No, not this Bubble:
Unlike Eddie Monsoon’s personal assistant, Melon Bubble is a deceptively simple-looking recipe, consisting mainly of melon balls suspended in Jell-O. I went into this expecting it to be a bit of a dawdle, but found it to be pleasantly involving.
First, I had to make the melon balls. I chose this “baby watermelon” partly on the basis of the possible visual impact of deep pink balls in lemon Jell-O, and partly because every goddamn fruit salad I order in a restaurant is half cantaloupe and honeydew chunks, so I’m tired of those melons – but largely because our summer weather hasn’t let up yet, and despite the drought I’m happy enough for summer to last as long as possible.
That was really the only discretion I had in the recipe. Otherwise, the Jell-O is prepared as usual, but with 1/4 cup of cold water replaced by 1/4 cup of Cointreau. I set aside 2/3 cup of the liquid Jell-O, thickened the remaining 1 1/3 cup, added the watermelon balls, put the Jell-O/balls in serving glasses, and popped the lot in the fridge. Then, the fun part – I thickened the 2/3 cup Jell-O a little bit, then went to town with my trusty Mixmaster Junior until it was thick and fluffy. The fluff went on top of the Jell-O/balls, et voila! Melon Bubble á la Freak Mountain.
I was happy with the way it turned out, visually, but Bryan (who is red/green colorblind) remarked that it looked as though some giant alien frogs had laid tadpole eggs in our dessert glasses. Ew.
Luckily, it takes more than that to put me off my food. For eating, Melon Bubble is pretty good. The Cointreau cuts the sweetness of the Jell-O and adds a nice complexity to the flavor of the dish – which didn’t really surprise me, since I’ve found that to be the case with other Jell-O recipes that include some sort of alcoholic beverage. Alcohol turns Jell-O into a grownup dessert, and the tart orange flavor of the Cointreau made the lemon Jell-O downright refreshing. The mild taste of the watermelon was a nice contrast here. The aftertaste is actually rather nice, as well.
I liked the Jell-O foam on top (the stuff fascinates me for some reason) but Bryan groused that it was “too stiff”. I think he was expecting it to have a more creamy texture, probably an expectation set by all the bavarians we’ve been having lately.
My only regret with this one is that I don’t have a glass serving dish, because I think this would have looked better in a large dish rather than in individual glasses. There’s another one coming up that would do well with a glass serving dish presentation, so maybe we’ll head up to the Cambridge Antique Market sometime soon…
This week, in Recipes for the Post-Apocalypse….
Just kidding. Kind of. You may notice in the photo that the two boxes of cherry Jell-O look different. The one in the back was pulled from my stash, and the one in front was purchased yesterday. I had never thought about the shelf-life of Jell-O before, so out of curiosity, I examined the older box, and discovered a use-by date: October 29, 2011.
Would it really be dangerous to use a packet of Jell-O five years after its ostensible expiry? I turned to Mr. Google. I was not the first person to have this question, and among the answers the consensus seems to be that powdered Jell-O can last indefinitely when stored in a cool, dry place. It isn’t so much that the contents go bad, but if the packaging breaks down and moisture gets in, mold can grow and make the gelatin unsafe to eat.
I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve been playing some of the games in the Fallout franchise. The game world is an alternate-history United States, many decades after a nuclear war with China that occurs in 2077. One of the tasks the player-character performs is collecting food that can be used to restore health points, and along with the meat of various creatures that the player has to kill in the Wasteland, there are a lot of 21st-century leftovers lying around, somehow still safe to eat (if slightly radioactive). So now I’m wondering – where’s all the Jell-O? If Nuka Cola, Cram (tinned meat) and potato crisps are still edible 200 years on, there should be some Jell-O (or maybe “Gel-Oh!”) out there for the scavenging.
Well, I’m better at making Jell-O than I am at playing those games (I enjoy them, but I suck at them, and I cheat a bit because I don’t want to have to die a million times to see how the stories go), so – Cherry Chiffon.
Armed with my new knowledge of the shelf-life of Jell-O, I opened the old packet, and recognized some clumping as a sign that moisture had gotten in. (Freak Mountain is barely climate-controlled.) Into the bin it went. Luckily, I’d bought a few new packages of the cherry flavor, because the recipe calls for two, one for each layer.
The first layer is just cherry Jell-O with canned dark sweet cherries (one 8.75-oz. can) suspended in it. It turned out that my options at the supermarket for canned cherries were limited to the brand and size I bought; at 15 ounces, I have some leftovers. I’m not sure what to do with them, because I don’t really care for canned cherries, much as I’ve never liked maraschino cherries. One interesting thing about being a grownup is that you develop the ability to, well, be a grownup about eating things that you don’t care for, as long as they’re in small quantities, but six ounces of canned cherries are more of a challenge.
I may attempt this recipe for Oreo Soup from one of my absolute favorite books, a sort of anthology/art/coffee table book called Junk Food. Stay tuned….
The second layer is a simple bavarian of cherry Jell-O and 4.5 ounces of Cool Whip. Since the smallest available container of Cool Whip is eight ounces, I have some of that left over, which is handy, because if I make the Oreo Soup, I can use the leftover Oreo wafers and Cool Whip for Almond Joy Creme Pie, which appears a couple of pages after Oreo Soup in Junk Food. It just never ends, does it?
Something I was really iffy about when making Cherry Chiffon was the order of the layering. It seemed to me a bad idea have the gelatin layer on top. In my experience, the bavarians tend to be softer and less dense than the straight gelatin, so not exactly the best base for a Jell-O mold. Still, I went ahead with the recipe per the instructions, figuring that if the bavarian layer collapsed under the weight of the gelatin layer, I’d at least get to bitch about it on the internet.
I went about unmolding the Cherry Chiffon expecting the worst. What I ended up with was – a perfectly firm Jell-O mold. The bavarian layer turned out much firmer than I’d expected. The layers even seemed to be adhering to each other. I had thought that even if the bavarian layer held up, the gelatin layer might slide off, a distinct possibility given how slant-wise the layers came out. (We live in a crooked little house; nothing at Freak Mountain is level.)
Cherry Chiffon is far from the worst Jell-O I’ve made so far, but I don’t exactly love it. The Pepto-pink color of the bavarian layer is off-putting, as is the cough-drop cherry flavor. The canned cherries aren’t all that bad, but taste-wise they’re overwhelmed by the artificial cherry flavor of the Jell-O, and their texture is kind of icky.
I wish I could say I won’t be making this again, but there’s a Strawberry Chiffon variant coming up later on in the calendar. At least there’s no such thing as canned strawberries.
It’s funny how often a simple Jell-O dish can raise sticky questions. Jellied Ginger Upper gave me a weird sort of deja vu. I couldn’t remember, or find any evidence of, having made this before, making the “reboot” status of this one a little shaky. At the same time, I remembered making a Jell-O recipe that included ginger ale. Was it this one? I did a little digging and found that, nope, it was Ginger Peach Dessert. I can’t imagine why I was confused.
So this is one of those simple ones, and I think it was the right one for this long holiday weekend. Apart from boiling water and a little lemon juice, the only ingredients are Jell-O (“any red flavor”), diced peaches or pears (canned or fresh), and ginger ale.
As you can see in the photo, I went for fresh pears. It turned out that one pear was enough for the recipe, so I had the other one for a snack. It’s hard to feel strongly about pears one way or another. They have such a light flavor that they often get used as filler with (or instead of) apples, but I guess sometimes you just want a bit of lightly sweet fiber in your diet. (Or Babycham.)
The ginger ale was another ingredient that might have been ripe for tinkering, had I not already done it with the Ginger Peach Dessert. I had assumed that ginger ale would have too mild a flavor, and substituted ginger beer. Normally Bryan and I really like ginger beer (the more gingery the better, preferably spicy enough to make us sneeze) but it turned out that it didn’t go well with Jell-O. Live and learn.
In this case, it turned out that ginger ale does go well with raspberry Jell-O. The flavor of the soda (or “tawnic”, as my mother-in-law would say) is subtle but recognizable. The mildness of the pears was a good fit, and anyway, peaches would have made it almost a repeat of Jellied Peach Melba. One interesting similarity that I noticed between Jellied Ginger Upper and Ginger Peach Dessert is a somewhat soft-set texture. The gelatin is firm enough to hold a molded shape, but the mouthfeel is softer than one might expect. I wonder if that has anything to do with the carbonation of the ginger ale, although since it gets added to the hot Jell-O liquid, I would think that the carbon dioxide would outgas quickly (and the mixture did get quite foamy as I slowly poured in the ginger ale) and not leave much in the way of bubbles to affect the texture of the set gelatin.
Possibly I need to do further research on this. It occurred to me that another direction to go with off-book gelatin dishes might be soda-flavored jellies, which could be fun, and it could be interesting to see whether it’s the carbonation affecting the texture. Stay tuned!
One final note: The recipe for Jellied Ginger Upper recommends garnishing with Frosted Fresh Grapes. To which I say, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; er, won’t get fooled again…
It seems like I’ve been spending a lot of time on Memory Lane lately. It might be a function of the Big Five-Oh looming in the not-too-distant future, or it may be because I’m working my way through A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression (which is an interesting, if not exactly uplifting, read), or it may be because I’ve been spending so much time listening to my Galaxy News Radio channel and thinking about the evolution of American popular music, but I feel like I’m looking back a lot – not wistfully, but trying to get a better sense of my place on the continuum. For a long time I’ve had this notion that life is a puzzle that makes more sense as you find and slot in the pieces, and the past is a good place to go looking for puzzle pieces.
Last Sunday morning I found this tweet in my timeline:
The person Steve Martin was retweeting has apparently just discovered Martin’s old standup material, which is great (oh, to be able to hear “King Tut” for the first time again!), but it looks like he jumped to the conclusion that because it’s new to him, it must have been forgotten by everyone else. Mentioning Martin in his tweet really put the icing on this faux pas. Maybe he thought he was doing him a favor.
Jay seems to lack a sense of himself in relation to history. Perhaps, like a lot of young people today, he thinks that the past is irrelevant to him because things have changed so much, so fast. It didn’t occur to him that there’s a generation or two before him who remember Steve Martin’s earlier work and consider it hugely influential, even (as many replies to his tweet noted) legendary – and who may be among Martin’s 7.7 million Twitter followers. In this internet age, it would have been easy enough to discover the foundation of Martin’s enduring success (which certainly doesn’t indicate an “underrated” early career), but Jay’s reference point was himself, and he mistakenly thought that was sufficient.
But enough of this “get off of my lawn” stuff…
Where was I? Oh, yes, Honey Pecan Bavarian. I don’t remember this one at all. In fact, the photo I uploaded initially turned out to be not Honey Pecan Bavarian, which I only realized after reading the recipe for reference.
Going by my notes, I was psyched to make this one because it contains “REAL CREAM”, which I can imagine would have seemed like a huge relief after recipes involving Cool Whip, Dream Whip, and mayonnaise. The Jell-O is strawberry flavor, which apparently goes well with honey, although in hindsight I am dubious. I indicated that the honey flavor “is pretty strong”, so I guess you have to like honey if you’re going to make this one.
A tip for anyone who decides to try to make this – the recipe says to “stir carefully” when adding the cream to the thickened gelatin; I found that beating the cream into the gelatin worked better. However, careful stirring is probably the way to go with the pecans. Pecans? Yes, though I remarked that “nuts still don’t belong in Jell-O”.
The pieces remained intact when I served them, which is always a good feature in a Jell-O mold. Bryan didn’t like the smell, and I concurred, noting that “it does smell a little like ass”. He couldn’t finish his portion, and couldn’t explain why (which may not mean that much, really), but I didn’t think it was that bad.
Still, I’m just as glad I didn’t have to make this again. I may have forgotten it, but at least I wasn’t doomed to repeat it.