Every January 23, my husband Ted and I celebrate the anniversary of a warehouse fire in Newark, New Jersey.
The fire consumed an entire city block, and firefighters battled all night, pouring water on a building that, in frigid winter weather, morphed into an ice palace. It was horrible and beautiful, and going to watch it in the middle of the night was our first date.
I remember everything about that night, as you do when it is the first date of the rest of your life.
I remember everything, except what we ate.
Given how it turned out, though, I think we must have consumed some of the aphrodisiac ingredients I keep in my pantry.
Why not put together a menu for the first date of the rest of your life -- or for dinner with someone you love? Or like. Or think you might like. Or want to get to know better. Oh, you know what I mean.
Aphrodisiacs on the spice rack:
- Coriander (mushroom bhaji, a triple whammy with tomatoes, onions and coriander)
- Saffron (pie-ella, my husband's favorite dish)
- Cinnamon (pear spice cupcakes, Mexican spiced fish)
- Chiles (grilled chile-lime-ponzu chicken)
- Curry (potato and broccoli samosas, or butternut squash, apple and vadouvan soup)
- Allspice (garlic chicken on skewers, another double with allspice and garlic)
- Nutmeg (Thomas Jefferson's bread pudding, so rich that it's almost, but not quite, over the top)
- Cardamom (currant cardamom scones, in case dinner lasts until breakfast)
Aphrodisiacs in the refrigerator and freezer, and on the counter top:
- Garlic (pear and parsnip soup, baked cherry tomatoes)
- Onions (salsa and shrimp stuffed avocado, an elegant appetizer)
- Eggs (Italian style omelet)
- Mustard (panko and mustard crusted fish, a beautiful main dish)
- Pine nuts (penne with roasted red pepper pesto)
- Almonds (amaretti cookies)
Aphrodisiacs in the cupboard:
- Tomatoes (baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta)
- Black beans (corn, bean and two tomato salad, black bean and peach soup)
- Honey (shrimp teriyaki, made sweet or hot)
- Vanilla (spice snap cookies)
- Chocolate (chocolate and hazelnut dipped strawberries)
It can't hurt to keep your pantry stocked with these loverly ingredients at all times of the year.
Trust me on this. After celebrating January 23 thirty-four times, I'm pretty sure I'm right.
Sugar-free chocolate cupcakes with sugar-free frosting
Although candy is a traditional Valentine's Day gift, sugar is not an aphrodisiac, so these sugar-free chocolate cupcakes really are a food of love. Recipes from RecipeGirl.com (icing adapted slightly). Note: though the original recipe called for it, I didn't use unsalted butter; I think a bit of extra salt brings out the chocolate flavor. Makes 10.
For the cupcakes:
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup boiling water
1-1/2 cups sifted cake flour (sift, then measure)
1 cup granulated Splenda (you can substitute Splenda for Baking, which is 50% sugar)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
For the frosting:
2 oz unsweetened chocolate (I used Trader Joe's)
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 Tbsp Splenda (6 small packets)
1 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp chocolate extract or strong prepared coffee
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake tin with paper liners.
In a small measuring cup, combine cocoa and boiling water. Whisk and blend until smooth, and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle beater, combine flour, Splenda, baking soda and salt. Add butter and mix until the mixture is crumbly.
In a separate bowl, combine eggs, milk, cocoa mixture and vanilla. Add 1/3 of this wet mixture to the mixer bowl. Beat on low speed until every thing is combined, then increase to medium speed and beat for an additional 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl, and add another 1/3 of the wet mixture to the mixer bowl. Repeat, until all of the wet mixture has been added and the batter is smooth.
Using an ice cream scoop with a release (called a "disher"), or a large spoon, scoop the batter into the cupcake tin.
Bake 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cupcakes will not be smooth on top, but that's okay. Remove the cupcakes from the pan onto a wire rack, and let them cool completely.
While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting:
In a glass measuring cup, heat the chocolate in the microwave in 30-second increments until it's almost completely melted (this took three 30-second zaps), then stir until it is smooth, and pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer to cool for a couple of minutes.
Using the whisk beater on your mixer, slowly whisk the cream into the cooled chocolate. Beat on medium speed and add the butter, Splenda, cocoa, vanilla and chocolate extract or coffee. Beat until smooth and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes.
If you want to spread the frosting with a palette knife, you can do it now. If you want to pipe it through a pastry bag (or in a zip-loc bag with one corner snipped off), fill your pastry bag. If it doesn't pipe easily, put the pastry bag into the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes so the icing can stiffen up a bit. (I found it easy to pipe right away, without chilling it.)
These cupcakes don't keep well, so serve them the same day you make them.
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