5 Reasons Why I Love Valentine’s Day…And You Should Too!

All week, I have been hearing various people – in person, on the radio, social media, etc. – rant about how Valentine’s Day is a made-up holiday by Hallmark just trying to make money. I have heard people say how you should show love every day and you shouldn’t need flowers or chocolate to tell your loved ones how you feel.
Sure, that’s all true. I can’t argue against celebrating love every day of the year. I can’t argue that businesses aren’t trying to make a little extra money off of pink and red heart shaped candy. (On the same note, what about all of the anti-Valentine’s Day parties and retail items? Isn’t that also just an excuse to make extra money???) 
That being said, WHY NOT take a moment (or a day) to put a little extra effort in saying, “I love you!”? 
If you’re single, I know you may be thinking, “easier said than done.” Coming from me, someone who has had the same Valentine for the past seven years (what?!?!), trust me when I tell you I get it. Everyone’s situation and love life is different. But no matter who you are, SOMEBODY LOVES YOU! And I truly hope you all have love for somebody too. Spouses, parents, siblings, best friends, pets, the list goes on and on. Every type of love is different, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less significant. 
God is love. Just as we are nothing without God, we are nothing without love. Celebrate it, share it, spread it, and enjoy it. 
Now I bring to you: 
1. The cards. Greg and I always, always, always make homemade cards for each other. I have been making homemade cards for my parents my entire life and I love passing my card making abilities (ha! not very impressive, I assure you) onto Greg. He does the same for me too. Although they tend to look the same from the front year after year, reading back through old cards is so special to me. Seeing how our relationship and love has evolved over the years is so cool.
2. The sweets. Duh. Would you expect anything different from me? I had a strong internal dilemma this morning on the way to work. To stop at Krispy Kreme and treat myself to a doughnut? Or to NOT stop at Krispy Kreme and eat a healthy breakfast of whole grain cereal and a banana? Such hard decisions! Since you’re dying to know, I did not stop at KK. I have a hot Starbucks latte to look forward to later this afternoon though – they’re doing BOGO lattes from 2-5pm! Greg is going to bring one by the office for me. And who knows, maybe he’ll have a cupcake along with it. Now that’d be really nice. 
3. The pink. Pink is my favorite color ever. Although I majorly failed today and somehow forgot to wear any pink, or red for that matter, I love seeing others in pink, eating pink treats, and finding excuses to use or make anything else pink.
4. The time of year. Not much else is going on during February. The air is (usually) COLD and winter blues are in full force. Christmas and New Year’s are long gone, if you have a January birthday like Greg and I both do, those days are history, and there’s not much to look forward to until Spring. Having a holiday fall right in the middle of this month gives reason to have a little fun and put a smile on your face. 
5. The love. Need I say more?
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!
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Happy Valentine’s Day 2013!

I wish you all a very happy, love-filled Valentine’s Day! Eat some chocolate. Give someone a hug or kiss. Tell someone, “I LOVE YOU.” Eat more chocolate…

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I love each one of you who pays any attention at all to the words I write and the food I bake. I love each one of you who takes the time to comment on a post and tell me your thoughts. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I wouldn’t be here in this blogosphere without you.

So, I have to ask – Will you be my Valentine?

Recipes for the food shown above:

I {Heart} Vanilla Cupcakes

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It’s true. I’m in love. It’s like the candy heart just magically knew what I was thinking as these cupcakes were coming together. 
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I think it’s what you call love at first sight. I might even go as far to say it was love at first thought. Pink. Heart-shaped. Vanilla. Frosting. Sprinkles. Candy. 
All rolled into one precious cupcake. 
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Yes, that is love. 
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Oh yeah, there’s also this guy in my life that I’m going to marry in about 3 1/2 months (!!!!!). You could say I’m pretty in love with him too. But you don’t need to hear about all that right now. 
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These little cake-of-the-cups have the most perfect, simple vanilla flavor. Some people may associate vanilla with ‘plain’ or ‘boring.’ But not here. Not now. 
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Make these cupcakes for the one YOU love this Valentine’s Day and I promise they will love you even more. Make them for yourself and well, if you don’t love yourself after that, then all hope is lost.
In all seriousness, I hope you love yourself anyway. Eating cupcakes or not, just love yourself.

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I {Heart} Vanilla Cupcakes 
Makes 12 cupcakes
Ingredients:
For the cupcakes-
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 + 1/3 cup granulated sugar 
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
Red food coloring
12 candy hearts
Sprinkles

For the frosting-
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk

Directions:
For the cupcakes-
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tin with liners of choice, heart-shaped if you have them!
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand-alone mixer, add butter and sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and creamy. Add egg white, followed by vanilla extract and beat until well incorporated. Turn to low speed and add half of the flour. Slowly add milk, followed by the remaining flour mixture. Beat until well combined.
4. Pour half of the cupcake batter into a separate bowl. Add 2-3 drops of red food coloring to one of the bowls of batter. Mix thoroughly, adding more food coloring as needed to reach your desired shade of pink/red.
5. Drop pink/red batter by the tablespoon into the cupcake wells. Then drop a tablespoon of the white batter into the wells. Use a toothpick to gently swirl the batter together in each of the wells.
6. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
7. Frost as desired. Top each cupcake with a candy heart for the full Valentine’s Day effect 🙂

For the frosting-
1. Add butter and powdered sugar to the bowl of a stand-alone mixer. Beat on medium speed for about one minute. Add the vanilla and milk while continuing to beat on medium speed until well incorporated. Be sure to scrap down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Show me and Counting My Cupcakes some Valentine’s Day love by liking the Facebook page here and following me on Twitter here. You can also find me pinning new recipe ideas, as well as fashion and general inspiration, on Pinterest here.

Whew!

Now that we have that taken care of, look at this amazing Valentine’s gift box my momma sent me (and Greg…I guess I can share).

I am actually relieved it wasn’t packed full of candy and baked goods. I have enough of that floating around already. Skittles and Sea Salt Caramel Almond bars were plenty sweet enough for me. I also got a cupcake shaped candle and that cute alligator card whose kissy lips are made of chocolate! I even got a wine glass and water bottle too. Gotta stay hydrated after drinking the wine 🙂
My mom has been sending my Valentine’s gift boxes ever since I moved away for college, but for some reason I taken by surprise this year. Thanks Mom, I loved it!
Since I already showed you what I made for Sweetheart’s Day in yesterday’s post, I wanted to share those white chocolate sugar cookies that I mentioned. 

These are the ones I made last year (pre-blogging, aka pre-somewhat decent photography). The sugar cookies are extra thick and chewy and melted white chocolate replaces standard vanilla frosting. Genius. These things are amazing, I tell ya. 
I don’t know how much Greg actually cares for Valentine’s Day (actually, I do know…the answer is NOT MUCH AT ALL), but since I love it so much, he puts a little effort in 🙂 
Even though sometimes he thinks I’m crazy…

Sometimes he realizes how many yummy things I bake (and how much I clean) that he shouldn’t let me go. 
We may be waiting to go out to a nice dinner until the weekend, depending if he can pull off getting a very last minute reservation for tonight or not. See, I told you he puts effort in…effort as in waiting until the night before Valentine’s Day to make a dinner reservation. 
Regardless of what we end up doing tonight, we will be celebrating this coming weekend because I have a special, surprise date planned for Sunday. Soexcited!! (yes, that’s one word.)
Whether you make Homemade Pop Tarts, White Chocolate Frosted Sugar Cookies or buy your dessert from the store (gasp!), I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Day! 

Homemade Pop Tarts (for your Valentine)

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and for those of you looking for a Valentine treat, THIS. IS. IT!
The original recipe calls for your standard, rectangular-shaped tarts. But I love Valentine’s Day and will look for any excuse to get festive! I have been making the same white chocolate frosted sugar cookies for the past couple of years and was ready for something different this year. I thought I would share with you a day early so you would still have time to make these before the big day if you needed to. 
I ate Pop Tarts all the time as a kid. The Brown Sugar Cinnamon were my fave all the way. Every once in awhile I would have a fruit filled one, or even S’mores, but brown sugar was the best. I didn’t care for them toasted either. Instead, I would heat them in the microwave for about ten seconds, ate around the crusty edges first, the indulged in the sugary, iced middle part last.
Speaking of microwaving them, have you ever microwaved foil? Oh boy. I made that mistake once. I could have sworn I had seen my parents microwave my Pop Tarts with the wrapper on. So there I was, a hungry five-year old. Daddy was still asleep so I thought I could manage getting a Pop Tart for myself. A few seconds of watching colorful fireworks in the microwave and the smell of burn Pop Tart had me in tears and terrified to tell my dad what I did. Needless to say, I had overreacted just a little with the all crying and my Dad didn’t seem too upset. Life went on as usual. No foil in the microwave ever again. Got it.
Over the years, Pop Tarts and I have grown apart. I actually do have an almost-full box in the cupboard, but I think they expired about a year ago. I think when I realized they were about 200 calories each, it just wasn’t worth it anymore. Why would they put two in a single package if a serving is only one?? Hate it when they trick you like that. 
With my discovery of these Homemade Pop Tarts though, it will be difficult to ever take a bite of the store-bought ones again. These went above and beyond my expectations and were worth every dang bite. And trust me, there were A LOT of bites last night (seriously, I think I ate half of the batch before forcing myself to sit down and actually write about them!). 
As usual, I couldn’t just stick to one flavor and wanted to try out a few variations. Some were brown sugar cinnamon, some were raspberry jam and some were even Nutella. Yes. Nutella. 
What you see in the picture up above is a sample of the different types I made (pre-decorating). The ones in the front obviously aren’t Pop Tarts. That was just leftover crust that I filled with the cinnamon brown sugar and rolled before baking. Kind of like a cinnamon twist (these were pretty delish too by the way). 

I honest to goodness can not tell you what my favorite kind is. They are all equally delicious in their own way. The brown sugar cinnamon tastes very similar to the real thing, but the jam-filled tarts literally tastes identical. Scratch that. They taste BETTER than store-bought ones. Then there’s the Nutella. All I can say is MMMMMMMMM!!!

If I have failed to get the message across by this point, I will try again. MAKE THESE. Ok? If you are a Pop Tart lover, be prepared to fall in love with them in a whole new way. If you have never even had a Pop Tart, get ready to become a major fan. If you need to make someone fall in love with you tomorrow, these will do it. If you need something to help you love yourself tomorrow, here ya go!
Get the point now? 🙂
Homemade Pop Tarts
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes up to 12 medium tarts
Ingredients:
1 package refrigerated pie crust
1 egg, beaten
For cinnamon brown sugar filling-
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons flour
For fruit jam filling-
1/3 cup fruit jam (I used raspberry)
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch 
1 1/2 teaspoons water
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat cookie sheet with non-stick spray. 
2. Roll out pie crust onto flat surface. Brush entire crust(s) with egg wash.
3. Cut raw pie crust into desired shapes, making sure you have an even number of cut-outs. Lay half of the cut-outs onto cookie sheet and top with about a tablespoon of desired filling. Spread filling around to about 1-2 centimeters from the edge. Top each filled crust with remaining cut-outs. Use a fork to press down along edges to seal. Then poke holes with the fork sporadically across the top of the tart (allows air to escape while cooking so they don’t puff up too much and break apart). 
4. Bake 14-16 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 10 minutes if you are going to ice/frost them.