Wednesday, June 21, 2017

One Car, Two Drivers, Three Days on the Road
What’s cooking? Strawberry Mess

Well, we made it. Once again, my hubby and I ventured out onto the interstate highways to cover 1,738 miles with only each other for company. And survived.

Just the packing process should be sufficient to cause a rift in our marriage. To wit:

Grumpy’s one small suitcase is packed and ready to go a full two days before our departure date, which turns out to be one day later than we originally planned, though everyone knows that first target was just for aiming at, not for actually hitting. He takes nothing more than what he’ll wear on the trip, plus a suit and its accoutrements for our nephew’s wedding the week after we arrive. That would be because his wardrobe for the summer consists almost entirely of golf shirts, slacks and shorts, of which he has a full supply in New Jersey.

My packing is more complicated, as the wardrobe overlap for spring in Texas and summer in NJ means I have shoes, blouses, and pants that require schlepping back and forth. So even with rigorously restricting myself, I need two suitcases and at least a dozen shirts on hangers.

In the non-clothing category, what he needs are a set of golf clubs and a couple of issues of Bridge World magazine. And his computer. I need the stack of recipes and articles I’ve collected over the past several months for managing my weekly haul from the farmers’ market, books/magazines I’ve bought but not read, and a small file cabinet of papers I’d be able to tell you about if I could remember what’s on them. I just know I need them. And my computer. And a cooler full of the food that won’t fare well in the freezer and might be nice to have once we reach our destination.

Reading all this, you might think I would start days – maybe weeks – in advance. You would be wrong. It turns out that almost any sort of deadline sends the squirrel in the KG’s brain running faster and faster on that little wheel, remembering the long list of projects she must complete before she can possibly leave, like...

■ bake and decorate 6 dozen cookies to thank the medical staff in my son’s residency program for their friendship and guidance as he graduates;
■ invite friends for dinner, but they can’t come until the night before the first target date;
■ interview a guy for a magazine article (I volunteered for this, can you imagine?);
■ clean out the fridge.

You may now be thinking that my darling husband has the patience of Job. You would be right. And yet, the only item we managed to leave behind was...[drum roll] ... his suit. Define irony.

The best part of all this activity is that, while working on the menu for those friends who came to dinner, I noticed two large pints of strawberries in the fridge. Inspiration struck, as I remembered a delightful summer dessert I read about recently in The New York Times. Of course, that also meant staging and shooting photos, which was another delaying activity, but such a reward at the end. The Kitchen Goddess will have her way.

In the throes of the strawberry season – and we are there, folks – any cook worth his/her salt should be shot for not doing something with them, given how vastly superior the fresh fruit is over what shows up in stores over the rest of the year. Here’s what you can do: make an Eton Mess.

Eton mess is a traditional English dessert, a mixture of strawberries, broken meringue, and whipped heavy cream. According to Wikipedia, the first mention of it in print was in 1893. Legend has it that the folks at Eton College started by serving it at the annual cricket match against Harrow School.

The early versions were made with either strawberries or bananas mixed with ice cream or cream. Some genius added the meringue later. And while you can obviously make it with any type of summer fruit – or a combination, as you’ll find below, strawberries are the most traditional. The Kitchen Goddess used these red raspberry apriums, one of the new fruits to emerge from crossing an apricot and a plum, because she fell in love with them in her grocery store.

Kitchen Goddess note about Eton Mess: Do not stand on ceremony – it’s a small and wobbly perch, and will limit you from many wonderful experiences, especially in the world of food.

The essential elements of an Eton Mess are:
1. Pieces of broken meringue;
2. Fruit sauce;
3. Fruit cut up and sweetened;
4. Heavy cream.

The original version used shards of leftover meringue from previous nights’ dessert; you can buy pre-made meringues from any bake shop, or make your own, as the Kitchen Goddess did. But of course. Be aware that if you make your own, they work best when made the day before serving so they can dry out over night.

For the fruit sauce, the classic took more strawberries and mashed and macerated them in ginger liqueur. David Tanis in The NY Times cooked diced rhubarb with cinnamon and clove. The KG used red raspberry apriums, but other berries would work well, as would other fruits that go well with whipped cream. So think flexibly.

Kitchen Goddess’s Strawberry Mess

Inspired by David Tanis in The New York Times.

Serves 6-8.


4 egg whites, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Or... 6-8 store-bought meringue shells

½ pound red raspberry apricots (or other summer fruit), seeded and cut in ½-inch dice
¼ cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for the strawberries and 1 tablespoon for the cream
2 pints strawberries, hulled then halved or quartered
10-12 mint leaves, plus more for garnish
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon rose water, optional (but well worth looking for it – try Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or middle eastern groceries) (or try 1 tablespoon ginger liqueur)
3 tablespoons chopped pistachios, for garnish



Kitchen Goddess note: If you are making your meringues, don’t forget to start the day before you’ll serve the dessert.

Preheat the oven to 200º. Line a large (half sheet) rimmed pan with baker’s parchment.

In a large mixing bowl (glass, metal, or ceramic), whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar at medium speed until they get foamy. Begin gradually adding the sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time as you increase the mixer speed to medium-high and continue beating until soft peaks form. When all the sugar has been added, increase the mixer speed to high and continue beating until the whites form stiff, glossy peaks when you lift the beater out.

Spoon eight large blobs (about 3 inches across) of the whites, evenly spaced, onto the parchment-lined pan. Using a knife or metal spatula, flatten the meringues a bit to help them cook evenly. Bake them for an hour in a 200º oven, then rotate the pan and reduce the heat to 150º or as low as you can (some ovens have a lower limit of 170º). Continue baking for another 1½ hours, until they are dry and crisp. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues in it with the door closed for as long as possible (overnight, if you can). Store the cooled meringues in an airtight container.


Put the fruit for the sauce into a non-reactive pan with the ¼ cup of sugar, over medium heat, stirring just until the sugar is dissolved. When the sugar is dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, until the fruit reaches a boil. Reduce the heat and let the fruit simmer 10 minutes. You want it to be syrupy but not mushy. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.


Put the cut fruit into a medium bowl. Stack the mint leaves and slice thinly. (This is called a chiffonade.) Toss the chiffonade with the tablespoon of sugar and add to the cut fruit. Let it sit, covered, at least 10 minutes.


Chill the cream, the bowl, and the whisk well before beginning. Stir 1 tablespoon sugar and the teaspoon of rose water into the cream, and whip on medium-high speed until gentle peaks form. The whipped cream should still be soft and pillowy. Chill, covered, until ready to serve.


Into a large bowl, break or cut the meringues into 1-inch pieces. Combine the cut fruit and the fruit sauce and pour over the meringue pieces. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the whipped cream into the mix and combine all elements.

Spoon the mess into individual serving dishes and sprinkle chopped pistachios over the top. Garnish with a mint leaf, if you want.