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By Chef Todd

Stay Home or Go Out For Valentines Day?

Stay home or go out for Valentines Day? You’re probably asking the same question. What are the advantages and benefits of a fancy dinner in that special restaurant versus creating a romantic dinner at home?

Most people would pick that once-a-year restaurant because the thought of cooking this type of meal is like a cold shower on what should be the most romantic dinner of the year.

What would cupid do? Even that bow and arrow armed pudgy cherub might have to give this some thought. Should we stay in or go out for Valentines Day?

To make this important decision, you have to consider benefits involved in creating a romantic evening at home, or letting someone else do it for you.

1) Money – Unless romance is Olive Garden or TGI Fridays to you, you’re probably going to drop some coin. According to Zagat, the restaurant rating people, the average couple will spend $147 on Valentines Day dinner. That’s $100 more than the average spent for any other night out. You’ll spend $100 more than you normally would on any other night of the year.

2) Convenience – Restaurant professionals like me know that Valentines Day and Mothers Day are the WORST nights of the year to go to a restaurant. There is an unusual burden on the restaurant staff and systems on these two nights. They often see a surge that they can’t handle. You face potential disappointment along with the $147 you spent because the otherwise excellent restaurant is swamped between 6pm and 9pm on this particular day.

3) Wine - According to Zagat, 45% of their survey respondents who said they were headed to a restaurant for the romantic night would splurge on a nice bottle of wine. However, that same bottle of wine at the wine store will be 20% of what you’d pay for it when uncorked and poured at your table. That means the $20 dollar bottle of wine you’d really want to buy is $100 when ordered out. Either save the money, or buy an even nicer than nice bottle and enjoy it at your own table.

4) Control and Quality – If you were to prepare a romantic meal at home you have better control over the source of the food. If you’re concerned about where your food comes from, to dine out you might have to visit your local “farm to table” restaurant and options might be limited. When you write the menu, you control the food AND the cost.

5) Aphrodisiacs – Yes, foods that excite more than the palate. There are many foods that, through science or myth, supposedly have aphrodisiac qualities to them. During the most romantic meal of the year, you could use the most romance-inducing foods for an extra special night.

6) Achieving Together - Despite the alleged aphrodisiac qualities of some foods, just the act of preparing a meal for the one you love, or working on the entire affair together is perhaps the most romantic part of Valentines Day. The pride and confidence you experience having created and enjoyed a fantastic meal in your own home is aphrodisiac enough.

7) The Ceremony – Going to a restaurant is easy, most of the time. However, if you have a long wait for a table, it can be a romance killer. Zagat says that only 17% of people who go to restaurants on Valentines Day make their reservation in advance. That means 83% are waiting for a table. If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll spend your V-Day waiting in the lobby.

However, the ceremony of planning, creating, and presenting a romantic meal in your own home might spark fantastic scenarios in your head. Are you Lord and Lady of the manor? If you dress for the occasion, even in your own home, then you ARE aristocracy and it becomes more than a meal, it’s a total celebration of romance.

8) Portions - Stay in and you can control how much food is served. Most restaurants over-portion and that overly-full feeling is anything but romantic. It’s a food hangover. In the US, we get way too much food on our plates. Yes, you can ask for a doggie-bag, but those leftovers don’t look or taste the same the next day. As a matter of fact, eating two day old restaurant food diminishes the original experience in some way. You’ve heard of “beer goggles”? Call it “Burgundy goggles” when that entrée looked beautiful last night but is wearing the same tin foil the next day.

9) Time and Effort - It takes just as much time and effort to get in the car, drive to the restaurant, locate or pay for parking, wait for your table, wait for service, wait for your check, wait for your car, and drive home than it takes to create the meal yourself. With the right plan, a few cooking skills, and a lot of love, you can make a better meal in less time that it takes to go out and get one.

10) Warmth and Safety – If you stay in, you’re already home. Hopefully, you would never drink and drive, so a romantic meal at home means you can relax and enjoy your evening without worry. It’s cold outside. It’s warm in your home. Stay closer to your kitchen this Valentines Day and it’ll bring you closer to the bedroom too.

My recommendation is that you go OUT for dinner, but not on Valentines Day. Your local restaurant would appreciate your business every other night of the year, but they’ve got enough business on February 14th.

Now that you’ve decided to stay in for Valentines Day, what do you need to create the most romantic meal your kitchen has ever seen? You need a plan. You need a simple step-by-step procedure to create a menu, gather the ingredients, and lovingly present a meal that you’ve prepared and enjoyed together. I have that plan for you.

If you want to learn my exact process for creating a "soup to nuts" romantic meal at home (and I promise, it's easier than you ever imagined) Click Here now.

By Chef Todd

10 Romantic Dinner Ideas Using Aphrodisiac Foods

If you want to learn my exact process for creating a "soup to nuts" romantic meal at home (and I promise, it's easier than you ever imagined) Click Here now.

It’s easy for me to share 10 romantic dinner ideas with you, because I cook this way almost every night. I only cook what I’m inspired to create, and my wife, Heather has always been the muse behind my creativity, from culinary college until today.

The most romantic meals have three elements; they are visually appealing, they are pleasing to the palate, and they include aphrodisiac ingredients for their effects, or just for conversation value.

For centuries, many foods have been associated with aphrodisiac qualities. Can certain foods actually excite you more than others? Perhaps there’s more myth than medicine behind most of these stories, but other foods have been proven to have biological reactions similar to being in love.

Here’s my top 10 romantic dinner ideas and why they made the list:

1) Raw (or almost raw) FishSeared Ahi Tuna with Steamed Asparagus and Jasmine Rice - Raw fish can contain high levels of iron, perfect for testosterone production. Plus, Asparagus is packed with potassium, calcium, and Vitamin E, giving strength and stamina to the body. Plus, asparagus looks sexual. I’ll leave it at that.

2) Black Beans - Sauteed Grouper, Black Beans with Goat Cheese, Sauteed Green Beans with Red Peppers - Black beans were outlawed by the Catholic Church in the 15th century because they were too nubile, too reminiscent of a fetus, and thus would excite passions and create sin. Black beans are high in protein and are said to increase fertility.

3) Oysters and Clams - Baked Clams or Oysters Casino - Shellfish have long been associated with fertility, and oysters a particular favorite of legendary lovers like Cassanova. Modern science tells us that oysters, clams, mussels and other bi-valves are loaded with zinc, key to performance for both sexes.

4) Scallops - Poached Scallops over Brown Rice - Oysters have gotten most of the lore and fame of aphrodisiac qualities that remain today. However, Scallops were thought the most potent fertility food even before oysters. The scallop shell became the symbol of fertility to medieval Christians. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess, as well as Venus, the Roman goddess of fertility and love are both associated with scallop shells through timeless artwork.

5) Herbs and Seasonings - Fresh Tomato Pie with Basil Chiffonade - Herbs and spices have always been rare and expensive, until modern day. Most explorers of centuries past were in search of herbs and spices. The more rare the item, the more lore and myth that surrounds it. However, fresh herbs release intoxicating aromas that awaken many senses beyond taste.

6) Eggs - Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise - Eggs ARE the symbol of birth. It’s just about the only embryo we actually eat. It’s not surprising that they’ve long been associated with passion and fertility, as it was thought raw eggs consumed before consummation increased sexual vigor and fertility. Today, it’s known that the high quality protein found in eggs metabolize quickly in the body and aid in cell structure.

Plus, if you make Eggs Benedict for a loved one, I guarantee positive results!

7) Avocado - Poached Salmon with Angel Hair Pasta and Guacamole - The aphrodisiac lore behind avocados comes from its appearance. At the same time, they were seen as resembling a testicle by the Aztecs, and thought to be too suggestive of the curves of a woman to many other ancient cultures. The truth is that avocados have the highest level of protein you can find in a plant. Only animal proteins are greater.

8 ) Shrimp and Shellfish - Shrimp Cocktail with Fancy Sauces- One of the simplest meals to assemble, but the most effect from a romantic dinner idea standpoint, simple steamed shrimp can be one of the easiest and best meals. Lobster, crabs, shrimp and other shellfish are high in iron and essential fatty acids that are said to improve performance. An array of dipping sauces will give you a wide variety of exciting flavors, and an opportunity to share.

9) Hot Peppers - Hot Wings with Fresh Cut Fries Capsaicin, the heat in hot peppers, increases heart rate, dialates blood vessels, and deepens breathing. Eat some hot wings, or Indian Food, and your body will react as if you’re in love.

10) Strawberries - Chocolate Covered Strawberries or Strawberry Crepes - Strawberries ARE the signal of Spring all over the world. They arrive when all the birds are singing, and the bees are gathering honey. The heart shape and sweet red juice of strawberries have given them special place in aphrodisiac lore. Combining strawberries and cream or chocolate gives you two elements to excite. If you feed strawberries to your loved one, then you’re using them to their full effect.

To enjoy the great flavor and romantic qualities of chocolate, you don’t have to wait for dessert. Adding Chocolate Chip Pancakes or Chocolate Scones to breakfast, Cocoa Mole Chicken BLT at lunch, and Mole Pesto Shrimp for dinner will enable you to have Chocolate at Every Meal.

Just because my wife supported me through culinary school so I could follow my passion doesn’t mean I owe her a lifetime of dinners. She may think so, but she doesn’t realize that learning to cook is not only a way to enjoy my passion, but it’s a way to express passion as well.

I’m excited to create new meals using aphrodisiac foods. You don’t need to be a professional chef to prepare a meal for the one you love. You don’t need to be Cassanova to be romantic. You just need some romantic dinner ideas and the rest will follow.

If you want to learn my exact process for creating a "soup to nuts" romantic meal at home (and I promise, it's easier than you ever imagined) Click Here now.

I'd love to know what your idea of a romantic meal is, please leave your comment below:

By Chef Todd

Make Your Own Chocolate For Valentines Day By Tempering

Do you love chocolate?

I know - who doesn't?
If you want to learn my exact process for creating a "soup to nuts" romantic meal at home (and I promise, it's easier than you ever imagined) Click Here now.

Homemade chocolate candy for Valentines Day is even more thoughtful and special than the waxy, store bought heart shaped box. Creating your own treats is easy, quick and fun. It’s something the children love to do, and adults become children when working with chocolate.

It’s not as simple as just melting chocolate. To make your own candies or chocolate coated sweets, the chocolate must return to its hard, crunchy state at room temperature.

Have you ever melted chocolate to disastrous results? Most people have. A poor melting procedure will return rough, grainy chocolate or soupy brown liquid that never returns to its normal state.

Chocolate must be melted in a very specific way called tempering. Tempering chocolate correctly assures that it will be hard like a candy bar, or stick to items like a chocolate covered pretzel. Homemade chocolate candy for Valentines day MUST be done this way.

From a science and chemical standpoint, chocolate is a very complex item. When heated, the crystalline structure of the chocolate changes. When cooled, the structure changes again. Tempering chocolate means melting it to a precise temperature, then slowly cooling it back to room temperature without damage to the chemical structure of the chocolate. Otherwise, it will never recover.

The white spots you see on your candy bar are called bloom. When your chocolate has been left in a warm moist place, then cooled, you’ll see those white spots. This is called bloom. Blooming chocolate is not ruined, and tastes the same, but the structure of the candy has taken on moisture, making it visually unappealing. It’s not dangerous, just ugly.

Chocolate can also get moldy, as the water content will allow fungus to grow. Expired bags of chocolate chips left in your refrigerator will grow the blue/green mold very quickly. Chocolate can go rancid when their fats hydrolyze, taking on moisture.

Chocolate can burn. The milk solids in milk chocolate will begin to break down and burn at 130F (54C) and start to look grainy as if someone has added sand. You can never repair this mistake.

Thank goodness that chocolate melts as easily as it does. The fact that your mouth is 98F (36C) is what makes candy for Valentines Day so perfect. Chocolate will melt at 90F (32C), and the warm moist environment of your palate allows maximum enjoyment of this complex treat.

However, to correctly temper chocolate so that it melts and returns to its original state at room temperature, the chocolate must be melted to a precise 110F (43C). This is the optimum temperature to relax the crystal structure of the chocolate without destroying it.

All your homemade chocolate should begin with chips or pieces of chocolate that are the same size to allow for consistent melting. It’s easiest to control the temperature over a double boiler using an instant read digital thermometer.

A double boiler uses softly simmering water in a sauce pan with a metal bowl fitted inside that is at least twice the size of the pan below. Hot moisture or steam that escapes from the sauce pan cannot fold its way onto the chocolate if the bowl is much larger. Moisture in chocolate will cause it to seize and turn to mud.

Melt any measurement of chocolate to 110F (43C), and keep an additional 1/3 of that measurement aside to seed the homemade chocolate later. If you use 1 cup of chips to melt, have another 1/3 cup to seed. If you use 30 grams of chocolate, have 10 grams to seed.

Once the chocolate reaches the target temperature, quickly add the seed chocolate and stir until everything is melted to a smooth, shiny consistency.

The original amount of melted chocolate will take on the crystalline characteristics of the room temperature seed chocolate added to it. It will give the melted chocolate something to aspire to, to become like its brother in the original state.

This correctly tempered chocolate can now be used to make shapes, pour into molds, dip marshmallows or pretzels into, or top cupcakes and petit-fours. You’ll have to work quickly, because the goal of this homemade chocolate is to become stiff at room temperature again.

If the chocolate that you’re using for candy for Valentines day starts to stiffen before you’re finished working, just return it to the double boiler for 10 to 20 seconds to raise the temperature softly.

Tempering chocolate is a simple task that can be quickly mastered and used to express your love, have fun with your children, or just give yourself a deserved snack.

By Chef Todd

Parmesan Risotto Takes Time, but is Sooooo Worth it!

Making Parmesan Risotto will rock your cooking world if you’ve been eating Uncle Ben’s your whole life. Creating this classic Italian dish is intimidating to many people, but it’s incredibly easy to accomplish. It takes some patience, but is always worth the effort.

Risotto is not a type of rice. Risotto is the name of the dish prepared with short grain rice called Arborio. Arborio rice has become known as “Risotto Rice”, but the Risotto method can be used with many other types of rice.

The science of cooking behind rice is “gelatinization of starches”. At 150F (65c), starches will begin to absorb liquids and swell. This is how sauces are thickened, and why the water disappears and the rice gets bigger under cooking.

To make Parmesan Risotto, you’ll need Arborio rice. It’s very sticky rice with a high starch content.

Finished Risotto will stick together, but will be creamy. A well prepared dish will have the texture of tapioca or rice pudding rather than sticky sushi rice.

If you want to make Risotto with seafood, vegetables, or chicken, the procedure is the same. You begin by heating a small amount of fat in the pan and sautéing aromatic ingredients like onion or garlic. Then, you add the Arborio rice and thoroughly coat the grains in fat. This will help inhibit some of the gelatinization of starches, lowering the stick-factor.

Here’s the key to making Parmesan Risotto. Take your time! Add hot liquid in very small amounts, allowing the rice to absorb all the previous liquid before adding more. After about 45 minutes, your rice should be full of liquid and cannot absorb any more. Taste for desired texture and top with as much parmesan cheese as you want.

Parmesan Risotto is a great place to start mastering the Risotto method for making rice. Once you’ve created a creamy flavorful cheese Risotto, then all healthy cooking recipes with Arborio rice will be at your command.

What’s your favorite risotto creation? Risotto with Seafood? Mushroom Risotto? Italian Sausage Risotto? Be sure to leave your comment below...

By Chef Todd

Sword Poppin’ Champagne IN Champagne France

Your Paris tour or trip to France cannot be complete without a journey to the Champagne region. This is where they’ve made champagne for hundreds of years and where you hear all the poppin champagne corks. Enjoy your virtual tour in this champagne video.

GH Martel Champagne
It’s a 2 hour car ride from Paris to Reims and the GH Martel Champagne company. However, the trip won’t take us two hours because this champagne video starts aboard a 165mph bullet train.

Once at the Martel Cellars, we walked down a very long, old staircase that lead 25 feet under the earth in champagne cellars that were dug in the year 400AD.

Champagne Discovery
While the Martel company has out-grown this cellar, the methods remain the same. What the famous monk Dom Perignon discovered was the ability to add yeast and sugar to wine inside the bottle to facilitate a second fermentation, adding the bubbles that characterize a good champagne. “Brothers, come quickly, I’m drinking stars!” were his words upon the discovery.

Poppin Champagne
Our tour guide, Emmanuel made it very easy to create this champagne video, because he explained the process so well, which grapes are used, how the sediment is removed from bottles, and even how the cellar master prefers we drink the champagne. He even demonstrated the correct way to open a champagne bottle, and it’s not the way you think.

But the most exciting part of the champagne video was when he opened a bottle using a large knife “le sabbatier”. We were really poppin champagne bottles then! Whether it's your first trip to Paris or your third, don't forget to make this trip a part of your Paris tour. Maybe you will make your own champagne video!

Related Posts:
What a Paris Café Can Teach You About Healthy Eating.
Discover “Why Eating Healthy Food is Easy with Paris Cuisine

By Chef Todd

Valentine's Day Dessert Ideas

After you're through melting chocolate for Valentines Day candy, start thinking about a romantic Valentines dessert. The secrets of egg custard will enable you to make creme brulee or zabaglione, a romantic valentines day dessert.

I've been a fan of the incredible, edible, egg. It's nature's perfect food. Nutritionally balanced, and filling a long list of roles in the kitchen, it's a great friend to chefs and home cooks alike.

Eggs leaven baked goods, they bind items together, they combine two un-mixable objects, they add color to breads and pies, they're perfect by themselves, and they thicken liquids too!

Egg proteins "coagulate", they stiffen and shrink at 165f or 74c. You can use this knowledge to make scrambled eggs, or to slowly bring the egg proteins to this temperature threshold, combined with milk or cream, to make a thickened custard.

You've got a great skill in the kitchen if you can treat an egg yolk so delicately as to have it thicken your liquid without getting bits of scrambled eggs in your custard. This ability can be transferred to cold sauces, salad dressings, creamy desserts, and even used in a unique way to bind crab meat together. That's the improvisation I used to win the Chesapeake Flavor Crab Cook-Off in Annapolis, Maryland last year.

While the other contestants were using the typical mayonnaise to bind their crab cakes
, I used my knowledge of egg custard to make a creamy crab entree without scooping mayonnaise into the mix. You can see the video Chef Todd Wins Crab Cook Off on my Facebook page.

Today's video will show you how to use egg yolks to thicken liquids and make an egg custard
. Once you've mastered this skill, you're only a step away from Creme Brulee', or Zabaglione, two romantic Valentines Day Dessert Ideas.

If you want to learn my exact process for creating a "soup to nuts" romantic meal at home (and I promise, it's easier than you ever imagined) Click Here now.

Not interested in custard?
How about Melting Chocolate for Valentine's Day Candy?

By Chef Todd

Melting Chocolate for Valentines Day

Rather than buying Valentines Day candy, how about melting chocolate and making your own Valentines Day candy this year?

The key to melting chocolate for Valentines Day, Easter candy, chocolate lollipops, or any homemade chocolates is melting chocolate to a precise temperature, called chocolate tempering.

Real chocolate should have four basic ingredients: Cocoa, Cocoa butter, Sugar, and Vanilla. Any chocolate bar that lists things like vegetable oil or palm kernel oil cannot call themselves chocolate. Chocolate for Valentine's day candy may also have soy lecithin as an emulsifier, and milk.

Chocolate starts out in the seeds of the yellow fruit of the cacao (Ka-Kow) tree. There are about 40 almond-sized beans in each of the cacao fruits. The beans are harvested and treated a lot like coffee. Cacao beans are left in the sun to dry and ferment. They are then crusted, revealing the valuable "cocoa nib"

Cocoa nib is further processed into "chocolate liquor" (has no alcohol), or "chocolate mass". This the resulting fat or butter from the processing of the nib. This is what gives real chocolate it's wonder mouth-feel.

Melting chocolate isn't as simple as just applying heat and watching it melt. If you'd like to create your own valentines day candy, then the chocolate needs to be "tempered" so it will return to it's solid, crisp, shiny state after melting.

Tempering chocolate is not difficult, but you must contain a lot of caution in melting chocolate this way. There is a slight 10 degree Fahrenheit range to which you must melt the chocolate gently, and then "seed" the melted chocolate with cold pieces so that the warm sugar may assume the crystal structure of the cold sugar in the chocolates.

It's more fun, and a lot less expensive to make your own Valentines Day Chocolates by learning the correct method to melting chocolate to create your own Valentine's Day Candies.

By Chef Todd

Hot Chocolate Recipe for Adults ONLY!

Don't deny it! You were with her. I saw you with her. That Swiss Miss is no good for you. Forget that chemically powdered hot cocoa mix this winter. She's a big fake! You can create your own hot chocolate recipe with just a few simple ingredients, including a special gift for adults only.

Why is powdered hot cocoa made with water acceptable to many people, but you'd never think of helping yourself sleep with a warm glass of powdered milk and water? Powdered milk isn't comforting enough when mixed with hot water. Hot cocoa mix with water should meet the same repulsion.

The best hot chocolate is made with MILK, not water, and contains any type of sweetener you'd like along with the warm milk. This way, you control the intensity of the cocoa, as well as the level of sweetness. My secret to the best hot cocoa is using flavored liqueurs to give it an "adults only" appeal.

If you get the greatest enjoyment from things you create yourself, as in cooking, then your signature hot chocolate recipe should be one of your best kept secrets this winter season.