I recently watched with great delight Billy Wilder's classic flick, "Some Like it Hot" starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis , and Jack Lemmon. A pair of struggling musicians during the Prohibition era witnessed the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre perpetrated by Chicago gangsters. This movie lends a comedic twist to the historic tragedy of Saint Valentine's beheading in ancient Rome.
Just as the movie ends on a happy and hilarious note, let's make this Feb. 14 steeped in joy and love by preparing a seductive meal for your special Valentine free of tragedy and food dangers.
For example, baby spinach is not always as safe and healthy as you would think by the periodic recall of this otherwise superfood due to a salmonella contamination. Romaine lettuce has also had a sketchy season with salmonella outbreaks.
Luckily these can be substituted for watercress, frisee, kale or arugula, a sexy little aromatic salad green nicknamed "rocket" or "roquette," once tossed with orchid bulbs and parsnips by Roman gourmets in the first century A.D. as an aphrodisiac antipasto. For an updated version mix tender, slightly bitter leaves with either fresh berries of all manners, or assorted dried fruits, including cranberries, cherries, apricots or dates, along with candied pecans in a warm champagne vinaigrette for a tantalizing wilted salad.
Seafood can be even more chancy with various contaminations, especially PCB's and mercury, along with antibiotics and GMO's. Steer clear of many farm raised species, swordfish, tuna and oysters, the latter once revered in the Middle Ages as a high-octane aphrodisiac, while Casanova, the 18th century's version of Charlie Sheen was said to have consumed 50 raw ones a day. Of course, that was before these bivalves became a reservoir for aquatic toxins.
The good news is there are substitutions for these too like other zinc heavyweights, especially Alaskan king crab, wild-caught lobster and salmon, Diver scallops, and caviar, which can lead to romantic possibilities. Whip up a passionate pizza with dollops of red and black roe, a seafood martini with chunks of assorted crustaceans swimming in a sassy tomato vodka sauce, or a spicy crab or scallop quesadilla.
Nuts have their own peculiarities. Peanuts, which are not really nuts, but rather legumes, are loaded with allergens and harmful aflatoxins (naturally occurring toxin produced by fungi). Cashews also contain the toxic compound, but in lower levels. While pine nuts have been linked to a mysterious phenomenon called "Pine Mouth," that tinkers with the taste buds of some eaters causing an unpalatable metallic taste for days following their consumption.
The good news is that these can be replaced by heart-healthy walnuts, cholesterol-lowering pistachios, iron-rich hazelnuts, or heady almonds, seductive symbols dating back to Biblical times. Almond's aphrodisiac appeal perhaps stems from the mother lode of heart-protective, fertility enhancing Vitamin E and zinc, along with phosphorous and dietary fiber for a euphoric sense of well-being. As an added boon almonds contain monounsaturated "friendly" fats, and pack a protein powerhouse for vitality on V-Day.
So for your special darling whip up a tempting breakfast or brunch, including a frothy almond milk and banana smoothie, or toasted almond crème brûlée French toast. How 'bout a playful lunch with heart-shaped almond butter and jelly sandwiches, or a romantic dinner with almond-encrusted baked salmon, or an almond pesto over thick pappardelle noodles.
While chocolate does not hold too many dangers, the white and milk chocolate varieties have a load of empty calories mostly from sugar and fat. Bittersweet is best with cocoa content of 60 percent or higher containing healthful antioxidants, and substances linked to the romantic wiring in the brain, so powerful that chocolate was banned in monasteries centuries back so monks would not be enticed to break their vows. Anything you do with chocolate is divine like a fondue with fresh or dried fruit, luscious mousse (see recipe), fudgy brownies or shaved on parfaits or gelatos.
One final warning: During dinner, limit libations as too much wine or Champagne causes drowsiness, while the meal itself should be light. Serve small portions of carbs and meat, which tend to make a person logy.
Recipe: Lusty Chocolate Mousse
• Ingredients: Flesh from 3 large, ripe avocados, mashed; 2/3 cup dark chocolate syrup; 1/3 cup dried cherries; 1 cup heavy whipping cream; 2 teaspoons Confectioners' sugar (optional); 3 tablespoons dark rum or fine cognac.
• Method: In a bowl, whisk together cream and sugar until stiff peaks form by using an electric mixer or whisk by hand. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine avocados, syrup, cherries and liquor. Blend well. Gently fold in whipped cream. Serve in martini glasses and garnish with chocolate of choice.