Roasted Mini Bell Pepper and Feta Tartlets

These were the light and delicious result of my first experiment with savory tarts.

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I made two versions – one with feta cheese and one with boring cheese (alpine style combined with parmesan) for the boyfriend since he’s not a feta lover. I actually don’t recommend the substitution – feta mellows when baked so stick with it even for selective eaters.
I made the recipe with baby or mini peppers, but I’m sure regular would do. Just adjust the roasting time. I like the mini peppers because they stay fresh longer and they’re the perfect size if you only want a little bit of pepper. Basically perfect for a 1 or 2 person household.

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Ingredients:
6-8 mini bell peppers, variety of colors (or 1 or 2 regular)
Feta cheese
Parmesan cheese, grated
Olive oil

3.4 oz all purpose flour
2.25 oz butter
pinch of salt
2 tbs ice water

Recipe:
makes 6 tartlets

1. Turn your broiler on high and arrange the peppers on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Place sheet on middle oven rack or approximately 9 inches from the heating element. Turn the peppers when the skin begins to blister, after about five minutes. Remove from oven when the second side begins to blister, another 5-8 minutes.
2. Place peppers immediately in a brown paper bag and close. This will steam the peppers and loosen the skin. Leave in the bag for 8 minutes, them remove and use your fingers to pull the skins off (discard skin). Slice peppers into thin strips then toss lightly with olive oil. 
3. While the peppers are roasting, combine the flour, salt and butter in a food processor. Pulse until mixture looks course like pebbles. Add water and pulse until dough starts top form.
4. Move dough to lightly floured surface and form into a ball. If the dough is cool enough, you can begin rolling it out. If it is too sticky, refrigerate it for up to 1 hour.
5. Roll dough into large rectangle to desired thickness, roughly 1/8 inch. Using tartlet pans as a guide, cut circles to fit the pans. Gently lift and drape dough over each pan and form to sides. To trim excess dough roll a rolling pin over the top of the pan. Repeat until all pans are full. You may need to re-roll the dough to finish. Prick with a fork or toothpick. Cover each pan with foil (should touch the dough).
6. Place pans on a baking sheet and freeze for up to 30 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 425 F. You can use pie weights (or uncooked dried beans) to weigh down the shells as you bake them. Bake for 9-15 minutes until dough begins to set, then remove foil (and weights) and bake for 6-8 minutes longer, until dough looks dry and begins to brown lightly. Remove from oven.
8. Place strips of peppers in the tart shells, distributing evenly. Crumble feta over the peppers and sprinkle parmesan on top. Use your judgement – do you like a lot of cheese or a little?
9. Bake 6-8 minutes. Serve immediately.

Enjoy! Inspiration for this recipe came from here and here.

The Information Problem & Interviews (Or, Maybe We Should Just Go Home)

The information problem is a concept taught in introductory economics (and perhaps in other guises in other disciplines). The information problem is the situation in which the parties involved in a transaction do not have equal information.

I have always framed job interviews as an attempted solution to the information problem. Interestingly, most guides to hacking an interview consist of tips on how to best the other party in the transaction – that is, most guides tell us exactly how to answer exactly which questions. If the idea of the interview is to find accurate information for both parties, then guides telling you to “never say you are a perfectionist” are actually just making the whole situation worse.

As a solution to the information problem, the job interview leaves much to be desired. It suffers from a number of serious problems – probably too many for me to list so I will focus on a few that strike me.

If the main goal of an interview is to get to the bottom of the interviewee’s disposition and qualifications and for the interviewee to figure out if they actually want the job, then asking your interviewee canned questions cannot be a particularly good method, can it? We say the interviewers want to learn more about a candidate, and yet they simply present one half of a semi-improvisational script and wait for the interviewee to provide the other half. There is little to induce a candidate to answer the question, “How do you deal with failure?” with anything other than a carefully planned answer based on all the expert advise one can muster, perhaps with a little personality thrown in to make it believable. Essentially, the canned questions (even the infamous Google, “How many ping pong balls can fit on a plane?”) test only one’s knowledge of “acceptable” responses.

The power dynamic in an interview has always seemed wrong to me. Perhaps that is because I am in a perpetual state of I-Have-To-Pay-My-Student-Loans. How can you expect to figure out a candidate when you force them to dress up in clothing that most people rarely wear, put them in a room with people who have virtually nothing on the line (while the candidate on the other hand likely has a fair amount on the line), and play at interrogating them? I am sure you have heard of stories where police garnered confessions from suspects after questionable interrogation techniques only to later discover indisputable evidence that the suspect was innocent. Popular knowledge has that it’s the suspect’s desire to rest or be left alone that results in them telling the police what they want to hear. I cannot help but be reminded of this. Interviews make the interviewee desperate to please – at what cost to the truth?

The power dynamic is related, though perhaps not the same as, one more issue I take with interviews. Do you remember the kids in high school that told you they didn’t do well on standardized test? Maybe they got test anxiety or the form of a standardized test boggled their brain, but you knew without a doubt they were intelligent, capable students? I think the same thing goes for interviews. Not everyone performs well or displays their attributes well at an interview, even if they are the perfect candidate for the job. Like over-weighting of test scores in a college admissions process will result in rejecting many students with tremendous potential, so does over-use and over-emphasis of the job interview result in rejecting potentially great job candidates.

At last we come to my favorite – the “networking” problem. I have had my fair share of interviews in my rather short life. I have rarely seen a candidate get the job who didn’t already have a connection with the hiring managers or interviewers. From networking with alumni to networking with past co-workers and so on, we are unduly impressed by interviewees knowing people we know. Worse, those interviewees have ridiculous advantages – Ms. Doe will be impressed if you mention having read this book or Mr. Xue will be impressed if you mention that you love Malcolm Gladwell. People call this “research,” but I think that is unfair to the word research as it seems to imply anyone can find out that information. Frankly, the fact that we give jobs to people because they know people we like is disheartening at best.

You can tell me it’s all about “fit” if you’d like, but as far as I can tell the job interview is simply a return to the popularity contest that new college students think they are leaving behind in high school. The difference seems to be the level of ease – try to become more popular in high school and one might stand a chance, try to get a foot in the white collar door with a network of blue collar acquaintances and perhaps one should just go home.

Obama: Snowden Is No Patriot

Originally posted on JONATHAN TURLEY:

President_Barack_Obama228px-Picture_of_Edward_SnowdenPresident Barack Obama on Friday seemed to acknowledge that the determined effort by the White House and Congress to demonize Edward Snowden has not exactly worked. The White House has put pressure on many people in this town to make clear that Snowden is not to be praised in the media or by members of Congress. Various reporters and new organizations have held the line in mocking Snowden or refusing to call him a “whistleblower” rather than a “leaker.”  After all, the fear seems to be that Snowden has to be a traitor or Obama would look like a tyrant. Even high-ranking members have been frog walked back before cameras for uttering a work of praise for Snowden. The problem is that it has convinced few people, even with alteration of Wikipedia and other sites to maintain the party line. Now Obama has come forward to assure people that Snowden…

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Receipt

JCP Customers Choose to Pay More Money for the Same Products

I am not much of a shopper, but when JC Penney announced a one low price model I was intrigued. I started to enjoy shopping at JCP because I knew that, unlike at the majority of other similar stores, I would get the best price (not including clearance pricing) on that item possible no matter when I made my purchase.

Never would I make a purchase and then discover the next day that it went on sale for 40% off *cough*Kohl’s*cough*. Never would I feel pressured to make a purchase because there is a chance it’s at its lowest-ever price. Never would I have to feel annoyed at the mind games they play with shoppers with coupons, sales, doorbusters, and the like.

Unfortunately, it would seem that most American consumers like to have the wool pulled over their eyes. They prefer to feel like they are getting a good deal over actually getting a good deal. The most recent evidence of this is JCP’s rational pricing disaster. Long time customers expressed anger that they no longer got special slips of paper to carry in to the store to get “low” prices. Scandal!

JCP fired Ron Johnson, the person behind the one low price model, and has returned to inflating prices so they can make it look as if they’re charging you less (when really they are charging more – got that?).

Maybe the advertising strategy failed to reach the right people, or maybe too many American consumers like being tricked into paying more while feeling like they’re paying less. Regardless of the why, I’d like to show you the what. You may not realize this, but by demanding the situation of price discrimination and fluctuation that comes with sales and coupons, JCP shoppers effectively raised the price they will pay.

Case in point: American Living dress.

I needed a dress for a wedding. I saw an American Living dress that I liked, and purchased two in two colors. One is the clearance version – from last season and in blue. The other is the full priced version – this season and eggplant/purple although a blue was available. The dresses are nearly identical.

I’m showing you the blue dress for contrast, but the eggplant dress illustrates the pay-more-while-pretending-we-pay-less phenomenon all on its own thanks to a handy little thing called a sticker.

Blue Dress:

Original Price: $55  Clearance Price: $26.99

Eggplant Dress:

Original Price: See photos below. Bought on sale at price: $59.99

This is a photo of the eggplant dress price tag.

Eggplant Price tag - at first glance

If you look closely, though, that $80 is a sticker. So what’s underneath?

Eggplant price tag MSRP

Cross out with black marker all you want, JCP, we can see what’s going on with a little brightness and contrast adjustment on the photo. That’s an $80 price sticker on top of a $55 MSRP.

Want to see the blue dress sticker? No tricks and games here:

blue price tag

Okay, so what did I pay for that eggplant dress?

Receipt

I paid $59.99 during a 25% off sale. I paid more for that eggplant dress than the $55 MSRP. That’s what coupons and sales do. Stores can’t count on a set amount of revenue from the items they sell, so they end up charging you more. By refusing to bask in the luxury of knowing the price of an item, JCP shoppers complained their way into higher prices.

Yes, this is one example, and yes, I haven’t proven statistically that this is what happens. I admit those weaknesses, but do you really doubt the truth of what I’m saying? The only way a place like Kohl’s can offer the same shirt for a range of prices between $6 and $12 is if their “sale” price is actually close to where they want their profit margin to sit.

If you’re wondering, I plan on returning the eggplant dress (keeping the blue) and closing my JCP account.

In case you want to see the dresses:

Eggplant American Living DressBlue American Living Dress

Obama Administration Confirms Massive Surveillance Program Of U.S. Citizens

Originally posted on JONATHAN TURLEY:

President_Barack_ObamaWhile the media in the United States (with some notable exceptions) have been criticized for relatively soft coverage of attacks on civil liberties by the Obama Administration, the British press appears to be filling the gap. The Guardian is reporting on a massive surveillance program by the Obama Administration where the government has ordered Verizon (and presumably other carriers) to turn over all calls made within the United States and calls between the United States and other countries. The surveillance was conducted under an order from our controversial secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and demanded by the Justice Department and the FBI. The Administration has confirmed the existence of the program — another blow to civil liberties under Attorney General Eric Holder and this president. It also adds another area where Obama officials appear less than candid with Congress. [Update: USA Today first revealed aspects of this…

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Zucchini, Sun-dried tomatoes, and [fill in the blank]

Dinner tonight was a baked (yellow) sweet potato, sauteed zucchini and reheated dumplings from a take-out order.

The dumplings were originally fried and reheated well after 10 or so minutes in a 400 degree oven.

The sweet potatoes could have been cooked about 10 minutes longer, but they were done-ish after 50 in a 400 degree oven. Delicious with just a little butter and salt. Oddly, I don’t like the orange-fleshed variety of sweet potatoes most commonly found in the US. I far prefer the yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes found in Asian super markets. I far prefer the flavor of the yellow (sometimes called white, I think, though I have no idea why) over the orange.

The zucchini was good, but missing something. That’s where you come in. I cooked the zucchini with sun-dried tomatoes (dried them myself, re-hydrate them before using – they have fantastic flavor) that I chopped small and briefly sauteed before adding the zucchini.* Olive oil plus sun-dried tomatoes plus zucchini tasted good, but it lacked something. At the end I added just a splash of sparkling apple cider (just because, not for any particular reason). Overall it was too sweet without balance – as I said, something was missing.

Any thoughts on what might go with zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes? Maybe a splash of a vinegar (perhaps an apple cider vinegar)? I think the zucchini needed a savory note, but I can’t think of what to add.

*As a side note, to saute zucchini without getting mush, try salting it with a large granule salt and letting it drain for about 30 minuts. I like chunky Korean sea salt for this purpose, but kosher salt would work, too. This  makes it easier to remove the excess salt when the salting process is done. Salting removes much of the excess water that zucchini has and provides a far better texture after cooking. 

How Many Times has the World Ended?

I have a pretty cool graphic to share with you from OnlinePsychologyDegree.net. I know that URL might make you a bit skeptical, but it’s worth seeing. It’s pretty cool.

As you know I scoff at all the end-times predictions out there, mostly because they are always based on very silly ideas. This graphic makes it abundantly clear I’m right to feel that way. Fool me once and all that. I do have to say I’d be interested to hear just how many times in Western history the end of the world has been widely predicted and believed.

Please Include Attribution to OnlinePsychologyDegree.net With This GraphicEnd of the World Infographic