Come Valentine’s Day, kitchen talk turns to aphrodisiacs. You know, those foods thought to give “a little vroom vroom for the romance,” joked Jaimi Blackburn of Fearless Restaurants.
Sitting at White Dog Cafe in Haverford, she and executive chef Mike Selser discussed dishes with an amorous “extra something something” like oysters.
“The oysters are just light and fresh and, for me, a fun take on a first course,” said Selser, who serves six on the half shell - three raw, three baked with collard greens and corn bread for a riff on Rockefeller. “It’s delicious. It’s full of flavor.”
So is his grilled salmon with bacon lardons, French lentils and roasted root vegetables in a cabernet reduction.
“It’s rich and buttery and a little bit meaty because of the lentils,” he explained. “It’s got this really great fat content, which is the part that helps your libido.”
Chocolate’s a longtime symbol of love, so end the meal in a Chocolate Haze. Savor chocolate layer cake, vanilla crème brûlée and coffee ice cream for a “decadent, shareable, creamy and delicious” dessert.
“They say food is the way to the heart,” added Blackburn, director of public relations. And since these plates are available every day, “you don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to show your love a little love.”
Celebrate with a dramatic drink
Love’s also bubbling up at Autograph Brasserie in Wayne, where the newest cocktail, called “Don’t Pop Me Now,” features a bubble of flavored smoke.
“We are really excited about that,” said Len Boris, beverage director. “We try to do something unique as part of the visual experience.”
He steeps chamomile and butterfly pea flowers and then pours the “deep purple, almost royal blue” liquid over the bubble, releasing the smoke and a touch of magic.
“As it goes into the glass, it turns the clear cocktail magenta,” described Boris, who also offers it at Louie Louie in Philadelphia. “The idea is we can pop that bubble as we deliver the drink and give the guest a little aroma and some theater as well.”
Oysters on the Half
6 each larger East Coast oysters
1 lemon wedge
Crushed ice/clean small garden rocks
2 tablespoons Black Pepper-Champagne Mignonette
1 cup Champagne vinegar
2 minced shallots
1/2 cup honey (use local honey - Fruitwood Orchards is a great choice)
3 tablespoons peppercorn, rough chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon hot red pepper sauce
1 large bunch collard greens
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Corn bread crumble:
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1 cup milk
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups yellow, white or blue cornmeal
1 cup Gold Medal all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix together mignonette ingredients; make a day before. Cold oysters: three each topped with Black Pepper-Champagne Mignonette set on crushed ice.
Hot oysters: three each topped with braised collard greens, corn bread crumble. For the collards, add to stock pot cleaned collards and all other ingredients. Cook until tender about 30 minutes on a simmer. Strain and cool.
Corn bread crumble: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan or 9-inch round cake pan with the cooking spray. In a 1-quart saucepan, heat the butter over low heat until melted. In a large bowl, beat the melted butter, milk and egg with a fork or wire whisk until well mixed. Add the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt all at once; stir just until the flour is moistened (batter will be lumpy). Pour batter into the pan; use a rubber spatula to scrape batter from bowl. Spread batter evenly in pan and smooth top of batter. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm. Let cool and crumble.
Top opened oysters with collards, corn bread crumble and a small pat of butter. Broil for 3 to 4 minutes until browned and warmed through. Place on garden rocks.
Grilled Salmon with Lentils
1/2 pound French green lentils
1/4 cup good olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 1/2 cups chopped celery (4 stalks)
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots (3 carrots)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
2 (8-ounce) center-cut salmon fillets, skin off
Place the lentils in a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 15 minutes, then drain. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a sauté pan, add the onions, leeks, thyme, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the drained lentils, celery, carrots, chicken stock and tomato paste. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Add the vinegar and season, to taste.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. For the salmon, heat a dry oven-proof sauté pan over high heat for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, rub both sides of the salmon fillets with olive oil and season the tops very liberally with salt and pepper. When the pan is very hot, place the salmon fillets seasoning-sides down in the pan and cook over medium heat without moving them for 2 minutes, until very browned. Turn the fillets and place the pan in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until the salmon is cooked rare. Spoon a mound of lentils on each plate and place a salmon fillet on top.
Recipes courtesy of Mike Selser, executive chef Fearless Restaurants