Beer enthusiasts may beg to differ, but there is no other alcoholic beverage that compliments food more splendidly than wine. For this Autumnal Equinox, get in the kitchen and see what can be whipped up for a pairing feast. To get your party started right, try the following impressive appetizer and welcome your guests with a glass of dry sparkling wine to set a festive tone. I used it at a fall wine party a few years back, and it was very well-received.
DATES STUFFED WITH GOAT CHEESE (from WILLIAMS-SONOMA ENTERTAINING, by George Dolese)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fine dried bread crumbs
24 large dates, preferably Medjool
3/4 lb. soft fresh goat cheese
Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly oil a baking dish just large enough to hold the dates in a single layer. In a small frying pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until the bread crumbs are evenly golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, transfer the bread crumbs to a plate, and let cool.
With a small knife, make a a small lengthwise incision in each date. Carefully remove the pits. Stuff 1 tablespoon of the goat cheese into the cavity left by each dates's pit. Arrange the dates, with goat cheese side facing upward, in the prepared dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the top. (The dates can be prepared up to this point up to 24 hours in advance. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.)
Bake the dates until warmed through, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and serve warm.
For the main dish, cook up your favorite couscous and toss with some stir-fried and roughly chopped fall produce of the harvest. Toss everything together lightly with some extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs. Serve it up with a fruity Syrah or Red Zinfandel.
Finish with a dessert plate of assorted apples, grapes, berries and locally-made chocolate. Match with a ruby port or a sassy Riesling. Assign each guest a bottle to bring for one of your courses, and be sure to have some mellow, romantic tunes playing throughout your party. If a round of Indian Leg Wrestling breaks out later, don't say I didn't warn you. ; )
Photo "Wines and Vines," by Xedos4 from freedigitalphotos.net