It’s funny, but I seem to be really in the habit of posting. It’s been nagging me all weekend, that I should post something – although I’m just as glad I don’t have any more Jell-O recipes that I have to do.
The Freak Mountain furnace issue continues to drag on. Last Sunday, it turned out that we did have a frozen pipe somewhere in the downstairs radiators, so there was no heat at all down there. Local plumbers were overwhelmed because so many people were getting frozen pipes in the unusually long stretch of extreme cold weather, and we couldn’t get anyone to help us. After staying up all night to monitor the pipes and a couple of space heaters, Bryan and I stayed home from work on Monday and were there to quickly handle the situation and minimize damage when a pipe burst in the afternoon, although we did have to spend that night in the house with no heat at all, and no water. (Luckily, there was plenty of snow in the yard to melt for toilet flushing.) On Tuesday, we were able to get a plumber to replace the broken pipes, and the January thaw made the situation more manageable, but our furnace specialist proved elusive. We had to go over his head to the distributor, and that got him to finally return my calls. He came over on Saturday, diagnosed the problem with the furnace – and said he would need to get a part and might not be able to complete the repair until at least next Wednesday.
Sigh. The plumber did show us a little magic trick, which involves turning the hot water in the kitchen sink on and off a few times, to get the heat going when it cuts out for no apparent reason well shy of the target temperature. So the furnace is limping along under our careful ministrations, keeping the pipes warm so that they won’t freeze again. The house is topsy-turvy because we moved furniture and brought books, record albums, and electronics upstairs to prevent damage from burst pipes. The television is sitting on the kitchen island. My office upstairs is the warmest room in the house, so we’ve been using it as a living room, watching videos on my computer in the evenings. Our routine has been upended, and we’ve been spending a lot of quiet time in the house, listening for the ticking of the radiators as the heat comes on, ready to do the hot-water-tap trick again if it’s too quiet for too long.
What’s that got to do with joy? Well, over this MLK Day weekend, I’ve been thinking about the African-American struggle for equality and justice – not that I claim to be the most “woke” middle-aged white lady around, but these things do cross my mind, and in the context of this blog it’s because a lot of the joy in the New Joy of Jell-O Project has come from the music of some great African-American artists. As regular readers might remember, for quite some time as I’ve been cooking I’ve been listening to my “Galaxy News Radio” Pandora channel, which features artists like the Ink Spots, Roy Brown, Billie Holiday, the Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat “King” Cole, Louis Jordan, Count Basie, Ray Charles… and on and on. I listen to those artists, and I think about what their lives were like under Jim Crow, and I am awed that they were still able to put so much joy into those recordings.
When I’m feeling beat down by circumstances, like I am today, I wonder how they did it. I wonder at the resilience it must take to work to have a good and meaningful and joyful life despite systemic oppression. I recognize that my tale of woe at the beginning of this post comes from a privileged place. What I really want to say is that I have great respect for the struggle, and profound gratitude to the people who have undergone it and managed to share the joy they’ve found within themselves…
Virgin Recipe: (Not Orange) Pineapple-Glazed Ham
I am having a weirdly hard time posting about the final recipe from The New Joys of Jell-O. First, I procrastinated for a few days. Then, I wrote up a draft last night. This morning I was up hours before the crack of dawn because something in the heating system at Freak Mountain crapped out last night, and we’ve been trying to figure it out, doing what we can to prevent pipes from freezing, and monitoring the situation (downstairs is literally refrigerator-cold as I write this) – and during the “monitoring” phase I thought I’d edit and upload the photos and finish off the draft. I started having some technical difficulties, so I logged out and logged back in again, and while my photos were there in my WordPress store, the draft I wrote up yesterday had vanished. It figures.
Orange Pineapple-Glazed Ham is also my last Orange Boycott recipe, which I am, again, glad to do after the utterly ridiculous week the U.S. has just had. I made this on Wednesday, just as excerpts from Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House were coming out in the media, following closely on the heels of the infamous “my button is bigger than his button” tweet. Enough already!
Anyway. It seemed weird to just, like, bake a ham on its own, so I decided to build a meal around it. My vague recollections of the ham dinners of my youth mainly involve potatoes and cabbage (I only ever got to experience the most boring aspects of my Irish heritage), and I didn’t want to do that because it’d stink up the house, so I thought I’d head in a southern direction and do hoppin’ john for New Year’s, with a side of corn bread. That would have made a great New Year’s Eve post, which is partly why I was so cranky about being sick and not being able to do it. Still, better late than never…
I got started a few hours before I expected Bryan to be home from work so that dinner would be ready when he was (a rare instance of me being a good wifey), and began with the corn bread. I used the basic recipe from my 1980s-vintage Betty Crocker cookbook, and aside from a little difficulty incorporating the shortening into the batter (we bought a can of Crisco specifically for this) it went well. As I greased the baking pan with Crisco, something I had done many times when baking things from mixes as a kid, I was struck by how familiar the motion felt, although I hadn’t done it in many years. Muscle memory is a very interesting thing.
While the corn bread was baking, I got to work on the mise en place for the hoppin’ john. I used this recipe, but there are a lot of them out there, lots of variations, the main constant being black-eyed peas. Apparently the idea is that if you eat frugally on New Year’s Day, you’ll have a prosperous year. It is a fairly economical dish, and also hearty and tasty and easy to make. I chopped up an onion, a green pepper, and a few celery stalks, minced a few cloves of garlic; softened it all up in hot olive oil; added a quart of broth, a well-soaked pound of black-eyed peas, and the seasonings; gave it a stir and left it for a good, long simmer.
At some point, the corn bread was done (all nice and crusty and golden brown) and I left that on the stove top to keep warm. I won’t lie, one of the great things about making this dinner was that I had the oven going from beginning to end, and I was thrilled to get overheated without being feverish.
Next was the ham. Really, the hardest part about making
Orange Pineapple-Glazed Ham was finding the ham. The recipe calls for a two-pound canned ham. The first place we looked was the supermarket within walking distance of Freak Mountain. They had one-pound canned hams. A one-pound ham is an oddly small ham, and I thought I could do better. We went back to Freak Mountain, got the car, and drove to the Super Stop’n’Shop, where we found the shelf in the meat department where the canned hams should be, but there were no hams. Someone from the meat department came out to help us, and when we told him what we were looking for he said that if there were no hams on the shelf they were probably sold out. We thanked him, and while we were mulling over going to a third store, he came up to us with a ham he’d found in the stockroom. There was one problem – it was a five-pound ham. Did I want to buy a ham that was more than twice what I needed, or did I want to keep driving around looking for a ham of just the right size? Naturally, laziness won out. I tried not to think about what would happen to the other three pounds of ham.
When the time came, since I was making this a week after I’d planned on doing it, I thought I’d better be safe and check the use-by date on the ham. I needn’t have worried – it said “April 2020”. Not quite post-apocalypse survival fare, but not bad.
I cut what I judged to be a two-pound chunk off of the ham, placed it in a baking dish, studded the top with cloves, and doused it in a mixture of a quarter-cup ham juice, a firmly-packed half cup of brown sugar, and a three-ounce packet of Island Pineapple Jell-O. The directions say to bake it in a 325℉ oven until heated through, about a half an hour, basting frequently. There was quite a bit of sugar/Jell-O syrup in the pan, so that was not hard to do, and it meant I got to stay nice and toasty warm as it was cooking. Mmmmm, oven heat…
While that was happening, I set some Carolina rice cooking in the rice maker. Everything was done when Bryan got home.
The whole thing turned out well, better than my early Thanksgiving dinner. I was happy with the corn bread, and the hoppin’ john (my first, either making or eating) had a recognizably “southern” flavor to it. (That might have been helped along by the ham cubes I added to it.) I could see myself making it again, and I think I would play around with the seasoning a bit. One of the things I had to do was substitute a “smoke powder” for the liquid smoke specified in the recipe, and I may have used a little too much of that.
As for the
Orange Pineapple-Glazed Ham, when I took the first bite, I thought to myself, “This is what ham should taste like.” It’s just as well I didn’t do a video (recovering from the flu bug, I didn’t look or sound so hot) because there was no grimacing or groaning at all. Frankly, apart from being salty, canned ham is a pretty bland piece of meat, so the sugar and pineapple flavoring could only have helped. In fact, I would guess that pineapple-flavored gelatin is a better choice for this than orange, Trump or no Trump.
I ate a whole slice (not bad, considering I couldn’t finish my portion of hoppin’ john) and Bryan had two. Meanwhile, there was so much of the sugar/Jell-O syrup in the baking dish that, in hindsight, I probably could have just done the whole five-pound ham in it. As it is, we’re wasting less of the ham than I expected. Not only did I add some to the hoppin’ john, but also I think Bryan brought a ham sandwich to work on Friday, and yesterday we had fried ham with eggs for breakfast.
I’ll probably make the usual charitable donations anyway, once the current household crisis is over. Now that I’m done cooking through the book, I need to find another way to do this regularly. One thing I’ll say for this Project, it’s definitely helped me up my philanthropy game.
I’m not sure what I’ll be doing with the blog going forward, but in the near future, at least, I plan to post some New Joy of Jell-O Project stats – how much of each flavor, how much Cool Whip, an estimate of how much I’ve spent, that sort of thing. Just out of curiosity. I feel the need to sum up, somehow. Just not now. When I’m warm and adequately rested…
As you might imagine if you’ve been following the New Joy of Jell-O Project for a while, I was really looking forward to posting the last recipe in the book today. Alas, it is not to be.
Yea, though I did dutifully avail myself of the flu shot provided to me gratis by MIT back in October, it appears that I have nevertheless succumbed to the flu. Or a flu, it might be more accurate to say. It started innocently enough at the beginning of the week with an inconvenient amount of nose-blowing, progressed to a fully-stuffed head and a fever, and in the last day or so has worked it’s way into my lungs. Science has, for once, let me down.
Meanwhile, we’re enjoying (that’s sarcasm – don’t blink or you’ll miss it) what must be a record cold streak here in the northeast U.S., with temperatures topping out in the teens (Fahrenheit) and heading down into single digits with wind chill below zero. It started about the same time I was getting sick (how convenient) and is expected to go on for another week or so from, like, now. Unfortunately, the heating system at Freak Mountain has trouble coping with cold like this.
When I started to write this, both upstairs and downstairs were below 60℉, and I was thumbing this post out on my phone because Bryan was using the power cable from our wifi router to charge the battery in the thermostat downstairs, so I needed to use LTE to access WordPress. I found myself thinking of Sylvia Plath at the end.
Well, we’ve got the wifi back, and the furnace is sorted (for now), and it all just feels like such a fitting end for the long and arduous year that was 2017. I gladly invite 2017 to let the door hit its ass, multiple times, on the way out.
I’m hoping to get back to that last recipe in the coming week, if only because it involves using the oven and so will warm things up a bit.
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…
Happy New Year!
Memory Lane: Cherry Burgundy Dessert
This week we’re at number two in the countdown – that is, this is the second-to-last recipe. Wow. The end is nigh.
We’ve finally reached the end of Memory Lane with Cherry Burgundy Dessert. I don’t really remember it, for the most part, except for buying the wine. The “Burgundy” in the name is not meant to be descriptive of the color of the dish, or some sort of inept metaphor. This is one of those recipes that include wine as an ingredient, which we’ve tended to like overall because wine cuts the sweetness of the Jell-O and lends a more sophisticated flavor to it. This one calls for “Burgundy or Port Wine”, so we went to our then-favorite liquor store, Downtown Wine and Spirits in Somerville, to get some. The guys at Downtown know and care about their wines, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when, upon hearing what I wanted it for, Jeff wouldn’t sell me a burgundy. He recommended a cheap pinot noir instead, and since I know very little about wine, I just bought what he recommended. This was well before our neighborhood hipster liquor store opened; I suspect the guys at City Liquors would be a lot more chill about the whole thing.
(In an interesting coincidence, this week I read a nice piece of food writing in Vanity Fair about tasting Trump wines. The conclusion is unsurprising, and I suspect Jeff and the Downtown crew would not deign to carry the Trump vintages.)
Apart from buying the wine, this recipe is pretty simple. I prepared a single batch of cherry Jell-O in much the usual way, dissolving it in a cup of boiling water, and cooling it with a half cup of the pinot and a quarter cup of cold water. I chilled it until thickened and then stirred in a can (roughly eight ounces) of sliced peaches. (Strangely, the recipe did not incorporate the juice in which the peaches were canned, which seems to be the norm with this type of recipe.) I chilled it until firm in my three-cup mold, and garnished it with Dream Whip spiced with a dash of cinnamon.
According to my notes, we gave this one a single “nasty”, though we came close to giving it two because the peaches just weren’t very good. Otherwise, the flavors blended relatively well together, and it was overall inoffensive.
The mold I used is kind of a strange one, because the shape (maybe a bit top-heavy?) seems to allow the gelatin to spread after it’s turned out. The resulting jelly dish can end up resembling a sea creature, which is probably why Cherry Burgundy Dessert reminded me of a visit I’d recently made to the Boston Aquarium with one of the grad students from the Lab. I’m sure that pleasant association contributed to my relative enjoyment of the dish.
I know that not everyone celebrates (or enjoys) this festal season, so whatever you’re up to, I hope it’s merry and/or peaceful. I’ll be back on New Year’s Eve to end 2017 in style with the very last recipe from The New Joys of Jell-O…
Recipe Reboot: Strawberries Romanov
Wow. With this post, we’re at number three on the New Joy of Jell-O countdown, a reboot of Strawberries Romanov. This is a fancy-sounding name for a recipe that’s pretty simple, except for some awkward timing.
Strawberries Romanov is another strawberry bavarian, along the lines of Fresh Strawberry Pie or Layered Bavarian. There’s a bavarian layer, using Cool Whip as the cream component, and a plain Jell-O-and-fruit layer. As you can see in the photos, I’m using the term “layer” rather loosely. And that’s where the awkward timing comes in.
At least this one had fresh fruit in it. I started off hulling and slicing about a pint of fresh strawberries (they were only available in one-pound packages, so I estimated, making sure to save some for breakfast), which I then macerated with two tablespoons of sugar. The berries exuded almost a quarter-cup of juice, to which I added cold water to make a cup of cold liquid.
Next, I had to make a double-batch (using a six-ounce package) of strawberry Jell-O. I measured out 3/4 cup liquid gelatin and added two tablespoons of brandy, one tablespoon of Cointreau, and half of the cold strawberry liquid. I cooled that over an ice water bath until it was slightly thickened, and then whisked in two cups of Cool Whip to make the bavarian layer. The directions say to fold in the Cool Whip, but because it’s almost impossible to deflate Cool Whip, whisking works better. I poured the mixture into a lubed mold and put it in the fridge to set.
Now, here’s where the timing got wonky, and I’ll admit right up front it was my fault. I got impatient, and you’d think I would have learned by now that patience is sometimes crucial to Jell-O-making. Instead of waiting a bit, I went ahead and prepared the Jell-O-and-fruit layer. I think I was assuming that it would take longer for the Jell-O to thicken, and unfortunately, when it did, the bavarian layer was still pretty soft. I went ahead and tried to put the Jell-O layer on top of the bavarian layer, but it sort of sank in, making something more like a tunnel cake.
I suppose it would have been nice if it had ended up looking like it was supposed to, but I kind of liked the tunnel effect, and of course it didn’t taste any different. (I tried a slice with an extra dollop of Cool Whip. I don’t recommend that. It was a bit much.) Looking at my notes from the last time I made this, I see that I was guessing then, as I do now, that the “Romanov” part of the name is just because there’s a little booze in it. The brandy and Cointreau flavors were subtle. Bryan couldn’t taste them at all, and I could only taste them if I ate the bavarian layer by itself; in a bite containing both bavarian and Jell-O/fruit, I couldn’t taste the alcohol at all. Overall, the flavors blended well together, and as always, using fresh fruit helped.
I won’t lie, it’s a relief to be so close to the end of the Project. At the same time, I’ve been at this for so long that not having to make a Jell-O recipe every weekend is going to be kind of a big change. Once I committed myself to the editorial calendar, I wound up structuring my weekends around making, tasting, and writing about each recipe. In a couple of weeks, I won’t have that structure anymore.
Meanwhile, New Year’s seems like as good a time as any to make a few changes. I plan on getting back on track with learning guitar, adopting a new training regimen at the gym, and I just started the process of letting my hair go gray, which is actually pretty involved after dying it for years. I think 2018 is going to be rough, and I’m just not feeling the cute, soft look of blonde waves anymore. It feels like a good time to be heading towards crone-hood.
Virgin Recipe: Ring Around the Fruit Mold
This week it’s a desultory number four in the New Joy of Jell-O countdown – Ring Around the Fruit Mold. This one comes from the “Centerpiece Desserts” chapter, possibly because it involves a double-batch of Jell-O. Superficially, it appears similar to another Centerpiece Dessert, Banana Nut Ring with Ginger Topping, but unlike Banana Nut Ring, it matched my dark mood this weekend.
After another of those weeks (is there any other kind of week anymore?), I had an unusually social weekend (two parties and an intense bench-press session with my trainer), and coming at the Jell-O, I was exhausted both physically and mentally. Saturday night we went to a work function, which involved a walk about a mile and a half each way in a minor snowstorm because Bryan didn’t feel like driving, and that actually wasn’t too bad, since I got to meet some new people, and the food and wine were okay, but these work things are always stressful because you have to try to be on your best behavior (except the girlfriend of a new employee, who sat at a table and pouted over her phone almost the entire time). Sunday morning we went to a brunch with neighbors at the home of our friends F– and K– who live just a few blocks away, and I had to be careful not to eat to avoid lifting on a full stomach. The topic of “current events” was avoided for the most part, and, surprisingly, there are still lots of other things to talk about, but it always feels like an effort not to start fretting about what’s happening, and we finally caved in with F– shortly before leaving. It sort of helps to know other people are anxious, too, but not that much.
And then there was Ring Around the Fruit Mold, which didn’t help at all. It starts with a double batch of strawberry or raspberry Jell-O (I had a six-ounce package of raspberry, so I used that) and two 15-ounce cans of fruit cocktail (because they didn’t have 30-ounce cans at Target). I made the Jell-O using the juice from the cans for the cold liquid (with water to add up to 1 3/4 cup). The mold chilled overnight, and Sunday afternoon after my workout I made the filling – the drained fruit cocktail, a third of a cup of chopped pecans, a half cup of miniature marshmallows (good thing I had leftovers from last week’s Watergate Salad), and a cup of prepared Dream Whip.
(Speaking of the Watergate Salad, I did bring the leftovers to the lab. I put it in the fridge with a note on it, posted an announcement on Slack that it was there for the tasting – and I ended up being the only one who ate it. I’m starting to feel like I must be either unusually brave or unusually stupid.)
Anyway. If you were ever wondering if it’s really necessary to use a warm-water bath to loosen up the Jell-O before unmolding it, I now have an answer for you: YES. I set the Jell-O in my Tupperware ring mold, and, feeling lazy, decided to dispense with the warm-water bath. See, the cool thing about the Tupperware ring mold is that the center and the outside are two parts that are held together with the famous Tupperware seal, and when you loosen the center piece, the Jell-O falls easily out of the mold when it’s been warmed on the outside. I discovered that if you don’t warm the mold, even if it’s been lubed, some of the Jell-O can stick to the sides. It was the worst unmolding fail I’ve experienced in a long time. The ring came out in pieces, and I had to flip a couple of chunks over and sort of re-form it on the serving platter.
I piled up the filling in the center of the mold, and it immediately started trying to escape at the weakest point of the Jell-O ring. The washed-out colors of the canned fruit were not enhanced or helped in any way either by being mixed with Dream Whip and marshmallows or in contrast to the red Jell-O. The whole thing looked incredibly depressing.
Fittingly, we ended up tasting Ring Around the Fruit Mold after dinner while watching the second disk of the second season of Ash vs. the Evil Dead, the episodes where Ash is in the abandoned asylum having his head messed around by
Bill Baal. As I dished it out, it occurred to me that it was like something that might be served as a special holiday treat on a psychiatric ward. This recipe tasted at least as depressing as it looked. The Jell-O wasn’t so bad, but the filling was intensely disappointing. I expected it to be kind of like ambrosia salad, but it wasn’t. At all. The texture of the fruit cocktail was particularly creepy mixed with Dream Whip and in contrast with the marshmallows and nuts. Maybe more marshmallows would have helped. Probably not.
I may have to make a bonus contribution to Action Against Hunger this week, because I will be very surprised if we eat any more of this one.
Virgin Recipe: Dream Parfait
feat. Bonus Jell-O: Watergate Salad
Well, this was another of those weeks that feel almost eternal. I don’t even remember last weekend, it seems like such a long time ago. Leftover pecans and Whipped Cream Mayonnaise were the only evidence that I could find that the weekend after Thanksgiving actually happened. Wait, what? Was Thanksgiving really only a week and a half ago?
Today I finally tossed that Whipped Cream Mayonnaise, and I was happy to have the pecans because I used them in another Jell-O recipe. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s take a quick look at today’s regularly scheduled Jell-O.
Number five on the New Joys of Jell-O countdown is our final recipe from Especially for Junior Cooks, Dream Parfait. There isn’t a lot to say about this one. It’s strawberry Jell-O layered in a tall dessert glass with prepared Dream Whip. That’s it. Make the Jell-O per the directions on the box, chill until it’s thick and jiggly but not quite set, and layer it in glasses with Dream Whip.
I started this one after getting back from the gym this afternoon. I made the Jell-O right away, before changing out of my workout clothes, and popped it in the fridge, figuring I’d come back later, make the Dream Whip, and finish chilling the gelatin over an ice water bath. I ended up leaving the Jell-O in the refrigerator for about two hours, and was surprised to find it nearly set (contrary to the directions on the box, which say it takes four hours). I’m not complaining, as that saved me a bit of bother rather late on a Sunday afternoon. My only other observation is that while this is quite easy to make, it’s a little less so from a food styling perspective. I wish I had put the Dream Whip in a piping bag, because it was difficult to just spoon it in to get neat-looking layers.
It tasted fine. It’s strawberry Jell-O and cream – of course it did.
I wasn’t planning on doing an extra recipe this weekend, but then on Friday, while I was reading all the news about Michael Flynn’s plea deal, I ran across a tweet that Kraft Foods had posted the night before:
Watergate Salad? On a day when a major event in this generation’s “Stupid Watergate” was unfolding? What kind of weird coincidence was that? So of course I had to make it.
But first I had to know – why was it called Watergate Salad? I figured there was a fair chance that it had been on the menu at the Watergate Hotel in the early 1970s (strange as it sounds, such things could be had at restaurants in the 1970s), but when I looked it up, I discovered that the “salad” had been developed in 1975, the year Jell-O pistachio pudding mix was introduced. (So “a tradition for many generations” might be a slight exaggeration, unless they’re referring to fruit flies.) Originally, it was dubbed Pistachio Pineapple Delight, until consumers started asking for the recipe as Watergate Salad. There are a few different rumors circulating about the origin of the name, but nothing that anyone can substantiate. My guess is that it started as sarcasm and quickly caught on. I can respect that.
Watergate Salad is clearly a close relative of ambrosia salad. It consists of five simple ingredients (Jell-O pistachio instant pudding mix, crushed pineapple, chopped pecans, miniature marshmallows, and Cool Whip) that just all get tumped together, mixed, and chilled. You don’t even have to make the pudding mix into pudding; it just goes in dry. (The recipe is on the pudding box if you want to try it.) It takes about five minutes to prepare, if you use pre-chopped nuts.
Bryan and I had it with brunch this morning, as suggested by one of the rumored origin stories. It tasted a lot like ambrosia salad, although it was a lot sweeter than my grandmother’s version. It turns out I was right about sour cream versus Cool Whip. Also, it could use more fruit. When I went to the gym a few hours later, I was thirsty all through my workout and had to keep taking hits from my water bottle. My trainer and I are switching to Sunday sessions, so it’s a good thing I only have a few more of these Jell-O recipes to go.
I could probably eat more of it (though at the moment I have a mild bellyache from the Dream Parfait), but Bryan really wants me to bring the leftovers to the Lab for the students to try. I’m getting too old for this…