Virgin Recipes: Cool Cubes, Banana-Marshmallow Special

Today we’re back to the kids’ stuff, and doubling up to get that much closer to finishing by the end of the year.

Cool Cubes

parfait glasses with grape Jell-O layered with green grapes, topped with whipped cream

Cool Cubes

Cool Cubes is an Orange Boycott recipe that originally called for orange Jell-O and mandarin orange sections. Luckily, this is a pretty simple recipe that’s easy to make with other flavors and fruit. All it is, really, is Cubed Gelatin layered in a tall glass with fruit, so I went with grape Jell-O and, for contrast, green grapes. In my not so humble opinion, this was probably nicer looking and tastier than the original recipe, which would have been quite boring.

Somehow, there was whipped cream left over from last week’s Fruit Flavor Flakes, so I used it to top our Cool Cubes. To be honest, though, grape Jell-O doesn’t go as well with cream as the berry or peach flavors. It wasn’t bad, just… I mean, you wouldn’t make an ice cream float with grape soda, would you?

I asked Bryan if he liked cubed or flaked gelatin better. He was noncommittal.

Banana-Marshmallow Special

small plastic cups of Banana-Marshmallow Special

Banana-Marshmallow Special

Banana-Marshmallow Special was the more kidlike of these two, probably because of the inclusion of miniature marshmallows.

It wasn’t as simple to make as Cool Cubes, which is why, I imagine, I managed to screw it up a little bit. The recipe says to make a single batch of strawberry Jell-O and chill until almost set, to prevent the marshmallows from floating to the top. Well, I was using the trusty cold-water bath method to chill the Jell-O, but I didn’t have quite enough ice, and I was getting a little impatient, so I added the banana slices and marshmallows when the Jell-O was thick, but not quite almost set. I added extra marshmallows and banana slices, so there wasn’t so much a problem with solid ingredients floating to the surface, but the powdered sugar coating on the marshmallows came off in the viscous Jell-O and formed a sort of colloidal suspension in the gelatin, which is why the Jell-O part looks a bit cloudy. I wonder if a kid would do better, but I rather doubt it.

The Jell-O with marshmallows and bananas in it gets put in glasses, dishes or paper cups to set. There’s another Junior Cooks recipe coming up that says to put the Jell-O in paper cups, and that got me to thinking that maybe I could use Dixie riddle cups for these recipes. That just goes to show how far away from any kid-centered orbit I am, because it turns out that Dixie riddle cups went away a long time ago, and failed to stick around past a short-lived revival twenty years ago. The designs on modern paper cups just don’t appeal to me, so instead I got some reusable plastic cup containers, which will make it easier for me to bring the leftovers to work for lunch.

I added some mini-marshmallow to the top of the Jell-O in the cups – I don’t know why, because it’s not like this wasn’t sweet enough already. It’s what kid-me would have done, for sure.

We ate Cool Cubes and Banana-Marshmallow Special in one sitting. Unsurprisingly, Bryan preferred the Banana-Marshmallow Special, mainly because of the marshmallows. I think I preferred the Cool Cubes, though, and this was more because of the bananas. I don’t love bananas in Jell-O. It’s mainly a texture thing. Although I like bananas, there’s something a little creepy about them. They make me think about bugs, especially the more ripe they are. The bananas I used in this recipe were ones I had bought at the supermarket the same morning I made the Jell-O, so it’s not like they were very ripe, but they were a weird texture in a dish that was, let’s be honest, all weird textures, very firm Jell-O and marshmallows that had softened a bit from contact with the thick-but-not-set gelatin.

Still, there was something about Banana-Marshmallow Special that really said “1970s” to me. I think kid-me would have really liked it. 50-year-old me wasn’t so keen on the way the sugar had coated my mouth when I was done eating it. I’m starting to understand why people might be keen to recapture their lost youth.

Recipe Reboot: Fruit Flavor Flakes

dish of pale green Jell-O flakes topped with whipped cream from a can

Fruit Flavor Flakes – oh, what a relief it is!

I’ve been doing these “recipe reboots” because, although I made them already in my first go at the Project, I had no notes or photos, and they didn’t turn up in the Wayback Machine, so I felt honor-bound to make them again. Also, for the sake of completeness, I wanted to have posts and photos from all of the recipes in the book. Normally this is a little annoying, for reasons that I expect are obvious. Then there are times like this, where a recipe is welcome because of the contrast with the previous week’s culinary caper.

breaking up Jell-O in the pan with a fork

Flaking the fruit flavor

Fruit Flavor Flakes is simply a presentation method for plain Jell-O. The recipe, such as it is, consists of directions for preparing a three-ounce package of Jell-O, any flavor. (I chose a box of Melon Fusion that I had in my stash – and it wasn’t even past its use-by date yet.) This is chilled until firm in a shallow pan and then “flaked”, either using a fork or by pressing through a potato ricer or wide-mesh strainer. I don’t have either of the last two things, so I used a fork, which was oddly satisfying. The flaked Jell-O is then piled lightly in dessert dishes, and may be garnished with whipped topping and/or fruit if desired. That’s it.

Bryan remarked, sarcastically, that it tasted so much better forked. Well, screw him if he can’t enjoy the simple things in life.

After last week’s Green Goddess Salad Bowl of horrors, the simplicity of this recipe was beautiful. Suddenly, without the addition of ingredients like mayonnaise and anchovies, plain Jell-O became tasty, light and refreshing. It was pretty the way it sparkled in the glass dish. It was the perfect foil for whipped cream from a can.

box of Melon Fusion Jell-O, can of whipped cream

All the ingredients!

Even better, it took next to no time to make, with the bare minimum of ingredients – although I did make a quick (parking meter, one quarter, twelve minutes) excursion to China Fair to pick up some new glass dessert dishes.

I think I really needed a break this weekend. I think we all do. As I write this, Hurricane Irma is working its way up Florida, even as recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey in Houston are in early days, and I just got a text from MIT that there’s been a shooting in Tech Square (about a mile from Freak Mountain). I can hear the sirens. I’m starting to lose track of all the terrible things the Trump administration is doing.

It’s been a hell of a year. I’m already looking forward to New Year’s Eve, when I expect I’ll be posting the last recipe in the Project. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in Life After Jell-O, but whatever it is, it’s got to be better than what’s happening now…

Virgin Recipe: Green Goddess Salad Bowl

photo of recipe from book

I am not making this up…

As a recipe, Green Goddess Salad Bowl is literally dreadful, in that I was dreading making it. This one includes avocados, crab meat, and anchovies. I’m including a photo of the recipe in this post so that you know I’m not making this up – not, in any way, shape or form, an endorsement of it. I do not recommend attempting this.

The dread, as it turned out, was well founded. The Jell-O component smelled foul while it was hot, and only slightly less so once it was firm. The color was a rather nasty mint green that clashed with the other green ingredients.

I had a fair amount of trouble on account of the ingredients, in particular the avocados. Since I’m not a hipster, I almost never eat or cook with avocados, and I was not up to the challenge of picking out ripe ones. I bought two, and one of them was so underripe and tough that I risked serious injury in separating the flesh from the pit. It was tough to cut, and tough to eat. The other one wasn’t as bad, but I had hoped to have at least a couple of decent avocados that I could salvage from the salad and turn into guacamole. I even bought a bag of lime tortilla chips, to which I turned for consolation at the conclusion of this recipe, sans guacamole.

photo from book

Green Goddess Salad Bowl, circa 1974

The crab meat was another puzzle. That’s another thing I seldom eat and never buy. When I was growing up, crustacean shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp) were somewhat luxurious, and I just never acquired a taste for them. I was warned by a couple of people that crab meat is really expensive – and, indeed, real crab meat from the seafood counter is expensive. Luckily, the recipe calls for canned crab meat, which is much more reasonably priced, but there I was flummoxed by the three or four varieties. The most expensive is “lump” crab meat, and I probably should have gone for that, but “lump” just sounds unpleasant, so I got a couple of cans of the “fancy white”, which sounds much nicer. It turned out to be perhaps more suitable for making crab cakes. Live and learn…

Since a lot of the work of making this dish is in the assembly just before serving, I decided that I would save some time by making a “making of…” video rather than doing my face and hair, preparing the salad, and recording a whole separate video of me tasting it. (Also, frankly, I get tired of looking at my dopey face.) The results are mixed. I got Bryan to do the tasting for the video, and although he makes much better ugly faces than I do, he tasted that Jell-O with remarkable equanimity. It kind of psyched me into thinking that it wasn’t that bad. The first bite I tasted, which didn’t have a significant amount of anchovy in it, was on par with some of the nastier dishes I’ve made, so I tried another bite, with more anchovies. That one was so disgusting it made me gag, and I turned right around and spat it out into the sink. This was the first time in the Project that I’ve ever had to spit out a bite.

Bryan looking grumpy

This sums it up nicely…

A few minutes later, I was ready to dump the whole thing down the garbage disposal, but when I switched it on, the garbage disposal made a feeble sounding whir and stopped dead. We’ve been living in this house for eight years and the garbage disposal has never failed before – but at the prospect of taking in Green Goddess Salad Bowl, it refused.

I think it’s safe to say this is the worst one yet.

This time around, to help out with the Harvey recovery in southeast Texas, a donation will be made to the Houston Food Bank.

Recipe Repost: Fruit Refresher

Originally posted December 14, 2009

How many different ways are there to do fruit and Jell-O? A lot, apparently.

Fruit Refresher is actually a refreshing change from Jell-O with Cool Whip and mayonnaise. (I guess it’s kind of like that old saw about how the best thing about beating your head against a wall is it feels so good when you stop.) The recipe calls for fresh berries or fruit, which is good since Jell-O is always better with fresh/real ingredients. Mid-December is not exactly the best time for fresh berries in New England, but I found some decent-looking blackberries at the supermarket. I macerated the berries in sugar, drained them, and used the resulting syrup as part of the cold liquid for the gelatin.

The Jell-O could be any flavor, and since I just needed to dissolve it in boiling water, I decided I’d better start using up my sugar-free Jell-O. I went for black cherry, which was not only sugar-free but also a flavor I hadn’t used before. The preparation was simple – dissolve gelatin in boiling water, add cold liquid, chill until thickened, add the fruit, and chill.

boing old bowl of Jell-O, with Xmas tree

Fruit Refresher

I’m very tired tonight for some reason, so it was nice to have a relatively stress-free Jell-O, no unmolding, it just got spooned into our funky MoMA ice cream bowls. The book suggests serving this with cream, and that would have been good, but it was fine served plain. It’s hard to go wrong with fresh fruit, though I’m not sure about the artificial cherry flavor of the Jell-O. It reminded me by turns of cough drops and of wearing Bonne Bell lip gloss when I was in my early teens. Either way, this made for a bunch of ambiguous Proustian moments.

Virgin Recipe: Fresh Fruit Salad

Fresh Fruit Salad comes around in an interesting confluence of events. It happens to be an Orange Boycott recipe (I substituted lime Jell-O for orange) on a weekend when I wound up going to a counter-protest at the Boston Common to oppose a so-called “free speech rally” organized by some right-wingers who evidently felt that this was a good thing to do even so soon after Charlottesville. Planning for this rally had been underway since before violence erupted in Charlottesville, VA last weekend in the wake of a “Unite the Right” demonstration that included out-and-proud white supremacists and neo-Nazis. While smarter people might have at least postponed a rally that was planned to include many speakers who had appeared in Charlottesville, Boston Free Speech decided to go ahead with it.

The thing is, counter-protests mobilized pretty quickly, and the permit that was granted to Boston Free Speech mid-week required that they not carry weapons, or anything that could be used as a weapon (such as poles for flags). The organizers had to ask possible attendees not to bring neo-Nazi and Confederate paraphernalia (for appearances’ sake). Meanwhile, scheduled speakers were being uninvited (the most controversial ones) or dropping out. I guess not being allowed guns or swastikas made the whole thing not much fun for potential participants, and a few dozen rally-goers hung in there for less than an hour before being escorted away from the Common by police (for their own safety).

like the caption says...

A large brass frog, Your Humble Narrator, and my weak selfie game – do I look like a radical to you?

Bryan and I were running late, and ended up getting to the Common a short while after the rally-goers had left. The counter-protesters were carrying on with a sort of impromptu peace rally, which was upbeat and jubilant. There was a bunch of bicycle cops in the buffer zone looking bored, and beyond the buffer zone an empty space around the empty bandstand. We wandered around for a while, and the worst thing I witnessed personally was a guy letting his dog paddle around in the Frog Pond right in front of a sign saying that this was not allowed. I know there were some altercations that happened after we left, but no one was seriously hurt and the number of arrests was somewhere between “the Red Sox won a home game” and St. Patrick’s Day. I left the house expecting to fight Nazis and wound up just taking a long walk on a brilliant summer afternoon.

chopped apples, halved grapes and chopped pecans in Jell-O/sour cream/mayonnaise mixture

Does this look appetizing to you?

And then I returned home to another Jell-O recipe. Fresh Fruit Salad is, I would say, a variant on Waldorf salad. Chopped apples, halved grapes (dammit, fussing around with grapes again!) and chopped pecans get mixed into a bavarian made with lemon Jell-O, two-thirds cup sour cream, and one-third cup mayonnaise. (I know that one reader has a photo of someone vomiting copiously that he keeps for occasions like this.) This gets molded with plain gelatin (orange in the recipe, lime in my case) on the bottom and top, so that it looks more appetizing.

Preparing this was fairly routine, though I was annoyed by the timing of it. I had to leave the bavarian part in the fridge for a while, longer than it would take me to do the washing up and make the plain Jell-O, so I had to just wait around. It ended up thickening more quickly than I’d expected, so I ended up having to leave it out on the counter while I prepared the lime Jell-O. With the lime, I had to put some of it in the bottom of the mold and chill until thickened but not set (a half-hour, per the recipe), and then thicken the remaining Jell-O, spoon the bavarian into the mold, and put the rest of the Jell-O on top. I admit it, I got impatient with the first lime layer, as you can see in the photo. Time management has been a challenge for me lately, anyway, and this recipe made me feel especially inadequate.

ingredients as described, in ring mold

Fresh Fruit Salad

I left the unmolding and tasting until after I’d gotten back from the gym today, so that I would be hungry and this recipe would stand the best possible chance to be appetizing. I have to say it didn’t look too bad once I’d unmolded it, and frankly, I think lime was a better choice than orange anyway.

flower girl, bride and groom standing next to a table laden with Jell-O dishes

“This is the last time we hire a caterer from Minnesota!”

Unfortunately, for eating it wasn’t so nice. I didn’t think it was all that bad, even though the mayonnaise flavor really predominated in the bavarian layer, but that may have been the post-gym hunger talking. I still think nuts don’t belong in Jell-O. Bryan, on the other hand, described it as “really unpleasant”, and actually picked all of the bits of fruit out of the bavarian layer and ate what he could of the lime Jell-O, leaving a nasty heap of bavarian-style jelly in his bowl.

Fresh Fruit Salad appears in a photo in the book – on a wedding buffet table where all the dishes are made with Jell-O, also featuring Salmon Dill Mousse and Creamy Bleu Cheese Salad. I feel bad for the happy couple. If it was the mother of the bride who planned this wedding, that groom is in for a bad time with his mother-in-law.

Virgin Recipe: Rainbow Parfait

two tall parfait glasses with layered lemon and grape Jell-O

Rainbow Parfait

Today we’re looking at another “Especially for Junior Cooks” recipe.

However, this post isn’t going to be as carefree as it ought to be. I took a “staycation” last week, with the ambition of doing some serious house cleaning, but got brought up short on that by a couple of things. One was that what I really needed was a bit of a rest, and after a couple of rooms I realized I wasn’t going to get it if I kept on doing all that work by myself. Another was that last week the news was pretty much one gut punch after another, which made the need for some self-care even more pressing.

Early in the week, unexpected caffeine withdrawal headaches (it’s sad, it turns out I’m more of an addict than I realized) were compounded by the president’s belligerent rhetoric directed at North Korea, which gave us Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers bad Cold War flashbacks. I started thinking along the lines of “who cares if the bathroom is perfectly clean if we’re all going to die in a nuclear apocalypse anyway?” So I shifted my focus to playing Fallout New Vegas (for practice), working with my trainer at the gym to test my one-rep maxes on the major lifts (to keep my Strength stat up), and practicing guitar (to get my Charisma stat a bit higher). All of those activities had the added bonus of taking my mind off of the news and me physically away from social media.

On Saturday we went to a party down the shore at the home of the founder of my lab at MIT. I left my phone stowed in a duffle bag all day while I drank wine, watched egrets doing their thing in the marsh, and chatted with the good folks from the lab. It was very nice while it lasted – and then late in the evening I pulled out my phone to show someone pictures of my past Halloween costumes, and after that made the mistake of looking at Twitter, where I read about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA and the incident where one of their number drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring nineteen more.

This makes it a little difficult to feel light-hearted about a Jell-O project when Jell-O is, arguably, part of the so-called “white culture” being championed by the so-called “alt right” (Bill Cosby notwithstanding, and he’s certainly not someone I would choose as a shining example of African American culture, either). It’s difficult to feel light-hearted in general right now. I’ve been wanting to make a statement about how the white guys with the tiki torches don’t represent me, but I’m not sure how to do it without sounding self-righteous. They really don’t, though. As a melanin-challenged person, I don’t feel as though “my culture” is under threat, and I recognize what a privilege that is. Anyway, my view of U.S. culture is rather different from theirs, incorporating as it does the essential influences of all those groups the neo-Nazis believe to be inferior. The U.S. has never been a homogeneous culture. Thank goodness.

But I did make some Jell-O on Sunday, so let’s get back to the fittingly named Rainbow Parfait. This recipe is deceptively simple-sounding, consisting of two flavors of Jell-O (lemon and raspberry) that are layered in tall glasses for maximum visual impact. I’m out of raspberry (all red flavors, actually), and since we were time-constrained by that party I decided to skip the usual Saturday visit to Stop’n’Shop and use another flavor that I already had on hand. This time, it was grape, because purple is yellow’s complementary color, and I figured the contrast would be reasonably, erm, psychedelic and in the spirit of the original recipe. (The book was, after all, published in the early 1970s when the counterculture had pretty much gone mainstream.)

The problem with this recipe is that the timing is all wonky. You’re supposed to make two separate batches of Jell-O at the same time (okay so far), and then you thicken them a bit. Fine. But then you’re suppose to add a layer of one flavor of thickened Jell-O to the glasses, chill that layer until it’s fairly firm, then add the next layer, chill, and so forth. The problem with this is, as I’ve found, that once the Jell-O starts setting up, it’s just going to keep getting thicker, and these directions just sound kind of silly. Instead, I chilled the lemon and grape Jell-O until they were pretty thick but not set, quickly layered them in the glasses, and then put them in the fridge to chill until firm.

mostly-eaten Rainbow Parfait

Rainbow Parfait sparkling in the bottom of the glass

I think the original idea in the recipe was that you’d end up with quite flat and distinct layers of color. Doing it my way, with the Jell-O soft and sort of mounding, the layers blend a little where the two flavors of Jell-O meet and they’re not perfectly level. This gives the dish a sort of tie-dye effect that I quite like.

For eating, this was probably one of the least weird recipes I’ve done. Of course, it’s really just two-flavor Jell-O, and if you’re okay with Jell-O, it’s fine (though I would have liked a squirt of Redi-Whip on top). The best part was the visual appeal, which definitely added to the pleasure of eating it.

It looked especially nice once I’d spooned some of it out of the glass. The flavor specificity of the recipe is unnecessary – this would work well with any combination of light-colored and dark-colored Jell-O flavors. In fact, I think the purple of the grape flavor was a little too dark, and I kind of wish I’d gotten a little more adventurous with the flavors, for example using peach and Berry Blue. It could be fun to use this layering technique to make Cubed Gelatin for a kind of hippie-dippie effect. If the opportunity presents itself I’ll have to try it.

And you know what, finishing this up is actually making me feel a little better. Ah, the magic of Jell-O…

Virgin Recipe: Supersodas

Today we make out first venture into the chapter titled “Especially for Junior Cooks”.

Jell-O gelatin is a young dessert. Cool and sparkling. Fresh and fruity. And the colors are pure pop art. (Next time you pour boiling water on the powdered gelatin, just watch those colors come alive.)

Jell-O Gelatin desserts are easy and quick to prepare, too. Another reason for starting your cooking career with these ideas. A few minutes of mixing and pouring and you have a beautiful dessert to chill and carry to the table.

Let it be fun – something to share with people you love. Invite a special friend, or your younger sister, to help you make Supersodas. Share your Snack Cups with a hungry Dad.

Begin in a big way. Start with Jell-O Gelatin.

It would have made sense to explore this chapter with some children, but I don’t have any of my own, and I don’t think the people I know who have young children would let me borrow them for this purpose. And my youngest sister is in her early forties.

glasses with layers of ice cream, Jell-O, and whipped Jell-O with Dream Whip on top

I guess these look like ice cream sodas… sort of…

So I made Supersodas just for Bryan and me, and I’m feeling a bit silly that I didn’t invite somebody over to share this with us, because this isn’t exactly a make-ahead recipe with leftovers that can be kept in the refrigerator until the next day. This is a dessert that’s meant to resemble ice cream sodas from an old-fashioned soda fountain of the sort that’s becoming vanishingly rare, giving way to ice cream shops that serve sundaes in paper cups. It has ice cream in it, and not as the creamy component of a bavarian.

It starts, as so many things do, with Jell-O. The book recommends Concord grape, cherry, strawberry, or raspberry flavor. I chose raspberry because it was the only one of those I had on hand. (Also, Concord grape flavor no longer exists.) The Jell-O is prepared with a bit more cold liquid than usual, a cup of club soda and a quarter-cup of cold water. The club soda must be there to psych the kids into thinking these really are sodas, because of course once you add the soda to the hot gelatin the carbon dioxide bubbles escape quickly, leaving behind the usual flat lukewarm liquid gelatin.

The Jell-O gets chilled until slightly thickened. Meanwhile, the cook adds scoops of vanilla ice cream to tall soda or iced tea glasses. (While this recipe purports to make three servings, I only have two such glasses, and I ended up making two small “sodas” as well.) Once the Jell-O is slightly thickened, a cup of it gets set aside and the rest is added to the glasses, and then the set-aside cup gets whipped to a froth and placed in the glasses on top of the flat Jell-O, and all of that goes into the refrigerator for at least two hours. Before serving, the glasses are garnished with Dream Whip.

Let me remind the reader that there is ice cream in the bottom of those glasses that ends up sitting in the fridge at an above-freezing temperature for at least two hours. What do you suppose happens to it?

melted ice cream and raspberry Jell-O

The ice cream is completely melted – that solid-looking lump is Dream Whip

Yep, it was melted. Completely liquid. The flat and whipped gelatin layers had firmed up and were clinging to the sides of the glasses, so eating this meant making one’s way through the Jell-O layers to get to the melted ice cream. Meanwhile, since it wasn’t all that firm, the Jell-O sort of crumbled into the melted ice cream, making a sort of jelly ice cream soup. It didn’t taste bad, but Bryan remarked that if he were a kid and he was eating this dessert only to find that the ice cream had all melted, he’d be pretty unhappy. As it was, since he ended up drinking it like a beverage out of the glass, a fair amount of it ended up in his mustache, which wasn’t so pleasant for me.

I have a couple of regrets about this. For one, I used Dream Whip because the recipe specified it, but I think this would have been better with Redi-Whip, which would look better and is real whipped cream. (Also, I’d get the nitrous prize in the bottom of the can.) For another, I really do wish we’d gotten someone to come over and eat some of this. As I write this post, it’s over an hour since we ate our Supersodas, and I’ve been burping and typing and not getting hungry for real food, i.e., dinner. Woman cannot live on Jell-O alone, and she’d really rather not try.

The “Junior Cooks” chapter certainly has it’s share of what-the-fuckery, but at least it’s all desserts. And there’s no mayonnaise.