Quick confections made in microwave sweeten the day VALENTINES FOR Friends & Lovers

February 06, 1994|By Marlene Sorosky | Marlene Sorosky,Special to The Sun

Long ago, when I was a starry-eyed 20-year-old, and for centuries before that, Valentine's Day was a celebration for lovers only. As far as we know, it all began in Roman times, when the festival of Lupercalia celebrated Juno and marriage. Later, when the Church linked this event with the day of St. Valentine, a bishop who was executed in 270 A.D. for holding weddings against the edict of the Roman emperor, Feb. 14 became a day for sweethearts to express their affection. Through the years, a card, a rose and a box of candy said it all.

Now, while the basic concept of the holiday hasn't changed, the scope of its meaning has broadened considerably. Yes, lovers still top the list of those we acknowledge in a romantic way. But Valentine's Day has also become a time to take inventory of the many people who touch and brighten our daily lives through acts of kindness, generosity and caring.

You undoubtedly have someone in your life like the friend who picks up the kids at school when your meeting runs late. Or the neighbor who hauls the garbage cans up from the curb for you when the weather is bad. How about the hairdresser who comes in an hour early to squeeze you in on a busy Saturday or the mother-in-law who never says no when you're stuck for a sitter? Nice people who do nice little things that make a big difference in your life.

Valentine's Day is the perfect occasion to reciprocate with a sweet token of your appreciation. My favorite thank-you gifts are a delectable collection of candy and chocolate-coated fruit equal to anything one would find in the finest gourmet confectionery shop. What makes the following recipes even sweeter is that they can be whipped up in a jiffy in your microwave, with ingredients that are a snap to assemble.

To make white- and chocolate- dipped fruits, melt both types of chocolate separately in the microwave. Dip fresh or dried fruits in one of the chocolates to partially cover. Refrigerate until firm and then, if desired, re-dip the fruit in the other chocolate. Perishable fruits such as fresh oranges, grapefruit and strawberries can be refrigerated only overnight, but dried fruits may be refrigerated for at least a week.

I find making candies such as mixed nut brittle easier in the microwave than on the stove. And you aren't left with a scorched saucepan to scour. It is helpful, but not mandatory, to have a microwave candy thermometer. If not, keep a regular candy thermometer in hot water so it will register faster, and remove the candy syrup from the microwave to test. Or, spoon about half a teaspoon of the syrup into a small bowl of ice water. When it separates into hard, brittle threads, it will be at the hard-crack stage, 300 degrees.

Orange pecan truffles are creamy with chocolate, crunchy with ground nuts and bursting with orange flavor. For a change of pace, turn them into raspberry almond truffles by substituting seedless raspberry preserves for the orange marmalade, Chambord for the Grand Marnier and almonds for the pecans. Or experiment with whatever liqueur, preserves and nuts you have on hand.

Double chocolate cream fudge is the fastest fudge recipe I know. The addition of unsweetened chocolate keeps it from being overly sweet, marshmallow creme makes it exceptionally creamy, and the microwave eliminates the need for a candy thermometer. For inexpensive but fitting packaging, wrap the candies in a 10-inch square of white lace or red fabric and tie with red velvet ribbon or strips of white lace. Or, line a decoupaged Victorian tin or acrylic box with red doilies.

For your most special Valentine, pile a combination of all the treats together in a jumbo gift basket with a bottle of champagne and a pair of candles. Add a red rose and three more little things -- the words "I love you." Now that really says it all.

Double chocolate cream fudge

Makes 117 pieces

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine

3 cups sugar

2/3 cup evaporated milk

12 ounces (2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips

3 ounces (3 squares) unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped

1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow creme

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with heavy foil so it extends 2 inches beyond pan on 2 short sides. Butter or grease the foil.

In a 4-quart microwave-safe bowl or casserole, microwave butter or margarine on high (100 percent) power until melted. Stir in sugar and evaporated milk. Microwave uncovered on high power for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring and scraping down sides every 3 minutes, until mixture boils rapidly with very large bubbles. Remove from oven and immediately stir in both chocolates until melted. Stir in marshmallow creme, nuts and vanilla. Spread into prepared dish.

Leave at room temperature or refrigerate until firm enough to cut.

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