What to Bake For Your Valentine (Even if You Can’t Bake)

One of the most memorable things I ever made for Valentine’s Day was in high school – before I learned to bake. I was dating a boy at the time and I wanted to bake a treat for him like the other girls did for their boyfriends. I baked a boxed chocolate cake in a bundt pan, but it was still hot when I tried to “frost it.” I think I poured chocolate syrup (like you make chocolate milk with) on top because it was just getting soaked into the hot cake. I still have the picture of him holding it on Valentine’s. He and his friends ate the entire thing at lunch.

They say cooking and baking are the ways to truly show your love for someone. Most people have a happy memory associated with food made by a loved one. It’s only natural that you’d want to make something for your valentine. Unfortunately, not everyone’s level matches their ambition. Here are some suggestions for do-able Valentine’s Days treats for school, work, or that special someone.

Level 1: Chocolate Covered Fruit

I’m not going to pretend that this is magically easy for everyone. Stick with easy to cut fruits that pair well with chocolate like strawberries and bananas. If you don’t like fruit or have allergies, then pretzel sticks are a good choice too!

  1. Line a plate or baking dish with wax, parchment paper, or aluminum foil. This should be able to fit in your freezer.
  2. Prep your fruit first before you step near the microwave. Peel and cut bananas (slices or in larger chunks). Wash and dry strawberries.
  3. Microwave store-bought chocolate chips in a glass bowl for 30 seconds. Stir then microwave again if the chocolate isn’t completely melted. Continue until the chocolate is melted.
  4. Dip the fruit in the melted chocolate. You can use a fork, toothpick, or skewer so you don’t burn your fingers. Let the excess drip off. Place the dipped item on the baking sheet.
  5. Step up the decor! While the chocolate cools, sprinkle jimmies/sprinkles over top!

Brownie Points: Buy pink or red chocolate discs from Michael’s or other craft stores. I use Wilton brand. You can get cute holiday sprinkles too!

Level Two: Bake from a Box

There are a few options here. For the easiest options, I would go for boxed cupcake mix or boxed brownie mix. Don’t try and “hack” the recipe if you don’t usually have luck with these. Follow the recipes and it should be tasty. No one needs to know it’s a boxed product if you don’t tell them. To make these more festive, you can use pink store-bought frosting and sprinkles. Make sure to look at the flavor of the pink frosting to make sure it matches your flavors.

Brownie Points: Valentine’s Day themed cupcake liners or cut the brownies (once cool) into hearts with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Level Three: Bake from Scratch

I will share some tried and true recipes that I love dearly for chocolate chips cookies (the secret ingredient is pudding mix!) and chocolate red-wine cupcakes. For something no-bake and unique, try Brazilian brigadeiros.

Brownie Points: Dip the chocolate chip cookies in pink chocolate and use sprinkles.

For those of you looking for a challenge: Nutella Stuffed Cookies

If none of these sound appealing, food is not the only way to show your love. If you want to make something and it falls apart, buy some flowers and chocolate. You can never go wrong with chocolate. It’s the thought that counts!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Durant’s: A Phoenix Institution

The growing food community in Phoenix often focuses on new, trendy restaurants offering a variety of fresh flavors. Often overlooked is the classic steakhouse in downtown Phoenix – Durant’s. The pink steakhouse off Central Avenue serves the freshest steak in the state, usually to an older crowd that loves this Phoenix gem.

The small pink building’s facade can be deceiving. My boyfriend was surprised that I would choose to make reservations (on Open Table). Then we drove around back, since diners enter through the kitchen. The parking lot was full of cars, as was the dining room.

The decor may seem old-fashioned, particularly the velvet walls. But you know what they say: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Durant’s has been serving the best steaks in Arizona for decades. The pink hue to the lighting doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to their menu and service.

We were seated in a cozy booth in a corner. Our server dropped off their usual starter, cold, raw vegetables served over ice. The service was, as always, incredible. Our servers were attentive without being overbearing. My water was always full. Boyfriend was served a nice glass of scotch. Durant’s has a full bar with an extensive wine list. You can find any drink to pair with your meal.

Our appetizers were quite large. I ordered a jumbo shrimp cocktail. The shrimp were large, fresh, and ice cold. I enjoyed the tart horseradish flavor of the cocktail sauce. Boyfriend ordered Kobe sliders, which I thought would be smaller. The sliders might as well have been an entree. Three huge, juicy umami sliders were served on a simple platter. I don’t know if they were truly Kobe beef, but the meat was obviously fresh and high-quality. Boyfriend refused to leave them uneaten despite ordering a massive steak to follow.

Steak is really the way to go at Durant’s. This is not the place to order chicken, though you may be surprised by their seafood selection. Choose a cut then choose sides to go with them. Boyfriend ordered a 20 oz. Delmonico steak. He prefers his steak rare, and Durant’s is really the only place that I trust to cook a steak rare. His steak was served with crips, flavorful waffle fries. It seems an odd choice to serve with such a classy meal, but was a nice crunch compared to the soft, buttery steak.

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Sorry about my pictures. I was way too preoccupied with the meal.

I ordered my usual, the lamb chops. I despise the mint jelly served with it because it takes like toothpaste. However, I could eat those lamb chops every single day. As classless as it was, I picked up those lamb chops to eat every piece of meat off that bone. I focused on the tender, spiced lamb and was unable to finish the delicious, garlicky mashed potatoes I chose for my side.

When I booked our reservation, I let them know that it was Boyfriend’s birthday. They let us choose any one of their desserts from their long list. I know Durant’s is well-known for their cheesecakes, but Boyfriend has never turned down a brownie. Our server brought us a massive tower of brownie with ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate and caramel sauce, and chocolate shavings. Even though we were both incredibly full, we couldn’t help but eat the whole gooey, rich, chocolatey dish.

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After eating over dozens of meals together, I finally succeeded in finding a meal that rendered Boyfriend speechless. There’s a special awe to having a meal that is so delicious that it makes you think of your favorite meals from your childhood. Boyfriend grew up on a cattle ranch with access to the fresh beef on a regular basis. For a restaurant to serve him a perfectly cooked, fresh, and juicy steak that reminded him of home, it’s something I will never forget. Thank you Durant’s for an amazing experience.

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For more information, you can check out their website.

Price: Expect between $50-$100 per person.
Atmosphere: 3.5/5
Service: 4.5/5
Food: 5/5

Valentine’s Brigadeiros

Happy Valentine’s Day! It’s that time of year again. When you think of Valentine’s, the first thing you think of is most likely chocolate. We’ve all gotten the Whitman’s Sampler or the Dove box, but I don’t think there’s anything quite as romantic as making someone a special treat. Usually, people make truffles, but I wanted to go for something a little more unique.

 

Brigadeiros are basically a type of truffle. It’s a Brazilian dessert that tastes sort of like a mix between chocolate truffles and fudge. Then you cover them in sprinkles. I learned about them while watching the 2016 Rio Olympics, and I’ve wanted to try making them ever since!

Ingredients:

  • 2 (14 oz.) cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 2 tsp light corn syrup
  • 3 oz. semisweet chocolate
  • 2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sprinkles

Instructions:

1. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the condensed milk, butter, heavy cream, and corn syrup and bring to a boil over medium heat.

 

2. When the mixture starts to bubble, add the chocolate and cocoa powder. Whisk well to remove all the pockets of cocoa powder. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, until it is dense like fudge (8-10 min.). Use low heat or the sides will burn the fudge. If you undercook it, the brigadeiro will be too soft; if you overcook it, it will be too chewy. It’s done when you swirl the pan and the mixtures slides as one soft piece, leaving a thick burnt residue on the bottom.

3. Slide the mixture into a bowl. DO NOT SCRAPE THE BOTTOM OF THE BOWL. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

 

I know this is weird, but if you scrape the bottom of the bowl you might get some burnt or congealed bits that will ruin the texture of your truffles.

 

4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

5. Scoop the mixture by the teaspoonful. Roll it into a ball with your hands, about 3/4 in. in diameter.

6. Place the sprinkles in a bowl. Roll the brigadeiros through the sprinkles to cover the entire surface. Store in an airtight container for 2 days or up to 1 month in the fridge.

The original recipe showed chocolate sprinkles, but I wanted to be a bit more playful for the holiday.

Final Thoughts: In regard to taste, I prefer a more traditional truffle you might find in a chocolate box or at someplace like Godiva. Fortunately, my coworkers loved them. They were pleasantly surprised by their Valentine’s treat. They are soft and just the slightest bit chewy. The condensed milk really softens the chocolate flavor (which may be why I don’t like them as much). These were a great success!