Dr. Ruth Westheimer -- aka "Dr. Ruth," as she's known to millions -- has assured us that an aphrodisiac is anything you think it is: "It's all in the mind," she says. Thus, in celebration of Valentine's Day, anything goes. We have the noted sex therapist's permission to plan a lover's day menu that may be indulgent, rich, guilt-free and thoroughly sinful.
Love, food and sex have been linked since time immemorial. Cupid -- the Valentine symbol of love and lovers -- is known as that mischievous, winged cherub whose arrows would pierce the hearts of victims, causing them to fall deeply in love.
Folks knew of the seductive powers of food for centuries. Tomatoes (known as the "love apple"), asparagus and chocolate were all claimed to be certified aphrodisiacs -- defined as something that arouses or intensifies sexual desire.
So, for Valentine's Day, it's a special dinner, whether out or at home. It may be just the two of you, or you may want to include sons and daughters with their significant others, or just close friends. But the night (and the day, for that matter) is for romance, so get the kids to bed early or hire a sitter to keep them occupied, chill the bubbly for a candlelight dinner and let the answering machine pick up calls.
Culinarily challenged or no time to spare? No problem! You can purchase some of the food from a good takeout place (of which probably a dozen exist in your neighborhood), making certain it's what your spouse or significant other adores. Then just transfer it to a beautiful platter or serving dish.
For example, those favorite baked chicken breasts you pick up occasionally will be elevated to haute cuisine when reheated with a spoonful of marmalade and a bit of brandy splashed over top. Dessert may be individual cherry tarts right from the bakery, served on a crystal plate. Or, to keep within a budget, whip up some deceptively simple but tantalizing dishes listed below to create a meal your own.
If there are more than two of you, print out copies of the menu to be placed at each setting -- think pink, red and white. You can also get an inexpensive white tablecloth, tie napkins with red or pink ribbon, and scatter heart-shaped candy or confetti randomly onto the cloth. And for the really romantic, don't forget to tuck a red rose or other favorite flower in your sweetheart's napkin.
All the recipes below may be easily doubled.
lightly beaten egg white
2 Tbsps. finely chopped dark chocolate
1/4 cup chocolate-flavored kosher liqueur
1/4 cup cherry brandy
1/4 cup vodka
2 Tbsps. chocolate syrup
chocolate-covered cherries (optional)
Dip the top edges of two martini glasses into the egg white, then into the dark chocolate. Set aside.
Fill a cocktail shaker with shaved ice.
Add the chocolate liqueur, brandy, vodka and the chocolate syrup. Shake briskly.
Strain the mixture into the martini glasses.
Top with a chocolate-covered cherry (optional).
Makes 2 to 3 drinks.
Approximate nutrients per martini: calories, 249; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 22 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 11 mg; sodium, 30 mg.
Sweet-and-Spicy Salmon Papillote
Papillotes mean "butterflies" in French. When baked, these tiny packages look like little hearts. You will need parchment paper, which is available in any supermarket.
6 oz. salmon fillet, skinless
2 Tbsps. honey-mustard dressing
1 small potato, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. diced sundried tomatoes
1 Tbsp. minced shallots
2 tsps. grated ginger root
1 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon or 1/4 teaspoon dried
2 tsps. lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 450°.
To Make the Packages: Cut out 2 pieces of parchment paper, each 14 inches long. Fold in half along the short edge to make them about 7 inches wide. Cut out two hearts, so that when unfolded, each measures about 13 inches wide and 11 inches long.
Spray one side with nonstick cooking spray.
Cut the salmon across the grain into 8 strips. Lay 4 salmon strips, overlapping slightly, on half of each heart. Brush with the honey-mustard dressing.
Top with the potato and sundried tomatoes.
Scatter the shallots, ginger root and tarragon over top.
Sprinkle with lemon juice, and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Seal by folding the other half of each heart over the fish. Begin at the top, and pleat and crimp the edges twisting the bottom points to seal.
Place on a baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until the papillotes are puffed and beginning to brown.
When serving, let stand a few minutes, then carefully open to avoid burning. Steam is hot.
These papillotes may be prepared ahead of time, and then cooked when desired.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 289; protein, 19 g; carbohydrates, 17 g; fat, 17 g; cholesterol, 53 mg; sodium, 130 mg.
Romantic Petite Salad
1 small, ripe, firm pear, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 bunch watercress
4 strawberries, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. powdered sugar
salt and freshly ground pepper
Brush pear slices with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
Arrange the watercress on two salad plates. Top with the pears and strawberries arranged attractively.
In a small bowl or cup, whisk together the vinegar, oil, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.
Drizzle sparingly over salad.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 218; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 23 g; fat, 15 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 171 mg.
Honey-Kissed 'Love Apples'
12 cherry tomatoes
11/2 Tbsps. honey, warmed
1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tsps. grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400°.
Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Prick each tomato 2 to 3 times with a fork.
Mix the breadcrumbs and the Parmesan cheese together.
Brush tomatoes with honey, then toss in the breadcrumb mixture.
Arrange in one layer on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes, or until coating is golden-brown and crisp.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 134; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 28 g; fat, 1 g; cholesterol, 2 mg; sodium, 446 mg.
Delicate Roasted Asparagus
10 thin asparagus spears
2 Tbsps. walnut oil
2 tps. finely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 475°.
Place a roasting pan in the oven to heat, about 7 to 8 minutes.
Brush the asparagus with oil on all sides. Place in one layer in heated roasting pan.
Roast for 10 minutes, or until beginning to brown.
Garnish with the walnuts.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 137; protein, 0 g; carbohydrates, 0 g; fat, 15 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 0 mg.
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup canned passion- fruit nectar
1/4 cup crushed pineapple
2 Tbsps. cherry brandy
nondairy whipped topping
Heat the water and sugar in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Simmer for 3 minutes. Cool.
Stir in the passion-fruit nectar, pineapple and brandy. Pour into a shallow dish and place in freezer. Whisk every 30 minutes.
The mixture should be frozen within 2 hours.
Serve in champagne glasses, topped with whipped topping.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 196; protein, 0 g; carbohydrates, 48 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 4 mg.
Cupid's Candy Cupcakes
1 box of cake mix, prepared according to package directions
12-15 chocolate candy kisses
Line a tray of cupcake tins with baking liners. Fill the cups halfway with the cake mixture.
Remove the paper from the chocolate kisses and gently press a chocolate kiss in each cupcakes.
Place a 1/2-inch ball of crumbled aluminum foil between each liner and one side of the tin. This pushes the paper into the batter to form a heart.
Bake as directed on package directions, but check for doneness 3 to 4 minutes early.
Cool, remove aluminum foil balls, and frost with pink frosting and silver balls.
Makes 12 to 15 cupcakes.