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Valentine’s Day will soon be here. Here are some fun facts about some of the things that we associate with Valentine’s Day:
There are 141 million Valentine’s Day cards exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second-most popular greeting-card-giving occasion. (This total excludes packaged kids valentines for classroom exchanges.) (Source: Hallmark research)
Over 50 percent of all Valentine’s Day cards are purchased in the six days prior to the observance, making Valentine’s Day a procrastinator’s delight. (Source: Hallmark research)
Research reveals that more than half of the U.S. population celebrates Valentine’s Day by purchasing a greeting card. (Source: Hallmark research)
The combined wholesale value of domestically produced cut roses in 2005 for all operations with $100,000 or more in sales was $39 million. Among all types of cut flowers, roses were third in receipts ($39 million) to lilies ($76.9 million) and tulips ($39.1 million).
There were 28,772 jewelry stores in the United States in 2004. Jewelry stores offer engagement, wedding and other rings to lovers of all ages. In February 2006, these stores sold $2.6 billion worth of merchandise. (history.com/topics/valentines-day-fact)
Last year the cook’s column for Valentine’s Day suggested cooking for that special someone and included some recipes from local cooks. This year the cook’s column is making that same suggestion, but this time including some “easy” recipes for those less experienced cooks.

Pecan Chicken With Mustard Sauce
Linda Larsen, about.com
Just a few ingredients, including pecans and mustard, make plain chicken breasts delicious and very special in this easy recipe.
4 boneless, skinless chicken
breast halves
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup creamy honey mustard
salad dressing
1/4 cup honey mustard
1-1/2 cups finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup creamy honey mustard
salad dressing
2 tablespoons honey mustard
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup plain yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Pound each chicken breast as follows. Place between 2 pieces of waxed paper, boned side up and pound with rolling pin gently until about 1/4” thick.
Mix flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper on a plate. On another plate, combine 1/3 cup salad dressing with 1/4 cup honey mustard and mix well. On third plate, mix pecans and 1/4 teaspoons thyme. Coat chicken with flour mixture, then dip into dressing mixture, then the pecan mixture, pressing to coat well.
Melt butter with olive oil in heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat and cook coated chicken breasts 2-3 minutes on each side until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Watch carefully, as the pecans can burn easily! If you did not pound the chicken, it will not cook through before the pecans over-cook. Do NOT use chicken thighs because they take too long to cook. Remove chicken from skillet as it is cooked and cover to keep warm.
To drippings remaining in skillet, add 1/4 cup salad dressing, 2 tablespoons honey mustard, sour cream, yogurt, salt and pepper to taste, and 1/4 teaspoon thyme and heat until mixture boils. Pour over chicken to serve.

Stovetop Rice Pilaf
Linda Larsen, about.com
This delicious pilaf recipe is so easy to make and is the perfect accompaniment to almost any meal.
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-1/4 cups long grain white rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
3-3/4 cups chicken broth, heated to boiling point
In heavy saucepan, melt butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add rice and stir until the rice is coated with the butter. This will take 2-4 minutes; don't rush this step!
Season with salt and pepper, then add the hot chicken broth all at once. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Check the rice; if all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, it’s done. If the rice isn’t quite tender, cover pan and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Cajun Spiced Pork Chops
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground black
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon rubbed dried sage
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1-1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin
olive oil
4 center cut pork chops
Mix paprika, cumin, black pepper, cayenne pepper, sage, and garlic salt on a plate. Liberally coat each pork chop with the spice mixture.
Heat olive oil and several pumps of non-stick, butter-flavored spray in a large skillet over high heat. Place pork chops in the skillet, reducing heat to medium. Cook until the pork is no longer pink in the center, 8 to 10 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 145 degrees F (63 degrees C).

Onion-Roasted Potatoes
2 russet potatoes, cut into 1-inch
2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch
1 ounce package onion soup mix
1/3 cup olive oil
Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Combine russet potato and sweet potato cubes with onion soup mix and olive oil in a bowl, stirring to mix thoroughly. Spread out into a 9x13-inch baking dish.
Bake in the preheated oven until potatoes are tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.

Quick Antique Broccoli
Linda Larsen, about.com
Quick Antique Broccoli tastes just like Antique Broccoli, from my aunt Carol Sue, but it’s much faster to make. If you don’t mind a sixth ingredient, add a package of frozen tiny whole onions, cooked and drained.
(2) 12 ounce packages frozen
broccoli florets
16 ounce package sliced carrots
24 ounce bottle cheddar cheese
1-1/4 cups soft whole wheat
breadcrumbs (3 slices bread)
1/4 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook the broccoli and carrots according to package directions, a few minutes less than the directed time. Drain well.
Combine in 13”x9” glass baking dish. Add cheese sauce and mix well.
In small bowl, combine breadcrumbs and butter; toss to coat. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over casserole. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until casserole is bubbly and breadcrumbs are browned and crisp.

Creamy Fruit Salad
2 medium bananas, diced
2 medium apples, diced
1 lemon, juice of
20-ounce can pineapple tidbits,
drained, juice reserved
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 cups grapes
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1-1/2 ounce box sugar-free
instant vanilla pudding mix or
1-1/2 box vegetarian
instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2 cup water
Combine bananas, apples and lemon juice in large mixing bowl. Toss until evenly coated. Add pineapple, strawberries, grapes and pecans. In small mixing bowl, combine pudding mix, water and pineapple juice with a wire whisk until smooth. Add pudding mixture to fruit.
Mix gently until thoroughly coated. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Fastest Chocolate Cheesecake
Linda Larsen, about.com
Just five ingredients make a delicious smooth, creamy, and velvety chocolate cheesecake that’s like a truffle in a pie crust. In both recipes, always use full fat ingredients; nothing low fat or nonfat.
9” graham cracker or shortbread
cookie piecrust
14 ounce can sweetened
condensed milk
1-2/3 cups semisweet chocolate
8-ounce package cream
cheese, softened
3-ounce package cream cheese,
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated) and chocolate chips in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Melt on 50 percent power in the microwave oven for 2 minutes, then remove and stir. Continue microwaving for 30-second intervals, stirring between each interval, until mixture is melted and smooth.
Add cream cheese and vanilla to the chocolate mixture and beat at high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3-4 minutes. Spoon into graham cracker shell and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.
This recipe is a soft-set cheesecake. It is not as firm as a baked cheesecake, but it slices and serves very well.

Elvis Presley’s Favorite Whipping Cream Pound Cake
food.com, 1Steve
3 cups sugar
1/2 pound butter, softened
7 eggs, room temperature
3 cups cake flour, sifted twice
1 cup whipping cream (heavy
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Butter and flour a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan. Thoroughly cream together sugar and butter.
Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in half the flour, then the whipping cream, then the other half of the flour. Add vanilla. Pour into prepared pan. Set in COLD oven and turn heat to 350° F. Bake 1 hour to 70 minutes, until a sharp knife inserted in cake turns out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Remove from pan and cool thoroughly. Wrapped well, this cake will keep for several days.
Note: while the original recipe did not suggest this, when I’m in the mood for something different I will add a teaspoon or two of orange or lemon extract for a lemon or orange pound cake.

Individual Mini Cherry Cheesecakes
food.com, RecipeNut
(2) 8 ounce packages cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 vanilla wafers
21 ounce can cherry pie filling
Mix softened cream cheese, sugar, eggs, lemon juice and vanilla in bowl. Place wafer in bottom of each of 12 cupcake papers (in cupcake tin). Spoon in cream cheese mixture 3/4 full.
Bake in 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. Let cool. Top each with cherry pie filling and refrigerate for 1 hour or more.
The COOK OF THE WEEK 3rd Edition Cookbook is available. Cost per copy is $10.70, plus $4.80 shipping/handling. Order a copy today by sending a check or money order, along with name and shipping address, to: Humboldt Independent, 512 Sumner Ave., Humboldt, IA 50548.