- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Has the panic set in as to what to serve your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day? Or are you like me, thinking that nearly every meal is prepared with love and so why should one night of the year be any different?

I have found it’s easy to dress up those favorite meals — the steak, lobster, pasta — so that they aren’t much different from what you might cook on other nights but that they appear more dazzling.

Serve wild rice with the grilled salmon instead of the usual potatoes. Steam asparagus instead of pulling the usual peas from the freezer. Heat up a saute pan with olive oil and garlic and toss in cherry tomatoes to be cooked until soft, salted and served. For dessert, try an easy but elegant chocolate cake.

You begin with a devil’s-food cake mix, spoon a mixture of cream cheese, butter and sweetened condensed milk over it, and when the cake is baked and inverted, you have the most gorgeous custard at the top.

With a sleek chocolate glaze, this is a lovely ending for a lovely meal. Share the remaining cake with friends at work or freeze the leftovers in chunks to be served at another time.

Five time-shaving Valentine dinner ideas

• Steam lobster for two.

• Grill hamburgers for two, topped with grilled onions and melted Havarti cheese.

• Toss angel hair pasta with slivers of smoked salmon, minced red onion, capers and chopped fresh parsley.

• Heat cheese fondue and serve pre-chopped veggies and bread cubes for dipping.

• Make your own pizza for sharing, with pizza dough from the in-store bakery, a jar of pizza sauce and all the exotic and fun toppings you can imagine.

Chocolate fudge ribbon cake

The preparation time is 15 minutes, the baking time is 48 to 52 minutes, the cooling time is 20 minutes, and the assembling time is 5 minutes.

Solid vegetable shortening for greasing the pan

All-purpose flour for dusting the pan

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 large eggs, divided

1 18.25-ounce package plain devil’s-food cake mix

11/3 cups buttermilk or water

½ cup vegetable oil

GLAZE:

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Lightly grease a 12-cup Bundt pan with vegetable shortening, then dust it with flour. Shake out excess flour. Set pan aside.

Place cream cheese, butter and cornstarch in a medium-size mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer on low speed until creamy, 30 seconds. Add sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and 1 of the eggs and beat until smooth. Set cream cheese mixture aside.

Place cake mix, buttermilk or water, oil and remaining 3 eggs in a large mixing bowl, and beat with electric mixer on low speed until blended, 1 minute. Stop machine and scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes longer, scraping down again if necessary. Batter should be well blended. Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan, smoothing it out with a rubber spatula. Spoon cream cheese mixture evenly over top of batter but do not stir it in.

Bake cake on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven until it springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, 48 to 52 minutes. Remove cake from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the glaze by placing chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until chocolate and butter are melted and glaze is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.

Run a long, sharp knife carefully around edge of cake, shake it gently to loosen it from Bundt pan, then invert it onto a cake plate. Pour or spoon glaze over top, then slice and serve. Makes 12 servings.

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