There is nothing more genuinely refreshing than that first morning of fall air, when you step on a leaf and it crunches as perfectly as a snowflake while sunlight pours down through a kaleidoscope of oranges and browns. At last fall is here, and with it comes a new season of flavors and foods to fit the feel. This week I took on the task of planning and executing the perfect “Fall Dinner for Two.”
As it turns out, there are far more elements and obstacles involved in planning a delightful dinner in its entirety than I had imagined. So here it is: how to create a perfect fall dinner for two — college style.
The first key ingredient you need for the perfect fall dinner is a date. Typical dates might be a significant other, a long-time friend or someone you are aiming to impress with your culinary prowess and sophistication.
I secured a wonderful date in the nick of time. After agreeing on a day, make sure you have what you need to set up the evening. Hopefully, you have your own kitchen, equipped with everything you might need. In my case, that is living in a freshman dorm and sharing a kitchen with 34 others, I had to find myself a kitchen to borrow.
Now we can get into details. I thought endlessly of what my idea of the perfect fall meal was, while accommodating a college student’s budget.
The first course was decided upon last, as I had been suspended in a canyon of indecision between a soup or salad, when I was struck by a cheesy bolt of inspiration: brie and bread. I found a simple recipe online for maple walnut-baked brie. It was very easy to prepare; I found an inexpensive wheel of brie at Kroger (along with the rest of my ingredients). I sprinkled some brown sugar on top as well, to caramelize the walnuts and, as a side note, found that the cheaper the Brie, the longer it takes to melt.
I had a fairly clear view of what I wanted to do for the main entrée; something hearty to contrast the light meals of summertime. I decided on my mother’s bacon-wrapped mozzarella chicken breasts, since the chicken is fairly affordable and bacon is delicious on just about anything. The baby red potatoes I served as a side could not possibly be easier, in fact, I would go so far as to say they were easier than preparing a box of macaroni and cheese.
I knew from the instant I took on this challenge that brussel sprouts would be involved. Not only are they the perfect fall vegetable, they have a reputation that they do not deserve, and need all the support and encouragement I can provide. When prepared as they deserve to be, they have a taste and texture that is beyond words. The key to unlocking this magic is to not overcook them.
The salad I decided to make was also simple, I decided on a light honey dijon dressing with apple and pecan to give it that fall taste. My personal favorite is red leaf lettuce but any mixed greens will do just fine.
For dessert, I chose cinnamon strudel since it would go wonderfully with apple cider and was from a box so did not require too much work. A good thing about a pastry for dessert is that it can be made well in advance, then popped into the microwave for a few seconds before serving.
As far as beverages go, I would recommend serving a dryer wine with a subtle taste such as a Sauvignon Blanc or a Chardonnay. Since I am not “of age,” I went with the less glamorous selection of ice water. With dessert, I served some apple cider I picked up at the store, which complimented the cinnamon quite well.
The part of the date I struggled most with was setting up. Not having my own apartment meant I had to accept whatever I could get, so the atmosphere did not quite live up to its full autumnal potential, but that’s okay; life’s not perfect. An important thing even if you have a pretty basic setup is to make sure everything is tidy. Luckily the kitchen I borrowed was very clean indeed. Another necessity I had trouble with was finding a table cloth: in the end, I had to settle for a baby blue bed sheet I borrowed from another friend.
The centerpiece was a small pumpkin that I carved and cut in half to create a candle holder. I decorated the outside, and overall, I was pretty satisfied with the way it came out. I think that even Martha Stewart would have been proud.
I played a light folk rock mix in the background, which ranged from Mumford and Sons to Ben Sollee. Make sure your music does not over power the ambiance or distract your date.
With food in the oven, the table set, and the candle aglow, it was time for my date. The meal turned out fabulous on all accounts. I even believe I impressed my date, Scott Prombo, a first-year BME major.
“The menu was served with all the inspiration and attention to detail the dining halls lack. Overall it was a lovely evening and a much-needed break from an all-access meal plan,” Prombo said.
So if you are needing a little something to spice up your fall, but don’t want to commit four dollars a day to a pumpkin spice latte, try giving one or all of these recipes a try.
I had a lovely time and cannot wait to embrace all the other great aspects of fall.
Honey Dijon Apple Pecan Salad
- Mixed Greens
- Chopped Apples
- Diced Red Onions
- Honey Dijon Dressing
1. Toss salad with dressing and red onions to coat leaves evenly
2. Garnish with pecans, grape tomatoes and chopped apples
Cheesy Bacon-wrapped Chicken
- 2 1 oz. sticks string cheese,
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 1/2 tsp. Dried sage
- 4 strips bacon
1. Heat oven to 500 degrees
2. Cut cheese sticks in half, punch chicken to flatten.
3. Sprinkle rough side of breast with sage, salt & pepper.
4. Roll each breast around string cheese. Tuck in ends and use toothpicks to secure.
5. Wrap one piece of bacon around each.
Bake in shallow pan at 500 for 20 minutes
Maple Baked Brie
- Small Wheel of Brie
- Chopped walnuts (just enough to top brie)
- 3 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
- Sliced French Baguette
1. Put Brie into small cooking dish, top with walnuts and drizzle over maple syrup.
2. Cook in oven at 250 degrees for 10 minutes or until cheese is warmed and soften.
Serve with sliced French bread or crackers of your choice.
Parmesan Brussel Sprouts
- 12 Fresh Brussel Sprouts
- 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
- Fresh Parmesan Cheese
1. Cut base of brussel sprouts and remove any yellow leaves. Cut each sprout in half,
perpendicular to the base.
2. Place sprouts in bowl and coat with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, a sprinkle of
salt and pepper. Leave in bowl for twenty minutes.
3. Heat up a heavy skillet with a dollop of vegetable oil in it.
4. Fry sprouts face down for 4 minutes; flat side should be nicely browned.
5. Pour 1/3 cup of water into pan and cover, steaming sprouts for 5 minutes.
6. Drain if necessary, and pour into serving bowl.
7. Salt and shred parmesan cheese over top and serve warm.
- Box of Betty Crocker’s Cinnamon Streusel
- White frosting
1. Cook the streusel as directed by box
2. Before serving, sprinkle additional streusel topping and then drizzle frosting over
muffin to give it something special.