“Date Night In” is a clever concept for a cookbook loaded with appealing recipes. Whether you’re young, feisty and on the prowl or growing old and content with the love of your life, finding time to sit down for a home-cooked meal with Cupid in the mix can bring something new and special to almost any relationship.
Even for a staunchly anti-cuddling grouch who’s not in love, while chowing down, this collection of recipes is diverse and delicious. The book stands on its merits.
The fried chicken on black pepper biscuits is so good that you’ll want to follow the recipe no matter where you stand on matters of the heart. I made this dish on a recent weeknight, complete with a six-spice rub that made the kitchen smell amazing. The boneless chicken thighs are dipped in buttermilk and dredged in flour (with spices) not once but twice. When cooked in hot oil (I used a cast iron pot on a stovetop), the crust is light and crisp and pretty incredible.
Is it romantic? That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.
As author Ashley Rodriguez makes clear, going out to eat may be romantic, but it’s not always realistic. In the early years with her husband, she notes, they had a standing date night every Friday, one that included restaurants and bars and plenty of good food and drink. Then life got in the way.
“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,” Rodriguez writes, noting that she and her husband, Gabe, had fallen into a “very un-romantic routine.”
She continues: “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.”
Finances or logistics that keep you home more doesn’t mean you have to get stuck in a rut. Follow Rodriguez’s well-organized lead and you can cook at home, have fun and share in the making and eating. Then whatever happens, well, happens.
The book’s subtitle, “More Than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship,” raises several questions. Who’s cleaning up the incredible mess you just made? Are you exceptionally organized and rather skilled in the kitchen? Will a thick, juicy cheeseburger with special sauce inspire romance? Or trigger a food coma?
I enjoyed that chicken and biscuits dish so much that I want to make it again. But after a workday, it was an ordeal to pull it together as outlined in the recipe. It required two pie plates for dredging – one for the buttermilk, the other for the flour – the pot full of hot oil and the wire rack set over a broiling pan for finishing the chicken in the oven after frying. When I think about how you have to begin the dish the day before by applying the rub to the chicken and allowing it to sit overnight, I realize that this “date night in” could lead to chaos and frustration for new cooks who might not know to read an entire recipe long before you plan to start cooking.
When all is said and done, you’ll have a delicious sandwich, though you may be wishing you were dating a janitor who can make the mess vanish.
Further, date night at home is not necessarily a cheap date. The ingredients to prepare the two main entrees and one dessert topped $70. So beware: If you don’t have a well-stocked pantry, building one from scratch as you follow these recipes could leave you with sticker shock.
“Date Night In” has recipes organized by seasons, meaning you’ll find the hearty Flemish Feast – bitter greens with mustard vinaigrette, Belgian frites, Flemish beef stew and Belgian waffles with ice cream and hot fudge – in the winter section. Within those main groupings are subcategories that are eminently enticing, like “A Touch of Thai,” which includes fresh spring rolls with ginger and sesame, a vegetable green curry dish and a Thai iced coffee affogato with spiced coconut ice cream.
The author can be forgiven at times for favoring us with her schmoopy side. It is, after all, a book about food and dating. We get that she digs her husband. While I may have rolled my eyes a time or two as I read, I happen to dig what the author feeds to Gabe in the subcategory “His Birthday” – a wedge salad with bacon blue cheese dressing, honey and Sriracha chicken wings and a rainbow-chip cake (Rodriguez used to have a wedding cake business).
There are plenty of color food photos in the 287-page book. As I thumbed through it one night, I couldn’t resist the pictured bittersweet brownies with salted peanut butter frosting. The recipe is found in the “Fall” section under the meal “Eat With Your Hands.”
If you have a well-equipped kitchen, you can handle this delicious dessert with relative ease. And if you don’t find love, you may have to find new pants: It’s fattening and then some. The depth of chocolate flavor in the brownies is superb. The unusual peanut butter frosting is made by beating softened butter and powdered sugar into the peanut butter. You’re supposed to wait until the brownies have cooled – in theory.
But if your date night window of opportunity is limited and romance depends on timing, go ahead and frost it when you’re good and ready (the frosting will likely be a touch runny).
Put the rest of the dessert in the fridge. It will be better the next day when the brownies are chilled and the frosting is firm and thick. Rodriguez suggests topping the frosting with flake salt, which is not readily available at mainstream grocery stores. You can track it down at specialty markets or online. In its place, a pinch of coarse kosher salt is fine. Salt pulls the dish together, deepens the way you experience the chocolate and brings an element of complexity to the dish.
Depending where you stand on romance, you can enjoy it with a flute of Champagne, a demitasse of espresso or big glass of milk.
Makes enough for 4 sandwiches
Gabe suggests not eating this in front of someone you’ve been dating for less than six months. It’s a good judge of true love to watch your partner devour a fried chicken sandwich; there’s no graceful way of doing it. This recipe requires overnight refrigeration.
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 pound)
Vegetable, canola or peanut oil, for frying (about 4 cups)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
The day before you plan on frying the chicken, whisk together the paprika, oregano, thyme, marjoram, garlic powder, pepper and salt to form the spice mix. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the spice mix and sprinkle the rest over the chicken thighs. Cover the chicken with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
To fry the chicken, mix together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and reserved spice mix in a pie plate or shallow dish.
Set up a wire rack over a baking sheet. Fill a large, heavy skillet (I use my 12-inch cast-iron pan) with 3/4 inch of oil. Set on high heat and bring to 360 degrees. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Dredge the chicken in the buttermilk mixture, then the flour mixture, then the buttermilk mixture again and finally back into the flour. Set on the rack over the baking sheet.
Fry the chicken for 3 minutes per side until deep golden brown. Return the chicken to the wire rack and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just done inside.