Virgin Recipe: Brandied Cherry Ring
Hello. My name is Terra, and I’m a procrastinator.
It’s a problem I’ve had as long as I can remember. I was one of those kids who’d wait until after supper to start on a school project that was due the next day. I still remember one horrible night when I was in fourth grade, when I was supposed to make a dish that represented my ethnic heritage to bring to school and share with my classmates. Since I’m several generations away from my immigrant ancestors, the only thing my mother could think of was petit-fours as a nod to my French ancestry, and she left me to try to make some from scratch from a recipe. I’d never made cake or frosting from scratch before, so I was up ridiculously late for a ten-year-old. I was exhausted the next day at school, and the petit-fours turned out awful. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after that, but there were late-night paper-writing sessions and study all-nighters right through my school years.
Brandied Cherry Ring brought out all the old procrastinating instincts. Sometimes I procrastinate because I have a bit of a perfectionist streak. Sometimes I procrastinate because I dread doing something. This was mostly the latter case. Mainly it was the cherries; as regular readers of NJoJ may recall, I don’t really like cherries. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the brandy, either. We only keep it around for cooking; I never drink the stuff.
This recipe bears an uncanny resemblance to Cherry Chiffon, except that the liquid from the canned cherries goes into the Jell-O, and instead of Cool Whip the creamy part of the bavarian layer is Dream Whip. Then, of course, there’s the brandy. There isn’t a lot of it in the recipe, just a third of a cup that gets “heated” and poured over the cherries, which then sit for “about 30 minutes”. Something about the smell of the brandy was disturbing. It was less a “Proustian memory” and more of what’s commonly referred to these days as a “trigger”-
[ ] …
And I’m back. I just went to YouTube to put on a Fallout playlist because Pandora keeps stopping dead in the middle of a song, and I got sidetracked catching up on Jenna Marbles, and then I decided to treat myself to a viewing of the Mint Royale “Blue Song” video, but I’m finally back, swinging along to “Jingle Jangle Jingle” and hopefully ready to carry on with the Jell-O.
After soaking the cherries, the brandy/cherry liquid gets added to the watered-down canned cherry juice. The end result is about one and two-thirds cups room-temperature liquid, which gets added to a double batch of hot cherry Jell-O. This, I think, is where the recipe kind of goes wrong, making a double batch instead of two single batches. The recipe says to thicken the Jell-O, add the cherries to half of it, put the Jell-O/cherry mixture in a six-cup ring mold, and chill it until set but not firm. I put the Jell-O/cherry mixture in the mold in the fridge, but meanwhile I had the other half of the Jell-O still thickening over an ice-water bath that I had to work with before it got too much thicker. I added half a prepared batch of Dream Whip to that, and thickened it some more over the bath to kill some time, until it got quite viscous and I knew I had to add it to the mold whether the cherry layer was firm or not.
Well, the cherry layer wasn’t, quite, as you can see in the photo. It looks like the cherries stopped the bavarian layer from sinking all the way to the bottom of the mold. I think it would have come out more neatly if I’d made the layers as separate batches, which is how Cherry Chiffon was done.
I do like the added depth of color from the cherry juice, and the slight blending of the layers looks cool. Since I had an extra cup of Dream Whip, I took the opportunity to practice my piping-bag skill. The decoration makes this mold look kind of like a crown, but while I was doing this there was a faint aroma of “cheap dive bar” coming off of the mold that contrasted weirdly with the look of the thing.
When Bryan and I finally got around to tasting this after dinner, it proved to be not as bad as I was expecting. The texture of the canned cherries was unfortunate, as always, but the flavor wasn’t too bad. The brandy was almost undetectable, except that it was there in the cherries like a hazy, distant memory.
Bryan’s assessment: “Meh.”
Virgin Recipe: Parfait Pie
Where to start with this one? Where to start?
Actually, for eating Parfait Pie is not bad at all, but I was scratching my head over the name. I’d always thought that a parfait dessert is one that’s layered.
Wikipedia to the rescue! It turns out that the layered parfait is an American dessert. In France, a parfait (or “perfect”) is a sort of frozen custard. I’m going to be generous and assume that it’s the latter dessert that’s being alluded to in the name “Parfait Pie”.
So, with that settled, Parfait Pie is simply Jell-O (a three-ounce packet dissolved in 1.25 cup boiling water, not cooled with additional cold water) mixed with a pint of vanilla ice cream, set in a pie shell, and decorated with Dream Whip. I deviated a little from the recipe in using a chocolate cookie crumb crust instead of a plain pie shell, just because I thought it would make for a nicer pie. (It did.) I’ve been having kind of a rough time lately, and I need all the help I can get.
In case anyone wants to try to make this, I can definitely recommend using a small, round ice cream scoop and gradually adding the ice cream to the hot Jell-O liquid. The liquid will cool off quickly, making it harder to get the ice cream to melt, but the small scoops melt well with maybe a little mashing towards the end. The recipe says to put the still-liquid Jell-O and ice cream mixture into the pie crust, but I decided to thicken it over an ice-water bath so I could heap it into the pie plate if I needed to. As it turned out, it fit perfectly into a nine-inch pie plate with a crumb crust made with roughly three-quarters of a package of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers and a quarter cup of melted butter. (If I were doing it again, I’d use more butter, but this sort of worked.) The pie filling took a while to thicken, and I was a little concerned about how firm it would be when it was set, but I’ve been able to get proper slices out of it – it’s firm, but only just.
The other mildly puzzling thing is that the recipe calls for a garnish done with one cup of Dream Whip. Dream Whip comes in packets that make up about two cups of whipped topping. That means you’re supposed to make a batch of Dream Whip and use half of it – and do what with the other half? I decided to just use the whole thing to garnish the pie, but found that I had (surprise, surprise) about half of the batch left over in my piping bag. I served the Parfait Pie with extra dollops of Dream Whip on the side. Bryan claims to prefer Dream Whip to Cool Whip, but I’m not sure that that means he actually likes it.
The recipe says to use either orange, strawberry or raspberry Jell-O. I let Bryan pick, and he chose raspberry. (I think I would have preferred strawberry, to be honest).
Orange was, of course, right out. Strictly speaking, I don’t need to do this since I’ve successfully avoided using orange Jell-O for this recipe, but I think that in honor of Presidents Day, I’m going to make donations to Planned Parenthood and the International Rescue Committee. This has been a weekend of “resisting” as well as making Jell-O. Yesterday Bryan and I “stood up for science” at a demonstration in Boston that was organized to coincide with the AAAS annual meeting. I’m kind of a “geek groupie”, and I make my living supporting science, so this was the place to be on Sunday.
Memory Lane: Pastel Dessert
It’s been one of those days. We’re having our second (or are we now on the third?) snowstorm in less than a week. This after an exceptionally mild and mostly snow-free winter, so it seems churlish to feel oppressed by this, but from about 10:00 this morning, every time I’ve looked out the windows I’ve seen snow falling. It’s been a winter’s worth in a few days. So much for the hope that we might be spared dealing with ice dams this year.
February is the time of year when I most keenly regret moving from the San Francisco Bay Area, where I lived for about two and a half years, back to the northeast. In San Francisco, after a brief, rainy winter made endurable by the many evergreens and palm trees, springtime begins to emerge in February as though it never really ended. In that temperate climate, you don’t get the barren branches and brown grasses of a new England winter. Here in the northeast, the leaves have mostly fallen by Halloween, and when it starts snowing in November or December it feels like a mercy because you’re still willing to believe that everything is prettier under that blanket of white. By February, it’s just cold and wet, and a nuisance to walk or drive through.
On the other hand, I just got an email from MIT announcing that the Institute is closed tomorrow. That’s two snow days in less than a week. So there’s that.
Anyway. Pastel Dessert. It sounds dull, and mostly it was, but I vaguely remember it because it turned into kind of a goof.
The recipe is pretty simple, starting with Jell-O vanilla pudding mix, the kind you cook rather than the instant kind. It’s cooked together with a packet of Jell-O, any flavor – “Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a full boil and is thickened and clear.” That’s right, thickened and clear, and according to my notes, it looked as weird as that sounds. Then it’s chilled until it’s, er, more thickened, I guess, and mixed together with a prepared packet of Dream Whip.
Now, the goofy thing is, I made this around Chanukah, so I thought it’d be nice if I made this with the Berry Blue flavor so I’d have blue Pastel Dessert. As you might be able to see in the photo, I failed to account for yellow dye in the pudding mix, and I ended up with a dessert that was a not-unpleasant pistachio green. It looks rather festive with its Dream Whip garnish and bright red maraschino cherries on top.
Unfortunately, it had an odd flavor and texture. Berry Blue is a good flavor for visual effects, but it doesn’t taste all that good. I probably would have done better with a red flavor. Live and learn…
Virgin Recipe: Banana Nut Ring with Ginger Topping
At last, I get to do an Orange Boycott post! (After the last couple of weeks, I was really looking forward to this.) As you can sort of tell in the photo from the book, Banana Nut Ring calls for orange Jell-O. I substituted Island Pineapple flavor, which I think tastes better anyway.
This recipe is a two-parter. First, there’s the ring mold, which is simply Jell-O with banana slices and chopped pecans stirred into it once it’s thickened up. There are a couple of issues with this.
The first, as I’ve noted in Mardi Gras Mold and Honey Pecan Bavarian, is that nuts in Jell-O are just weird. Those are two textures that do not go well together. Luckily, I like pecans, so this one wasn’t nasty on top of being weird.
The second is the bananas. I had to try not to be too annoyed, because it’s just “banana nature”, but the slices would stick together (which I had discovered with Peach-Banana Dessert but I guess it didn’t bug me as much then). You would think that once you add banana slices to a bowl of thickened Jell-O, the Jell-O will act as a coating or lubricant to keep the slices separate, but as much as I stirred and tried to separate them, the slices kept clumping up. It’s best to look upon this as an exercise in patience.
Anyway, I whipped up the Jell-O ring and chilled it overnight. Upon unmolding it, I discovered one small drawback to using the Island Pineapple flavor – the mold was a very odd color, I think rather like how Bryan sees green things because of his colorblindness. On the other hand, the peculiar yellow-brown hues reminded me of color palettes that were popular in the 1970s, so that was kind of a happy accident. Okay, not so much happy, but appropriate.
The second part of the recipe is the “Ginger Topping”, a bit of a misnomer because it’s pretty thick, and it gets piled into the center of the ring mold rather than spread on top of it. This is just a batch of Dream Whip with crushed pineapple and slivered candied ginger folded into it. Tasting it, I decided that the Ginger Topping is a bit of all right. Because of the fairly strong vanilla flavor of the Dream Whip, it reminded me of pineapple upside-down cake, which I haven’t had since I was a kid, but I may have to make it sometime soon, even if I have to use a store-bought cake mix to do it. Also, it reminded me of ambrosia salad a bit, plus I dig candied ginger (I was noshing on it while cutting up what I needed for the recipe), so what’s not to like?
The finished product was straight outta the 1970s, and I was pleased. The photo looks strange, but I swear that was the actual color of the thing. It was like someone had sent it over in a customized DeLorean, express delivery from 1974.
For eating, this was surprisingly good. Yes, I’m saying “good”. For once, the flavors blended together nicely in a tropical (that is, southern United States) mélange. With the topping, it was easy enough to overlook the peculiar textural note of the pecan chunks in the Jell-O. The flavor of pineapple was predominant, but the pecans, bananas, and Dream Whip were assertive enough. I would have liked more ginger flavor, though; rather than trying to sliver the slices of crystallized ginger, I should have chopped them up fine so that they’d be more thoroughly distributed throughout the topping.
The main drawback to this recipe was that it was relatively straighforward and quick to make, and while preparing it and listening to music took me to my happy place for a while, I didn’t get to spend enough time there.
On the positive side, once I hit “publish” on this one, I’ll be all caught up with my editorial calendar, and that’s one less thing to feel crappy about. Woo hoo!
Recipe Reboot: Chiffon Marble
It’s just as well that Chiffon Marble is a reboot, because I honestly have no recollection of having made it, ever. That’s not surprising, because it’s one of the simpler recipes in the book, in the “Nice Easy Things to Do with Jell-O” chapter.
The timing on this wasn’t great. I made it last weekend, while spontaneous protests were springing up in airports around the country in response to the executive order banning people from seven Middle Eastern and north African countries from traveling to the U.S. I was with them in spirit, after having spent the latter part of the week lending a sympathetic ear to the foreign nationals in the lab (including one individual from one of the named countries) who are anxious about the order, and increasingly disappointed in the U.S. It’s touching to know that they share our ideals and that they see this country as a source of inspiration as well as opportunity, which makes it that much harder to see how we’re letting them down.
So it would have been nice to get stuck into one of the more elaborate Jell-O creations, something to take my mind off of things for a little while. Instead, what popped up on the editorial calendar was Chiffon Marble, which contains a grand total of four ingredients – and that’s including boiling water and ice cubes. Still, it felt good to crank up my Galaxy News Radio station on Pandora (which I couldn’t access in London) and do a little “cooking”.
One mildly interesting thing is that this recipe calls for the Jell-O to be quick-thickened with ice cubes, so I went ahead and did that, and it worked – so I guess the kitchen was just chilly enough. (Great.) After the Jell-O was thickened, I set aside 3/4 of a cup of it and folded about a cup (half of a prepared envelope) of Dream Whip into the remainder. The idea, then, was that the bavarian part and the plain Jell-O part should be layered and then swirled around a bit with a knife to a achieve a marbled effect. It sounds fine in theory, but it turned out that the plain Jell-O was denser than the bavarian part, so it just sank into the middle of the bavarian. Swirling didn’t seem to help much. Clearly there was some sort of trickery involved in the photo from the book, because this is how mine turned out:
On the plus side, there was leftover Dream Whip for garnish, and lime is one of the nicer flavors of Jell-O, so it wasn’t hard to eat it all.
I have to say, too, that making Jell-O is not such a terrible coping strategy…
Memory Lane: Pastel Candied Fruit Peel
Okay, my bad. This should have been posted a few weeks ago. I started a draft early, thinking that when the day came I’d be able to hit “publish”, tweet out the URL, and I’d be all set. I never finished the draft, though, because I got seriously derailed by an office move, the holidays, and…
I spent the first couple of weeks of 2017 in London, England in observance of my 50th birthday – because, as I came to realize, staying home in Cambridge just would not have been appropriately grim. The trip was a real mixed bag. The weather was kind of awful, as is traditional in London in January, but not so awful that we were sorry we missed a snowstorm and frigid temperatures back home. We stayed in Whitechapel and enjoyed exploring London’s East End and beyond, seeking out historic sites and good food, but spending the bulk of each day wearing my coat made me feel like an exile. We walked around a lot, enough that I found it tiring, but the flat where we were staying felt close and dreary, and Bryan went out for walks after I was done for the day because he wanted to spend as little time there as possible. The trip ended in a dispute with the owner of the flat over the towels, which had inexplicably discolored in the course of normal use and cost us an extra £50 and any positive feelings we might have had for the place.
We got home late on the night of January 16, and I’ve been catching up on a bunch of things – work, the DVR, the news, sleep – since then. Actually, I haven’t had to spend much time catching up on the news, because I had my iPad with me and access to social media, so I got to hear all about then-PEOTUS’s peccadilloes in the run-up to the inauguration. It was on my birthday that the intelligence reports with “salacious details” hit the news, and far too often that big orange face was on the front pages of the newspapers we saw people reading while riding the tube. This did not exactly fill me with pride as an American.
Inauguration day ended up being sadder than I’d expected, not as bad as the day after the election, but still a rough day. I couldn’t stomach watching the ceremony or our new POTUS’s address, but I read a transcript of the address. It really was dark. Someone should have yelled out “Lighten up, Francis!” at some point, because the whole thing was a total drag for just about everyone except Trump, who was clearly meant to be the hero of the piece. Sad.
Casting about for mitigating humor, I enjoyed the silliness of that obviously staged photo he tweeted with the claim that it showed him writing his inauguration speech. What tipped me off to the sheer bogosity of the thing: nobody gets stuck into a heavy writing job in formal business wear. Someone could at least have told him to take off his jacket and roll up his shirtsleeves. I myself typically write in pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt. Maybe if he’d written the speech in, say, silk pajamas, it wouldn’t have been so grim. (*wink* Yes, I know he didn’t actually write it himself.)
Then I was briefly cheered by attending the Boston Women’s March the day after the inauguration. As we know now, attendance was far larger than organizers had anticipated, and strains on Boston’s public transit system made it challenging to get together with the people we were supposed to be meeting, but that was a good problem to have. I was proud to be part of what turned out to be a truly “yuge” worldwide protest, and heartened and humbled by, and deeply grateful for, all the support we had from outside the U.S.
We’d barely had time to catch our breath when our rickety car headed down the next long, steep slope on the political roller-coaster. It’s been such a long couple of weeks since the inauguration. MIT is one place that I would guess has been disproportionately affected by the immigration ban, and even my colleagues who aren’t from the seven named countries are feeling anxious. I’ve never been so deeply ashamed of the government that purports to represent me. It’s not a good feeling.
So it’s been a little difficult to focus on Jell-O lately. It seems so trivial – but I know that staying focused on current events can only lead to burnout. We all need a break once in a while.
I remember Pastel Candied Fruit Peel relatively well, probably because the candy recipes are more interesting to make. I kind of wish I’d decided to make it again, because it turned out to be time-consuming and I think it would have been soothing to do. The fruit peel came from three large grapefruits (the book specifies that they should be “free from blemishes”) which had to be juiced and boiled for 15 minutes before the pulp and pith were removed.
I cut the peel into strips, boiled them for another 15 minutes, and then cooked them in a Jell-O-and-sugar syrup seasoned with cinnamon and cloves for 50 minutes. (The recipe says to use any flavor of Jell-O. I don’t remember what I used. I think it was probably lemon.) At that point, the syrup had gotten quite thick, and I had to work very quickly, tossing the sticky peels in dry sugar a few at a time. The syrup cooled quickly and formed strings as I worked my way through the peels. It was a pain to work with, but at the same time it was the sort of work that requires focused, almost meditative, concentration, which is so good for the mind and spirit.
This was another one that made the kitchen smell like a Cracker Barrel, not a terrible thing. I guess it kind of tasted like a Cracker Barrel, too, which is always a little strange. There’s something about the flavorings of Jell-O gelatin that makes the flavors of spices taste unbalanced. Still, Bryan and I agreed that it only rated one “nasty”; that is, it was among the least offensive recipes in the book.
So you know, I’m actually caught up on the cooking part of the blog. I’d left myself a free week after my vacation, so now I’m just a little behind on the writing, but I’m shooting to get caught up this weekend. You’d think this writing jazz was hard or something…