If you are feeling amorous this Valentine’s Day, consider an easy-to-prepare, romantic dinner for your lover, prepared at home for under $100. These are the recipes that I wrote for the Daily Connection and the cooking segment I shot will air on NBC in Washington D.C. at 3pm on Friday. Not in DC? That’s okay! I’ll post a link to the video as soon as it airs!
Fried Manchego Cheese Bites with Wildflower Honey
Honey was believed to be the nectar of the goddess of love, Aphrodite and newly wed couples drank a honey-based cocktail each night for a month to get them “in the mood,” hence the word Honeymoon.
1/2 lb Manchego cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
vegetable oil, for frying
Wildflower honey, for dipping
1. Cut the manchego into bite-sized pieces. Don’t worry if they aren’t uniform in shape.
2. Dip the chunks first into egg, rolling the cheese all the way around and then into the breadcrumbs, making sure the cheese bite is completely covered with the crumbs. Put in the refrigerator to allow the cheese to get cold again.
3. Meanwhile, heat a small pot filled three-quarters of the way with vegetable oil over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer* reads 375º.
4. Carefully slip a few cheese bites at a time into the hot oil and fry until golden brown and gooey. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain briefly. Repeat until all your cheese bites are cooked.
5. Serve immediately with a bowl of honey for dipping.
*If you don’t already have one, deep-fry thermometers are inexpensive, available at any supermarket, and take the guesswork out of cooking temperatures.
Blanched Asparagus Spears with Saffron Mayonnaise
Asparagus has a suggestive shape of its own. Serve it with a simple dipping mayo made using saffron, the stamen of a single crocus. The stamen is the male sex organ of the flower and the vibrant orange color comes from the pollen he uses to pollinate his neighbors.
1/2 tsp saffron
1 T hot water
1 bunch asparagus
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.
2. In a small bowl, place the saffron. Use a small ladle to take 1 T of the boiling water from the pot and pour it over the saffron. Allow to sit while you finish making the asparagus, making an orange-colored saffron tea.
2. Add enough salt to the boiling water to make it taste like the ocean. Start with 1/2 a cup, then taste the water. Add more salt if necessary. It seems like a lot, but it is the only seasoning the asparagus will get.
3. Clean the asparagus by snapping off the end and using a peeler to remove the skin about halfway up the stalk.
4. Drop all the asparagus into the hot water (you can do this in batches if your pot isn’t big enough) and blanch until the stalks turn bright green. Fish them out with a slotted spoon or tongs and drop into a big bowl of ice water to shock them. This step immediately stops the cooking and preserves the snap and the bright green color. Drain the cold asparagus on paper towels.
5. Finally, in a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise and the water from the saffron bowl. If a few fronds get into the mix, that’s okay, but you really just want the saffron tea water.
6. Dip the asparagus into the mayo and enjoy – and yes, double dipping is encouraged.
Oysters with Domestic Caviar and Ginger & Blood Orange Gelatin
Oysters are a classic aphrodisiac for their particular mouthfeel. Paired here with domestic paddlefish roe (a $20 fine substitute for the “real thing”) which like oysters is high in zinc, which is said to raise testosterone levels in both men and women, stimulating the sex drive. The ginger in the gelatin is used in eastern medicine to warm the blood, which is obviously a euphemism for something!
For the Ginger & Blood Orange Gelatin:
2 cups freshly squeezed blood orange juice, strained (I used about a dozen oranges)
2 T grated ginger
6 sheets of leaf gelatin* or 2 T of unflavored gelatin powder
1. Heat the orange juice and the ginger to a boil, then turn off and let steep 10 minutes.
*If using sheet gelatin, soften the sheets in warm water until the are soft and pliable (a pastry chef friend of mine said “until they feel like a condom.”)
2. Add the gelatin to the hot oj, stir until completely dissolved and then strain (to remove the ginger and any gelatin bits that didn’t dissolve) into a 9 x 12″ baking pan. Place on a level shelf in the fridge for several hours, but preferably overnight.
3. Meanwhile, consider all the other juice and flavor combinations you can make (and control the sugar level of) now that you have the basics of making your own low-cal jiggly treats.
4. When the gelatin has set, you have to get it out of the baking dish. If you have trouble getting the gelatin out, boil some water and fill a pan slightly larger than your gelatin pan with hot water. Carefully set the gelatin pan into the hot water for 30 seconds to melt the bottom, then turn out onto a cutting board. You can use a cookie cutter and cut out little hearts, or use a knife to cut small cubes.
5. Then, assemble the oysters. Figure on a dozen for two people. The oysters I used were $1.10 a piece. You can open them at home using an oyster knife, or ask the person at the seafood market to do it for you. For presentation, pour a pile of salt or crushed ice onto your serving plate. Arrange the oysters on top, and then decorate with some gelatin jewels and a small spoonful of caviar.
Habenero-spiked Chocolate Dipped Strawberries, Figs and Bananas
Everyone knows that most women like chocolate almost as much (maybe more?) than sex. The ancient Aztecs used a combination of chocolate and chile peppers to heat up their love and sex rituals. Here’s how to do it at home. Well, not it it. You know what I mean…
1 cup heavy cream
1 small habenero chile pepper, split
6 oz high quality dark chocolate, chips are fine, or cut into small pieces if you got a bar or chunk
Strawberries, figs (split in half) and bananas (cut into spears) for dipping
1. Bring the cream to a boil and drop in the habenero. Allow to steep to desired spiciness. I left mine in for 45 seconds. I like it hot.
2. Use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the pepper. Pour the cream over the chocolate bits and let stand 5 minutes, then stir until the chocolate is completely melted.
3. Dip the fruit and arrange on a plate or serve right to your lover. The idea is for the heat in the chocolate from the chile to raise your blood pressure and make you sweat a little.
Raspberry “Champagne” Cocktail
Change a glass of inexpensive bubbly into a romantic Valentine’s treat by adding a simple squeeze of some raspberries.
1 bottle of inexpensive sparkling wine such as cava or prosecco (The bottle I used cost $8.99)
1 pint red raspberries
1. Pour two glasses of cold bubbly.
2. Squish a few between your fingers then drop into the glasses.
3. Refill as necessary.
Enjoy your Valentine’s Day! Make these aphrodisiacs at home for your lover. Turn on the seduction and remember, when you cook at home, you can wear anything you want!
Special thanks to Michael Claeys at The Daily Connection & NBC