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Valerie Phillips: Inexpensive and sweet ways to treat your sweetie

Here's a fast and fun Valentine's Day treat: a brownie in a mug. It's an inexpensive way to say "I love you."

And it takes just a couple of minutes to assemble, and two minutes to bake in the microwave.

Another plus: One mug yields a dessert that's rich enough for two people to share, so you've got a romantic mode of portion control.

This is also a great idea for college students or others who don't have an oven. It also gives you a chocolate fix without having to wash a bowl and baking pan.

Many mug-cake recipes have been floating around the Internet. But some of them end up rubbery and flat-tasting. I experimented a little and came up with two versions that are more like a hot pudding cake, with a fudgy texture and more chocolate flavor. One of them is super-easy, because it uses a brownie mix.

The mug should be microwaveable and hold 12 to 14 ounces to accommodate the rising batter. If you choose a smaller cup, it's harder to mix up all the ingredients, and the batter may overflow.

If you can find a mug with a hearts motif, or in your sweetie's favorite color, all the better.

A word of warning: The molten interior is extremely hot. Allow the mug to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.

A glass of cold milk is a good accompaniment.

MOLTEN KISS CUPS

1 12-ounce microwaveable mug

3/4 cup of packaged fudge brownie mix (reserve the rest for later)

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon oil

8-9 unwrapped Hershey's Kisses (or 1/4 cup chocolate chips)

In the mug, stir together brownie mix, water and oil until well-blended. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Place Kisses or chocolate chips on top of the mixture and microwave an additional 1 minute.

Remove from the microwave. Mixture will continue to cook while cooling.

Cool 10 minutes; serve warm, with 2 spoons for sharing. Brownie will have a fudgy, pudding-like consistency.

Option 1: Replace the oil with 2 tablespoons of melted butter for a buttery flavor.

Option 2: Replace the Hershey's Kisses with chopped pieces of your favorite candy bar or chopped nuts.

Option 3: Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream.

BROWNIE IN A MUG

1 12-ounce microwaveable mug

2 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons baking cocoa

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

3 tablespoons milk

3 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Mix flour, sugar, cocoa and salt in the mug. Add egg, milk, oil and vanilla; stir vigorously until batter is thoroughly mixed. Place the mug in the microwave and cook on high 1 minute. Add chocolate chips; don't stir. Cook an additional 45-60 seconds. Remove from microwave: the brownie will continue to cook while cooling.

Cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm, with two spoons for sharing. Or, tip the brownie out onto a plate.

Option 1: Instead of an egg, add 2 tablespoons of water.

Option 2: Replace the oil with melted butter.

Option 3: Garnish with whipped cream.

e-mail: vphillips@desnews.com