Creative ideas for Valentine's gifts

Sweeten someone’s day with a cookie pop. (Photo courtesy of Sweet Celebrations with Miss Amanda)
Sweeten someone’s day with a cookie pop. (Photo courtesy of Sweet Celebrations with Miss Amanda)
Bob Imperial calls this salad “light” and “refreshing.” (Photo courtesy of Imperial’s Catering)
Bob Imperial calls this salad “light” and “refreshing.” (Photo courtesy of Imperial’s Catering)

This Valentine’s Day, don’t limit sweets to sweethearts. Why not be a valentine and cook up something special for a friend, co-worker or neighbor in need of a little love?

“Get in the spirit!” urged pastry chef Amanda Burghart. “It’s a nice time for everyone to remember the sweetness of childhood and how much the holiday meant back then.”

“It’s a nice time to reach out to someone who’s lonely,” added the owner of Sweet Celebrations with Miss Amanda in West Chester.

Burghart, who hosts baking and decorating parties, shared her recipe for Heart-Shaped Cookie Pops with Royal Icing.


“It’s really just a simple sugar cookie recipe that’s my own,” she described. The icing is “a more modernized version of a traditional recipe.”

Short on time? Dennis Darr of Alice Bakery & Confectionary in North Wales suggested Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries to brighten someone’s day.

“I think it’s one of the most elegant desserts and one of the easiest,” he said. “You can dip them in anything you like — crushed up pretzels, sliced almonds with skins, or a favorite candy ... It’s something you’re going to want to dip that day.”

Darr’s ready for a very busy day Friday selling gifts like his handmade chocolates, which include raspberry bonbons and blueberry-infused chocolate caramels.

“It’s typically a gentleman coming in,” he admitted. “Most guys have a tendency to wait until the last minute.”

While Darr and Burghart covered sweet treats, Bob Imperial of Imperial’s Catering in Collegeville offered ideas for easy entrees to make and take to a friend or family member.

“It’s a great way to share with people you love and care about,” he said.

On the menu: Strawberry Spinach Salad, Portobello Casserole and Mac & Cheese Casserole for Grown-Ups.

“It’s everyday macaroni and cheese with a twist,” explained Imperial.

So be a valentine and whip up dinner or dessert.

Either way, it’s a celebration “to sweeten up the winter,” Burghart said. “It’s a fun day to remind each other how much we love each other.”

Heart-Shaped Cookie Pops with Royal Icing

For the cookies:

2¼ cups all-purpose flour, sifted (plus additional for rolling)

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1¼ cups sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

15 lollipop sticks

cellophane and ribbon (optional)

For the icing:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon meringue powder (available at craft stores)

¼ to ½ cup water

food coloring (optional)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine butter, sugar and salt. Cream on medium speed with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stop mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula. Return mixer to medium speed and add vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down sides. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour slowly until combined. Increase speed to medium and beat until a ball of dough forms. Remove from mixing bowl, form into a disc and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly dust your workspace with flour. Remove dough from refrigerator and place on floured surface. Sprinkle some additional flour on top and roll out dough to approximately ½-inch thick. Cut out hearts using a cookie cutter. When all of your hearts are ready, gently press a lollipop stick into each one. Use a small scrap of dough to cover any part of the stick that is still exposed. Place all of your cookie pops on your baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Carefully place the pops on a cooling rack while you prepare your icing.

Beat sugar, meringue powder and 1/4 cup of water on low speed until smooth (3 to 5 minutes). If needed, slowly add more water until you reach your desired consistency. Tint your frosting with food coloring. Spread onto cooled cookies with a spatula. This icing can also be piped on cookies to create designs. Add sprinkles and candies if you choose. Icing dries with a nice shine and will harden as it sits.

Wrap in cellophane, tie with decorative ribbons and deliver to your favorite valentines!

(Recipe courtesy of Sweet Celebrations with Miss Amanda)

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

organic strawberries with leaves and long stems

high-quality semi-sweet chocolate chips

parchment paper

Wash and dry strawberries. Allow them to come to room temperature. Place chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium heat (50 percent) for about 30 seconds. Take out and stir. Microwave another 30 seconds. As the chips are close to being almost all melted, microwave in 10-second intervals at 50 percent, checking and stirring often.

Once chocolate is ready to go, dip ¾ of the way up the strawberries. Tap to remove excess chocolate. Place on parchment and allow to set at least 30 minutes.

(Recipe courtesy of Alice Bakery & Confectionary)

Mac & Cheese Casserole for Grown-Ups

1 pound cooked gemelli pasta (al dente)

2 cups heavy cream

½ teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup roasted red peppers, cut into thin strips

2 cups fresh baby spinach

1 cup artichoke hearts, cut into quarters

2 cups cooked chicken breast, medium diced

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

salt and black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup seasoned bread crumbs

1 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

In a mixing bowl, place cream, garlic, nutmeg, salt, pepper, half the olive oil, parmesan and cheddar. Mix well. Add pasta, spinach, peppers, artichokes and chicken. Mix well. Pour into a casserole dish.

In a small mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs, remaining olive oil and additional parmesan cheese. Sprinkle on top of pasta.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until top is brown. Yields 4 servings.

(Recipe courtesy of Imperial’s Catering)

Strawberry Spinach Salad

2 pounds baby spinach

1 cup sliced almonds

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

½ cup thinly sliced red onion

½ cup crumbled goat cheese

¼ cup strawberry vinegar

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and cracked black pepper to taste

In a bowl, toss together spinach, strawberries, almonds, onion and goat cheese.

For dressing, place vinegar in a mixing bowl and slowly whisk in the oil. Season with salt and cracked black pepper.

Right before ready to eat, drizzle the strawberry dressing over top of salad. Yields 4 servings.

(Recipe courtesy of Imperial’s Catering)

Portobello Casserole

6 medium-sized portobello caps

1 zucchini, thinly cut length-wise

1 yellow squash, thinly cut length-wise

1 cup roasted red peppers, cut into thin strips

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut in to ¼-inch slices

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon balsamic glaze

In a mixing bowl, toss portobellos, zucchini, yellow squash and red peppers with garlic, salt, pepper, oil, vinegar and oregano. Place portobellos flat in a small casserole dish. On top of the portobellos, layer the zucchini, then red peppers and then yellow squash. Place fresh mozzarella on top of vegetables.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes until vegetables are tender and mozzarella is melted. Drizzle balsamic glaze over top of the casserole. Slice in half and serve warm. Yields 2 servings.

(Recipe courtesy of Imperial’s Catering)

How Sweet It Is

• Most Americans (83 percent) usually share candy with friends and family for Valentine’s Day.

• People buy about 40 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate for Valentine’s Day.

• Americans overwhelming prefer chocolate (69 percent) to flowers (31 percent) on Valentine’s Day.

• Caramels are the most popular flavor in a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates.

Source: National Confectioners Association