The great question of love — the answer to that puzzle has been studied literally since the beginning of time (remember Adam and Eve?) with little progress. Whether examined through an objective or a subjective lens, the inevitable attraction to someone else is often so perplexing, we just throw up our hands and chalk it up to that other black hole of questions, fate.
That brings us to the day that is celebrated as the Super Bowl of Love, St. Valentine’s Day. According to Wikipedia, the real St. Valentine was martyred in Rome in 269 AD, and America has its own claim to fame with the mob-related St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929, but don’t let those pesky details derail our Hallmark happiness train.
Modern-day celebrations are happier times, marked with hearts, flowers, cards and candy, and dreamy dinners. How about ramping up a night of romance with a few aphrodisiacs on the menu? The myth and mystery of foods that arouse desire is another puzzle with few sound answers, but what is a fact is that certain foods’ reputations have stood the test of time as a sure way to the heart.
There is fact that goes along with the fantasy. According to the website homecooking.about.com — oysters and caviar are high in zinc, which is shown to increase testosterone production, chocolate contains both a sedative, which relaxes and lowers inhibitions, and a stimulant to increase activity and the desire for physical contact.
The sweet, spicy smell of nutmeg sweetens the breath and is used as a stimulant, which increases body heat, and vanilla affects the hypothalamus, a gland in the brain that controls emotion and memory, the website states.
And of course, festive champagne and other forms of alcohol lower inhibitions and instill a feeling of warmth and well-being, according to the website.
These foods may have aphrodisiac properties, but whether they do shouldn’t matter because one of the things that inspires love and increases desire is to make something special for your someone special — gets the heart pounding every time.
The original recipe for this decadent, delicious dish was created at Antoine’s Restaurant in New Orleans in 1899 and remains a secret to this day. The dish was so rich, it was named after the richest man in the world at the time, John D. Rockefeller. This version is very close to the classic.
1 garlic clove
2 cups loosely packed fresh spinach, chopped, or 1 package chopped frozen spinach, thawed and excess liquid squeezed out
1/2 cup chopped green onions, white and green portions
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, divided use
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound (about) rock salt
24 fresh oysters, shucked, shells reserved OR 1 pint shucked oysters
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Position rack in top third of oven, and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine finely chopped garlic, spinach and green onions. Mix breadcrumbs and Parmesan in separate bowl and set aside.
In a heavy skillet, heat butter until bubbling. Add chopped spinach mixture, fennel seeds, nutmeg, pepper sauce and wine. Saute until spinach wilts and wine is reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill.)
In order to keep oyster shells from sliding on your pan, sprinkle rock salt over large baking sheet to depth of 1/2 inch (this salt will be discarded.) Mix panko, Parmesan and remaining butter. Arrange oyster shells on top of rock salt. Top each oyster with 1 tablespoon spinach mixture and one teaspoon breadcrumb mixture. Bake until brown and bubbly; serve immediately with fresh lemon wedges, about 8 minutes.
Cook’s note: If you can’t get freshly shucked oysters with the shell in your area, don’t worry. My solution was to go to a restaurant that serves them and ask for several dozen shells. (They throw them away anyway.) You can actually keep them for years — I sterilize mine in the dishwasher after use and store them in a box when they are dry. Shucked oysters in plastic tubs are widely available in the seafood department of many supermarkets.
HOMEMADE CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (high quality, more than 60 percent cocoa solids), chopped well into small pieces
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Truffle coatings as desired: finely chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts), shredded coconut, cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar in a pie pan for finishing
In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the whipping cream to a simmer. Stir and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula during this process.
Place the chocolate in a separate bowl. Pour the warmed cream over the chocolate, add the vanilla, and allow to stand until the chocolate begins to soften, and stir until smooth.
Put enough cocoa powder in a pie pan to lightly coat truffles.
Allow chocolate mixture to cool; then refrigerate for two hours. With a teaspoon, melon baller or small scoop, form 1-inch balls from the hardened chocolate mixture. Working quickly, roll between your palms to finish balls (chocolate will melt a little). Roll lightly in cocoa powder or other desired coatings, transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet, and refrigerate overnight. Before serving, allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes to soften slightly.
These decadent confections are simple to make and delightful to eat. Anytime a recipe has just a few ingredients, using the best quality is very important. Make sure to use high-grade chocolate, preferably with more than 60 percent cocoa solids, to yield the best treats. You can personalize your candies with your favorite coatings, such as shredded coconut, finely chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds, or my favorite, just a little roll in cocoa powder. Be careful — these are addictive.
This recipe has been adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites.
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 ounces semisweet chocolate (60 percent cocoa solids)
3/4 cup superfine sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Place a baking sheet in the oven, and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Butter 4 1-cup ramekins.
In a bowl suspended over a pan over simmering water or in the microwave (check your owner’s manual for directions — all microwaves are different), melt the dark chocolate and 1 stick butter; then set aside to cool.
In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar and flour. Beat in the cooled butter and chocolate mixture. Divide the mixture between the ramekins.
Place the ramekins on the warmed baking sheet; bake for about 20 minutes. When the mixture is done, the tops will be cooked and cracked, and the chocolate will be loosely set underneath.
Serve immediately with whipped cream, if desired.
Cook’s note: These desserts will be hot.