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Fresh strawberry sauce and macerated strawberries pack a summery punch.

Last summer I was visiting Sonoma, which is one of my favorite wine country spots. I wanted to stay at the Vintners Inn since it was centrally located in the heart of Northern California wine country. It sits on 92 acres of lush vineyards and has beautifully landscaped gardens and grounds with courtyards and fountains. An extra plus is that John Ash & Co. restaurant is right next door.

We dined on delicious dishes like tuna tartar with Asian sauce, truffled potato leek soup, roasted sea bass and an assortment of delicious vegetable preparations. It's impressive when the restaurant has its very own culinary gardener, who makes sure every vegetable and herb are at their prime. Most of the dishes required lots of advanced preparation with lots of steps, but when I was presented with this dessert I was elated. Now this was a dish my readers (and me) could easily prepare with praiseworthy results.

Sure, I fudged the recipe a bit. I relied upon a store-bought poundcake procured from my favorite bakery in lieu of baking the restaurant's recipe. I also found an excellent strawberry ice cream that I plucked right out of my supermarket's freezer. Now that I had the components, all I needed to do was make a fresh strawberry sauce and macerate a bowl of sliced strawberries. A note on macerating strawberries: Strawberries are 92 percent water, and when the sugar comes into contact with the berries a sweet syrup is formed while tenderizing the fruit. It's a good method to know when cooking with other fruits.

Putting this delicious dessert together is fun. Arrange dessert plates on your counter, and then spoon equal amounts of sauce on the bottom of each plate. Then lay down a slice of poundcake and a top the dessert with a spoonful of macerated strawberries. Garnish with a pink scoop of strawberry ice cream, and to crown it off spoon or pipe a cloud of whipped cream on top.

Now you see why I think this is summer's dessert gift to the cook. One last summer note: This would be great for Foutth of July if you just add some blueberries on top of the macerated strawberries. Enjoy!

John Ash & Co.'s Strawberries with Poundcake and Strawberry Ice Cream

Serves 6 to 8

For the strawberry sauce:

1 pint strawberries, hulled and chopped

1/4 cup sugar

4 tablespoons water, divided

1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the macerated strawberries:

1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

For the garnish:

1 pint whipping cream

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

To serve:

1 (9-by-5-inch) vanilla pound cake, cut into 6 or 8 slices, depending upon how many you are serving

1 quart strawberry ice cream or gelato

1. For the sauce: Place strawberries in a saucepan with sugar, 2 tablespoons water and balsamic vinegar on medium high heat. Bring to a simmer. Reduce to low, cover the saucepan and cook for 15 minutes. Mix 2 tablespoons water and cornstarch in a small bowl and add to pot. Continually stirring, cook until mixture thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Place strawberries in a blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until serving.

2. For the macerated berries: Stir together strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature until juices are released, at least 30 minutes and up to 6 hours. (The strawberries will release more juice.) Also, strawberries are always richer with more flavor when served at room temperature.

3. For the topping: In a medium mixing bowl whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla. Whip until the peaks hold their shape. Refrigerate until serving

4. To serve: Spoon sauce onto plate. Top with a slice of pound cake. Next, top with some macerated strawberries. Place a scoop of strawberry ice cream alongside the cake and garnish with sweetened whipped cream. Serve immediately.

(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Parties," and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)

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