One of my favorite, best-thumbed, dog-eared, crumb-y cookbooks is Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book. Partly because she is so funny, partly because of Hilary Knight’s charming illustrations, and partly because Peg Bracken is so right. It is stinking hot, and because we are middle class folks, we seem to think we need three meals a day to exist. Didn’t we just eat supper last night? Do we really have to cook again? Right now, I just hate to cook.
I have been running out of ideas for supper. I could be very happy with a Popsicle or two for supper at this time of year, but then I am afraid the wine to Popsicle ratio would get out of whack and I would gain a reputation. Bread and cheese would be a clever alternative, with a sliced apple or a pear, but we are being warned away from wheat flour and unless we pick those apples ourselves on a certified organic farm, who knows what petrochemicals lurk beneath the skins?
Last night we made nachos for dinner, which was a pretty basic meal. The most labor-intensive action was browning the meat, followed by grating some sharp Cheddar cheese. Dicing the onions and jalapenos required little physical (or mental) effort. Opening the can of refried beans was a breeze. And then we sat at the kitchen counter, with two candles as our gesture toward romance. We couldn’t even stagger into the dining room it was so hot, and we were worn to a frazzle.
I hate some of the magazine recipes that sound so breezy and self-assured. Especially the ones that claim that you can make them with the ingredients already in your kitchen. I once went to a highly deceptive cooking class. It claimed to teach you how to make the perfect emergency recipe, if people stopped by around the cocktail hour. You could whip this up in a jiffy with the basic stores every decently-run household keeps on hand. To which I had to say, “Ha!” If my friends stop by at the cocktail hour, they know that their best shot at getting hors d’œuvres or an aperitif would be a handful of Planter’s Lightly Salted Peanuts or maybe some aging Doritos. (These friends who stop by at the cocktail hour would be well advised to bring along some chilled, cheap white wine.) I do not keep frozen shrimp in the fridge (unless it is bait). I have never bought fois gras. Chervil? Figs? Mascarpone? I do have a large jar of capers, though. And cornmeal. And olives. OK. I could do a 1950’s relish platter. I have pickles, olives, celery and carrots. But the celery is looking a little limp…
I found this recipe while trolling around, and it could almost be classified as one you could make with ingredients on hand. Ostensibly. Raspberries are in season. Heavy cream is easily hunted and gathered. Many households stock graham crackers, although my kindergarteners are out of college right now. And chocolate chips. If you have them, great. If not, I bet this would still be divine. It is almost like a berry shortcake, but without having to turn on the oven to bake the shortcake. And it would work with different fruits, too. Strawberries, blueberries, peaches, plums. Maybe not rhubarb. But I digress.
Here is the recipe the way I found it – then I will tell you how I changed it to fit us.
No-Bake Strawberry Icebox Cake
Serves 8 to 12
2 pounds fresh strawberries, washed
3 1/4 cups whipping cream, divided
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon rosewater (optional)
4 sleeves (about 19 ounces, or 24 to 28 whole crackers) graham crackers
2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
Take out a few of the best-looking strawberries and set them aside for the garnish. Hull the remainder of the strawberries and slice each berry into thin slices.
With a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer, whip 3 cups of cream until it just holds stiff peaks. Add the confectioners sugar, vanilla, and rosewater (if using) and whip to combine.
Spread a small spoonful of whipped cream on the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking pan, or a similarly sized platter. Lay down six graham crackers. Lightly cover the top of the graham crackers with more whipped cream, and then a single layer of strawberries. Repeat three times, until you have four layers of graham crackers. Spread the last of the whipped cream over the top and swirl it lightly with a spoon. Add a few more strawberries.
No-Bake Berry Refrigerator Cake, à la Spy
1 16-ounce container of fresh raspberries (or blueberries, or a mixture)
1 pint heavy whipping cream (do NOT use Cool Whip)
1 tablespoon (if you must) Confectioner’s sugar
Graham crackers to fit (I used about a sleeve and a half)
2 ounces Ghiradelli 60% Cacao bittersweet chocolate chips
2 ounces butter
1 splash of Bourbon or Crown Royal (This is what we used to make ganache, and we still have no idea where the bottle came from. Nobody remembers buying it.)
1 brownie pan
Rinse the raspberries, carefully.
Whip the cream until stiff. Add the Confectioner’s sugar, if you want to. The berries and the graham crackers are sweet enough, in my opinion.
Lightly slather some whipped cream in the bottom of the pan. Line the pan with 1 layer of graham crackers. You will have to break them up a little bit to fit your pan. Add a layer of whipped cream; add a layer of raspberries.
Repeat: graham crackers, whipped cream, berries. I got to about 3 layers of graham crackers, but I have a deep brownie pan. Finish off with whipped cream and a presentable arrangement of berries.
Now melt the chocolate and the butter together in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring constantly, so the chocolate doesn’t scorch. Stir in the splash of Crown Royal, or not.
Dribble the chocolate ganache over the top of the heavenly mixture.
Pop in the fridge to cool. Then cover, and keep in the fridge for a few hours to let everything ooze and mingle and meld.
Serve. And eat deeply of summer.
“How sweet I roamed from field to field, and tasted all the summer’s pride.”