"Valentine's Day should be fun and nobody should be stressed out about what kind of gift they're giving," said Jeanne Kelley, contributing chef for Cooking Light magazine.
Kelley suggests skipping the expensive candy and wine, and instead make fun and festive foods to suit individual tastes .
"You can make jerk spice rub where you basically combine spices and put them in a jar," said Kelley. "You can dip pretzels into bittersweet chocolate which is just delicious."
You can also dip strawberries, apricots, or Amaretti cookies. Kelley says you can make them a couple days ahead of time.
"Make sure your strawberries are dry and make sure your pretzels and cookies are dust free," said Kelley.
Kelley uses a pastry brush then dips the fruit and cookies in melted chocolate.
The spice rub entails combining a blend of spices for favorites like Moroccan blend or Jamaican jerk.
"You could make it a couple weeks ahead. The spice blends will keep up to a month so go ahead and get started," said Kelley.
There's also a Cracker Jack like caramel corn that can be made one week ahead. Or make a blended pomegranate cocktail with sassy juices mixed with or without alcohol. They're fun and festive poured into pretty bottles.
All ingredients are found at local markets. Get containers and decorations at craft and discount stores. Here's the best news, Kelley priced out all of the gifts and found them to cost $5 or less. Kelley says the ball jars are found at hardware stores.
"I think it should be more about fun and it should be something where you give gifts like you did when you were a kid, not to just one special someone but to all the people that have done something really lovely for you," said Kelley.
Dark Chocolate-Dipped Valentine Treats
This is a fun way to create elegant and economical gifts that won't blow anyone's diet. You can dip any number of goodies into the chocolate -- just make sure the "dippers" are dry and crumb-free.
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
Assorted low-fat "dippers" such as pretzels, strawberries, amaretti cookies and dried apricots
Line several cookie sheets with waxed paper. Melt chocolate in a heavy medium-sized saucepan, stirring constantly over very low heat. When chocolate melts and is smooth, transfer to a small, deep bowl. Carefully dip "dippers" into chocolate. Drag edge of "dipper" gently across edge of bowl to remove excess chocolate. Transfer "dippers" to prepared cookie sheets. Refrigerate until chocolate is set.
Transfer treats to party-favor bags or boxes. Keep strawberries refrigerated for up to 1 day. Other treats will keep for up to 1 week at cool room temperature.
Yield: 1 pound of chocolate is enough for about 3 dozen pretzels, 2 dozen cookies, 1 pint strawberries and 3 dozen dried apricots.
For the other recipes, check out www.cookinglight.com.
Search for these:
Dry Jerk Spice Rub - November 2007
Moroccan Spice Blend - December 2005
Spice-Seasoned Salt - March 2007
Pomegranate Cocktail - December 2003
Caramel Popcorn - December 2002