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I’m thinking about hearts, flowers, candy and all things red. Yes, I’m in a Valentine planning mode and anxious to make red treats to match all of my red February décor.

I’m so grateful that Valentine’s Day is on my winter calendar. After all of the festivities associated with Christmas are over, this celebration of love is a real treat in the middle of a cold and still dark-too-early-in-the-evening month.

To help all of us celebrate Valentine’s Day, the flavor experts from the McCormick Kitchens recently released new recipes are influenced by a much loved treat – Red Velvet Cake. Now I’ve been a fan of Red Velvet Cake for years and have made it for many occasions. As a Big Red fan, I’ve often made this treat in the fall for game days, especially in the form of cupcakes that can be easily stored in the freezer for multiple Saturday afternoon gatherings.

These new ideas from the McCormick Company take this colorful taste treat and extend the flavor profile to new ideas like pancakes, truffles and hot chocolate.

The following recipe for Red Velvet Pancakes would be a great way to start your Valentine holiday with a special breakfast. Whether you serve these cakes at your table or on a tray for breakfast in bed, your loved ones will appreciate your efforts.

Red Velvet Pancakes

2 cups pancake mix

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons red food color

Cream Cheese Topping, recipe follows (optional)

Spiced Syrup, recipe follows (optional)

Mix pancake mix, cocoa powder and granulated sugar in large bowl until well blended. Stir in buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and food color just until blended. Pour one-fourth cup of batter per pancake onto preheated, lightly greased griddle or skillet. Cook 1 to 2 minutes per side or until golden brown, turning when pancakes begin to bubble. Serve pancakes with Cream Cheese Topping or Spiced Syrup, if desired.

Cream Cheese Topping

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Mix cream cheese and sugar in a small bowl until well blended. Stir in milk a little at a time until smooth. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Spiced Syrup

1 cup pancake syrup

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

Mix all ingredients in a microwavable bowl or measuring cup. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes or until warm, stirring once.

* * *

If you haven’t had a chance to make Valentine cookies, you can still make a rich, red treat. The following recipe for Red Velvet Hot Chocolate is a great after school or after work treat for kids of all ages. If it is too rich for your liking, you can always use skim milk when making it and also add additional skim milk to thin it down a bit.

Red Velvet Hot Chocolate

4 cups whole milk

1/4 cup granulated sugar

10 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons red food color

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Vanilla Whipped Cream, recipe follows (optional)

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Miniature marshmallows (optional)

Place milk and granulated sugar in medium saucepan. Bring to simmer on medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate with wire whisk until melted. Stir in food color and vanilla. Pour into serving cups. Serve with Vanilla Whipped Cream and marshmallows, if desired. Makes 5 servings.

Vanilla Whipped Cream

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Beat cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl with electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Makes about 1 cup.

* * *

The following truffles are a wonderful gift for any chocolate lover. They are simple, but delicious and an elegant way to say “I love you.”

Red Velvet Raspberry Truffles

1 pound semi-sweet baking chocolate, divided

4 ounces (one-half package) cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon red food color

1 teaspoon raspberry extract

Melt 8 ounces of the chocolate as directed on the package. Beat cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, food color and raspberry extract in large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended and smooth. Add melted chocolate; beat until well mixed. Cover. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or until firm. Shape into 24 (about three-fourths-inch) balls. Place balls on wax paper-lined tray. Refrigerate until ready to dip. Coat only 12 truffles at a time. Melt 4 ounces of remaining chocolate in a small microwavable bowl on Medium (50 percent) power for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute. Using a fork, dip 1 truffle at a time into the chocolate. Tap back of fork 2 or 3 times against the edge of dish to allow excess chocolate to drip off. Place truffles on wax paper-lined tray. If there are any “bald” spots on truffle, cover with melted chocolate that remains on the fork. Repeat with remaining ounces of chocolate and remaining truffles. Refrigerate 1 hour or until chocolate is set. Store truffles between layers of wax paper in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Quote of the Week

In recent years, the love of red velvet has blossomed beyond its traditional Southern roots into a popular dessert with mass appeal. In fact, last Valentine’s Day, enough red food color was sold -- more than 550,000 ounces -- to make enough red velvet cupcakes to circle the Earth 23 times. That’s why the McCormick Kitchens turned to red velvet to inspire new Valentine’s Day recipes this year. -- McCormick Kitchens

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Ellen Lund of Fremont is a freelance food columnist.

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