I’ll be real–breakfast time is rough around these parts. To be more real–I feel like I’ve been thrown into a flippin’ rodeo ring before I’ve even had a chance to put on a bra. I mean, COME ON.
If you read my last post detailing my growing dependence on coffee, you have at least one part of the puzzle, which is to say it takes me a heck of a long time in the morning to get my brain around the fact that we’re starting a new day. But if you’ve ever been woken up by a small child, you know that it’s the exact opposite in their little brains. I will never understand the sheer volume and quantity of words that come out of Little C’s mouth at 6:00 a.m., half of which are inevitably tied to “Where’s my glitter scarf?” and “What’s for breakfast?”. I-yi-yi, kid, I dunno–the couch, cereal, or something, I guess? Where am I? What day is it?
But occasionally, I don’t need to worry about figuring out breakfast and it is a glorious thing, indeed. Because sometimes, the night before, after the sort of very productive day where I’m so on point post-dinner that I’m actually thinking ahead to the next morning, I pull this recipe out of the arsenal.
A great many of us know the glory of using the slow cooker to assemble dinner at that golden hour of 9 to 10 a.m., when the morning rush has slowed but the rest of the insanity has yet to pick up, and it’s the perfect time to throw some stuff into said slow cooker so that when you’re ready to jump off the roof at 4:30, dinner is already well on its way to being done with no extra effort from you. Lawsie mercy, how I love the slow cooker. And when I figured out that you can use it to make breakfast to defray the morning fogginess as well, it was a pret-ty special discovery.
Like most people, I celebrate instant gratification. See also:
Drive-thru restaurants (preferably those that serve diet Coke, not Pepsi).
DVR’d episodes of Barefoot Contessa.
Unfortunately, the older I get, the more I realize that life is often just series of hurdles that keep us from instant gratification. See also:
Small, hungry children.
I suppose there is a lesson to be learned in there…somewhere? Like, the hurdles are really designed to teach us something, keep us growing. But as noble as that idea sounds, let’s be real: it can be freaking annoying, all this slowing of my roll. If you’re picking up what I’m laying down, then I’ve got just the thing for you: the world’s simplest homemade ice cream recipe.
So here’s the thing: the past several weeks have just about blown my head off my shoulders. Lots of travel, lots of appointments to keep, and many, many lists. (Lists are my savior. The hand-written kind, scribbled on scraps of paper or in my little planner book. I get endless grief from the husband about my very non-technical list-making efforts, but there you have it.) And every time I’ve written one of these lists lately, I’ve lamented the fact that none of them have had a “make ___” entry. No cookies, no cakes, no little homespun confections. Well, except for lots and lots of marshmallows.
Turns out, when you write a single subject cookbook and go places to pimp it out, everyone wants you to bring samples. Not that I’m complaining at all–I still love making those fluffy, puffy gems just as much as when the recipe testing flurry began more than a year ago. But after dozens of batches of them over the past couple weeks, I was so ready to make a dang cake the first chance I got. And the push came from a source from whom I’ve been gleaning much book promotion inspiration throughout this whole crazy cookbook process.
You know Ree Drummond, don’t you? This lady is everywhere, people. Blogger! Author! TV! Supermom! Wearer of Amazing Tunics! It’s almost maddening, the amount this woman can accomplish in a day. And her second book just came out, full of the lovely photos and ranch life anecdotes for which she is totally famous on the interwebs. She has the sort of easy, warm persona that makes everyone think they’re best friends with her, like, say, daydreaming about co-hosting a hybrid cooking/parenting/musical variety show with her or something but hey I don’t know whatever I’m just saying. Anyway.
I suppose in the way others obsessively look to icons of style for inspiration about what to wear, or celebrity designers’ coffee table books to figure out how to redecorate their living rooms, I idolize food people. Which might explain this 1980s gym teacher getup I’m currently sporting and why 75% of my furniture involves particle board, but dang, check out my fly cake pan collection!
Anyway, rather than just craving certain dishes, I go through phases of who I might like to eat like during a given week and embrace it with a restraining-order-level dedication. Typing that out makes me realize how totally weird that is. But there you have it.
After many weeks of going through an unspeakable amount of butter, sugar and flour, all in the name of recipe testing for the new book (and still going), I’m pretty sure that lazy moaning you hear is my digestive system dying for a break. And buckets of vegetable juice. So goes the occupational hazard of testing and writing a whole lot of dessert recipes–a little bit of every result must make its way into my mouth (I’m doing it for you, of course). Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m being proactive, putting myself on some sort of virtuous diet to combat the insanity (see also: the day I had vegetable juice with a cookie), but I am thinking that it’s time to find a bit of balance while I’m working on this latest manuscript. Somewhere between a macrobiotic goddess and a Morgan Spurlock documentary would be just fine. This fall fruit salad, with a fantastically spiced syrup for extra punch is a gentle nudge to get a little further away from the latter. Probably.
What do you mean it’s the Fourth of July next week? My head is still in, like, March or something. At the risk of totally sounding like Andy Rooney, where has this year gone? Really, people.
Never mind that Eton Mess is actually a British thing and maybe it’s kind of bizarre to go British on America’s holiday, but hey, when something’s this good, it really, really doesn’t matter. Eton Mess is basically a deconstructed pavlova, which, by the way, is the most perfect dessert ever created and I’m pretty sure I would make that my pick for my last meal on earth. You just can’t beat the combination of billowy whipped cream, crunchy, sweet meringues that melt on the tongue, and a punch of fresh berries. Divine.
This recipe is really not so much a recipe as it is a basic idea. Although berries, especially strawberries, are the traditional way to go here, there is no earthly reason why you couldn’t use stone fruits or tropical fruits or whatever. The tartness of raspberries plays especially nicely with the sweet meringues and cream in this version, and of course a smattering of blueberries adds a bit of July Fourth jazziness. Dress it up by layering it in fancy champagne or parfait glasses, lay everything out buffet-style and have people make their own dang dessert, or throw the whole lot in a big glass bowl and go at it with a spoon. Whatever you want! You are free to make your Eton Mess all your own! Now that’s America, right there.
Although you can absolutely make your own, I love store-bought meringue cookies for this recipe because they’re always very firm and crisp, and really, there’s nothing easier. Just read the label and make sure you’re getting ones that just contain egg whites, sugar and vanilla– no funny business. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have good ones.
If you want to experiment with other fruits here (I’m thinking peaches would be insanely delicious), just peel and chop them fine for the sauce and use your judgement with the sugar and lemon juice needed to balance the sweetness of the fruit you choose.
Frozen raspberries work perfectly fine here for the sauce–just get a small package of fresh ones to toss in for texture. Freshly whipped real cream is the ticket to heaven here.
3 6-ounce containers fresh raspberries
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 6-ounce container fresh blueberries
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled (or more, if you like–I sure do)
1 1/2 cups coarsely crushed vanilla meringue cookies (or more, if you like–again, I sure do)
Combine two containers of raspberries, 1/2 cup of sugar and the lemon juice in a small saucepan set over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, mashing the berries with a fork. Cook until the berries have broken down and the sugar has dissolved, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the third container of fresh raspberries. Pour the sauce into a bowl and chill completely, either in the refrigerator or the freezer to cool it down quickly.
Whip the cream and the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar to stiff peaks. When the raspberry sauce is cold, assemble the parfaits. Start by placing a dollop of whipped cream in the bottom of six dessert glasses. Spoon a bit of raspberry sauce over the cream, followed by a smattering of meringue pieces. Spoon on more cream, dot on some blueberries, and sprinkle on more meringue. Repeat the layers, alternating raspberry sauce and blueberries after the cream layers. Serve immediately.
I debated about telling you about this, but I’m just gonna put it all out there, people. The Piece of Cake kitchen (which is to say ME) has been on a diet. Like, an honest-to-God, excruciatingly boring, buckets of salad, no-sugar diet. Today is Day 9. Perhaps you can guess by my counting of the days that said diet has not been fun. You would be correct in guessing that. Congratulations. Take yourself out for the ice cream that I can’t have.
So I’m going hard core just for the next couple weeks, all protein and vegetables and sparkling water like a psycho Bravo Network housewife. The goal is to reduce sugar cravings (or at least get them somewhere near a non-epidemic level) and not bleed corn syrup when I cut myself shaving. After that, I’ll gradually start getting back to healthy levels of dessert consumption (read: maybe not, oh, say, five flippin’ times per day). Truthfully, despite being waaay out of my comfort zone, I am feeling a whole lot better already. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to start throwing brownies made with black beans and Splenda or some other crazy talk at you. Evidence: a perfectly lovely Strawberry Buttermilk Upside-Down Cake. Or, as I like to call it, The Last Dessert before all this no-sugar diet nonsense started.
For your own sense of well-being, I really, really hope strawberries are as glorious where you are as they are in California right now. And if you are in California, can I get a HECK YEAH? Glittering cartons of berries are spilling over in the supermarkets right now, and if you head out to some of the smaller towns, you’ll find tons of the kind of charming little ramshackle roadside fruit stands that food magazine dreams are made of. The berries taste like candy, they smell like flowers, they are absolute perfection straight up on their own.
But because I am who I am (never mind that I’m snacking on bell pepper strips, for the love of God), I feel like the thing Mother Nature intended for us to do with a pile of perfect in-season strawberries is to bake them into a tender buttermilk cake. Add a sweet-salty caramel to the mix to make those berries all glossy and jammy and OH MY GOD I WOULD KILL SOMEONE FOR A PIECE OF THIS CAKE RIGHT NOW.
Deep breath. This too, shall pass. Now go bake this cake and eat the whole thing and don’t tell me about it.
Strawberry Buttermilk Upside-Down Cake
Although this cake will keep nicely in a cake dome for a few days at room temperature, it’s best eaten the day it’s made. Serve with some unsweetened whipped cream and die of summer happiness.
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