Date Night In

More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship


By Ashley Rodriguez

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Rekindle the romance at home with a weekly date night, one on one, over an absolutely delicious meal for two.

Sweethearts, spouses, and parents Ashley and Gabe Rodriguez found themselves deep into marriage and child-rearing when they realized they were missing the connection of their early relationship, and needed to prioritize each other. They instituted a weekly date night at home to sautéroast, mix, dice, and spend time reconnecting over delicious meals like:

  • Crostini with Ricotta, Prosciutto, and Peas
  • Tomato and Fennel Gazpacho with Dungeness Crab
  • Fennel-Crusted Lamb Chops
  • Dulce de Leche and Nectarine Creamsicles

Simply carving out time to talk, cook, and eat together can be the relationship-booster you need to keep the spark alive. Just don’t forget the cocktail (try a Rhubarb Sour or a Grapefruit 75). Make date night an integral part of your week and woo your partner all over again with food, drink, and sparkling conversation.

Packed with tantalizing and delicious recipes, Date Night In is a must-have cookbook for any couple who wants to spice things up with special seasonal meals at home around a table for two.



Gabe and I met when we were young. I noticed him early in my freshman year of college. He was hard not to notice, as he was often surrounded by other girls who were also drawn to his sleek black hair, deep olive skin, and tender smile. I offered casual glances as we passed in the hall, and in return he gave me a smile. It was then that I first noticed his shallow dimples and artistically crafted facial hair that framed his face (he was known for his beard and sideburns, which he changed weekly). I walked away with quickened breath and weak knees, wondering if he thought about me as much as I thought about him.

Undeterred by my competition, I managed to get his instant messaging name by spying over the shoulder of a friend. That same evening, with the flutters of butterfly wings in my stomach making me feel nearly ill, I started a casual conversation with him on instant messenger. It was this conversation that led to his asking me out on our first date.

Each in our separate dorm rooms, we shut off our computers, buttoned up our winter coats, and met for a brisk walk on a cold December evening, making our way to a rundown 7-Eleven just off campus. There we shared a cherry Slurpee, without noticing its icy freeze, and many laughs trying on $5 sunglasses. He wore a navy blue peacoat with the stiff collar pulled up and resting gently against his neck. Rather shyly, I caught a glimpse of him parading around in the convenience store aviators. He looked at me and in an instant I took him all in: his quiet confidence, his ability to laugh at himself, and the way he looked at me with kindness and interest. I was hooked. I went home that night wanting to date Gabe for as long as he’d let me.

As our relationship evolved, so did our dates, all of which centered on food. In addition to Gabe, food had become the love of my life. Food and I began courting at my mom’s apron strings, but our relationship really ignited when I was in college, living and studying in Italy. Gabe and I were engaged in Italy; he gave me a ring and I introduced him to carbonara. Eventually, I went on to train as a professional pastry chef at Spago Beverly Hills and worked in kitchens such as the Essential Baking Company, Ciao Thyme Kitchen and Catering, and Delancey, as well as running my own wedding cake and dessert catering business.

Just out of college and newly married, we had a standing date night every Friday, and I looked forward to it every week. We were new to each other, and new to the appreciation of great food. On one particularly memorable Friday night, we cozied up to the bar at a little French café downtown, making fast friends with the bartender, who recommended a lovely Champagne and delighted us with Raclette. He served us a bowl of bubbling melted cheese with roasted potatoes, crisp and golden around the edges, and tangy cornichons for dipping (see page 268). Steam rose as the bubbles broke on the surface, releasing an alpine scent before we descended on it eagerly with forks and fingers.

Later that night, we lingered at the bar over a deep cup of rich, dark chocolate and methodically dipped our spoons into the cool whipped cream before plunging them into the warm, melted chocolate. It was the best thing I had ever tasted. After one last sip of crisp Champagne, we paid the bill and slid off our stools. I tucked my arm into his as we left the restaurant, full, and more in love than when we had first come in.

Those leisurely romantic meals in fabulous restaurants quickly became memories of what felt like a past life as our current life grew full of children, diapers, Legos, laughter, and chaos. We once sipped cocktails at 5 o’clock; now that’s our family dinnertime. This is our new reality. It’s joyful, yes, but life often leaves Gabe and me with little energy and time for each other. We both look forward to the rare quiet hours of the evening when the kids are settled into bed and the house is still.

It was in those quiet hours that I started to notice a very un-romantic routine forming. Gabe would retreat to his computer and I to mine. After a long day spent caring for three small children, I had nothing more to give; I felt like this time was mine. But the neglect to our marriage started to become clear, as we began to feel more like roommates than husband and wife.

As I nursed a newborn, exhausted, I longingly recalled those date nights of the past. I was transported to the memories of pepper-flecked pasta we’d shared in Rome over a red-and-white-checked tablecloth (page 212) and how, after dinner, we had roamed the cobbled streets with our fingers woven tightly together, just happy to be with each other. I remembered playful conversation and laughter as we lingered over a crisp wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese dressing (page 54) pooling in between the citron-hued leaves at a diner in L.A. Even recalling the simple dates in our dorm rooms with store-bought pizza eaten off paper plates, nacho-flavored chips, and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s shared straight from the container reminded me of the fun we had just being together. It wasn’t the expense of these meals or the locations that made them memorable, or even the food in some cases; it was the time and experiences we were having together. So, as I sat there caring for our third baby, I felt the desire to re-create those days when we had more time together. Those early dates had nurtured our relationship, and I wanted to make time for us again.

It was then that I decided things had to change. We needed more than the quarterly date we were trying to squeeze into our budget and our schedule. Our finances were tight, and babysitters were not lining up at the door eager to hang out with our three young children. We had to get creative. So we turned to our modest kitchen as a new, romantic setting where we could begin to date again.

With a mutual commitment to making it happen, we have made this a reality. Instead of retreating to our computers and iPhones, once a week (usually on Thursday) you can find us casually pouring each other a drink and lingering over the stove, relishing the quiet, our time together, and the excitement of a delicious meal. Most important, we are talking, laughing, eating, drinking, and enjoying each other, giving our marriage the time it deserves and needs to be sustained and to continue to grow.

These days, I find myself eager to plan our dates at home. I choose a hoppy beer to start, knowing that it is my husband’s favorite. When I see a perfectly ripe avocado with dimpled skin and a vibrant jewel-toned citrus at the store, I dream up a simple salad to start our evening. Once home, I roll up my sleeves and rub fragrant spices onto a pork shoulder weaved with white fat (page 221).

I am practically giddy preparing for our dates, in the same way I was as a young college student, when Gabe and I first met. I think about him more often, eager to spend time with him and happy to love him through my passion for food. With three children and ten years of marriage behind us, I can appreciate the necessity of putting in the time and intention our marriage needs in order to thrive as we grow older together.

Date Night In tells our story of cultivating romance while sautéing and roasting in our kitchen. It’s a journey in figuring out how to continue to grow in love with each other while mixing and dicing. It’s about connecting around the table in the midst of simple, thoughtful meals. Date Night In invites the reader into our home as we fall deeper in love through great food. The recipes are easy to make and are combined with honest, fresh observations about life, marriage, and finding joy in the simple pleasures of cooking, dining, and being together.

Each chapter in Date Night In centers on a date we’ve enjoyed. It opens with an intimate and honest portrait of the joyful and not-so-joyful reality of life together, telling stories through the recipes. The menus are simple yet different than your typical weekday fare. They are easy to make and include helpful tips; the “Timeline” lays out a clear plan for each menu.

Keeping a love-filled marriage takes work. Gabe and I continually struggle not to let the reality of our lives overwhelm the most important relationship we have: that of being husband and wife, parents to three children under the age of eight, and the same two nineteen-year-olds who fell in love in college and promised to stay with each other forever. While I will never claim to be a marriage expert (sometimes I feel just as confused and overwhelmed as I did on day 1), I can say that, as a result of creating intentional time for each other through these date nights, we’ve already felt our relationship strengthen and our love deepen.

The idea for this book was born out of a series I created on my award-winning blog, When I started this monthly series just over four years ago, I had no idea that our dates would resonate with people so deeply. These posts are often my most visited and most commented on, and the subject of the most emails. Because we shared the reality of the work involved in maintaining a marriage, I’ve had people tell me how they have renewed their relationships after reading these posts and starting the weekly tradition themselves.

Like many of my readers’ marriages, our marriage was starved for time and connection. For Gabe and me, these evenings help us stay connected, feed our marriage, and give us the space to fall deeper in love. Based on the movement we see forming through those who follow this series, it’s clear that it is not just us, but many couples, who have the need and desire to date. Date Night In is the story of nourishing a relationship and the food that brings us together.


You’ll hear me talk a lot about my 12-inch cast-iron pan. I love it, and frankly it never leaves my stove. It and my 6-quart Le Creuset are staples.

When it comes to hard cheeses like Parmesan and pecorino, a microplane is best for getting those frilly, fine, and wispy curls that softly melt into the bubbly cheese on top of a pizza or that blend beautifully into a crust, as is the case with the Bacon and Leek Tart with Ricotta Custard (page 164).

Masaharu Morimoto says, “A kitchen is not a kitchen without a knife.” A good, sharp chef’s knife makes the dinner prep tasks so much easier.

Keep a well-supplied stash of baking sheets and parchment paper. Besides helping cookies slide off the tray, parchment makes cleanup much simpler. I’m a big advocate. I buy my parchment in bulk at restaurant-supply shops. It’s cheap, it comes in big sheets (which I then cut to size), and it doubles as tracing paper for the kids. Bonus: It also works as a light diffuser on the rare occasion that I need to block out the Seattle sun when I shoot food photos.

A scale is really the best tool for accurate baking. For cooking, I don’t bother too much with it.


Toasted nuts and spices: To get the most flavor out of nuts and spices, they should be toasted first. I toast spices in my cast-iron skillet over medium heat. I move them around frequently to avoid scorching; the moment I smell them, I remove them from the pan and let them cool a few moments before I grind them. I toast nuts in a 350°F oven on a parchment-lined sheet tray for 10 to 15 minutes, or until I can smell them and their flesh has been tinted golden brown.

Brown butter: There’s quite a bit of brown butter in this book, and I have been asked, “Why?” To which I reply, “Why not?” When butter is browned it takes on a completely new taste: one that I happen to love. It’s nutty and caramelized, and tastes almost of toffee. I was taught early on that “color equals flavor,” so I try to add color as much as I can. By that I mean changing something that was once pale, like butter and nuts, into a deeper shade to caramelize the natural sugars.

It’s best to brown the butter in a light-colored pan. That way you can see the color of the milk solids as they start to turn golden. Cut the butter into smaller chunks to speed up the process and then melt over medium to medium-high heat. The milk solids in the butter will foam up and then subside. As they do this, they will fall to the bottom of the pan and caramelize. Again, trust your nose. When you smell a soft nuttiness, turn off the heat. The residual heat will continue to caramelize the butter. The milk solids should be lightly browned when you turn off the heat. They will continue to cook to a deeper amber. If they become blackened, you’ve gone too far and may have to start over; the milk solids will taste burnt, but taste the butter first to see if the flavor is off.

Roasted red peppers: You can easily buy roasted red peppers and that’s fine, but, when the markets are filled with peppers in various heat levels and colors, it’s fun to roast a bunch and then save them for later. They freeze well and can also be canned. Of course, this only happens if I’m really planning ahead; most of the time I simply roast what I need right then and there.

To do so, I use one of two methods that I’ve grown to love. The more showy and dramatic way is to roast them right on the gas stove over a high flame, turning the peppers to blacken them on all sides. They char and wilt and scent the house with a sweet spice and smokiness. Once completely blackened, place them in a paper bag, close it up tight, and wait for 15 minutes. After that time, the skins should easily peel off. Don’t rinse them in water, however, otherwise you’ll wash away some of that robust smokiness that you’ve just worked so hard to create.

The other method is to bake them on a parchment-lined sheet tray (for ease of cleaning up) in a 375°F oven for about an hour. Their skins will char slightly and wrinkle, and their interiors will slump and become sweet and soft.

Once cool, slip off the skins and discard them and store or use the peppers straight away.


For ease of planning, I’ve created a grocery list and a list of pantry items needed for each date. These are the items that I assume are already in your pantry:





Yellow onions



Whole milk

Unsalted butter

Eggs (large)



All-purpose flour

Granulated sugar (white refined sugar)

Dark brown sugar

Confectioners’ sugar

Cocoa powder

Instant espresso powder



Baking powder

Baking soda

Vanilla extract

Active dry yeast



Kosher salt

Flake salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Cinnamon, ground and sticks

Dried oregano

Cumin, ground and seeds

Whole nutmeg

Ground ginger

Dried bay leaves

Allspice, ground and berries

Smoked paprika (hot and regular)

Sweet paprika


Garlic powder

Star anise

Whole cloves

Caraway seeds

Red pepper flakes

Coriander, ground and seeds

Fennel seeds

Mustard seeds

Vanilla beans

Coffee beans

Chicken stock

Vegetable stock

Arborio rice

Panko breadcrumbs



Extra-virgin olive oil

Olive oil

Neutral oil (such as canola or vegetable)

Toasted sesame oil

Sherry vinegar

Apple cider vinegar

Champagne vinegar

Red wine vinegar

Rice vinegar

Soy sauce

Maple syrup



Corn syrup

Yellow mustard

Dijon mustard

Grainy mustard



Smooth peanut butter

Liquid smoke




Triple sec










Soda water


The recipes below are ones that I use in several places throughout the book. They’ve become standards in our home, and when I’m on top of things I’ll make a batch or two and then freeze what I don’t need for another use.

Most doughs can easily be frozen, if well wrapped, for at least a month. If it’s a yeasted dough, I recommend freezing it after the first rise.

One final note before you get to it. When I measure flour, I scoop the flour into the cup measure and then sweep off the excess. Using this method, 1 cup generally weighs around 140 g.

Using a scale in baking is definitely the most accurate, but if you follow the recipes using the scoop-and-sweep method you shouldn’t have any problems.

Olive Oil Pizza Dough

I’ve tried many variations of pizza dough at home, and this one has been the longest-running favorite. It’s soft, it’s easy to stretch to a wafer-thin crust, and it has a complex flavor (especially once it’s been sitting in the fridge for a couple days). It’s also the base of my Pretzel Rolls (page 101).


1 teaspoon active dry yeast

½ teaspoon granulated sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

¾ cup / 180 ml lukewarm water

2¼ cups / 310 g all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

Start this dough the day before or up to 2 days before you plan to use it.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, olive oil, and water. Dump in the flour and salt. Start by mixing the dough on low until everything is well combined. Increase the speed of the mixer to medium low and knead for 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can knead for 7 to 10 minutes by hand, on a lightly floured surface.

The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl and be smooth and elastic.

Transfer to a container with a lid and refrigerate 24 to 48 hours. Make sure the container allows room for the dough to double in size. After this first slow rise, dough balls can be frozen until ready to use. Defrost in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours.

Burger Buns

I like a bun that isn’t too tender but also one that doesn’t make you fight for a bite. It needed to be bread-like without being too chewy. These buns are just that. The extra protein in the bread flour gives them a nice chew, while the presence of butter, milk, and honey tenderizes and sweetens, offering a nice, easy, and gently sweet bite.



1 cup / 240 ml warm water

3 tablespoons whole milk

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

2 tablespoons honey

1 large egg

3¼ cups / 460 g bread flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Neutral oil, for brushing (optional)


1 whole egg

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon water

2 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional; recommended if using them for the burgers on page 000)

Start this dough the day before you plan to use it.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the water, milk, yeast, honey, and egg. Now, with the dough hook attached, add the flour and salt all at once and mix for 5 minutes on medium low. Add the butter and mix for another 2 minutes. The dough should be soft, smooth, and not too sticky.

Dump the dough into a sealable container and place straight into the refrigerator.

When you are ready to bake the buns, remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide into eight to twelve equal portions (2½-inch balls yield about twelve buns; 3½-inch balls yield eight buns). Roll each portion of dough into a ball by covering the dough with one hand and gently rotating that hand in a circular motion. As your hand is moving, use your fingertips to tuck the edges of the dough under itself. Do this on an unfloured countertop with lightly floured hands.

Place the rolled buns on a parchment-lined sheet tray. Spray the buns lightly with nonstick cooking spray or brush them lightly with a neutral oil and cover the tray loosely with plastic wrap, to prevent the dough from drying out.

Allow to rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 1½ to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Whisk together the egg, egg yolk, and water.

Once the buns have doubled in size, carefully remove the plastic wrap and brush the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the buns are golden on the top and bottom, rotating the pan once during baking. The buns should feel hollow when gently tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

These buns will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days at room temperature or up to 1 month in the freezer.

Roasted Strawberry Jam


  • "I have long followed Ashley's blog Not Without Salt. There is a nourishing quality to her being, words, and most certainly, food. Date Night In is full of universal tales of love and Ashley's recipes are sure to ignite, and better even, refuel passion. Food of love."—Aran Goyoaga, author of Small Plates and Sweet Treats
  • "Rare is the book that not only moves us to cook, but to change our very lives. Date Night In is that book! With honesty, humility, and killer recipes for everything from Roasted Strawberry Jam to Dulce de Leche and Nectarine Creamsicles and the best roasted chicken you'll ever eat (really!), Ashley Rodriguez will inspire you to find the romance in your every day."—Molly Wizenberg, author of Delancey and A Homemade Life
  • "Ashley (and Gabe) are as delicious as her recipes. In Date Night In she reminds us that our relationships should be savored, and stirred with love."—Sherry Yard, pastry chef and author
  • "[A] new cookbook offers dinners for two, menus that are simple, inventive and easily assembled."—The New York Times
  • "I'm totally enamored with this cookbook. It's divided by season, and within each seasonal chapter there are menus for every sort of event or party that your family might experience during the year. Think: Cinco de Mayo, Beach Picnic, Campfire Cooking, Lunchbox Ideas, Homemade Gifts and so much more. It's a handy book to have around!"—Parade's Community Table
  • "Every recipe in Date Night In makes me hungry. Potato chips with fennel coriander salt. Thyme and pancetta roasted sweet potatoes. Honey and sriracha chicken wings. This is the most flavorful date night food I can imagine. Since I have the good fortune to count Ashley and Gabe as friends, I know that their love for each other is real and their food is unbelievably good. My husband and I have been inspired to start making each other date night dinners and so will you."—Shauna James Ahern, author of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef
  • "Ashley has woven her creative and delicious recipes between sweet, honest stories about marriage and family. I will move this cookbook between my bedside and kitchen counter. A cookbook and a love story: this book is truly a treasure."—Sara Forte, author of The Sprouted Kitchen

On Sale
Dec 30, 2014
Page Count
256 pages
Running Press

Ashley Rodriguez

About the Author

Ashley Rodriguez is a Seattle-based food consultant, cooking instructor, food photographer, author of Date Night In, wife, and mother of three. As the creator of, Ashley blogs about life as told through food. Her blog has earned accolades from (Best Food Blog 2013),,,,,,,,, and the, and for her writing and original photography.

Ashley’s work has also been featured in several publications such as AllRecipes, Edible Seattle, Food and Wine, Glamour, Martha Stewart Living, the New York Times, and Sunset. Before she began writing, Ashley worked in several professional kitchens including Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills. Now, Ashley teaches in and around Seattle, and in her new storefront, the Not Without Salt Shop.

Learn more about this author