When I think of a romantic meal, images of tapas-style courses being shared by candlelight come to mind. I have always been inspired by the pairing of interesting flavors and how they play with various dishes, so designing sexy shareables for an intimate setting is something that appealed to the creative side of me, as well as the mixologist and self-proclaimed home chef parts of my psyche.

The last thing anyone wants after a moment of romantic dining is to lapse into a food coma; so for this menu my goal was to create fun, lightweight courses packed with flavor. Even though I see myself as a pretty decent cook, I decided to take an "ask the expert" for this one. "The expert" in this case is a good friend of mine who just happens to be a Master Chef; and whom I consider to be the ultimate culinary guru when it comes to creating fabulous, unique foodie fare. I approached him with an idea for a spanish-inspired meal with a boozy twist. What resulted is a seriously delicious trio of courses that are sure to please spicy and non-spicy food lovers (what's a romantic moment without a little spice?) while creating a shared dining atmosphere that can be a wonderful element in any evening.

Cheese Course: Fondue de Carmen

Fondue is one of those awesome dishes that's easy to make and fun to eat. How can anyone not like food you're supposed to play with! This pot of cheesy fabulousness contains a combination of queso blanco and pepper jack for smooth, milky spiciness, crushed toasted coriander to add a bit of citrusy nuttiness, and anejo tequila to round out the flavor with its mellow oaky notes.

Try using apples, pears, zucchini, cauliflower and chunks of Spanish pan basico for dipping.


1/2 lb of Queso Blanco Cheese 1/4 lb of Pepper Jack Cheese 1 1/4 cups of Anejo Tequila 2 tablespoons of crushed toasted coriander

How to Make It:
Place the tequila and coriander into a fondue pot and heat on medium until lightly steaming
Add the cheese and stir in a figure eight motion until blended
Continue heating on low heat, stirring often until melted and smooth

To give it a little extra pizzazz, top the fondue with fresh diced tomatoes and sliced avocado before serving. For big spice fans, drizzle salsa verde over the fondue toppings, or use fresh picante as a topper instead of instead of diced tomatoes.

Meat Course: Michelada Chicken
This chicken dish can be roasted, grilled, or baked. The key is in the marination. It combines the juiciness of beer can chicken and the rich, sweetly spicy flavors of my favorite twist on the classic michelada. Bring on the yum!

1 large or 2 medium boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts (about 1 1/2 to 2 lbs)
16 ounces of Dark Lager Beer
1.5 ounces of Anejo Tequila
1 1/2 tablespoons of raw honey
1 1/2 teaspoons of Worcestershire Sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons of Cholula Hot Sauce
1 teaspoon of lime juice

How to make it:
Put the honey, worcestershire, hot sauce, and lime juice into a small bowl and stir until blended.
Add the lager and stir gently to combine.
Pour over the chicken breasts and securely cover.
Place in the refrigerator to marinate for a minimum of 4 to 5 hours.

Whichever your preferred cooking method, be sure to use the marinade as a baste to keep the chicken juicy throughout the process. Once the chicken is done, slice it for easy spearing and sharing. Serve with jicama slaw and cilantro.

Fruit Course: Fruta Dulce
There's something innately sexy about sharing chocolate covered fruit with a date. (We're all thinking it ... 9 1/2 Weeks kitchen scene, right?) For our version of this delectable treat, we decided to go with various styles of liquor infused chocolate to dip the fruit in. Try any or all of them!

White Chocolate
Orange Liqueur
Ginger Liqueur

Fresh Pineapple
Dark Chocolate
Coconut Rum

Dark Chocolate
Whipped Cream Vodka
Vanilla Liqueur

How To Make Them:
With any dipped confectionary, it's all about the chocolate. Make sure to get blocks or bars of chocolate designed for melting. Anything that's called "baking chips" will end up a gloppy disaster! The general rule of thumb that I've found to work best is 3/4 to 1 ounce of liquor or liqueur per 1 block of melting chocolate. (For example: 3/4 ounce of orange liqueur & 1/4 ounce of ginger liqueur with 1 block of white chocolate; or 1/2 ounce of whipped cream vodka & 1/2 ounce of vanilla liqueur with 1 block of dark chocolate)

Using a double boiler to melt the chocolate and liquor is the most reliable method, but if that isn't an option you can use a microwave. Just remember to only nuke the bowl for 15- 20 seconds at a time, while stirring in-between, to avoid burning the liquid. When dipping the fruit, cover half of each piece (or berry) with the chocolate, then place them on a sheet of waxed or parchment paper to dry and harden.

Beverage Complements
My bartender heart won't let me suggest dishes without including beverage suggestions, so indulge me for a moment...

The Fondue de Carmen is rich, creamy, and a little spicy, while the Michelada Chicken is a smoky sweet flavorful dish. If you're a wine person, you can go for a dry citrusy white like an Albarino; or a fruity, earthy, spiced red like a Sangiovese to complement the oaky smooth spice of the cheese and the warm smoky spice of the chicken. If you're a beer person, an IPA will cut the rich creaminess of the cheese and accentuate the spice of the meat with its bittersweet hoppiness. You could also opt for a lager-style brew if you're looking to balance out the spices in both dishes. The maltiness of a lager tames the heat of spicier dishes nicely. If you prefer cocktails, try a dry citrus gin martini with a rosemary sprig garnish. The herbal citrus of the gin accentuated by aromatic rosemary will compliment the creamy spice of the cheese and the sweet tangy spice of the meat without overpowering either.

When it comes to dessert, wines are always a sexy compliment. For our Fruta Dulce, picking a wine that doesn't clash with the flavanols in the chocolate to become bitter on the palate is a must. If you prefer reds, try a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. If whites are more your style, try a Riesling or Ice Wine; or if you're into the bubbly complement of a sparkling, Rose Champagne or Moscato d'Asti will pair beautifully with the dessert's fruity sweetness. Wines aren't your thing? No problem. Beer lovers will appreciate the complementing notes of a Porter or Stout, and the fruity acidity of an Apple Brandy Sidecar is a pairing that's sure to please cocktail lovers.

As always, taking a moment to think through the flavors of dishes and beverages will ensure that you end up with the most brilliant dining experience that's suited to your unique tastes, so don't be afraid to play and experiment.

On behalf of Chef and myself, Happy Cooking & Happy Cocktailing!