By Kathy Taylor
Valentine’s Day. Romance. Seduction. Amor….The very essence of seduction is to stimulate the five senses: sight, sound, feel, taste, and smell. Starting the evening with a beautifully laid table, flowers, candlelight, soft music, a hint of perfume, and time to enjoy it all. This is not the night to be slaving over the stove, chopping, mixing, stirring, it’s all about make-ahead, have ready in the fridge to pop into the oven so you can relax and enjoy the evening. If you want a big elaborate production, go out to your favourite restaurant and really put on the dog, but if you want to do it right at home, simple elegant luxury is what it’s all about.
The Mexican pantry has ALL the ingredients for a wonderful Valentine’s dinner, and as a matter of fact, it boasts some of the sexiest food in the world. Avocadoes, oysters, lobster, chilli and chocolate are all considered aphrodisiacal foods. Some of the reputations are based on science and nutrition, but some enjoy a lusty reputation because of their appeal to our senses. Do you know how avocadoes got their Spanish name, acuacate? “The Aztecs called it ahuacatl, meaning “testicle tree” because of what they perceived as its resemblance to that part of male anatomy. Writes Karen Hursh Graber in her article about Valentine’s Day and Mexican aphrodisiacs.
The perfect romantic dinner is obviously very personal. The meal should capture all five basic tastes, a bit of salt, a hint of sweetness, a little sour for balance, a slightly bitter edge, and …umami, which is an almost indefinable savouriness, an unctuous mouth feel. Believe me, you know it when it hits your palate.
When planning my romantic dinner, I can source almost all of my ingredients from the Mexican pantry, but I have to pack my passport and travel to France for Champagne. Although Baja California is beginning to produce sparkling wines, “vinos espumosos”, it is a young venture, and for my special dinner, I crave Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut. (By the way 75% of all champagne sold in Mexico is this brand, so it is widely available. Read my article about champagne tasting. www.banderasnews.com/0512/rr-ultraglam.htm
Once I have my bubbly, it is time to plan the menu. All of these dishes can be prepared ahead, and served or cooked languorously. My essentials – oysters with a mignonette, a simple first course of chilled asparagus with lemony vinaigrette, a sexy main like sablefish and a decadent dessert featuring chilli and chocolate. Mmmmm.
Of course, oysters are at the top of the list of aphrodisiacal foods – their smell, shape, and mouth feel all contribute to their reputation, but it is their high zinc content (100g raw oysters contain 65.6mg zinc) that is essential to sexual development. Casanova reputedly consumed 50 raw oysters every morning! Local oysters range from tiny to large – they are all the same Pacific oyster, only harvested at different stages of development. The tiny delicate slightly briny ones are best raw, and the larger ones really do well in any baked version, especially Diablo style.
When you prepare the next course, remember that no one likes a limp asparagus, especially on Valentine’s Day. Steam the asparagus lightly, chill immediately, and serve with your favourite light vinaigrette.
A main course that fits all our requirements for a romantic meal – prep ahead, delicious, sumptuous, is a sablefish recipe that I have adapted here to mahi mahi. The mahi does not have the same fat content as the sablefish, so try not to overcook it.
Our final course from the kitchen is dessert, a wonderfully spicy molten lava cake with a surprise center. This chilli studded chocolate dessert continues on the aphrodisiac trail; the chilis lend a fiery kick to the luscious endorphin-releasing chocolate, bound to make you feel both good and hot at the same time. The secret to this sexy centre is the extra step –making a chilli spiked ganache, cooling and shaping it into balls, and plopping them in the centre of each little lava cake.
Raw oysters with a Classic Mignonette
- 2 dozen small shucked oysters
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground white or black peppercorns (vary amount according to taste)
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots or sweet onions
- Salt to taste
- Mix the pepper, vinegar and shallots together and spoon over the oyster.
Tamari Sablefish, courtesy of Chef Brock Windsor, Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler, British Columbia
- 1 lb. sablefish, cut in 4 pieces
- 1 cup tamari soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh ginger
- ½ bunch cilantro, chopped
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 2 cups baby greens Vinaigrette
- 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 cup seeded, coarsely chopped cucumber
Combine soy sauce, honey, ginger, cilantro and garlic in a dish large enough to hold the fish. Place fish pieces in marinade, cover dish tightly with plastic and let stand in fridge for at least an hour, and up to 5 hours. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400 F. Remove fish from marinade, blot dry with a paper towel and place in a buttered baking dish. Bake fish in oven 8-12 minutes, or until it is done.
Combine vinaigrette ingredients in a pan and stir well to combine. Add cucumbers and heat until they are warmed through – don’t overheat. Spoon cucumbers onto plate, place sablefish on top, and garnish with greens. That is umami! And the champagne is still the perfect accompaniment.
Mexican Spiced Lava Cakes (makes 2, can easily be doubled or tripled)
- 1 ounce dark chocolate
- 2 TBS whipping cream
- 1 tsp ancho chili powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 ounces dark chocolate
- 1/2 stick butter (4 TBS) scant
- 3 TBS sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 TBS cake flour
To make the centers, melt the chocolate and whipping cream in a double boiler or in the microwave. Stir in the ancho powder and cinnamon until completely mixed. Chill this mixture in the refrigerator. When chilled, form into two balls.
Preheat the oven to 400º F. Butter 2 six-ounce ramekins.
Melt dark chocolate and butter together in double boiler or microwave. Whisk to thoroughly incorporate the butter into the chocolate.
In a small mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to whisk egg, egg yolk, sugar and vanilla until light, about 5 minutes. Gently fold in the chocolate mixture and flour until just incorporated. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared ramekins.
Press a chocolate ball into the center of each ramekin. Bake between 7 and 10 minutes, until cakes are firm. Let cakes sit on a rack for 3 to 5 minutes. Run a knife between the edge of the cakes and the ramekins. Invert a plate on each ramekin, flip plate and ramekin over, remove ramekin and serve. Garnish with powdered sugar, raspberry coulis and fresh raspberries.
Kathy Taylor is a freelance writer who arrived in Huatulco in 2007 by sailboat. Her passions are food, sailing and Mexico. She writes about life in Huatulco on her blog http://www.lavidahuatulco.blogspot.com .