As the creator of the popular food blog, Not Without Salt, a mother of three young children, and an entrepreneur of a highly-addictive, Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix, the adorable and always-inspiring Ashley Rodriguez is no stranger to a hectic schedule. In fact, it was her busy life that inspired her first cookbook, Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship. Ashley was kind enough to share a bit more about her first book, the blog, and her seriously too-good-to-be-true recipe for Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Tell us about Date Night In and what inspired you to write your first cookbook?
Our date nights inspired the book. Four years ago this month I started a series on the blog that I called, Dating My Husband. At the time our three kids were very young. We were deep in diapers, no sleep, and toddler tantrums. Gabe and I were just trying to survive that season but in the midst of it all I forgot about us. I forgot that before the kids there was us and we were a team.
I loved the quiet evening hours and would use those to soak up the quiet and find rest from the day. In that season I needed that time but when I fell into that pattern everyday I failed to connect with my husband whom I started to see as my roommate rather than my best friend and husband. So I decided to take back one of those evenings a week to date him as going out wasn’t as easy of an option on a weekly basis.
Now Thursday nights are for our marriage. Gabe makes me a cocktail (this is key), then he goes to put the kids to bed and I head into the kitchen. This is what works for us as Gabe does not enjoy cooking as I do. These date nights changed our marriage. I can say that in complete honesty.
On the blog I wrote about these evenings, the food and the intention behind them. I wrote candidly about our marriage both the joys and the hardships. My readers really related to these posts. The response was overwhelming and helped me to see that there was something to this series. So, this is how it involved into a book.
The book is 25 seasonal menus/dates with a very honest and vulnerable narrative about marriage, family and maintaining a long term relationship to open each chapter. There are over 120 recipes that help to make the date nights feel special; set apart from the rest of the week.
This book is deeply personal to Gabe and me and while I’m a bit scared to be that vulnerable in a cookbook, I’m so excited to continue this conversation with others and hopefully inspire more date nights. Knowing how helpful they have been for us motivates me to spread this message in a beautiful and honest way.
What has writing cookbooks taught you about yourself and/or your cooking style?
I had heard so many horror stories about writing cookbooks. And yes, it is indeed hard but it is the kind of hard that pushes you to be better, that really forces you to go deep and dig up the best part of you.
It’s also taught me the importance of working with others. I can only do so much. In that past, I have tried tirelessly to do it all but now I know where my strengths are and I can reach out to others to help me in the areas that I’m not good at. It has been so amazing working with a team of people all with the same goal in mind; to make a kick-ass cookbook.
I’ve learned so much about recipe development. In my own kitchen, I’m very relaxed about cooking; just a little of this and that. But I’ve learned to be very present in the cooking process, to note color, smells, time, amounts, taste, textures, etc. so that those who follow the recipes will get a great result every time.
My cooking style every day and for our date nights is a bit different so this book reflects a style that is not necessarily how I eat every day. The food in this book is more thought out, a bit more special so that while we are dating at home, it still feels different than our everyday. But there is always a connecting tie of modern comfort in my food. I’m never afraid of cream and butter but to me those things, in pure form, are very nutritious. Especially paired with loads of vegetables. I’m a huge fan of vegetables.
What motivates you to do what you do in the kitchen?
At its core, my motivation comes from a place of creativity. I’m an artist at heart so the idea of making something beautiful and delicious from raw ingredients gets me excited and inspires me to run to the kitchen. When I’m there, I’m motivated by who I get to share the meal with. Even if it’s just myself.
What’s the very first menu you’d like us to tackle in the cookbook — something that will hook us in?
Really each one is special in their own way BUT if you are looking to really win over your date, go with the fried chicken and biscuit sandwich date. If that seems like too much, just skip to dessert. The first time I had a bite of the Chocolate Pecan Ice Cream Pie with Bourbon Butterscotch and Pretzel Crust, I declared, “this recipe is worth the price of the book.” So yeah, it’s real good.
What makes a great date night? What kind of food do you like on a Date Night out?
I like food that makes me feel warm, comfortable and special which is exactly how I want my date to make me feel. So often I find the food is only as good as the date and to me a great date is filled with conversation that flows like the wine (which also helps the conversation flow).
What do you eat when no one is looking?
I’ve got nothing to hide but I imagine we’re looking for guilty pleasures. Anything fried particularly fries and chips. Specifically Cool Ranch Doritos. No shame.
Please share a little baking/cooking advice to inspire a home cook.
I think the best lesson I learned was to not be afraid in the kitchen. I wish we all shared our flops a little more rather than just putting our best foot forward because I think that breeds intimidation and fear in others. I make mistakes all the time but I’ve learned that it’s what I do with those mistakes that makes me proficient in the kitchen. Sure, some mistakes are a complete loss and leave me crying on the couch and questioning my worth but most of the time the mistake drives me to create something new. So jump in, make mistakes and keep going.
What’s one of the best homemade food gifts you’ve ever received?
I adore homemade gifts from the kitchen. No matter what they are because they are so deeply personal. Last year my brother-in-law made us hot sauce. I loved using it, understanding his tastes better as a result of the gift and thinking of him every time I showered my eggs with the stuff.
What’s your secret to your Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix? You can tell us …
There are so many little things that make these cookies special and really it’s no secret, I’ve shared the recipe many times, in fact, it’s in the book too.
Like many things the secret is in the ingredients. With the mix, I’ve used my very favorite ingredients to make the very best version of my cookies. There are three types of sugar, a ground vanilla bean which makes the smell of the sugar packet just ridiculous. I use a local flour, Guittard bittersweet chocolate and Maldon flake salt.
Since we started selling the mix, that is all I use to bake these cookies. They really are the best version of this recipe.
Besides chocolate chip cookies, what’s your favorite food gift to make for others?
A couple years ago, I made specialized bitters for each of my family members. Knowing that my sister-in-law was a tequila fan I made hers heavy on lime. And then with each bottle, I gave them a recipe for their own signature cocktail. I loved thinking of all of them as I mixed up their tinctures. Here is the blog post I wrote about the process.
What is the one item you covet for your kitchen?
I wish I had a more glamorous answer but my kitchen is small and I’m quite content with all I have but I do really want that Kitchenaid beater attachment with the rubber on the edges. I think my cookies will really benefit from it. 🙂
What’s next for you and Not Without Salt?
I ask myself that a lot and then I think I just need to chill out and enjoy this moment. But I’m a dreamer and a doer so I just keep thinking.
I have a huge desire to write another book and to travel with my family. If I could somehow combine those two, that would be the ultimate. And adding a few more flavors, mixes and gluten-free options to the NWS product family, I can see that happening quite soon.
Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Date Night In These are best eaten the day of baking but will keep, if well sealed, for up to 2 days. Gabe and I also recommend turning pairs of these little beauties into ice cream sandwiches with the help of some great vanilla ice cream. ~Ashley
From Date Night In
These are best eaten the day of baking but will keep, if well sealed, for up to 2 days. Gabe and I also recommend turning pairs of these little beauties into ice cream sandwiches with the help of some great vanilla ice cream. ~Ashley
Makes: 18 to 24 cookies
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (use the best-quality chocolate you can), cut into roughly 1/2-inch chunks with a serrated knife
- Flake sea salt (such as Maldon), for finishing
- In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugars together with an electric mixer on medium speed, until light in color and texture, 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well to combine. Again, stop the machine and scrape down the bowl with a spatula.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt to combine.
- With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture. Mix until streaks of flour still run throughout. Add the chocolate and mix until everything just comes together. Finish the dough by hand, taking care to scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl to make sure everything is evenly distributed.
- At this point, it is best to refrigerate the dough for 24 hours. Resting the dough intensifies the deep toffee flavors, and the texture of the baked cookie improves.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 360°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop the dough onto the baking sheets. Top the cookies with a pinch of flake salt just before baking.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Rotate the sheets halfway through if they appear to be baking unevenly. The cookies should be lightly golden on the outside but still look quite gooey on the inside. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for at least 5 minutes.
- Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Eat Boutique is an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista–shop girl, writer, author, and creative business coach. After hosting pop-up markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie is working to open her first permanent Eat Boutique–a food-retail concept space with a new way to the very best food–as well as coaching women in food to reach life and business goals. Her second cookbook, A New Way to Food: 100 Recipes to Encourage a Healthy Relationship with Food, Nourish Your Beautiful Body, and Celebrate Real Wellness for Life, will be published by Roost Books on February 5, 2019.