My husband and I used to celebrate Valentine's Day with gifts and a special meal out, but these days the holiday has taken on more of a family feel. The kids get the gifts now, and instead of heading out for a fancy dinner this February 14, we'll tuck them in and then I'll make us a "date night" dinner at home. It will be both sexy and great for our tickers. Another benefit to cooking your own Valentine's dinner? You'll save mega bucks, and that's always good for a healthy bottom line.
A salad with sex appeal? Yes, it can be done! My husband isn't a huge fan of leafy greens, but if I mix them up with other goodies, I can get him to dig in. This year I'll toss some baby spinach with sliced strawberries and diced avocado. The spinach is a rich source of folate, which plays a role in heart health by breaking down homocysteine. Too much of this amino acid can lead to atherosclerosis. Sweet, juicy strawberries are loaded with the antioxidant vitamin C (one cup has 89 milligrams), and they also add a vibrant shot of red. Creamy avocado packs heart-loving monounsaturated fats, plus potassium, which is essential for healthy blood pressure. I'll dress it all with a light mix of extra-virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, orange zest, and a touch of agave nectar.
The Main Event
Nothing kills a romantic mood faster than a heavy dinner, so I like to keep things light, and that usually means serving seafood. While oysters are the king of zinc—the mineral that's touted for boosting libido—they are not necessarily the easiest things to serve at home. Instead, I like sautéing scallops or large peeled shrimp (just two to three minutes per side) in a hot, oiled pan. Season them with salt and pepper, sauté, and then serve over fresh pappardelle with a bit of lemon juice and freshly chopped parsley, and you have a satisfying meal that still leaves plenty of room for dessert.
Now we're getting to the really good stuff. You know what I'm talking about—chocolate! Rich in heart-protective flavonols, dark chocolate has been shown to help lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease. While chocolate does contain some saturated fat, it's comprised mostly of stearic acid, and unlike most saturated fats, it doesn't increase your cholesterol levels. And perhaps even more importantly on Valentine's Day, chocolate boosts your level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps boost mood and increases sexual desire. How's that for getting your sexy back?
This year, go beyond a box of chocolates and heat things up with chocolate fondue. You and your sweetie will have fun dipping fresh mango (a good source of fiber), sliced banana (lots of potassium), marshmallows (look for the handcrafted variety), and, if you really want to be decadent, shortbread, into rich, molten chocolate.
Start with a bar or chunks of chocolate that have at least 62 percent cacao (check the package). Then warm it in the top of a double boiler until it's melted. If you don't have a double boiler, place a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and place the chocolate in the bowl, stirring occasionally until it's smooth. Stand the mango on a cutting board with the stem end down, then slice it with your knife about ¼-inch from the center, down both sides of the pit that runs through the center. This will give you two mango "cheeks," which you can then make parallel slices in (be careful not to cut through the skin) before scooping them out with a spoon. The banana can simply be peeled and sliced into rounds.
If you don't have a fondue set (we don't), you can pour the liquid chocolate into two small bowls and serve the fruit and other goodies in another bowl. Then use wooden skewers, like the kind used for grilling, to dip your fruit into the chocolate. A-ma-zing!
And of course, a romantic dinner wouldn't be complete without some bubbly. I love the sparkling wine from California's Schramsberg winery, but a nice bottle of cava or prosecco is generally cheaper and just as celebratory.
Whether you're toasting to a love that's new or tried and true, or just kicking it with some friends, I hope you have a delicious Valentine's Day.
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Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, is a best-selling author and nationally recognized health expert, and the former Food and Nutrition Director at Health magazine for nearly eight years. Prior to that, she was part of the editorial team at the Discovery Health Channel and was managing editor at FoodFit.com. Frances is the author of Feed the Belly: The Pregnant Mom's Healthy Eating Guide and co-author of the best-selling The CarbLovers Diet and The CarbLovers Diet Cookbook. Frances earned her undergraduate degree from Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at Columbia University in New York.