Celebrate love, affection and fruits of the trees

“Do you need this jewelry catalog?” asked my dear husband as he was sorting through the mail.

“No, honey, you do. Valentine’s Day is coming up,” I replied with a smile.

“Right,” he replied, and promptly tossed the catalog in the recycling bin.

So, do Jews observe Valentine’s Day? Or should we? Some would say that we don’t need a specific day to communicate love — we should express our feeling to our loved ones every day, or at least on Shabbat. And, as Jews, we don’t celebrate holidays that are named for saints.

On the other hand, it is very nice to give or receive flowers or cards to or from those we love. Even though Valentine’s Day is named for a Catholic saint, this commercial holiday is absolutely secular, like Thanksgiving.

This year, Tu B’Shevat falls on Monday, Feb. 13, the day before Valentine’s Day. Tu B’Shevat honors the impending spring, and we eat new fruits of the season. There is also Tu B’Av (15th of Av, which falls on Aug. 9 this year), which celebrates love and marriage. Therefore, we have plenty of reasons to celebrate love and affection with a great meal.

Here are some desserts appropriate for Valentine’s Day, Tu B’Shevat or any time you’d like to express some affection.

Meyer Lemon Bars | Makes 16 squares

For the crust:
8 oz. unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup flour
For the topping:
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the flour. Press this into an 8-inch square pan. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven.
Beat together the eggs, yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and flour. Pour over the crust, return to oven and bake for 20 more minutes, until just firm. Cool, cut into squares.

Melted Chocolate Cake | Serves 8

1 egg yolk
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted
4 oz. unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp. brandy
powdered sugar for garnish
Beat the egg yolk, eggs and sugar until pale yellow, thick and foamy. Sift in the flour. Fold in melted chocolate, butter, and brandy or vanilla extract. Pour into 8 small ramekins that have been buttered and floured.
Bake the cakes in a preheated 375-degree oven for 10 minutes. Unmold, dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Tu B’Shevat Mandelbrot | Makes about 36 small cookies

4 oz. unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup toasted dry shredded coconut
1/2 cup dried tropical fruit bits
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
In a mixing bowl, cream the butter until it is light. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla and then beat in the eggs. Stir in the flour, salt and baking powder. Fold in the coconut, fruit bits, ginger and toasted almonds.
Spoon strips of batter that are about 2 inches wide and 10 inches long onto parchment or silicone-lined baking sheets. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 20 minutes, until they are golden. Remove from pan and cool about 30 minutes. Cut the loaves into diagonal slices that are about 1/2-inch wide. Return slices to the baking sheet and bake 10-14 minutes or until lightly toasted. Cool and store in airtight containers.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a Bay Area cooking teacher and food professional. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].