Thursday, September 25, 2014

This is what Charlie must have felt like when Willy Wonka gave him the Golden Ticket

(Continued………..) As I stared down on the hundred-dollar gift certificate, my mind filled with visions of the culinary joy it would bring.

“Well, I suppose we all can stock up on Bounty and Tide now.” She went and broke the spell. Gina just had to burst my bubble. To Gina, the glass wasn't half-full or half-empty. It was just water in a glass. But her straight-forward way of thinking made her a practical balance to my occasional fleets of fancy. Also, Gina knew her culinary dreams were not to come true here. And of course, as usual, she was right. The sterility of my local grocery store made Bounty and Tide alarmingly appropriate choices. And after having to deal with Leon, our foul grocery clerk, I was feeling a bit dirty, and not in the good way.

So, just as I was about to resign myself to a bulk purchase of cake flour, non-stick aluminum foil and several 12-packs of TaB® cola, Katie announced, “I don’t know about you two, but I’m buying MEAT! Let’s go!”

Gina just looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and we followed our feisty new companion as she bounded towards butcher’s counter.

“Excuse me sir, do you have a rack of lamb? And if you do, can I get it Frenched. And could you remove the meat, fat and membranes that connect the individual rib bones? I’ll wait. Thank you!”

Katie may not have known a great deal about cheese, but it was obvious that girl knew meat! With Gina’s dairy addiction and my pastry obsession, Katie fit right in. It was if she was sent from above to complement our culinary lives. Besides the lamb, she ordered two Filet Mignon and an enormous rack of baby back ribs and, with her arms full of butcher paper-wrapped treasures, she turned towards us and said, “I’m sorry, I never introduced myself. My name’s Katie.”

“I’m Gina.”

“Terry here.”

The introductions almost seemed odd because it felt as if we had known Katie forever.

“Now, are you two Italian? I heard the two of you talking”

I could feel Gina looking at me and smirking, “Wipe that smile off your face.” She said.

Gina knew I loved it when people thought I was Italian. She grew up speaking Italian and I could manage fairly well with the language, but not like Gina. She had a way of combining lingual elegance with just the right amount of cultural vulgarity as only a true Italian could do. I knew enough to know that it was best if I continued to speak my linguistically proper, if not a bit too grammatically rigid, Italian. It allowed me to be looked upon with respect by Italians and retain what little dignity I had.

“We really need to get together. Do you like pasta? We’re making some next week and having a big pasta party. Would you like to come?” I asked.

Katie looked puzzled, “You mean like, make it make it?”

“Yeah. I like, make it all the time.”

“Wow, you really are Italian!”
I was beaming. And Gina just smiled.

To be continued……………

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Continued............Never pick a fight with Gina Radioli.

(Continued…...)...Katie planted her legs in a wide stance, dug her fists firmly into her hips and glared at the startled clerk. She was mad! But the problem was that she was just so darned cute that she was more reminiscent of Wonder Woman’s younger sister, Drusilla, played with amazing conviction by a young Debra Winger, than the fierce customer service advocate I think she had intended.

"....I...I’m...I don’t....” the clerk stammered while looking around trying to locate the final resting place for his airborne glasses.

Then the clerk’s face froze as all we heard what sounded like a pocket full of change getting louder and louder. Gina, Katie and I all turned in the direction of the clerk’s stare and saw a man dressed in dark slacks and a pressed white shirt bounding towards us. I knew he was the manager because one, he was wearing a name tag and two, he had keys. A lot of keys. And he had keys that jingled, jangled, jingled. Keys were a grocery store manager’s equivalent to war medals....and he looked as though he was heading towards his Waterloo, and he couldn’t have escaped if he wanted to.

“Leon,” the manager yelled, “what did you say now?”
“Why do you automatically think it wa………..” the clerk started.
“Because it is ALWAYS you, Leon. Always! Leon, just go!  I’ll deal with you later”

So, apparently this was not the first time Leon said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. And as the manager turned towards us, it was obvious he was about to give an explanation that he had given a few too many times before, possibly even that day.

“My name is Chuck Sorenson and I’m the store manager. I truly apologize for whatever Leon might have said to you. I won’t ask you to repeat it as I’m sure I have heard it before.”

Now I was curious and I had to ask, “If this is a common occurrence, why do you keep him on staff? I don’t understand.”

“Because Leon is the owner’s son.”

Now I understood. If fact we all understood, nodding to each other as if we just found out the answer to a test question we all had missed.

“We try to keep him busy in back, but eventually he wanders out. And it’s not like we can keep him chained up...legally. But it has been better since we turned off FOX News in the break room. That seemed to help. If I may,” he continued, “I would like to offer you all $100 gift certificates for the store with our most sincere apologies.”

“That’d be great!” I said.
“….Yes!” Katie added.
“Fine by me!” agreed Gina.

In fact, I was thinking I would have been glad to give Leon a detailed list of names he could call me if more gift certificates came my way when the manager said, “You know it’s funny, we have to keep moving Leon around from store to store because people always try to come back hoping Leon will be rude to them so they can get free groceries.”

“But really, who would do that?” I said……….mildly disappointed.

To be continued………..

Friday, September 12, 2014

Never pick a fight with Gina Radioli (Continued)

(Continued....) There were a few things in life Gina Radioli was passionate about and one of them was cheese. I also have a very good relationship with dairy products and we often enjoyed them together to the fullest extent of the law. And we do enjoy cheese!

Fantastic cheese is like great sex; you really don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve had it. Sex is nice, but cheese is easier. Although the afterglow with cheese is a bit more difficult as the cuddling can prove to be problematic. And I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, when Gina heard the misinformed store clerk tell that poor, innocent cheese novice that there was no difference between domestic parmesan and Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, she really wasn’t as angry as much as she knew it was time to release her inner cheese advocate. Or better said, she wasn’t angry yet.

Gina knew her enthusiasm with regard to certain things did not match that of the general public, but sometimes she just could not hold back. Knowing that her intensity could frighten the disinterested the way flash photography startles captive animals, she would always try to be gentle on her first approach. Using a calm, soothing tone, she tried to explain to the clerk and our soon-to-be new best friend that domestic parmesan was a poor imitation of its Italian counterpart. She talked about the Italian standard for the product and how, no matter where you were in Italy, Parmigiano-Reggiano was a cheese the Italians regarded with a uniform level of utmost respect.

It all seemed to be going so well until Gina tried to explain that the salinity of domestic parmesan could be twice that of Parmigiano-Reggiano and could result in a wonderful dish being ruined.

“Salinity?” the clerk interrupted, “you know cheese don’t come from the ocean lady!” he smirked.

Now, Gina could have taken this if the clerk hadn’t added “you stupid #$%” under his breath. While it’s easy to forgive ignorance, forgiving becomes more difficult when a man uses a certain word to a woman that identifies her with a specific body part in the basest terms in a condescending tone that lets it be known exactly what he thinks of women in general. At this point, there really is no turning back.

I had fully expected Gina to lunge at the clerk full throttle until a five-foot-two, blonde-haired, blue-eyed 24-year-old Norwegian angel intervened. Our new best friend, or Katie as we would find out later, cranked her arm back and slapped the clerk so hard across the face his glasses catapulted across the deli case.

“You son-of-a-bitch! Who do you think you are talking to her like that!?! Your filthy mouth just let the whole world know you were raised in a barn. A rundown shack of a barn. A rundown, cheese-less shack of a barn!”

Gina glanced over at me, placed her hand underneath my jaw and gently closed it.

To be continued.......

Here is Parmigiano-Reggiano in one its purest, unadulterated forms: CRISPS!

Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps
About 12-16 crisps

These are really fun and super easy. The key is to use a good quality Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with good moisture content. You don't want to make Gina mad.

Ingredients: 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
Special equipment: Silpat baking mats
2 ½ to 3 inch ring molds
Rimmed baking sheets

1. Pre-heat oven to 325°F
2. Line the baking sheet with a Silpat. Place the ring mold on a corner of the mat
and sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese into the mold and, using
your finger,spread the grated cheese evenly over the area inside the ring.
Remove the ring and repeat until you have 8 rounds.
3. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, making sure these do not over bake. Over-baking
any type of parmesan cheese can leave the crisps with a bitter taste. Allow the
crisps to set for about 20-30 seconds, until they are form enough to remove
from the Silpat with a spatula. Place the crisps on paper towels
4. Repeat with the remaining cheese.

NOTE! Don’t be tempted to use more than a tablespoon of cheese for each of these
rounds. If you use too much cheese, you lose that delicate crunch and the
resulting product is tough and chewy rather than light and crisp.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Never pick a fight with Gina Radioli

......I probably should have warned the guy. But it’s not like he really picked a fight insomuch as he simply said the wrong thing at the wrong time in front of her, which isn’t all that difficult to do. But, in essence, it’s the same thing as picking a fight with Gina Radioli.

Okay, here’s the deal. Gina and I went shopping at a grocery store near my house that is not exactly known for their selection. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine grocery store. ‘Fine’ meaning serviceable. ‘Serviceable’ meaning that one could get the majority of the things one might need in one location at any time of day. Convenience was one of their strong suits. Service and product options were not. If you asked a clerk for espresso powder, they would lead you to the coffee isle, hold up a jar of Folger’s Crystals and proudly say, “Here you go!” and then walk away, completely oblivious to the fact that they had no idea as to what you were actually talking about.

“Why do you even shop here?” Gina said incredulously. “They don’t have arborio rice. They don’t have polenta. They don’t have…...”

“Gina!” I interrupted. “Sometimes you just need eggs, flour and milk. You get in, you get out and you’re on your way!”

“But the EXPERIENCE of it all is so important! It’s how you feel when you walk the aisles”

And actually, I agreed with her. Grocery shopping had long taken the place of dating in my life, and oddly, I was becoming very comfortable with it. But the experience is important, and my local grocery store did not make me swoon. If shopping at this particular grocery store were to be compared to a dating experience, it would be like taking your third cousin to prom: the familiarity is nice, but you know a great deal of exploring is not going to happen.

Anyway, here’s where it all hit the fan. We were walking towards the deli and we overheard a young woman ask a clerk, “What’s the difference between Parmesan and this….” struggling with the pronunciation……”Parmigiano-Reggiano”

“Oh, nothing,” the clerk said, “they’re all the same.”

He shouldn’t have said that.

Gina was already in a mood and before I could intervene, Gina’s head snapped around like it had been attached to a lawn mower start cord and someone just pulled that handle.

 “What do you mean ‘they’re all the same’?” Gina said.

 .......oh, here we go......

To be continued......

I've always wanted to be Italian.........

Maybe it's a silly dream, but the Italians have always intrigued me. Maybe it's the language. Maybe it's the art. Maybe it's the way they dress so elegantly with seemingly so little effort. But, in reality, I think it's the food. Food is what draws us together and allows us to share something so elemental, yet special. This page will be dedicated to that part in everyone that would mind being just a little bit Italian. It's going to be a mix of fiction with some great recipes and photos. So people, let's eat!