hebrew.jpgOctober, 1962.  Johnny Carson became the new host of “The Tonight Show”.  The Cuban Missile Crisis brought us to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.  And I was an eleven-year-old Hebrew School student at Temple Beth Shalom on the south shore of Long Island.

Three afternoons a week I was car pooled to this house of worship ostensibly to learn about the history of my people.  My teacher was an elderly Old World gentleman named Rabbi Nathan Levitats who spoke English pretty much the same way that I spoke Chinese…not well.  Still, he taught us bible stories and because the Hebrew name for Alan is Avraham, which is also the Hebrew name for Abraham, I immediately felt a special kinship with that Old Testament figure known as the “First Jew” because of his belief that there was only one God. 

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candybox.jpgWhen you stumble upon a private chef who bakes intricately designed chocolate boxes in the finest quality ingredients- you know it’s an excellent day.  Chef Connie Mullins knew she was destined be a chef at a very young age.  She started to bake when she was just 5 years old and decorated her first cake at the age of 10. At 12 years old, she began to play around with food and since then, she’s worked in an array of roles within the culinary industry.  “I had an aunt that sewed for Victor Costa,” said Connie, “She really inspired me.  She was a cake artist and baked beautiful wedding cakes- any type of dessert really.”  Her aunt passed down a book to her from the School of Wilton and that’s how Connie learned to decorate cakes.  She decorated them all through high school and sold them on the side.

And, how did Chef Connie Bakes come to be?  After cooking on her own for so long, Connie enrolled in professional classes at El Centro college in the food and hospitality program.  “At that time, there wasn’t a bakery pastry program,” she said, “But, while I was there, one was approved and I went back through the baking and pastry program as well.”  In fact, it was through this program, that Connie was able to choose her favorite dish she’s ever made. “It was vanilla puddin’ and I started making it in 1973 for my brother,” she said, “When I did enter culinary school and was admitted into the pastry program, it was one of the recipes the chef went over that all pastry chef’s must learn how to master: pastry cream (because it’s used throughout the bake shop).  And, it’s funny because what I had always called my vanilla pudding had been pastry cream all along- and I’d been making it since I was 12 years old just by feel and sight!”

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ImageWhether you surprise her with reservations at her favorite restaurant or make a romantic dinner for two at home, you've got to make her Seductive Strawberry Zabaglione for dessert. Red, ripe strawberries, velvety custard, and sweet Italian wine are so sexy.

I developed this recipe with men in mind because it's easy to make, allows you to flex some muscle, which will impress her, and makes an elegant presentation.

Think of it as your minimal-effort dessert with maximum sex appeal. Though I wouldn't carry that thinking into the bedroom. I'm just saying.

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filetsThere's no other holiday like Valentine's Day when lovers are given the chance to express their affection in many ways, be it something as simple as flowers or as fancy as a restaurant dinner. Here in New York City and there are many Valentine's Day dinner specials soon to be available. There is always an opportunity for couples to dine out and have a great, albeit, expensive time. But a private dinner at home can be just as special and a lot less pricey. I don't think there is anything more romantic than cooking for your other half. A meal that's made with love has so much more meaning than anything a restaurant could offer.

I have a simple dinner in mind. This entrée is simple and easy, using basic cooking techniques, so you don't have to spend too much time at the stove. It's uncomplicated, unfussy, hearty, and familiar in flavors: it's steak, potatoes, and spinach. These petite filet mignon make an elegant dinner for two and, with the side dishes included, come in well under 20 dollars, 30 if you include a good bottle of red wine. Celebrate your Valentine with this easy and affordable meal.

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Bleeding-Heart-Chocolate-Chip-BarsI have two boys. At the ages of eleven and one that's moments away from turning thirteen, it's getting harder and harder to impress them. Or maybe it's better to say, it's getting harder and harder to do things together they think are cool.

Take for instance baking, when they were little pulling out the sprinkles got them excited about spending time in the kitchen. Now, it's getting challenging to keep their attention when it comes to helping. So I asked them to hang out and help me make these chocolate chip bars. Big yawn. Then I told them, how about we make chocolate chip bars with chocolate hearts that bleed red blood right on top? Magically, I had their attention. Boys. Of course they would think a bleeding heart is the perfect Valentine's Day treat!

These little hearts are Junior Mints made especially for Valentine's Day. Their insides are either red or white. The colors are mixed in a package so you do not get all reds in one box. I explained to the boys I could only get maybe half of them to bleed. The white ones also bleed, you just can't see them when they do.

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