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Valentine's Day Ideas

Valentine’s Day…oh that day of romance and love, sweethearts and children, gifts of flowers, chocolate, and more.  So, you may ask yourself, “What am I to do this year for my love, my kids, or family and friends this love and heart themed holiday?”  You could go out and purchase those typical flowers or boxed chocolates. Or you could invent, create, and cook.  Here at Everything Kitchens, when we think of holidays, we think of the gift of time and tasty foods made by hand.  With that thought in mind, let us jump in to discuss what could be done to give those special gifts this Valentine’s Day that only you can produce.   Your equipment shopping is made easy with links into our web catalog.  A few recipes, some tips, and a little conversation is added to round out this idea page.  So I present this idea offering to you for this Valentine’s Day.  There is a trio of Valentines cookie gifts, a chocolate dessert, and it is ended with a few Valentines meal ideas to say “I love you” with that gift of time and food.

Valentine's Day Ideas
 

Valentine gifts…there is a real need for these.  Gifts at Valentine’s seem to be the most common way to celebrate the holiday, and visibly show others how much you love them.  A small handful of ideas follow, each with their own style, flair, and appeal.  Cake pops baked up rich and fudgy in Nordicware bakeware, then decorated so sweetly and presented as Valentine flower bouquets.  At the center is a recipe I developed for my mother who loves milk or coffee with melt in your mouth cookies with flavor and crunch.  For her, there are frosted Love Note Red Velvet Crisps.  This trio ends with my interpretation of Valentine’s traditional rolled sugar cookies made all lacy and fine with some Fat Daddio pastry and baking tools.  Take your choice, and let the gift making begin.  The hope is that you might find your creative idea for Valentine’s Day.

Cake Pop Flower Bouquet

Valentine Cake Pop Flower Bouquets

I had never made cake pops before this Valentine’s Day idea spread for Everything Kitchens.  Yes, I had made tons of cake, cupcakes, and petit fours over the years I professionally catered events and did wedding cakes.  So, I decided to try a baked version rather than the assembled ones I had tried before made of crumbled cake and frosting.  Nordicware has an excellent pan for this kind of cake pop.  What ensued was what I dubbed “cake pop trials 2014.”  There was a bit of trial and error as I went about preparing this particular Valentine’s gift idea.  I share my lessons, so you are ready to bake them without the learning curve.  Decorate heavy or light, let your imagination flow.  Use piped icings, edible glitters and dusting powders, or colorful sugars as the mood and creativity catches you.  Valentine’s Day will always mean flowers, but in this case they are edible and so delicious.

 

 

 

Products Used
1. Fat Daddio’s Cake Decorating Set
2. Nordicware Cake Pop Pan
3. BabyCakes Cake Pop Sticks
Not pictured: KitchenAid 5 Qt. Artisan Stand Mixer

Ingredients
Available with purchase of Nordicware Cake Pop Pan

Directions

The recipe is well sort of, missing.  Why?  I used the recipe on the back of the Nordicware pan.  A note should be made here.  Kitchen equipment manufacturers have taken time, money, and deep resources to develop recipes for use especially with their pieces.  I have been cooking all my life, professionally, in volunteer positions, and of course in my own home.  Some of the best tasting, easiest to prepare, and consistently reliable recipes have come directly from manufacturers of equipment and of food products.  In this case, I was astounded to find the makers of this Nordicware cake pop used no leaveners in their recipe.  This did concern me because I thought this batter would not properly fill the round baking tins.  I added a rounded quarter teaspoon of baking powder as I did not want to change the consistency of the batter, or have a mess in my oven from too much rising going on.  This small addition of baking powder achieved exactly what I hoped it would.  The pops baked up round and filled the pans.  I also added 3 tablespoons of Irish crème whiskey.  I like to cook with liquors, especially when baking, because these change flavor profiles by increasing complexity, depth, intensity, and richness.  It is not necessary to use the addition of liquors when you make the Nordicware recipe.  You will be rewarded with a fudgy end product very similar to brownies without the chew, or a very dense homemade devil’s food cake.  My changes to the original recipe kept the texture very close to the original and the flavor was heavenly.

Tips

  • I used vegetable oil spray to coat the pan and lightly dusted it with flour.  Next time I make these, I will go ahead and purchase a can that has flour already mixed into the vegetable spray coating.  The pop pan is a bit difficult to dust with flour adequately to prevent sticking because of the angle needed to do so.  Lessons always are learned in a new process.
  • Mound the thick batter in the baking tin as recommended by the manufacturer.  You do not want cake pops with flattened sides.  Not a pretty pop will this make.  I used the stainless steel cookie scoop so this would be an easy, quick process.  Honestly, stainless steel scoops of varying sizes are one of my “go-to” gadgets when baking.  They are worth the money spent to have a few scoops that you use often for making cake pops, muffins, drop cookies, and even meatballs.  Furthermore, touching batters too much with the hands makes it heavy and greasy.  This is not at all what a baker wishes for their final results.
  • To get the cake pops to come out of the pan after baking, I found a twisting motion like opening up a jar or bottle worked.  Use a very light touch while doing so.  This is absolutely not opening a jar, but it is that kind of motion.  Too much pressure and the cake pop will collapse and crumble.  The non-stick surface on the Nordicware cake pop can is excellent quality and slick.  You will not need to work hard, just lightly.
  • I did have to trim some of the cake pops prior dipping.  Let these cool completely and use a small, very sharp paring knife.  I went rather slow doing this to keep error to a minimum.  I wanted nice round cake pops.  I did not want cake pop brutality showing up in crushed and maimed little, shredded cake balls scattered upon the tiled countertop.
  • Thin dipping chocolate works best.  If needed, dip the pops several times to achieve the look and thickness you wish.  If the chocolate is too thick it will roll down in ribbons and set at the base of the cake pop.  I also found that too thick chocolate caused the pop sticks to pull out.  Finally, I also coated the sticks with a small dip of chocolate to “glue” them in place.
  • A quick note on melting chocolate I think is appropriate.  I am kind of old-school when it comes to many types of equipment.  I like quality items, and while these do cost a bit more, are worth their weight of cost being made with superior materials.  That being said, back to melting chocolate and being old-school.  You can microwave your chocolate, and some folks find this process perfect for their needs.  There are new products out there that facilitate this kind of work, those made of high tech materials and such.  I do like to try these items, especially when the old-school needs help.  I have burned many dollars in expensive chocolate in microwave seconds all because I was doing something other than watching my chocolate.  I also find when microwaving chocolate gets it far too hot, and can seize and ruin the “mouth-feel” prized in silky chocolates.  So when melting chocolate, I go to the stand-by I have used from the beginning.  I like a double-boiler for melting chocolate over all equipment out there.  I tend to multi-task so much when I bake.  I can put the chocolate over a very slow simmer, and just check it from time to time.  I have a small French made copper double-boiler with a heavy china interior pot.  It was a much wanted gift given to me from one of my sisters long ago.  Everything Kitchens has a few double-boilers to choose from.  Perhaps I should review these in an article at a time in the future.  And I wish to stress again, for the serious cook, equipment purchases hurt your wallet once.  And then after that time you have years of faithful service from that quality piece of equipment, and perhaps may decide to give that cherished piece of equipment to your child, your niece or nephew, or a grandchild to use for their lifetime.  Double-boilers melt chocolate; make smooth fail-proof sauces, puddings, and smooth pate-a-choux doughs.  I would not do many pastries or chocolates if it were not for my fine double-boiler.
  • The setting and drying time needed for cake pops, well I did not think ahead on problems it might pose.  I could have gotten our Nordicware cake pop display and storage box or another such piece of equipment that would have made this much easier.  Cake pops are incredibly top heavy.  The chocolate covered pops want to tip over, trashing your beautiful work.  I ended up using a piece of thick foam designed for mounting floral displays to place the cake pops sticks into to dry.  It did work well, but I had to toss that expensive piece of mounting foam out.  Some lessons involve cost.
  • To decorate let your mind wander and create.  If you have much experience or talent, you can come up with some unique looks with different cake decorating tips.  I was pressed a bit for time, so I used standard #16 and #18 size open star tips with slight modifications on regular decorating techniques.  It was more about the look I wanted to achieve, and almost not at all about traditional piping method.  You do not have to be a professional, just have fun and use even pressure.  Make sure you fill the bag well at the onset and purge the decorating bag of air bubbles before you start.  Otherwise, your frosting will explode out of the bag and make a mess.
  • Finally the addition of sugars, nonpareils, and dusting powders gave me the look I wanted of individual flowers, perhaps constructed of pearls, ribbons, and such pretties.  All these items are easy to find in craft and food stores and have a very long shelf life.  There are tons of choices of these kinds of decorating items out in the marketplace.  I was wanting a feel of jewelry and flowers at the same time.  I used pink glimmer dusting powder, red crush fine decorating sugar, pink pearl and multi-colored ball nonpareils for these cake pops. 
  • To display, I again used floral foam to secure my pops in the small glass pitcher.  I like to keep lots of small supplies for such purposes.  Food and crafting tends to go hand in hand.  I used paper straws to help keep these upright and in position, but also for the final look of my piece.  In a second display, I used gift tape as a floral frog inside the diameter of my pan and lots of rolled colored tissue to fill in the spaces as needed.  I wrapped individual pops like single roses you might purchase from the florist tied with a bit of curling ribbon.  Sweet single gifts or a small collection bouquet for Valentine’s Day.  This might be your creative idea this year.
 

Love Note Red Velvet Crisps

I so love my mother.  And on Valentine’s Day, I remember days gone by with her helping us gather up Valentine cards to take to friends, and getting craft supplies to assist in us making our Valentine boxes to take to school.  Red Velvet recipes are found everywhere on the web these days, that heady mix of chocolate and red food coloring is, in my mind, irresistible for a Valentine’s gift idea from the kitchen.  I took my well-honed, and much used, sugar cookie dough and put it into a morph to please my beloved mom.   The texture of the cookie is like biscotti without the second baking and that toasted flavor.  I did not want the cookies themselves to be super sweet; the cream cheese frosting imparts that flavor aspect to these Valentine’s Day cookies.  These do have the melt-away characteristics, and if you add a glass of cold milk or hot coffee it would make the perfect Valentine’s Day treat.  And these are by design jumbo sized cookies.  By the way, my mom loved these cookies, and this alone makes me smile.

Products Used

  • This time you will not really find a list of items used from the warehouse stocks of Everything Kitchens.  It is not because I could not have used items found here, but instead it is that I have most everything needed for making cookies of all kinds.  For about 12 years running, I made cookies for sale using the state-approved kitchens of my family’s pizza place in Buffalo, MO.  You of course need cookie sheets and grill-type cooling racks.  Again cookie scoops are on this needed list, as is parchment paper. 
  • I also am a KitchenAid follower.  Nearly all the recipes included in this article were made with my KitchenAid mixer.  I have had two KitchenAid mixers in my lifetime.  The first was a Classic 4 ½ Qt. Tilthead. My first mixer was in the Cobalt Blue color I adore.  The Cobalt is available with a little more horsepower in the Artisan 5 Qt. Tilt-Head.  That Classic was given with a bunch of attachments for my wedding and shower gifts in 1991.  I took that mixer into my cake, cookie, and catering business.  I eventually sold it to my family’s restaurant along with a dozen soft cookie recipes that took me about three years to adapt and perfect.  They still use that mixer to make small batches of frosting for the cookies I developed and are still sold to the customers at Hip Pocket Pizza Parlor in Buffalo, MO.  My second KitchenAid was a gift as well from my now ex-husband.  He went out and bought me a 6 Qt. Professional Stand Mixer.  I am a devout user of KitchenAid.  These machines are quality that lasts.  For cookies, cakes, frostings, and other such work these mixers cannot be beat.  The price is affordable when you think of years of use, the warranty attached, and the available color choices are totally cool.  For this Everything Kitchens Valentine's Day idea spread, I had the opportunity to use an Artisan Empire Red 5 Quart Stand Mixer.  Indeed, this is another great mixer with fantastic power in a stunning, vibrant shade of red.

 


 Love is in the Air

 Love Note Red Velvet Crisps

Ingredients

  • Cream together the following till light and fluffy
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Add and combine at medium till mixture changes to very pale yellow
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon red velvet bakers emulsion – I had to try this product when I found it in the bakers section of my favored craft store.  It did what the label said it would, and I am glad I tried it.  The results were amazing for deepening color and taste.  I did not want to use red food coloring as the taste can be off when too much is used.  This product eliminated that flavor and made classic red velvet characteristics very achievable.
  • 2 ¼ c. cake flou
  • 3 tablespoons Dutch cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch

 

Directions

Mix together butter, shortening, sugar on medium speed will light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat will well incorporated and mixture changes to pale yellow color.  Add red velvet bakers emulsion or red food coloring as you choose. Mix together the dry ingredients and combine with egg, fat, and sugar mixture will fully incorporated.  Sifting is not as necessary as it once was in the past; however I do take the time to pulverize my small ingredients and leaveners in a mortar and pestle to eliminate possible lumps that will destroy the taste buds of anyone that eats that in baked goods.

After fully combined, chill this dough for about 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Use a jumbo cookie scoop to portion dough onto parchment lined cookie sheets with plenty of space for spreading.  Bake for 15 minutes and check for doneness.  Cookies are fully cooked when the cracked open spreading on the top starts to dry out and the cookie no longer shakes raw when moved around on the oven rack.  Cookie sizes are directly proportionate to the longer cooking times needed to fully bake.  I do not like raw cookie doughs, some folks do.  This recipe will make approximately 9 jumbo cookies.

 Tips

  • I used to make 500 to 800 cookies a week for sale during my professional cooking years.  My best piece of equipment was a stainless steel scoop.  It made the dipping process quick, and the cookies uniform.  In addition, the more you handle cookie batter, the greasier it gets from compaction and the natural oils off your hands.  This makes a heavy textured final product that is not desirable.  A cookie scoop is a helpful gadget that you will be glad you have in your drawer.
  • I want to take a moment to discuss real vanilla extract and imitation vanilla.  This is not an area I want to cut costs.  Imitation vanilla has a hollow end note flavor, lacks depth and character.  I always use real vanilla extract except in items I want to have a super white final color.  In those cases I use imitation clear vanilla.  Vanilla beans from different parts of the world have different bottom and top notes due to climate, growing conditions, soils and so forth.  You might find that you like several choices of real vanilla from different places on the globe.  Vanilla is somewhat like coffee and wine, each bottle is unique.
  • Baking parchment has always been my friend.  It makes a beautiful final product that slides off the pan.  There are many other baking liners out there, but this is my favored because I like the throw away, one-time use only aspect of parchment.
  • Professionally, I used convection ovens to produce the large weekly volume of cookies that were sold in the restaurant and to outside orders.  In my own home, I prefer electric really for baking but am currently using propane gas.  The key really is that you calibrate your oven once a year at least or keep an oven thermometer handy to check for consistent temperatures.  Baking is a science and not as forgiving as cooking meats, vegetables, and that kind of thing.  Most cookies are baked at 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the recipe.  I generally check my oven temperature before I begin baking, and then again only if I am making more than 5 or 6 oven batches at a time.
  • It is a truth that cookies need to be baked on the middle and center rack area.  If I choose to cook more than one sheet at a time, I do not forget to rotate my pans top to bottom and front to back for even cooking.  Convection allows this kind of rotation to happen with quick upsurge in oven temperatures because of the forced air movement.  My home oven is good, and will recover, but I prefer not to stress it.  I hate burnt or raw cookies, and of course there is always things to do when the oven is full.  Just use a timer, which is also one of my important tools in the baking kitchen.
  • I find that combining the fats together before adding the sugar a good thing overall.  This helps incorporate more air prior adding the sugar which keeps the batter lighter and fluffier than adding the fats and sugar at the same time.  This is not a necessary step, but it is something I have found over thousands of cookies and content customers to be a valuable tip if you do not mind an extra step.  I love tender textured cookies whether they be soft, chewy, hard, or crisp.
  • Make sure to clean the sides of the bowl before mixing in the dry ingredients and then again at the end of the final mixing to make sure there is no wet or dry spots of unincorporated ingredients.  There are flex-edge beaters and other accessories for KitchenAid for sale here at Everything Kitchens, but I must admit I have never tried this particular piece of equipment.  Maybe I need to check into that for the near future and see if the product claims are true for my own self.
  • Decorating did not involve much for this creative Valentine’s Day idea.  I made the quick cream cheese frosting that was not really measured and added some red food color for my piped writing.  For the frosting, I used about a pound of confectioner's sugar, a couple tablespoons of butter, one 8 ounce chub of cream cheese, a teaspoon or so of clear vanilla, and about a half teaspoon of butter flavor, and some half & half till it was spreadable consistency.  When I make frosting for cookies like this, it tends to be whatever I have in the refrigerator, like whipping cream, half & half, or milk become interchangable.
  • I have much to say about cookies, troubleshooting and tips have been decades in forming through experience.  As time goes by, I shall say more about this topic.  Cookies are fun and a sugar staple in many households.  But, bad cookie recipes abound and I have certainly experienced the disappointment of burnt edges and other similar failures baking cookies.
 Lace & Sweetness Rolled Cookies  

Lace & Sweetness Valentine’s Day Rolled Butter Cookies

Cream cheese and butter enrich my version of a classic style rolled dough.  It is easy to use and pliable, but must be kept refrigerated till time to bake.  Most rolled cookie doughs require several hours of chilling prior rolling.  I did not include my recipe for this article as I felt there are lots of good recipes for rolled cookies out there.  Find one you love and use it.  There is also no shame in buying premade cookie dough, but it does tend to stickier and a little harder to roll out in my opinion.  This Valentine’s gift is more about the decorating.  I love to decorate with fondant.  Fondant reminds me of the clay I used in the pottery class I took in college, and the Play Dough I used to goof around with as a little one.  Fondant can be bought pre-made so it takes out the difficulty level. The tools are so simple to use when mixed with a bit of cooking adventure and creative thoughts.  Let your mind go as you decorate so that the end product is a reflection of you and your love for that special someone this Valentine’s Day.  As I was baking, I kept thinking of the frilly homemade Valentines I made as a child with white, red, and pink papers cut with scissors to resemble lace hearts of varying sizes and decoration.  These cookies for me was a walk through my memories of those homemade cards for Valentine’s Day gifts of love.

Products Used
1. Fat Daddio’s Nylon Cookie Cutters – Heart Shape Stackables
2. Fat Daddio’s Fondant Modeling Tool Set
Not pictured: KitchenAid 5 Quart Artisan Stand Mixer

Tips

  • Use cold cookie dough and a lightly dusted rolling surface to roll out to about ¼ inch thick cookie.  Parchment or waxed paper may be used as your rolling surface.
  • These Fat Daddio nylon, stacking heart cutters are the bomb.  I have used many differing types of cutters made of various materials, but these by far are my favorite.  The nylon construction seems to keep them from sticking to the cutter, and they are sharp without physically cutting your own hands.  The cutters also have scalloped edges which turned out wonderful, crisp cuts each time I used them.
  • Again, I say parchment paper.  It is indispensable in baking and in my opinion a tool kept in your drawer at all times if you bake much.  If you do not mind cleaning, try silicone mats as they serve the same purpose and will result in beautiful baked good.
  • Rolled doughs can be contrary at times, the tips I have outlined for the Love Note Red Velvet Cookies also applies here.  Your best tool to use is a rolling pin you are comfortable with.  I like a tapered French pin because I love the feel and the control of this design.  However, my preference does not have to be yours.  My former mother-n-law made sublime pies, and worked in a restaurant for many years making their pies and biscuits.  She wanted a big, heavy wooden or marble pin with handles to do rolling work.  A light dusting of flour on your rolling surface and the pin is the best help you can give yourself.  I generally pat the dough out to a basic shape needed, flip the patted out dough and give it another light dusting of flour, and then  move on to finish with the pin.  Do not handle rolled doughs too much, again as it changes the texture of your baked goods.
  • Decorating with fondant is very easy, no longer do you have to make this product from scratch as it can be found in many places.  If you do not like the flavor of fondant, no worries as marzipan could also be substituted.  However, it does not work exactly like fondant.  Marzipan will not hold intricate designs and shapes, and has a natural off-white color that cannot be covered to make a white lace cut out like I used on these cookies.  In addition, fondant does dry out if it is not used relatively quickly.  You will need to knead the fondant into a workable and pliable shape.  This does not take but a few minutes.  The heat of your hands do some of this for you.  I use standard up and over movements as in kneading bread doughs to condition store-bought fondant chubs.  If you worry you cannot complete quick enough, roll small amounts at a time out, cut your hearts out, and then decorate with the tools.  Then repeat that process. I rolled my fondant out for these Valentine’s Day cookies to about 1/8th inch thick.  You will need to dust your rolling surface and pin with confectioners’ sugar.  If you get holes or thin areas, pick it up quick and re-roll if needed.  Keep unused fondant wrapped tightly in plastic cling film while not in use.  It will store in your cabinet for up to a month I have found, but after that time it does draw smells from the the other stored items.  Just make sure you cover it several times in cling wrap, and then place it in a plastic storage container with a good sealing top.
  • Fondant tools are also easy to use.  It is not necessary to have professional experience or an understanding of traditional techniques.  Just get them out and go play.  There are online resources of how to use these tools if you feel the need to investigate.  I will be doing more with fondant in coming articles, and will discuss this at greater length.  For now, the packaging of the fondant tools from Fat Daddio gives some easy directions on what designs your tools will make.  For these particular cookies, I just remembered how I decorated those cut-out paper hearts I made for my parents, and my friends, as a child.  I just experimented with these decorations.  Imprint the hearts with your desired designs and have fun.
  • If you decide to embellish your fondant heart, this is also easy.  I liked the look of the embossed hearts alone, but decided to decorate simply with pink frosting.  I used the same tips I noted prior just for convenience sake.  Small stars in this particular case was my design of choice because I kept thinking of embroidery work on antiqued napkins and doilies.  I wanted it to be delicate and random.  I will discuss more on decorating in future articles as well.  I have encyclopedias of information, and over two decades of professional cake work.  This is not an end-all topic discussion here.  Add as much frosting decoration that appeals to your eyes.  Generally speaking, less is more.

The finale for any very good special meal is dessert, and at Valentines dessert for me is berries and chocolate always.  These can be offered alone as well, with a good glass of wine, some champagne, or the beverage that speaks to that special love in your life.  Make them beautiful and uncomplicated was my mantra.  I wanted to give you options that take little time, but present luxury and richness for the eyes and on the tongue. 

 

Hearts of Chocolate Valentine’s Cake

There is no cake recipe involved with this one.  I believe that cake mixes are very good, and with a little altering tips, cake mixes can become spectacular.  In addition, so many folks are used to the tastes and character of cake mixes that old fashioned, made from scratch cakes seem to be heavy.  I did not want this Valentine’s Day to be difficult for someone looking for a beautiful idea for Valentine’s Day desserts.  Now, various fruits go better with varying chocolates.  Let your own chocolate love, or that of your Valentine, guide your decisions on what fruit to pair with what chocolate.  Perhaps you love creamy white chocolate married with strawberries, or super dark chocolate with pomegranate.  The recipe is an outline of flavor what can be adapted generally with the same ratios.  More exploration and tips on pairing chocolate with food and drink will definitely be in the works for future articles.  Chocolate for me is a staple and a necessity of life.  Chocolate says Valentine’s Day more than any other food item out there. 

Products Used
1. Fat Daddio’s Professional Line 6” Heart Cake Pan
2. Fiestaware Scarlet 4 PC Place setting – Dinner plate used
Not pictured: KitchenAid 5 Quart Artisan Stand Mixer

Hearts

 Hearts of Chocolate

Ingredients

  •  Your Favorite Cake Mix with Those Needed Ingredients
  • Recipe and Ingredients for Chocolate Ganache from Web or Cookbook
  • Your Favorite Frosting Recipe

Directions

Here again there is no recipe for the cake itself.  I used one of my favorite brands of cake mix and simply added 2 teaspoons of clear vanilla and 1 teaspoon of butter flavoring.  You could add other flavors as the mood strikes.  I have altered cake mixes off and on to achieve differing flavor profiles.  This is not a complex process to do.  You can generally add up two a couple of tablespoons of liquid or dry extra ingredients like flavorings or more cocoa with cake mix forgiveness, and no major altering of the final texture or moisture levels of your baked cake.

Chocolate Ganache is a rich mix of heavy whipping cream and chocolate.  There are so many recipes on the web for this item that I decided not to enter my own as it is a relative standard representation.  The important thing to remember is that whatever chocolate you use to mix with the cream is what flavor it will become with cream.  I use better quality chocolate because of this very reason.  There are times to choose economical ingredients, and I do not believe special treats and desserts are the place for economy.  I like very dark, high cacao content chocolates.  I would not use any chocolate less than 50% cacao because of this very reason.  The higher ratio cacao content chocolates also make a deeper chocolate color, which is what I wish to see in my ganache final result.  If you add your melted cream and chocolate into your mixer you can whip it for a short few minutes to make it more spreadable, but remember that it will set up quick so be ready with your cake before making this item.  Ganache can also be left melted without the whipping, cooled slightly and then poured over your cake.  This Hearts of Chocolate Valentine’s Cake has a whipped version.  I put the melted mixture in my KitchenAid stand mixer for about 4 minutes till it started to lose its gloss and thickened slightly.

Tips

  • The Fat Daddio pans really have a fine, slick surface for cake baking.  I had no trouble using it, and do not have any major words to say at this time beyond the obvious, which is grease the pan well and flour before pouring in your batter.
  • Cakes need accurate temperatures to bake well.  Calibrate your oven or use a oven thermometer.  Time your cake and check it at the appropriate time recommended on the mix or in your recipe.  You can always add a few minutes of time if needed.  Test the cake with a toothpick or cake testing pin to check for doneness.  Cakes can fall or lump up in the center in the cooking process.  I would like to address this issue further, and will in a later article.
  • I torted the center of my cake with a very different frosting.  I took 3 tablespoons of raspberry brandy and put it with together with ¼ cup of some raspberry preserves.  I was looking to create a simple syrup of sorts to add to my confectioners’ sugar.  I melted the brandy and preserves on the stove in a saucepan till it boiled, and kept that slow boil till the smell of alcohol faded.  I did not want that for this particular project.  After this cooled to room temperature.  I added about a half pound of confectioners’ sugar to my mixing bowl with a couple tablespoon size lump of butter and then melted liquor and preserves.  I added heavy cream to finish it to the consistency I wanted.  Frosting does not have to be an accurate mix of items in most cases.  I do taste it to make sure the flavor is right.  I often keep frostings in the fridge for use on other cooking projects, so I do not worry if I have leftovers.  Those leftovers are handy, just use them within a few weeks of preparation.
  • To frost cakes with ganache, I use off-set icing spatulas.  The off-set is also very useful for cake sides with angles.  When using ganache, I like to leave little swirls and graceful light dips in the cake.  For me, this is aesthetically pleasing.
  • One more word on cake work is that you must take the time to level your cake with a knife or leveling tool prior assembling a stacked cake, even if it is only one tier.  Use the cooked “bottom” of the cake for the base and for the top.  Put the cut sides together with your torting frosting.  This will give you an even, level, smooth surface to apply your frosting to.  This will give you a finer, more appealing and beautiful final appearance.

Valentines meal ideas do not have to have you in the kitchen from dawn till dark planning, cooking, and cleaning.  The three ideas that follow are not at all like that.  When I think of what men and my family loves and would want for Valentine’s Day, meat and potatoes immediately came to mind.  There is no need to struggle and fight to please your special someone, tried and true comes to that rescue.  For this first article, I did not stress about putting together complex meals.  I just wanted to give your creative ideas of what you might do to give the Valentines gift of comfort and casual food.  You will catch their hearts, and memories will be made in the process. I felt it less necessary to give specific recipes or detailed tips in this section of my Valentine’s Day article.  I really wanted to just give you a few ideas that you might use to please the one you love, and keep your work to a minimum so you also enjoy Valentine’s Day.

 Strawberry Hearts and Waffles

Strawberry Hearts and Waffles Valentine Breakfast

I love the brilliant colors of Fiestaware tableware and Bormoli Rocco glassware.  Mix and match the pinks and reds together from these product lines, add a few flowers, cloth napkins and a pretty table linens, and poof!  Instant Valentine’s Day appears, and those sitting at your table feel immediately special that you went to the trouble of fixing up such a fine table just for them.  The quality of these manufacturers’ dinnerware and glassware cannot be doubted.  Fresh strawberries, a simple baked bacon and egg casserole, and some beautiful heart shaped waffles send a special message of love to that sweetheart or sweethearts of yours.  Waffles can be made from scratch or from your favored pancake/waffle mix.  This Valentine’s idea is a gift of your time and presence most especially, so leave the cell phones outside the dining room and talk to one another, share your love with closeness and conversation.  Valentine’s Day should be about face to face time, and less about expensive gifts.  The memories made during these times last so much longer than so much in this world.

Products Used
1. CucinaPro Heart Round Waffle Maker
2. Fiestaware Scarlet Small Heart Bowls, and Flamingo Medium Heart Bowls
3. Bormioli Rocco Red Rocks Drinking Glasses and ½ Quart Red Ypsilon Carafe
4. Fiestaware Scarlet 4 PC Place setting, Scarlet Companion Set

Tips

  • My table was my showcase for the Valentine’s Day theme of this project.  I would note that other table decorations can be found at crafts stores.  I like to purchase these items for the following year by purchasing the heavy discounted items after the holiday is over.  It is my way of saving money for other things I wish to do.
  • I really loved using the heart waffle.  It made such sweetly shaped heart waffles with graceful sloped tops.  I still need to experiment on the settings though.  I love crisp waffles.  I was unsure how long I needed to cook them in order to get the crispness I desired without overcooking the exterior.  One very cool feature of the waffle machine is it has a sounding alert to let you know your waffles are finished, and that the griddle plates are hot.  This little alarm feature would be helpful for the busy cook trying to prepare other foods at the same time as waffles are cooking.  This machine does not make deep indentations into the waffle, but the outside was beautifully browned.  Follow manufacturer directions for conditioning the machine griddle plates prior using, and for cleaning.  After this project, I had a few waffles leftover.  Those I slathered with chocolate-hazel nut butter after I warmed them a bit in my slotted toaster.   Those little heart sandwiches were sheer heaven.  That could be another Valentine’s Day idea for a meal or snack, especially for children.
  • A few flowers are always a beautiful thing for a special meal.  I only wish to say this, and that is treat yourself to flowers every now and again.  You are indeed special.
  • I had tried some experimentation on making bacon fried into hearts.  In the cooking process these shriveled into unrecognizable piles of crisp bacon.  I tried this both in the skillet and in the oven on a baking sheet.  This was a failure and needs much more evaluation and use of existing products to see if it is possible.  My boss suggested turkey bacon would hold its shape.  I had to agree, but by the time that was thought about this article was near due date.  I will, however, work on this one.  Almost everyone in US territory loves bacon…ha-ha!!
 

Valentine’s Dinner Steak for Two

Steak dinner, oh yum!!  Steak can be a struggle to cook for the novice, but many people have turned grilling and steak-making into an art form.  Later, there will be articles on grilling and preparing steaks.  The purpose of this creative Valentine’s Day idea is the steak brand and the romance of dinner for two.  The Barbuzzo BBQ Branding Iron is a new product for us at Everything Kitchens.  It was so fun to use.  I giggled as I thought about what I wanted to say to my boyfriend via steak brand messaging.  I ended up searing in the message, “You are so hot.”  This is an appropriate word given to the sweet, handsome man that has won my heart.  This is our first Valentine’s Day together as a couple.

Products Used
1. Fiestaware Scarlet Companion Set – Platter Used
2. Urban Trends Barbuzzo BBQ Branding Iron

 Steak Dinner for Two

Tips

  • I am not going to give steak cooking advice here.  Simple can be difficult in cooking because you cannot hide the final results with complex methods of preparation or a plethora of spices and sauces.  Just know, this advice will be coming with equipment selections to help you make steak better than you did before reading the article.
  • The BBQ Branding Iron words took some thought, only because your phrase is backwards as you insert the letters into the channel areas.  It helped me to assemble my letters looking at the brand from the top and upside down to make sure my message read correctly and letters were not backwards on the steak.
  • You will want to condition the brand as you would a piece of cast iron prior using.  I did a simple method of heating, adding a light rubbing of vegetable oil, heating till hot, and then oiling again.  I found in the branding process itself that oiling had to come prior each time I used the BBQ Branding Iron.
  • I only put steak on this plate as I arranged it for photography.  As I thought about it, I wanted you to have a place to put your own accompaniment that you love with steak.  Maybe it is garlic mashed potatoes with a melted cheese topping, a big baked sweet potato with loads of butter and brown sugar, or maybe it is a crisp green salad with fresh bread.  Do this to please yourself and the one you love this Valentine’s Day.  Make it simple, easy, and relaxed.  Again, enjoy the special time of romance, love, and face time.

Garlic Balsamic Braised Pot Roast 

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds bottom round roast – the type of roast is less important for this kind of dish.  I bought what was on sale when I went into the grocery store
  • 1 quart vegetable cooking broth
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ½ to 1 quart of water – this amount is dependent on the thickness of your roast used.  You want broth to come within a few inches of the top of your roast in a classic braise.
  • 4 tablespoons concentrated beef au juice broth
  • ¼ c. olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter to pan sear meat and vegetables
  • 2 c. frozen chopped soup starting vegetable mix – a great time saver I love.
  • 1 medium onion roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves – only the paper husks removed, not chopped or otherwise prepared
  • 1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika – this is a flavor I love, but any paprika you wish to use is fine
  • 3 tablespoons dry parsley flakes
  • 1 tablespoon minced onion flakes
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 ½ tablespoon roasted garlic powder – all I can say is I love garlic in all its forms, use less if you do not

 

 

Garlic-Balsamic Braised Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes

I choose this recipe to end this article because of what this kind of recipe means to me and my philosophy of cooking.  I love lifetime quality equipment.  My only piece of equipment for cooking is a Le Creuset French Oven.  I gave you a recipe that is a classic braise using the addition of the acidic vinegar and braising liquids.  Put this in the oven after the searing and preparation, then walk away.  Go have a walk together, go to the park and play, or go see a movie.  Come back to melt in your mouth beef, falling apart.  Your Valentine will love this, and so will you.  As a closing word of commentary for this Valentine’s creative idea spread from me, know this much…food and time makes memories, share your love by making food and time and giving that to your family, your partner, and your friends and family.

Products Used
Fiestaware Scarlet Companion Set – Platter Used
LeCreuset Signature French Oven - 9 Quart Round

 

Directions

Pan sear all sides of the roast to develop browning and flavor in a hot pan with butter/olive oil combination in the Le Creuset French oven.  Add the frozen soup starting vegetables and chopped onion to the French after the roast has been removed.  Brown these till soft and transparent, removing any browned flavor bits around the pan bottom and sides as you sauté the vegetables.  Return the oven to the French oven with the vegetables, add the spices, salt and pepper, and all the liquids.  Bake the roast at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 4 hours total.  Cooking times for beef roasts are approximately 1 to 1 ½ hours per pound of meat generally.  Go take your walk, or see your movie.  Return and check the roast.  It is finished when it is soft and falling apart when prodded with a fork.  Remove the roast and make a pan gravy in the style you wish.

Tips

  • Braising requires low heat, time, and moisture to break down and soften the connective tissues in tough proteins.  Otherwise unpalatable, undesirable foods can be turned into tender, mouth-watering delicacies. using braising method.  Basic braising methods start with searing large cuts of proteins and vegetables till browned and caramelized to enhance flavor profiles.  I used my Le Creuset on a propane gas stove top using traditional dry heat searing. 
  • Cooking liquids like stocks are added in braising, often including an acidic element such as wine, beer, tomatoes, citrus, or vinegar. In the continued classic method, braising liquids will cover 2/3 of the protein and/or vegetable dish.  I used a combination of medium quality and price balsamic vinegar, vegetable broth, and the addition of concentrated beef au juice.
  • The soup starting vegetables are a total blessing to have in the freezer.  Open the bag and voila, no involved chopping needed to prepare the base of a good soup or braise.  Check your local grocery for the vegetable mixes available.  I like one for this braise that has onions, red and green bell peppers, and celery.  I add the extra fresh onion because I love onions.
  • The remaining liquids from the fully cooked dish is used to finish a sauce or gravy.  I made a standard finished gravy by adding a thickener of cornstarch thinned with a bit of water.  I like a rustic gravy, so I do not take the time to strain or puree the cooking liquids before I make the gravy.  Remember to cook the gravy at a nice boil for about 5 minutes to “cook out” the raw starch flavor.
  • This recipe could be easily adapted to a crock pot if needed.  I would suggest cooking around 8 hours on simmer after you have pan seared the roast and brought the roast and cooking liquids up to a boil.  I have not used a crock pot to the extent on meats to be really time accurate, which is perhaps a project for the future sometime.  Different models carry very different features and heat conductivity levels.
  • Make up some mashed potatoes to go with your roast and let your loved ones rave about how yummy the food was and how wonderful you are.  Happy Valentine’s Day my people, enjoy and share your love this holiday with the gift of food and time.  This is your creative idea for Valentines that no one else can ever duplicate.
 
  

A final closing would be thanks to Emily Church of Everything Kitchens as it is her dream and vision we seek to make live and become reality.  And to my wonderful and helpful co-working staff that helped make this possible with their skills in technology and web services just know, “You guys and gals totally rock!”  Happy Valentine’s Day goes out to everyone!! Written by- Alecia Kay, Author & Cook, & Web Content Writer/Product Adder at Everything Kitchens, LLC.

Alecia Kay
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