Sexy food: Turning up the heat for Valentine's Day

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All kinds of foods have been regarded as libido-lifting aphrodisiacs, either because of their reputation (oysters), physical appearance (figs) or luxurious price (lobster).

But often that food's power, like the stirring of desire itself, lies deep in our own minds.

But if you widen the definition to include foods that make the body feel energized, tingly and alive — think chile peppers in a spicy pumpkin curry — then such a diet can not only heighten overall health, but sexual desire as well.

That's the philosophy behind Amy Reiley's new cookbook, "Romancing the Stove: The Unabridged Guide to Aphrodisiac Foods."

"The older I get, the more I understand how important it is to do things for your body to keep yourself feeling and looking good," Reiley said in a phone interview. "I think you have to start by seducing yourself with the very best food choices."

In a "Dictionary of Desire," Reiley lists 40 nutrient-packed foods, from apples packed with antioxidants, which may protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals; to yogurt, rich in magnesium, a mineral essential to sex-hormone production.

Reiley also shares tricks for seduction, encouraging couples to slow down by cooking dishes, such as Olive Oil Poached Salmon, that offer more than one texture and temperature.

"That pulls your awareness in a little more and helps you be in the moment," she said. "The mouthfeel is really sensual."

Rounding out the cookbook are low-fat recipes to help you stay trim, dishes to whip up in a flash, and snacks offering "afternoon delight."

"Everybody needs a quickie sometimes," she said. "Sometimes, that is very necessary."

Here, according to Reiley, are the top 10 sensuous, in-season ingredients to feed your libido this Valentine's Day:

1) Chile peppers are one of Reiley's favorite aphrodisiacs, the heavy artillery of sensual dining, because they warm you up and produce euphoria.

"Your eyes get bright, your cheeks flush, and your lips plump up," she said. "It's similar to the way you would look with a sexual flush."

2) Chocolate, according to Reiley, is over-rated as an aphrodisiac, even though it does boost energy.

"Poor chocolate is not nearly what it's touted to be," she said. "A British study found that an average-size woman would have to eat over 20 pounds in a sitting to get that rush of happy hormones."

Still, chocolate is intimately interlaced with romance in our minds. Reiley suggests adding cacao nibs to chocolate fondue to boost its antioxidants.

3) Coffee is one of Reiley's favorite aphrodisiacs, capable of doubling pleasure and fun.

"After a leisurely meal, a shot of espresso is genius," she said. "Not only does it boost your energy at a needed time, but it can promote the production of dopamine, a mood elevator."

4) Oysters are sexy, but if you really want to seduce someone, research suggests that mussels might just be a more effective bivalve.

"It seems that there's a potential that they can boost sexual hormones," Reiley said. "And they are associated with Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love, beauty and sexual rapture)."

5) Pomegranates, a ruby-red fruit from the Middle East, are also associated with Aphrodite.

And, according to the International Journal of Impotence Research, pomegranate juice may have the potential to treat erectile dysfunction. Plus, they are a great source of antioxidants.

6) Dark, leafy greens like spinach are loaded with iron and can make you strong to the finish, like Popeye.

"Like all the dark leafy greens, it's packed with vitamins that are key to supporting good blood flow," Reiley said.

7) The scent of truffles (the fruiting body of underground mushrooms) is a definite turn-on for women, since the musky odor is believed to smell almost identical to androstenone, one of the male pheromones (chemical scents that trigger a social response in members of the same species).

But tasty truffles are more than just a pretty aroma. Reiley said that they're also packed with protein and amino acids.

8) Like truffles, vanilla is surprisingly healthy.

"Real vanilla has zinc, which is great for blood flow," she said. "And it also has manganese, which is necessary for sexual function."

9) Wild game is a great alternative to heavy red meats for romantic dinners because it's much lower in saturated fat.

"Your inclination is to get an expensive cut of meat, like a rack of lamb or filet," she said. "But those are a terrible choice ... they cause the blood to rush to your stomach, and you get really tired."

10) When you're wooing your loved one, don't forget to pop a bottle of sparkling wine or a sensual pinot noir.

In addition to lowering inhibitions, a moderate amount of wine has been shown to be good for your heart.

"There are some wines that doctors have shown replicate human pheromone scents," Reiley added. "Just the aroma alone can add to the layer of attraction."

"For something that looks so impressive on the plate, mussels are incredibly simple to cook," Reiley writes in "Romancing the Stove." "They also happen to be among the seafood world's superfoods when it comes to sex drive. Not only do they make an excellent source of lean protein, a recent study foudn tha tmussels may directly raise sexual hormone levels. Not bad for a food that takes about 10 minutes to make." If you don't have mirin, substitute a fruity sauvignon blanc.

Sizzling Mussels in Exotic Broth

Makes 2 servings

1 pound mussels

? cup mirin (sweet rice wine)

1 teaspoon sriracha (hot chili sauce)

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 clove garlic, finely minced

2 scallions, chopped (optional)

? cup cilantro (optional)

Crusty baguette

Rinse the mussels well in cold water, discarding any that won't close when handled. If the mussels have not been debearded, remove the patch of seaweed, or "beard," sticking out from between the two shells by pulling with your fingers. If it's stubborn, cut it with a knife.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mirim, chicken broth, sracha and fish sauce

In a nonstick saute pan or wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat.

Saute the garlic in the oil until edges brown, about 30 seconds.

Add the liquid mixture. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute.

Add the mussels, reducing heat slightly, cover adn cook until all the mussels are open, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Drizzle with lemon juice and top with scallions and/or cilantro.

Divide mussels between two bowls and serve with a crusty baguette, to sop up the juice.

"Pomegranate is one of the most notorious aphrodisiacs foods in the world," Reiley writes. "Because this dish requires several steps, it's perfect for cooking together."

Pomegranate Roasted Pork Loin with Quinoa and Sexy Veg

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 shallot, finely minced

1 cup pomegranate juice

? teaspoon salt

1-1? pound loin of pork

1 medium sweet potato

3 parsnips

1 bulb fennel

1 medium yellow onion

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 tablespoon pomegrante kernels (optional)

For pomegranate butter:

1 cup pomegranate juice

? cup white wine

1 shallot, finely micned

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

Salt to taste

For quinoa:

1 cup quinoa

1 tablespoons olive oil

Salt to taste

? cup fresh mint, chopped

Place shallot in a Ziplock bag with 1 cup pomegranate juice and ? teaspoon salt. Remove pork from the refrigerator, add to the bag and marinate on the counter for 30 minutes. (This will allow the pork to come almost to room temperature before cooking.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees while you make the pomegranate butter (recipe below).

Cut sweet potato and parsnip into uniform, ?-inch pieces. Chop fennel and onion into ?-inch long slices. Put the vegetables into a roasting pan and toss with the garlic and 2 tablespoons of the pomegranate butter. (recipe below)

Add the pork to the pan and cook, uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes, until a meat thermometer reads 138 degrees.

Remove the meat from the pan and cover with foil. Allow loin to rest for 15 minutes.

Test vegetables with a fork. If they do not feel tender, return pan to the oven while meat is resting.

Slice the meat thickly and serve over the quinoa (recipe below) with the vegetables as garnish. Drizzle with remaining pomegranate butter to taste. Sprinkle with pomegranate kernels (optional)

For pomegranate butter: In a small saucepan, bring the juice, wine and shallot to a boil and reduce to about 2 tablespoons. Turn heat to low and whisk in butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Season with salt to taste.

For the quinoa: Add quinoa to a saucepan with 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low, cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until quinoa has softened and is fluffy but still has texture.

When quinoa is cooked, remove from heat and cool for 20 minutes. Toss with lemon juice and oil and season with salt to taste. Toss in the mint just before serving.

"My great grandmother Amy (for whom I was named) owned an ice cream parlor," Reiley writes. "One of her most popular items was the CMP sundae (chocolate, marshmallow and peanuts). In this recipe, I've eliminated the ice cream and have gone straight for the good stuff. (I've always layered the chocolate flavor with a healthy dose of cacao nibs - nibs are the chocolate at its most pure and are loaded with antioxidants as well as a terrific, crunchy texture.)"

Speedy CMP Fondue

Makes 2 servings

2 tablespoons roasted, salt peanuts, finely choppec

1 tablespoon butter

? cup dark chocolate chps

1 teaspoon light corn syrup

? teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons cacao nibs

8 marshmallows

Put peanuts in a shallow bowl.

In a double boiler over hot (not boiling) water, melt butter. Stir in chocolate and corn syrup, stirring constantly luntil melted.

Remove from heat and add vanilla and nibs.

Dip marshmallows first in the chocolate, then roll in the peanuts. Eat immeidately to enjoy the melty, crunhy combo. If you aren't planning to serve immediatley, transfer chocolate to a fondue pot to keep warm.

Variation: place ? fresh strawberry and 1 mini marshmallow on a toothpick or skewer. Dip in chocolate and peanuts for a juicy, summery variation on the dessert.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@

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