Strawberries with Romanoff Sauce

photo of strawberries with romanoff sauceStrawberries with Romanoff Sauce is a simple treat, but it is suitable for any occasion, simple or splendid. I thought it was something very special when I first tried it and I still do, even though I now know what a simple offering it truly is. It celebrates the bounty of spring, but with a bit of unnecessary and delightful gilding.

Let me admit, up front, that when I serve myself I put about four times the amount of sauce that is shown in the photo. But had I photographed it the way I really like it, you would have been unable to see the strawberries.

Strawberries with Romanoff Sauce
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
Elegant, but beloved by kids, too.
  • 1 pound of strawberries, rinsed, stemmed, halved or quartered
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Cointreau
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  1. Once you have cleaned and cut the strawberries, place them in a bowl and sprinkle them with sugar and the Cointreau. Mix them gently with a spoon so that the sugar and alcohol is well distributed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes and up to 4 hours. The sugar and alcohol cause the strawberries to “macerate,” softening them a bit and making them juicy.
  2. In a clean, cool bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks begin to form. Add the brown sugar a few teaspoons at a time, whisking it in after each addition. When all the sugar is incorporated continue to whip until the cream is fully whipped and nice firm peaks form. Add the sour cream, the vanilla extract and the seeds from half of a vanilla bean. Whip them in thoroughly. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

photos of cleaning and slicing strawberriesThe story behind the recipe:

I was going to write a nice concise essay about hosts who are enviable in their collection of simple but elegant recipes that can be easily prepared ahead of time so that said host can actually shower before guests arrive. This strawberry preparation and Tomatoes with Herbes de Provence come to mind as great examples. But, if I did that I would miss out on telling you why I really love Strawberries with Romanoff Sauce. The short answer is, in 1989 I had it for the first time I recall at La Madeleine on Mockingbird Lane in Dallas when I went off to college and everything in the world looked and tasted brand new. While it might sound a lot more interesting if I said I ate it for the first time at a bistro in Paris, I did not. The long version follows.

If you aren’t confronted daily with certain rarefied opportunities, it is very easy to lead a very routine and comfortable existence without ever knowing you are missing out on a thing. My single-minded pursuit in high school was to have fun. Having been unleashed from Catholic school at the end of my sophomore year I flew headlong into the extracurricular joys of public education. I’ll let your imagination run free on that one, and depend on the good nature of my high school friends to not expound on the matter. Suffice to say cheeseburgers were, by choice, my culinary focus and thanks to my old pals Jeff and B.J., my cousin Joey and I made the leap from wine coolers to beer.  And then, we expanded our tastes to include the highly concealable gin and Sonic. So, my culinary high water mark by the time I left high school was, well that.

photos of how to make romanoff sauceAnd, in Wichita Falls at the time, practically the only chain restaurant in town was Bennigan’s.  And before you laugh, let me say that we were lucky to have it, and my family might have been the very best customers for a few years. I can probably recite 75% of the menu today.  I had been to fine restaurants and I had traveled to wonderful places with my parents. Shawn, the chef at the Wichita Falls Country Club made a mean Chateaubriand. It isn’t as if I hadn’t been exposed to great food. But our daily life was about medicine (Dad), higher education and managing a medical practice (Mom), basketball, football, waterskiing and swimming in the lake in the warm weather, and other not so productive pastimes (my brother, cousins and myself). Today, the Falls has several lovely restaurants, a whole bevy of the chains, and the old standard heart attack joints that make the best cheese enchiladas known to man. But I was perfectly happy there back then. I wouldn’t trade my high school years in Wichita Falls for all the art films and swanky bistros in the world.

There is a lot of talk in the press these days about foodies and food snobs. I find the entire dialogue off-putting. Because, unless you were born urban, urbane, and with a silver spoon planted in your mouth, it is likely that your tastes were developed at the family dining room table on staples such as tuna casserole and your grandma’s green Jell-o salad, much like mine were early in life. Or, they were developed at a Bennigan’s or other dining room table of opportunity, like mine were later in my early life. At some point in my teens my mom (a gifted cook) got tired of nobody showing up for dinner (call schedules, sports, aforementioned beer training, and her own M.B.A. studies) and we started having our family meals at Bennigan’s when we could all get together.  Even at Bennigan’s, unbeknownst to me, I was cutting my culinary teeth, so to speak.  I learned that I have a passionate dislike for cilantro. I fell for a Cajun chicken dish, the sauce from which was sometimes over-spiked with cilantro. And in one bite of food there, I found my enduring connection (though I didn’t know it then) to Julia Child. I too hate Cilantro in more than the merest quantities.

But, Bennigan’s caused my family to sit for an hour and talk to each other and laugh. And no one was exhausted from cooking or dreading the dishes. There is a time and a place for everything, and those few years were the Bennigan’s years. But I am just about exhausted from the incessant whippings that some elements of the food culture give each other about what is considered de rigueur or fashionable at the moment. Because for me, the only food fashion worth talking about is the food that makes you smile, and the meals that bring you together with your spouse, partner, kids or friends. And it is the smiles that make that food taste so good. Or, is it the good tasting food that can put a smile on a busy face. At any rate, I’d rather eat green jell-o with my grandmother today than anyone who would tell me that the Olive Garden is beneath them (which was actually the topic of a recent internet foodie kerfuffle, believe it or not). And I’d rather poke a sharp stick into my own eye than patronize a restaurant which tries to achieve an air that I should feel lucky to be there, as opposed to the restaurant appreciating having me as a customer.

And, even the tuna casserole scenario assumes a pretty fortunate upbringing by today’s standards. So many more of us were, and still are, eating Doritos and Coke for dinner.

For every hipster who eats local, I’d like to show you photos of my grandma Dean’s vegetable garden and say that unless you know on a cellular level the sound of breaking earth and roots an onion or potatoes make when you pull it from the hard earth in Archer County, you don’t really know local. One man’s trend is another man’s everyday existence. One person’s laughing stock of a “worst restaurant ever” scenario is another person’s special occasion. One person’s “one cycle” fascination with designer cupcakes is the special offering of another tired homeroom mom, prepared with love, to bring a moment of joy (in those places where moderation still rules and a little sugar hasn’t been equated with napalm). And, next year, when pies aren’t the sweethearts of the culinary cognoscenti, I’ll still be banging away at my crusts trying to make something that will make my ancestors smile down on me. I think I appreciate my mortality enough to know that every drop of wisdom I receive from the humblest cafeteria lady or celebrated industry lions is a drop to be honored. Everyone gains their knowledge and appreciation of food and cooking in their own way. It is personal, cultural, and historical. It is not a competitive sport.

Besides, you must also know bad to know good. You must fail many times to finally succeed. You must know what sour is to even begin to define sweet. And you probably don’t appreciate finery and the exotic unless you have a firm grasp of the average, as well. I reject the notion that very good food cannot be obtained at just about any restaurant in any town, depending on who is in the kitchen at the moment, Olive Garden and Bennigan’s included. I really doubt that anyone is born cool. And if they are, I assure you that I have little interest in meeting them. Because, good sense and good b.s. come only from those who have rolled around in the dirt a little.

photo of how to prepare strawberriesWhich leads me back to the fact that the first time I had Strawberries with Romanoff Sauce was at La Madeliene on Mockingbird Lane during my first semester at SMU. I also had my first cup of coffee that year at the 7-11 on Mockingbird Lane. Suffice to say that I was a bit gobsmacked by the absolute splendor of the opportunities to try new things, gastronomically and otherwise.  But, getting to eat at La Madeleine at that point in my life was a huge treat because almost everything on the menu was new to me.  And, it still is a treat because the food is good and it never fails to remind me of my first days when I was on my own, feeling rather jubilant. I recently set out to find a Romanoff sauce that compares to my good memories of the dish. And, this is it.

photo of a bowl of romanoff sauceNotes:

This is absolutely fine without the Cointreau if you prefer to skip the alcohol for whatever reason. It adds a hint of orange to the flavor of the strawberries that is very pleasant. I use very little of it and skip it altogether when I am making this for the kids. Likewise, skip the vanilla bean if you don’t have one handy. It is a little extra something special, but the extract is enough. The difference between the cost of this dish with and without the Cointreau and vanilla bean if you do not have it on hand does not merit the purchase if you are on a budget. It is great without them. If you choose to purchase the Cointreau, you can also use some in my recently posted Carrot Cake recipe. Also, I buy my vanilla beans in quantity from Beanilla these days. Check them out. It is much less expensive than the beans at the grocery store.



  1. Susan Marie says

    Kelly, I enjoyed your little “rant”! I, too, am put off by food snobs, and often wonder when people are going to stop trying to come up with the most outrageous recipes, just to get somebody to read their blog. And I love the fact that you can appreciate cafeteria ladies!
    To be honest, I’ve never had this dish, for when it comes to strawberries, I can take ’em or leave ’em. But I’ll probably try it, and use Paula’s Texas Orange Liqueur, for that’s what’s in my pantry.

  2. Elizabeth Alexander Cumbie says

    Great post today. I enjoyed the walk down memory lane in the Falls. I made that same jump with B.J. and Jeff myself :-) Keep up the good work!

  3. Donna says

    I worked at that darn Bennigans the summer after I graduated HS…..I heart the Monte Crisco…..

  4. Barbi Norton says

    Kelly – This was so wonderful to read! Thanks for sharing your memories with us…:)

  5. jeffrey brooks says

    AND I’m happy to say I introduced cousin Joey into the world of jalapenos disguised as pickled okra followed by a chaser of Keystone Light!

  6. says

    What a lovely post, gorgeous photos and I really enjoyed your story (I too am a Cilantro hater, oh how I’ve tried…) I love citrus liquor with strawberries and that Romanoff sauce looks divine!

  7. Katie says

    Don’t know which is better–the recipe or the story! I could’ve shouted an “amen” to echo each of your sentiments. Even the bourgeois can appreciate excellent food, and the most refined palates can find something that will make them smile on “pedestrian” menus.

  8. Amy says

    Good memories Kel. Will stills talks about the French Dip from Bennigans. Beautiful pics and looks rather yummy too. The NOLA post was wonderful too. My friend Kim and I stayed at the Ritz there one time and loved it also. Let’s go sometime. xo

  9. Jose says

    I hear you. Back in high school, my friend and I used to tear up the sampler platter, a monte cristo and a regular coke in one meal. As she aptly pointed out “a meal of such caloric can never be duplicated.”

  10. erica says

    Thank you for posting this. I too love La Madeline’s Strawberries Romanoff, and I have tried to mimic it with disastrous results.

  11. Denise Straight says

    Hi Kelly…I also love the strawberry Romanoff. I would love to make it for a large group of people. How far in advance can I make this dish, particularly the cream sauce? Thanks for your culinary advice.


  12. Kelly says

    Hi Denise. OK, here’s the scoop. If you do the strawberries ahead of time, don’t put the sugar on them until the day of…the sugar causes them to get juicy and they might get too juicy. As for anything made with whipped cream, I’d avoid doing it too far ahead. A couple of hours is fine. That being said, we’ve happily eaten leftover sauce over several days. But it just doesn’t stay quite as thick and lovely. I’d say this…if you can…test drive a batch of sauce the day before and see what you think. I think a good stir would whip it back into shape. Otherwise, prep the the strawberries (minus sugar or liquor) the day before. Make the sauce the morning or afternoon of…but only 4 or so hours early. Most of the hard work will be done ahead of time.

    Now…that’s what I’m telling you. I think I’d make the sauce the day before and not be concerned with it being slightly loose on day 2. But I want it to be perfect for your group, so I’m hesitant. The cleaning and cutting of the strawberries is great to get done the day ahead, though.

  13. Barbara. Downey says

    Love your account of your life and experience of wonderful La Madeline.
    I have a similar story. Thank you for sharing.


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