Monday, February 13, 2012

There is no better time than Valentine’s Day to show your sweetheart how much you love them by selecting a gift from the heart.

According to, the top ten most romantic Valentine’s Day gifts are: an MP3 player, roses, chocolates, a CD of romantic songs, a mobile phone, a trip to a favorite destination, jewelry, a special outing, a framed photo of the two of you, and perfume.

There are so many ways to show that special someone how much you love them and it doesn’t have to cost a lot.

If you and your sweetheart choose to stay home for Valentine’s Day, prepare him/her a meal made with love. You don’t need a fancy restaurant for a romantic date, just a quick trip to the store and a little time in the kitchen.

Becki’s Chocolate Cake

My former colleague Becki Shumaker of Des Moines is a talented cook. She not only knows how to pinch a penny, but she also serves delicious and nutritious meals to her husband, John, and her sons, Chase and Wyatt. When Becki taught music at my school, I always looked forward to the homemade food she would bring to share with the staff. This is a dense cake with a moist richness that makes it almost seem like homemade. It was so popular with the staff at my school, by 10:30 a.m. there would be nothing left but crumbs.

1 (18.25 oz.) pkg Devil’s Food or dark chocolate cake mix
1 (3.9 oz) pkg chocolate instant pudding mix
5 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
Pillsbury Chocolate Fudge frosting

Spray 2 cake pans with non-stick spray. Combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, sour cream, warm water, and oil. Fold in chocolate chips. The batter will be thick. Divide into cake pans and follow directions on the cake mix box (I usually bake them for about 35 minutes at 325 degrees). Do not overbake the cakes. As soon as they are firm in the middle take them out of the oven.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pans on a rack for 15 minutes, then flip them onto plates. Wait about 15 more minutes to frost them so cakes are still fairly warm. Make sure frosting is soft enough to spread easily. Place cake on serving plate and frost top of first cake. Place second cake on top of first, and frost top of second cake and sides of both.

*Becki’s Note: I think warm frosting is the key. It allows everything to melt and ooze together.

Heart-Shaped Pizza

This is something fun for you to make for your sweetie or something fun for your kiddos to make for dinner.

Use dough of choice (homemade or from a mix), add a few tablespoons of freshly chopped rosemary. Shape dough into the shape of a heart. Brush dough with extra virgin olive oil before spreading pizza sauce. Add generous amounts of cheese and desired toppings of choice such as meat and/or veggies.

Chipotle Steak Topper

Nothing says love like serving your valentine a juicy steak. Steak toppers have become quite popular on restaurant menus. They can make a great steak even better.

This steak topping adds Southwestern flavor without a whole lot of spice.
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (found in can in Hispanic food aisle)
1 teaspoon lime juice

Combine all ingredients and mix until evenly blended. Place two to three tablespoons on each steak.

Bleu Cheese Steak Topper

There is something about bleu cheese and beef that are so right. The flavor of beef blends well with the salty tartness of bleu cheese. No wonder bleu cheese is one of the most common pairings with beef whether on a burger or a steak.

1/4 cup green onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup bleu cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons soft goat cheese (Chevre)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Combine all ingredients and gently mix together until even, but not blended smooth. It should be coarse in texture. Just before serving, spread a couple spoonfuls across the top of each steak.

Horseradish Steak Topper

If you like horseradish sauce on your prime rib, try this steak topping. It is a thick sauce with a little heat.

1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over a low heat. Simmer, but do not boil. Stir constantly for about 5 to 10 minutes or until mixture thickens. Spoon mixture over steaks.

Twice Baked Rosemary Bleu Potato Mash

For Christmas Eve, we had a surf-and-turf dinner comprised of New York Strip steaks, lobster tails, and bleu cheese potatoes. The potatoes were absolutely delicious and went perfectly with our meal. The recipe comes from Claire Robinson’s television show, “Five Ingredient Fix,” on the Food Network.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for baking dish
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves
freshly cracked black pepper
6 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
kosher salt
1 1/4 cups crumbled bleu cheese

Butter a 6 to 8 cup shallow baking dish. In a small saucepan, heat the butter, garlic, rosemary and pepper until the butter is melted. Allow it to sit over very low heat to infuse flavors and keep hot while cooking the potatoes (do not let garlic burn).

In a large pot, add the potatoes, cover with water and add a heavy pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer the potatoes until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Immediately drain the potatoes and then put them back into hot pot over very low heat, to dry thoroughly.

Next, pass them through a food mill over a bowl. If you don’t have a food mill, you can hand mash or use a ricer. Preheat the oven broiler. Remove the smashed garlic from warm butter and whisk in about 1 cup of the bleu cheese to make sauce. By hand, mix the cheese sauce into the potatoes and season with a little salt and pepper, to taste. Spread into the prepared baking dish and top with remaining bleu cheese. Broil until the cheese is golden and melting, about 3 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the oven and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.

Italian Sausage Lasagna

Most lasagna makes enough to feed a crowd, but this dish will serve just you and your honey (plus maybe one serving of leftovers to take to work the next day).

2 mild Italian sausage links, casings removed
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can (14-1/2 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
4 lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
3/4 to 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
Crumble sausage into a small skillet. Add onion and garlic; cook over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Drain. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Combine the egg, ricotta and parsley.
Spread 1/4 cup sauce in an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Trim noodles to fit dish. Layer a third of the noodle pieces over sauce; top with a third of the remaining sauce, a third of the ricotta mixture and 3 tablespoons mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers twice.
Cover; bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until browned. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting.
Yield: 3 servings.

Amaretto-Cranberry Kiss

Before dinner is served, toast to your love with a cocktail and a kiss.

2 cups cranberry juice cocktail
1 cup vodka
1/2 cup amaretto
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
ice cubes
clementines, peeled, separated into segments

Mix cranberry juice, vodka, amaretto, and orange juice in pitcher. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Can be prepared 1 day ahead, keep refrigerated.

To make 2 drinks, fill cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Pour in scant 1 cup vodka mixture. Cover and shake vigorously. Strain into 2 Martini glasses. Garnish each with clementine segment. Repeat 3 times with ice cubes, remaining vodka mixture, and clementine segments.
Yield: 8 cocktails.