Recipes to Spice Up Your Valentine's Day

"Many so-called aphrodisiac recipes are basically wholesome ingredients prepared in a tasty way. The receptivity to romance probably comes from the general sense of relaxation and well-being good food induces."
Harry E. Wedeck


“The stomach carries the heart, and not the heart the stomach.” Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish author. (1547-1616), ‘Don Quixote de la Mancha’


 Or, as one of my favorite authors put it, “Kissin’ don’t last; cookin’ does, if you catch my meaning.”


Riz here, and after much research on aphrodisiacal foods, I’ve pretty much come to agree with Mr. Wedeck’s conclusion:  any dish can be an aphrodisiac if prepared with quality ingredients and with the intent of making you and your fellow diner(s) happy.  As February 14 approaches, many of us will throw far too much energy into finding the perfect romantic gift, the PERFECT restaurant, the perfect etc., etc., ad nauseum, while the rest of us will do our best to ignore the day.  


Some of us, however, try to strike a sensible, happy medium and celebrate Valentine’s Day as a time to show a little extra love without surrendering to the hype, and what better way to do that than to cook a special meal for you and your special someone?  (And that “special someone” could be your significant other, your child, yourself, or even your cat.  Love is what you make it.)  Unlike Thanksgiving or Christmas, when there’s a houseful of guests to feed and experiments can lead to disaster, Valentine’s Day is a more intimate holiday when you can pull out all the stops and experiment with something new and not have to worry about Great Aunt Whosherface complaining about your cooking.


Love ‘em & Impress ‘em Menu

·       Tea-marinated Duck Breasts with Port & Cherry Reduction

·       Roasted root vegetables

·       Brown rice with black seed

·       Steamed green beans with ponzu

·       Raspberry cheesecake brownies

·       Cream Earl Grey tea


I came across the original version of the duck recipe in Bon Appetit magazine years ago, and although I loved it, it needed something more. Considering the raves from the test audience, I think the tweaks worked.   Duck is a wonderful alternative to the everyday, not too expensive, fairly easy to find, VERY easy to prep, and utterly delicious. It has a reputation for being a very fatty meat; pan-searing alleviates this, as it renders out some of the fat.  Our menu calls just for duck breasts which can be found in the frozen case in some supermarkets or cryo-packed at the local butchers.  In the Greater Boston area, aside from Whole Foods, there are several independent meat markets and butchers that carry duck; just give a call ahead to make sure it’s in stock.  (I found mine at J&B in Stoneham.)  If you find your duck in the local supermarket, make sure it’s not already seasoned (for instance, already marinated in a l’orange sauce).  


A year ago, I discovered the secret to getting my family to eat their veggies:  roasting them.  Half an hour to forty-five minutes in the oven with a little olive oil and the right spices and herbs, and even the most despised vegetable becomes a caramelized delicacy.  “Root vegetables” mean anything for which the edible parts grow underground; literally, the roots, and the list is pretty long, including such staples as carrots, potatoes and parsnips, to radishes, beets, rutabagas, turnips, radishes and sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes.


Green beans are a pretty ordinary vegetable; however, when steamed and dressed with ponzu—a citrus-based soy sauce that is a staple in Japanese cooking—they become irresistible.  Find ponzu sauce in the Asian section of the grocery store (try the lime flavor) or make your own—there are some great, easy recipes on-line. 


Tea Marinated Duck Breast and Roasted Root Vegetables

Tea-Marinated Duck Breasts with Port & Cherry Reduction



1-2 tablespoons strong black tea (Los Andes Guatemalan is an excellent choice)

3 cups boiling water

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1-2 teaspoons freshly cracked Rainbow Peppercorns

1 teaspoon Red Alea Sea Salt

½ teaspoon Lime Peel Powder

½ teaspoon Powdered Ginger

2 cloves of garlic, minced


2 duck breasts

1-2 tablespoons butter



1/3 cup Port

1 tablespoon honey

2 cloves of garlic, minced

12 cherries (fresh or frozen; if frozen, defrosted)


Steep the black tea in the boiling water for the longest period recommended (about six minutes if using Los Andes).  Add the lemon juice & honey; stir to dissolve.  Let cool to room temperature (setting in the fridge to speed up the cooling is fine). 

Whisk the dry ingredients together; add to the tea and whisk in the soy sauce. 


Wash the duck breasts and pat dry; add to the marinade.  Let the duck soak in the marinade for at least four hours; longer is fine (six hours is, in my opinion, optimal). 


To cook, remove the duck breasts from the marinade and score the skin. Don’t cut into the meat; an easy way to make slashes in the skin (i.e. score it) is to pinch up the skin and pull the knife up through it.  Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.  When the butter sizzles, add the duck, skin side down, and cook for five minutes until the skin is well-browned.  Lower the heat to medium, turn over and cook for an additional six to eight minutes.  Shift the breasts to the oven to keep warm and finish cooking while you prepare the sauce.


Pour off all but two tablespoons of the drippings from the pan. Over medium heat, add the port, honey, garlic and cherries to the drippings; scrape the bottom of the pan and gently incorporate all ingredients. Bring to a low bubble and remove from the heat. 


Remove the duck from the oven; slice the breasts thinly.  For the “impressive display,” fan a few slices on the plate and drizzle with the sauce and cherries.  Add a small scoop of brown rice topped with Black Seed (or toasted Sesame Seeds), a mound of Roasted Root Vegetables (recipe below), and steamed green beans dressed with lime ponzu.


Roasted Root Vegetables


Preheat oven to 375°


1 lb. root vegetables

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 cloves garlic

1-2 teaspoons each of thyme, sage & rosemary if using dried; 2-3 sprigs if using fresh


Peel, wash and chop your veg into fairly uniform sticks—roughly 3-4” long, not more than ½“ thick. Add the oil to your roasting pan; tilt to be sure the entire bottom is coated.  Add the veg to the pan. Using the wide, flat blade of a carving knife, smash the garlic cloves and add to the pan.  If you’re using dried herbs, crumble them fine over the veg. If using fresh, bruise and add to the pan.  Pour the vinegar over the veg. With a large spoon, turn the mix over to evenly distribute the herbs and make sure everything is lightly coated with the oil and vinegar.  Roast in the center of the oven for 30 minutes; check, turn the veg over, and roast an additional 10-15 minutes. 


If you really want to take it over the top, serve raspberry cheesecake brownies for dessert with a pot of Cream Earl Grey.

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies


1 package of brownie mix*

1 8 oz. block of cream cheese, softened

1 egg

¼ cup sugar

Splash of vanilla extract

1 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen & defrosted)

1 tablespoon Raspberry Sugar

1-2 pinches Lime Peel Powder


Yield: 1 dozen


* Yes, dear reader, brownie mix.  There are some great mixes out there that are all natural (as well as those that are safe for folks with allergy issues).  My rule of thumb for using a mix:  if I recognize all of the ingredients AND would use them if I’m baking from scratch, the mix is OK. 


Preheat the oven to 325°.  Prepare the brownie mix according to the package directions (my favorite calls for 2 eggs and a stick of melted butter).  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners; divide the batter between them evenly.


In a small bowl, mash the raspberries into pulp. Sprinkle with the Raspberry Sugar and Lime Peel Powder & whisk until mixed thoroughly.


Blend together the softened cream cheese, egg, vanilla and sugar; beat with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy (roughly 2-3 minutes).  You have two options here:  you can either mix the raspberry pulp right before topping the brownies OR swirl it in.  Either way looks lovely and both ways taste fabulous.  Top each bit of brownie batter with a large dollop of the cheesecake batter. If you didn’t mix the raspberry pulp in, drop a bit of pulp on to each brownie, and, using a skewer or toothpick, swirl the pulp through the cheesecake batter.


Bake for 45 minutes; allow to cool slightly before serving. Store leftovers in the fridge.