I wasn’t planning to do a Halloween Jell-O project, but a week before the holiday, my friend K– tagged me in a Facebook post with a link to a video about making Jell-O “worms in dirt”:
It looked feasible, and like something that wouldn’t take a tremendous amount of time (the video is deceptively short) so I decided to attempt it over the weekend.
I got off to a bad start, believe it or not, trying to find drinking straws. Bryan and I went to Target first, because we had some other shopping to do and figured we could do it most efficiently there. I already had the Jell-O, unflavored gelatin, cream, and food coloring, so I only needed to get straws and Oreos for this recipe. Oreos were not a problem, but our local Target doesn’t appear to carry drinking straws. Well, no big deal, the Star Market is on the way home from Target, so we stopped there. We found straws, but not the standard straws you’d use to drink a root beer float or an egg cream. No, the only straws at the Star were meant for frozen drinks at parties, brightly colored and narrow. We couldn’t chase all over town for straws because at some point we had a Halloween party to get ready for, so we got a few boxes of the least narrow straws they had and returned to Freak Mountain.
Making the gelatin that was to become worms was easy, just a double batch of strawberry Jell-O with a packet of Knox unflavored gelatin, mixed with 3/4 cup heavy cream tinted with 15 drops of green food coloring. One thing I will say, the color was perfect – very wormlike.
The problem with this recipe is the mechanics of it. I started out splitting 100 straws between two drinking glasses, which looked like a reasonable setup. I bundled up the straws with twist ties, and started pouring the still-liquid gelatin into the first bundle. Perhaps not surprisingly to someone more science-minded than I am, the gelatin ran right out of the bottoms of the straws and began filling up the glass. As the gelatin got close to the top of the glass, I realized that the gelatin would overflow the glass well before the straws got anywhere near full.
I searched my kitchen for a taller vessel, and settled on an aluminum retro-style pitcher. It’s about as tall as the straws, but much wider than all 100 straws bundled together. At least the gelatin wouldn’t overflow it.
Now I had a new problem – the Jell-O was starting to set. By the time I was ready to pour it over the bundle of straws in the pitcher, it was becoming viscous and rather than flowing into the straws it was sliding over the top and down the sides of the bundle. I found myself patting thick gelatin into the tops of the straws, hoping it would flow down into them and stay there. I even scooped up handfuls of gelatin from the pitcher to pat into the tops of the straws. It was not pleasant. Finally, I decided I’d done all I could and put the pitcher in the fridge.
If, at that point, I thought the worst was over, I was wrong.
More than 24 hours later, I removed the pitcher from the refrigerator. The Jell-O had set up very firm, as it was supposed to. So firm that I couldn’t pull the straws out of the pool of gelatin that was surrounding them. I used a knife, and then a spoon, to remove as much of that gelatin as I could, throwing at least a regular-batch quantity of gelatin into the kitchen sink. After a while, I’d cleared out enough that I could start pulling out straws.
Another problem was that the jelly-coated straws were slippery and hard to grip. As I started extruding jelly from the straws, I found that it was difficult and frustrating to do it with just my hands. I hit upon the solution of holding the tops of the straws in my teeth, which worked pretty well except for a bit of drooling. It took me about 45 minutes to extrude the Jell-O that was in the straws, and this is what I ended up with:
Let’s review. I made 3 3/4 cups of Jell-O, and the photo above shows the quantity of not-very-wormlike worms I got out of it, maybe a half-cup altogether. The level of Jell-O in the straws was lower than the level of the Jell-O surrounding the straws in the pitcher. The short worms I got out of the straws weren’t even smooth and nice like the ones in the video. That half-cup of set Jell-O looked more like ground beef than worms.
I’m guessing that I needed a container as tall as the straws and just wide enough to hold all 100 of them in a tight bundle. Even then, I think the volume of that arrangement would have been less than the volume of Jell-O I’d prepared. Wider straws would almost certainly have been better. I should have spent more time finding better straws, calculated the volume I’d need a container to be, and then gone looking for a container with just the proper proportions to get this to come out right. Really. Who has time for that?
I decided that this was perhaps the stupidest Jell-O project I’ve done so far, giving even Frosted Fresh Grapes a run for its money. When I was making it, it occurred to me that this is a recipe that has “stay-at-home mom” written all over it, because who else would take the time to fool around one-by-one with 100+ drinking straws. I now suspect that this recipe is a hoax put out on the internet to make stay-at-home moms feel inadequate. Somebody should be ashamed of themselves.
But, as Bryan pointed out, whatever happened we still had that package of Oreos…
Black Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert had a major strike against it at the outset – black raspberry flavored Jell-O no longer exists. There was none on the supermarket shelf, and when I looked it up on the Kraft Foods website, I discovered that it’s no longer among the available flavors. (I don’t remember this being a problem when I made it in 2009.) So the recipe is called Black Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert, but now it’s just Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert, which isn’t quite the same thing.
Since the required Jell-O flavor is unavailable, all bets were off with regard to the other ingredients: water, sherry, and vanilla ice cream. We don’t keep sherry around, because I’m not fond of fortified wines. That may be because of an experience I had early in my drinking career, when some well-meaning legal-drinking-age person bought me a bottle of tawny port, on which I got very drunk and subsequently very sick.
Still, I do like how alcohol can enhance the flavor of Jell-O, so I decided to substitute a less-sweet wine. I thought I’d try for a full-bodied red wine, since I was losing some depth of flavor with red raspberry Jell-O, and I had a little glimmer of inspiration from a pleasant memory of life in Brooklyn. Several blocks from us in Park Slope there was a café called the Chocolate Room that did wine pairings with desserts, and they had a nice raspberry wine that went well with chocolate cake. I thought if I could find a raspberry wine here, it might work well with this Jell-O dish, so I went to our local hipster liquor store*, only to be thwarted once again.
I had to turn to my miniscule wine stash, hoping I had a red that wasn’t “corked“, or vinegar. Luckily, I had a Beringer 2006 merlot that’s held up well, so I used that in the recipe instead of sherry. There was a brief moment of panic when I noticed that the raspberry Jell-O and merlot combination smelled rather like a household cleaner, but that aroma dissipated eventually.
If you’re a regular reader of NJoJ, you might have already guessed that this is an ice-cream-based bavarian, and all there is to it is preparing the Jell-O as directed, substituting a quarter-cup wine for a quarter-cup of cold water. A pint of vanilla ice cream (I went with an old favorite, Ben & Jerry’s) is gradually melted into the liquid gelatin, and it gets chilled until firm. That’s it – hence its inclusion in the chapter titled “Nice Easy Things to Do with Jell-O”.
I served my Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert with fresh blackberries, and it was okay. The wine flavor was a subtle and sneaky thing, and it didn’t blend well with the gelatin and ice cream flavors, but it wasn’t unpleasant. Otherwise, this was quite sweet. Also, the texture was very soft. I think this would be particularly good to have while recovering from dental surgery.
* Funny story: One time Bryan and I were at City Liquors when a bro came in and asked one of the store employees if they had “pong balls”. “You know, the balls you play beer pong with?” The employee was bemused by the question. They carry a good selection of wines and a large assortment of craft beers; it’s definitely not a “pong ball” kind of place.
Well, here we are back on the increasingly cracked and weedy Memory Lane. I have no recollection of this one whatsoever, which is hardly surprising considering that I made it almost seven years ago. So much water under the bridge, and, to be honest, there’s so much going on in the here-and-now that my brain doesn’t have a lot of room for nostalgia these days.
So I’m working off of my old notes, which seem so uninformative now.
This is one of those not-awful savory recipes, vegetables suspended in Jell-O instead of fruit. It’s seasoned with vinegar, salt and pepper, and I’m guessing that the amounts were adequate to counteract the sweetness of the Jell-O, because I didn’t remark that it was too sweet – though I did note that it “[wasn’t] Molded Tomato Relish, but definitely a WTF kind of thing”, so maybe it was still early enough in the Project that I didn’t quite know how to approach the savory ones.
The vegetables involved are onion (grated), cauliflower, and pimento, and it looks like this one is another where I made the mistake of asking Bryan to pick up ingredients for me. Like a lot of people our age, he only knew of pimentos as the red things that sometimes appear stuffed into green olives, and he didn’t realize that you could buy them on their own in jars, so he bought me a red bell pepper instead, and that’s what I ended up using. Appearance-wise, that was probably close enough, but I bet that using pickled pimentos would have helped to further mask the sweetness of the Jell-O. As with Garden Soufflé Salad, I found the cauliflower to have an odd texture in the gelatin, and it tasted weird, too. I thought this dish would be better with celery Jell-O.
The recipe suggests serving this with mayonnaise or French dressing if desired. No, I do not desire.
One thing I did like about Sequin Salad was the appearance, which is so often Jell-O’s strong suit. However, it did not look appetizing to Bryan, who saw it as primarily “pale beige” because he’s red-green colorblind. I’ve known this about him for almost as long as I’ve known him, and with image-filtering technology I can get some idea of how the world looks to him. I suspect that the filtered image here is more yellow-brown than it would look to Bryan. He can actually see some red, although he tends to have trouble with the Pepto-pinks (so Jell-Os like Cherry Chiffon probably don’t look that great, either) and depending on the brightness, greens appear to him as yellow, orange, or brown. When he was a kid, he was confused by the expression “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” because all the grass looked orange to him.
I guess I should be a little fairer to Bryan, considering that he’s getting even less enjoyment from the Jell-O than I am. Then again, this was his idea, so – nah…
Originally posted October 25, 2009
I know, it’s been a few days since I last posted. A couple of months in, maybe I’m getting a little blog burnout. The Jell-O recipes are a little repetitive, and people keep asking me, “Why are you doing that?”
And there’s no good answer to that question. It’s a silly way to be an attention whore, is the honest answer. I started out with some lofty ideals, inspired by Michael Pollan and Morgan Spurlock. This was going to be a sort of running commentary about the terrible state of the typical American diet, dominated as it is by industrial food. Then I didn’t have the heart for self-righteous pontificating, and I decided that everyone else has been way too earnest about this stuff lately (like this guy) so really the Project was more of a nonsensical exercise in absurdism (somewhat in the vein of the Cacophony Society or the comedy of the Firesign Theatre). But I’m afraid that I’m just not that clever.
You know what, though – it is kind of fun. Sometimes it’s positively hilarious. People find it strange and interesting when I tell them about my Project. (If only more of them would read it!) I’m finding that food – eating, cooking, even just talking about it – has a way of connecting people. It’s a small but terribly important point, and I think that’s really why I’m staying committed to the Project.
Apart from all this self-pitying stuff, I’ve had a temporary shift in focus as Halloween approaches. I seem to have discovered that I rather enjoy playing dress-up, so I’ve spent a certain amount of time putting together the elements of my costume. It is kind of Jell-O related, so be sure to tune in on November 1, when I should be posting photos of my Halloween Jell-O Mini-Project.
So, on to the Jell-O….
Layered Bavarian sounds much more elaborate than it really is. It’s two layers, a plain Jell-O layer and a Jell-O and vanilla ice cream layer (basically the same as Black Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert). Since the recipe allows for the use of any flavor, I went for strawberry. It was okay. I liked the contrasting textures in this dish, and strawberries and cream is always a good combination. However, there’s just no getting around the fact that a red flavor mixed with cream makes for a creepy-colored dessert. Also, I think this would have been better with real strawberries incorporated into it.
I’m starting to understand how recipes like Florida Seacoast Salad came about. The General Foods R&D drones got bored.
I hate to sound like I’m trying to make excuses, so please be assured that I’m telling you this by way of explanation. I’m suffering from election fever, and not in a good way. I’ve been spending more and more time paying attention to the U.S. presidential campaign, partly because I plan to vote for Clinton and I’m looking for positive reasons to do that, and partly because I don’t just want to see Trump lose the election, I want to see him crash and burn, and I want a front-row seat when that happens. (I generally try not to get too political here, but I trust no one who’s been following NJoJ is surprised by this.) In practical terms, this means that I’ve been slacking in other areas, like blogging, gym-ing, and sleeping.
Even so, I feel like the there’s some serendipity in the way the timing has worked out on this, because just in time for Indigenous Peoples Day (as it’s now officially known here in Nerdvana) I get to crap all over Italian cuisine with a little dish called Antipasto Salad.
Antipasto Salad is a savory Jell-O recipe with an unlikely assortment of ingredients, including salami, Swiss cheese, celery, raw onion, and olives. That big jug of vinegar you see in the photo is something I normally use when I’m washing a load of dishtowels to wash out that kitchen funk, but every once in a great while it gets pressed into service to mask the sweetness of Jell-O. Or to try, at least.
I made one serious mistake in preparing this, which was to ask Bryan to pick up the ingredients for me. After a cursory reading of the recipe, he bought sliced salami and sliced Swiss cheese, and decided that the six-week-old leftover celery from Garden Soufflé Salad would be okay to use in this recipe. (Rest assured, this has since been discarded.) I had him get me some fresh celery, but decided just to work with the sliced meat and cheese.
(So we’re clear, I don’t find strategic incompetence endearing. I understand that sometimes it’s necessary to manage expectations, but perhaps it’s also best not to allow expectations to get too low…)
You might recall that Bryan and I keep a mostly vegetarian diet (we also eat fish), so I hadn’t eaten salami in possibly more than 30 years. Maybe it was the brand that Bryan picked out, but when I tried it, I though to myself, “I’m ‘cheating’ for this?” I found it bland, and fatty. Maybe a good spicy Italian salami would have tasted better, but Bryan (rightly, I think) judged that it wouldn’t be worth using something like that in a Jell-O dish.
Since I couldn’t really “finely cut” the sliced meat and cheese, I cut it into strips, figuring that I’d get the Jell-O nice and thick before adding the solid ingredients so that they wouldn’t just float to the top. The choice to buy a small quantity of olives from the salad bar was smart (because neither of us particularly likes olives), but I have to gripe a little, because slicing them was a pain in the neck. As I’ve done with past savory Jell-O salads, I prepared more of the solid ingredients than indicated in the recipe, trying for a more appetizing proportion of solids to jelly. Once again, I eschewed the ice cube quick-thickening method in favor of an ice water bath, and when the Jell-O was thick enough, I stirred in the other ingredients, put the lot in a decorative glass bowl, and put it in the fridge to firm up.
Well, as it turns out, I picked the wrong recipe to spare you all from the guilt of not watching another of my cringe-worthy videos. Finally, I’d hit upon one that was truly foul. It didn’t even look nice, and it smelled bad. When I got it out to taste it, Bryan ran upstairs to hide.
It tasted pretty bad, too. Despite the vinegar, the Jell-O was too sweet, and even though I’d added more meat, cheese and veggies, the solids-to-jelly ratio was still too low. Again I found myself wishing that I’d at least sautéed the onions a little in butter, because raw onions in Jell-O are just nasty.
Since I was bailing on doing the video, I decided to take some pictures instead. Here’s my reaction to Antipasto Salad in a series of photos:
Sure, I can dish it out…
But can I take it?
What is it I’m tasting here?
This salami is not good…
Whoops, there’s the onion…
It just gets worse the more I chew…
Why do I do this to myself?
I hope somebody appreciates this…
When Bryan ventured back downstairs, I made him try a bite. His opinion of the dish was expressed mainly in a series of short grunts.
We weren’t even able to finish off a small portion between the two of us. Most of this became garbage disposal food. A donation is being made to Action Against Hunger. I am truly sorry for this one.
So I’ve been undergoing that exercise in masochism otherwise known as trying to stay informed and engaged in the U.S. electoral process. In practice, all that means is that I’m letting myself get more anxious than necessary and falling behind in some more enjoyable and less stressful pursuits. Here’s me trying to get caught up.
As I hinted at in Cherry Chiffon, for my pre-savory “free week”, I decided to try out a couple of recipes from Junk Food. This is a book that defies description. It was published in 1980, and is a collection of photos, essays and artwork that characterize American food from the Great Depression through the 1970s. Bryan picked it up in the mid-1980s, and I read it a lot while we were living in Fandom House. When Bryan and I split up, I missed this book so much that he tracked down another copy for me. Now that we’re back together, we can’t bring ourselves to part with either copy, which is a shame for all of you out there, because the chances of this book getting reprinted are less than nil. Acquiring the rights for all the disparate items in the book would be (and was, back in the day) a publishing nightmare.
There are so many great pieces of writing, from “The 24-Hour Breakfast” by Robin Green (in which the author eats breakfast in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Tijuana, and Disneyland in one 24-hour span and then, like, writes about it), to “A Mac with the Colonel” by Ira Simmons (in which the real Colonel Sanders critiques McDonald’s food), to “The Glutton’s Guide to Eating Out” by Paul Zimmerman (a sort of instructional treatise on all-you-can-eat buffets). There’s one piece, “Real and Delicious Junk Food Recipes You’ll Save and Enjoy” by Salvatore Boroso and John Farago, that we always found amusing, but we never quite had the nerve or motivation to try any of the recipes – until a couple of weeks ago.
Wanting to get the leftover cherries over and done with, I started with the Oreo Soup. My first task was to scrape the “stuf” out of a package of Double Stuf Oreos. I set the Pandora app to play my Galaxy News Radio channel, and while I listened to old jazz, early R&B, and American standards, I methodically separated the stuf from the chocolate wafers. It was a pleasantly meditative exercise, and I swear I felt thoroughly blissed out by the time I was done. I highly recommend this activity as a way to de-stress – but maybe not too often…
The stuf got whizzed in the Cuisinart, and rather than the “maelstrom” mentioned in the recipe, it seemed to quickly get flung out to the sides of the beaker and to just cling there out of reach of the blades. I wonder if that’s because Oreo filling is no longer made with lard, as it would have been when this recipe was created. Anyway. I added the sour cream, which blended with and thinned the stuf so quickly that I was sparing with the cherry juice. It didn’t seem to take much to get the mixture to the consistency of heavy cream, but the color was still very pale. Oh well.
The recipe just says to add the drained cherries to the soup; it doesn’t specify leaving them whole or processing them into the soup, so I decided to just go ahead and purée them. I think that was the right call.
I forgot to add the sprinkle of cinnamon on top. Oh well. Oreo Soup wasn’t bad, but the flavor and texture of the stuf really dominated, and again I wondered if the lard-free composition of modern stuf isn’t at least partly to blame here. I think in the future if I ever feel the need to separate a package of Oreos into its component parts, I’ll find a different excuse.
Now that I had a bowl of chocolate wafers, I could move on to Almond Joy Creme Pie. The cookies are the main ingredient of the simple crumb crust; the addition of melted butter and several minutes in a hot oven got that step out of the way.
There are a few different parts to the filling in Almond Joy Creme Pie. One is instant chocolate pudding made with chocolate milk (in our “of Jewish heritage” household, via Fox’s U-Bet) and chocolate liqueur. Another is Almond Joys with the almonds removed that are then puréed in the food processor and thinned with a non-specific quantity of chocolate liqueur. The last is Cool Whip (leftover from Cherry Chiffon in this case).
The filling ingredients get folded together and placed in the chocolate wafer crust. The almonds from the candy bars were supposed to be saved for garnish, but I didn’t think they looked very decorative so I ground them into the Almond Joy purée and used slivered almonds for garnish instead. The pie then sits in the fridge for several hours to firm up.
The recipe calls for an 8-inch pie plate, but I used a 9-inch plate, and a smaller one would have been too small, so I really lucked out there.
After a full day of chilling, the pie was firm enough to hold a slice, but just barely. I suspect that the culprit is the chocolate liqueur, which I ended up using rather liberally in the Almond Joy purée. Bryan didn’t think the alcohol was very noticeable, but I did. In fact, Bryan really liked this one, and over the four evenings it took us to consume the whole pie, he was always eager for dessert (which is seldom the case when we’re working through a Jell-O recipe).
With the first slice of Almond Joy Creme Pie, it hit me – this is stoner food. Now, I’m not going to lie and say I never inhaled, but my experience with marijuana is limited to a few attempts, years apart, when I was much younger, and I don’t think I’ve ever really been stoned. Nevertheless, I can imagine having the munchies and devouring this pie.
I was originally going to make this post all about marijuana and junk food, figuring that there had to be a clear connection between these things. I did some research, and found that, despite the stereotype of stoners inhaling Doritos or Taco Bell, when people get stoned and get the munchies, they’ll eat pretty much whatever is on hand – so if there’s junk food in the cupboard they’ll eat junk food, but if there’s more healthful food around, they’ll eat that. I found a number of different lists of “the most epic foods to eat when you’re baked”, and they were all quite different.
(No one is saying to eat Jell-O when you’re stoned, though I can image that might fun…)
Apparently food manufacturers are getting bolder about marketing to stoners. For example, the ads suggesting Taco Bell is good “late night” food are aimed at people who might be “partying”. Other ads featuring people acting like doofuses (like recent Burger King and Sonic campaigns) are thought to be depicting stoners. The expectation is that as more states legalize marijuana (as Massachusetts is, I hope, about to do) companies will be increasingly open about selling to this market. Already there’s a weed-themed sub chain, Cheba Hut, out west. However, Screaming Yellow Zonkers aside, there isn’t much junk food being produced specifically for stoners.
Still, given when the book Junk Food was produced, it would not surprise me if recipes like Oreo Soup and Almond Joy Creme Pie (as well as others like Milky Way Mousse and Crepes Jambon Drunken Mammy) were intended to be enjoyed by people under the influence. With a little over five weeks until the election, I understand the impulse.