Planning a romantic meal for your "special someone" to celebrate Valentine's Day? We all love to eat out in restaurants, but not on Valentine's Day, which has become the busiest day in the restaurant year. Usually there's a special menu at inflated prices. So it's really best to "cook in" on Valentine's Day where you can enjoy some quiet conversation, lots of mood music to keep the evening romantic, maybe a little dancing in the living room and a meal that will probably be better than what you can get in a restaurant. And if your significant other is willing to help in the kitchen, making a meal for two is a very romantic activity! Before long, you'll feel that the two of you are in your own special cafe in the South of France!

Serve your meal on elegant china with crystal and silver. Have an extra special dessert (preferably something chocolate!). Fuss a little with a few fresh flowers and light candles all over the room. And don't forget to exchange Valentine cards!

VALENTINE DINNERS

Romantic Dinner Chicken

4 skinned and boned chicken breasts
1 (4 oz.) package chopped beef
1 pint sour cream
1 can undiluted mushroom soup
3/4 c. butter
45 crushed Ritz Crackers

Cover bottom of 8 x 12-inch dish with broken pieces of beef. Arrange chicken breasts on beef. Mix soup and sour cream and pour over chicken. Melt 3/4 cup oleo and mix with 45 crushed Ritz crackers. Put on top of chicken. Refrigerate. When ready, bake at 275° for 4 hours uncovered. If too brown the last hour, cover with foil. Serves: 4

Fettucine Alfredo

1/2 c. butter
1 (8 oz) brick cream cheese
1 pint heavy cream (OR 1 c. heavy cream & 1 c. half & half)
1 T. garlic powder (or to taste)
Salt
Pepper (white if you have it, but black is fine)
1 to 1-1/2 c. shredded parmesan cheese (preferably fresh)
1 lb fettuccine, prepared as directed

In a medium saucepan, melt butter. When butter is melted, add cream cheese. When the cream cheese is softened, add heavy cream. Season with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 15-20 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in parmesan. Serve over hot fettucine noodles.

Tilapia with Garlic Butter

2 T. butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
Dash pepper
Dash salt
Pinch dried parsley
Dash paprika
4 tilapia fillets

In saucepan, combine butter, garlic, pepper, salt, parsley and paprika. Heat over low heat until butter is melted and starts simmering. Remove from heat. Brush a little of the butter mixture in the bottom of a shallow baking dish (line baking dish with foil, if desired) then place tilapia fillets on the buttered area.

Brush top of each tilapia fillet with the seasoned butter mixture. Bake at 350° for 12 to 15 minutes, until tilapia flakes easily with a fork. Serves 2.

Valentine's Sole

2 (3 oz each) sole fillets
2 tsp. all purpose flour
2 tsp. vegetable oil, divide
2 T. each diced red bell pepper and shallots or onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 c. canned Italian tomatoes, seeded and chopped (reserve liquid)
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/8 tsp. Italian seasoning
Dash of pepper

On sheet of wax paper dredge fillets in flour, coating both sides. In 9-inch non-stick skillet heat 1 teaspoon oil; add fillets and cook over medium-high heat, turning once, until lightly browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer fillets to serving platter; keep warm.

In same skillet heat remaining oil; add bell pepper, shallots, and garlic and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until pepper begins to soften, about 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients; cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until flavors blend, about 2 minutes. Spoon over fillets. Serves 2.

VALENTINE DESSERTS

Chocolate Chunk Bread Pudding

1-3/4 c. (1/2-inch) cubed Hawaiian sweet bread 2/3 c. milk 2 T. sugar 1-1/2 T. unsweetened cocoa 1 T. Kahlúa 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 1 large egg, lightly beaten Cooking spray 1 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped 2 T. Cool Whip, thawed

Preheat oven to 350°. Arrange bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 5 minutes or until toasted. Remove bread from oven; decrease oven temperature to 325°.

Combine milk and next 5 ingredients (milk through egg) in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add bread, tossing gently to coat. Cover and chill 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Divide half of bread mixture evenly between 2 (6-ounce) ramekins or custard cups coated with cooking spray; sprinkle evenly with half of chocolate. Divide remaining bread mixture between ramekins; top with remaining chocolate.

Place ramekins in an 8-inch square baking pan; add hot water to pan to a depth of 1-inch. Bake at 325° for 35 minutes or until set. Serve each pudding warm with 1 tablespoon whipped topping. Yield: 2 servings

Classic Crème Brûlée

8 egg yolks
1/3 c. granulated white sugar
2 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 c. granulated white sugar (for the caramelized tops)

Preheat oven to 300º. In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add cream and vanilla, and continue to whisk until well blended. Strain into a large bowl, skimming off any foam or bubbles.

Divide mixture among 6 ramekins or custard cups. Place ramekins in a water bath (large pan filled with 1 or 2 inches of hot water) and bake until set around the edges, but still loose in the center, about 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from oven and leave in the water bath until cooled. Remove cups from water bath and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

When ready to serve, sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of sugar over each custard. For best results, use a small, hand-held torch to melt sugar. If you don't have a torch, place under the broiler until sugar melts. Re-chill custards for a few minutes before serving. Serves 6

SOMETHING SPECIAL

Love Potion

1/2 c. frozen strawberries, slightly thawed
1/2 c. frozen raspberries, slightly thawed
1 c. white grape juice (or apple juice)
Maraschino cherries, for garnish

Place the first 3 ingredients in a blender and mix on High until you have a uniform color.

To make the potion thicker, add more fruit; to make it thinner, add more juice. Garnish extravagantly with cherries and sip, sigh & swoon. Serves 2.

Mock Champagne

4 liters ginger ale, chilled
46 oz. pineapple juice, chilled
64 oz. white grape juice, chilled

Combine all ingredients in punch bowl just before serving.

SWEETS

Butter Cookies

2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1-1/3 c. white sugar
1-1/3 c. butter
12 eggs
1/4 c. cream
1-1/4 tsp.vanilla extract
3 oz colored candy sprinkles or red sugar

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the egg, cream and vanilla extract. Blend thoroughly (this usually works best with your hands).

Form dough into a flattened ball, wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. This mixture can keep for several days.

Preheat oven to 400°. Roll dough out on a floured board to about 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter and decorate with different types of sprinkles or colored sugar. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. unsalted butter, melted
1 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 T. vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325°. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Makes 18 cookies.

Chocolate Nuggets

1/2 c. vegetable oil
4 (1 oz) squares unsweetened chocolate
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 c. coarse sugar for rolling (or additional granulated sugar)

In a small saucepan, heat oil and chocolate over low heat, stirring until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Add sugar, eggs and vanilla and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and well blended. Mix in flour and baking powder and beat just until the flour is incorporated into the dough. Chill in the refrigerator for at several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper. Place the coarse sugar in a flat bowl or pie plate. By hand, form the dough into 1-inch (2-cm) balls and roll in the sugar until completely coated. Place on prepared cookie sheet, at least 1-1/2 inches (4 cm) apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies are puffed and sparkly, but still slightly soft in the center. Remove to a rack to cool. Makes 5-1/2 to 6 dozen cookies.

Valentine Pretzel Rods

White chocolate chips
Whole pretzel rods
Red, white and/or pink sprinkles ("jimmies")
Wax paper

Melt chocolate according to package directions. Dip pretzel rods in the chocolate and place on the wax paper. After the chocolate has hardened, dip them again and then roll them in the sprinkles. Place them on a new sheet of wax paper to harden.