This Valentine's Day think outside the box of assorted creams and chews. After all, love, like chocolate, comes in many splendored ways. Here are some ideas to honor your sweetie that aren't truffles.
Cupcakes with a twist
A perfectly coiffed chocolate cupcake: Buy them at any supermarket bakery or seek out an interesting baker. We like the mint chocolate chip cupcakes at Cakes by Carolynn (3153 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 327-5725). At under $1 each, splurge for a half dozen. At the Cupcake Spot in Tampa (2401 S Dale Mabry Highway; (813) 258-3111) ask for the Forget Love, I'd Rather Fall in Chocolate! It's double the chocolate with devil's food cake and chocolate buttercream icing. It'll set you back less than $3.
Milk chocolate-covered popcorn from Peterbrooke Chocolatier: The Jacksonville chocolatemaker's addictive signature treat is the perfect blend of salt and sweet. Available in 6-ounce bags ($7) to 64-ounce tins ($56). Locations in Palm Harbor, Largo, Carrollwood and Valrico. Information and online shopping at www.peterbrooke.
Fondente gelato: This extra-dark chocolate gelato from Paciugo in St. Petersburg (300 Beach Drive NE; (727) 209-0298) made from Belgian chocolate is rich and creamy heaven in a bowl. Pick up a cooler to go in three sizes: Three flavors, $9.99; four flavors, $15.99; and large, up to five flavors, $20.99.
Chocolate-flavored spirits: Vincent Van Gogh chocolate vodka (about $27 a bottle at finer liquor stores) and Godiva Chocolate liqueur (about $25) can both find their way into candied martinis. Look for drink recipes at www.webtender.com.
Chocolate two ways
Double shot of caffeine from Starbucks: Bring him a Java Chip Frappuccino (a venti of course) and an 8-ounce bag of chocolate-covered espresso beans. Watch out for the Valentine's Day jitters, all for less than $15.
Molten chocolate in a mug: Hot cocoa is made from wimpy powder but hot chocolate comes from melted chunks of chocolate. Here's how to make the Barefoot Contessa's recipe: Heat 21/2 cups milk and 2 cups half-and-half in a saucepan on medium heat to just below the simmering point. Remove the pan from the heat and add 4 ounces each of chopped bittersweet and milk chocolates. When the chocolates are melted, add 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder and whisk vigorously. Serve with mounds of whipped cream.