ferry.building.jpgOur editor, Amy asked that I think of something about candy for this Valentine’s Day issue, so I racked my brain trying to come up with something to say about candy that I haven’t already said. It would be one thing if I found a new candy, but I haven’t.  Also, since my last story about the sweet, romantic thing my husband did when he presented me with a gorgeous piece of jewelry for my birthday, his romantic gestures have taken the form of making sure I didn’t come home to a messy house when I’ve been out of town. I gotta tell ya, that stuff goes a long way with me.

It did occur to me though, that my recent trip to San Francisco for Sketchfest would qualify for the spirit of Valentine’s Day. I fell in love with the city….again. Eugene Pack, the creator of Celebrity Biography: In Their Own Words and Dayle Rayfel invited me to join them in the show and they were my food adventure buddies. Dayle is a vegan and Eugene slowly revealed himself to be the kind of exercise fanatic that tells you a location is a” nice walk” when its 27 blocks away. 

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paperhearts.jpgSo when did Valentine’s Day turn into such a big deal? Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve been bombarded like me by spam email soliciting for various gifts of flowers, candies, cards, chocolates, clothes, hats, and stuffed animals. Commercials everywhere are constantly warning us not to forget our loved ones. Whatever happened to the good old days of cutting out simple paper hearts, scarfing down a couple of powdery candies stamped with “Be Mine” on the side, and calling it a day? Nowadays, even entertainment companies are getting in on the act with TV series offering special holiday centered programming and movies such as New Line Cinema’s latest, “Valentine’s Day,” hitting theaters this weekend. And don’t forget the restaurants offering a simple night out for two starting at $200 and going up from there.

Does anyone remember the origin of this day and what its original intent was? According to Wikipedia, Saint Valentine's Day (commonly simply Valentine's Day) is an annual <holiday held on February 14 celebrating <love and <affection between <intimate companions. The holiday is named after one or more early Christian <martyrs named <Valentine and was established by <Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD. It is traditionally a day on which lovers express their love for each other by <presenting flowers, offering <confectionery, and sending <greeting cards (known as "valentines"). The holiday first became associated with <romantic love in the circle of <Geoffrey Chaucer in the <High Middle Ages, when the tradition of <courtly love flourished. Modern Valentine's Day symbols include the <heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged <Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have largely given way to mass-produced <greeting cards. No kidding…

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ImageMy collection of heart-shaped cookie cutters is spread throughout my kitchen. From very tiny one-bite size to large ruffled nibble-with-a-cup-of-coffee sized cutter, they’re at the ready to cut whatever suits my fancy into a shape that says "Love You."

Brownies, chewy peanut butter oatmeal bars, lemon bars, pancakes — all can be stamped with a cookie cutter.

My phone visit with Sarah Piepenburg last week was the inspiration for the Nutella and Jelly "Love You" Sandwich. Sarah and her husband, Richard, own Vinaigrette, a Minneapolis store specializing in imported olive oil and vinegar. She told me she has drizzled the 18 year aged balsamic they carry in the store over grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If it’s a good dessert made with peanut butter, why not Nutella?

It’s amazing how decadent a simple grilled sandwich becomes when it’s made with an ample slather of Nutella and your favorite premium jam or preserves. A dusting of powdered sugar and a drizzle of aged balsamic, as thick as syrup with a bright, fruity flavor, puts this delightful bread and spread concoction way over the top.

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choccherry_brownies_007.jpgMy grandma's favorite gift was a box of chocolate covered cherries. I can still see her biting into the first one she picked from the box my uncle would bring her from Walgreen's Drugstore in Chicago. The liquid insides would ooze out and drip down her chin. She'd smile and her eyes would sparkle with delight. I never did grow fond of the chocolate-cherry treats that would bring her such glee. Even as a child, they were just too sweet for my liking.

I've never really developed an appreciation for the combination of chocolate and cherries. Rich, creamy chocolate -- yes. Sweet-tart juicy cherries -- yes. But together in one bite? No.

Despite my dislike for the marriage of chocolate and cherries in anything edible, each February since I was old enough to read a recipe, I've been baking a chocolate and cherry treat to celebrate the month that claims Valentine's Day and George Washington's birthday. These two days make February a time to hail chocolate and observe National Cherry Month.

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LudoGalette 300x295While I may be a decent home cook - I have my share of successes in front of the stove and am pretty good at food and wine pairings - I loathe baking. It’s just too precise for me and since we rarely eat sweets anymore - I’ll take the cheese course over the dessert course every day of the week - I’ve never felt compelled to get any better at it. Which is weird because I really like science. I am super impressed by what people are able to create, but the time and energy involved makes me want to run from the kitchen.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I wanted to create a special treat that did not take hours upon hours, any unusual equipment, or a mass of specialty ingredients to end our home-cooked meal. Yes, I know, I’m a lazy chef. Plus, I’ve been married a long time and honestly it doesn’t take much to impress my husband in the kitchen. He can barely boil water…though he can fix ANY computer or iPhone problem, so we must celebrate each other’s strengths.

When I came upon Chef Ludo Lefebvre's Hot Chocolate Galettes from the CRAVE: A Feast of the Five Senses - 10th Anniversary Edition, I knew I hit the jackpot. We are big fans of his cooking and while I love this book, many of the recipes in it are still way out of my league. Most of the desserts, however, are classics and while not necessarily always simple to make, they rely on basic ingredients and clear techniques that aren’t out of the wheelhouse of most home cooks.

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