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When it comes to setting a valentine evening table, don’t skimp on the fundamentals. Flowers and candlelight aren’t just loved cliches. They’re sexy and alive, which is the kind of mood you want to create. The flower arrangement should be simple and low, so it doesn’t obscure your view of each other or distract unduly from the food.

The candles, however, should be tall enough to cast their illumination downward from above eye level, bathing you both in the flattering overhead light. Low votive candles, on the other hand, can make you look like Count Dracula. Neither the flowers nor the candles should have overpowering scents. Just a hint of beeswax and lavender will complement the food’s aroma perfectly. I don’t even wear perfume when I cook because it can clash with the beautiful smells of the food.

The tablecloth or place-mats should be spotlessly clean, the napkins are soft, not starched. The music should be set low enough so as not to compete with the conversation. And don’t forget to turn on the answering machine and turn off the ringer. The whole point of a valentines day evening is to make it stand out from the other nights of the week. No television, and no electric lights (unless they’re on a dimmer).

A valentines dinner is not the time for comfort food. Spark your flame with foods that will keep you in the mood all night. These 8 pointers will get you off to a good start.

A glass of wine can be a turn-on, but if the two of you polish off a whole bottle with dinner, you may not be awake for the encore. One strategy that works for me is to alternate wine with nonalcoholic beverages, such as an exotic fruit juice cocktail. Always have seltzer or water available to quench your thirst. And a minty or lemony glass of iced tea is a perfect mid-meal pick-me-up.

Stay away from dense, greasy foods and large portions. Sometimes I like to serve several small courses that each feature a different flavor accent, rather than a substantial main course because nobody wants making love on a bloated stomach. If you’re feeling peckish afterward, you can always have grapes and cookies in bed.

Some men might consider red meat sexy, but it’s the highest-fat meal imaginable — and the least digestible. Some fish and shellfish are reputed to have high aphrodisiac properties, (particularly oysters because of their high zinc content.) I can’t vouch for that, but fish has a more subtle flavor, and it goes well with white wine or champagne.

Whether as a main course or a side dish, be sure your meal includes some fresh, brightly colored vegetables that are lightly cooked. Garnish servings with sliced fresh fruit or fresh greens.

Speaking of improved blood flow, here’s another idea for dessert: Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, conducted a study in which men were given masks containing various odors, then measured for an increase in penile blood flow. Out of about two dozen food and food/flower odors, the smell of pumpkin pie and lavender caused the most significant increase in penile blood flow. Older men experienced the most significant effect with vanilla. So put a sprig of color in your flower bouquet — or a dot of lavender perfume behind your ears — and try my particular Maple Pumpkin Pie recipe.

One final serving suggestion:

Since the smell rather than the taste of pumpkin pie is what gets men’s blood flowing, you don’t have to serve it immediately following the meal. When the cake is done baking, set it where the aroma can waft into the dining room while you sip your after-dinner coffee. If you make it up to bed before dessert (a strategy I strongly recommend), you’ll still have the pie waiting for you as a midnight snack between bedroom courses.

Serves: 2 Prep Time: 20 minutes Total Time: 40minutes

Four Onions and Confetti Peppers

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound mixed red and yellow onions
  • peeled and left whole or cut into chunks
  • 1/4 red pepper diced
  • 1/4 green pepper diced
  • 1/4 yellow pepper diced
  • One bay leaf
  • Salt (optional)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch sugar
  • Two tablespoons chopped scallions
  • Two tablespoons chopped chives

Instructions

1. In a large nonstick skillet, cook the onions for 2 minutes, then add peppers, bay leaf, salt (if using) pepper, and sugar in 1/2 inch water — adding more water if necessary — and cook for 4 to 6 minutes.
2. Add the scallions and cook for another 6 to 8 minutes until all the big onion and peppers are cooked.
3. Discard the bay leaf. Sprinkle with chives.
4. Serve hot.
Each serving: About 57 calories, .2 g total fat (0 g saturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 9 mg sodium.

A Lover’s Guide to Aphrodisiacs

On the female side are cherries, dates, figs, artichokes, avocados, and oysters – the last of which Casanova used, along with chocolate and champagne, in many of his tote-e-testes to produce a corps-sir-corps. (This combination must have been a good one since two nuns were among his conquests!) Other items historically considered aphrodisiac include sweet potatoes, chilies, vanilla, onions, tomatoes (called “love apples” in the Renaissance), mushrooms, dove brains, Tigers’ whiskers, goose tongues, pine nuts, goat liver, the musk glands of a deer, and believe it or not – Spam.

This exhausting list includes that a person might want to eat before sex, and plenty of items that no one would want to eat under any other circumstances. But do any of them work? Of course, the answer to that question lies with the ingested, and the vast powers of a suggestion, but the scientific verdict is a big fat no. Does this mean that would-be Valentine’s Day seducers must risk death by resorting to Spanish fly (ground-up South American beetles that irritate the genitals and produce swelling and erection)? Or are lovers just left to their wits? Well, according to science, they are. But according to me, I can tell you that the chocolate and champagne certainly can’t hurt.

Sharmin Begum

The author Sharmin Begum

I have loved spicy food, Mexican in particular, since I was a child as my father was from El Paso where I acquired a taste for it on our many visits. I have cooked Tex-Mex all my adult life, but about 7 years ago I began cooking authentic Mexican food using my own ingredients and making my own tortillas, tamales, etc. On one of my visits to NM I attended the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta and took some excellent cooking classes at the Santa Fe Cooking School and the Old Mexico Grill. I love New Mexican food equally as well as Mexican.

I also grow my own chile peppers, tomatillos, and herbs like cilantro and epazote because they are not available locally.

I got into web publishing because I enjoy “meeting” fellow Chile-heads from all over the world and sharing my passion with them.

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