Home Cookin'

Valentine's Day is the day for lovers to come together and revel in their love. Enjoying each other's company this Valentine's Day can be as elegant as going out to a fancy dinner or as simple as a picnic in the living room. It's easy to plan a special evening at home using a few simple ideas.

You don't have to spend a lot of money to show someone how much you care for them. Make your lover a homemade card by writing a poem on the inside or place a special photo of the two of you on the inside. Arrange some scented candles around the house, or set out some fragrant potpourri. Turn on some of your favorite music (I recommend something soft -- heavy metal is usually not considered romantic!) and turn down the lights to set the mood. Spread out a blanket on the floor and scatter about a few pillows to lounge on, create a picnic setting or even a setting you might find in a Moorish harem. You could carefully place pieces of fabric over a lamp turned on low to add a bit of color to the room. On a nearby table, place a few more candles for some mood. If you have fine china, set out enough place settings for yourself and your guest(s).

A quick and easy meal to prepare for such an occasion is a fondue or dip. Steam some vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, or baby carrots. Serve these with bread cubes, soft pretzels, and cooked bits of chicken, beef, or pork. Flavor the fondue to your liking. For a Mexican flair, serve with jalapenos and tortilla chips. You could even dip enchiladas or taquitos in the cheese dip. Serve with sour cream, onions, and salsa. Kabobs would also go nicely with a cheese fondue.

For dessert, feed little bits of sliced fruit dipped the chocolate fondue duet to one another. Slice some kiwi fruit, bananas, strawberries, or melons into bite size bits for perfect dippers. The raspberry fondue or vanilla fondues also make good dessert dippers for fruit. Pound cake, angel food cake, ladyfinger cookies, or other dessert cookies make a nice addition to this dessert. Below are some recipes for both savory and sweet fondues for your romantic evening plans!

What you serve for your picnic is really not important, as long as you enjoy your evening. The recipes included here are mere suggestions, and can be used as guidelines. Adapt them to suit your needs. Fondue works well at parties and family occasions. Children can help cut up the cheese with a butter knife. They can also make place cards and place mats out of construction paper to decorate your table. However you choose to celebrate the holiday, enjoy your time together and remember to be good to one another.

Fondue Tips

For cheese fondues...

  • Always use a heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan, and use a ceramic, earthenware or heavy-based fondue pot to prevent the cheese from burning.
  • Always melt cheese slowly and bubble gently - this will prevent cheese from becoming stringy.
  • To keep it creamy, always swirl in a figure 8 pattern.
  • Use a strong flavored cheese.
  • Too thick? Then add a little warmed wine, cider or beer and whisk over gentle heat.
  • Too thin? Add a little extra cornstarch blended with a small amount of water and whisk over gentle heat.
  • Curdled? Add 1 tsp lemon juice and beat well.
  • For balancing wine against cheese a good rule of thumb is 1/2 cup (125 mL) wine to 8 oz (225 g) cheese.
  • Leftover cheese fondue makes a yummy topping for baked potatoes and vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
Dessert dippers include:
  • Bite-size angel food cake or pound cake,
  • strawberries,
  • thickly sliced bananas or apple slices (dip in lemon juice to prevent browning),
  • large seedless grapes,
  • melon balls,
  • pineapple chunks,
  • peach slices...
  • and many more!

TIP: Chill the fruit dippers and the chocolate will coat the fruit more easily.

The Recipes

Cheddar and Beer Fondue

If you like a mild beer flavor choose a pale ale. If you like a strong beer flavor then go for a dark ale. Regardless, choose an old cheddar for that full cheesy flavor.
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 c. beer
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 drop red pepper sauce
  • 3 cups cheddar cheese, diced or shredded

In medium-sized heavy bottom saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Blend in flour and dry mustard.

Over medium heat, gradually add beer, then milk, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and comes to a boil.

Stir in Worcestershire sauce and red pepper sauce. Reduce heat to low.

Add cheese by handfuls, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted.

Transfer to a ceramic fondue pot and keep warm over burner. Serve with French or pumpernickel bread cubes, bread sticks or fresh vegetables.

  • Yields: 3 cups
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Fruit and Cheese Fondue

  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (8 oz)
  • 1/3 c. crumbled blue cheese (about 2 oz)
  • Assorted fruit, for dipping

Melt butter in a large saucepan; stir in flour, salt and nutmeg to form a smooth paste. Remove from heat; gradually stir in milk.

Return to heat and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and thickened; continue cooking and stirring 2 minutes longer.

Remove from heat; stir in cheddar and blue cheese. If necessary, return to heat to finish melting cheese, but do not boil.

Pour melted cheese mixture into fondue pot; keep warm. Serve with sliced apples and pears, orange sections, melon chunks/balls, pineapple wedges or grapes. Spear fruits with long-handled fondue forks and dip into the cheese mixture.

  • Yields: 6-8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Crispy Chicken Nugget Kabobs

  • 1 to 1-1/4 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-1/2 to 2-inch pieces
  • 1 pkg. SHAKE 'N BAKE Crispy Chicken Nuggets Seasoned Coating Mix
  • Cheese cubes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Fresh or canned pineapple chunks
  • Wooden skewers

Moisten chicken pieces with water. Shake off excess. Shake 3 or 4 pieces at a time with coating mix. Discard any remaining coating mix. Place in ungreased or foil-lined 15x10x1-inch baking pan.

Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Arrange cooked chicken nuggets, cheese cubes, tomatoes and pineapple chunks on wooden skewers. Serve with your favorite fondue.

To make Chicken and Vegetable Kabobs, prepare as directed, substituting fresh red and green pepper chunks and mushroom slices for the cheese, tomatoes and pineapple. Arrange uncooked, coated chicken and vegetables on wooden skewers leaving about 1/4-inch space between chicken and vegetables. Bake as directed in ungreased pan for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are crisp-tender.
  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Chocolate Fondue

  • 1/4 c. (1/2 stick) margarine or butter
  • 1/4 c. chunky or creamy peanut butter
  • 1 pkg. (4-serving size) Chocolate Flavor Cook & Serve Pudding & Pie Filling
  • 2 cups light cream or half-and-half
  • Animal crackers, cake cubes and fruit pieces, for dipping

Microwave margarine and peanut butter in 2-quart microwavable bowl, on HIGH 30 to 60 seconds, stirring until melted and smooth. Stir in pudding mix and cream. Microwave 1 minute; stir. Microwave an additional 4 to 5 minutes or until mixture is thickened, stirring every minute.

Cool slightly (cover pudding surface with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming). Serve warm with animal crackers, cake cubes and fruit pieces for dipping.

  • Yields: 3 cups
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Chocolate Fondue Duet

  • 3 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate
  • 2 T. corn syrup
  • 1/4 c. whipping cream, divided
  • 3 oz. premium white baking chocolate
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • Assorted cookies, for dipping
Mix semi-sweet chocolate, corn syrup and 2 Tbsp. of the cream in small microwavable bowl. Microwave on MEDIUM (50%) 1 to 1-1/2 minutes or until chocolate is completely melted when stirred.

Mix white chocolate and remaining 2 Tbsp. cream in another small microwavable bowl. Microwave on MEDIUM 1 to 1-1/2 minutes or until chocolate is completely melted when stirred.

Place small serving bowl on serving plate. Surround bowl with cookies. Pour both chocolate mixtures into bowl at same time. Serve immediately using cookies as dippers.

  • Yields: 1 cup
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Creamy Chocolate-Raspberry Fondue

  • 1 pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 pkg. cream cheese, softened (8 oz.)
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. raspberry liqueur or raspberry syrup

Combine all ingredients in small-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan or double boiler. Over low heat, cook, stirring constantly until mixture is melted and smooth.

Transfer to ceramic fondue pot and keep warm over low heat.

  • Yields: 3 cups
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Tia Maria Mocha Fondue

  • 1 pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 c. whipping cream
  • 1 T. instant coffee granules
  • 3 T. Tia Maria liqueur

Combine all ingredients in small-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan or double boiler. Over low heat, cook, stirring constantly until mixture is melted and smooth.

Transfer to ceramic fondue pot and keep warm over low heat.

  • Yields: 2 cups
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Creamy Vanilla Fondue

  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. cream (any kind)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Over low heat, melt butter in saucepan. Add sugar, cream and vanilla and stir constantly until sugar is dissolved (about 5 minutes).

Pour sauce into small fondue pot and keep warm on very low heat.

  • Yields: 1 1/2 cups
  • Preparation Time: 6 minutes