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Aphrodisiacs

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Valentine's Day is nearly here, and a lot of folks are looking for novel ways of saying, "I love you".  Last week we talked about how to make your own candy. Today we're going to continue the discussion with some advice on how to throw a little kindling on the fires of romance. And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino points out, history is filled with examples of foods that wishful thinkers claimed would provide a little spark of passion. They are known as aphrodisiacs.

There are dozens of foods that have pseudo-scientific claims to amorous effectiveness, but only chocolate has an actual scientific basis to back it up. Chocolate contains two chemicals that are known to have the desired effect.

Tryptophan is a contributor to serotonin, which is involved with sexual arousal.

Phenylethylamine is related to amphetamine, which is associated with falling in love.

A large number of foods are reputed to add to sexual allure, and although there may not be any science backing them up, one cannot rule out the purely psychological effect that can have.  Here are a few the Jerry has selected.

Roasted Oysters with Spinach & Parmesan

For the compound butter:

½ lbs. unsalted butter at room temperature

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup baby spinach leaves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, plus ½ cup for roasting

Salt & Pepper

Place the butter, garlic, spinach and 2 tablespoons of Perm in a bowl of a food processor fit with the chopping blade. Season with salt and pepper and purée until well combined. Place a piece of plastic wrap on a clean work surface. Place the compound butter on the plastic wrap and roll into a log about ½ inch in diameter. Tie each end and refrigerate for at least one hour. Unwrap the butter and cut into ¼ inch disks. Shuck 24 oysters and place a disk of compound butter on each and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Roast in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes or until the butter has just begun to melt. Serve warm.

Saffron Blini

(The traditional blini is made with a yeast leaven batter. We’ve tried both and feel this recipe works just as well with a lot less effort!)

Ingredients

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

3 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon white sugar

1 ¼ cups milk

1 egg

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Large pinch of saffron threads

Saffron Blini cont’d

Place the milk in a sauce pan set over medium heat. Stir in the saffron and bring the milk to a simmer. Remove from the heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Strain the milk through a fine sieve and discard the saffron.  In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Pour in the milk, egg and melted butter; mix until smooth. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop (we like to use a squeeze bottle for this) the batter onto the griddle, using enough to make small 1.5 inch in diameter pancakes. Brown on both sides and serve warm with sour cream and caviar.

Lobster Risotto

Lobster Stock

Ingredients

The shells from four lobsters that have been roasted in the oven

1 large yellow onion, cut into ½ inch dice

1 large carrot, cut into ½ inch dice

2 ribs of celery cut into ½ inch dice

1 bay leaf

10 black peppercorns

Place all of the ingredients in a large stock pot and cover with cold water. Place on a burner set on medium high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered for three hours. Strain out the solids. Reserve the liquid.

For the Risotto

Ingredients

1 lb. lobster meat, cooked and roughly chopped

6 cups lobster stock

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, cut into ¼ inch dice

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 cups Arborio rice

1⁄3 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped

1⁄2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Heat lobster stock in a small saucepan over medium heat; set aside and keep warm. Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat; add onions and garlic to saucepan. Cook, stirring, until soft, 3 minutes. Add rice; cook until opaque, 3–4 minutes. Add wine; cook until absorbed, 1–2 minutes. Add reserved stock 1⁄2 cup at a time, cooking until each addition is absorbed before adding next amount. Cook, stirring often, until liquid has all been used and rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Add parmesan and tarragon and cook, stirring, until liquid is creamy, about 3 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in lobster meat. Season with salt and pepper.

Parsley Potatoes

Ingredients

2 lbs. Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

6 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter cut into pieces

½ cup heavy cream

¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

Salt and hot sauce to taste

In a large pot set over medium high heat, cover the potatoes and garlic cloves with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the potatoes until they are fork tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return to the pot. Add the butter, heavy cream and parsley to the potatoes. With a potato masher, smash the potatoes until smooth and creamy, leaving a few small pieces of cooked potato for texture. Season to taste with salt and hot sauce and serve hot.

Coffee Currant Sauce

Ingredients

4 cups veal stock

4 cups strong brewed coffee

8 oz. red currant jelly

In a sauce pot set over medium high heat, bring all of the ingredients to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until reduce to about 1 cup.

Double Chocolate Biscotti

Ingredients

1 ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ cup + plus 2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1-2 tablespoons Confectioners sugar

Biscotti cont’d

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl and mixing well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and chocolate chips and stir on low speed until just combined. Dust a work surface with flour. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the sticky dough out onto the work surface and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Using your hands, shape the dough into a rough ball (if it's still too sticky, dust with a bit more flour) and cut in half. Form the dough pieces into two short logs by rolling back and forth. Place the logs onto the prepared baking sheet and shape into longer logs about 3/4-inch high and 2 inches wide. Allow enough space for the logs to spread a few inches while they bake. Bake for about 35 minutes, until firm to the touch. Let the biscotti logs cool on the pan for about 5 minutes, or until just cool enough to touch (if you wait any longer, the biscotti will be difficult to cut); then, using a sharp knife, slice the logs on the diagonal into 3/4-inch slices (I do this right on the baking sheet). They will crumble just a bit; don't worry about it. Turn the biscotti on their sides (so that the cut sides are down) and place back in the oven for 10 minutes to dry and crisp up. Let cool on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

When cool, use a fine sieve to dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
As General Partner of Clipper City Brewing Company, L.P., Hugh J. Sisson is among Baltimore's premier authorities on craft brewing and a former manager of the state's first pub brewery, Sissons, located in Federal Hill. A fifth generation Baltimorean, Hugh has been involved in all aspects of craft brewing.