Review: Cossetta Alimentari

As much as I love Minnesota, I also love to travel, and since returning from our Baltic cruise my wanderlust has been in full gear.  I’m eagerly anticipating a trip to Seattle in September for the International Food Bloggers Conference, and in the meantime, we’ve been taking cheap trips to Italy by way of downtown St. Paul’s Italian food destination Cosetta Alimentari.  The sprawling brick building houses a counter service eatery, a gourmet pastry shop, an Italian grocery store, and a full-service restaurant.


Clockwise from upper left: Misticanza salad with asiago breadstick; sausage and pepper sandwich; miniature opera cake, Key Lime tart, and chocolate covered cannoli; miniature opera cake, cannoli, and chocolate mousse

The Eatery & Pizzeria has a bustling, upscale food court feel, with stations featuring salads, soup, sandwiches, pasta entrees, and pizza.  The green salads are mixed to order, from a wall shelf of brilliant greens with a pop of purple radicchio.  The misticanza salad is vegetarian friendly, with a sharply bright lemon dressing, a generous amount of pepper, and thinly shaved Parmesan.  Meat eaters would enjoy the antipasto salad, with its robust mix of high-quality genoa salami, provolone cheese, olives, and pepperoncini.  If you’re in the mood for heartier fare, the pizza features a wonderful house-made sauce and from-scratch crust, and can be ordered by the slice (cheese, pepperoni, or sausage) or as a whole pizza. The variety of hot and cold sandwiches are big enough to split, and served on loaves of wonderfully chewy house-made bread.  If the weather is nice, there’s a lovely outdoor deck off the main second floor dining area.

After you finish your meal, head back downstairs for dessert.  Stepping into the Pasticceria invokes the proverbial kid-in-a-candy-store sensation: a long glass case is filled with exquisite cookies and pastries.  Walk slowly and take your time making your selection; the visual bonanza is half the fun.  If you want to try a bit of everything, there are bite-sized versions of many of the pastries.  I’m partial to the miniature chocolate mousse, with its chocolate crust, rich chocolate ganache, and fluffy dome of mousse.  Mike’s favorite is the miniature Key Lime tart, with its flaky, buttery crust and a delicate dollop of whipped cream and dainty blueberry for garnish.  There is also wonderful gelato in a variety of flavors, labeled in Italian but with visual cues so that you can figure out what each flavor is, such as a strawberry on top of the “fràgola.”  My favorite flavor so far is the chocolate hazelnut.

The Market and Italian Grocery features a broad array of all foods Italian, with a variety of freshly baked bread; a deli with pasta salads, prepared entrees, and an assortment of meats and cheeses; a full meat counter; and Italian dry goods including pasta, sauces, olive oil, vinegars, and chocolates.  You can purchase Cossetta’s house-made pizza sauce for your homemade pizza, as well as their gelato for dessert.  I recommend the Dei Fratelli Fire Roasted Vegetable pasta sauce (not quite homemade, but the best I’ve ever had out of a jar) and the Emilia mushroom gnocchi (excellent in Butternut Squash with Gnocchi and Mushrooms).  But the bread is the highlight for me, with loaves displayed on shelves up to the ceiling and carefully handwritten signs describing the texture and crumb of each variety.  Personal favorites include the focaccia asiago breadsticks and shepherd stick ciabatta.

Whether you’re looking for supplies to cook an Italian feast, a great slice of pizza, or a delectable dessert, Cossetta is your place.  While it may not be Italy, I suspect it’s comparably delicious.

★★★½ out of 5 (recommended)

If you go:

Cossetta Alimentari
211 7th Street West
St. Paul, MN 55102
651- 222-3476

Cossetta Alimentari on Urbanspoon

Pasta with Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs

Heirloom Tomatoes

I love heirloom tomatoes.  Although this is a foodie stereotype on par with with rhapsodizing about kale and taking pictures of food in restaurants (of which I am also guilty), my feelings are nevertheless genuine.  Before eating them, I let them bask on my countertop for few days, admiring their vibrant red and purple hues and appreciating the beautiful imperfections of their lumpy surfaces.  This week’s extended tomato admiration period also gave me time to scheme about what to do with my bounty.  They were too good to add to a pasta bake or waste in a recipe that drowned out their unique flavors with overpowering ingredients.

The recipe I improvised is a fancier take on my classic pasta with fresh sauce: in addition to olive and basil, the tomatoes are combined with chives, rosemary, and lemon juice.  The garnish of toasted of pine nuts adds a richness that makes this dish taste like it took much longer than fifteen minutes to put together.  If you don’t have heirloom tomatoes, I suspect any ripe tomato would do just as nicely.

Inspired by Rebecca Miller’s Pasta with Ricotta and Heirloom Tomatoes, published in Real Simple, July 2010


Pasta with Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs Ingredients

3 cups dry penne
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 large tomatoes, cut into 1/2 pieces (about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
shredded Parmesan

Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, toast pine nuts in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking pan frequently, until pine nuts are golden, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Combine tomatoes, chives, rosemary, basil, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl.

Serve prepared pasta topped with tomato mixture, and garnish with toasted pine nuts and Parmesan.

Pasta with Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs

Review: At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe

With its menu focused on local and sustainable ingredients, plethora of vegetarian and vegan options, and roomy booths made from salvaged lumber, Duluth’s At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe has a laid-back, earthy vibe that made this mostly-vegetarian feel right at home (the menu even features a “Hippy Farm Breakfast”)*.  We stopped by for breakfast-for-lunch on a recent trip to Duluth–on weekends breakfast is served until 3:30.  The breakfast menu features mostly classic American fare, with omelets, pancakes, French toast, and a few sandwiches, while the eclectic lunch and dinner menu includes falafel, Thai curry, and fish tacos along with Lake Superior white fish and burgers.  At Sara’s Table does a great job of accommodating a wide range of dietary preferences–besides the vegetarian and vegan options, many of the menu items can be made gluten-free upon request.

At Sara's Table

The signature cranberry wild rice French toast (which our waitress informed us had even been on TV) is served all day for good reason.  The two-slice full order comes with a side of fresh fruit, or you can get the “one-on-one”, with one slice of French toast, an egg, and fresh fruit.  Truly great French toast starts with great bread: in this case, thick, wheaty slices flecked with grains of wild rice and the occasional cranberry.  Although the French toast is tasty enough simply with its dusting of powdered sugar, you can also top it with maple syrup or oatmeal-beer-stout syrup.  I’m a big fan of maple syrup, but I found myself reaching for the oatmeal-beer-stout syrup with its dark flavor and hint of cinnamon.  The fact that the oatmeal-beer-stout syrup wasn’t quite as sweet or prominently flavored as the maple variety allowed the flavors of the French toast itself to shine.

At Sara's Table

Mike ordered the build-your-own omelet (which includes monterey jack and cheddar cheeses) and chose sausage, tomato, and mushrooms as his extra fillings.  All of the omelets are made with three eggs and come with toast and a side of home fries, fresh fruit, or fresh greens and tomato.  The omelet was satisfying, with generously sized chunks of high-quality sausage and a fluffy texture.  The home fries, while a bit short on salt, were well-cooked, tender with a slight chewiness.

A hearty At Sara’s Table breakfast is enough motivation to make anyone a morning person.  However, since breakfast is served until 3:30 p.m. on the weekends, you don’t even need to roll out of bed early–the best of both worlds.

★★★ out of 5 (recommended)

If you go:

At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe
1902 East 8th Street
Duluth, MN 55812

*In a foreshadowing of future foodie things to come, Mike took me to At Sara’s Table on our first date.  At that point in my life, the locally sourced ingredients and tasty vegetarian options were lost on me, so I was happy to have the opportunity to redeem myself on our recent visit.

At Sara's Table - Chester Creek Cafe on Urbanspoon

Beet Risotto

Last summer, I flagged a recipe for beet risotto in my copy of The Farmer’s Kitchen.  Beets were a recent culinary discovery thanks to our CSA: for whatever reason, I had never tried them before.  I fell in love at first bite with the simple perfection of boiled beets, vivid purple-red or brilliant orange, subtly sweet and silky smooth.  Other than a batch of borsht, I didn’t venture beyond boiling as a method of preparation.  I hate peeling vegetables, and the beauty of the boiling beets is that you can leave the skins on and just slip them off the prepared beets with a fork and knife.

But the beet risotto has been beckoning to me, regardless of the necessity of peeling.  As a neat freak, I had horrifying visions of beet juice spattered across my person and kitchen, so I changed into an old t-shirt.  Sure enough, with the second stroke of the vegetable peeler, the slippery beet exploded from my hands, whacking me in the stomach before tumbling down the cupboard door and rolling across the floor, leaving a path of purple juice in its wake.  I yelled some choice words that caused Mike to rush downstairs, knowing that I had either cut off a finger and needed to be driven to the ER, or had made a serious mess and would need help cleaning it up.  Sadly, the “Twelve Angry Jurors Fall 2004 HHS Theater Department” t-shirt was a loss, but our vinyl plank flooring and cabinets were easy to wipe clean, and the rest of the beets were peeled without incident.

The risotto itself was well worth the sacrifice of my t-shirt.  The beets colored the rice a beautiful purple, and the saltiness of the Parmesan and the tartness of the lemon juice balanced the beets’ sweetness.  If you don’t have any wine, you can leave it out–although it adds a bit of depth to the dish, I don’t think it’s crucial.  The Arborio rice called for in the recipe is the classic variety used in risotto and can be found in the Italian section of the grocery store.

Adapted from The Farmer’s Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Enjoying Your CSA and Farmers’ Market Finds, by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal

Serves 4 as a light entree


Beet Risotto Ingredients

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced (about 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine
2 medium beets, diced into 1/4 inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a small saucepan, bring stock to a boil.  Reduce heat to low.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add shallot and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about two minutes.  Stir in rice and cook until rice is glossy and coated with butter, about one minute.  Add wine and stir until the wine has evaporated.  Add beets.

With a ladle, begin adding the stock a 1/2 cup at a time.  Turn heat up to medium-high.  When stock is almost evaporated, add more.  Continue in this manner, stirring frequently, until all of the stock is incorporated and the rice is tender, but not mushy.

Remove from heat and stir in salt and pepper.  Add Parmesan and mix thoroughly.  Finally, stir in the lemon juice.

Beet Risotto

Review: Brit’s Pub

Brit’s Pub is one of my go-to downtown restaurants for a casual meal.  It has a comprehensive menu of English pub classics, along with some unorthodox offerings like mac & cheese bites, fish tacos, and a vegan burger.  In the summer, there’s seating on the sidewalk along Nicollet Mall and on the roof, which also features a 10,000 square foot lawn bowling green.  Be aware that the rooftop menu is an abridged version of the main dining room menu, featuring most of the appetizers, sandwiches, and salads, but almost none of the entrees (a couple of which are vegetarian).  However, in my opionion the view makes it worth the trade off.

Brit's Pub

I tend to steer clear of vegetarian burgers: the soy-based versions usually taste like desperate imitations of the meat products they attempt to emulate.  However, Brit’s Village Green vegan burger is meatless and proud of it.  Served on a focaccia roll with a tangy lemon-garlic aoili, the patty is a wholesome-tasting mixture of brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, kernels of sweet corn, and diced bell pepper, seared crisp on the outside and meltingly smooth on the inside.  A tangle of slightly bitter arugula and sunflower sprouts add an additional fresh, herby dimension.  I opted for a side of coleslaw (the other option is chips) and was pleasantly surprised by the crispness of the cabbage and the relatively light touch with the dressing.  My only minor complaint about my meal is that the airiness of the focaccia roll and the softness of the patty make for a burger that lacks structural integrity, so be prepared to use a fork.

Brit's Pub

According to the menu the fish and chips (available as a one, two, or three piece meal) are the bestseller.  That’s not surprising, since the fish is exactly what you would hope for: a thick, crunchy fried batter encasing generously-sized pieces of tender cod, with a creamy house-made tartar sauce. The chips are a well-executed classic best enjoyed with the malt vinegar on your table.

If you’re looking for a pub meal with your favorite vegetarian, want to try some of the best fish and chips in the Twin Cities, or if you want to take in a roof top view of downtown, Brit’s is your spot.

★★★ out of 5 (recommended)

If you go:

Brit’s Pub
1110 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Brit's Pub on Urbanspoon

Ratatouille Salad

My blog has been a little short on recipes this summer.  Partly it’s because we eat out more during the warmer months, which gives me more material for restaurant reviews.  When we have been eating at home, I’ve been focusing on favorite recipes that I’ve already posted: we’ve eaten lots of pasta with fresh sauce and  linguine with zucchini and chickpeas, the first cabbage of the CSA season became a satisfying meal of halushki, and batch of roasted tomatillo salsa was the perfect topping for the rice and bean bowls we had last weekend.  The fresh, local produce season in Minnesota is short, so I’ve been sticking with the beloved recipes I only get to pull out a for a couple months out of the year.

But there has been some experimentation thanks to Mollie Katzen’s The Heart of the Plate.  Last March, I spent a blissful few weeks cooking from a library copy (Lablabi, Hot-Sweet-Sour Soup with Tofu and Pineapple, Cheese Crusted Roasted Cauliflower, Spring Farro, and Farro and Tuscan White Beans), so I was thrilled to get my very own copy for my birthday last month.  Since I am the sort of cook for whom planning is half the fun, I’ve been poring over the recipes and making lists of weeknight recipes and more ambitious weekend projects, organized by season.  Grilled Ratatouille Salad, a marinated salad of zucchini and eggplant, fell into the ambitious summer weekend project category, so when I got an eggplant in last week’s CSA share I knew exactly what to do with it.

Since I don’t have a grill pan, my ratatouille salad was sauteed instead of grilled, and I halved the recipe.  Even with the smaller quantities of vegetables, there is still quite a bit of slicing and cooking.  Setting up two skillets for cooking the vegetables speeds up the process; since I only have one large skillet, I used a skillet and my Dutch oven.  To ensure that the vegetables soak up as much marinade as possible, slice them into long, thin strips by cutting the vegetables crosswise into 2-inch chunks, placing each chunk cut-side down on the cutting board, and then vertically slicing off pieces as thin as possible.

Vegetable ChoppingSlicing Vegetables

Although it is a lot of work, the finished salad is worth the effort: crisp-tender zucchini and silky eggplant, saturated with an herbal olive oil vinaigrette.  Add some homemade bread and you have the perfect Sunday night supper.

Adapted from The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen

Yield: 2 main dish servings or 4 side servings


Ratatouille Salad Ingredients

1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons minced shallots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
dash of pepper
3-3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium zucchinis, cut crosswise into 2-inch chunks and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
1 medium eggplant, peeled, cut crosswise into 2-inch chunks, and thinly sliced (about 6 cups)

Whisk together vinegar, shallots, garlic, salt, sugar, thyme, oregano, and pepper in a 8×8 glass baking dish.  Gradually add 2 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and whisk to blend.  Place baking dish near stove.

Heat one or two large skillets over medium heat for about a minute.  Add 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to each skillet and tilt to evenly coat.  In batches,  use tong to place strips of zucchini in a single layer in skillet and cook until crisp-tender, a few minutes per side.  Remove zucchini from skillet and add to baking dish with marinade.

Once all of the zucchini has been cooked, repeat the process with the eggplant: place strips of eggplant in skillet and cook until completely soft, a few minutes per side.  Remove eggplant from skillet and add to baking dish with zucchini and marinade.

Ratatouille Salad

When all of the vegetables have been cooked, stir vegetable mixture thoroughly to evenly distribute marinade.  Let sit for 30-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve at room temperature.

Ratatouille Salad

Review: The Barbary Fig

Despite its location on St. Paul’s busy Grand Avenue, the Barbary Fig is the kind of neighborhood restaurant where the service has a laid-back friendliness and the menu is one page long.  It’s located in a converted house (the kitchen takes up the first floor, with a dining room on the second floor and a patio in the front yard), and the menu features Mediterranean cuisine with a Greek and North African focus.  There’s lots of lamb, as well as a couple of vegetarian and chicken entrees.


Mike was in the mood for something light, so he opted for the puree of artichoke and goat cheese appetizer.  The puree is served over a salad, with pieces of grilled eggplant, tomatoes, olives, and walnuts.  The puree had a interesting depth of flavor from the goat cheese and was well complemented by the slight smokiness of the grilled eggplant.


The lemon apricot favas are served over rice, with seasonal vegetables.  Rice and bean dishes are often mono-textural, but in this case the al dente fava beans and crisp-tender carrots and zucchini provided a nice textural contrast to the rice.  The quantity of lemon apricot sauce was just right, adding a bright fruitiness without overwhelming the dish with sweetness.


The bourek, a chocolate and hazelnut filled pastry drizzled with honey and lavender, was a bit of a disappointment.  Although the combination of the chocolate and hazelnut filling and honey was delicious, the pastry was tough and dry, while the lavender added an unpleasant bitterness.


The creme caramel lived up to its name, with a silky creaminess and rich caramel flavor.  It was particularly refreshing when paired with an iced mint tea-a perfect dessert for a hot summer evening.

Although the menu may be short and the surroundings modest, the Barbary Fig’s well-composed Mediterranean cuisine has deservedly made it a Grand Avenue fixture since 1989.

★★★ out of 5 (recommended)

If you go:

The Barbary Fig
720 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105

Barbary Fig on Urbanspoon

Review: The Green Room

Behind an unassuming storefront on Stillwater’s Main Street is the trendy Green Room, with exposed brickwork, an open kitchen, and a rooftop patio with a view of the St. Croix River.  The menu includes Italian, Mediterranean, Indian, Japanese, Norwegian, and Minnesotan influenced dishes, with a focus on fresh and local ingredients.  We visited the Green Room during last summer’s Foodies on Foot tour of Stillwater and were eager to return for lunch on the patio.


The bold flavors of the Asian shrimp flatbread made it a delight to eat: each bite offered up a different combination of toppings, each flavor and texture distinct yet harmonious.  The thin crust was spread with a moderately spicy chili sauce and sprinkled with diced shrimp, whole cashews, sprigs of cilantro, chopped scallions, and slivers of ginger.  A small dollop of wasabi was served on the side, and I added a few specks here and there for yet another potent layer of flavor.


The wet beef sandwich is a combination of smoked prime rib and Gruyere cheese served au jus with a side of truffle fries.  Although well-executed, the straightforward sandwich lacked the complexity of flavor that we expected from the Green Room.  The fries, on the other hand, lived up to expectations.  They came with lightly flavored house-made catsup that allowed the subtly rich truffle flavor of the fries to shine through.

The Green Room’s bold use of flavor and globally-inspired menu has made it our go-to restaurant in Stillwater–and there’s a lovely view from the patio to top it off.


★★★½ out of 5 (recommended)

If you go:

The Green Room
215 Main Street S
Stillwater, MN 55082

The Green Room on Urbanspoon

Cilantro Jalapeno Hummus

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a near obsessive urge to use up every last bit of a bunch of cilantro.  I hate wasting food, in part because I relish the challenge of figuring out how to utilize a half can of coconut milk or partial bunch of cilantro in the week’s meal plan, but also because I’m a cheapskate.  And if it pains me to throw away the remains of a sixty-nine cent bunch of cilantro from the grocery store, it is even more excruciating to throw away half of the bunch of $3 organic cilantro I bought from the farmer’s market last week.

But I have found a solution: cilantro jalapeno hummus.  It uses a whole cup of tightly packed leaves, which translates into a lot of cilantro (at least half of a generous bunch).  The hummus itself takes on a beautiful green color and texture reminiscent of guacamole, with a moderate spiciness from the jalapeno.  I served this with cucumber and zucchini slices and homemade tortillas, but I think it would also work well as a spread for a vegetable-packed sandwich.

Adapted from the Cooks of Crocus Hill recipe published in the Star Tribune on July 2, 2014


Cilantro Jalapeno Hummus Ingredients

15 ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup fresh tightly packed cilantro leaves
1 jalapeno pepper, stem and seeds removed and finely diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and lime juice to taste, optional

Add garbanzo beans to a food processor and process until the beans resemble wet sand.  Add the cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, and olive oil and process until all the cilantro is finely chopped and the hummus is smooth and uniformly mixed.  Add salt and lime juice to taste if desired.

Cilantro Jalapeno Hummus

Serve with tortillas, pitas, or fresh vegetables.

Cilantro Jalapeno Hummus

Review: The Finnish Bistro

What initially drew me to the Finnish Bistro was the almond kringler.  We had stopped by for dessert after dinner at nearby Muffuletta, and everything in the glass case of cakes, pastries, and cookies looked good.  However, since the almond kringler was labeled as the bistro’s signature item, I had to order it.  The kringler is a rectangle of almondy goodness, with a rich sugar cookie, butter cream icing flavored with almond extract, and a generous sprinkling of sliced almonds.  After my delicious experience, I found myself wheedling my companions into stopping at the Finnish Bistro for dessert whenever I was in the neighborhood, which isn’t that hard since Mike and my sister Rachel love cookies even more than I do.

But the Finnish Bistro offers a full menu in addition to dessert, and the savory offerings are just as tasty as the cookies in the dessert case.  Despite the bistro’s Finnish moniker, the eclectic menu features a mixture of cuisines, including American-style breakfast all day options, quiche, a walnut burger with hummus, a lamb gyro, fish tacos, and flat bread pizzas, in addition to Scandinavian specialties like French toast made with Finnish pulla bread and reindeer sausage.  During the weekend breakfast and lunch rush, seating at the Finnish Bistro is limited (particularly if you have larger dining party), so if the weather is nice the large patio tables on the sidewalk outside are the best option.

The Finnish Bistro

Since I was in the mood for something Scandinavian, I ordered the salmon lefse.  As a novice lefse maker, I was most impressed with the lefse itself, rolled so thinly it was almost translucent.  The lefse was delicately folded around a mixture of salmon, red peppers, onions, and spinach.  The salmon was grilled to moist, flavor-packed perfection and was nicely complemented by the sweetness of the red peppers.  The house-made cucumber dill sauce, served on the side, added a nice herby punch to the dish.

The Finnish Bistro

Mike opted for the Hungry Finn flatbread pizza, topped with Italian sausage, pepperoni, salami, mushrooms, mozzarella, Parmesan, and blue cheese.  Although thin, the crust was able to stand up to the the weight of all the ingredients, and the combination of topping was well-balanced.  The best bites were those with a tangy crumble of blue cheese, which added a burst of extra flavor.

For dessert, we both branched out from the classic almond kringler.  Mike got a massive seven-layer bar that would do any church potluck table proud, and I had a lovely coconut macaroon, pleasantly soft and dipped in a thin layer of dark chocolate.

Whether you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth or a more substantial cafe style meal, the Finnish Bistro is worth a stop.

★★★½ out of 5 (recommended)

If you go:

The Finnish Bistro
2264 Como Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108

Finnish Bistro on Urbanspoon