Even though many people believe that Valentine's Day was invented by Hallmark to sell more cards, it was actually invented by some poet-philosopher dude named Jeff (Geoffrey Chaucer) about 625 to 630 years ago, in a poem about love birds. There is certainly history prior to the Middle Ages, where Chaucer associated the day with romantic love.
There was at least one real "Saint Valentine". Although, there is some debate over whom he was. There were actually at least 3 men (upwards of 10, plus a woman named Valentina), all of the same name, two buried near one another in Northern Italy. This throws a bit of a curveball into the history of the third century Roman Valentinus. However, there is one that stands above the others. He died on February 14th, in the north of Rome.
About 1700 years ago, the ruler Claudius the Cruel, felt that the men of Rome were too attached to their families to join the ranks of the army. Thus, he decreed a ban on marriage. On February 14th, about 1740 years ago, our beloved saint was executed for secretly marrying young couples, in defiance of the marriage and engagement ban in Rome.
Prior to being beaten with clubs and having his head removed, he had befriended his jailer's daughter. Legend has it, that prior to his death, he left for her a farewell note. He signed it, "From Your Valentine".
Out of that story was born today's celebration of love, romance and union through the exchange of flowers, candy, poems, cards and paper Valentines, with 2013 having new vehicles for love sharing, such as e-cards and love coupons.
I, being DJ the Foodie, will focus less on the poetry and love coupons, and more on building a romantic evening. Please read through the following 7 recipes. They are all designed to build an enchanting, romantic and even somewhat sensual evening.
This blog post is going to twist and turn through my own thoughts and ideas, recipes and words. If you skim it, like I know many of you do, be sure to stop and read the Rosemary Skwered Lamb Loin recipe. I think it's one of the most romantic ideas I've ever run across. Unfortunately, I do not remember the inception of the idea, but do know I've been aware of it for about 15 years. It's a truly beautiful sentiment!
The Romantic Dinner
Almost certainly, the best way to generate a romantic event, is to do it "together". This implies spending hours in the kitchen, building your romantic evening, as one. The two of you can begin with a discussion of the menu; the rhyme and reason behind it. You may join one another on a trip to the store or farmer's market, where candles, flowers and ingredients may be purchased. You then return to the kitchen to create a magnificent feast.
The day can bring about a myriad of surprises, while you get to know each other in this potentially new environment, with new ingredients and love on the mind. Even if the meal isn't perfect, the day will be.
To Begin ...
Now, I know it's customary to have wine, or even champagne during a romantic evening. This being a low-carb blog, I feel I must point out that booze can cause a stall. Your body burns the alcohol first. No weight will be lost while your body burns through the sauce. That said, if you must imbibe, go for a rich high quality red wine. You may also have some clear or wood aged spirits, but be sure to mix (if you mix) with a sugar free mixer. Finally, the white wines and champagnes are also fine for the evening, but nothing too sweet and not too much!
Alternately, you can start with a hot chocolate!
Hot chocolates can conjure up visions of cuddling on a cold day. Aside from the warm snuggly imagery from the steaming hot cocoa are the effects stemming from chocolate.
Chocolate is often thought to have caffeine. Natural cocoa does not contain caffeine, but it DOES contain the similarly structured stimulant theobromine, which can affect the nervous system in very similar ways. In addition, it also contains high levels of the neurotransmitter "phenylethylamine", which causes changed in blood pressure and sugar-levels. This can lead to feelings of excitement and alertness. This works like an amphetamine to increase mood and decrease depression. "PEA" is often called the "love drug" because it causes your pulse to quicken, resulting in a feeling similar to being in love.
Chocolate can also increase endorphin levels, lowering pain and decreasing stress. The dark stuff also contains tryptophan, which affects serotonin levels, also serving as an anti-depressant.
I've personally chosen to throw out the marshmallows and instead add a dash of cinnamon and chili! This lends to a new taste sensation, while also making the lips swell, raising body temperature and tickling the tongue in a new way!
Who doesn't love a hot chocolate? It's cold outside, perhaps a bit drizzly. It might snow. Feeling a bit groggy? A Hot Chocolate would bring us back to a bright place!
Wait! What's that? This one has chilies in it? What?!
I wanted to do something a little different than a standard hot chocolate. First, this recipe is in complete and total respect to the origin of the word "Chocolate". It pays home to the Latin origin, while being simple to make and modernized enough for it to translate like a hot comforting cup of cocoa, but with a faint titillating tickle near the back your throat.
The word "chocolate" comes from the Aztec word "xocolatl". Xocolatl (meaning "bitter water") was an ancient beverage of cocoa beans, maize, various spices, honey and chili! This was a special drink, reserved for warriors and nobles. It's generally believed that this wasn't a sweet concoction and that sugar and cream was added by the Europeans, many years later.
Give it a shot! You won't be sorry!
[ VIEW RECIPE ]
Dinner could start with a smooth and luxurious soup, consisting of mussels and artichoke hearts.
Mussels were consumed in ancient Greece, where they were believed to be the playthings of the Goddess of Love. They are also full of manganese, iron, selenium and zinc, which are all essential for a healthy libido. In addition, they are contain amino acids which have the potential to raise sexual hormone levels (proven in a 2005 study on Rats).
Artichokes have also been considered an aphrodisiac, as far back as ancient Egypt who believed them to enhance sexual power. They are also high in the substance known as silymarinc, which is the main herb for liver function, skin and heart health.
Artichoke and Mussel Bisque
I made this soup the very first time about 50 years ago. This is one of my most prized creations. It all started after taking a tour of Penn Cove Shellfish, on Whidbey Island, Washington. When we left, they gave me a massive bag of fresh mussels, right from the sea. I needed to figure out what to do with them all!
This soup was one of the results. It also combines two of my other favorite ingredients, the artichoke and a fennel bulb.
This soup has a smooth and velvety quality. There's a rich flavor coming, not only from the cream, but from the artichoke heart. The fennel gives it a nice subtle sweetness, while also complementing the mussels with a light anise flavor.
This soup takes some work to make, but ... for a special occasion, a romantic evening, or just for a day spent playing in the kitchen, trying new things ... this is a good one. The end result is out of this world!
Video Note: Cleaning an artichoke, to get to the heart, takes a little bit of work. Here's a great video that shows the method.
Nutrition Note: I did not include the lemon in the nutrition, because it is not eaten. Also, the all the nutrition I can find for mussels seems to base the nutrition off of the mussel, without the shells. However, you purchase them "with" the shells. Mussels definitely have carbs. I'm going to assume 1 lb. of mussels has about 24 mussels, weighing about 12 grams each, when cooked and removed from their shells. This is about 4 mussels per person, and totals 288 grams with of "mussel meat".
[ VIEW RECIPE ]
The word "Aphrodisiac", meaning "a substance that increases sexual desire", has its roots in the ancient Greek Goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite was carried to earth on the shell of a scallop. Outside this legendary origin, scallops, like the bivalve mollusk mussels, also have the potential to raise sexual hormone levels in both men and women.
Seared Scallops Salad with Vanilla-Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
This is another dish with a somewhat strange inception. Believe it or not, this dish was born out of a lemon-poppy seed muffin!
I also wanted to do something with scallops for Valentine's Day. A well cooked scallop is always elegant and attractive. It shows you must care! It also gives me an excuse to talk about the goddess Aphrodite. Check out the blog for that one.
Vanilla is also a REALLY lovely companion to scallops. It's a very subtle perfume and matches a light seafood quite well. As do lemons! The whole thing just swirled around in my mind as this vanilla-lemon-poppy seed scallop dish. I wanted it to be a lightly warm salad. I thought a bit about the greens in the Cobb Salad I'd made just a few weeks before and I had my final touches!
It may sound like a somewhat strange string of thoughts, but the end result was both beautiful AND tasty!
[ VIEW RECIPE ]
Casanova said that shrimp got him in the mood for love. Madame Du Barry served shrimp in a champagne sauce in her dish of seduction.
Shrimps are packed with iodine, which helps the thyroid gland. This gland regulates energy, including your sexual energy. They're also full of omega-3 fatty acids, which the body needs for circulation. Good circulation is especially important for men ... in times like these.
Smoked Paprika Shrimp with Macadamia Cracker and Watercress
This dish has a somewhat strange origin. It's actually rooted in my mini-cheesecake recipe, believe it or not!
I had just made a crust with raw macadamia nuts. When I was packing them into the muffin tins, they formed such a compact layer, that I experimented by pushing some of the same crust into a cookie cutter shape, on parchment paper and baked it. The end result was a beautiful and delicious little cracker, in a perfect circle! Granted, it's VERY fragile, but it holds its shape well enough to be kind of a fun way to play with nuts.
Because I knew Valentine's Day was right around the corner, this seemed like a good place to use the idea. I pushed the macadamia nuts into heart shaped cookie cutters and baked them. They unmolded beautifully! Then, I knew I wanted shrimp. Two little shrimp, twisted and tangled together, where you can't tell which one is which is a nice romantic image, especially when they're leaning on a heart shaped cracker. Then, I thought about the watercress. This has a little heat to it, which translates to a little tickle of the tongue. I like a little added oral sensation when romance is on the mind! The aioli came about to just add a little more creamy fat to the dish and the smoked paprika? Well, the cracker made me think of chips and smoked paprika always makes me think of BBQ flavored chips. I like chips. Seemed like a fun one to throw at the dish.
Not a perfect or totally coherent string of thoughts, but the end result was lovely and quite delicious!
[ VIEW RECIPE ]
In addition to the stimulating effects of various nutrients, substances and compounds in the various ingredients, some of the time, the shape of the ingredient needs to do little more than implant certain ideas in the minds of two lovers.
Some "suggestive" examples would be: avocados, which the Aztecs referred to as the "testicle tree" (avocados hang from the tree in pairs), bananas, carrots, cucumbers, figs, oysters (also high in zinc, which improves sexual potency in men), asparagus, mussels, eggs and the less than subtle ...
Melon Ball Salad with Mint and Prosciutto
This is just a classic dish. It's also one of my most favorite combined "taste sensations". I love the combination of sweet and salty. Believe it or not, the fat ribbons within the prosciutto are also very subtly sweet. This historic combination is perfectly matched.
Normally, fresh melons are brought into the home, where very thin slices of cured and dried prosciutto are wrapped around the peeled wedges and eaten. A summer delight! I decided to somewhat simplify this dish and simply have the melons tossed with a very light dust of salt, pepper and olive oil. There's also a few sliced mint leaves. Finally, beautifully thinly sliced ribbons of prosciutto!
Fruity Low-Carb Note: Very few fruits are consumed with a low-carb way of eating. However, berries are occasionally eaten, due to their lower sugar content. Also on the low-end of the fruit sugar spectrum are melons. They're not as low as berries, but they are MUCH better than bananas, for example. Melons are an acceptable occasional low-carb splurge.
[ VIEW RECIPE ]
Rosemary Skewered Lamb Loin
This is a Valentine's Day Recipe, with a very special message. It falls under the category of "Romantic Recipe".
On its surface, this recipe is about as simple as it gets. It is little more than thin slices of lamb loin, skewered with rosemary stems, seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, then seared on both sides. That's it! It's simple, but flavorful and attractive. It would go nicely with just about any vegetable!
What makes this dish special, is its flame; more importantly, its smoky aroma ... its spirited musk.
Have you ever been walking down the street, in a foreign city and picked up a wafting odor from a neighborhood bakery? You were immediately taken to the small bakery you'd visited with your family, outside of the Grand Canyon, when you were younger! Has this ever happened?
Have you ever had someone walk by you in a restaurant, and have their perfume perfectly match your employer from 10 years ago? Even though you hadn't thought about that individual for 9 years ... there are you, facing the old hag. There you are ... there she is, as if no time had passed. Aroma and memory ... locked. Thoughts from years' past; unlocked and brought to the forefront of the mind.
Have you ever caught the odor of something that took you away to that place ... that time ... with that person ... in that magic moment ... ?
Maybe it was the smell of grandma's couch. Maybe it was the smell of coconut ice cream. Maybe it was the smell of wet dogs after a day at the beach. There are certain odors that burrow deep into our minds, bringing forth instant and immediate recall when the scent breezes in.
The sense of smell is a far more complicated sense than that of vision, where we have only 4 different kinds of light sensors in the eye. For the sense of touch, we can feel pressure, temperatures and pain. For taste, we have 5: salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. But ... there are more than 1000 different smell receptor types, which change and regenerate throughout our lifetimes, based on our surroundings and what we're accustomed to smelling! This complexity affords us the ability to discern and discriminate many thousands of different aromas, most of which we do not have names for. We know how to describe the things we see, the textures we feel, or the tastes we savor, but ... our vocabulary is no match for the spectrum of aroma that we are capable of.
The sense of smell is the oldest sense of them all. Even bacteria have something similar to smell. It's a method of knowing what chemicals are in the air or water around us. Smell is processed in the human brain in the "olfactory bulb", which is located right next to the hippocampus, a part deep inside the brain where information from all over the cortex converges. The hippocampus is vital for creating new "episodic" memories throughout one's lifetime. People with a damaged hippocampus have trouble remembering what has happened to them, even though they may be able to learn new skills and facts.
As if proximity of the olfactory bulb to the episodic memory making hippocampus deep in the brain wasn't enough, there's also the whole fact that aroma directly enters the brain. Vision stops at the surface of the eyes. Or touch, on the surface of the skin. These senses additionally travel through a relay station called the thalamus, before continuing on, into the brain. Smell doesn't have this little side trip. No pit stops. Straight into the brain it goes!
Smells are deep and old and wired closely with memory and the world around you.
This particular dish is less about the simplicity of its tantalizing flavors and more about creating a moment in time, where the creation of a new memory is discussed and shared between two close people. This is a dish where time should stop for a moment, as a thoughtfully prepared serving of lamb is served to your beloved ... and ignited. Both should inhale deeply of the smoke and rosemary vapor. Both parties should focus on that place in time, that moment, that perfect time capsule, where you are together ... breathing, allowing this episodic memory to form; stay aware of one another as the flames twist and writhe and slowly dwindle, leaving nothing more than a few toasted scraps of rosemary carbon.
This simple little dish is about creating a future moment, somewhere in the random distance. You walk into an old antique store. The elderly man behind the counter is burning a twine wrapped bundle of rosemary twigs ... and you are taken back to that time and place, where you were with your beau and you were ... in love.
Happy Valentine's Day!
[ VIEW RECIPE ]
Chocolate and Strawberries
This recipe isn't really much of a recipe. It's a Valentine's Day Recipe, for ... Strawberries!
The main idea is, you share a platter of strawberries with a variety of little things to dip them into. You can have things like whipped cream and chocolate sauce, for example. There are a myriad of different things you can try. Peanut butter, comes to mind! There's also cream cheese mixed with powdered erythritol and a little fresh butter, for an amazing cream cheese frosting! There's yogurt, too!
You can do fruit purees, like a blackberry puree, for example. You could make a warm brown butter fat bomb. You could even try something different. A little sour. You could try sour cream, for example. Or, what about balsamic vinegar?
You can also try other berries. You can get into melons, as well!
Don't forget about the nuts!
[ VIEW RECIPE ]
I hope your Valetine's Day is filled with all the love you deserve.
From Your Valentine,
DJ the Foodie