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Salt and Stone: 'Date Night In' with pizza and brownies

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This is your friendly reminder that Friday is Valentine’s Day. I was planning to surprise my husband with a date night at Crafted in downtown Yakima with a stop in to Gilbert Cellars for a glass of wine. When I called to make a reservation, however, I quickly found that was not to be. The restaurant had been booked for weeks with people who are much more organized and better at planning than I am.

But if the holiday happens to be sneaking up on you like it did me, I’ve got you covered.

I swung by the Shipping Shop at Summitview and 40th Avenue to pick up a few special Valentine treats. In addition to mailing back your Amazon purchases, the Shipping Shop has a wonderful array of goodies from local artisans, including Rooted In Candles, bouquets of fresh flowers from Simply Crafted, local wine, Copper Pot caramels and lots of other great finds.

I snagged some wine and a couple of candles for my kids’ teachers, then hit the grocery store to get what I needed for a decadent and easy dinner at home. Our family calls it “Date Night In.” Sometimes we include the kids in our date, but other times we feed them mac and cheese and turn on a movie so we can enjoy a special meal for just the two of us.

Regardless, Date Night In is one of our favorite traditions. We choose a special meal to make, open a bottle of wine and, if it’s winter, have a fire in the fireplace. Usually in the summer we wander out to the Adirondack chairs in our yard and watch the sunset. Either way, we’re cozy and relaxed. If the kids have a movie on, we even get to talk to each other.

For Valentine’s Day, I figured I would make a couple of my family’s favorite dishes. Homemade pizza is always a hit and we love to experiment with toppings. Pepperoni, ricotta, fresh spinach and Mama Lil’s spicy marinated peppers might be our all-time favorite combination. The smooth ricotta and spicy peppers balance each other out perfectly. I’ve included a recipe for pizza dough, but if that’s too much work for a Friday night, just swing by your grocery store and pick some up. If pepperoni isn’t your thing, try shaved Brussel’s sprouts and bacon or Italian sausage and bell peppers. Simple tomato and fresh basil is always a hit. You can’t go wrong.

Date Night In isn’t complete without dessert, and these bittersweet brownies with salted peanut butter frosting are perfect. Brownie batter comes together in a snap, and the peanut butter frosting is out-of-this-world delicious. I’m sure my children will spend most of the evening squabbling over who’s brownie is bigger and why that’s not fair, but I’ll tuck two pieces away for when they finally go to bed and we’ll say cheers to date night in and the lovely, chaotic, sometimes absurd, outrageously blessed little life we have with each other.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours.

• Andrea McCoy writes the column Kitchen Captivated for Yakima Magazine and at The Salt and Stone, a home cooking blog. The Salt and Stone is a nod not just to the essence of cooking, but also to the Yakima Valley. Read more at

Pepperoni, Spinach and Ricotta Pizza


3 cups all-purpose or bread flour

2 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 cup water

Using an electric mixer with a dough attachment or a food processor, place the flour, yeast, salt, olive oil and honey into the bowl. Turn the mixer or food processor on and mix a few times. Slowly add the water to the flour mixture until dough forms. If the mixture is very wet, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until the dough is stretchy and moist but not gloppy or overly sticky. If the mixture is too dry and very stiff, add a tablespoon of water at a time until the mixture is just right.

Using well-floured hands, mold the dough into a round ball and place in a clean, dry bowl. Cover with a dish towel and walk away. Let the dough rise for at least 90 minutes or until it’s more than doubled in size.

When you are ready to make pizza, divide the dough in half and, using well-floured hands and a cutting board, work the dough a few times until it’s in a nice ball. Let it rest on the board under a towel for an additional 15 minutes. (Use this time to shred cheese, preheat the oven, dice veggies, etc.) Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Roll the dough out using a rolling pin. Lift the crust onto a pizza pan sprayed with cooking spray.


1/4 cup store-bought marinara sauce

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup ricotta cheese

Uncured pepperoni

Handful fresh baby spinach

2 tablespoons Mama Lil’s marinated peppers (can be found at Safeway)

Kosher salt and black pepper

Evenly spread marinara sauce on the dough, leaving about 1 inch around the perimeter of the dough. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the sauce. Layer the pepperoni, ricotta and marinated peppers evenly on the dough. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper.

Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is a golden brown. Scatter the pizza with fresh spinach as soon as it comes out of the oven. Allow the pizza to cool for about five minutes before slicing into eight pieces.

Bittersweet Chocolate Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting


3/4 cup salted butter, melted

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1 1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 eggs

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup all-purpose flour


1/2 cup softened salted butter

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup confectioners sugar

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. In a microwave safe bowl, melt butter and bittersweet chocolate together in 30-second intervals until butter and chocolate are melted. Whisk in sugar and vanilla. Stir in eggs one at a time. Using a spatula, stir in salt, espresso powder, cocoa powder and flour. Stir until well-combined and the batter is smooth and shiny. Transfer to pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle pulls out clean.

While the brownies bake, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and peanut butter. Mix until smooth and combined. Add the confectioners sugar and whip until smooth, another 2-3 minutes.

When the brownies have cooled completely, frost them with the peanut butter frosting. Garnish with coarse salt just before serving. Frosting can be made ahead and stored in an air-tight container for up to a week. Cut brownies into nine generous pieces for serving.

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