Valentine's Day, which arrives Friday, is proof that presents that come from the kitchen can be the sweetest gifts of all.
Corny? Probably, but I love making treats for family and friends. When my daughter was little, I made valentine cookie hearts for all her classmates.
Over the top? No, I simply bought a heart-shaped cookie or thin cupcake pan and spread or poured the dough into the hearts.
After the hearts were baking a few minutes, I inserted a lollipop stick into the dough; the cookies baked around the stick. Kids could eat the cookies like a lollipop. I iced the hearts with a thinned-out pink-colored icing and wrote the name of a classmate on each cookie to make the treat even more special.
From the cookies or cupcakes to the icing, store-bought mixes and icing can be used. Valentines from the kitchen do not have to be "from scratch."
For instance, a white cake with white icing can go from ordinary to extraordinary with the purchase of white and red roses made from ready-made royal icing. These store-bought flowers are edible, but one probably doesn't want to eat them. They are hard, but placed in a design on the cake, they look pretty. Most craft or specialty cake stores have packages of the flowers for about $5.99 for eight to 10.
My daughter likes to do quick goodies, such as cookie balls. These cookie balls can be dipped in red, white or pink icing for Valentine's. For chocoholics, the balls can be dipped in chocolate and drizzled with thinned colored icing. These can be boxed for an easy and pretty Valentine's gift.
For those with special dietary needs, most supermarkets offer sugar-free and gluten-free cake and sometimes cookie mixes. Remember, those people want to enjoy sweet treats, too.
Today, I have a few cooked or baked Valentine's treats for those who want to spend a little time in the kitchen. For those who want a low-calorie dessert, put an emphasis on fruit in the dish, such as a raspberry custard brulee that comes in at only 122 calories a serving or a store-bought angel food cake topped with fresh berries and whipped cream or topping. Fresh berries are pricey now, but Valentine's Day comes but once a year. Friends and family are worth it.
Here are some suggestions from my daughter and me to make Valentine's a little sweeter this year.
FRUIT-TOPPED ANGEL FOOD CAKE SQUARES
1 (1 pound) loaf angel food cake
1- 1/2 cups milk
3 (6 ounce) containers fat-free French vanilla yogurt
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
1 (6 serving) box vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix
2 cups quartered fresh strawberries
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups fresh raspberries
Spray a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Cut cake into 1-inch cubes; place in single layer in dish.
In a medium bowl, mix milk, yogurt, condensed milk and pudding mix with a wire whisk until well-blended.
Pour pudding mixture over cake pieces, spread until cake pieces are completely covered. Gently tap dish on work surface to remove any air bubbles. Cover; refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
Just before serving, in another medium bowl, gently mix all berries. Cut dessert into squares; top with fruit.
-- From Pillsbury's "Get-Togethers" published in 2006
OREO COOKIE BALLS
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
36 Oreo cookies, finely crushed (about 3 cups)
4 (4 ounces) packages semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces, melted
Mix cream cheese and cookie crumbs until blended. Shape into 48 (1-inch) balls. Freeze 10 minutes. Dip balls in melted chocolate; place in single layer in shallow waxed paper-lined pan. Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm.
-- Kraft Kitchens
Are these Oreo balls easy or what?
Fresh berries are again used in the raspberry brulee. This dessert requires more cooking, but it is not difficult.
RASPBERRY CUSTARD BRULEE
2 cups fresh raspberries (about 1 pint)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup skim milk
2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brown sugar
Gently rinse raspberries; drain. Divide raspberries evenly among 4 (6-ounce) ramekins or custard cups; set aside.
Combine sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan; stir well. Add egg; stir well. Gradually add milk, stirring well. Cook over lower heat 12 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; let cool 5 minutes. Add sour cream and vanilla; stir well. Spoon custard mixture evenly over raspberries.
Place ramekins on a baking sheet. Sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat 2 minutes or until sugar melts. Serve warm. Yield: 4 servings.
-- From "Light and Easy Cooking Collection" by Oxmoor House
These brownie and strawberry shortcakes can be made lower in sugar or gluten-free by using store-bought specialty mixes. I think these are the perfect combination for Valentine's -- chocolate and strawberries. Yum!
BROWNIE AND STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKES
1 (1 pound, 3.8 ounces) box fudge brownie mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
2- 1/2 cups milk
2 (4 serving) boxes white chocolate instant pudding and pie filling mix (can use the sugar-free version)
1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream
3 cups sliced fresh strawberries
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 15-by-10-by-1-inch pan with shortening or cooking spray. In medium bowl, stir brownie mix, oil, water and eggs with spoon until well blended. Spread batter in pan.
Bake 23 to 25 minutes or until brownie springs back when touched lightly in center. Cool 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in medium bowl, beat milk and pudding mix with wire whisk until thickened. In small bowl, beat whipping cream with electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold whipped cream into pudding mixture until well combined. Cover; refrigerate.
Cut brownies into 6 rows by 4 rows, making 24 squares. Place 1 brownie square on each individual dessert plate; top each with1/4 cup pudding mixture and 2 tablespoons strawberries. Repeat layers.
-- From "Get-Togethers"
Happy Valentine's Day to all.
Last of the mirlitons
I always triple this mirliton recipe for the holidays," Nava L. Rose of Biloxi said of her spicy shrimp stuffed mirlitons. "This one is for Brenda Roberts of Biloxi."
SPICY SHRIMP-STUFFED MIRLITONS
3 mirlitons, boiled, cut in half and seeded
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 pound shrimp, seasoned and cooked
1/2 cup fine dried bread crumbs
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scoop out pulp of mirlitons and set aside.
In saucepan, heat oil, sauté onions, bell pepper and celery for 5 minutes; add shallots. Season with salt and pepper and add garlic, shrimp and pulp. Saute for 5 minutes. Stir in bread crumbs, cheese and parsley.
Remove from heat. Stuff mirliton shells or pour in a casserole dish. Garnish with cheese.
-- Submitted by Nava L. Rose
"My granddaughter is looking for a recipe for the friendship cake," Anne Stanley of Biloxi said. "Any help will be appreciated."
Readers, check those files and see what you can find for Stanley's granddaughter.
Andrea Yeager, who can be reached at email@example.com, takes contributions or requests at Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.