Don't let Valentine's Day come and go without a celebration. Seize this opportunity to express affection for the people you care about. Write a love poem. Bake a heart-shaped cake with your children. Send an anonymous card to someone you admire.
Or create the sweets and gifts described below. They'll make anyone feel adored.Chocolate truffles
The ultimate in decadence, chocolate truffles are also sinfully simple to make. A single truffle is rich enough to satisfy any sweet tooth - and three or four are a wonderful indulgence. Pack them in small cellophane bags or cake boxes as little gifts for co-workers, neighbors and other groups of friends. Or arrange a dozen or so in a fluted pudding mold, old mixing bowl or small loaf pan.
To make about 4 dozen truffles, you'll need 12 ounces of good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate; 1 cup of heavy cream; 1 tablespoon of cognac, rum or espresso; and sifted unsweetened cocoa for coating the truffles.
Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place it in a small bowl. Scald the cream, and pour it over the chocolate. Let stand for a few minutes, then stir until smooth. Stir in the flavoring.
Chill the mixture until firm, about three hours and up to overnight. Use a melon-baller to scoop the truffle mixture, and roll quickly into a ball. Roll in the cocoa to coat, and refrigerate for another 30 minutes before serving.
Truffles can be stored, refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to two weeks.
Embellish a simple tray, and use it to serve a romantic breakfast in bed, cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, or tea and cookies. Any flat-bottomed tray with a lip will work.
Have a glazier cut 1/4-inch-thick glass to fit inside the tray. Ask to have the edges blunted so you can handle it safely. The thick glass is heavy (and breakable, of course); Plexiglas can be used instead, but it will scratch more easily.
Before you put the glass in the tray, line the tray with a piece of beautiful fabric cut to fit; old valentines, postcards or drawings; or dried flower petals or ferns. Any flat, decorative odds and ends will work well.
A heart-shaped lollipop, flavored with lemon, vanilla or coffee, will brighten anyone's day; the subtle taste is enhanced by a bit of citrus peel, dried fig or a coffee bean suspended in the center.
This easy recipe was taught to me by Nancy Silverton of the restaurant Campanile in Los Angeles. To make them, you'll need lollipop molds and sticks, available from candymaking-supply stores and by mail order from Sweet Celebrations (1-800-328-6722). (We're also creating a lollipop kit for Martha By Mail - look for it later this spring.)
Lay a piece of waxed paper on a baking sheet. Spray the waxed paper and an additional baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Also spray the insides of the lollipop molds.
Clip sticks into the molds, making sure they penetrate 1/4 inch into the molds. Place on the waxed paper. Place a piece of candied citrus peel, a coffee bean or two, or a slice of dried fig into the center of each mold.
For 12 to 15 pops, combine 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup honey and 6 tablespoons water in a saucepan. Cook until the mixture reaches 310 degrees Fahrenheit (hard-crack stage) on a candy thermometer; while cooking, occasionally wash down the sides of the saucepan with a clean pastry brush dipped in water to prevent crystallization. Dip the saucepan in an ice-water bath for 20 seconds to stop the cooking.
Stirring in one direction (to avoid creating air bubbles), add 1 teaspoon lemon, vanilla or coffee extract. Carefully fill each mold to 1/4 inch with the caramelized sugar. (Pour any excess onto the other greased baking sheet. After it cools, break into pieces and eat it as hard candy).
Let lollipops cool for 30 minutes before removing from the paper and unclipping the molds. If candy has leaked out of the molds, use kitchen shears to shave the excess from the lollipops.
In the middle of February, a warm knit scarf, socks, mittens or gloves will certainly be appreciated, and an embroidered heart turns them into sweet Valentine's Day gifts. Don't worry if you've never embroidered before - the heart doesn't have to be perfect.
For mittens, gloves and socks, insert a piece of cardboard inside first to separate the front and back surfaces. Use tailor's chalk to draw a heart directly on the knit surface, or baste an outline in thread. Thread an embroidery needle with wool yarn, and embroider the heart with simple, loose stitches.