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It's date night in with a trio of recipes from Not Without Salt's Ashley Rodriguez



Roasted green pozole with chicken.

Ashley Rodriguez and Boone Rodriguez

 

Seattle-based author Ashley Rodriguez formed a massive following for her Not Without Salt blog. The mother of three's first (gorgeously photographed) cookbook Date Night In is both a recipe collection and a narrative about her marriage to husband Gabe. Here's the idea: Put the kids down early one day a week (or once a month if that's more manageable) and go on a proper date at home with your partner, complete with drinks and dessert.

Use fully formed shopping lists and follow along with the book's insanely good recipes and make meals that will rival what you'll find at Seattle restaurants like Westward or The Whale Wins. Without having to pay for a sitter.

Without further ado, a trio of recipes from the Rodriguez, including a homemade version of boxed rainbow chip birthday cake: 

Fried Chicken Sandwiches on Black Pepper Biscuits

This sandwich is over-the-top craziness. It is inspired by Pine State Biscuits in Portland, where I enjoyed a similar biscuit sandwich with honey, pickles, and mustard. The black pepper biscuits bring warming heat to perfectly balance these salty, sweet, tangy, and ridiculous sandwiches. 

Serves 4

Black Pepper Biscuits

1 recipe shortcakes 

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Shortcakes

This recipe has been made no fewer than a hundred times in our house. These shortcakes are our scones, the cobbler on top of our baked fruit, and sometimes, with the addition of herbs or cheese, savory biscuits to accompany dinner.

The trick here is not to overwork the dough. It’s a very crumbly mass once it comes out of the bowl, but that’s why the finished texture is so light and tender. Don’t knead the dough together, but rather press it until it just holds. This dough can be made by hand, in a food processor, as it is written, or in a stand mixer. 

Makes 8 shortcakes

2 cups / 270 g all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 cup / 115 g unsalted butter, diced into 1/4-inch cubes, chilled

1 cup / 240 ml plus 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, divided

3 tablespoons turbinado or granulated sugar (optional; if using the dough for a dessert or breakfast pastries)

 

  • In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and granulated sugar. 

  • Pulse a few times to combine and break up any clumps.

  • Add the butter, scattering it over the flour. Pulse 15 times to break up the butter. The mixture will look sandy, with some larger pieces of butter throughout.

  • Pour 1 cup / 240 ml cream over the dough and pulse an additional 20 times. The dough will look crumbly and dry.

  • Dump the dough onto an unfloured work surface and use the palm of your hand to work the dough just until it holds together. You don’t want to overwork the dough, as this can make it tough.

  • Gather the dough together into a 6-to 8-inch round (for making wedge-shaped scones) or a rectangle (for cutting out round biscuits).

  • Use a brush or your fingers to spread the remaining 2 tablespoons cream in an even layer on top. 

  • Sprinkle the extra sugar, if using, on top of the cream.

  • Chill the dough for 30 minutes.

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  • Cut the dough into the desired shapes and then place them on the baking sheet.

  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until deep golden along the edges.

  • Cool to room temperature on a wire rack.

  • These are best served the day they are baked. Unbaked dough can be wrapped and frozen for up to 1 month.

Note: Often I make these by hand and simply grate the chilled butter into the dry ingredients with a cheese grater. From there I toss the butter and dry ingredients together, breaking up any large clumps with my hands, and then stir in the cream.

Sandwiches

4 black pepper biscuits

2 tablespoons grainy mustard

Dill pickle slices

4 fried chicken thighs (recipe follows)

1 tablespoon honey

For the biscuits:

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Follow the recipe for the basic shortcakes, adding in the black pepper with the flour.

  • Form the dough into a round or rectangle 1 inch thick and then use a 3-inch biscuit cutter to cut out four biscuits. You can squish the scraps together to get the fourth biscuit; alternatively, cut the biscuits into 3-inch squares.

  • Biscuit dough can be made and refrigerated 1 day in advance or frozen for up to 1 month. They are best served the day they are baked.

  • Brush the tops with heavy whipping cream and then bake for 20 minutes, or until golden around the edges and the biscuit it set.

For the sandwiches:

  • Split the black pepper biscuits and spread one side with grainy mustard.

  • Top with pickle slices and hot fried chicken and drizzle with honey. Serve immediately.

Fried Chicken

I’m not Southern, but I must say that I am quite proud of this fried chicken. The chicken’s overnight marinade in salt and spices brings intense flavor, and a double dip in both spiced flour and buttermilk gives it a thick and crisp exterior. Cornstarch in the flour mixture makes the crust crisper and more tender, while baking powder helps to make the crust airy and light. 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. It’s really a sandwich that needs the aid of a knife and a fork.

Makes enough for 4 sandwiches

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 pound)

Vegetable, canola, or peanut oil, for frying (about 4 cups)

Spice Mix

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

Flour Dredge

1 cup / 140 g all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Buttermilk Dredge

1 cup / 240 ml buttermilk

1 egg

 

  • 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 all 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.

  • Mix together the buttermilk and egg in another pie plate or shallow dish.

  • Set up a wire rack over a sheet tray.

  • 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°F.

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.

  • 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 sheet tray.

  • 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.


Roasted Green Pozole with Chicken

By the time our date rolls around, the sun is nearly set and there’s a slight chill in the air that makes this roasted, fragrant stew a perfect late-summer evening meal. It’s vibrant and fresh yet pleasantly hearty from roasted and ground pepitas. The original recipe comes from Gourmet magazine, but I’ve since made many changes throughout its life in our home. The biggest change being the pan-roasting of the tomatillos and garlic, which gives the soup a soft smokiness and a bit more complexity.

Serves 4

1/2 cup / 60 g roasted, salted pepitas, plus more for garnish

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted 

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

10 ounces / 280 g tomatillos (about 4 to 5 medium size), peeled and quartered

3 garlic cloves

1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped, plus more for serving

1 jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded

1/2 cup / 10 g chopped fresh cilantro, divided

1 to 11/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon dried oregano

21/2 to 3 cups / 590 to 710 ml chicken stock, homemade or store-bought

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, thinly sliced

1 (15-ounce / 430 g) can hominy, drained and rinsed

To serve: any combination of thinly sliced radishes, sliced avocado, chopped cilantro, pepitas, lime wedges, diced onion, crumbled Cotija, and sour cream or crema. Grind the pepitas and cumin seeds in a spice grinder or blender until finely ground.

  • Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

  • When the oil is hot, add the tomatillos, garlic, onion, and jalapeño to the pot, along with a pinch of salt.

  • Roast in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are charred, caramelized in parts, and tender.

  • Carefully transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor or blender and process along with 1/4 cup / 5 g chopped cilantro and 1 teaspoon salt.

  • Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pot over medium heat. Return the purée to the pot and cook, stirring frequently until thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape up the deeply flavored browned bits on the bottom of the pot.

  • Stir in the ground pepitas and cumin seeds, along with the oregano and 1 cup / 240 ml stock. Bring to a simmer and then add the remaining 11/2 cups / 360 ml stock, chicken, and hominy.

  • Let this simmer, mostly covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1/4 cup / 5 g chopped cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt if you feel it needs it.

  • I prefer the pozole to be thick, like a stew, but if you want it thinner, add more stock. Pozole can be made 1 to 3 days in advance, and in fact the flavor improves after a rest in the fridge. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

  • Serve with the accompaniments.


Rainbow Chip Cake

I had a wedding cake business when Baron, my oldest, was a baby. Even after all those years of experience, I still find cakes maddening. I want a cake the texture of a cake made from a box—springy, tender, and light—without using a boxed cake mix. This cake in particular needed to resemble the rainbow chip cake mix that my husband craves every time his birthday rolls around. For years I would make him the boxed cake. ME?! The one with the cake business! Then one year I decided, that’s it! I’m making boxed cake myself.

Makes one 2-layer 8-inch cake

Rainbow Chips

1 (11-ounce / 310 g) bag white chocolate chips

1 tablespoon neutral oil (such as canola or vegetable)

Food coloring (red, yellow, blue, and green)

Cake

1 cup / 240 ml whole milk, at room temperature, divided

5 egg whites

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 cup / 30 g cornstarch

2 3/4 cups / 370 g all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 3/4 cups / 350 g granulated sugar

3/4 cup / 170 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans

1/2 cup / 70 g homemade rainbow chips

Frosting

3 (8-ounce) packages / 680 g cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup / 115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 cups / 340 g confectioners’ sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla bean

1 cup / 135 g homemade rainbow chips

Assembly

1/2 cup / 130 g roasted strawberry jam or store-bought strawberry jam

For the rainbow chips:

  • In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the white chocolate with the oil in 20-second intervals, three or four at the most, and stir well. Be careful: the chocolate burns easily.

  • Continue to heat and stir until all the chips are melted. The white chocolate will be thick and stiff but smooth.

  • Divide the melted white chocolate into four small bowls.

  • Add five to seven drops of color into each bowl, one color per bowl. Stir to combine. The white chocolate may seize up a bit but should still be pliable. If not, pop it back into the microwave for about 10 seconds.

  • Empty each bowl of colored chocolate onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using your hands or an offset spatula, form it into a rough rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Do this with all the colors. They should all be able to fit on one large baking sheet.

  • Place in the freezer for about 10 minutes, or until set. Once set, chop up each color into little pieces. Rainbow chips can be made days ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

For the cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 8-inch cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper.

  • Butter the parchment.

  • In a medium bowl, whisk to combine 1/4 cup / 60 ml of the milk with the egg whites and vanilla extract.

  • In a large bowl, add the cornstarch, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar and mix with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and the remaining 3/4 cup / 180 ml milk.

  • Mix on low until combined and then increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute.

  • With a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again just to combine.

  • With the mixer on low, add one third of the egg white mixture and mix until incorporated. Add half of the remaining egg white mixture, beat well, and then add the remaining egg white mixture, beating until everything is combined.

  • Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and finish mixing on low.

  • Fold in the rainbow chips.

  • Divide the batter equally between the pans (1 pound 6 ounces / 620 g of batter per pan).

  • Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the cake springs back when gently pressed in the middle.

  • Let the cakes cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before you remove them from the pans. They should pop out easily when you invert the pans. Cool completely before frosting.

  • The cakes can be made a day in advance. Wrap the cooled cakes completely in plastic wrap. I actually think the texture of the cake dramatically improves the day after it’s baked. However, I recommend frosting the cake the day you plan on serving it.

For the frosting:

  • Beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Stop the machine and add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and vanilla. Turn on low and mix until combined.

  • Turn up the speed to medium and beat 1 minute more.

  • Turn off the machine and add the rainbow chips. Mix on low until just combined.

  • The frosting can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge.

To assemble the cake:

  • Place one of the cake layers on a cake stand or platter. Use a serrated knife to even out the domed top of the layer and cut off the crisp edges; this also exposes the softer inside of the cake, allowing it to soak up more of the jam.

  • Spoon 1/4 cup / 65 g strawberry jam on the cake and spread in a thin, even layer.

  • On top of the jam, spread about 1/2 cup/ 130 g frosting evenly across the cake. Leave the outer 1/2-inch edge of the cake unfrosted.

  • Trim the top of the second cake layer in the same way and add 1/4 cup jam to the exposed cake top.

  • Place the cake, jam-side down, on top of the first layer.

  • On top of the cake, add about 2 cups / 520 g frosting, pushing the frosting to the edges with an offset spatula.

  • Continue to frost the cake until evenly covered. Add more frosting as needed.

  • If the frosting gets too soft, pop it into the fridge for 10 to 20 minutes before continuing to frost.


All recipes reprinted with permission from Date Night In © 2014 Ashley Rodriguez, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group

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