For Valentine's Day, nothing says "I love you" more than a homemade treat for your sweetie. I have a few old standbys that I use when I go to family gatherings or make for a bake sale, which also make great gifts, but I also found a few other yummy ideas while perusing Pinterest.com that are sure to be a hit with your Valentine.
At Valentine's Day, chocolate covered items are a good idea to give as homemade gifts. Dip some strawberries or pretzels in chocolate (dark, milk or white) and decorate with sprinkles or colored sugar.
Another treat that is one of my personal favorites are chocolate covered peanut butter crackers. My mom tried these a few years ago and has been making them for almost every family gathering and holiday since then.
The chocolate that I have found works the best is Almond Bark. (Almond Bark is not a vegan product). It can be found in regular and white chocolate and it melts very quickly in the microwave and coats evenly. I melt a few squares of Almond Bark in a tall glass for pretzel rods and a glass bowl for strawberries and peanut butter crackers.
Peanut butter crackers
Round buttery crackers or saltines
Almond Bark or other chocolate coating
Sprinkles, chopped nuts or other decorations
Spread peanut butter on a cracker and top with another cracker, making a peanut butter sandwich. Melt Almond Bark in microwave in 30 second increments until smooth. If there still are a few lumps, just keep stirring - the Almond Bark will eventually melt and get smooth. Do not overheat.
Dip crackers in a bowl and cover with chocolate. Lift crackers up with a fork to drain off excess chocolate.
Place crackers on wax paper and decorate with sprinkles, chopped nuts or sprinkle colored chocolate on top. Let sit for about an hour until completely dry.
This next recipe is quite a bit more involved. I got it from www.sugardishme.com by Heather Tullos. It sounded delicious, so it's worth the work of preparation to enjoy the final product.
Chocolate covered strawberry cheesecake bites
Makes 36-40 cheesecake bites
For the crust
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
8 graham crackers, crushed into fine crumbs (about 1? cups graham cracker crumbs)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
For the cheesecake
2 (8 ounce) bricks of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk
For the strawberry sauce
1/2 cup unsweetened frozen strawberries
2-4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
For the chocolate coating
3-5 ounces dark, milk or white chocolate candy melts or almond bark
1-2 teaspoons vegetable shortening
*For vegans, use non-dairy ingredients, flax eggs and vegan graham crackers. You also can make them without the crust.
Butter a 9-by-9-inch square pan. Line it with parchment paper and then butter the paper. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl combine melted butter, chopped pecans, graham cracker crumbs and brown sugar. Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.
In a large bowl beat cream cheese and granulated sugar until fluffy and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Mix in the vanilla and milk and beat until smooth.
Pour the batter over the crust and bake for about 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 275 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. Turn off the oven (but don't open it) and let the cheesecake cool and come to room temperature.
While the cheesecake is cooling, place the strawberries, 2 tablespoons of water and the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar into a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Use a spatula or spoon to smush the berries so that they break down. Add the additional tablespoons of water if needed to thin the sauce a little as it cooks. You can puree the sauce in a blender too.
Spread the sauce over the room temperature cheesecake bars and then put them in the freezer. Freeze for at least 1 hour before cutting - 2 hours or overnight is better.
To cut the bars, lift the parchment paper from the pan and place on a cutting board. Cut into 1-to 2-inch pieces. Place the cut bites back in the freezer.
Melt the chocolate and shortening over low heat in a small saucepan stirring frequently or in the microwave in 30 second increments until smooth.
To cover the cheesecake bites, place them in the pan or bowl one at a time and spoon the melted chocolate over them. Lift them out with a fork and gently drain off the excess chocolate. Place them on wax paper and add sprinkles if you would like to. Let them cool for about an hour until they are completely dry.
You can serve them at room temperature or cooled in the refrigerator.
Whether you make these treats for your sweetie or yourself, I hope you enjoy them! Happy Valentine's Day!
Reppert is the Lifestyle and Education editor at the Sun-Gazette. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.