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Monday, February 22, 2016

Valentine's Day simplicity - and elegance

     Sometimes one just needs to take a shortcut in order to impress.  Although I certainly do not advocate doing so on a daily or even a weekly basis, it is important that once in a while, we do minimal work in the kitchen – or even in the running of the household, simply to enjoy ourselves and our loved ones.  This was the case for Valentine’s Day this year at my house, when we were just too busy and too tired in order to have a more formal meal.

     First, grab your pasta.  Make it a special one though.  I had some strangozzi al tartuffo (a not-too-thick, not-too-thin pasta flavoured with black truffles).  I cooked them till “al dente” (the only way to eat pasta for me), tossed them with some unsalted butter, opened a small jar of sliced black truffles and sprinkled them throughout.  I then added some shavings of the best, 22-month aged Parmeggiano and served them.  It is quick and astonishing way to impress with minimal effort.

    For dessert, go the package route.  Not the supermarket package route though.  Williams-Sonoma has the most utterly delicious Red Velvet Molten Lava Cake kit, which will make you shine like no other as the pièce de resistance of your romantic dinner.  The kit contains enough mix for 8 mini cakes.  I used individual ceramic soufflé dishes to cook them.  Just add some butter to melt the chocolate chips, then add them to the red cake mix, along with water and a spoonful of white vinegar.  I do recommend doing as the package suggests and add a teaspoon of cream cheese in the center of each cake.  Once one cuts into it, the inside will spill out with some white cheese, providing for the full effect of a red velvet cake. 

Presentation is just as important.  Topped with whipped cream and fresh 
mint, the dessert becomes a show-stopper.
     We also did have some cold days recently.  In keeping with the red theme so typical of this month, how about a twist on the classic hot chocolate?  I found this recipe through the Aldi 2016 Calendar, and I must say is the best homemade hot chocolate I’ve tasted so far.  The whipped cream with cream cheese gives it enough stability so it does not melt immediately.  It is very rich, and a dessert in itself.  Serve it with some nice chocolate shortbread or dipping biscuits.

Red Velvet hot chocolate with cream cheese whipped cream

Ingredients for 2 or 3 servings:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 2 tsp. white vinegar
  • 2 ½ tsp. Mexican vanilla extract, divided
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. baking cocoa
  • 1 tsp red food colouring
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup powdered sugar


     In a medium saucepan, combine milk, 2 cups of heavy cream, vinegar, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, sugar and cocoa powder.  Simmer over medium heat, whisking till smooth.  Add the red food colouring, salt and heat through.

     Using a mixer, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Slowly beat in the vanilla and remaining heavy cream until stiff peaks form.

     Pour the hot chocolate into a glass and topped with the whipped cream.  Garnish with coloured sugar or crashed candy canes.
We didn't go the the Westgate Smoky Mountains Resort, but their glass cups
fit our hot chocolate perfectly.

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