biscotti squared

With two young girls, I’ve witnessed (and participated in) more than a few tea parties. My friend Mary has upped the ante, though, with the annual tea party she hosts for my girls. We’re on year five (I think) and each has had a theme (black-and-white, princess, autumn harvest) carried out with classy decor as well as fun dollar-store party favors. The food has been simple, yet elegant, and always a perfect fit for the theme. (The black-and-white year featured mini chocolate cupcakes with white frosting as well as the reverse.)

A purchase of Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Splendid Table (a.k.a. the Bible of all things culinary from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy) had Mary thinking Italian this year, so we were treated to a lovely table draped with rich purples and reds. Tea-time treats included grape tomatoes stuffed with fresh mozzarella pearls and a small basil leaf, pears roasted with brown sugar and butter, and assorted small cookies and candies.

Splendid Table-theme tea–splendid!

Having long collected biscotti recipes, I jumped at an excuse to bake up a batch to contribute to the tea party spread. Torn between two recipes, I made them both. Polenta Biscotti looked authentic on the page as the dough was made of cornmeal and olive oil. It looked terribly one-note in the mixing bowl, so I chopped up a cup of fresh cranberries to knead into the dough.

golden biscotti dough, pre-cranberries

polenta biscotti dough–before baking

polenta biscotti–after first bake

polenta biscotti–sliced and ready for second bake

The other biscotti recipe, Triple Chocolate, had been clipped from a Fitness magazine in the early ’90s and was fat-free except for an egg, pistachios, and chocolate. (Though doubling both the white and dark chocolate steered my version right out of that low-fat zone.) Both biscotti were tasty, though might have been a bit easier to chew had I not left them in the oven too long. Biscotti are meant to be dunked, though, so a quick soak in hot chocolate, coffee, and–yes–tea, make them very edible. Mary and I enjoyed the biscotti more than did my girls, but they were too happy sipping sugar cube-laden tea to care. Thank you, Mary, for yet another amazing Tea Party.

Polenta Biscotti

I stirred about a cup of coarsely chopped fresh cranberries into the dough before shaping.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal (Original recipe called for “fine cornmeal.” Ever the recipe-rule breaker, I used stone-ground.)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons mild-flavored olive oil or canola oil (I used vanilla olive oil from the Oilerie, which was fun, but not a deal-breaker.)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325°F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cornmeal baking powder and salt. In separate bowl, whisk together eggs, oil and vanilla until frothy. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture to form soft dough. Turn dough out onto well-floured surface. Shape into 12-inch (or so) log; transfer to baking sheet. Bake dough 25 minutes or until almost firm when pressed on top. Remove from oven; cool on baking sheet 20 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300°F. Transfer cooled log to cutting board; slice diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices with serrated knife. Return slices to baking sheet; bake 10 minutes. Turn each slice over; bake 10 to 15 minutes longer or until lightly golden. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Makes about 2 dozen biscotti.

Triple Chocolate Biscotti

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup chopped pistachio nuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate chips

Heat oven to 325°F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray.

In bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda. In separate bowl, beat together egg, egg white, sugar and vanilla. Gradually beat flour mixture into egg mixture until blended. Stir in nuts and chocolate. Gently shape dough into 12×2-inch log. Transfer to baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes or until almost firm when pressed on top. Remove from oven; cool on baking sheet 20 minutes.

Transfer cooled log to cutting board; slice diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices with serrated knife. Return slices to baking sheet; bake 10 minutes. Turn each slice over; bake 10 to 15 minutes longer or until dough is firm. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Makes about 18 biscotti.

strawberry risotto aka pink rice

A recent trip to St. Louis brought me to the Italian Hill neighborhood. Joe DeGregorio’s tour led a group of thirty or so food folk from ravioli shop to bakery to gelateria to Italian grocery to a handful of other tasty Italian stops. Sitting down to lunch at Mama Campisi’s gave Joe a chance to bring out t-shirts and hats for those who wanted to buy mementos of their time in The Hill. He also offered copies of St. Ambrose Parish’s Taste of the Hill Cookbook and it took very little to get me to purchase. An ideal souvenir, it was also a steal at only $10. Too, church cookbooks intrigue me. This spiral-bound book was going home with me.

I was pleasantly surprised to find recipes for classic Italian fare (such as the Chicken Spiedini we’d enjoyed at Mama Campisi’s) in Taste and looked forward to attempting some of them once home. The recipe for Strawberry Risotto stood out especially. Listed in the casserole/main dish section, it was savory, not sweet. Ingredients were few and I had them all: Arborio rice, butter, white wine, water, salt, Parmesan cheese.

In true church cookbook form, specifics were sketchy. Sweet or dry wine? How much wine, butter, water, salt, and cheese? With only sweet wine in the house and guessing on the rest, I jumped in and made a batch for tonight’s supper. To add creaminess, I subbed in about 1/2 cup almond milk for the same amount of water. It was a pretty and tasty dish. While it was very much in the savory category, the fruit from the berries and wine gave it a certain elegance. I hoped my girls would love it as well, so sold it as a new dish called “Pink Rice.” At ages 6 and 10, they remained unimpressed. But I’m pleased I tried something new and look forward to a bowl for breakfast tomorrow.

Strawberry Risotto

  • Butter (used about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • Small glass white wine (used about 1/4 cup)
  • Boiling water (used about 1 1/2 cups)
  • Almond milk, soymilk, dairy milk, half-and-half or cream (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3/4 cup sliced fresh strawberries
  • Freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Salt to taste

In large saucepan, melt butter. Add rice; stir to coat with butter. Cook, stirring, until rice is lightly toast.ed Add wine; stir to coat. Add water, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and cooking until water is absorbed before adding next batch. Stir in milk; cook, stirring, until liquid is absorbed and rice is creamy. Stir in strawberries. Add cheese and salt. Makes generous 2 cups.

strawberry risotto–pretty!

from cobb salad to chocolate chateau

Spring break hit this week which could only mean one thing: road trip. Despite having no official travel plans, I was able to get out on a few small trips–all food-focused, of course.

On Thursday, a good friend and I were joined by our daughters as we day-tripped to Stillwater, a small destination city with quaint downtown shopping. Lunch, at Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop, was retro in decor and food. My butterfinger malt was rich with malt powder (yay) and the Cobb salad looked like a Cobb salad was supposed to–neat rows of ingredients. (Food pet-peeve: restaurants that toss chicken, bacon, romaine, blue cheese, and hard-cooked egg together and call it a Cobb. Don’t toss a Cobb.) The blue cheese dressing was thick and the bacon was good, though adding avocados would have made it more authentic. We shopped a bit, then hit Tremblay’s Sweet Shop for a collection of pay-by-the-pound candies before heading home. (I billed our visit to this store as a treat for the girls, but who am I kidding? I love candy.)

Cobb salad at Leo’s

Friday’s “road trip” came about when my oldest daughter asked if we could go on “one of our adventures” when her younger sister went to daycare. (I love that my daughter considers our outings “adventures.”) We had only a few hours, so stayed close to home and set off to explore a few St. Paul neighborhoods.

Our first stop was Dr. Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau. (Yes, that is really what it is called.) The first floor had opened only a month ago as a retail chocolate shop. The upper three floors of this beautiful Victorian mansion are eventually slotted to hold a chocolate museum, hall-of-fame, event center, pastry shop, tasting room, and who knows what else. Dr. Chocolate certainly has big dreams.

The first-floor shop was stocked with wrapped chocolate bars sourced regionally and internationally as well as high-end chocolate candies and baking mixes. They also carry aprons, cookbooks, coffee mugs, and other gift-y items. The chocolate display case boasts at least 30 different kinds of truffles along with bricks of chocolate wrapped in gold foil (shades of Willy Wonka) and chocolate-dipped goodies such as fruit, cookies, and the like.

The truffles were front-and-center and seemed the thing to buy, though we limited ourselves to three total. I also bought a few chocolate bars (Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Aztec dark) as well as a chocolate Cabernet cake mix (packaged in a wine bottle) and a few smaller chocolates. It wasn’t an inexpensive trip, but it was fun to be there at the beginning of this store’s journey. Walking away with our bag of classy chocolate was simply (chocolate) icing on the cake.

Dr. Chocolate signage

Dr. Chocolate purchases

We left the Chateau to walk a few blocks to Cheeky Monkey, a fun lunch and dinner spot with impressive food. I’ve been a number of times, but especially enjoyed sharing it with my daughter. We chowed down on sandwiches (hers the Little Monkey with turkey and cheese and mine a roasted pepper, chicken, bacon, and gouda panini–delish, ate every last crumb) and enjoyed the complementary self-serve cucumber and lemon waters.

No time for dessert (we had chocolate waiting for us in the car, remember?), we drove over to Grand Avenue to do a bit of window shopping. I was thrilled to spend this time with my 9-year-old as I know that in not too many years she’ll prefer spending time with friends to spending time with mom. I’ll take as many of these “adventures” as she’ll give me.

Tonight my husband and I took the shortest road trip of the week by hitting the freeway for i nonni, an upscale Italian restaurant in a nearby ‘burb. The food and drink were amazing. From cocktail (gin with grapefruit, sage, and cucumber–refreshing!) to appetizer (cured, paper thin slices of strip steak) to entree (farro pasta with sea urchin roe and lump crab) to dessert (a game-changing figgy pudding–wow) to grappa (what else after an Italian feast?), the meal was one I’ll long remember. It was a splurge, for sure, but with two young kids and nearly 20 years of marriage under our belts, my husband and I don’t get out much. Tonight’s fancy-pants date made up for all of the going out we haven’t done in the past few months.

When Monday rolls around, the kids go back to school and I’ll buckle down to work projects again. And though I didn’t hit the beaches of Cancun or tour Disney property with my family, I enjoyed local spots–new and old, upscale and casual. I shopped, ate well, and spent time with friends and family. Spring Break 2012 gets high marks from me.