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Love Potion No. 9

By Chef Judi Gallagher

There are some Valentine’s Day customs that just can’t be escaped: red roses, wine, Hallmark cards, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. These icons have become part of our Valentine’s Day vernacular and – love ‘em or hate ‘em – they don’t seem likely to disappear anytime soon.

Now, I love tradition, but I also like staging a little rebellion every once in awhile. For example, I don’t usually eat chocolate, which is obviously a Valentine’s Day staple. So, instead of a box of chocolate or a super-rich chocolate dessert, why not try a fruity strawberry trifle, made with whipped cream, amaretto, and fresh-baked pound cake? You still get the feeling of the season but in a slightly different package. Or try flambe bananas foster, which will bring a spark to the table in more ways than one. Practice before you try this preparation for an audience.

And instead of going out for an overpriced dinner, try cooking at home. Is there anything more special than serving a home cooked meal for your significant other, one that’s been prepared with love as its main ingredient? We all know that food can be an aphrodisiac, so why not make a dish with a known one, like oysters, chile peppers, peaches, mint, ginger, honey, mangoes, saffron, almonds, rosemary, vanilla, or figs? With a list of ingredients like this, the possibilities are almost endless. How about an Asian-inspired feast with ginger-infused dishes? Or perhaps baked oysters with bacon and leeks?

As far as cocktails go, champagne is always right, of course, but why not mix it up a bit? Pomegranate-Champagne punch is delicious and refreshing; a cava cocktail provides a nice spark of red and combines blood oranges, bitters, lemon juice and cava in a most attractive way. If fruity drinks aren’t your style, try a Cupid classic gin martini.

All right, and if you still want to do chocolate, why not think outside the box? There are some wonderful, sweet options out there that will allow you to surprise your sweetheart, such as hand painted chocolate love bugs from John & Kira’s; shoe- and necklace-shaped chocolates from Oliver Kita’s Fashion Collection; and chocolate Miis (resembling your Nintendo Wii avatar) from Paul Pape Designs. Definitely not your average Valentine’s Day chocolates.

Here’s are some of my favorite Valentine’s Day recipes. What are your favorite Valentine’s Day traditions or non-traditions? Tell me how you’ll be celebrating this year!

Classic Oysters Rockefeller

(Adapted from Chef Tyler Florence)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup bread crumbs, Panko preferred

2 shallots, chopped

2 cups chopped fresh spinach

1/4 cup Pernod

Salt and pepper, to taste

Dash red pepper sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 tablespoon chopped chervil or parsley

2 dozen oysters, on the half shell

Rock salt

Lemon wedges, for garnish

Melt butter in a skillet. Saute the garlic for 2 minutes to infuse the butter. Place the bread crumbs in a mixing bowl and add half the garlic butter, set aside. To the remaining garlic butter in the skillet, add shallots and spinach, cook for 3 minutes until the spinach wilts. Deglaze the pan with Pernod. Season with salt and pepper, add a dash of red pepper sauce. Allow the mixture to cook down for a few minutes. Finish off the bread crumbs by mixing in olive oil, Parmesan and chervil, season with salt and pepper. Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of the spinach mixture on each oyster followed by a spoonful of the bread crumb mixture. Sprinkle a baking pan amply with rock salt. Arrange the oysters in the salt to steady them. Bake in a preheated 450 degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes until golden. Serve with lemon wedges and red pepper sauce, and Mignonette sauce.

MIGNONETTE SAUCE

3/4 cup champagne vinegar

2 shallots, minced

2 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns

1 tablespoon chopped chervil

1/2 lemon, juiced

In a small bowl whisk together all ingredients. Cover and chill 1 hour before

serving with oysters. Yield: 3/4 cup

Fresh Lavender and Orange Chamomile Tea with Honey

Is there anything cozier than cuddling up in bed with the one you love and a hot pot of tea? This recipe, with its soothing lavender and bright orange, has one connotation: comfort.

1 orange, sliced ¼ inch thick

¼ cup loose-dried chamomile flowers or 6 chamomile tea bags

4 sprigs fresh lavender, about 3 inches long

¼ cup honey

Bring 6 ½ cups of water to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in the orange juice, chamomile, and lavender. Cover the pan and let stand for 6 minutes. Strain the tea and stir in the honey. Warm to just below a simmer if necessary. Serve immediately.

Buttermilk Chocolate Fudge Cake with Fudge Icing

I used to make this cake for Legal Seafood in Boston, and you can’t go wrong with it. Serve it with a tall glass of milk with a splash of Bailey’s mixed in.

1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cups white sugar

2 large eggs

3 heaping tablespoons of Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder

½ cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup boiling water

2 cups all-purpose flour

Frosting

1 cup white sugar

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ cup whole milk

¼ cup butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13- by-9-inch pan. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the buttermilk and baking soda. Set aside in a warm place. In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups sugar, eggs, 3 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder, oil, and 2 teaspoons vanilla until blended. Stir in the boiling water, then gradually beat in the flour. Stir in buttermilk mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Allow to cool.

Fudge Icing

In a saucepan combine 1 cup sugar, ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, milk, butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Bring to boil and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Using an electric mixer, beat icing for about 4 minutes or until it thickens to a spreading consistency. Pour over cooled cake.

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