When date night rolls around, you could head to a restaurant, wait for a table, and overhear strangers’ conversations while trying to have one of your own—or you could do something truly intimate and head outside. 

Date night by the fire pit is unlike anything else. Around the fire, there’s no wait, no one else, and the only conversations you’ll overhear are those between the birds. Venture onto your back patio or into a wild place nearby for a picnic designed by Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt and a chance to reconnect without distractions. 


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All photos courtesy of Ashley Rodriguez

Ashley says, “A simple picnic around the fire is quite possibly the most romantic setting for a date. Grab a couple of cheeses from the store, pack your cooler with a bottle of wine, a couple of glasses, and the ingredients for these simple recipes.” She shares her own date night picnic and recipes with us below. 

On the menu are mulled wine, cheese and crackers, Fire Roasted Cashews with Chili and Smoked Paprika, and Upside Down Blood Orange Cupcakes. 



“As with anything cooked over the fire, smoke becomes an essential ingredient. The same is true for mulling wine on the fire and believe me, it’s a highly desirable flavor in this simple recipe,” Ashley shares. “The choice and amount of spices is really a matter of preference. A float of orange slices adds a bright citrus flavor that pairs particularly well with cinnamon and clove.”



Mulled Wine

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks 
  • 2 star anise 
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle red wine 
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced 
  • 1/4 cup brandy (optional) 
  • 1/4 cup honey or sugar

Instructions

  1. Combine the cloves, cinnamon sticks, and star anise in a 4-quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven
  2. Toast the spices for 2-3 minutes, or until fragrant over medium-low heat. Carefully add the nutmeg, wine, orange, brandy, and honey or sugar and bring to a simmer over heat. 
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low, and let simmer for at least 15 minutes. Strain, and serve warm.


Fire Roasted Cashews with Chili and Smoked Paprika

Any nut can be substituted here. These are the perfect snack for lingering by the fire.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups raw and unsalted cashews
  • 1 Fresno chili, thinly sliced 
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves 
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika 
  • 1 teaspoon honey sea salt

Instructions

  1. Add the olive oil to a large cast iron skillet set over a grill grate on the fire. 
  2. Add the cashews and begin to toast, stirring constantly. Once they start to shift in color add the chili, rosemary, paprika, and honey. 
  3. Continue to cook over the fire until deeply toasted. Add salt to taste then carefully transfer the cashews to a bowl. Let cool before digging in.


Upside Down Blood Orange Cupcakes

These stunning little cakes travel well, which suits them for the end of a simple fireside picnic.

Makes 12 - 18 cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar 
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature 
  • 2 small eggs 
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract 
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour 
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest 
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds 
  • 2 blood oranges

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease a cupcake pan. 
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment add the sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter. Beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  3.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula. With the machine running on low add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. 
  4. Stir in the vanilla extract. Add roughly 1/3 of the milk then 1/3 of the flour. Repeat until all the milk and flour have been added. 
  5. Stir in the zest and poppy seeds. Scrape down the bowl with the rubber spatula to make sure the batter is completed mixed. 
  6. Using a paring knife remove the peel and pith from the oranges. Cut the oranges into rounds then place one round into bottom of each cupcake. 
  7. Fill each of the cupcake cavities with batter up to 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cake springs back when gently pressed. Cook the cupcakes in the pan for 20 minutes before running a knife around the edge then inverting on a cooling rack.


Photos from Ashley Rodriguez