Feeding Aphrodite and Adonis
You don't have to be feeding Greek gods to make this romantic dinner for two

By JOHN CARAFOLI
CONTRIBUTING WRITER
A few generations ago, Valentine's Day was heralded by the exchange of hand-written sentiments on lavender-or musk-scented paper, decorated with cupids, arrows, hearts, flowers and doves.
In recent years, as the assembly line Valentine card has replaced the personal approach, I think Valentine's Day has lost much of its significance.

Since I have a strong belief in keeping traditions alive, I think it is high time to bring back some meaningful Valentine rituals, albeit with slight updates. So set aside February 14 as an evening just for you and that special person.

Draw the shades, disconnect the phone, and fill the room with soft music and fragrant flowers -especially red roses, which in ancient folklore symbolized secrecy, love and desire. Set a linen-covered table in front of the fireplace, or throw a soft rug on the floor and make this your dining environment. Let the candles glow on your best crystal and china. Place a beautiful flower, such as a small orchid, next to your loved one's place setting.

Plan to serve sensual, rich and satisfying foods with romantic overtones, presented in small elegant portions. Start with a classic pink champagne as you savor Neptune's special gift from our own waters, oysters warmed and dressed simply with butter, shallots and parsley. Oysters were once believed to be a potent aphrodisiac.

For the main course prepare a luscious Asian salmon placed on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes with a side of "heart beets" and butter rosettes. Salad is hearts of palm (the edible inner portion of the stem of the cabbage palm tree) on a bed of dandelion greens. Dandelions were considered the oracle of time and love in ancient folklore. Finally, for dessert, bring out a sensual heart-shaped dessert of cream drizzled with red raspberry puree.

Plan for a stress-free feast

Of course, no love feast will feel romantic and relaxing if you're racing around attending to its details. So plan to do much of the preparation ahead of time to enable both of you to enjoy the experience.

Working backwards from the grand finale, prepare the dessert, including the raspberry sauce, the day before your dinner. In the morning, unmold the heart of cream, place on a decorative plate, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Prepare the salad by arranging hearts of palm on a bed of dandelion greens, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to serve. The tarragon dressing can be made up to several days beforehand. I often make more dressing than needed and keep it in the refrigerator for future use.

A few hours before your feast, shuck the oysters, place them on a bed of crushed aluminum foil on a small baking sheet. Cover them lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Place the salmon in a baking dish covered with the soy mixture on the counter, twenty minutes before ready to bake, pop into the oven just before serving the champagne and oysters.

To prepare the "heart beets" ahead of time, boil beets, cool slightly until you can handle them, slice 1/2-inch thick and cut out hearts with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Just before serving, heat in the microwave, top with a little butter. (For an added touch, put soft butter into rubber mold to form butter rosettes. Place in refrigerator until hard. Unmold when ready to use. (Rubber butter molds are found in gourmet cook shops. See resources.)

Cook and whip the potatoes up to a few hours ahead, then place them covered in a double boiler over gently simmering water an hour or more before serving them. I have found this to be a great way to keep mashed or whipped root vegetables, such as squash and turnips, warm for several hours while you are preparing a meal.

Resources:

Heart shaped 3-ounce molds for dessert can be found at Nantucket Trading Company on Main Street in Hyannis and Main Street in Falmouth. All Cape Cook on Main Street in Hyannis carries larger molds and also has rubber rosette molds for butter.

Oysters

Shucking oysters may be a little advanced for some people, but the "Joy of Cooking" will help you along. Once you get the hang of it, the possibilities for eating them are endless.

Hint: Place oysters in the freezer for 15 minutes before shucking. It makes it easier to open them.

1/4-1/2 cup Champagne or white wine

3 teaspoons butter

1 small shallot, finely minced

Freshly ground pepper to taste

3 teaspoons chopped parsley

6 small oysters

Scrub the oysters thoroughly with a stiff brush under cold running water. Open the oysters with a strong, thin oyster knife (I some times use a bottle opener which also works well). Remove the oysters from the shells, discard the top shells, and replace oysters in the bottom shells. Fill a broiler pan with crushed aluminum foil to steady the oyster shells. Splash each oyster with several drops of champagne or white wine, place 1/2 teaspoon butter on each oyster, a little minced shallot, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon parsley. Place under a preheated broiler until the oysters begin to bubble around the edges, about 2 to 3 minutes; do not overcook. Transfer the oysters to a platter and serve them immediately.

Asian-flavored Salmon

2 salmon fillets about 1 1/2-inch thick, 6 or 7 ounces, skin removed

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup grated onion

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 chopped scallion for garnish

In a medium bowl combine the olive oil; onion, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, pepper and lemon juice mix until well combined. Add the salmon, cover with mixture and marinate for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once or twice.

Place the salmon in a buttered ovenproof dish and put in a preheated 400- degree oven for 16 to 18 minutes until done. Note: if the fillets are thinner reduce timing slightly.

To serve: put a scoop of mashed potato on each plate and place the salmon on top of the potato. Garnish with a little chopped scallion.

"Heart Beets"

Cook 2 or 3 large beets. Slice 1/4-inch thick. With a 3- inch heart shape cookie cutter, cut several hearts from the beets. Put soft butter into rubber butter rosette molds. Place in refrigerator until heard. Unmold when ready to use.

Hearts of Palm on a Bed of Dandelions

There will be more greens and heats of palm than you need for two salads. Wrap the remaining dandelions in a damp paper towel, place them in a plastic bag and refrigerate for future use. Dandelion greens are wonderful steamed and sautéed with minced garlic and olive oil. They can be served as a vegetable side dish.

1 bunch dandelion greens

1 (8 ounce) can hearts of palm

Clean, wash, and dry the dandelion greens. Arrange them on individual plates. Slice the hearts of palm crosswise into 1/2-inch rounds and place them on the dandelions. Pour a tablespoon of vinaigrette dressing (recipe below) on each serving.

Tarragon Vinaigrette

This recipe makes more than what you will need for two salads. Store extra in the refrigerator for use at another time.

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 small garlic clove, minced

2 teaspoons tarragon vinegar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Put the above ingredients into a small jar with a lid and shake until well blended. This is best made the day before and refrigerated until ready to use. Shake well again before using.

Heart of Cream

This is the French dessert commonly know as COEUR A LA CRÈME. It is a delicious, sensual, creamy dessert perfect for Valentine's Day. The recipe makes 3 1/2 cups but may be cut in half and put into four individual 3-ounce molds.

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup water

Cheesecloth, found in baking section of the grocery store

1/2 cup yogurt

2 cups ricotta cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

3 1/2-cup heart-shaped mold with holes in bottom*

10-ounce package frozen raspberries or 1 pint fresh berries

*I use a Jell-O mold I found and punched holes in the bottom.

Combine the lemon juice and water. Dip the cheesecloth into the mixture, wring it nearly dry, and line the mold with it, allowing a 2-inch overhand on all sides.

In a medium bowl mix together the yogurt, ricotta cheese, sour cream and powdered sugar with an electric hand mixer on medium speed until light and creamy.

Pour the mixture into the prepared mold, smoothing the top. Cover with overhanging cheesecloth, place on a wire rack over a bowl and refrigerate overnight. The whey will drain, leaving the 'heart' of the cheese.

To make the raspberry topping, put the berries into a food processor or a blender and puree. Add sugar to taste. Strain out the seeds and place in a serving pitcher.

To serve the Heart of Cream, open the cheesecloth and invert the mold over a flat dish. Remove the mold and the cheesecloth and pour the raspberry sauce over the heart.

Makes 4 servings, with 2 1/2 tablespoons of raspberry sauce per portion.

(Published: February 5, 2003)