want to work more vegetables into dinnertime. So, more trips to the Farmer’s market and maybe a CSA.
  • Plan to eat more locally raised meat.
  • Want to broaden Meatless Monday. I don’t know what that means, but I want to do it.
  • Might reorganize this blog so the categories and tags make the posts easier to search and reference.
  • May move the blog to a dedicated server so that I have more control over things like design and syndication.
  • Want to spend more time eating dinner with my friends, particularly the ones I don’t see as often.
  • Want to cook a duck or a rabbit. Maybe both.

The Weight Loss Story: Chapter II

Read part one

I decided in December that I would start a program, regardless of cost, after the New Year. As I’ve mentioned, New Year’s Eve is a big holiday in my family. I hosted dinner that evening, that saw a lot of pasta, meat (I made this pancetta-wrapped pork roast that never fails to taste good…think about it, pork wrapped in pork…right?) and seafood eaten. There was also a lot of beer consumed, namely by me. I drank a case of Blue Moon‘s winter seasonal that night. Do the math…24 bottles multiplied by 12 ounces is 288 ounces, or about two gallons of beer. Worse, at 200 calories a pop, I laid waste to nearly 5,000 calories in beer.

In one night.


I know. The Wife has already said it. A few times. Continue reading The Weight Loss Story: Chapter II