Intimate Dinner Menu for Four | Menu | Chateaubriand Menu

One of the things I love most about my life is coming from a large, loving family.  Now that we live in Cleveland, I don't get to see them as much as I'd like.  I really miss our family dinners where we sit around the table, laughing, eating, drinking, and telling stories.  There's never a rush to clean up.  We enjoy each other's company to the fullest.  And no matter where I am, when I'm surrounded by family, I'm home.  So it's always a treat when family comes to visit.

Without going into too much detail, I've been undergoing some medical treatment and was feeling rather sorry for myself.  Whenever I'm sick or in pain, there's no one who can take care of me quite like my mom.  My parents have always been a source of strength and comfort in my life.  And Mr. Stranded has come to be a third son to them.  So when my parents decided to make the drive and cheer up their little girl, Mr. Stranded and I wanted to do something special to thank them for all they do for us.

I knew my parents did not want to see me fussing in the kitchen, so Mr. S and I put together a beautiful, yet simple Chateaubriand dinner where the more time-consuming dishes could be prepared in advance.  We had a wonderful night and weekend together, something I hope we can do again very soon.  And seeing my parents was just the medicine my spirits needed.

Recipes will be posted over the next week.

Intimate Dinner Menu for Four


Capicola Bites with Melon, Basil and a Balsamic Reduction Drizzle


Arugula Salad with Sliced Red Apples, Goat Cheese and a Parmesan Wafer Crisp


Chateaubriand served with a Veal Demi-Glace Sauce, an Arugula and Parsley Puree, over a Parsnip-Potato Mash stuffed Portobello Mushroom, along with Grilled Asparagus and Carrots, and Cauliflower Puffs


Chamomile Infused Creme Anglaise with Candied Lemon Zest

Nutella Truffles | Recipe | Crispy Chocolate Truffles

Woo Hoo!!!!  This is officially my last Christmas post!  Good thing, too.  My parents are coming to town next weekend and I'm planning a special "thank you" dinner for them for everything they do for me and Mr. Stranded, so it's time to move on to something new.

So our last Christmas recipe is Nutella truffles.  I can't say that truffles were traditional in our house growing up, but Nutella sure was.  My favorite story regarding Nutella involves my oldest brother who is almost eight years my senior.  When he was a senior in high school and I was in fourth grade, my mom had to have emergency surgery.  So for the time my mom was in the hospital with my dad helping her, my brother made our lunches each day.  When I opened up my lunch bag, I couldn't believe my eyes!  He had made...wait for it...Nutella and peanut butter sandwiches!  AND he threw in chocolate milk, a fruit roll-up, some M&Ms and a banana for good measure.  I had never had so many treats in my life, much less in one meal!

Thinking back on that time, I also remember my brother dropping my other brother and me off at school in an old beat-up gray car.  We called it Big Gray.  Big Gray didn't have a radio, so I held a boom box on my lap in the back seat and blasted Rush through the speakers.  I can't think of any other fourth grader who knew all the words to Tom Sawyer.  Ah, the good old days...

It also feels like forever ago when Mrs. H and I made the Nutella truffles.  It's hard to believe it was only two months ago.  We got to chatting, weren't really paying attention and before we knew it, we had made something closer to huge chocolate meatballs instead of small truffles.  But they still tasted good!  Truffles shouldn't be larger than a quarter.  We decorated the truffles with cocoa powder, white chocolate and chopped walnuts.

Make the truffles in batches and keep the unused portion in the freezer to keep it cool.  Once it starts to melt, it becomes very hard to handle.  Just keep putting the chocolate mixture back in the freezer to firm up a bit if that happens.

Nutella Truffles Recipe
Yield: 32 small truffles

4.5 oz (125 g) cream-filled wafer cookies, chocolate or vanilla flavor
7 oz (half of a small jar) chocolate-hazelnut spread, like Nutella
1 c chopped hazelnuts
12 oz chocolate candy coating
Cocoa powder and white chocolate for garnish

1. Place the cream-filled wafers in the bowl of a food processor and pulse it until they are coarsely chopped.
2. Combine the wafer pieces and Nutella in a large bowl and stir well.  Press a layer of plastic wrap on top of the mixture.  Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.
3. Using a melon-baller, make 1" balls. Roll ball quickly in your hands to make them perfectly round.  Place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
4. Roll the chocolate balls in the chopped hazelnuts and then roll in your hands to embed the nuts.  Place back in the freezer for 5 minutes.
5. Melt the chocolate candy coating according the package directions.  Be sure to stir regularly to prevent burning the chocolate.  Once melted, use two forks to dip the Nutella balls.  Place coated balls on waxed paper. 
6. Decorate balls with cocoa powder or chopped walnuts while still wet.  White chocolate swirls can be applied once the candy coating has hardened.  Allow to completely dry and harden before handling.

Make-Ahead Tip: Truffles can be made up to two weeks in advance and stored in an air-tight container.

Nonna's Crostoli | Recipe | Fried Cookie Ribbons

My cousin's husband comes for a good, old-fashioned American family where they have normal desserts like pies, cakes, cookies and cupcakes.  When he married into the family, he complained that Italians desserts are usually "dry with powdered sugar."  I never thought much about it, but he's completely right!  And my nonna's crostoli recipe proves his point.

If you've never had crostoli, they're not overly sweet.  Think of a canoli shell, but a little sweeter, more delicate with a hint of lemon.  Still can't picture it?  Well, I guess you'll just have to make these to try them!  This was another recipe that my brother and I video-taped our grandmother making and we're so glad we did.  My grandmother used to hand crank the dough, but thanks to my Kitchenaid mixer pasta attachment, it's a snap to do.  This recipe isn't difficult to make, but I would make these well in advance, and it doesn't hurt if you have someone to help make these.  One to cut the dough and one to fry them.

Crostoli store wonderfully well in a cookie tin, but don't store them in plastic.  They'll become soggy.  Crostoli will keep for a few weeks in a tin, so make a bunch and snack away.

Nonna's Crostoli Recipe
Yields: approx 3 dozen ribbons

6 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 c plus 2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 c milk
1/2 tsp salt
2-1/4 c flour
1 whole egg plus 1 yolk
3 Tbsp grappa (or brandy)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of l/2 lemon
Crisco for deep frying
Confectioners' sugar

1. Make the dough mixing together the butter through lemon juice.  Dough should not be sticky or else it will stick as you roll out. 
2. Cut dough into quarters to make it manageable.  Place three quarters into a zip lock bag; put them in the freezer to keep them cold while working with each quarter. 
3. Set the dough roller at 1, the thickest setting, and work it down, sprinkling with flower as you roll, to a 3 or 4 thickness.  Cut into 2" x 5" strips
4. Fry strips in Crisco.  When crostoli begin to brown and bubble up, flip and fry for a few seconds more.  Transfer to a paper towel to drain excess oil.  Store in an air-tight tin cookie container.
5. Repeat with remaining dough quarters. 

MAKE-AHEAD TIP: Crostoli can be made two weeks in advance and stored in an air-tight cookie tin container.  Do not store crostoli in plastic.

Pizza Dolce | Recipe | Italian Cheesecake

Can you believe it's already March?!  I sure can't.  February was a whirl-wind kind of month.  I was back-and-forth between New York and Cleveland, then I spent some time baby-sitting my adorable twin nieces down South and lastly spent a week with Mr. Stranded in Mexico.  It was soooo nice trading the Cleveland snow for the warm sun and sandy beaches.  And now, back to reality...

I'm going to finish off my Christmas dessert recipes this week because I'm sick of blogging about Christmas and want to move on to something else.

I've already mentioned that desserts in my house growing up were completely pathetic.  Some fruit, nuts, a box of chocolates...big deal.  So I can't say that my family ever had any traditional Christmas desserts, unless you consider a persimmon dessert.  That's where I turned to Mr. Stranded and my mother-in-law for help.

My mother-in-law is the queen of simple, fast, delicious desserts.  She gave me a "Pizza Dolce" recipe, which essentially is an Italian cheesecake.  This is nothing like your traditional cheesecake.  For starters, it's made with ricotta cheese and is light and fluffy, not dense like cream cheese cheesecake.  I made a tweak or two, figured out how I wanted to decorate it for Christmas and voila!  We now have our very own traditional Christmas Italian cheesecake!

To make a pattern on your cheesecake, find a foam cut-out, in my case a snowflake.  Halfway through cooking time, place the foam on top of the cheesecake, sprinkle the uncovered areas with cinnamon and then carefully remove the foam shape.  The cinnamon will bake into the cake.

Italian Cheesecake "Pizza Dolce" Recipe
Yields: 9" round cake

1 1/2 lbs of ricotta
6 large eggs
2 c milk
1 c sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
cinnamon to sprinkle on top

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
2.  Cream sugar and eggs until lemon colored.  Add the milk through lemon juice.  Mix slowly until well blended.  It will splatter.
3.  Place 9" round Springform cake pan on top of a backing sheet.  Pour mixture into the cake pan.  Some liquid will come out of the pan.  This is normal.
4.  Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes.  Remove cake from oven and carefully lay desired foam shape in the middle of the cake.  Sprinkle cheesecake with cinnamon.  Carefully remove the foam shape and return to oven and back for an additional 45 minutes or until firm. (See note above).
5.  Place cheesecake on a wire rack to cool.  Place on a plate and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Liquid will continue to leak from the pan.  This is normal.  Wehn ready to serve, remove from pan, place on a cake stand and serve.

MAKE-AHEAD TIP: Cheesecake can be made 2 days in advance and placed in the refrigerator or 1 month in advance and frozen.  Defrost before serving.

Fennel and Green Apple Salad | Recipe | Refreshing Fennel Salad

I stand corrected.  The other day I mentioned that only my brother-in-law and sister-in-law consistently follow the blog.  But it turns out I have quite a few family members who read Stranded in Cleveland on a regular basis.  I'm luckier than I thought!

Christmas would not be Christmas in our home without some sort of fennel.  Sometimes it's sliced up as a crudite, other times it's cooked as part of a dish, and in this case, made as a salad.  When sliced very thinly, the fennel is milder, not quite as crunchy, and refreshing.  And the best part - fennel aids in digestion!  A perfect dish for a large meal.

This salad tastes better when made a day in advance.  The acidity in the lemon dressing keeps the apple white and takes the harshness out of the fennel.

Fennel and Green Apple Salad Recipe
Yields: 8-12 servings

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
Juice from one lemon
salt and pepper
1/2 small fennel bulb
1 green apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

1. Combine oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Whisk together and set aside.
2. Cut leaves from fennel bulb and reserve.  Using the shredding blade of a food processor, slice the fennel as thinly as possible.  Transfer to a large bowl.
3. Add sliced apple to the fennel.  Pour lemon dressing over fennel and apple.  Toss well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.
4. Coarsely chop reserved fennel leaves and place on top for garnish.

MAKE-AHEAD TIP: Salad can be made and refrigerated one day in advance.  The lemon's acidity will prevent the apple from turning colors.