Virgin Recipe: Artichoke Salad
Wow. It seems like I’d hardly gotten over being horrified by Barbecue Salad when I was faced with this fresh hell, dubbed by the General Foods Corporation as Artichoke Salad.
It’s a fairly simple recipe, consisting of artichoke hearts (Birds Eye frozen) and sliced mushrooms that are marinated in Four Seasons Italian salad dressing and then suspended in lime Jell-O with just the slightest whiff of added vinegar. No salt and pepper, I ask you. And some sliced pimentos to give it that festive look.
I have to admit, this recipe really played on my increasingly troublesome tendency to procrastinate. Normally I would do the cooking on a Saturday, and the tasting/video on Sunday, but I managed to futz around doing other things on Saturday last week (the guitar is always an awesome excuse not to do something else), made the Jell-O on Sunday, and recorded the video on Monday. The posting is due up today, per my editorial calendar, and I’m cutting this kind of fine. I still need to get in some guitar practice (damn you, F barre chord!) and I’d really like to spend some time in the Mojave Wasteland, where nobody has ever heard of Donald Trump.
I’m going to make this happen, though. I am determined.
The good thing about the procrastination is that I wound up marinating the artichoke hearts and mushroom slices for several hours, quite a bit more than the “at least one hour” recommended by the recipe. Both vegetables really needed it, the hearts because they were tough from the get-go, and the shrooms because, well, they’re shrooms. Beyond that, putting this all together was totally routine by now.
The recipe helpfully suggests that the Italian dressing that gets drained off of the vegetables can be mixed with mayonnaise to make a dressing for the Jell-O salad. That sounded kind of nasty, so I went ahead and did that. To be honest, I think that actually it wouldn’t have been a bad dressing if the Good Seasons didn’t taste like it was full of stabilizers and way too much salt, but in its way it was a proper addition to this particular recipe.
I wasn’t expecting much of this one, and I was not disappointed. As I expected, the lime Jell-O was far too sweet, but at the same time some of the Italian dressing residue had mixed with it, so there was a confusing melange of flavors there. The artichoke hearts remained tough after all the time in the marinade, so after eating one from my serving that took a couple of minutes to chew properly, I didn’t go back for more. They did end up dyed green by the Jell-O, though, which was interesting to look at. I expected the mushrooms to be unpleasant, and they were. The pimentos added nothing to this dish. Add this one to the already rather full “WTF” file.
Most of this went down the garbage disposal (which needed a couple of days to thoroughly digest those artichoke hearts) so Action Against Hunger is going to be seeing another donation from me. This is such a weird way to do a little bit of good in this world…
Memory Lane: Glazed Hors ‘d Oeuvres
As I write this, I’m nursing a mild hangover in honor of the founder of the lab where I work, after attending his retirement party last night. It was supposed to be cocktails and dinner at the Faculty Club, ending sedately at 9:00, but then an impromptu after-party was organized at a hotel bar that happens to be on my way home, so… (Five drinks over the course of five and a half hours, with a proper meal in there somewhere, and I’m feeling it today. Middle age can be a real bitch sometimes.) Luckily, this week’s Memory Lane selection happens to be on a more defined bit of track – years later, I’m still annoyed about this recipe.
Glazed Hors d’Oeuvres is right up there with Frosted Fresh Grapes in the top ranks of World’s Stupidest Jell-O Recipes. It appears, appropriately, in the section titled “Things You Never Thought Of”. (Because “You” are probably not a blithering idiot.) The basic idea is that you make some little open-face sandwiches, and then, like, glaze them with lemon Jell-O. Seriously. I did that. And you don’t just forget something like that.
I started by getting one of those miniature bread loaves that are unnaturally square (probably Pepperidge Farm party bread), and I topped the slices with what looks like cranberry sauce, and mock turkey (which wasn’t very good). Then I placed them on a wire rack above a baking pan to catch the drips and attempted to glaze these mini-wiches with lemon Jell-O seasoned with black pepper, bay leaf, dried dill, salt, cayenne pepper, and vinegar. Is your mouth watering yet?
The instructions say to do a coat, chill the hors d’oeuvres, and then add a second coat. I noted that “there’s no way this will work”, because the Jell-O went from “syrupy” to “slightly thickened” very quickly. After reviewing the data from my notes I’m making an educated guess that this is because I attempted this recipe in February. It seems like the warmer weather months would be a better time to do this, but it turns out that Pepperidge Farm party bread is only available seasonally, and while I could find no indication of when “party bread season” is, I’m guessing it’s roughly coincidental with Mallomar season.
Anyway, the end result was not pleasing. Nothing about the Jell-O (flavor, texture, color, or gloss) seemed necessary or added anything to the sandwiches. The end result was a waste of otherwise perfectly tasty little cocktail sandwiches. (I had to make some extra without the Jell-O, and those were much better.) I noted that the good thing about this recipe was that a lot of the Jell-O ended up in the drip pan. The best thing about this recipe is that it reminded me of a classic scene from This Is Spinal Tap:
Virgin Recipe: Under-the-Sea Pear Salad
Under-the-Sea Pear Salad is kind of a weird-looking and weird-sounding recipe that I considered including with the savory recipes, mainly because of the cream cheese, and because of the way it looks in the photo in the book. Also, “Under-the-Sea” seems to suggest that there might be shrimp in it (and we already know that NJoJ is not above such things). Something about it scared me.
Let’s face it, the “Under-the-Sea” part of the name is enigmatic. What does it mean? Is the lime Jell-O top layer supposed to represent the ocean? And why are there pear bits under it? I feel like this whole thing is more of a metaphor than a dessert – but a metaphor for what?
Despite all the deep thinking this recipe engendered, the preparation was fairly straightforward, although there were the usual 43-years-on hiccups. While the recipe calls for a 16-ounce can of pear halves, such cans are now 15 ounces. (I bought an additional 8.5-ounce can so that I could add a little more fruit. Most of the pear halves got chopped up into coarse chunks first and stowed in the fridge.) The recipe also calls for two three-ounce packages of cream cheese, which just sounds weird to me, because for as long as I can remember cream cheese has typically been available in eight-ounce blocks. (I bought one of those and measured out six ounces on the kitchen scale, no biggie.)
The base of Under-the-Sea Pear Salad is a single batch of lime Jell-O, to which a little salt and lemon juice are added. Instead of cold water, 3/4 cup of juice from the canned pears is used. I set aside about a half-cup of the liquid gelatin, thickened the rest over an ice water bath, put it in the mold to form the top layer, and put that in the fridge to firm up a bit more while I dealt with the cream cheese layer.
That was a little trickier. The cream cheese is supposed to be softened and “creamy”, but even though it was quite warm yesterday, the cream cheese didn’t get very soft after sitting out for a while. I tried beating it with a wooden spoon, but it remained defiant. There was only one thing for it. I put it in the stand mixer and gave it the cheesecake treatment. After beating it as well as I could with a power tool, I added the liquid gelatin and beat it some more, pausing a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl while hoping that all those little lumps of cream cheese would get thoroughly incorporated into the gelatin.
Mercifully, the mixture did eventually homogenize, and then I added the now-cold pear chunks, which helped thicken the cream cheese/gelatin mixture and made it easier to spoon it over the barely-firm jelly layer. A good long overnight chill yielded this:
I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out, appearance-wise. It came out of the mold easily, and the canned pear halves turned out to be just the right size for a garnish on top of the mold. I don’t imagine this looked particularly appetizing to Bryan, but I like the dark and light green layers, and it did look appetizing to me.
For eating, this turned out to be a lot better than it sounded just from reading the recipe. Lime is still my favorite flavor of Jell-O, so it had that going for it at the outset. Not a lot of the recipes in the book include pears, so those made a nice change.
I didn’t love the cream cheese layer. The main reason I can think of is that tangy, cheesy flavor didn’t go all that well with the Jell-O, which is odd because the usual bavarians with whipped toppings tend to be too sweet. I almost forgot to mention that the cream cheese layer was flavored with an eight of a teaspoon of powered ginger, or I should say “supposed to be flavored”, because although I used more like 3/16 teaspoon, the ginger was barely detectable as a faint aftertaste. Maybe. Some diced crystallized ginger would have been better.
Finally, the texture of the cream cheese was possibly a little too thick. After Bryan finished eating his portion, he was licking his lips and his palate like a dog that’s been given a spoonful of peanut butter. Not a good look.
Okay, this is pretty obvious but you know I had to include it…
Virgin Recipe: Strawberry Supreme
Strawberry Supreme isn’t a particularly seasonal recipe. I probably scheduled it for this time of year because it’s just barely past fresh strawberry season here in New England – which doesn’t really matter, because Strawberry Supreme calls for frozen strawberries. Jell-O has no season.
This is one of those two-parters, with half of the gelatin in straight jelly form with fruit suspended in it, and the other half (the top half) a bavarian with vanilla ice cream. The recipe says to prepare two packages of strawberry Jell-O and then separate the liquid gelatin into two parts to make the two different components of the dish. I’ve been in this game long enough now to know that this can be tricky, timing-wise, and I decided to prepare each component separately, one Jell-O package at a time. It probably takes a little longer, but at least this way I didn’t suffer from premature gelling.
The first part, the jelly part, was prepared the usual way, dissolving a package of Jell-O in a cup of boiling water, adding a cup of cold water, adding ten ounces of frozen strawberries (the only kind that comes in ten-ounce packages at the Super Stop’n’Shop is some fancy-dancy organic brand, but the berries were actually decent) and then chilling until thickened over an ice-water bath. The gelatin was doled out into dessert glasses (the recipe specifies “sherbet glasses”, which I don’t have and am not sure what they are) and stowed in the fridge during the preparation of…
The bavarian part was a package of strawberry Jell-O dissolved in a cup of boiling water, with a half-cup of cold water added. The recipe says to then chill until slightly thickened and then add a cup of softened ice cream. I guess I didn’t read it carefully enough, because I just saw the part about adding ice cream, thought that it was stupid to add ice cream to already-chilled gelatin, and just added what I was estimating was a half-pint from a pint of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla bean with a small scoop to melt into the hot gelatin liquid. (After I finished making the dish, I ate the rest of the ice cream, straight out of the container like in my college days, and it seemed as though there was more than half the pint left in there…) The bavarian part also included one and a half tablespoons each of rum and brandy, and two tablespoons of Cointreau. Once the ice cream was pretty well melted down, I chilled this over the ice-water bath, beating it with a whisk in a desperate, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to achieve the “bubbly” consistency described in the recipe. Maybe I should have recruited the MixMaster Junior to help out, but I think if the bavarian part had achieved a greater volume, it wouldn’t have fit into the glasses with the jelly part.
Incidentally, while we already had brandy and Cointreau, there was no rum in our oddball assortment of liqueurs and liquor, so we had to make a special visit to our friendly neighborhood hipster liquor store. (Due to popular demand, they now stock “pong balls” and red Solo cups.) I now have nearly a quart of rum. And a lot of mint growing wild in the yard. Anyone got a good mojito recipe?
In the end, Strawberry Supreme was not very different from the other strawberry bavarians I’ve made so far in the Project. Bryan described it as “relatively inoffensive”, and after taking the time and expense to get the rum, the booze was barely detectable – a hint of citrus flavor, a slight burn on the tongue. The absolute best thing about Strawberry Supreme, honestly, was that during this long weekend of “beach weather” it felt good to hold and eat something cold.
Part of the reason I’m posting on Monday instead of Sunday is that I was thinking I’d say something about the 4th of July, since I’ve been having Thoughts. On the other hand, I’m pretty burnt out on politics, and reluctant to lecture anybody. If you’ve been following NJoJ for a while, you know how I feel about the current regime. I’ll just say, if you’re wondering how I feel about my country these days, “It’s complicated”.
I do have a couple of links to share. One concerns that fellow Frederick Douglass, who I hear is being recognized more and more, and I guess that’s why his July 5, 1852 speech in Rochester, New York has gone viral. Seriously, though, while we celebrate our independence tomorrow, I think we should give a thought to all the people who didn’t benefit from it 241 years ago, and the people who are still struggling for a place at the table for a fair share of freedom’s rewards.
The other link is for Stephen Colbert’s #AmericanGreatness hashtag on Twitter. (Even better, if you use Twitter just check out the @StephenAtHome feed, as he seems to be filtering out trolls.) People from all over the country have been posting an amazing and inspiring variety of photos of the things that make the U.S. truly great, from natural beauty to thriving cities to more intimate shots of family moments. Politics is transitory; these are the things that will endure. I’m so grateful to Colbert for doing this. It’s something we really need right now.