Intro

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An in home date is not equal to that of one usually including fancy shoes (or shoes at all) and red lipstick. There is something about leaving the house and all the responsibilities tied to it that frees you up to talk about the things in life that extend a bit deeper than normal dinner time conversation when three children under the age of 5 are present.

What an in home date is good for is providing opportunities for connection (and great food) when leaving the house isn’t an option. It allows for more dates without making a huge dent in the family budget and if you have children it’s great for them to see you making an effort to continue to build the relationship with your spouse.

Gabe and I have several in home dates under our belts and there are a few things I’ve learned that help distinguish a date evening from one in which flying food and fart jokes are present (not welcomed, but they’re there).

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First of all I like to start the meal off with a cocktail. An ordinary dinner in our house does not begin this way instantly reminding us that this meal is different. Also, I find that cooking becomes more of a gift and less of an obligation when a cocktail is in hand. The lingering voices of children fighting sleep seem somehow muted when sipping on a fine beverage.

Our date night food is different. Most days my meal planning begins around 4:45 when my kids are ready for dinner at 5:00. Our everyday food is simple, quick, healthful, and easy. When date nights are approaching you’ll find me amid a pile of cookbooks eagerly anticipating a dish, ingredient or flavor that will suddenly inspire our meal. Creating the menu is the first step in distinguishing this evening apart from others. I choose dishes that comfort while still giving us the sense that this is special. The meal is usually three courses (four if you include the cocktail as a substantial course).

With the menu planned and cocktail in hand I begin to cook. I’m not rushed or dealing with crying children tugging at my apron strings. I enjoy the process. My husband sits nearby ready to help but also keeps his distance knowing that I tend to be a bit controlling in the kitchen and often prefer to do it alone. He appreciates his drink and watching his wife in her element. I toast the spices, stir the sauce, and plate the salad pulling him into the process by tasting the flavors that excite me almost to tears.

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The meat rests while we sit down to enjoy a light salad. Voices are faint but can still be heard from upstairs. By the time we are ready for the main course the house is quiet and for a moment we feel alone, as if we have reserved a restaurant to ourselves.

With a sharp knife and an eager appetite I slice through the perfectly cooked pork tenderloin. It’s juices flow into the Gorgonzola polenta only adding to the complexity. Conversation nearly ceases while we savor not only the meal but also the silence.

As the roasted grapes, lightly floral of rosemary, are served over store-bought (getting a little help from the store is perfectly acceptable and encouraged in order to make date night meal prep stress-free) ice cream we’ve settled into each other’s company feeling the freedom to steer conversation from the logistical to the variety in which it leaves us reminded of why we fell in love.

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The kitchen remains mostly a mess as the priority is connecting not cleaning. Our laptops are used only if watching a movie is in order and our phones are only welcomed if we are photographing the meal. It’s us, good food and great company.

Even when the day exhausts us to the point where even carrying on a conversation feels a chore, we continue to date at home as we realize the importance of building that habit. The reality is there are days when cooking a three coursed meal after a long day with the kids feels more like torture than delight. In those times there are a few options. 1. We’ve had date nights with just a cocktail and dessert course. Equally lovely and much less work. 2. Take-out is always an option, just be sure to include some element that signifies this night set apart. 3. Pour a glass of wine and power through. I find that once I start cooking the process provides me with more energy and joy than when I began.

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The most important thing about date nights is to do them. I feel completely inadequate in saying this as we tend to let almost everything else in life take more precedence than dating one another. But what I can say is that when we are faithful in this act our marriage is rewarded. We end the evening feeling more connected, a stronger team, and more in love. In this season in life, with young children, it’s so easy to set our marriage aside. The kids whine much louder than Gabe does so it’s easy to give them everything I have leaving nothing for my husband. I’ve seen the destruction in this and I know that one of the most important things I can teach my children is what a healthy marriage looks like. So we date and we are much better for it.

Applejack Spritzer

adapted from Gourmet 1985

Makes 1

This is a simple cocktail, light and faintly fizzy. Perfect for when you want something with cool weather flavors while still being pleasantly refreshing.

2 shots apple juice

1 shot applejack

1 tbl lemon juice

splash soda water

ice

In an highball mix the juice, apple jack and lemon juice. Add ice then soda water to top. Garnish with a slice of lemon if you wish.

Pear with Fennel, Walnuts, Parmesan and Balsamic

adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Serves 2

With little more information than the name of this recipe you can make this salad. What’s magical is in the unique combination of flavors. It seems as if there might be too much happening on one plate but I assure you that each ingredient needs the other in order to make this salad sing.

1 bosc pear

1/2 fennel bulb

Parmesan

aged balsamic

toasted walnuts

Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife slice the pear and fennel very thin. Arrange on two plates then finish with shaved Parmesan, a drizzle of balsamic and a few toasted walnut halves.

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Pork Tenderloin with Fennel

adapted from Molly Stevens’,All About Roasting

Serves 3-4

1 lb pork tenderloin

2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted

3 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

2 Tbl olive oil

2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup white wine

2 Tbl fennel fronds, chopped

1 Tbl butter, room temperature

Combine the fennel, thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pat the pork dry then rub on seasoning mixture. This can be done 4-24 hours in advance if covered and refrigerated. Remove the pork 30 minutes prior to roasting to allow it to come to room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 350*F. In a large oven-proof pan or skillet, heat the oil and the pan until very hot. Carefully add the pork making sure you hear plenty of sizzle as it hits the hot pan. Do not touch for two minutes so that a nice deep crust forms. Sear all sides of the tenderloin, a total of 6-8 minutes. Transfer the pork to a plate.

On medium heat, add the fennel to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and saute until brown in spots, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute briefly. It will appear dry. Add the wine then cover and lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the fennel is crisp-tender, about 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the pork back to the pan. Smear the butter over the tenderloin then return to the oven to roast until the internal temperature in the thickest part is 140-145*F, about 18 minutes. Allow the meat to rest for 5-8 minutes then slice ½ to 1 inch thick slices. Taste the fennel for seasoning.  Serve the pork over the Gorgonzola polenta then top with roasted fennel and fresh fennel fronds. Drizzle with any remaining juices.

Gorganzola Polenta

method adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Serves 4, generously

Judy Rogers, the author of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, writes with such authority that I can’t help but want to do everything just as she says. And her implicit instructions on cooking polenta was no exception. The resulting dish came out perfectly creamy and with no whisper of a lump. Judy recommends letting the polenta rest in a bain marie for 30 minutes prior to eating. I would have done that but when it comes to dirtying more dishes – that’s where I draw the line. I let mine rest for 15-20 minutes and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.

As for the Gorgonzola – just do it. Tomorrow can be a healthy eating day.

5 cups water

1 cup polenta

½ tsp salt

2 tbl butter

4 oz gorgonzola

Bring the water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the polenta then continue to stir until the water returns to a simmer. Reduce the heat until the polenta only bubbles occasionally. Cook uncovered for about 1 hour, stirring as needed. The polenta will be thick but still fluid, if too thick add a bit of water. Add salt, butter, and Gorgonzola. Remove from the heat, cover and let rest at least 15 minutes.

Roasted Grapes

adapted from Molly Stevens’ All About Roasting

It’s as if the grapes magically create their own jam when you roast them. I recommend serving these over caramel ice cream or vanilla with caramel sauce. If you manage to save a few for breakfast I’m sure your oatmeal would thank you.

1 lb red, seedless grapes

1 ½ Tbl olive oil

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

On a parchment lined sheet tray add the grapes and rosemary. Drizzle the oil on and stir to coat.Roast in a 300*F oven for 1-2 hours depending on desired roastedness.

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Applejack Spritzer // Pear and Walnut Salad // Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Polenta

Applejack Spritzer

adapted from Gourmet 1985

Makes 1

This is a simple cocktail, light and faintly fizzy. Perfect for when you want something with cool weather flavors while still being pleasantly refreshing.

2 shots apple juice

1 shot applejack

1 tbl lemon juice

splash soda water

ice

In an highball mix the juice, apple jack and lemon juice. Add ice then soda water to top. Garnish with a slice of lemon if you wish.

Pear with Fennel, Walnuts, Parmesan and Balsamic

adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Serves 2

With little more information than the name of this recipe you can make this salad. What’s magical is in the unique combination of flavors. It seems as if there might be too much happening on one plate but I assure you that each ingredient needs the other in order to make this salad sing.

1 bosc pear

1/2 fennel bulb

Parmesan

aged balsamic

toasted walnuts

Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife slice the pear and fennel very thin. Arrange on two plates then finish with shaved Parmesan, a drizzle of balsamic and a few toasted walnut halves.

 

Pork Tenderloin with Fennel

adapted from Molly Stevens’,All About Roasting

Serves 3-4

1 lb pork tenderloin

2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted

3 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

2 Tbl olive oil

2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup white wine

2 Tbl fennel fronds, chopped

1 Tbl butter, room temperature

Combine the fennel, thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pat the pork dry then rub on seasoning mixture. This can be done 4-24 hours in advance if covered and refrigerated. Remove the pork 30 minutes prior to roasting to allow it to come to room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 350*F. In a large oven-proof pan or skillet, heat the oil and the pan until very hot. Carefully add the pork making sure you hear plenty of sizzle as it hits the hot pan. Do not touch for two minutes so that a nice deep crust forms. Sear all sides of the tenderloin, a total of 6-8 minutes. Transfer the pork to a plate.

On medium heat, add the fennel to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and saute until brown in spots, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute briefly. It will appear dry. Add the wine then cover and lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the fennel is crisp-tender, about 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the pork back to the pan. Smear the butter over the tenderloin then return to the oven to roast until the internal temperature in the thickest part is 140-145*F, about 18 minutes. Allow the meat to rest for 5-8 minutes then slice ½ to 1 inch thick slices. Taste the fennel for seasoning.  Serve the pork over the Gorgonzola polenta then top with roasted fennel and fresh fennel fronds. Drizzle with any remaining juices.

Gorganzola Polenta

method adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Serves 4, generously

Judy Rogers, the author of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, writes with such authority that I can’t help but want to do everything just as she says. And her implicit instructions on cooking polenta was no exception. The resulting dish came out perfectly creamy and with no whisper of a lump. Judy recommends letting the polenta rest in a bain marie for 30 minutes prior to eating. I would have done that but when it comes to dirtying more dishes – that’s where I draw the line. I let mine rest for 15-20 minutes and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.

As for the Gorgonzola – just do it. Tomorrow can be a healthy eating day.

5 cups water

1 cup polenta

½ tsp salt

2 tbl butter

4 oz gorgonzola

Bring the water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the polenta then continue to stir until the water returns to a simmer. Reduce the heat until the polenta only bubbles occasionally. Cook uncovered for about 1 hour, stirring as needed. The polenta will be thick but still fluid, if too thick add a bit of water. Add salt, butter, and Gorgonzola. Remove from the heat, cover and let rest at least 15 minutes.

Roasted Grapes

adapted from Molly Stevens’ All About Roasting

It’s as if the grapes magically create their own jam when you roast them. I recommend serving these over caramel ice cream or vanilla with caramel sauce. If you manage to save a few for breakfast I’m sure your oatmeal would thank you.

1 lb red, seedless grapes

1 ½ Tbl olive oil

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

On a parchment lined sheet tray add the grapes and rosemary. Drizzle the oil on and stir to coat.Roast in a 300*F oven for 1-2 hours depending on desired roastedness.

57 Responses to “Dating My Husband: How To”

  1. Tora

    What a lovely think to do! Totally inspired me to do something similar! Honestly, not a three meal course. But I love the idea of “doing something different” to set it apart from a regular night. Like the drinks! Excellent idea. Those roasted grapes look sweet and juicy and tender… yum! Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
  2. Kathryn

    Oh I love rituals like this. Whilst it is always fun to go out, I think date nights at home are just as important and just as special. It sounds like a wonderful meal.

    Reply
  3. Natashia@foodonpaper

    That meal looks amazing! I love this idea you have about dating at home, it seems so right. Who needs to go out and spend money on meals when you can create an even more special, tasty and romantic date at home. I’m going to try this idea this weekend :)

    Reply
  4. Victoria

    Thank you or the inspiration…we love to cook & eat in, though often our 3yo dominates the discussion/mood :) heading into the holiday season we are planning on a few eat-in date nights to channel a little holiday cheer and romance.

    Reply
  5. Jess

    I love the premise of continually dating your husband :] I’m getting ready to get married and will keep that a priority. Thanks for the continually great recipes, and today for the life tip! Love your blog. :]

    Reply
  6. Sarah...my yellow house

    Good Morning. I’ve been reading your blog for some time now but wanted to finally tell you how much I really enjoy visiting you. Your photos are absolutely gorgeous and I love reading your stories. I am a vegan but I have started a collection of your recipes that at the start of the year, I’m going to try. I’d love to hear how you think I could do some substitutions.
    Thank you for all your inspiration and hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
    Sarah

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Sarah – Thanks so much for your comment. I’m not too familiar with vegan cooking but I have been greatly inspired by Moroccan cuisine and their food is so easy to make vegan. Expect more recipes soon.

      Reply
  7. Emily

    this is such a beautiful concept. so simple, elegant and easy. what an inspiration to building a complete, whole life.

    Reply
  8. SallyBR

    Wonderful post, enjoyed each word… I feel absolutely spoiled, as me and hubby live by ourselves, his kids are grown up and gone from home… But the concept of a special dinner at home is still valid – we usually cook together a special meal in occasions like Valentine’s Day, but I’ll try to do them more often.

    Quite an inspiring post…

    Reply
  9. MyFrogs

    I find that once I start prepping for a great meal, a sort of meditation takes over and relaxes me. That’s one of the reasons I love cooking so much, besides the eating part. Not so much on the everyday get the kids fed meals, but the meals that involve more time and prep. It’s SO nice!

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @MyFrogs – It’s so true. I begin the process reluctantly only to end the meal with renewed inspiration. A true sign that I really adore cooking. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  10. Shirley

    What a beautiful post and such a lovely dinner! It’s always nice to just relax with your spouse, enjoy a beautiful meal and reconnect with each other. Always enjoy reading your blog.

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Andi – I don’t remember. But that’s also a great point. Just because we are home doesn’t mean we can’t dress up. Heck, we don’t even need to dress at all. :) Next time I’ll do better.

      Reply
  11. sara

    what a post! that looks like quite the meal and i love love love what a good example you guys set out to be. I’m sure it is so tough to balance it all, and it makes me happy that you guys do this regularly. xo

    Reply
  12. Clara

    Ashley, I love these tips for an in home date night and especially your point about powering through. So often I feel so rushed to make dinner- even if there is no rush- and then I just end up hating the process. By the time we sit down to eat I’ll feel frustrated or not even want the food. This post is a good reminder to be better at taking my time and enjoying the process. Thank you…. as always!

    Reply
  13. Brian @ A Thought For Food

    I adore this post. You’re right… sometimes it’s hard to find time to date your spouse. While we don’t have children… our pup certainly acts as one. So, it’s rare that we go out together.

    I can’t think of a better way to relax and enjoy each other’s company than over this scrumptious meal.

    Reply
  14. Lorene

    How very, very lovely and even more importantly – wise. Our kids are grown and gone leaving the house very quiet and mostly clean. My husband and I both work from home as a graphic designer and writer respectively. We need date night now more than ever as deadlines, projects and working in general have proven to be every bit as demanding as hungry kids (and not nearly as cute!) I’ve taken this post to heart and can’t thank you enough for boost I so need… and that polenta recipe looks amazing!

    Reply
  15. Hannah

    I just love this and it is such a timely post for me. Since making a birthday meal for my boyfriend earlier this month, we have decided to aim for a date night in once a month – where we take it it turns to cook a three course meal and try new foods. We’re pretty stressed since setting up a business together this year and I hope these nights will give us chance to refocus. Thanks for sharing your wonderful tips!

    Reply
  16. Dawn

    what a simply lovely post. although my ex-husband and I never had kids, we allowed all sorts of other “life things” take our time & focus from each other. bravo to you for reminding couples to remember to take time for each other.

    Reply
  17. erin @ from city to farm

    Delicious photos, and beautiful sentiment. Plus, a great tip with the “start the evening with a cocktail”…that would be sure to change it over from just dinner, to something special.

    Candles and new music are another addition that helps!

    Reply
  18. alison

    We have date nights at home pretty regularly…a saves us a little money and the hassle of finding a sitter. Somehow I almost like them more. Great post.

    Reply
  19. victoria

    So very very true. I’m afraid to admit that we let that go and are now paying the price. We can all drift a little from each other, but we should try not to let it get to the point where it’s harder to come together again most anything else. It may sound silly to those fresher in their relationships, but we do need to remind each other what we love and loved from the outset and allow each of us to show those lovable sides again.

    Reply
  20. Kenya

    I usually enjoy your blogs, but today I felt like I was in the kitchen with you and your husband it sounded so lovely. lol sounds great, now… if only i could find a husband that loved to cook like you do! HA! ;D

    Reply
  21. Thea

    Amen, sister! We love our stay-at-home dates. For us, the take-out is a key part of things, different because we never order it otherwise. As much as I love cooking, it’s a treat to me to not have to think about the menu or clean-up, but to sit down to dinner with Mitch and simply enjoy the time with him.

    The cocktails sound fun and fancy. Might have to incorporate those as a regular feature.

    Reply
  22. Jen Laceda

    Date nights are sooooo important – and I learned this the hard way! With 2 girls (and another on the way) + a full time day job + blogging responsibilities, my marriage quickly went down the “priority ladder.” I started taking my husband for granted, just knowing that, well…, he’s there all the time. But men are human beings, too, and they need the same love and nurturing that we women give to our kids and passions in life (travel & food blogging & photography for me). It was a tough road and our marriage almost fell apart. We went to see a counsellor whose first advice was to “remember why you fell in love with each other”. She said to turn to your partner and connect – and date nights (sans kids) are a great way to rekindle the relationship. And thank god we listened…because it worked! We are back on track, and what I can say is FOOD (outside and in-home dates) reconnected us. We always start our date nights with dinner…which always leads to something else later on. LOL.

    Reply
    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Jen – Thanks so much for this heartfelt comment. Such a powerful reminder to not let these simple acts go undone. It is so easy to put them aside. There are times when I would much rather curl up on the couch and sink into my own personal cave. But little is more important than the relationship with your spouse as you have also pointed out. Happy dating to you and your Mr.

      Reply
  23. MikeVFMK

    This is lovely. We follow similar routines, although I often pick up take-away and she has the table set, mood set, etc. And we don’t have to worry about clean up or anything. Just connecting. great menu Ashley…the food looks amazing.

    Reply
  24. Valeria

    Me and my fiancée try to do this dates at home as much as we can. We don’t have so much money, being students-interns, and to be honest we really enjoy the process of opening a bottle of wine in complete relax while cooking dinner, listening to some good music and enjoying each other company and conversation. Some dinners are more special and complex than others, but we simply love to share this little ritual at home as much as we can. Many times, an in home date is much better than an out date –there is more freedom and more intimacy. We use candles and little speakers for music. No phones, no laptops, not even cameras. It is just a moment for two and you are right, it really helps us bonding and remebering why we love each other. Whenever we are going to get married and have children, we will remember how important this is, and hopefully we will keep doing it. I will steal you some recipes for next times, that’s for sure.

    Reply
  25. joey

    Wonderful post! I totally agree with you…as a family with a small child I understand how we can sometimes neglect our spouses with the demands of a noisy little one. But you put it perfectly when you said “I know that one of the most important things I can teach my children is what a healthy marriage looks like”. Thank you for the added inspiration!

    Reply
  26. Calantha @ piecurious

    I think this is such wonderful advice. We often forget how a change of environment (going out) or a break from routine (date night in) can act not only to reintroduce us to those we see everyday–those people who seem to simply become a part of the routine–as well as inspire and reinvigorate ourselves. We can lose sight of ourselves in the routine and forget who we are. And we might even learn something new about our significant others when we break out of the routine, as well. We’re always growing and changing as people, and therefore we must set aside the time to continuously get to know each other.

    Lovely post, as usual.

    Reply
  27. Jaime A. Heidel

    I think having a “date night” is very important and you and your husband seem to make the most of it. Gorgeous photographs and it looks like delicious food!

    Reply
  28. Mairi @ Toast

    Love this post…so true that when sometimes you feel like you can’t be bothered, or it feels like a chore, if you just start you start to enjoy & it is no longer a chore. A little effort does indeed pay off dividends. And roasted grapes….I have never thought of that, but atop ice cream sounds quite wonderful.

    Reply
  29. Axon Parker

    Even as we speak, my husband is making me this meal for my birthday tonight…thank you! We are following your instructions to the letter, although I am going to be in the bath with a glass of wine after the kids are asleep, while the husband slaves in the kitchen:)

    Reply
  30. katie maye

    I just want to say thanks for these great “dating my husband” posts. while i’m not married, they really inspire to do something nice for my boyfriend and really bond over a meal. This post looked so delicious i made the whole meal and blogged about it myself. thanks for the great inspiration :)

    Reply
  31. Angela

    Oh, that post is just charming!
    I’ ve found your blog recently and I’ ve already loved it!
    And an idea of ‘dating your husband’ is simply incredible – I’ll tell about it all of couples which I know:))
    Many greetings

    Reply
  32. namoros

    Meu irmão recomendou que eu possa como este blog. Ele estava totalmente certo.
    Este post realmente fez o meu dia. Você não pode imaginar o quanto tempo
    eu tinha passado por esta informação! Obrigado!

    Reply

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