There is nothing better than a night in with a group of friends. Some food, maybe a little bit of booze, and plenty of catching up after the winter lock-in. Rather than slaving in the kitchen and piling the dirty dishes before your guests arrive, a simple, elegant dessert satisfies those hunger pains while giving the night-in an aura of a special treat.

Strawberry pretzel salad sounds like something your mom might have thrown together for the youth soccer award night. A pretzel crust topped with a mixture of sweetened cream cheese and Cool Whip topped with strawberry Jell-O and fresh strawberries this soccer mom treat is full of every delicious thing that makes me want to adopt a kid and convince him to join a soccer team. The secret to turning this delicious dessert casserole into a first-class ooh and aah worthy dessert is in the presentation and the name. From now on we’ll call this A Taste of Summer, because summer is going to push past spring this year; I just know it.

Now that we have the name out of the way, let’s look at presentation. The original pretzel salad is made in a 13×9 inch pan and scooped out with a spoon. It works, but is not terribly impressive. In order to achieve a state of impressive, start by making each of the components of this salad separately.

Jell-O: Prepare two small or one large box of strawberry Jell-O as directed. Pour into a container. If you’re making this far in advance and have time to wait for the Jell-O to set, you can pour it into a bowl. If timing is an issue, pour it into a 9×9 square pan or a combination of pans so it lies shallow and will set faster. Refrigerate until set.

Crust: Crush about 2 cups of thin pretzels; rods would probably crush the easiest. Mix in 3 tbsp of white sugar, and melt 1/4 cup of butter. Mix the pretzels and sugar into the melted butter. Pour onto a sheet pan and bake at 400 F for 7-8 minutes. Set aside.

Cream Cheese/Cool Whip: Soften the cream cheese. Add 1/2 cup of sugar and blend with a mixer. If you don’t have a mixture, soften the cream cheese and just stir to combine. Fold in a small container of Cool Whip. If you want to make this with real whip cream, add a few tablespoons of white sugar to a cup of heavy whipping cream and whip until stiff. Fold the Cool Whip into the cream cheese mixture. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator.

Strawberries: Wash and dry the strawberries. Set one strawberry on a cutting board leaf side down. With a sharp paring knife slice into the strawberry, creating 1/8 inch slices. Don’t cut all the way through the berry at the bottom or it will fall apart. Repeat until you have one strawberry for each person.

A Taste of Summer: Find your most interesting glasses, margarita and wine glasses work great. Break up the pretzel mixture and place a few tablespoons of it in each cup. Scoop a few spoonfuls of the strawberry Jell-O in next. Spoon a few spoonfuls of the cream mixture on top of the Jell-O. Spread the sliced strawberry out a little so it fans out and place on top of the cream.

These can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to a few hours. If they sit too long the pretzels might get soggy. Yields 5 large servings.

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