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Sep 10, 2012 12:12 PM

URGENT!! Need help as I am Cooking meal for a girl, I'm 17, please help

Hi, I am cooking a meal for a girl this weekend and need some help as i can't choose what to make. I want it to be tasting amazing and looking stunning. I am quite a good cook and want to find a new reciepe that I can try that others have done before. All suggestions welcome. Budget isnt too limited but nothing that will take some serious looking around to find for the reciepe.

-Needs to look colourful or really impressive
-Needs to be fairly simple to make
-Needs to be something that can be eaten reletively easily.

Thanks for your time so far!!

P.S. I may have told her I am a better cook than I actually am so your help is very needed!

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  1. All right, the Chowhound gang is here to help!
    First....what does this girl like....what have you seen her eat out, or at school, etc? Any restrictions, like is she a vegan?

    1 Reply
    1. re: pinehurst

      also allergies, religious issues, etc., etc.

      Now...go though your existing recipes -- this is not the time to make something you've never made before (and it sure isn't the time to reach higher than you're able!) Nothing impresses like a stellar fail...but not in a good way.

      What do you know how to make now? What's your "specialty" that friends and family tell you is really good? There's a good chance that you've got something you already do well that we can help you dress up with garnishes, sauces, etc., to knock it out of the park.

    2. More questions for you... sorry, we gotta ask questions before we can give answers. What meal are you cooking (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and what is the setting (at home, picnic, party, etc)? How formal or casual do you want to be, and how romantic (assuming this is the point, at least eventually)? How well equipped a kitchen do you have access to? Also, does she like to cook? And can you give us some examples of things you can make well, just so we have an idea of your style and ability?

      4 Replies
      1. re: MelMM

        It will be a Dinner and the setting will be at home. I want it to be a casual but with a touch of formality as I dont want to look like I dont care that much. Romance wise, I'm trying to impress her but not trying to make it obvious that I love her or anything haha.

        The kitchen is rather basically equipped but if equipment is need it can be bought. I have until sunday night.

        She does cook, but not much, so a meal that has taste and good presentation will impress her as she will understand what goes into it but i wouldnt say she is passionate about food.

        All my cooking at the moment is rather basic food for myself with low presentation and pure function for fueling my sport. I can cook pretty much all meats and have done quite a few using different methods, grilling, frying etc. Recently made this .

        I am leaving myself sometime before she comes over so that i can practice this dish a few times to nail it before i make it for her.

        Thanks for your help guys, much appreciated so far!!!!!

        1. re: BigcookLittlecook

          Okay, so when a friend who a non cook was cooking for the first time for a new girlfriend (now wife) she called me for advice and pulled off an really good, pretty and easy meal that impressed. I told her to make broiled sea scallops using this recipe topping and serve it over sauteed baby or other spinach: Adjust the quantity and timing to your servings: Works great on any fish. It's very easy, not much time away from your guest. Add sides if you think you need them, but this is all we have, no starch, when we eat it. Serve some apps, maybe cheese and sparkling wine pre meal, and have a great dessert. A day ahead, you can make a boule de neige (recipes online), unmold it and whip fresh cream after dinner before serving. Whatever you make, hope it's a great evening!

          1. re: BigcookLittlecook

            I was thinking that setting up a couple of fondue pots with a delicious cheese mixture along with crisp vegetables....crusty bread....bread sticks might be fun and entertaining.Then a chocolate fondue with cubes of cake...cookies...fruits for dessert.My idea of romance and sexy after I watched Rocco DeSpirito consume fondue on The Best Thing I Ever Ate:) Pure Food Porn! J/K but fondue seems simple yet it is appealing to the eyes if you arrange things nicely and it sort of encourages "Ohhhs and Awws" and interaction while enjoying it. The other thing that would be delicious and looks pretty are crepes.Savory and sweet. You can practice making the crepes and some sauces.Anything goes with the fillings.Someone else suggested pasta. I agree that is a good option.Tortellini with pesto and cheese...a crisp salad and maybe crusty bread. I make shish ka bobs.I do them in the oven and on the grill. Simple colorful and tasty....again fun to eat.You can serve pita bread and salad. I serve mine on a bed of rice with side sauces and a huge salad full of fresh vegetables. Maybe fresh fruit for dessert like berries with vanilla ice cream or sweet ice cold pineapple slices.

            1. re: Lillipop

              it's over -- see below. (Went well, though!)

        2. Chicken with a Grilled Vegetable Assortment

          Red or Yellow Peppers
          Green and Yellow Squash/Zucchini
          Potato/Sweet Potato

          Grilled Chicken or Pan Roasted Chicken

          1 Reply
          1. re: fourunder

            I'd go one further on this. Roast or grill a chicken (cut up should work) with a rub of coriander (the spice, not fresh cilantro), cumin, cinnamon, pepper, etc. You can also put a thread of saffron in the pan with some stock if you're roasting it in the oven. Serve it with aforementioned roast vegetables and couscous.
            For the couscous: Instant couscous is fine. It takes all of ten minutes to make. Put raisins and pine nuts or slivered almonds into the pot with it. Then put it in a bowl or platter in a nice cone-shaped mound and sprinkle cinnamon over it in a little design.
            And there you go--easy, exotic, sophisticated, and pretty.
            Good luck!

          2. re: MelMM

            It will be a Dinner and the setting will be at home. I want it to be a casual but with a touch of formality as I dont want to look like I dont care that much. Romance wise, I'm trying to impress her but not trying to make it obvious that I love her or anything haha.

            The kitchen is rather basically equipped but if equipment is need it can be bought. I have until sunday night.

            She does cook, but not much, so a meal that has taste and good presentation will impress her as she will understand what goes into it but i wouldnt say she is passionate about food.

            All my cooking at the moment is rather basic food for myself with low presentation and pure function for fueling my sport. I can cook pretty much all meats and have done quite a few using different methods, grilling, frying etc. Recently made this .

            I am leaving myself sometime before she comes over so that i can practice this dish a few times to nail it before i make it for her.

            Thanks for your help guys, much appreciated so far!!!!!

            P.S. Shes not vegan

            1 Reply
            1. re: BigcookLittlecook

              make that for her!!!! I would smother my guy in kisses if he made that for me !

            2. My first thought was pasta. You can make the sauce in advance and get it just right. It will only improve having a day or two to hang out in the fridge. Be mindful of the type of sauce though and the shape of pasta (no long noodles!). You can serve a lovely green salad as a first course. If you can find edible flowers, all the better.

              Make sure to have some nibbles when she arrives. Chunks of parm and fresh figs come to mind, or another cheese and ecoutrements. Good luck!!

              21 Replies
              1. re: Christina D

                YES! that is a really good idea, all of it. What sauce do you reckon has the most impressive taste after maturing for a few days?
                Thanks Christina

                1. re: BigcookLittlecook

                  Ragu bolognese is classic, gets better with time and is one of the most delicious things you'll ever eat. Follow this recipe to the letter and you can't go wrong: (PS, if you use canned tomato paste instead of the stuff from a tube, 1/2 of a 6oz can should do the trick).

                  1. re: biondanonima

                    Ragu is a great idea. If your lady likes lamb, Food & Wine Mag recently had a recipe for lamb ragu with strozzapretti that was easy, gorgeous and fantastic. If you can't find strozzapretti pasta, gemelli or fusilli are easier to find and would be perfectly suitable.


                    Also, I *love* the idea of having her help. Cooking together is very romantic. ;o)

                    1. re: Christina D

                      I think Bolognese is the way to go. The reason is that you can (and should) make it 1-2 days ahead and let the flavors develop. When you reheat just add a bit of liquid to get the texture right. You won't have to worry about having a disaster come dinner time.

                      If you want to cook together before eating, you can focus on a second thing like an hors d'oeuvre or a dessert. (Chocolate mousse is always a good idea)

                      there are a number of good bolognese recipes with different variations. the mario batali one is pretty good. one thing i would do is try to get a variety of meats instead of only beef.


                      1. re: calumin

                        Agreed on the bolognaise. It's really hard to mess up and you'll probably be a bit flustered getting the meal ready on the night, so anything that can be made ahead is going to help you. Also, love the edible flower salad, that's inspired.

                        Good luck champ.

                        1. re: Samuelinthekitchen


                          It's an incredibly colorful & dramatic dish, wonderfully tasty, and surprisingly easy to make. The Cooks Illustrated version is pared down and streamlined, incredibly simple and delicious.

                          There are a few specialty items, though nothing too crazy. You don't say in what part of the country you live-- where I am in Los Angeles, these items are easy to find.

                          Arborio rice (a short grain, starchy rice, which makes the paella creamy). If you can find Valencia rice it's better, but the Italian Arborio is much easier to find in supermarkets. DO NOT substitute a regular long grain rice (uncle bens or whatever). A starchy, short grain rice is essential to this dish.

                          Spanish chorizo is a dried, smoked sausage (think pepperoni), not like the fresh Mexican chorizo. This is the brand I like to use in Paella, though it is slightly untraditional:

                          If you can't find real Spanish chorizo, try to find whatever dried Italian salami you can find- ideally it will be smoked, and not spicy. Otherwise, get whatever you can.

                          And as for wine (I suppose you'll need your parent's help to get this...) try to get a dry Spanish white Rioja. They sell this at Trader Joe's very inexpensively. As for the saffron, if you have a Penzey's spices near where you live, they have an incredible selection of very fresh, high quality spices at great prices. Otherwise, most supermarkets carry some kind of saffron, but the quality will likely not be as good.

                          Lastly, hopefully you have a good quality large soup pot with a heavy bottom, or an enameled cast iron pot. If you only have a cheap pan, you will need to be very careful that the rice does not burn. This type of pot is ideal:

                          Without further ado...


                          - 1 pound extra-large shrimp (21/25), peeled and deveined
                          - Salt and ground black pepper
                          - Olive oil (NOT extra virgin-- it burns/smokes too easily)
                          - 8-9 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
                          - 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs , each thigh trimmed of excess fat and halved crosswise
                          - 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut pole to pole into 1/2-inch-wide strips
                          - 8 ounces Spanish chorizo, sliced 1/2 inch thick on the bias
                          - 1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
                          - 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, minced, and drained again
                          - 2 cups Valencia rice or Arborio
                          - 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
                          - 1/3 cup dry white wine
                          - 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
                          - 1 bay leaf
                          - 1 dozen mussels, scrubbed and debearded (google for advice on this
                          )- 1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed
                          - 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
                          - 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving


                          1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Toss shrimp, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1 teaspoon garlic in medium bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper; set aside.

                          2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until skin begins to blister and turn spotty black, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer peppers to small plate and set aside.

                          3. Add 1 teaspoon oil to now-empty Dutch oven; heat oil until shimmering but not smoking. Add chicken pieces in single layer; cook, without moving pieces, until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn pieces and brown on second side, about 3 minutes longer; transfer chicken to medium bowl. Reduce heat to medium and add chorizo to pot; cook, stirring frequently, until deeply browned and fat begins to render, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer chorizo to bowl with chicken and set aside.

                          4. Add enough oil to fat in Dutch oven to equal 2 tablespoons; heat over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3 minutes; stir in remaining garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes; cook until mixture begins to darken and thicken slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in rice and cook until grains are well coated with tomato mixture, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, wine, saffron, bay, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Return chicken and chorizo to pot, increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and transfer to oven; cook until rice absorbs almost all liquid, about 15 minutes. Remove pot from oven (close oven door to retain heat). Uncover pot; scatter shrimp over rice, insert mussels hinged side down into rice (so they stand upright), arrange bell pepper strips in pinwheel pattern, and scatter peas over top. Cover and return to oven; cook until shrimp are opaque and mussels have opened, 10 to 12 minutes.

                          5. Optional: If soccarat (rice that cooks to the bottom of the pan and becomes brown and crispy) is desired, set Dutch oven, uncovered, over medium-high heat about 5 minutes, rotating pot 180 degrees after about 2 minutes for even browning. IF YOU'RE USING A CHEAP POT WITH A THIN BOTTOM, BE CAREFUL NOT TO BURN THE RICE.

                          6. Let paella stand, covered, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that have not opened and bay leaf, if it can be easily removed. Sprinkle with parsley and serve, passing lemon wedges separately.

                          7. If You're Using a Paella Pan
                          A paella pan makes for an attractive and impressive presentation. Use one that is 14 to 15 inches in diameter. A 14-inch ovensafe skillet will work as well, but do not attempt to use anything smaller because the contents will simply not fit. Follow the recipe for Paella, increasing the chicken broth to 3 1/4 cups and the wine to 1/2 cup. Before placing the pan in the oven, cover it tightly with foil. For soccarat, cook the paella, uncovered, over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees after about 1 1/2 minutes for even browning.

                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            I think paella is really difficult to get right, although it most certainly is delicious!


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              Read the recipe-- it's incredibly streamlined, and not fussy at all.

                              Mr Taster

                            2. re: Mr Taster

                              Linguica is a good subsitute for chorizo if you go this route.

                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                I think this is a wonderful idea, and your recipe looks solid. Except I do see a small problem with item 4 in the instructions, where you say, "Return chicken and chorizo to pot, increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally." You don't say how long to do this. Perhaps you could clarify for the OP?

                                I'd also like to add that other seafood could be substituted for the mussels and/or shrimp, if they can't be found. Clams for mussels, for example, or scallops for shrimp.

                                I think this should be within the ability of the OP and probably (from what little we know) to the taste of his date. It is certainly impressive, and has the advantage of being almost a complete meal. Add a salad, and a dessert, and you are good to go.

                                As for dessert, I would like to offer up this recipe for a simple chocolate mousse:
                                Simple, easy, delicious, and can be made in advance, which, IMHO, is a really good quality in a dessert, especially in the OP's case, since he will know in advance if he has a good product.

                                1. re: MelMM

                                  I couldn't possibly say how long it will take for his stove (which will be different than mine) and his pot (which will be made of different materials and of different thickness than mine) to bring the liquid to a boil. It will vary, so he'll just have to hang out and watch... he shouldn't be walking away from the pot at that point anyway!

                                  The paella makes for an amazingly dramatic presentation. Bring the covered pot to the table, remove the lid and voila.... a red pinwheel of bell peppers! Little green polka dots of peas! Beautiful yellow of the saffron rice! And those black mussels, freshly steamed and opened, lunging upwards out of the pot, as if they are beckoning you to eat them.

                                  Mr Taster

                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                    My point was, once it comes to a boil, how long do you boil it? I take from your reply that perhaps as soon as it comes to a boil, he is to move it to the oven. That is not clear from the recipe, and is the clarification I was seeking for the OP.

                                    1. re: MelMM

                                      That's exactly right. Once it comes to a boil, put the heavy cast iron lid on and transfer to oven.

                                      The reason the recipe was written that way was not to cook the rice at boiling temperatures, but rather to ensure that the person at home was cooking at the same temperature of the person writing the recipe.

                                      Since water always boils at the same temp (assuming you're not at altitude), bringing the heavy enameled cast iron pot to a boil and transferring to a preheated oven is an elegant way of minimizing the x-factors that can make the same recipe work for one person and fail for another.

                                      Mr Taster

                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                        That certainly makes sense to me, but I felt the recipe as you wrote it needed to be clarified for the OP, as it specified to boil, stirring occasionally, but didn't specify at what point it should be transferred to the oven. Keep in mind, I'm nitpicking, because the OP is young, and I want the recipe to be as foolproof as possible. But I do think your idea is excellent, and the recipe, with that clarification, is well-written and solid.

                                2. re: Mr Taster

                                  Mr. Taster - just my opinion, but the quantity of your ingredients is enough to serve several people. A pound of shrimp, a pound of chicken, half a pound of chorizo AND rice - that is a lot of food for two - unless the intention is to have leftovers.

                                  When I make paella for two, I'll use 1/2 dozen prawns (21-25 count prawns are a pretty hefty size), two boneless chicken thighs, 1-2 links of chorizo, and then cut the portions of the remaining ingredients in half. Because I like mussels, I would use a dozen.

                                  The other thing I would be inclined to do is to cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces if only for ease of eating.

                                  I have a preference for bomba rice mainly because it will absorb more cooking liquid. There is a less likely chance of the rice getting soggy and achieving that layer of soccarat a bit easier. If the OP does have a paella pan, the dish could be done in a 10-inch pan. For a thinner layer of rice, a 12-inch pan would also do.

                                  1. re: AntarcticWidow

                                    You are absolutely right, AntarcticWidow. It does make a very large quantity of paella, but with that quantity and intensity of colors and aromas it does make an awfully dramatic presentation (and lots of leftovers for a proud mom & dad).

                                    As for the rice, he does say that getting specialty ingredients could be difficult so arborio is probably his best chance. But if you've got a Spanish specialty shop nearby, then by all means get Bomba'd!

                                    Mr Taster

                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      He does say that he wants to practice this recipe several times before Sunday. That's a lot of paella several times over. Does it freeze well? :-).

                                      That having been said, I'm personally very tempted to try this recipe!


                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                        I must have missed the OP's comments about difficulty getting specialty ingredients. Time to clean my glasses 8-)

                                        Luckily, I do have a Spanish specialty shop in my area. If you have a Sur la Table store within your radar, they may carry Bomba and/or Valencia rice (the ones in our area do), as well as paella pans at a reasonable price.

                                        Just trying to come up with suggestions to help make the OP's special dinner "extra special". I am a paella lover many times over!

                                        To try and answer TDQ's question ... I've never tried freezing paella before. The rice, chicken and chorizo might be okay, but personally I would fish out the seafood.

                                        Mr. Taster, what do you think?


                                        1. re: AntarcticWidow

                                          I agree. The shrimp will overcook and turn gummy when you reheat it, and the mussels won't even last the next day in the fridge, let alone stand up to the trauma of freezing.

                                          Mr Taster

                            3. re: biondanonima

                              I agree that Ragu bolognese is fabulous. My favorite recipe is in the Sept/Oct 2001 edition. It always comes out exactly the same way and looks just like the picture. This recipe is a step by step one that sounds harder than it is. I am actually going to recommend going a step or two further than the sauce and make the Lasagna Verdi al Forno. Lasagna with green pasta and bechamel sauce. OMG. This is incredible and easy to serve because it is all in one pan. You need the Ragu sauce. A cinch. You need spinach lasagna noodles. I follow the recipe for homemade spinach noodles and again, it has always come out perfectly. You can make it with a rolling pin. You don't have to cut the noodles in pretty rectangles. My guess is that you won't want to go here and that's fine. Buy good quality spinach lasagna noodles. You will also need about a cup of freshly grated excellent parmagiano-reggiano cheese. Do not buy the stuff in the green can! Finally, you need a bechamel sauce. Tht is a thick white sauce made with butter, milk or cream, flour, salt and pepper and a dash of nutmeg. Get all these things together and then assemble as the recipe shows you. So easy. So heavenly!

                              For an easier meal, you can indeed make a good roasted chicken. I agree with others here that it can be difficult to get it right. But there is an excellent recipe in Epicurious for a salt baked chicken. All you need is a 2-3 pound chicken, kosher salt, kitchen twine (or dental floss or thread) pepper and a blow dryer. The key to this chicken is that it must be as dry as possible. No steam. No butter. No lemon. You will not need it.

                              So preheat oven to 450. Wash the chicken and dry it within an inch of its life. Use paper towels inside and out, then get out your blow dryer. When the chicken is dry, sprinkle kosher salt and a little pepper all over it. You want to be fairly free with the salt -- you will see the grains on the crispy skin when it is done. There may be a point when you can over salt. Use judgment. Pat the salt into the skin of the chicken. Put chicken on rack in roasting pan. Truss it. That means pull the legs together and tie them with string. The breast will be more tender. Tuck the wings under the bird. YOu might want to give it another blast with the blow dryer but if salt comes off, replace it. Then, pop the chicken in the hot oven, close the door and leave it for 50 or 60 minutes until done. This is a pretty high temp and your kitchen might get smokey but open windows and turn on a fan. This chicken is always really tender and juicy. Because there is no steam, the skin browns a rich deep golden color and stay's super crispy. When I make this, people who know what is coming hang around the oven and often just attack the chicken when it comes out. The legs come right off, meat slips off the bone, breast is really moist, the whole thing has the most wonderful flavor. It takes about 10 minutes to prepare before you put it in the oven.

                              But sometimes chicken can be hard to eat. I always avoided ordering chicken at 17 when I was on a date, because I wasn't used to eating it with a knife and fork. I avoided spaghetti too because it is too easy to drop noodles and sauce all over yourself.

                              My final and perhaps tastiest recipe. Steak au Poivre with mock bordelaise sauce. Very easy and very impressive. Take two beautiful rib eye steaks and cover them with cracked black pepper. Do not use finely ground pepper or it will be too spicy. Get a big frying pan, a good one if you have one. Turn the burner on medium high. Melt a little oil and butter together in the pan. You need the oil to keep the butter from burning. Pat the steaks, pushing the cracked peppercorns into the meat. Salt them. Place them in the pan, not touching each other. Let them sizzle. I like my steaks medium rare or rare. You need to google the cooking time depending on the thickness of the steaks and your preference for doneness. Turn the steaks. They will have a nice brown crust. I don't leave them in as long on the second side because I start to panic about overcooking them. Get the steaks out a little before they are done and plate them. Cover with foil. Do not wash the frying pan, you will need it again and you want the brown bits.

                              Now for the bordelaise. You will need someone to get you some red wine. You need a 14 oz can of tomato sauce. You need a 14 oz can of rich beef broth. Put equal parts of these three ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until slightly reduced and somewhat thick. This works beautifully. Absolutely delicious. Actually, you should make it before you cook the steaks.

                              Get out some dijon mustard, heavy cream, brandy and butter. Melt a little butter in the original frying pan. Add about two teaspoons of dijon mustard, maybe two tablespoons of brandy and stir. with the butter. Pour most of the bordelaise, or all of it if you want, into the frying pan and stir the dijon mustard and butter with the sauce until combined. Scrape up the brown bits while you are stirring. Simmer the sauce, then add about 1/4 cup of heavy cream. You can use half and half. Stir that but don't boil. Then, add the steaks. You don't want them swimming in the sauce, you just want the sauce to come up about halfway. Pour the juice from the plate into the sauce. As soon as the steaks are heated the dish is done. Spoon the beautiful sauce onto a plate for your date, place the steak on top of the sauce and maybe drizzle a little sauce on top. I like to serve this with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable. This recipe I learned as a waitress at Sage's on State in Chicago years ago. We prepared it tableside.

                              When I was 17, I made myself a long hippie caftan with a hood and a big v neckline. Invited my boyfriend to dinner. My parents let us have the family room. Set up a table with flowers, tablecloth and candles. I made seafood newburg. That is another easy one. Impressive. But nothing to it. Buy puff pastry shells. Most recipes for seafood newburg are the same. Scallops, shrimp, maybe lobster -- a few things but not too much. Cream. Probably wine. A little nutmeg. Everybody loves it.

                              Oh what the heck, go for it and make a chocolate souffle for dessert! Just kidding. Fruit and cheese is one of my favorites. You could buy a good box of chocolates and put those out with the fruit and cheese.

                              Good luck!