Valentine's Day Treats for Your Sweetie

By Joanne Callahan

If you are still in a holiday baking and cooking mode from last December, and are looking for a creative outlet in which to express yourself, look no further than February 14th! Valentine's Day is a good chance to showcase more of your culinary expertise, much to the delight of your family and friends. As one popular slogan goes: "Nothin" Says Lovin' Like Somethin' From The Oven". So fire up the 'ol kitchen range and let's get cookin'.

For one of the "sweetest" ideas around, why not try your hand at Conversation Heart Cookies. After preparing your favorite sugar cookie dough, use a heart shaped cookie cutter. Then bake the cookies, allowing them to cool before continuing. Mix up 2 batches of Royal Icing Mix and tint one red (the other will remain white). Once the cookies have cooled, spread the white icing on each cookie using either a butter knife or an icing spatula. Let dry. Attach a small writing tip to a pastry bag and fill with the red icing. On each cookie, write a phrase that is normally found on the conversation heart candies, such as "My Guy", "Kiss Me", "Say Yes", etc. It helps to have a bag of these candies with you for inspiration! These look great piled in a large heart shaped dish or basket.

An easy yet elegant dessert idea is a Red Velvet Cherry Torte. All you will need is a box of Red Velvet Cake Mix, a can of cherry pie filling, 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract and a container of whipped topping. Bake the cake according to the package directions and allow to cool. The mix should make two 9 inch round layers. Combine the cherry pie filling and almond extract in a bowl. Place one layer on a cake plate (this cake looks stunning on a dish with a pedestal). Spread one cup of the whipped topping on the cake, followed by half of the pie filling. Top with second layer. Spread remaining pie filling to within 2 inches of the edge of the cake. Decorate the edge and sides with the remaining whipped topping. For a simpler effort, make the Red Velvet cake in our heart-shaped springform pan and top with whipped cream and cherries!

Have you always wanted to make a fancy French dessert but were intimidated by the very thought? Fear not! The classic Pain Au Chocolat will make you look like a seasoned pastry chef in no time flat, and you will only need 4 ingredients: 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, a nut chopper will make life a lot easier, 2 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoons of granulated sugar, one 16 ounce package of frozen bread dough, thawed, and 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips. After heating your oven to 375 degrees, spray the inside of 4 individual loaf pans with cooking spray and set aside. Sprinkle your work surface evenly with 1/4 cup chopped nuts and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Divide dough into four equal portions. Roll each into a 6x4-1/2 rectangle. Over each rectangle sprinkle 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips, 1 tablespoon of chopped pecans and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Roll up jelly roll style starting at the shortest end. Pinch sides and seams of each loaf to seal in filling and place in prepared pans, seam side down. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Cut in slices to serve.

Your children might prefer a Malted Milk Float instead. In a blender, combine 1 cup of chocolate milk, 1/2 cup chocolate ice cream and 2 tablespoons of chocolate malt powder. Pour into a 16 ounce glass and top with a scoop of ice cream.

If your children need to bring a treat to school with them, or are having some of their friends over, Valentine Cupcakes are always a hit. Just bake chocolate cupcakes in Valentine Cupcake papers, and frost with vanilla icing. You can sprinkle the tops with red sugar or sprinkles. To make them even more eye-catching, cut out red hearts or cupids from construction paper or from inexpensive Valentines Day cards. Glue the pictures to a craft stick (popsicle sticks sold in craft stores). When dry, place in the center of each cupcake. If your child is giving these away as small gifts, packaging them in cellophane bags is a nice touch.

Heart shaped sandwiches will make your little ones feel special. Cut out heart shapes from crustless white bread slices and spread with cream cheese, then top with strawberry jam. You can also cut out pieces of lunch meat such as bologna or salami...use your imagination. Another special treat is a Valentine roll-up. Just spread a flour tortilla with cream cheese and strawberry or raspberry jam then roll up and cut into slices.

Something a little more unusual, and very creative, is a heart shaped meat and potatoes dinner. Place your favorite meatloaf recipe into a heart shaped pan. Once it is cooked, "frost" with mashed potatoes that have a drop of red food coloring in them.

Hopefully these recipes and suggestions have helped inspire you to create some Valentines Day traditions of your own.