I met Ashley and her family about a year and a half ago, when they were visiting our town. We’ve become fast friends and I’m so glad to know her. If you read Ashley’s blog, Not Without Salt, you understand why. Ashley is genuine in her writing, creative in her approach to food, and inspiring in her photography.
She’s the kind of food blogger who you dream might invite you over for dinner; which is exactly what she did on our following trip up to Seattle. The forecast called for chilly temperatures and rain so Ashley had cooked up a fabulous, rich vegetarian stew. Her three kids and our two quickly slipped off to play and the four of us, Ashley, Gabe, Kyle, and I sat outside in t-shirts sipping cold beer and eating our delicious wintery stew and laughing about the unpredictable nature of Seattle weather.
For Christmas my friend Ashley handed me a copy of her first cookbook, Date Night In, along with some other goodies. I sat down and read it cover to cover as quickly as I could. Date Night In is full of the kind of recipes you’d expect from Ashley: inventive, appealing, accessible, delicious… and full of beautifully written essays on the journey of love, marriage, and relationships. Ashley writes openly about her marriage to Gabe; their struggles, triumphs, and the “every days” in-between. If you’re looking for a special Valentine’s Day gift for someone you love who loves to cook, Date Night In would be at the top of my list.
Having date nights in is not a new concept around our house. When Gigi was about the age Lulu is now, we declared that Wednesdays would be date nights. For us that meant that I made something special for dinner and we would cozy up to play a board game or watch a movie together after the kid(s) were in bed. Until I read Ashley’s book it never occurred to me to stuff the kids full of pasta and share a special meal with just Kyle; like an actual date!
I’ve cooked so much from her book already. It’s speckled here and there with splatters of olive oil, flour, and frosting; a mark of a favorite. For Gigi’s birthday she chose an impressive, made-from-scratch Rainbow Chip Cake from Ashley’s book. Gigi chipped in (no pun intended), making the rainbow chips, and the cakes, combining the frosting, and assembling the cake. She, and I, were so proud of the final result, and since her birthday falls of New Year’s Eve we enjoyed a slice at home before taking the rest of the cake across the street to share with neighbors. You might want to make a note that the cake goes very well with champagne.
Next up was Ashley’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches on Black Pepper Biscuits which you’ll find on page 173. I was drawn to this recipe for obvious reasons: perfect fried chicken, fluffy black pepper biscuits, grainy mustard, bright dill pickles, sweet honey! They turned out so well that I made them two days in a row and our neighbors came over two days in a row to eat with us. They declared that these sandwiches resulted in the “best meal they’d had in a long time!”
Finally, my most often made thing from Date Night In: Hot Dates with Olive Oil and Sea Salt. These dates are so addictive. I find myself buying Medjool dates in bulk and making a few almost every afternoon while the girls nap. You simply sauté the dense, sweet dates in fruity olive oil for a few minutes, transfer them to a plate and sprinkle with flake salt. That’s it! They’re so simple, yet somehow complex and delicious and just the thing I need mid-day. I love to make these and a cup of black tea and zone out for a few minutes while eating them with my fingers. Trust me, you need to try these.
HOT DATES WITH OLIVE OIL AND SEA SALT
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4-6 Medjool dates
flake salt (such as Maldon)
Add the olive oil to a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the dates and stir to coat. Keep the dates moving so that they don’t scorch but rather get warm and soft and blister slightly. After 3 to 4 minutes in the pan, place the hot dates on a plate and drizzle with the olive oil from the pan. Add a bit more olive oil if you’d like. Sprinkle with a pinch of flake salt. Serve immediately.
HOT DATES WITH OLIVE OIL AND SEA SALT