Cook Now, Spoon Later: Fall Recipes That’ll Land You a Date for the Holidays

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Fall is definitely the time for food — have you been to the farmers’ market to ogle the winter squash (and the cute guys buying them) lately? Where summer’s cuisine is cool as a cucumber, fall’s is hearty, nostalgic, and comforting — good qualities for your home-cooked dishes to have when you’re trying to forge that crucial connection between someone’s stomach and their heart.

Thanksgiving is around the corner, and Hanukkah and Christmas just around the bend after that. These are food-centric holidays, and all holidays are better with a date. So, what to cook now to seduce a special someone by then? Meals that’ll make your date think, “If she can do this with a chicken breast, imagine what she’ll do with the whole turkey!”

Here’s what to make.

Sophisticated takes on childhood favorites like, well, chicken fingers, are sure to win over a guy who’s really a little boy at heart (and aren’t they all?). Instead of feasting on fried food at the bar with his buds, invite a date over for Cilantro Chicken Milanese, an amped-up version of good old chicken cutlets, pan-fried, and seasoned with Middle Eastern-ish flavors. To highlight the sophisticated side, serve with a cous cous salad.

If you’re frying chicken cutlets, you’ve also got the option of throwing together a big baking dish of Chicken Parmesan. Best to fry and assemble ahead of time, then shower, then bake the whole thing up. Feed melty bites of chicken, tomato sauce, and cheese to each other in between sips of red wine, or buy Italian bread and make heros while you reminisce about childhood and college exploits.

That brings us to Italian, the classic date night restaurant fare. Never underestimate the sex appeal of a big bowl of pasta — fresh if you can get it — and a simple vegetable side or green salad. Try Lemon Fettucine with Bacon and Chives (yes, that’s bacon in pasta), or the autumnal Inside-Out Squash Ravioli Pasta. If you’ve got the zest to make it, you can’t go wrong with homemade pizza either.

Something unexpected totally from scratch will impress a potential holiday date above and beyond any classic romantic meals. Pull a loaf of fresh Walnut-Raisin No-Knead Bread from the oven just before he arrives; slather it with softened butter for a foodgasmic hors d’oeuvre. Brownies, cookies, and cakes (see below) will do the trick too.

Show him what’s in store for the holidays by making a “holiday preview meal,” like Greek-Style Roasted Chicken with Potatoes which will whet his appetite for the real holiday feast: if he sticks around, he’ll get rounds #2 and #3 with a turkey, a ham, or a brisket once November and December arrive. A well-made dish like Flank Steak with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms speaks to your holiday-worthiness as well.

Bake. Gooey desserts might be the mainstay of nights in with your roommates or girlfriends, but a thought-out dessert can be the perfect ending to an at-home date, or the perfect accompaniment to a nightcap. Chocolate Mousse with Gingerbread Whipped Cream is classic, yet also in line with the season. Lemon Budino is easy, and perfect for non-chocoholics. Nutella Soufflé is decadent—sure to wow. Any of these delightful dishes bode well for your skills at making the perfect Thanksgiving apple pie, Christmas cookies, and New Year’s Eve sweets.

And, if it all works out, here’s how to make sure he keeps falling in love with you in the morning — over breakfast.

Cara and Phoebe are the bloggers behind Big Girls, Small Kitchen and Small Kitchen College. Their first book, In the Small Kitchen, is in stores now.