As promised, we’ve started to delve into the scarier corners of the Jell-O world. This one sounded frightening to me, yes, because of the ham, but more so because of the boiled eggs. Ham is often served with sweet garnishes, but the combination of Jell-O and boiled eggs just seemed unwise.
That said, the first challenge in this recipe full of challenges was picking out the ham. I stopped eating red meat when I started university in 1985, so this was my first time ever buying ham. I flirted a bit with the idea of using Spam instead of ham, which I knew I could get in a smaller quantity to minimize waste, plus it would have been amusing because for a long time Bryan’s nickname was Spam, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. In the deli case there was a small-ish “dainty” ham marked gluten-free (why?) that looked like it might do, but there would still be leftovers. Finally, after much dithering I settled on a pair of seven-ounce ham steaks, which I reasoned would work out to about the two cups of cubed ham called for in the recipe.
That was really the only thing I needed to buy, since we already had the three eggs, celery, onion, salt and vinegar at home. I also picked up one of those gadgets for neatly slicing eggs and mushroom, figuring that uniformly-sliced eggs would give me a better chance of success (still not sure how I’d define that) with this recipe.
The next challenge was the timing. If I followed the recipe the thin layer in the bottom of the mold (holds the eggs in place) could set up firm enough before the “salad” layer is added that the layers might fail to adhere when the dish is unmolded. The way I did it was a little tricky, but effective. The thin layer took quite some time to firm up (I had to put it in the freezer) and while that was happening, I had the larger portion of Jell-O thickening over an ice-water bath, so that the time required for each part to set right was roughly equal. It wasn’t long after I’d laid the egg slices on the top layer that I was able to fold the chunky ingredients into the thickened gelatin and spoon that over the egg slices, finally popping the whole thing into the fridge to chill overnight.
Another challenge was one I’d set for myself. From the beginning of the reboot I had been toying around with the idea of doing videos, and the current ALS charity fundraiser made this more appealing. Like a lot of people, I’m getting tired of the ice bucket thing (Benedict Cumberbatch’s adorable video notwithstanding), and I started thinking of Molded Ham and Egg Salad as another, more disagreeable sort of challenge. I charged up Bryan’s old Fuji FinePix F10 (with it’s 512MB memory card I could record up to seven whole minutes of video!), screwed it on the tabletop tripod, and got Bryan to be my cameraman. The lighting in our kitchen is not good, so this had to be shot while the midday sun was coming in through the back windows, and that presented other lighting challenges. The recording, unmolding, cutting, still photography, and tasting all had to be coordinated, and there wasn’t much opportunity (or flash memory) for multiple video takes. I was happy, though, that I finally had a chance to get out my big bucket of army guys. It seems appropriate that a Jell-O like this should be attacked on all sides by men with guns and grenades.
You can see the unmolding in the video at the bottom of this post. It was not 100% successful. I thought I’d lubed the loaf pan pretty well with nonstick spray, but a little bit of that thin layer of lemon Jell-O stuck to the bottom. Nevertheless, the overall effect worked, with the thin boiled egg slices floating above the ham salad. Unfortunately there’s no way for me to convey to you what this smelled like, a bit sulfurous and vaguely rotten due largely to the boiled eggs which, let’s face it, never have a pleasant aroma.
And then, after the still photography was done, I undertook the biggest challenge yet, actually tasting it.
Folks, it was pretty much as nasty as I was expecting. The ham tasted all right (I never was a big fan of the pig meat even as a kid), but the raw diced onion was too strong, the Jell-O was overly sweet and, frankly, slimy, and the crunch from the celery was just discordant. I managed to chew and swallow one mouthful. To my surprise, Bryan ate two, declaring it to be not as bad as Molded Tomato Relish.
The final, and most difficult, challenge came when I fed the remainder (that is, most) of the Molded Ham and Egg Salad to the garbage disposal. When I started the original Project, I was hoping to avoid wasting food, and initially vowed to eat everything I made. Having actually gotten through some of these recipes, I know that’s not really reasonable, but I still feel shame for dumping edible, if nasty, food. A voice in my head started chiding me about starving children in Africa, amplified by more news reports this morning about the spread of ebola in west Africa. Then at lunch today, one of my Lab mates, just back from a research trip to India, was showing us pictures he’d taken of a waste picker (a boy who didn’t know how old he was; he looked twelve or thirteen), and pictures of men working in a low-tech waste treatment facility that led some of us to thinking that there can’t possibly be many worse jobs than that. I thought of that Molded Ham and Egg Salad and felt like a first-world heel.
At the back of my mind were the grumbles about the ice bucket challenge, and a topic in the reddit group /r/fitness in which a young man was proposing that the gym rats start their own challenge, a deadlift challenge raising money for another charity. It doesn’t look like they managed to hammer out details (a number of people rightly pointed out that such a challenge could lead a lot of people to hurt themselves) but I liked the concept, and after mulling over all of this, around mid-afternoon I hit upon the idea of making a charitable donation to make up for the waste of food – so that not only would I be amusing people by eating weird food, but also doing some material good.
So here’s the deal. Whenever I do a particularly nasty recipe, one that will inevitably end up down the garbage grinder. I will make and post a video, and make a donation to Action Against Hunger. (I’ve already done so in honor of Molded Ham and Egg Salad.) I invite you to be my cheerleading squad. There are upwards of 20 more scary-sounding recipes to be made, and if Molded Ham and Egg Salad is any indication, I’m going to need some moral support.
And here’s the video. Be nice, it’s only my second one ever.