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Happy Valentine’s Day. Here are some great diner ideas for your special evening with your special someone, or just hanging out with the family or friends. Enjoy.

MEATBALL VEGETABLE SOUP

(Requested by one of our readers.)

1 pound extra lean ground beef

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

8 green onions with tops

1 quart beef broth

3/4 cup thinly sliced celery

3/4 cup thinly sliced carrots

1/2 small head cabbage, shredded

2 tomatoes, peeled, cut in eighths

1 (48-ounce) can tomato juice

1/2 cup brown rice

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried basil leaves

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons chopped parsley for garnish

Blend ground beef with egg, salt and pepper. Cut green onions into 1/2-inch lengths; set aside. Bring broth to a boil. Shape meat into 1-inch balls. Drop balls into broth together with the green onions, celery, carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, tomato juice, rice, bay leaf and basil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Discard bay leaf. Stir in soy sauce. Top each serving with parsley. (This soup is delicious when made the day before). Yield: 4 servings.

CHICKEN BREASTS WITH TOASTED MUSTARD SEED SAUCE

6 whole chicken breasts, boned

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided

1-1/4 tablespoons mustard seeds

2 cups whipping cream

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Place chicken breasts, skin side up, on a lightly greased rack in a broiler pan. Sprinkle chicken evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bake at 450° for 15 minutes; turn oven to broil, and broil chicken 6 inches from heat 4 to 5 minutes or until browned. Transfer chicken to a large serving platter. Set aside and keep warm.

Place mustard seeds in a small skillet; cook over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until mustard seeds begin to pop and are lightly browned. Remove skillet from heat. Let mustard cool completely in skillet.

Place whipping cream in a medium saucepan. Bring just to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until reduced to 1-1/2 cups, stirring occasionally. Stir in reserved mustard seeds, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, green onions, Dijon mustard and lemon juice. Cook until mixture is thoroughly heated. Pour sauce over warm chicken. Serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings.

CRAB-STUFFED SOLE

2 pounds filets of sole (8 pieces)

Stuffing:

1/4 cup chopped onions

1/2 stick butter

6 ounce mushrooms, chopped

13 ounce crab (canned or frozen)

1/2 cup crushed saltine crackers

2 tablespoons parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

Sauce:

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups milk

1/3 cup dry sherry

4 ounce Swiss cheese, grated

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Sauté onions in butter until tender. Stir in mushrooms and sauté several minutes. Add crab, crushed crackers, parsley and salt. Spread this mixture on each filet; roll and place seam- side down on a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

To prepare sauce: Melt butter in small saucepan. Blend in flour and salt. Add milk and stir until smooth. Add sherry and stir 3 to 5 minutes until sauce thickens. Pour sauce over filets. (You may make this a day ahead or early in the morning. Wrap tightly and refrigerate until ready to bake.)

Bake, uncovered, at 350° for about 25 to 30 minutes until sauce bubbles. Sprinkle with grated cheese and paprika and bake 5 minutes more until cheese melts. Garnish and serve. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

SHORT RIBS WITH SWEET POTATOES

6 bone-in beef-chuck (12-ounces each)

2 cans (10-1/2 ounces each) condensed French onion soup and 1 soup can of water

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 scant teaspoon pepper

3 pounds small sweet potatoes, scrubbed and pierced with fork

1 tablespoon flour mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water

1/3 cup bottled white horseradish

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325°. Coat a heavy-bottomed pot with non-stick spray. Heat over medium heat. Add ribs in batches, if needed, cook until browned. Pour off fat. Add onion soup, water, garlic and half of the pepper. Cover; place on middle oven rack and bring to a boil. Put potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet; place on bottom oven rack. Bake potatoes and short-ribs, 1-1/2 hours until ribs are tender when pierced and potatoes are soft. Remove potatoes and let stand until cool enough to handle. Transfer ribs to serving bowl. Skim fat from soup mixture; bring to a boil and whisk in flour mixture and horseradish. Boil 2 minutes, or until slightly thickened; pour over ribs. Cut sweet potatoes in half; scoop pulp into a medium bowl. Add orange juice, butter, salt, remaining pepper, and mash with a potato masher. Serve with the ribs. Garnish servings with chives. Yield: 6 servings.

SPAGHETTI IN CREAMY SAUCE

10-ounces angel hair pasta, cooked and drained

1/4 cup fat-free ricotta cheese

1/4 cup fat-free cream cheese

1-1/2 cups fat-free chicken broth

3/4 cup fat-free Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain well. Lightly spray large saucepan with nonfat cooking spray; add ricotta and cream cheese to saucepan and cook over medium heat until blended. Slowly add chicken broth to cheese and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until well blended and thick. Add pasta to sauce; toss until well coated. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve. Yield: 6 servings.

SPINACH AND RICE CASSEROLE

3 large eggs

2/3 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon thyme

Dash of nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

3 cups cooked long-grain white or brown rice

3 cups grated Cheddar cheese

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

Preheat oven to 350 °. In a large bowl, using a whisk, beat eggs until blended. Add milk, butter, onion, parsley, thyme, nutmeg, salt and Worcestershire sauce; mix well. Fold in rice, 2 cups of the cheese and spinach. Pour mixture into a 4-quart casserole or baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray or oil. Bake, uncovered, about 45 minutes. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup cheese evenly over top and bake, uncovered, 5 minutes longer.

Yield: 6 servings.

DARK CHOCOLATE- STRAWBERRY SUNDAES

1/2 cup whipping cream

3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 tablespoon dark rum

1-1/2 pints strawberry ice cream

4 strawberries, long stemmed

Bring cream to simmer in heavy small saucepan over medium heat. Remove pan from heat. Add chocolate and stir until smooth and melted. Mix in rum.

Scoop ice cream into dishes. Spoon sauce over each serving. Top each sundae with a long-stemmed strawberry. Yield: 4 servings.

WEB BONUS RECIPE

BABY BROWNIE CUPCAKES

1-1/2 sticks butter or margarine

4 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate

3 eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

Chocolate glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350º. Line 18 (2-1/2-inch) cupcake pans with paper or foil-lined cups. Melt butter and chocolate together in top of double boiler over hot water. Let cool slightly. Beat together eggs and salt in large bowl until foamy. Gradually add sugar and beat until thick and pale yellow, 3 to 5 minutes; add vanilla. Blend in melted chocolate mixture. Add flour, stirring just until combined. Stir in nuts; spoon into lined cups; dividing batter equally. Bake for 20 to 23 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out slightly moist. Remove cakes to wire rack to cool. Frost tops with glaze.

Glaze: Melt together 1 (4-ounce) package sweet cooking chocolate and 1/3 cup heavy cream in top of double boiler over hot water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Drizzle over tops of cakes.

Any comments, questions or favorite recipes? I would love to hear from you. Feel free to send your email to helenkitchen@msn.com, and please write “Helen’s Kitchen Request, ATTN: Lori” in the subject line to make sure that I receive your email. Thank you.