- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

For Valentine’s Day, you can stand in line at your sweetheart’s favorite chocolatier to get a box of expensive bonbons.

If that doesn’t sound appealing, you can make a reservation at a fancy restaurant and join a room full of couples for the romantic special.

Or you can do the smart thing and savor a seductive meal at home.

This is an intimate celebration, so why spend it in line or elbow to elbow with other like-minded diners when you can relax and enjoy each other’s company?

Don’t panic if you aren’t an expert cook. You can assemble ingredients that make meal preparation a snap.

Start with cooked shrimp. Layer a martini glass with commercially made guacamole and salsa. Arrange jumbo cooked shrimp around the edge and serve as an appetizer.

Pasta makes an easy entree, especially if you add freshly grated Parmesan cheese to your favorite sauce from a jar. Got a little more ambition? Grill lamb chops.

Because dessert is the last part of the meal, and one that will linger in your mind, make it an ice cream sundae topped with luscious, rich homemade sauce.

Choose either chocolate fudge, which is great with chocolate mint, vanilla or cherry vanilla ice cream, or caramel-pecan sauce over vanilla or butter pecan ice cream.

Either sauce recipe should yield leftovers. To reheat, place a small amount of sauce in a microwave-safe bowl and heat at medium speed in a microwave oven for 15 seconds at a time.

Hot fudge sundae

½ cup heavy cream

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup premium vanilla ice cream

Cacao nibs

Combine cream, corn syrup and brown sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Stir in broken chocolate, a small amount at a time, stirring to melt. When all the chocolate is added, stir in salt, butter and vanilla extract.

To assemble sundaes, divide ice cream between two bowls or ice cream sundae glasses. Spoon 1/4 cup hot fudge sauce over each portion. Sprinkle 1 rounded teaspoon cocoa nibs over each serving. Serve immediatelyto 2.

Note: Cacao nibs are the dark bits that remain when the shell is separated from the cacao bean.

These are finely chopped and used as a garnish. The flavor is intensely chocolate, but not sweet.

This recipe yields 1 rounded cup hot fudge sauce. Pack the remainder into a container with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate up to one week.

CARAMEL PECAN SAUCE

½ cup pecan halves

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2/3 cup whipping cream

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter pecan or coffee ice cream

Place pecans on a baking sheet. Toast in preheated 350-degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until nuts are lightly browned and crisp. Remove and set aside. Coarsely chop when cool.

Place sugar in small, heavy-bottomed pot. Heat over low-medium heat until sugar melts, about 15 to 20 minutes. Shake pot, but do not stir sugar. When sugar is a golden liquid, stir in butter. Mixture will separate.

Add cream in a slow trickle while stirring constantly over very low heat until mixture is smooth.

Add salt and pecans. To serve, spoon ice cream into 2 bowls. Top each serving with 1/4 cup caramel sauce. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.

Note: This recipe yields 1 rounded cup caramel pecan sauce. Pack the remainder into a container with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate up to one week.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies,” John Wiley & Sons).

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