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Appetite for seduction

By JANET K. KEELER, Times Staff Writer
Published February 8, 2006

Valentine's Day is a week away and that's plenty of time for doghouse dwellers, male or female, to plan a devilishly delish makeup meal.

Go ahead, make fun of childish candy hearts or spew nonsense about a trumped-up holiday. Suit yourself, but that's not the smartest game plan for someone who is on the brink of getting the boot. Or the cold shoulder.

Unless you plan to go it alone, it's imperative to get Valentine's Day right. And in these days of drive-throughs, make-n-takes and zappable dinners, a home-cooked meal might be the sexiest, most ingratiating idea around.

Think sensual and light (berries, shellfish, chocolate). A heavy feast of burgers and beer is good for the big game, but the wrong move for someone hoping to make a move. Prepare most of it yourself, always more impressive than walking in with takeout.

Don't rush the meal; this may be the Tuesday you'll need to miss American Idol. Plan the dinner in courses, leaving time in between to smooch, dance or ... whatever. And don't eat too much. Nodding off is not an option.

Certain foods are famously perfect for inducing love, such as oysters and strawberries. As early as the second century, Romans believed women who ate oysters became mad for amour. Strawberries are perfect for hand feeding your lover.

Garlic, it seems, would drive away love, much as it does vampires. But don't discount the other powers of garlic. Its heat is believed to rev sexual desire.

You'll get a double dose in Scallops and Fettuccine With Red Bell Pepper Cream Sauce. Mild, silky scallops are marinated in olive oil and white wine spiked with garlic, chili powder, paprika and dried oregano. The orange-red sauce, deep with flavor thanks to roasted red peppers and toasted pine nuts, also is laced with garlic.

Pine nuts are rich in zinc, a mineral reported to boost male potency.

It's a simple dish that, unfortunately, requires a lot of pans. Consider it, anyway. The sauce can be made ahead and the scallops need to marinate for at least three hours, so the prep work will be finished hours before your special meal. The dish can be put together in the time it takes to cook fettuccine, about 10 minutes.

We've gotten ahead of ourselves, though, talking about the main course before we've had an appetizer.

Grilled Pears With Blue Cheese and Honey starts the evening off in luxury. Ancient Egyptians believed honey cured impotency and sterility. That's simply a bonus to this delicious, show-stopping appetizer, which needs minimal cooking acumen.

Halved, cored pears are grilled outside or in a grill pan, then sprinkled with crumbled blue cheese. Melt and bubble the cheese on pears under the broiler and serve with toasted pecan pieces and a drizzle of warmed honey. Seriously, this is upscale stuff.

The main event (well, the one we can write about) is scallops and fettuccine accompanied by lusty bread and a light Green Herb Salad With Champagne Vinaigrette. In the salad, mild greens get a boost from fresh, chopped herbs, including flat-leaf parsley, basil and mint. Serve crisp, cold pinot blanc, which will stand up for itself against assertive flavors.

Champagne vinegar is available at specialty shops, such as Fresh Market, and some groceries. Its delicate flavor will not overpower the greens or compete with aromatic herbs. White wine vinegar, though not as subtle, is an adequate substitution.

Only chocolate will do for dessert, and a glammed-up, heart-shaped brownie will melt any remaining icicles. Bake a pan of brownies, more cakelike than fudgy. (Make them from a mix, if you'd like, the night before.) Cut cooled brownies into hearts with a large, deep heart cookie cutter.

Presentation counts. Place the brownie in the center of a plain dinner plate and dust with powdered sugar, adorn with whipped cream (Cool Whip will do) and scatter a handful of raspberries artfully. They'll sparkle like jewels.

Who says making up is hard to do?

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at 727 893-8586 or krieta@sptimes.com Her blog, Stir Crazy, is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/food

Scallops and Fettuccine With Red Bell Pepper Cream Sauce

Red pepper sauce:

3 large red bell peppers (see *)

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 cup whipping cream

Marinade:

6 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 1/4 pounds sea scallops

1 pound fettuccine

Chopped fresh Italian parsley for garnish

To make sauce: Char peppers over flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel, seed and coarsely chop peppers. Transfer to processor. Add pine nuts, Parmesan, olive oil and garlic and process until peppers are finely chopped. Transfer mixture to bowl. Stir in whipping cream. Season with salt and pepper.

(Sauce can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

To make marinade: Whisk olive oil, white wine, garlic, oregano, coarse salt, paprika and chili powder together. Gently add scallops and cover container. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.

When nearly ready to eat, cook fettuccine in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove scallops from marinade. Add to skillet and cook just until opaque in center, 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Bring red pepper sauce to simmer in another large skillet. Add fettuccine to sauce and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to large bowl. Arrange scallops atop pasta. Drizzle any pan juices over scallops. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

* A cup or more of store-bought roasted red peppers may be substituted for fresh. Drain well before adding to sauce.

Serves 6.

Source: Bon Appetit, October 1998.

Green Herb Salad With Champagne Vinaigrette

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon minced shallot

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 large head butter lettuce, leaves separated and torn into bite-size pieces

1 cup arugula leaves

1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

In the bottom of a salad bowl, combine the olive oil and shallot. Add vinegar, salt and pepper, and mix well with a fork. Top with the lettuce, arugula and chopped herbs. When ready to serve, toss well.

* You can substitute other herbs or greens.

Serves 4.

Source: "Salad" by Georgeanne Brennan, Williams-Sonoma Series, 2001.

Grilled Pears With Blue Cheese and Honey

2 firm pears

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Salt to taste

1/3 to 1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles

3 tablespoons honey, warmed slightly

Ready a charcoal or gas grill for medium-hot fire and preheat broiler.

Cut pears in half and remove core. Drizzle melted butter over cut side of pears and place on grill for four minutes on each side.

Remove from grill and place pears, cut-side up, on pie plate or small baking dish. Season with salt and distribute blue cheese evenly over halves. Place under broiler for 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese is bubbling. Put on serving plates and drizzle with honey.

Serves 2.

Source: "Adapted from At Home with Michael Chiarello" by Michael Chiarello (Chronicle Books, 2005).

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