Armed with a heart-rate monitor and an array of aphrodisiacs, one keen cook attempts to woo his girlfriend. What will you be cooking this Valentine's Day?
I never used to see the point of Valentine's Day. If you are in a couple, you should aim to make every day special. Why push the boat out on 14 February just to please the florists and chocolate-makers? That may be why I have lived alone so long. But, in the spirit of self-improvement, I have spent a weekend trying to serve the perfect Valentine's meal: six culinary attempts to cement my place in my loved one's affections. To make things vaguely scientific, I download an app called Cardiio to monitor her heart with my iPhone. The object, I reckon, is to get it not just fluttering but racing.
Saturday morning starts with a "his and hers brekkie" from Emma Marsden's cookbook Heart on a Plate: Heart-Shaped Food for the Ones You Love. Since Valentine's Day doesn't so much embrace sexual stereotypes as give them a thorough rogering, I assume that I get the toast with a fried egg in a heart-shaped cutout, while Hannah (who doesn't have a sweet tooth) makes do with eggy toast hearts, dusted with icing sugar and accompanied by slices of peach. Still, egg is an aphrodisiac. According to eatsomethingsexy.com, it was once considered "the ultimate symbol of fertility". I am delighted to see her heart rate rise 40% by the end of the meal, but that could be the buck's fizz, made with a generous amount of Taittinger Brut Reserve.
I have ambitious plans for lunch – "Treat her like a princess" are the instructions on one box of goodies – but I run out of time and reheat two pasties, part of an unusually butch Valentine's hamper from Devon Hampers. Despite arriving wrapped in plastic and without any list of ingredients ("I thought that was illegal," says Her Highness), they are fresh and delicious. Her heart rate shoots up 98%. We celebrate with sloe royale: Hayman's sloe gin and prosecco, adorned with a raspberry.
I break out the big guns for Saturday dinner: heart-shaped lamb steaks from butcher-to-the-Queen Donald Russell, with asparagus and (I can't blame anyone except myself) homemade, heart-shaped chips. Tender yet bursting with flavour, the lamb is the best we've had – a turn-on in itself. As for the asparagus, the great herbalist William Culpepper reckoned it "stirs up lust in man and woman". This probably has something to do with the spears' vague resemblance to a gentleman's you-know-what. That's the way aphrodisiacs usually work.
Woe is me, though. All that hard work is undone by Dell'Ugo's "special edition" dessert: chocolate ravioli. Brown pasta, stuffed with chocolate, then boiled or fried and served with ice-cream: it's just wrong. And we feel guilty about not liking it, given that 10p a pack goes to the Have A Heart charity for disadvantaged children. To revive our spirits, I pour some of Gosset's Grand Rosé champagne while reading from The Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia: "The rituals involved in champagne are undeniably sultry. There is a pent-up energy and tension in the heavily reinforced bottle, a teasing provocation in the undressing and unwiring of the bottle's phallic neck and bulbous cork. The release …" Hannah stops me for some reason. Her heart rate is up just 6%.
Sunday breakfast? The Collective Dairy's passionfruit yoghurt, mixed with Scrumshus granola from Moonpig's endearingly naff breakfast hamper, which also includes an artificial gerbera and a miniature milk bottle to hold it. "Good granola," Hannah decrees, while the yoghurt is "deliciously tart". I suggest she tries a spoonful of Comvita's manuka honey, since "honey is made through pollination and is a symbol of procreation". This seems to put her off. Her heart rate is up 14%. "Are you a turmoil of raging hormones?" I ask, without much hope. "Er, yeah."
Lunch, I tell myself, must sizzle. So it is pork in Spices of India's chilli fry curry sauce (chillies and onions are both said to have aphrodisiac qualities, which must be what makes this "a Valentine's treat to make any heart flutter"). "Proper spices!" Hannah says. "I love it. The only thing is … if it's a romantic meal and you're sweating like a pig, will you get your leg over?" We chase that image away with Godminster's creamy cheddar on Thomas J Fudge's crunchy, charcoal-black crackers. Both are, inevitably, heart-shaped. It would be a fantastic combination, but for the biscuit-maker's references to "merry munching sessions" and "spirited banter". "That gives me the anti-horn," Hannah grimaces.
I try to rescue the mood with some sparkling Blue Nun, complete with flecks of gold leaf. It is "ideal for romantic occasions", apparently. Hannah's verdict: "I can see the gold but I can't taste it. Or the wine." Her pulse is up just 10%.
Which only leaves dinner. I have decided to harness the legendary powers of chocolate, which helped Aztec emperor Montezuma keep on top of his 600-strong harem. So we start with avocados (also a hit with Montezuma's lot, who claimed they looked like testicles), dressed with tomatoes ("Eating fresh tomatoes increases sexual desire," according to botanical-online.com), olive oil (a lubricant, hence naturally sexy) and Hotel Chocolat's Cocoa Balsamic . The unlikely range of Hotel Chocolat's products – from candles to horseradish sauce – suggests it will stick cocoa in absolutely anything, but here it definitely works: the vinegar is rich and complex, but no sweeter than a normal balsamic.
The main course is less successful, combining cocoa pasta and cocoa pesto. Neither are noticeably sweet or unpleasantly chocolatey. The dish is acceptable, but a bit … "Meh," says Hannah. "And why would you serve something so brown on a date?"
It's a good question. Her pulse is still up 56%, but looking back over the weekend, it's clear what women want. Pasties.
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image: © Simon Law