by Michael Vyskocil, photos by Tara Hope Cofiell

There’s a passion for food, and then there’s food of passion. Throughout culinary history, certain foods have been lauded as aphrodisiacs, capable of stimulating the pleasure zones of passion in the body. While the very act of eating can be pleasurable enough, aphrodisiac foods are said to target the areas of the brain associated with arousal and pleasure. Many have upheld their amorous associations over the centuries. A 2005 research study discovered an interesting link between oysters and the amino acids that stimulate the production of sex hormones. Biblical scholars suggest that the forbidden fruit consumed by Adam and Eve was a pomegranate, a fruit connected to Aphrodite (the ancient Greek goddess of love) whose name is attributed to the term aphrodisiac. The Food Encyclopedia documents the story of Christian Crusaders smitten by the beauty and alluring fragrance of fresh raspberries. And chocolate, well, Harvard medical researchers have studied the sensual sweet’s phenethylamine and tryptophan nitrogen-rich compounds and their connection to arousal in the brain. We packed the passion into these aphrodisiac-inspired recipes for a special Valentine’s Day feast: oysters with champagne butter, roast Cornish hens with pomegranate-balsamic glaze, raspberry Bellini and chocolate coeur à la crème.


Oysters With Champagne Butter

2 tablespoons minced shallots
3/4 cup ruby port or dry red wine
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon champagne or sparkling wine
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 dozen fresh shucked oysters in the shells

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the shallots, port or red wine, salt and champagne or sparkling wine. Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce the heat and cook until the mixture reduces to about 1/2 cup.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Whisk the butter, a few pieces at a time, into the wine mixture until blended and slightly creamy. Spoon mixture over oysters and serve.
  3. This recipe makes enough butter for a dozen oysters, but you can adjust the quantities if you’ll be serving only two people.

Roast Cornish Hens with Pomegranate-Balsamic Glaze

1/3 cup pomegranate juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 Cornish game hens (each about 1 pound), rinsed well and patted dry
1 onion, thinly sliced, cut into 8 wedges
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 orange, cut into 8 wedges
Nonstick cooking spray, for coating rack
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted Coarse salt, to taste

  1. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together pomegranate juice, olive oil, maple syrup and pepper; set aside. Place each Cornish hen inside a large resealable plastic bag. Pour half of the pomegranate mixture into each bag; divide sliced onion and garlic between bags.
  2. Seal bags; turn bags to coat with pomegranate mixture. Place bags in refrigerator and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight, turning bags occasionally. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place roasting rack in the bottom of a shallow roasting pan; spray rack with cooking spray and set aside.
  3. Remove hens from plastic bags, allowing excess pomegranate mixture to drain off the hens. Discard bags and liquid. Place hens on the rack, breast side up, and tuck the wing tips under the bodies. Fill each cavity with half of the onion and orange wedges; tie legs together with kitchen twine.
  4. Brush the hens with melted butter; season with salt and pepper. Transfer roasting pan to oven and roast for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the hens are golden brown and the meat is cooked through. During roasting, rotate the pan every 30 minutes for even browning. You may need to cover the hens with a piece of aluminum foil if they brown too quickly. Remove pan from oven and let hens rest for 8 minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Raspberry Bellini

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
16 ounces chilled sparkling wine

  1. Place raspberries, lemon juice and sugar in the bowl of a food processor or the jar of a blender and purée. Strain raspberry purée through a fine sieve; refrigerate until chilled. Divide raspberry mixture among four champagne flutes. Add the sparkling wine to the glasses, stir and serve.
  2. Makes 4 servings. A variation on classic Bellini, this raspberry cocktail creation can be made with fresh or frozen raspberries. If using frozen berries, allow them to thaw slightly before puréeing.

Chocolate Coeur à La Crème

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
Raspberry Sauce (recipe follows) Fresh raspberries and confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

  1. Cut six 8-inch-by-8-inch squares of cheesecloth, three layers thick, for each of the heart-shaped molds.* Lightly dampen cheesecloth; line molds with dampened cheesecloth.
  2. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove bowl from heat and allow chocolate to cool.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar until smooth.
  4. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add vanilla extract and melted chocolate and mix well.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, whip heavy cream with a large whisk until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream into cream-cheese mixture.
  6. Evenly fill molds with mixture; smooth tops with a spatula. Fold edges of cheesecloth over mixture in molds.
  7. Place each mold on a plate to catch the draining liquid from cream-cheese mixture. Chill in refrigerator 24 hours before serving.
  8. To serve, unwrap cheesecloth from each mold. Center a plate on top of each mold and flip plate and mold right-side up.
  9. Remove molds and carefully pull off cheesecloth. Serve with Raspberry Sauce; garnish with fresh raspberries and a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar.
  10. Makes 4 servings. A variation on classic Bellini, this raspberry cocktail creation can be made with fresh or frozen raspberries. If using frozen berries, allow them to thaw slightly before puréeing.