COOL completely and cut with heart-shaped cookie cutters
Quick tip: Use boxed brownie mix and omit the first eight ingredients and steps two through four.
Dried Cranberry Shortbread Hearts
Makes 18, 1 3/4-inch hearts
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped dried cranberries or cherries
HEAT oven to 325 degrees with a rack in center.
COMBINE butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla, flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon until combined but not too creamy. Stir in dried cranberries.
PAT dough evenly into an 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan. Bake until just beginning to turn golden, about 20 minutes.
PLACE pan on cooling rack until cool enough to touch, about 20 minutes. Run knife around edges, remove shortbread, and transfer, right side up, to work surface.
USE 1 1/2- to 2-inch heart cookie cutter to cut out cookies. Use a paring knife to trim stray bits of cranberry from edges. Cookies will keep for 5 days at room temperature in an airtight container.
Valentine's Chex Mix
Makes 22 1/2 cup servings
9 cups Rice Chex cereal
1 cup white vanilla baking chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup red, white and pink candy-coated chocolate candies
1/4 cup red or pink jimmies sprinkles
PLACE cereal in a large bowl. Microwave baking chips, peanut butter and butter uncovered for 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds, until melted and smooth. Pour peanut butter mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated.
PLACE 1/2 of the cereal mixture in 1-gallon food-storage plastic bag. Add powdered sugar. Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on waxed paper or foil to cool, about 15 minutes.
STIR candies and sprinkles into remaining cereal mixture. Spread on waxed paper or foil to cool, about 15 minutes.
MIX both cereal mixtures in large bowl. Store in airtight container.
Monte Cristo Sandwiches
Hot ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches grilled French toast style with powdered sugar and jam turn into a valentine treat with the simple step of garnishing with a heart-shaped dollop of red raspberry jam on top of the sandwich.
4 slices country bread
Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
Ham, thinly sliced
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
PREHEAT the panini grill or skillet to medium heat.
SPREAD mustard on bread slices. Layer Swiss cheese, ham, and cheese again on two of the bread slices. Place remaining two bread slices on top.
WHISK together eggs, milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a shallow dish. Dip each sandwich in the egg mixture, turning to coat well.
CAREFULLY place the sandwich onto the panini grill. Close the lid and grill for 4 to 5 minutes until the bread is lightly browned and the cheese is melted.
DUST the top with confectioners' sugar and spoon a little raspberry preserves in the shape of a heart in the center or stencil little heart motif with the confectioners' sugar on top for a Valentine treat.