Treating your lover to a fabulous meal takes some effort, but the rewards are well worth it. And all you really need to do is follow your heart (and the cooking directions). So skip the lacy lingerie and tie on an apron instead. Then follow these seven simmering secrets of seduction -- they're sure to raise the temperature in your kitchen ... and bedroom.
Choose your menu carefully. Don't wait until the last minute to think about your special Valentine's Day meal. Take some time to plan what you would like to prepare. Consider the following: What does your valentine like to eat? Is he a vegetarian? Does he have any allergies? (Nothing kills a budding romance faster than a trip to the hospital after a bad reaction to shellfish!) You might want to steer clear of especially heavy food, which tends to make people feel lethargic -- you want to be seducing each other, not slumbering! And I know it's not sexy to mention, but definitely avoid using too much salt or spices that will cause bloating and gas.
Whatever you do, don't experiment. We all want to cook like Julia Child, but if you have never made duck a l'orange, now is not the time to attempt it! Stick to simple recipes using ingredients you are familiar with. A basic dish of pasta, dressed with sauteed wild mushrooms or fresh plum tomatoes and arugula, can be elegant. Remember, it is truly the thought and effort that counts here. So what should you prepare? Here's a menu suggestion from my new book 50 Ways to Feed Your Lover.
Shop early, then relax. When you have chosen your menu, read the recipe twice (to make sure you don't miss anything), then write out your shopping list and figure out which items you can shop for ahead of time. For items that need to be picked up fresh, call ahead to make sure that what you need is in stock (some grocery stores will even take special orders). Crossing several items off your list early will help you to relax and feel excited, not stressed, about your big night -- you don't want to be rushing around at the last minute hunting for a special cut of meat or jar of gourmet mustard. Besides, doing much of the prep work early will leave you with more time to relax and get ready for your evening. Be sure to allow enough time so you can get out of the kitchen and freshen up before you serve the meal. Take a warm bath or shower, change into something special and comfortable and enjoy a glass of wine before dinner.
Sip some spirits. Speaking of wine, if you plan to open a nice bottle with dinner, be sure to choose one that goes well with the food you've chosen. As a rule of thumb, choose a crisp white wine such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc if you are serving fish; a robust red Chianti, Merlot or Pinot Noir for pasta and meat. Of course you can't go wrong with the queen of all wines, champagne. From the sound of the bottle being opened to the golden effervescence flowing into a crystal flute, this sparkling wine sings celebration and romance. Enjoy it, but don't overindulge. Small amounts of alcohol can lower your inhibitions and promote relaxation, but too much will decrease desire and impair your sexual performance.
Include aphrodisiacs. Foods such as champagne, oysters, chocolate and figs have acquired a reputation for producing amorous results. Chocolate, for example, contains large amounts of phenylethylamine, a chemical that is produced naturally by the body when one is having feelings of love. So be sure to include a few of your favorites on your Valentine's Day menu.
If you are going to indulge in caviar, be sure to keep the tins closed and stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator (but not in the freezer) until you are ready to serve. For oysters, always buy them from a good fishmonger. You don't want to risk getting sick. Oysters should be served the same day they are purchased, and opened just before they are served. To shuck an oyster: Hold the oyster in a heavy cloth and insert the sharp tip of an oyster knife into the hinge (where the top and bottom shells join). Twist the knife to open the shell, prying it apart with the width of the blade. Then, while pulling at the top shell with the thumb of the hand that is holding the oyster, carefully slide the knife along the inside of the upper shell to cut the muscle that attaches the flesh. Pull off and discard the upper shell. Cupping the oyster in your hand so as not to lose the liquid, slide the knife under the oyster meat to free it from the lower shell. Remove any bits of broken shell. Any oysters that are only slightly opened should be discarded.
Set a sexy table. Simple touches can change an atmosphere from everyday to Valentine's Day in a matter of minutes. Break out candles, china and linens (if you're saving them for a special occasion, well, this is it!). Dim the lights. Splurge on an arrangement of flowers. Turn on some jazz or other soft music that you and your valentine both love. Another romantic option: Instead of eating at the dining room table, serve the meal picnic-style in front of the fireplace. Set out a blanket and some pillows, and invite your valentine to dine in casual comfort.
Eat with your hands. You may tell your kids not to do it, but tonight is the night to play with your food. Feed each other berries dipped in whipped cream, lick each other's chocolatey fingers or use a blindfold for taste-testing (a la the movie 9 1/2 Weeks). This is foreplay with a capital F -- and a delicious prelude of things to come.
Have breakfast in bed. Make your Valentine's Day amour last through the morning after: Bake some breakfast treats ahead of time and spend the morning under the covers. Warm-Hearted Scones with Devonshire Cream are sure to intoxicate your sweetheart. Or skip breakfast altogether and just snuggle, snuggle!