Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Biscotti and My Mother-in-Law

Last week my husband and I went car shopping. The salesman asked if I wanted a car with an Airbag. I said, "No thanks. I already have a mother-in-law."

When I Googled mother-in-law jokes the other day, I was stunned at the number of hits I got. Poor mother-in-laws -- they're doomed -- constantly accused of being meddlesome, manipulative, and opinionated. How many of you get along with your mother-in-laws?

I actually do. And I'm not just saying it because she's one of my most loyal readers (she is) or because she makes the world's most delicious biscotti (she does). We really get along.

It's easy to like my mother-in-law. She sends thoughtful, beautifully hand-written cards; she gives willingly without ever expecting to receive; she doesn't complain, even when she should; and she always has freshly baked goods on her kitchen counter to share, just in case someone should drop by.

Since Jeff and I have lived away for so many years these notes, phone calls, and care packages have been our life-lines to our families.

My mother-in-law's packages are precious -- with decorative stickers, ribbons, and bows, they're almost too pretty to open. But when we do, we're never disappointed.

Take our latest package for Halloween. Nestled between sheets of "trick-or-treat" tissue paper, was a bag full of chocolate-dipped biscotti (my favorite mother-in-law cookie) tied up with a wide black and white checkered ribbon. We even received hand written notes on pumpkin-shaped note paper.

She could send care packages with all of Jeff's favorites, but she would never. She always includes something I love too. How many mother-in-laws do that?

These biscotti were the perfect Halloween treat--definitely better than a Snickers bar. They're great for any time of the year, actually.

That's why I'm submitting them to Lydia of the Perfect Pantry, who five years ago created the Drop In and Decorate: Cookies for Donation program. The concept is simple: Invite friends and family to your house to decorate cookies, then donate them to a group of your choice, such as a senior center. If you'd like more information on how to host your own cookie decorating event, then click here.

Also, if you're not familiar with The Perfect Pantry, then pay Lydia a visit. Her site is a treasure trove of culinary information. With one part great recipes, two parts food history, and three parts genuine enthusiasm, Lydia teaches you about basic pantry ingredients such as brown sugar and ketchup and not-so-basic ones such as tahini and epazote. Plus, she lives in RI, my home state, so she gets a gold star.

This biscotti recipe is from Scialo Brothers Bakery in Providence, Rhode Island. Growing up in an Italian family, it's fair to say that I've eaten a lot of biscotti. These are the best. When you bite into one, the exterior is hard enough to make a crunching sound but soft enough that your teeth sink into the slightly chewy interior. And you'll never have a bite without an almond in it, which is the way it should be.

Oh, and Jeff just said, "Don't forget to them they have to dunk it in their coffee!" You simply must dunk them in hot coffee so the chocolate turns all melty and makes your coffee taste like mocha.

Almond Biscotti
Print recipe only here.

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur preferred)
Pinch of cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
3 Tbsp butter, softened
2 eggs beaten with 3 Tbsp vanilla extract
3 cups whole almonds (skins still on)
Egg wash (egg mixed with a little water)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix the sugars, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, butter, and almonds in the bowl of a stand mixer, or mix by hand in a large bowl. Add the eggs with vanilla as the mixture goes around.

Take the sticky mass out and divide it into sections, rolling each into a log, flattened just a bit, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You should wind up with 3 1/2 logs. It's better to split them between two baking sheets because they spread out slightly while baking. Paint with egg wash.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until firm, but not too hard. Begin checking after 30 minutes; it may take up to 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and let rest for several minutes until they are firm enough to slice on the diagonal. Too little resting time will cause them to break apart while slicing; too long of a resting time will make them difficult to cut without a chainsaw.

The number of biscotti will vary depending on the size of the log and how thick you make your slices. My mother-in-law cuts 1-inch wide slices, which yields approximately 30 biscotti.

Chocolate Dip, optional:
The original recipe is for plain almond biscotti, but my mother-in-law made chocolate-dipped ones this time. If you'd like to dip them in chocolate, then pour a 1 pound bag of bittersweet chocolate chips (or chocolate of your choice) in a double boiler over low heat (if it's too hot, it will cook the chocolate). As soon as the chocolate begins to melt, remove it from the heat and stir with a spoon until it becomes silky. Dip the bottom of the biscotti in the chocolate, letting any excess drip back into the bowl, then place on a rack (with parchment paper or foil underneath it for easy clean-up). You may use a little less or a little more chocolate, depending on how many biscotti you slice. Allow the chocolate to harden completely before removing from rack.

This recipe is from Scialo Brothers Bakery in Providence, RI and was posted by Susan of Food Blogga

A man, his wife, and his mother-in-law went on vacation to the Holy Land. While they were there, the mother-in-law passed away.

The undertaker told them, "You can have her shipped home for $5,000, or you can bury her here in the Holy Land for $150."

The man thought about it and told him he would just have her shipped home.

The undertaker asked, "Why would you spend $5,000 to ship your mother-in-law home, when it would be wonderful to be buried here and spend only $150?"

The man replied, " 2000 years ago a man died, was buried here, and then three days later he rose from the dead. I can't take that chance."

-from Thrifty Fun

You might also like these Italian specialties:

Italian Pignoli Cookies
Italian Ricotta Pie with Pineapple
Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Lemon
Penne with Italian-American Gravy, Meatballs, and Sausage
Broccoli Rabe (Rapini) and Sausage Sandwich with Sharp Provolone

Look! More scrumptious biscotti recipes:

Mandy's Chocolate Hazlenut Biscotti
Haalo's Fig Biscotti
Lynnlu's Pistachio Cherry Biscotti
Garrett's (of Vanilla Garlic) Pumpkin Biscotti (featured at Elise's Simply Recipes)

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