Just this week, OurLocaltopia was lucky enough to be featured in the Orange County Register with an article titled Food for The Heart, which highlights some of our favorite Valentine’s Day recipes. Check out the article online or in today’s (2/12/2014) print edition! We’ve expanded on that article in this post, including some additional recipes and a few other twists on Valentine’s Day fare. And if you’d like to see OurLocaltopia in action, don’t forget that we will be teaching a FREE cooking class TONIGHT, at the Yorba Linda Public Library at 7pm…
Food has long been associated with the pursuit of romance, and for good reason! Not only is good food the best way to your beloved’s heart, but the nutritious vitamins, minerals and natural chemicals in certain foods can actually make you feel better. That’s right, we are talking about aphrodisiacs. They come in many different forms and if you are looking for a delectable way to add some spice to your next romantic meal, consider using some of the following ingredients:
Vanilla – The scent is said to be calming and relaxing, so perfect to set the mood.
Cardamom – Believed to increase blood flow and heighten sensation.
Cinnamon – Stimulating in both its oil and spice form, cinnamon is said to produce heat and stimulation.
Fennel – Said to increase desire, fennel may be strongest for women.
Figs – Rich in iron and potassium, figs provide needed nutrition to keep the body strong and in prime romantic condition.
Honey – Considered a top aphrodisiac, honey (especially locally harvested honey) is said to cure many ailments and increase the metabolism of hormones in both men and women, therefore increasing desire!
Butter Lettuce – Said to have been celebrated by the Ancient Egyptians for its ability to enhance both fertility and vitality.
But how can you maximize these special ingredients for your Valentine? Prepare a meal that contains all of them, of course! Below, we have detailed four recipes that can be prepared as a complete vegetarian friendly menu, OR à la carte, along side your favorite main course. The result is a simple, elegant set of dishes that each contain several ingredients that will make sparks fly! (We’ve noted those ingredients in bold, so you don’t forget to include them!)
1. Beets with Butter Lettuce and Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette
Freshly roasted, in season beets bear no resemblance to their canned brethren, and sport a lovely texture and sweet flavor which balances well with the Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette. Delicate butter lettuce rounds out the salad with gentle, unassuming flavor. The combination of vanilla, butter lettuce and seasonal beets combines aphrodisiac and nutritional qualities perfect for this Valentine’s Day starter. Hot tip: consider cutting your roasted red beets with heart shaped cookie cutters to add a little extra love to this dish!
For the Salad:
1 bunch medium red beets, trimmed and scrubbed
1 large head butter lettuce (8 ounces), leaves torn into 1-inch pieces
Freshly ground pepper
For the Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette:
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tbs champagne vinegar
1 tbs hot water
1 ½ tbs honey
½ teaspoon fresh tarragon, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper
For the beets, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Divide beets between 2 parchment-lined sheets of aluminum foil. Fold each in half, crimping to seal. Place foil packets on a baking sheet and roast until the beets are tender, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Allow beets to cool, peel, and cut into ½ inch thick rounds or wedges.
For the vinaigrette, place oil, vanilla seeds and pod into a small skillet over medium heat. Bring the oil to a low simmer and then remove from the heat. Allow the oil and vanilla to steep for 1 hour. Strain infused oil through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the pod. Allow to cool completely.
Combine champagne vinegar, hot water, honey, and tarragon, salt and pepper (to taste) in a bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly add the oil while whisking, creating an emulsified dressing. Alternately, use a blender or food processor to combine. Chill.
To assemble, arrange greens on a platter, and tuck beet slices between the leaves. Drizzle with dressing, and season with fresh ground pepper.
2. Three Cheese Plate with Figs and Fennel Infused Honey
Honey and figs are both delicious, ancient foods that have always had sensuous connotations, and for good reason! Today, honey is recognized as a top aphrodisiac, said to increase the metabolism of hormones in both men and women. Figs provide vital nutrients that can help clear the skin, lower cholesterol, and yes, increase desire! The same can be said for the infused fennel used in this recipe. Hot tips: we suggest one blue and two triple crème cheeses for this dish, but you can substitute your favorites. Remember to serve your cheeses at room temperature, where their flavors are best! Finally, if you don’t like figs, or if they aren’t in season, pears will work just as well!
½ tsp fennel seeds
1/3 cup best quality honey
8 ounces soft blue cheese, Maytag, Humboldt Fog or (for a stronger bite) Gorgonzola Dulce
2-8 ounce servings triple crème cheese, La Tur, Mt. Tam or Red Hawk, St. Andre
12 ounces figs or ripe pears, sliced
In a small skillet, toast fennel seeds until fragrant and lightly golden. Remove from heat and add honey. Let cool and transfer to a container to infuse for a minimum of 4 hours. The longer the honey infuses, the more pronounced the fennel flavor will become
Arrange cheeses, infused honey, and fruit on a serving platter. Slice baguette thinly, and serve with cheeses and fruit.
3. The Best Mexican Wedding Cookies
Mexican Wedding Cookies are already synonymous with the magic of marriage, and so also make a perfect Valentine’s Day dessert. Serve with homemade Vanilla-Cardamom ice cream to double your aphrodisiac power! Hot tip: for pronounced cinnamon flavor take the time to lightly toast and then grind the cinnamon used in this recipe. The aromas will entice you and the difference in quality will not be forgotten.
Makes about 4 dozen.
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¼ cups confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
½ tsp kosher salt
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon*
1 cup ground blanched almonds**
*To make your own ground cinnamon, toast a quality cinnamon stick over medium heat in a small fry pan until fragrant. In a fine mesh strainer set over a medium bowl, grind the toasted cinnamon stick against a fine rasp grater. Fine grounds will fall through the mesh. Continue until you have enough for the recipe.
**To blanch and grind your own almonds, place raw almonds (skin on) into a pot of boiling water to blanche for 1 minute, taking time to loosen the skins. Remove almonds from the pot with a spider or slotted spoon onto a clean dish towel. Fold the dish towel over the almonds, and use both hands to rub the almonds between the layers of the towel in a circular motion. The almond skins should slip off nicely. Once all skins have been removed, use a nut chopper or food processor to finely grind the almonds (fresh blanched almonds add an amazing layer of flavor).
In the bowl of your electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until fluffy and pale yellow. Add ½ cup of the confectioner’s sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low, and add the vanilla bean paste and kosher salt, beating until blended.
Sift the flour and cinnamon together, and add to the beaten butter mixture on low speed (do not over mix). Fold in the almonds, and combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until the dough is chilled but not hard, about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place on lined baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake until the cookies are just golden on the bottom, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the sheets to cooling racks for 5 minutes, then remove the cookies. While still warm, roll the cookies in the remaining confectioner’s sugar. Allow to cool completely.
4. Vanilla Cardamom Ice Cream (to serve with Mexican Wedding Cookies)
Use vibrant green cardamom pods to add distinct flavor to this ice cream. A mortar and pestle or spice grinder is useful to crush the seeds into a coarse powder. The flavor is fantastic and the ground seeds add a nice visual contrast. Consider serving a scoop of this ice cream with several Mexican Wedding Cookies gently tucked against the scoop. A beautiful and enticing dessert!
Makes about 1 quart
1 cup whole milk
pinch of sea salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
15-20 green cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed into a powder (this should yield approximately 3 teaspoons of ground cardamom)
2 cups heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, salt and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar granules. Scrape vanilla bean seeds from the pod, and add to the saucepan along with the empty pod. Add ground cardamom. Bring the mixture to a simmer (do not let boil), remove from heat and cover for 30 minutes, allowing the vanilla and cardamom to steep in the milk.
Pour the cream into a medium bowl and set a mesh strainer across the top of the bowl.
Reheat the steeped milk mixture until it is very warm. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until light and fluffy. Slowly ladle the warmed milk mixture into the beaten yolks one cup at a time, whisking constantly (this process will “temper” the yolks and make them ready for the next step). Once the milk and yolks have been combined, return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan. Continue this process until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of your spoon. You have now made a custard.
Pour the custard through the mesh strainer into the heavy cream, discarding the vanilla bean pod and any solids that catch on the mesh. Set the bowl of custard over an ice bath, stirring until cooled. Refrigerate for four hours or overnight. Freeze the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Wishing you and your sweetheart a wonderful Valentine’s Day and good eating!
~Jonathan Dye for OurLocaltopia