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Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies' title withholds two killer ingredients - chocolate and toffee. Yum! (Linda Smith / For the Enterprise)

Cupid's lethal weapon isn't a puny arrow; it's chocolate

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There are many legends surrounding the origin of Valentine's Day celebrations. Perhaps the most popular one purports that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II was of the mind that single men made better soldiers, not being distracted by the obligations of wives and children; and he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine thought the edict was unjust and secretly performed marriages for young lovers. Claudius discovered this, and had Valentine put to death on February 14, 269 A.D. The Roman Catholic Church later canonized St. Valentine as a martyr. Of course, there are those who think Valentine's Day was concocted by Hallmark and FTD. Whatever your beliefs, Valentine's Day is a perfect time to tell those you love how much they mean to you by sending them a special card or purchasing them some pretty flowers, a gift or treating them to a special dinner at their favorite restaurant. However, in my books - and after all this is a recipe column - nothing says loving like something homemade and containing lots of chocolate. And if my husband, the dessert maker in our household, happens to be reading this, he already knows my latest addiction is anything chocolate with salted caramel topping.

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Molten Chocolate Cakes

5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

10 T. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter

3 eggs

3 egg yolks

1 1/2 c. confectioners' sugar

1/2 c. flour

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Coat six 3/4-cup soufflé dishes or custard cups with butter. Combine the chocolate and butter in a heavy medium saucepan. Cook over low heat until melted, stirring frequently. Cool slightly. Whisk the eggs and egg yolks in a bowl until blended. Whisk the confectioners' sugar into the eggs until smooth. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk until blended. Whisk in the flour. Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared dishes. (You may prepare to this point up to one day in advance and store, covered, in the refrigerator). Bake for 11 to 14 minutes or until the sides are set but the center is soft and runny. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the cakes and immediately invert onto dessert plates. Serve immediately, garnished with whipped cream. Serves 6. Note: For even more luxury, drizzle caramel sauce on the dessert plate before serving, and add a side of French vanilla bean ice cream.

Easy Chocolate Sauce

1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter, softened

1/4 t. salt (optional)

1 c. (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips

1 t. vanilla extract

1/3 to 1/2 c. coffee liqueur, brandy or strong coffee

Combine the condensed milk, butter and salt in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes or until the mixture comes to a boil, stirring halfway through. Stir and microwave for 45 seconds longer. Add the chocolate chips and vanilla and stir until blended. Blend in the liqueur and ladle over your favorite dessert. Makes about 2 1/4 cups. Note: This sauce stores well in an airtight jar in the refrigerator and can be spooned out and heated up as needed--or just eaten off the spoon.

Filled Chocolate Cupcakes

1 chocolate cake mix

8 oz. cream cheese

1/3 c. sugar

1 egg

1/8 t. salt

1 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Prepare cake mix according to package. Place paper liners in muffin tins. Fill with batter two-thirds full. For the filling, blend together the softened cream cheese, sugar, egg and salt, and set aside. Bake cupcakes at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. Then drop a teaspoon of filling in the center of each cupcake. Sprinkle each with 1 T. of chocolate chips. Finish baking as package directs. May be frosted when cooled, if desired.

Salted Caramel Brownies

1 c. (2 sticks) butter

4 (1-oz.) squares of dark chocolate

2 c. sugar

4 eggs

1 t. vanilla extract

1 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 t. salt

1/4 c. caramel topping

1 t. good quality sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. In a 3-qt. saucepan over very low heat, melt butter and chocolate, stirring the mixture constantly. Remove from heat, and stir the sugar into the chocolate. Allow the mixture to cool slightly. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each, then stir in the vanilla. Combine the flour and 1/2 t. salt in a separate bowl, and then stir into the chocolate mixture. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Drizzle the caramel atop the batter, and use a knife to swirl over the surface. Sprinkle sea salt over the caramel. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Brownies are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

1 1/2 c. flour

1 t. baking soda

1 c. butter

3/4 c. sugar

3/4 c. brown sugar

1 egg

1 t. vanilla

1 1/2 c. oatmeal

1 c. dried cranberries

1 c. chocolate chips

1 c. toffee bits

Sift flour and baking soda together; set aside. Cream 1 c. of butter with white and brown sugar; add egg and vanilla. Add the flour mixture but do not overbeat. Combine egg, vanilla and flour-baking soda mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Don't overbeat. Add oatmeal, cranberries, chocolate chips and toffee bits. Divide dough into 3 logs, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 3 hours. Make 1/2-inch slices and bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove immediately to cool on racks. Note: For easy cookie removal line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Brandy Velvets (Adults Only!)

1/2 c. brandy

1/4 c. cold, strong coffee

1/4 c. chocolate syrup

1 qt. coffee-flavored ice cream

In a blender, combine brandy, coffee, chocolate syrup and softened ice cream. (Alternately, may combine with a hand mixer.) Spoon into sherbet, wine or parfait glasses. Freeze several hours or overnight. Just before serving, drizzle each with chocolate syrup. Serves 4 to 6.

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