The best last-minute homemade Valentine’s gifts

Valentine's Day cookies
Edible Valentines are the best Valentines.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Remember those Valentines you used to get and give out when you were a kid? Relive those grade-school glory days with these Valentine’s recipe cards. Make the dishes and package them to give with the cards or just hand out the cards to share the promise of good things to eat.

Salty-Sweet Nutty Buddies
You can pack the mix in gift bags or jars too.
(Ruth Mora / For The Times; Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Salty-Sweet Nutty Buddies

15 minutes. Makes about 30 clusters.


This is for chocolate-peanut-butter lovers everywhere. A salty-sweet spin on the sugar-coated cereal snack known as muddy buddies, this version adds pretzels and salted peanuts to the mix. If you want to package these like a box of chocolate, form the mix into clusters in the variation below.


  • 1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 cups small pretzels, such as snaps, sticks or minis
  • 2 cups lightly salted roasted peanuts
  • 2 cups rice Chex or Crispix cereal
  • 1 ½ cups packed powdered sugar
  • 1 cup peanut M&Ms (optional)


  1. Combine the chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter in a very large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 20-second increments, stirring between each, until just smooth. Alternatively, melt the chocolate chips and peanut butter in a large, wide pot over low heat, stirring occasionally, until just smooth. Remove from the heat. Add the pretzels, peanuts and cereal and fold gently until evenly coated.
  2. Divide the powdered sugar between two gallon-sized resealable plastic bags, then divide the pretzel mixture between the bags. Seal the bags and shake until evenly coated. Transfer to a large bowl to serve as a snack mix, adding the peanut M&Ms if you’d like.

Nutty Buddy Clusters: Omit the butter and powdered sugar. At the end of step 1, drop the mixture by spoonfuls onto parchment-paper-lined baking sheets to form clusters. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt if desired. Refrigerate until firm, at least 10 minutes.

Make Ahead
The nutty buddies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Citrus Hot Toddy
Stack citrus slices for a sunset effect.
(Vivian Shih / For The Times; Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Citrus Hot Toddy

5 minutes. Makes 1 drink.

Whether this drink is boozed up or not, you’ll feel restored with its fresh blend of citrus and honey. The citrus slices bring brightness to each sip and you can eat them afterward for an extra dose of vitamin C. For more color and complex flavor, use a variety of oranges, grapefruit and mandarins.


  • 4 to 5 fresh citrus slices, peel and pith removed
  • 4 tablespoons bourbon, whiskey or brandy (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup tea-hot water


  1. Stack the citrus slices in a mug.
  2. Stir the bourbon, honey, lemon juice and hot water in a liquid measuring cup, then pour over the citrus slices. Serve hot.
Spicy Chorizo Tlayuda
You can skip the chorizo for vegetarians.
(Aleesha Nandhra / For The Times; Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Spicy Chorizo Tlayuda

25 minutes. Makes 4.

Traditionally, this Oaxacan specialty starts with a thin masa round that’s topped with a bean purée and savory toppings, pizza-style. This shortcut version uses large flour tortillas and canned beans for a super-fast meal that’s extra flavorful with browned spicy chorizo (be sure to get Mexican chorizo, which comes uncooked). Quick-pickled red onions bring a bright pop of pink and crunch.


  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • ⅓ cup distilled white vinegar
  • 8 ounces spicy Mexican chorizo, casings removed if needed
  • 1 can (16 ounces) refried black beans
  • 4 large (12 to 14 inches) flour tortillas
  • 4 ounces Oaxacan cheese, torn into large shreds
  • ¼ head small cabbage, cored and thinly sliced


  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place the red onion in a small bowl and cover with the vinegar, pressing down the onion to submerge if needed. Let stand until ready to serve.
  3. Heat a large cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble the chorizo into the skillet and cook, stirring and breaking into almond-sized chunks, until cooked through and crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Add the beans to the skillet and cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the pan, until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Divide the beans among the tortillas and spread in a thin, even layer, leaving a ½-inch rim. Bake on ungreased baking sheets until the tortilla is crisp and lightly browned around the edges, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle the chorizo and cheese on top and return to the oven. Bake until the cheese just melts, 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Cut in wedges and top with the cabbage. Drain the onions and scatter on top. Serve hot.
Orange Shortbread Hearts
The pulp from the orange adds pretty speckles to the glaze.
(Uijung Kim / For The Times; Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Orange Shortbread Hearts

2 hours, largely unattended. Makes about 40.

Buttery and crisp, these shortbread hearts deliver the floral aroma of orange zest, echoed by orange blossom water. You can find orange blossom water online or in Middle Eastern groceries, or you can use vanilla instead.

The shortbread cookies are delicious on their own but look prettier with a citrus glaze. The juice of a blood orange naturally tints these cookies and their icing pink; you can substitute any kind of orange.


To make cleanup easy, set the racks for the iced cookies over the parchment paper you used to bake the shortbread. The paper will catch the icing drips and save your counter from getting sticky.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 orange, preferably a blood orange
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water or pure vanilla extract
  • 1 packed cup powdered sugar


  1. Whisk the flour and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Place the granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer or in a large bowl. Using a Microplane, finely grate the zest of the orange directly onto the sugar, scraping only the outermost layer of zest and avoiding the pith. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar. Reserve the orange.
  2. Add the butter to the sugar mixture and beat on medium-low speed or mix by hand until just combined and not at all fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed or beat by hand until crumbly. Sprinkle the orange blossom water over the mixture and continue beating until the dough comes together in a ball. (It may take a little while.) Flatten into a 1-inch-thick disk, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.
  3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  4. On a lightly floured surface and using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to an ⅛-inch-thickness. Use a 3-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out hearts as closely together as possible. Transfer the hearts to the prepared sheets, spacing 1 ½ inches apart.
  5. Bake one sheet at a time until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool completely on the sheets on wire racks, then transfer the cookies to the racks.
  6. Place the powdered sugar in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, squeeze the juice from the orange, including pulpy bits. Add 2 tablespoons juice to the powdered sugar and stir until smooth. The icing should be opaque and flow like honey. If needed, stir in more juice 1 teaspoon at a time to achieve the right consistency.
  7. Dip the top of a cookie into the icing, coating either half the heart or the whole, then let excess drip off back into the bowl and scrape the icing off the cookie’s edge. Place on the rack, then repeat with the remaining cookies. Let stand until the icing sets, at least 1 hour.

Make Ahead
The dough can be refrigerated for up to 1 day before rolling. The un-iced shortbread will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks at room temperature. The iced shortbread will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days at room temperature.