A meal and a chilled bottle of wine key to warming crush's heart

You've been flirting with your lab partner for six weeks now. You call her every Thursday to compare exam results. You sign her in when she's too hungover to walk to Zoology. You both linger for a few extra minutes after study groups. Ask her out already! 

 

A meal is always the best first date option, because you can cover awkward pauses in conversation with loud chewing, and feign food poisoning for a quick escape.  

 

While there are hundreds of outstanding restaurants in the general Madison area, I always recommend cooking at your own place for a first date. You'll be more at ease on your own turf. It will be considerably less expensive, and your bedroom will be super close if everything goes well. 

Here are three extremely simple date meals that are sure to impress. Don't overlook the wine pairings. Alcohol makes everyone better-looking. 

 

*Broccoli Alfredo with Chardonnay* 

 

Anyone can make this dish - yes, even you. To begin, steam some broccoli, boil some fettuccine noodles and open a can of Alfredo sauce. Pour the sauce into a saucepan and simmer, stirring constantly to prevent the horrible alfredo skin"" phenomenon. Make sure the broccoli is cut into bite-sized portions, the sauce is nice and bubbly and the pasta has not turned to glue. If you decide to check your pasta for doneness by throwing it against a wall, make sure your date is not standing in the way - nothing derails a promising evening like third-degree facial burns.  

 

Combine everything in a large serving dish and enjoy. I would pair this meal with a domestic chardonnay because the buttery flavor of the wine will mesh well with the rich sauce. Try the Pepperwood Grove Chardonnay available at Copps for about $7. 

 

*Sirloin Steak, Mashed Potatoes and Zinfandel* 

 

Ladies, the fastest way to a man's heart is through steak. They tolerate chicken and pretend to like pork, but beef is their one true love. You could come in a close No. 2 if you perfect the art of preparing red meat. 

 

A steak dinner does not have to be expensive. Petite sirloin steaks - named for the cut, not the size - are very affordable and exceptionally tender. Heat up a grill or skillet, coat both sides of the steak with kosher salt, pepper, thyme and a pinch of chili powder and set aside. Boil some quartered potatoes then throw on the steaks.  

 

While the meat sears, mash the potatoes and mix in some milk, butter and perhaps a bit of cheese. It's a well-known fact that cheese can only improve a meal. Sear the other side of the steaks but make sure you don't overcook them. 

 

I would pair this meal with a spicy Zinfandel. Zinfandels are awesome with red meat, yet few people have ever had a really good Zin. I love Alexander Valley's ""Wicked Weekend"" trio of Zinfandels - choose from Temptation Zin, Sin Zin or Redemption Zin. They can be found at most large wine shops and range from $12 to $15 a bottle, very affordable for a Zinfandel. 

 

*Mussels and Sauvignon Blanc* 

 

Don't freak out because I mentioned seafood, people. You can buy fresh mussels from any local grocery store for $3 to $4 a pound. A pound and a half is plenty for two people, and shellfish impresses like no other. 

 

This dish requires white wine, and you might as well use the stuff you're going to drink. I love the Chilean vineyard La Playa, and their Sauvignon Blanc is exceptional. Riley's carries the latest vintage for less than $10. 

 

Pour about two inches of wine into the bottom of a large stockpot and add some chopped green onions and salt. If you're serving the shellfish with pasta, throw some angel hair pasta in a pot of boiling water. Simmer the wine mixture for about five minutes and toss in the mussels. Stir the mussels rapidly until the steam opens all the shells. Discard any unopened ones, as they've probably gone bad. Serve the mussels and broth on top of the pasta or with crusty French bread. 

 

Best of luck, you brave souls! 

 

Care to split a quality bottle of Zinfandel with Caroline? Send her an e-mail at clmueller2@wisc.edu.

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