Aphrodisiacs in the Kitchen {Home Cooking}

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ~ Julia Child

I've had a growing fascination with "aphrodisiacs" and the delicious idea that food can inspire and stir up great passion for life and love. My own passion and obsession with food is all consuming, pardon the pun. Certain foods affects emotions, alters the chemistry in the body, and can give a sense of well being. Food associations trigger memories. They can also flame an already burning desire, and that's where aphrodisiacs come in. I have had two recent food experiences with the key ingredient of ginger that I am certain is an aphrodisiac. Absolutely certain of it. Why is it that each time I have had ginger pork curry with my darling, I get this look in my eye and a fire in my belly for him? Huge slivers of ginger in my mouth, chewing the fleshy and fibrous root until its spicy magic pungency saturates me with its seduction. And so, my culinary fixation has led me to begin writing an aphrodisiac cookbook. I want to inspire others and feed their passion for food with recipes, stories, poems, illustrated with photography and paintings.

I've come up with some test recipes for my cookbook proposal, and now I have new found respect for Julia Child. I can tell that testing recipes could go on for quite some time before the book is actually made. Yes, just the other day I concocted what I thought was a successful attempt at making panna cotta. Inspired by Chef Ludo Lefebvre's creamy salt cod panna cotta dish I enjoyed at his recent Ludo Bites 007 pop-up (at Gram and Papas), I thought I'd try my hand at it. Well, of course, nowhere could I find a recipe even remotely close to Chef Ludo's creation. Not that he would publish it either. And was I brave enough to try it with a savory ingredient such as salt cod? Well, first, I thought, I should try making panna cotta as a basic dessert dish. Honey Panna Cotta sounded like a good start. I had tried it with fresh cherries once. Panna Cotta. Add the concept of aphrodisiac into the pot, and I was thinking of variations on the theme: truffle honey panna cotta with shaved dark chocolate, add some lavender for plating visual, perhaps halved figs surrounding? Yes, figs are sexy. But figs and lavender are out of season. Why overwhelm with flavors? Alright, let's just try the truffle honey panna cotta on its own. Well.

The recipe I followed (and I don't usually follow them) called for gelatin sheets, which I found at Surfas. This was going to be easy. Or so I thought. Making panna cotta itself was a cinch, true. I used half the requested amount of honey (the good stuff from the farmers market) and half truffle honey (definitely good stuff). I know the pungent flavor of truffle can be either cloying or invasive to the senses, so a little bit goes a long way. I mean a little little bit. Even so. I did enjoy truffle honey with French cheese. But this is where the kitchen aphrodisiac experiment went awry. Not just the truffle honey infusion, but the gelatin.

The panna cotta did not set properly. When it splooged out on the plate from the mold, I had hoped it would keep its form. Well, it gooped out in a circular blob. I had to laugh because it was very breast-like in formation and even a speckle of vanilla bean in its center made it look more so like a female breast. Lovely to look at in all comedic aspects of kitchen failures. But it looked like a blob. Add some raspberries and drizzle with honey and it might be okay... I hoped. I forgot the chocolate shavings entirely.

What to do? I put it into a crystal wine glass, added some raspberries and drizzled with more honey. Reluctantly, I handed the truffle honey panna cotta to my darling, as he said he'd try it anyway, even though I was not happy with the taste. The truffle honey just doesn't work with panna cotta. Sigh. So much for my brilliant concept of an aphrodisiac recipe for panna cotta. Truffle honey is better with savory dishes and cheese, I am convinced. What was I thinking?

What I realized later was that Chef Ludo added whipped fingerling potato to his panna cotta with the salt cod. Perhaps I might try making it with celery root? How about celery root panna cotta with olive oil and olive croutons? This might be a better way to attempt to make my first savory panna cotta. I love celery root, as it does make a nice creamy texture when whipped up. Or how about vanilla or espresso panna cotta? Vanilla Panna Cotta with Grilled Figs and Balsamic Cream? Oh, I'll try it savory with salt cod sooner or later. But next attempt: the honey panna cotta (sans the truffle honey). Keeping it simple. Honey Panna Cotta with Fresh Raspberries and Dark Chocolate. I will also cool the panna cotta down quicker and use more gelatin.

I made a large pot of butternut squash soup as well. This is my own recipe of sorts, and I'd better write it down sometime. I change it here and there as I make it. Sometimes I just dash in the spices according to my mood. There is no exact recipe. I can tell you the ingredients are butternut squash (are you surprised?) red onions, garlic, shallot, thyme all tossed on a sheet pan with olive oil, butter, and sherry. I roast the squash in the oven until it caramelizes. In the pot, add some garlic and shallot in olive oil to brown. Add homemade vegetable stock (or chicken, or both). Soak some cashews in a bowl of broth on the side while you cook your soup. A good blender is necessary for this soup, as the final touch is in the blending!

Once the squash is nice and caramely with the sherry and red onions, put all of the roasted squash mixture into the pot of broth. Blend it in batches and pour it into another pot. I like to use my clay pot and a favorite olivewood spoon to stir, but that's my little nuance. I like to think that it enhances the flavor, just like casting a magic spell. Maybe witches used olivewood spoons to stir up their aphrodisiac inducing cauldrons of soup? Love spells are made with fresh herbs and spices, don't you know.

Just blend up the soup, adding in the cashews batch by batch. The cashews make it creamy and lend a nice flavor. Once the soup is all blended to a good consistency, start the seasoning. I love using several mixtures of curry -- Penzey's Maharajah, Garam Masala, and Pumpkin Pie spices. Sea salt, thyme, some heavy cream. Honey. A dollop of honey also allows the sweetness of the squash to blossom and come out. Turmeric, a known aphrodisiac, is also wonderful with the squash soup. It enhances the curry flavors as well as the golden orange color. But I won't give away all of my secrets. Hepp's Salt Barrel "Spicy Curry" salt works wonders for adding that delicious amount of finishing taste.

The other day I made some egg tartines for breakfast, and some cinnamon french toast with spiced applesauce for my kids. But the mushroom polenta for dinner came out really well, so I think it qualifies for an aphrodisiac recipe. Here is where the truffle honey dazzled the tongue. I sauteed some garlic and shallot in a pan with olive oil and butter. Once the garlic and shallot looked golden and smelled good, I splashed in some sherry. A touch of mirin. 

I added chopped up shittake and chantrelle mushrooms, allowed the mixture to simmer. Then a spoonful of miso paste and concentrated vegetable broth paste into a cup with a about half a cup of warm water to emulisfy. When I felt the pan was ready for it, I poured in the broth mixture. A drizzle of truffle honey (just a smidge) made the flavors wonderful! The polenta was already made in a pan next to the mushroom saute, so once the dish was plated, I poured it over the polenta. Served up with rosemary chicken, topped with a poached egg, and some vegetables I sauteed on the side glazed in balsamic cream.

I was very proud of this polenta dish. The panna cotta wasn't entirely a failure, but I won't apologize for the attempt. Julia Child said "never apologize" and so I won't.

And as Julia would say, Bon Appetit!