This week I took advantage of the extra-long holiday weekend to double up, and here we have a couple of fairly seasonal recipes.
First, at number seven in the New Joys of Jell-O countdown, we have Fig-Berry Preserves. This one appears in the chapter titled “Things You Never Thought Of”, and for good reason. If you think about it, using Jell-O to make preserves makes a certain amount of sense, but who would think of it? Well, the good folks at General Foods did.
The recipe is simple enough – three cups of mashed figs, two three-ounce (or one six-ounce) packets of strawberry Jell-O, and three cups of sugar. However, I was quickly flummoxed by the figs. Not only had I never cooked with figs before, I’m not sure I’d ever eaten figs in any form other than “Newton”. I was so fig-ignorant that when we got to the Stop’n’Shop I immediately gravitated to the dried figs, of which there were plenty. It took a few minutes for me to realize that dried figs wouldn’t lend themselves well to being mashed, and I was left wondering if the supermarket even had fresh figs, as I couldn’t recall ever having seen them. At least I had timing on my side, since this was the weekend of the biggest U.S. food-oriented holiday, and Bryan and I found some fresh figs after just a little hunting around the produce section.
Next I had to figure out how to prepare the figs. They looked as though they would have to be peeled, and I wasn’t looking forward to that because I had twenty-four of them to deal with. I did some googling, and learned that the peel is edible, but that figs can be peeled if desired. (A lot of help that was.) So I got out the paring knife and got stuck in. Meanwhile, Bryan’s curiosity had been piqued, and he was doing some more fig-googling, but it wasn’t any more conclusive than mine had been. Then he looked at the recipe, and pointed out that it suggested that the figs didn’t have to be peeled. At that point I was nearing the end of the first of the three packages, and I decided that I was done peeling.
I cut the stems off of the rest of the figs, put them all in the bowl, and got to work with the masher. The figs and skins were actually soft enough to mash, but I wasn’t happy with the texture, which looked like the guts of small animals. Our masher is one of those loopy ones, rather than the lattice type that can do a finer mash. No big deal – I dumped the mashed figs in the food processor and puréed them until the skins were reasonably well chopped up and the whole thing had a more uniform texture. I ended up with just about three cups of fig goo.
I put the figs in a large saucepan and stirred in the Jell-O and sugar, and brought the mixture to a boil. Another bit of weirdness in this recipe was determining when, exactly, it was fully boiling. Rather quickly, it started bubbling around the edges, but I knew that wasn’t the proper boil. A few minutes later, bubbles started rising thickly from the bottom of the mixture. Was that boiling? Unsure, I waited, and as the mixture continued to heat, it bubbled more and more rapidly, and then the mixture became translucent. The recipe says to continue boiling for three minutes after it starts, which sounds like a scarily precise amount of time. All I know is that I’m pretty sure I boiled it for at least three minutes. I think.
I had my canning jars and a canning funnel (brilliant piece of kitchen gear) at the ready, and I doled out the hot preserves among six small jars. The recipe says to seal them with paraffin, but we use the new-fangled self-sealing lids. The recipe doesn’t call for boiling the filled jars (so they have to be stored in the refrigerator), but I imagine I could have done that if I’d wanted to store them in a jelly cupboard or something like that.
Today we tried the Fig-Berry Preserves on halves of a nice sesame-seed bagel from Mamaleh’s deli. It was thinner/runnier than I was expecting, leading me to think that it couldn’t have hurt to cook it a bit longer. Otherwise, it wasn’t bad. The flavor of figs was strong, and mildly disconcerting at first just because it was still a new taste for me, but I got used to it. Bryan said he couldn’t taste the strawberry Jell-O at all, but I think it was just that, for once, the flavors in the dish had blended properly. It was very sweet, not surprising given the amount of sugar that went into it. This would be good on buttered toast, or scones. (If only there were a good place to get scones nearby…) We’re going to be eating peanut-butter-and-fig-berry sandwiches for a while.
Snappy Fruit Mold
Moving on, at number six in our countdown, we have Snappy Fruit Mold.
This one is a more conventional “Jell-O salad” from the “Sociable Side Salads” chapter. It starts with a three-ounce packet of “red flavor” Jell-O (I went with raspberry) and only 3/4 cup boiling water. I added eight ounces of jellied cranberry sauce and a tablespoon of grated orange rind to the hot liquid, and chilled it until thick over an ice water bath. When it was thick, I added a chopped Granny Smith apple and 1/3 cup chopped pecans (the recipe just says “nuts”, so I went with what I like best; walnuts would probably work, too), poured it into a lubed mold, and chilled it overnight.
So, nothing out of the ordinary there. The only dodgy part of this recipe is the recommended Whipped Cream Mayonnaise garnish. Not wanting to let my readers down, I decided not to omit it. It’s a simple creamy sauce of a half-cup whipped heavy cream (unsweetened) with a quarter-cup mayonnaise and an eighth-teaspoon salt folded in.This was mildly interesting to make because, first of all, it required attention to the whipping of the cream because I knew if I lost focus I’d end up with unsalted butter before I knew what was happening. Then, when I managed to stop short of butter, I found that folding in the mayonnaise was tricky because it was hard to distinguish the mayo from the cream. I wanted it to be well blended, but I knew that I had to be careful not to fold too vigorously or I’d deflate the cream. I think I succeeded, at least well enough for a quick tasting.
Unsurprisingly, the mold turned out quite firm and held its shape well. It definitely tasted “snappy” (and it reminded me of Cranberry Jelly Candy, which I made eight years ago). The Whipped Cream Mayonnaise was relatively inoffensive and went reasonably well with the Jell-O salad – although the mayonnaise flavor was noticeable, so I suspect people who hate mayonnaise would not like this. I put a dollop to the side in each bowl rather than putting it on top of the Jell-O, and while Bryan deemed it “not bad”, he left most of it in the bowl. I found myself dipping each bite in the cream and pretty much finished it off. To those of you following at home I say: Try it, if you dare.
It’s just occurred to me that I failed to avoid the orange in Snappy Fruit Salad, so I will be making donations to Planned Parenthood and the International Rescue Committee. I wish that didn’t feel so inadequate.
At number eight in our countdown, and in time to give you a suggestion for something to do with leftover Thanksgiving turkey, I present:
Last year around this time I made Turkey Soufflé Salad, and shopping for the turkey on the day after Thanksgiving meant my choices were limited. I wasn’t particularly happy with the deli slices I ended up using, so I made sure that Jellied Turkey Salad would come up on the editorial calendar before Thanksgiving, and I decided that I would just have to roast a turkey breast to get a satisfactory meat component.
A week or two before it was time to get to work on the Jell-O recipe, it occurred to me that if I was roasting a turkey breast anyway, maybe I ought to just go whole hog and make an early Thanksgiving dinner. After all, I hadn’t gotten to do a Thanksgiving my way in almost 30 years. Instead of my in-laws’ library-paste stuffing, I would make the stuffing I remembered from my youth, a simple dish of celery, onions and peppers sautéed in a lot of butter, mixed with croutons, and moistened with broth. Instead of heavy mashed potatoes beaten with cream cheese (cream cheese? why?) I would make basic potatoes mashed with butter, milk, salt and pepper (and not beaten, so they’d have that “real mashed potatoes” texture). I would have jellied cranberry sauce (with the can shape), a side veg, and brown’n’serve rolls, if I could find them.
So that’s what I did (minus the brown’n’serve rolls, which were not yet available). It was actually kind of fun. Cooking a multipart meal like that has a certain rhythm to it, coordinating the timing of the various elements. It went amazing well considering how long it had been since I’d cooked a big meal like that, although it was not without a few small hiccups. For starters, the turkey took longer to roast than I had been led to believe. I wasn’t totally happy with the gravy, which was probably doomed from the start due to the natural limitation of pan drippings from a lean breast. I’d kind of like a do-over on the stuffing because I couldn’t find herbed croutons and the unseasoned ones, well, they needed seasoning. Also, I found that I am totally lacking turkey carving skillz. Still, it was a nice dinner, and Bryan made a chocolate pecan pie for dessert, and I had leftover turkey for my Jell-O.
Then my procrastination tendencies kicked in and I kind of bollixed up the timing on this, which is why there’s no video for it. (Not that I expect anyone really misses it, but I’ll do an extra “penance” anyway and make a donation to the Boston Food Bank so that somebody else can have a nice Thanksgiving dinner.) We had the dinner last Saturday, and the leftover turkey wound up sitting in the fridge until I got to work on Jellied Turkey Salad on Wednesday evening. I looked up how long leftover turkey is safe to eat, and while most sources said three to four days, I found a discussion thread on Chowhound where people were maintaining that leftover turkey is fine for upwards of a week. Okay, I thought, this will just make it exciting…
… which is good, because making Jellied Turkey Salad is a bit of a dawdle. It’s your basic prepping of the solid ingredients (I did a little extra of everything, as usual), thickening the Jell-O over an ice water bath, mixing in the solid ingredients, and chilling it in a mold. That old story, one we know so well by now. Since I was making this before we ate dinner, I nibbled at the turkey while I was cutting it up, and found that it was better as leftovers than it had been right out of the oven, and I decided that the bother of roasting it had been worth it.
The mold sat in the fridge for an extra day (what can I say, it was a rough week), so on Friday it was with some trepidation that I unmolded it, took some photos, and sat down to try a piece. Bryan got home from work while I was setting up for the photos, and he assured me that he’d eaten some of the leftover turkey for lunch and hadn’t gotten sick, so that was encouraging.
After tasting it, I’m just as glad I didn’t go to the trouble of making a video, because there were no grimaces. Jellied Turkey Salad wasn’t particularly awful. The Jell-O was too sweet, but there were enough other ingredients in there that the sweetness wasn’t overwhelming. The turkey was fine, and I liked the flavor of the chopped tarragon. As with so many of the savory Jell-O recipes, the flavors just didn’t blend together well, so each bite was a little, I guess you could say, confusing to the palate. When Bryan tried a bite, he was startled; he said it wasn’t what he was expecting.
Jellied Turkey Salad appears in the chapter titled “Salads for the Slim Life”. I imagine that, as with so many “diet” foods of the mid-20th century, the primary function of this dish is to kill the appetite. I was pretty hungry when I tried this, so I ate several bites, but I had no desire to finish my portion, let alone eat the rest of the mold. The garbage disposal got the bulk of it, and Action Against Hunger will get its usual donation.
Originally posted November 29, 2009
ETA; As Casey Kasem might say, at number nine in our countdown, we have…
Well, I did warn you about the onslaught of cranberries, apples and so forth. This recipe was surely seasonal, and while it wasn’t all that quick, it did confirm for me that Cracker Barrel’s official corporate scent is artificial strawberry and spices.
Quick Cranberry-Apple Mold is another one of those whipped gelatin concoctions that involves dissolving gelatin, sugar, and spices in boiling water in the maelstrom of a blender beaker, and then chilling/blending it with crushed ice. (The fridge at Freak Mountain has a built-in ice dispenser, and while I was skeptical about it initially, I’ve decided that the thing totally rules.) The resulting liquid roughly doubles in volume, and Your Humble Narrator poured about three quarters of it (my, a lot of work with fractions today!) into a bowl set in an ice water bath to thicken, and added fresh cranberries and an apple cut into wedges to the foam remaining in the blender.
According to the recipe, the fruit was supposed to end up roughly chopped, but I had trouble getting it all down to the blades, so I had to whiz it all together probably a bit too much and the fruit got pretty well incorporated into the gelatin mixture. I have to confess I deviated from the recipe in another way, intentionally – remembering the timid seasoning of the Cinnamon Glazed Apples, I doubled the spices. The recipe called for an eighth of a teaspoon of cinnamon and an eighth of a teaspoon of ground cloves. That’s pussy seasoning, I decided, and I upped it to a quarter of a teaspoon each.
Anyway, the fruit blend was combined with the thickening foam, and it went into one of my secondhand-store molds, in which it chilled overnight. The unmolding was a success, as I’m learning that effective use of the nonstick cooking spray involves applying more than seems reasonable at first. It turns out that it really doesn’t add flavor, so there’s no harm in using more. Despite the foamy texture, the mold had decent structural integrity and held its shape until it was gone.
As for the flavor – well, my first thought was, “This tastes like Cracker Barrel, too!” (Maybe I should dedicate a short blog post to Cracker Barrel. The holiday season would be about the right time for it…) Something about the aroma and flavor of spiced strawberry Jell-O transports me instantly to a faux-homey, faux-log-cabin gift shop at an interstate exit, where I’m most likely standing in front of the admittedly impressive selection of candy. Returning to Freak Mountain, the Quick Cranberry-Apple Mold was a lot like applesauce. I still can’t make up my mind about whether I did the right thing by increasing the amounts of the spices. They clashed a bit with the strawberry Jell-O, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were too strong. Meanwhile, the ground-up cranberries gave it a bolder flavor and added a bit of interest to the texture.
Speaking of the texture, did I mention it was foamy? I wrote it down twice in my notes, so I guess the foaminess was a real standout feature here. The color was rather nice, and overall it wasn’t too bad. We did manage to finish this one off, but we didn’t do so eagerly.
The Hunting of the Snark
The other day Bryan told me I’m not being snarky enough in this blog. I think that had been somewhat my intention on starting out, but I haven’t been able to manage it for a number of reasons, chief among them being my lack of talent for “snark on demand.” In conversation I’ve been known to toss out some spontaneous snark, but in a blog it’s far too easy to self-censor. Unfortunately, there’s some part of me that’s always trying to be nice. Then there’s the problem that few of the recipes I’ve done so far have lent themselves to much snarkiness, and this is just down to the nature of Jell-O. It’s bland. It’s hard to have any feelings about it at all. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get a little more worked up about the scarier Jell-O dishes. In the meantime, if anyone wants to see more snark in this blog, they should feel free to add it in the comments.
So I sat down at my computer to write this up, did a quick email check, and found that there’s been another mass shooting, this one in a church, of all places, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. This is the sort of thing that makes it difficult to keep this blog light and hopeful – though I guess it does underscore the uncertainty of life, and the importance of eating dessert first. I don’t want to say “thoughts and prayers” because that’s really starting to ring hollow, but I feel like I should note that I am cognizant of this fresh tragedy, and trying not to get inured to it because this is not normal or okay.
In light of this, Fruit Delight is not as delightful as it probably needs to be. (I suppose vodka might have helped…) This recipe appears in the “Family Desserts” chapter, and it is not at all clear to me why, since this could easily fit in with the “Nice Easy Things” chapter, or even “Junior Cooks”. There are three ingredients: Jell-O (any flavor; I chose raspberry), canned fruit cocktail, and crushed ice.
The canned fruit cocktail was kind of an interesting point, because I hadn’t had it since I was a kid. Granted, this is a recipe reboot, but I see from my notes that when I made it originally, I used Island Pineapple flavored Jell-O and crushed pineapple instead of the fruit cocktail (which is offered as an option in the recipe). I had evidently decided that it was better not to try mixing flavors, but it’s unclear why. The pineapple version was “not scary or weird”, and this makes me kind of glad that I decided to brave the canned fruit cocktail this time. The thing is, I used to kind of like canned fruit cocktail when I was a kid, probably just because of the sheer weirdness of what happens to the fruit in the canning process. As an adult, though, I have avoided it, mainly because I’m not a fan of canned fruits and vegetables generally. Upon opening the can, I was surprised to see how little it’s changed over the years.
When I was a kid, my mother would actually make canned fruit cocktail in Jell-O once in a great while (or maybe it was just once), and that was kind of fun. A cursory glance at the recipe this time around put it in my mind that that was what this was going to be, but then I read through it and realized that the blender was involved. There have been a few blender Jell-O recipes (most memorably, Crème de Menthe Frappe) and those tend to result in a sort of layered gelatin with a bit of foam on top, a thick “custardy” layer, and a bit of clear jelly in the bottom. As a result, you can’t really see the fruit in the finished dish, which led me to think that maybe this should be called “Fruit Surprise” instead.
The process for making this was complicated a bit by the inclusion of crushed ice. Our refrigerator does have an ice maker, but the large metal coil that pushes the ice down the dispenser chute has been rusting and the ice maker has not produced food-safe ice in years. I forgot to buy a bag at the supermarket, so I found myself in the weird position of having to make a tray of ice the old-fashioned way for the first time in probably a decade. On the plus side, the tray turned out to make just about one and a half cups of ice as called for in the recipe, once I’d put the ice cubes in a zip-lock bag and bashed them up with a rolling pin. However, this felt like too much work somehow.
After I crushed the ice, I turned my attention to the Jell-O. Having drained my can of fruit, I added water to the reserved juice to make three-quarters cup of liquid. I boiled it, and combined it with the powdered raspberry Jell-O in the blender. I dumped in the crushed ice, blended it all together until the ice was melted, and poured the Jell-O into dessert glasses. I spooned in the fruit, which sank straight to the bottom (surprise!) and then popped the glasses in the fridge to cool. The directions say to chill this for ten minutes, but mine was in there until I’d finished washing the dishes and folding a load of clean dish towels. More than ten minutes, probably. Changing the clocks makes it hard to keep track of time.
I was hungry, though, so I didn’t wait longer than that. The Jell-O was decidedly soft-set at that point, but I decided I liked it that way. Raspberry Jell-O is much better without real raspberries in it. The fruit salad, though, turned out to be pretty much as creepy as I was expecting, especially the grapes, which put me in the mind of the old prank of having a blindfolded person stick their hand in a bowl of peeled grapes and telling them it’s eyeballs. Luckily, there wasn’t an awful lot of fruit in the 8.5 ounce can (according to the recipe, back in the day fruit cocktail came in 8.75 ounce cans), so this dish was mostly just blenderized Jell-O. Pretty inoffensive and easy to eat.
By the way, if I was doing a countdown (and I think I am), this would be number ten of the remaining recipes in the book. It feels like I’m really in the home stretch now, and I’m actually going to be able to finish this. Let’s just hope there are no more mass shootings before I get to the last recipe. Or after I finish, for that matter.