Virgin Recipe: Barbecue Salad

my honest reaction to Barbecue Salad

So bad…

Back with another nasty one, I’m gratified to say that this is the worst one I’ve done in quite a while. Just when I thought I was getting used to the savory Jell-O recipes, this one surprised me with its extreme unpleasantness.

Barbecue Salad is a close relative to the first savory Jell-O I ever did, Molded Tomato Relish. The main difference between the two is that Molded Tomato Relish is made with stewed tomatoes, while Barbecue Salad is made with tomato sauce, and includes pepper along with salt and vinegar. Since it was the first, I remember Molded Tomato Relish pretty well, in particular the way Bryan and I tasted it simultaneously on a three-count, and after a few moments simultaneously burst out laughing over how weirdly bad it was.

Still, as regular readers know (and others can find out by perusing the links in the Table of Contents), there’s been a lot of water under that bridge. I really thought I was becoming inured to the weirder Jell-O, that the thrill was gone. But no. Glory hallelujah, Barbecue Salad is thoroughly, hilariously bad.

small tomato jelly mold on a bed of lettuce leaves with a tiny dollop of mayo on top

Barbecue Salad, with mayonnaise garnish

The key to the nastiness has got to be the tomato sauce. It’s not something we ever use at Freak Mountain, so I wasn’t familiar with the ingredient. We make our own pasta sauce (or, as my Italian-American in-laws call it, “gravy”) starting with crushed tomatoes, so there’s always some texture to it. Canned tomato sauce, it turns out, is a very smooth tomato purée. Mix it with gelatin and you end up with something that is creepily similar to the mayonnaise I used as garnish (as suggested in the book). The mouthfeel is distinctly slimy. I don’t mind mayonnaise, normally, but I would never eat it on its own by the forkful. Barbecue Salad has helped me to understand my friend F– who is repulsed by mayo.

For the vinegar, I chose apple cider vinegar, and I think that may have been a mistake, as it was probably too sweet. In hindsight, what this recipe needs is a serious hit of acidic flavor, and my old standby white vinegar would have served that purpose much better. As for the salt and pepper, they were both undetectable.

I’d like to know who was the sadist who came up with this recipe. He or she has a lot to answer for. As I was tasting this, I was reminded of the scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where Harry and Dumbledore are retrieving the locket horcrux, and Harry has to force Dumbledore to drink all of the (really nasty) potion in the basin to get to the locket at the bottom. Three bites of Barbecue Salad and I was through. If there was a horcrux in there, I’m afraid Voldemort still stands a chance.

Recipe Repost: Grasshopper Dessert

Originally posted October 25, 2009

a bowl of cube gelatin with a creamy center mound

Grasshopper Dessert circa 1974

I have a vague recollection of grasshopper desserts from my youth. Pies, usually, with chocolate crusts. They were pale green and minty, and the grownups seemed to like them because they had crème de menthe in them, which gave them a little bit of a kick.

This Grasshopper Dessert bears little resemblance to those, apart from the hue. The base is lime Jell-O – yes, this is another one of those lime-mint blends. However, since this is a “centerpiece dessert,” it contains two packets (six ounces) of Jell-O, and for some reason the amount of crème de menthe is the same as in the one-packet Quick Crème de Menthe Frappé. While two tablespoonsful of crème de menthe stands out in two cups of lime Jell-O, in four cups it seems to blend in rather nicely.

The light green tower in the middle of the dish is part of the Jell-O mixed into two cups of prepared Dream Whip. I have to say I was underwhelmed by the Dream Whip. I don’t really understand the concept. You add milk and vanilla extract to a packet of powder and whip it up with an electric mixer. It’s no easier, or more convenient, than whipping real cream. It’s not dairy-free, nonfat, or anything like that – so what’s the point? Worse, the stuff tastes like vanilla frosting out of a can. Cool Whip is actually less nasty.

more cubed gelatin with center creamy mound

Grasshopper Dessert á la Freak Mountain, 2009

On the plus side, I finally got a chance to use the technique for Cubed Gelatin again. (That was sarcasm, in case you missed it.) I did really like the color of this, the dark, rich green cubes glittering around the sides with the creamy green at the center. You have to give Jell-O credit, when you do it right it’s definitely pleasing to the eye. Overall, this one was really okay, though I have to add a nasty for the Dream Whip.

This recipe does make a fairly large quantity of Jell-O, and I was wondering how we were going to eat it all. Then on Tuesday night there was a little dinnertime meltdown, and I ended up eating all the leftovers for supper. I can now report that it is, in fact, possible to get full from eating Jell-O. Also, (and I mention this only because I know you’re wondering,) if you eat enough lime Jell-O, you will poop green.

Recipe Reboot: Wine Gelatin Dessert

Wine Gelatin Dessert appears in the first chapter, “Nice Easy Things to Do with Jell-O”, and it’s lucky I had a simple one this weekend, because it’s about all I’ve had time or energy for.

description of wine on shelf sign

As usual, I chose the wine based on the name and/or label artwork…

True to the title, this recipe includes wine, which is also lucky, because as this weekend grinds to a close, I’m glad to have a chance to use the leftovers. The Crusher pinot noir is a Napa Valley wine, 2015 vintage, and it drinks like the $14 bottle from the hipster liquor store that it is – pleasant-enough plonk, gets the job done. Judging by the website, I might be a little too old to properly appreciate it, but the way I’m feeling right now, possibly the only libation I could properly appreciate would be, say, a fifth of bourbon, but hey, I got shit to do.

The attacks in London and the Trump administration’s shameful response were the capper on what has been kind of a lousy week for me. We’re still having our little plumbing problem – comatose water heater – and we’re expecting a visit from Plumber #2 tomorrow, since Plumber #1’s second visit, on Friday, failed to yield results. I also have a Plumber #3 on reserve, in case Plumber #2 strikes out. Next step is replacing the pricey unit, which was installed only seven years ago. (Let this be a lesson to you, kids: Don’t buy a tankless water heater that’s widely used overseas but scarcely even heard of in your home country.) Meanwhile, I’m getting a hot shower every other day, at the gym, and Bryan’s just taking cold showers. We boil water to wash dishes. It’s a drag.

And speaking of drag, our little feline drama has been dragging on. After talking to the vet some more and watching a few episodes of My Cat from Hell, we decided to try “territory switching”, shutting Sam in the bedroom and letting Ida have the run of downstairs. Since we did that Friday evening, Ida has gotten to the point where she doesn’t keep trying to hide, and we opened the door to the bedroom late this afternoon. We’ll see what happens when Sam emerges. I’m hoping I can get this post finished before the shit hits the fan. This is a lot more stressful than it might sound to someone who’s not a “pet person”.

So I’m making Jell-O with wine, and drinking wine. Wine Gelatin Dessert is a simple matter of making the Jell-O as usual, with a little extra sugar, and using a half cup of wine with a quarter cup of cold water for the cold liquid part. The recipe calls for “any red flavor”, so I selected the last box of black cherry from my stash, which was only about a year past its use-by date. (Maybe I should have saved it for the apocalypse that’s surely coming?)

individual-sized black-cherry-colored gelatin mold with dollop of Cool Whip on top

Wine Gelatin Dessert, with dollop

The Jell-O kind of smells like a wino when you first add the diluted wine to the hot liquid, but as I expected, the wine actually enhanced the final product. I think it would have been better if the wine had been drier, but the pinot noir was tart enough to balance the sweetness of the Jell-O. Bryan said it made the Jell-O taste “less artificial”, and he liked the way the mold jiggled. I did make the mistake of using molds that were too big, making it pretty much impossible to center the jelly on the plates.  I garnished it with Cool Whip that was left over from last week’s Strawberry Bavarian Pie (and even reviewed my go-to instructional video for Cool Whip dollops), but I don’t think the topping goes all that well with wine-fortified Jell-O. Still – waste not, want not, right?

Virgin Recipe: Strawberry Bavarian Pie

white Squier strat

New arrival at Freak Mountain

So, I’ve been trying to take advantage of a long holiday weekend that has turned out to be far too short. On Saturday I finally got an electric guitar, a Squier (budget-range Fender) stratocaster, and a cool little practice amplifier that has a USB port (for digital recording, hopefully) and a bunch of built-in effects to keep me happily distorted until I’m ready to start shopping for pedals. I have a strap and some lesson books on order, so I’m on my way, though I tend to think that probably I’ll end up being to the guitar what Inspector Clouseau was to the violin. But we’ll see.

Meanwhile, our cat Ida has been slowly recovering from what appears to have been some sort of mental breakdown a few weeks ago, during which she decided that she hated our other cat, Sam (her offspring), and took up residence on top of the kitchen cabinets. Feeding her up there was fine, but she perceived coming down to use the litter box as a journey fraught with peril, and this was not a situation that we could allow to continue. On Friday evening we got her down and set up in the bedroom, where she seems to be gradually getting back to normal, but we still don’t know what happened. Even the vet seems mystified so far.

Just to add to the fun (and freak out the cats some more), a little while ago we had a plumber here trying to deal with our weird European tankless furnace/water-heater “combi” unit because the hot water suddenly cut out yesterday. The plumbing issues always seem to crop up on long holiday weekends, so that they’ll be as expensive as possible. $300 so far, and we still have no hot water.

So I’ve been a bit less focused on the Jell-O this week, but I did make a Strawberry Bavarian Pie for you.

strawberry pie in chocolate crumb crust with ugly-ass Cool Whip dollops

Strawberry Bavarian Pie á la Freak Mountain

To be honest, this wasn’t very interesting, just another Cool Whip bavarian, with frozen strawberries mixed in. The recipe calls for a nine-inch pie shell, but again I decided to go with a chocolate crumb crust because that makes this dessert a little more of a treat. As you can see, I attempted to use leftover Cool Whip to garnish the pie, and I’m way off my dollop game.

photo of pie from book

Strawberry Bavarian Pie circa 1974

It occurs to me that despite everything else I had going on this weekend, I was still able to prepare this dessert, so in a way it was fulfilling the function for which it was intended. On some level, I was emulating the housewives for whom these recipes were created, women who were busy taking care of their families and felt that a nice dessert was part of a good family dinner (anyone else remember back in the day when it was usual and expected that families would eat dinner together?) but didn’t necessarily have time for something fancier. Actually, Strawberry Bavarian Pie would have been kind of a special dessert after supper when I was a kid.

Bryan and I tasted this after the plumber left, and for us it wasn’t so special. I told Bryan about how the recipe calls for an addition of a tablespoon of sugar to the gelatin, which I think might have been meant to balance out tartness in the strawberries. We both thought it was odd, given how sweet Cool Whip is, but then it occurred to us that Cool Whip might not have been quite as sweet back in the day. Looking at the history of high fructose corn syrup, it’s likely that these Jell-O and Cool Whip “no-bake pies” were developed before HFCS was widely adopted as a sweetener in mass-produced food products. (That might help explain why, much as kids my age were junk-food junkies back in the 1970s, few of us were obese.) We mulled over how it might be possible to find out what the ingredients in Cool Whip would have been in 1974, thinking that perhaps it would be possible to find vintage tubs on eBay or something like that. I didn’t find any vintage tubs, but I did fall down a rabbit hole of vintage Cool Whip commercials going back to 1966, when Cool Whip first hit the market, including the “Tucker Inn” series, which any child of the 1970s will remember. This one is especially relevant:

Virgin Recipe: Molded Vegetable Relish

Your Humble Narrator tasting the Jell-O

Why did this take me so long?

It feels like ages since I did a nasty Jell-O, but it’s only been a couple of months. I’ve been having a weird relationship with time lately. On the one hand, time in the Trump regime goes by slowly, what with all the drama and “bombshell” news. It’s hard to believe it’s only been four months since the inauguration. On the other hand, on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis, time slips through my hands like water as I try to get done everything I want to do (work, gym, spending time with spouse and cats, Jell-O, guitar, Fallout…) but somehow I get sucked into the interwebs or old movies on TCM instead. Time has been almost unmanageable, for me at least. Still, I’ve managed to do Molded Vegetable Relish for you.

This is one of those Jell-O molds that strike fear in the hearts of random people on the internet. Oh no! Lime Jell-O with vegetables in it! The horror! But I’ve grown numb to it, and anyway, Molded Vegetable Relish couldn’t be as bad as the last couple of weeks have been for the U.S.

bowls of cabble, celery, pickle, and sliced olives

For my Molded Vegetable Relish – chopped cabbage, chopped celery, chopped pickle, and sliced martini olives

Molded Vegetable Relish gives the cook the option of choosing from six different vegetable combinations: 1) cabbage, celery, carrots, and green pepper; 2) cabbage, celery, green pepper, and pimiento; 3) cabbage, celery, pickle, and pimiento; 4) cooked peas, diced celery, and cabbage; 5) cabbage and sliced stuffed olives; or 6) carrots and green pepper. (I’m sensing a theme here…) To make this as repellent as possible, I went for door number three, except that instead of pimientos I used martini olives for maximum nastiness. The recipe is non-specific about the type of pickles, so I used what we had in the fridge, Grillo’s Italian dill slices. So, yes, what we’re talking about here is lime Jell-O with cabbage, celery, chopped dill pickle, and sliced stuffed olives that have been marinating in vermouth.

I have learned that, for the viewers, the most interesting bits of my videos are the ones where I make “yuck faces” as I taste the Jell-O, and I aim to please.

As far as preparation goes, the lime Jell-O gets made more or less in the usual way, a single batch (3-oz. packet) with 3/4 cup cold water instead of a full cup, with the addition of vinegar, salt, pepper, and grated onion. I found myself in the weird position of feeling as though I hadn’t added enough onion to my Jell-O (and that just ain’t right…) After thickening (over an ice water bath), the chopped veggies are mixed in and the whole mess is put into a mold and stuck into the fridge to firm up.

lime Jell-O mold with bits of veggies suspended in it

Molded Vegetable Relish in all its glory

The result was a bright-green mold, the color possibly enhanced by the almost-monochrome solid ingredients. It was certainly visually striking. It almost didn’t look like food. (Almost?)

This was not the worst Jell-O recipe I’ve done, but it definitely wasn’t good. To start with, there really wasn’t enough onion in it. I’m not sure if more would have helped, though. Between the salt and pepper and vinegar, and the salty, vinegary pickles and olives, there should have been enough savory flavoring in this, but all of that just could not cut the sweetness of the lime Jell-O. Instead, the flavors clashed in a rather aggressive way.

As Bryan noted, at least it didn’t have mayonnaise in it.

I took pleasure in shoving most of this down the garbage disposal, so Action Against Hunger is definitely getting a piece of this action.

Recipe Reboot: Quick (Not Orange) Fruit Salad

For some reason, WordPress won’t let me use strikethrough formatting in the title, so let me just note that, for the purposes of the Project, the official title of this recipe is Quick Orange Fruit Salad.

bowl of blue Jell-O with bits of strawberry, blueberry, honeydew, and halved graps, next to a smaller bowl containing a serving of the salad

Quick Orange Fruit Salad

This one is definitely an Orange Boycott, given that the base Jell-O is orange, and the “salad” part is mostly orange sections. This meant that I had to get kind of creative with the substitutions.

I thought that it could be fun to go with one of the more interesting Jell-O flavors – in my stash I have boxes of flavors like mango and “Melon Fusion”, but I decided that after the narrow passage of Trumpcare in the U.S. House of Representatives this week, I wanted to get as far from orange as possible. That meant Berry Blue. Blue is, of course, the complementary (or opposite) color to orange on the color wheel you learned in elementary school.

I had to put more thought into what I was going to use in place of the orange sections, and I settled on a bit of an assortment, like a standard, non-gelatinous fruit salad. At the range of restaurants we tend to frequent, fruit salad is almost always bits of cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, grapes, and maybe banana slices and/or blueberries, so I thought I’d try for something like that. Ruling out cantaloupe on account of the color, and bananas on account of their maddening tendency to clump together, I finally settled on honeydew and a strawberry and blueberry mix from the prepared-fruit section at the supermarket.

The recipe also calls for halved green grapes, and that was the key point where I did follow instructions. This part was kind of annoying, cutting the grapes in half. It reminded me of making Frosted Fresh Grapes, and I decided that, really, any preparation of grapes beyond washing them and pulling them off of the stems is a waste of time.

side view of finished Jell-O dish in glass bowl

Fish bowl Jell-O?

The preparation of Quick Orange Fruit Salad was mostly straightforward. The recipe includes the addition of a dash of salt and two teaspoons of lemon juice to the gelatin, and I went ahead and did that. This is supposed to be quick-thickened by the addition of ice in place of the cold water, but I guess the temperature in the kitchen wasn’t quite cool enough yesterday because, once again, this technique didn’t quite work, and I ended up thickening it over an ice-water bath. Once that was done, I added the fruit, put it in a pretty serving bowl, and was struck, as I put it into the fridge to chill, by the aquamarine color of the Berry Blue Jell-O and how it made me think of a fish bowl. I started wishing that I’d cut the honeydew slices into little fish shapes, and…. Nah. Life’s too short.

Your Humble Narrator shoveling a spoonful of Jell-O into her bright-red gob

Tasting Quick Orange Fruit Salad

For me, this turned out to be a perfectly nice dessert. I didn’t measure out the fruit and probably added more than the recipe called for, but this just meant that it seemed more healthful. The grape halves sank to the bottom, but that wasn’t a big deal once I’d dished out a portion. The Berry Blue flavor was better than I remembered, but maybe the addition of the salt and lemon juice had something to do with that. It reminded me of Smarties (the American kind, not the British kind) or Sweet Tarts. I found that I really liked the color, too. It reminded me of summer, which is taking its own sweet time coming around this year. Also, it kind of matched my hair’s current “accent” color, as my trainer pointed out when I was telling him about this earlier today, which is why I included a somewhat rare photo of myself tasting the Jell-O. However, to my colorblind spouse, Berry Blue Jell-O is a weird sort of blue-gray. “It doesn’t look like food!” he protested. I’ll be eating the lion’s share of this one.

Your Humble Narrator wearing an apron featuring a lurid image of a brain

Modeling my awesome, Jell-O-y brain apron

The apron I’m wearing in that photo was sent up to me this past week by R–, a former student/researcher in our lab who’s now working on his Ph.D. at Yale. The shiny red cerebrum reminded him of my brain-shaped Jell-O mold, and he couldn’t resist the kind gesture, for which I’m grateful.

It’s been kind of a gloomy week, between the weather and the GOP trying to kill and/or subjugate us 99%ers, so small kindnesses have meant a lot. A Facebook friend whom I’ve never met in person was good enough to share positive feedback after viewing the video of my Rock Camp band’s performance (luckily we were first in the lineup; I kind of feel like I owe a beer or other beverage of choice to anyone who makes it all the way through the song), and, most importantly, he took my interest in pursuing music seriously.

The interesting thing about my Facebook friend is that he’s politically conservative, and we’re both trying not to cut people off because of political differences. I know some people who are doing that, and I understand that they have their reasons, but (rather uncharacteristically, to be honest) I’m trying not to be so quick to give up on some large portion of humanity. It’s nice that some people are affirming my (admittedly shaky) faith in people.

Virgin Recipe: Richlieu Mold

serving of Jell-o and fruit with whipped topping

Does this mean something?

How I love the recipes that pose questions! The obvious one for Richlieu Mold is what, if anything, is meant by the name. I thought that possibly this is a classic dessert modified for Jell-O, along the lines of Peach Melba. Alas, Mr. Google turned up little in the way of explanation. I found a few versions of something called Bombe Richlieu, which seems to be a rum-and-coffee-flavored frozen dessert that bears little resemblance to Richlieu Mold. An image search on “bombe Richlieu” turns up a bunch of photos of battleships. Now there’s something to ponder…

Dream Whip, cherry Jell-O, slivered almonds, pineapple chunks, sweet dark cherries

Richlieu Mold ingredients

The base of Richlieu Mold is “any red flavor” Jell-O. I went with cherry, partly because I’m getting a little tired of strawberry, but also because one of the ingredients is cherries and I didn’t want to throw too many different flavors in there.

I’m calling this an Orange Boycott recipe because, even though orange Jell-O is in no way involved, the other fruit ingredient is, officially, orange sections cut into chunks, and there’s supposed to be a couple of tablespoons of orange juice in the Jell-O liquid. Anyway, it just feels fitting, now that we’ve passed the 100-day mark (and the “100 days since the Women’s March” point), to make a gesture like this.

As a substitute, I used canned pineapple chunks, and two tablespoons of the juice from the can. I like pineapple.

photo from book of Jell-O mold containing orange sections, and a small dish of whipped topping, on a buffet table

Richlieu Mold circa 1974

The recipe includes a topping, which can be either Dream Whip or Cool Whip (I chose Dream Whip because that’s what Bryan prefers, although to my mind each is creepy in its own special way) mixed with toasted slivered almonds. I toasted the almonds myself, and that was probably the most pleasant part of making this recipe, because toasting almonds smell nice, and it felt good to have the oven going earlier this afternoon on what turned out to be a chilly day – strange, because yesterday was quite warm and humid.

Not surprisingly, the gelatin part is just fruit suspended in Jell-O, so the prep was pretty routine – make the Jell-O as usual, using the canned cherry and pineapple juices instead of cold water, thicken over an ice water bath, fold in the fruit, put it in the mold and chill until firm.

cherry Jell-O mold and dish of whipped topping with toasted slivered almonds

Richlieu Mold á la Freak Mountain

For some reason, the Jell-O was quite stubborn about coming out of the mold this time. (Yes, I remembered to lube the mold!) It wouldn’t unmold until it had been warmed in a water bath to the point of being definitely melty, so it came out looking untidy. I hate when that happens.

For eating it’s a perfectly decent dessert, although I can’t quite get over my particular squeamishness about canned cherries. I mean, I ate them, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. The pineapple chunks are fine in this, possibly better than orange chunks would have been. I prepared the Dream Whip with almond extract instead of vanilla extract, and the extra almond flavor goes well with the gelatin. One small gripe is that the toasted slivered almonds are an odd textural addition to the dish. I found that I had to be conscious of chewing each mouthful thoroughly so that I wouldn’t end up choking a bit on inadequately masticated almond bits. Bryan didn’t have this problem, though, so it was probably just me being lame.

Bryan declared that the cherry flavor was overwhelming, and maybe it was – but better that than orange.