Sure, Valentine's Day might be a commercial sham, a day you're supposed to show someone you love them with a cookie-cutter card and box of chocolates. Not that there's anything wrong with proclaiming your love, but think outside of that box of chocolates -- cook a meal full of aphrodisiac foods. Los Angeles-based cookbook author Amy Reiley will show you how.
Reiley, who earned a Master of Gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu, has become quite the authority on aphrodisiacs, having penned two cookbooks, Fork Me, Spoon Me, and her latest, Romancing the Stove. Each is chock-full of simple recipes that use some pretty sensual ingredients, and many you can find locally. Plan your romantic dinner--for Valentine's Day or any day--hit the farmers market, cook dinner, light a few candles ... you can imagine the rest.
Although the Food and Drug Administration claims there is no such thing as an aphrodisiac, Reiley and ancient wisdom beg to differ. In her Guide to Aphrodisiac Foods on the website Eat Something Sexy, she explains: "Throughout history, various foods have been held in the highest regards as aphrodisiacs. Some are suggestive in shape, many have arousing aromas or a sensual mouthfeel. Some raise body temperature and others provide instant energy."
So, yes, while the FDA says oysters won't officially get your motor running, Reiley still puts them at the top of her list. "I think oysters just ARE sexy," says Reiley. "In their faint, fresh, ocean air aroma, seductive mouthfeel and just the luxury of them. There really is nothing like an oyster." Our local oysters from Carlsbad, which you can get at many farmers markets, or Morro Bay Oyster Company, now available at many SoCal Whole Foods, do the trick.
She's big on avocados, too. "Slippery in texture, subtle in flavor and loaded with essential nutrients, they're brilliant food in the games of seduction," explains Reiley. Beets, salmon, uni (sea urchin), pumpkin and even arugula also have stimulating properties.
The powers of pomegranate go as far back to the time of ancient Greeks. It's one of the finest sources of antioxidants, but the color and flavor are distinct and exciting. "Pomegranates pop in the mouth with a burst of flavor, and their color is that of a Valentine," says Reiley.
In Romancing the Stove, she uses the fruit in a marinade for pork loin and "sexy vegetables" -- roasted sweet potatoes and fennel, both noted libido-lifters, in pomegranate butter. Serve the dish with quinoa, a good-for-you grain with a little mint mixed in for flavor (and fresh breath).
Pomegranate Roasted Pork Loin with Vegetables
Recipe adapted from Romancing the Stove by Amy Reiley
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 shallot, finely minced
2 cups pomegranate juice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 1 ¼ pound pork loin
1 medium sweet potato
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 bulb fennel, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon pomegranate kernels
¼ cup white wine
1 shallot, finely minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
In a plastic bag, combine the shallots, 1 cup of pomegranate juice and salt. Add the pork loin, close the bag and place in a shallow container, and allow to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°.
In a small saucepan, combine the remaining pomegranate juice, wine and shallot to a boil and reduce to approx 2 tablespoons. Turn heat to low and whisk in butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Add salt to taste.
In a large roasting pan, toss to coat the sweet potato, parsnip, fennel, onion and garlic and 2 tablespoons of the pomegranate butter. Add the pork loin to the pan and cook, uncovered, for 30 to 45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 138 degrees. Remove the meat from the pan and cover with foil. Allow loin to rest for 15 minutes.
Test vegetables with a fork. If they do not feel tender, return pan to the oven while meat is resting. When tender, remove from oven. Slice meat and drizzle with remaining pomegranate butter to taste. (You may choose not to use all the butter. Any leftovers can be served over grilled chicken or steaks.) Sprinkle with pomegranate kernels and serve.