Red and White are for Valentines

Here’s the thing: I am not a chocolate lover. That makes me odd man out on February 14th. Calorie-wise, I say thank you God for this small favor.

My cousin Marcy was allergic to chocolate. My mother, who thought she was being extremely cunning, used to hide it inside the piano; of course Marcy knew it. She knew ALL the hiding places. She liked it so much it was worth the sneezing that immediately followed a mouthful. Lucky for her, she never had any competition from me. I was more a red hot fan. Still am.
But I sure did love Valentine’s Day when I was a kid. I remember cutting out hearts in red paper with white lacy stuff for trimming. Do kids still do that? Or are they too sophisticated? It was probably a girl thing anyway. And I used to stick some of those valentine candy hearts in the envelopes; you know- the ones that said Be Mine. Kiss Me. Yours 4Ever. 
Anyway, I send Valentine cookies to my kids now. I suppose I could try to make them, Martha Stewart-like, but I’m no good at it and besides, they would disintegrate somewhere during the UPS trip. My friend Kay makes those Martha Stewart cookies- the old fashioned royal icing-decorated ones. They are so delicate, delicious and beautiful. I just don’t have the decorating knack. So I mail order.
I should have ordered some for myself because I would like to give a Valentine's gift to a friend who needs cheering up. As my chocolate repertoire is a tad skimpy, I opened my favorite file to search for some red and white desserts. I could do a strawberry tart- I actually have one of those heart shaped tart molds- left over from my maniac Martha Stewart years. And there’s Coeur à la Crème-always pretty. But I decided on something I bet she’s never had. Russian Crème. Unusual, a snap to make and delicious.
This Russian Crème recipe has an interesting background: my sister Sharon went to Michigan State in the 50’s; they served Russian Crème at her sorority and she liked it so much she begged them for the recipe. She brought it home for Mother to try. The recipe has undergone several variations since then and the recipe she has is not exactly like the one I have. We couldn't figure it out- although she and Mother both tend to fiddle around with ingredients; Sharon mentioned she hadn’t made it in years- in fact had nearly forgotten all about it and because she had a luncheon coming up, she decided to serve it for dessert. Everyone loved it and nobody had ever heard of it before.
Because I was writing and testing for the family cookbook, I spent a day making her recipe and then the one I had on file. I ended up choosing mine- it had the taste and texture of the one I remembered Mother making. Not too sweet and quite light- even with all the cream. She always made it in a square pan and then cut it into squares. (She also used sweetened frozen raspberries for a sauce- easier, but the recipe below is delicious.)You could make it any shape you wish; I even served it once in a parfait glass. Isn't this a perfect Valentine?

Russian Crème

Ingredients:1 tablespoon Knox gelatin
1 cup half and half
1/4 cup cold water
4 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1/4 cup boiling water
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Raspberry sauce

Method:Soften the gelatin in the cold water for 5 minutes. Add the boiling water to dissolve. In the meantime, heat the cream and confectioners sugar. Do not boil. Add the gelatin mixture, mix well so the gelatin dissolves and set aside until it reaches room temperature.
Whip the cream to soft peaks (not stiff peaks or it will taste too buttery) and add the gelatin mixture. Stir carefully until completely mixed. Pour into a square pan and refrigerate until firm. Serve with a raspberry sauce. Serves 6-8.

Raspberry Sauce
Ingredients:1 pint fresh raspberries (reserve ½ pint for garnish)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup (12 ounces) seedless raspberry jam
1 tablespoon Framboise liqueur (optional)

Method:Place the package of raspberries, the granulated sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 4 minutes. Pour the cooked raspberries, the jam, and Framboise into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until smooth. Chill. Add some fresh berries and serve with Russian Crème.

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