Author Archive: Terra

Memory Lane: Glazed Hors ‘d Oeuvres

photo from book showing some of the Things You Never Thought Of

Glazed Hors d’Oeuvres (lower right), circa 1974

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.

my handwritten notes

I had a lot to say about Glazed Hors d’Oeuvres

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.

seven mini open-faced, Jell-O coated sandwiches on platter

Glazed Hors d’Oeuvres á la Freak Mountain

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

photo from book, loaf-shaped two-layer lime gelatin mold

Under-the-Sea Pear Salad, circa 1974

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:

round two-layer lime Jell-O mold on Blue Heaven platter

Under-the-Sea Pear Salad á la Freak Mountain

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

photo from book

Strawberry Supreme, circa 1974

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.

three glasses of different sizes with layered strawberry gelatin

Strawberry Supreme á la Freak Mountain

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.

Virgin Recipe: Barbecue Salad

my honest reaction to Barbecue Salad

So bad…

Back with another nasty one, I’m gratified to say that this is the worst one I’ve done in quite a while. Just when I thought I was getting used to the savory Jell-O recipes, this one surprised me with its extreme unpleasantness.

Barbecue Salad is a close relative to the first savory Jell-O I ever did, Molded Tomato Relish. The main difference between the two is that Molded Tomato Relish is made with stewed tomatoes, while Barbecue Salad is made with tomato sauce, and includes pepper along with salt and vinegar. Since it was the first, I remember Molded Tomato Relish pretty well, in particular the way Bryan and I tasted it simultaneously on a three-count, and after a few moments simultaneously burst out laughing over how weirdly bad it was.

Still, as regular readers know (and others can find out by perusing the links in the Table of Contents), there’s been a lot of water under that bridge. I really thought I was becoming inured to the weirder Jell-O, that the thrill was gone. But no. Glory hallelujah, Barbecue Salad is thoroughly, hilariously bad.

small tomato jelly mold on a bed of lettuce leaves with a tiny dollop of mayo on top

Barbecue Salad, with mayonnaise garnish

The key to the nastiness has got to be the tomato sauce. It’s not something we ever use at Freak Mountain, so I wasn’t familiar with the ingredient. We make our own pasta sauce (or, as my Italian-American in-laws call it, “gravy”) starting with crushed tomatoes, so there’s always some texture to it. Canned tomato sauce, it turns out, is a very smooth tomato purée. Mix it with gelatin and you end up with something that is creepily similar to the mayonnaise I used as garnish (as suggested in the book). The mouthfeel is distinctly slimy. I don’t mind mayonnaise, normally, but I would never eat it on its own by the forkful. Barbecue Salad has helped me to understand my friend F– who is repulsed by mayo.

For the vinegar, I chose apple cider vinegar, and I think that may have been a mistake, as it was probably too sweet. In hindsight, what this recipe needs is a serious hit of acidic flavor, and my old standby white vinegar would have served that purpose much better. As for the salt and pepper, they were both undetectable.

I’d like to know who was the sadist who came up with this recipe. He or she has a lot to answer for. As I was tasting this, I was reminded of the scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where Harry and Dumbledore are retrieving the locket horcrux, and Harry has to force Dumbledore to drink all of the (really nasty) potion in the basin to get to the locket at the bottom. Three bites of Barbecue Salad and I was through. If there was a horcrux in there, I’m afraid Voldemort still stands a chance.

Recipe Repost: Grasshopper Dessert

Originally posted October 25, 2009

a bowl of cube gelatin with a creamy center mound

Grasshopper Dessert circa 1974

I have a vague recollection of grasshopper desserts from my youth. Pies, usually, with chocolate crusts. They were pale green and minty, and the grownups seemed to like them because they had crème de menthe in them, which gave them a little bit of a kick.

This Grasshopper Dessert bears little resemblance to those, apart from the hue. The base is lime Jell-O – yes, this is another one of those lime-mint blends. However, since this is a “centerpiece dessert,” it contains two packets (six ounces) of Jell-O, and for some reason the amount of crème de menthe is the same as in the one-packet Quick Crème de Menthe Frappé. While two tablespoonsful of crème de menthe stands out in two cups of lime Jell-O, in four cups it seems to blend in rather nicely.

The light green tower in the middle of the dish is part of the Jell-O mixed into two cups of prepared Dream Whip. I have to say I was underwhelmed by the Dream Whip. I don’t really understand the concept. You add milk and vanilla extract to a packet of powder and whip it up with an electric mixer. It’s no easier, or more convenient, than whipping real cream. It’s not dairy-free, nonfat, or anything like that – so what’s the point? Worse, the stuff tastes like vanilla frosting out of a can. Cool Whip is actually less nasty.

more cubed gelatin with center creamy mound

Grasshopper Dessert á la Freak Mountain, 2009

On the plus side, I finally got a chance to use the technique for Cubed Gelatin again. (That was sarcasm, in case you missed it.) I did really like the color of this, the dark, rich green cubes glittering around the sides with the creamy green at the center. You have to give Jell-O credit, when you do it right it’s definitely pleasing to the eye. Overall, this one was really okay, though I have to add a nasty for the Dream Whip.

This recipe does make a fairly large quantity of Jell-O, and I was wondering how we were going to eat it all. Then on Tuesday night there was a little dinnertime meltdown, and I ended up eating all the leftovers for supper. I can now report that it is, in fact, possible to get full from eating Jell-O. Also, (and I mention this only because I know you’re wondering,) if you eat enough lime Jell-O, you will poop green.

Recipe Reboot: Wine Gelatin Dessert

Wine Gelatin Dessert appears in the first chapter, “Nice Easy Things to Do with Jell-O”, and it’s lucky I had a simple one this weekend, because it’s about all I’ve had time or energy for.

description of wine on shelf sign

As usual, I chose the wine based on the name and/or label artwork…

True to the title, this recipe includes wine, which is also lucky, because as this weekend grinds to a close, I’m glad to have a chance to use the leftovers. The Crusher pinot noir is a Napa Valley wine, 2015 vintage, and it drinks like the $14 bottle from the hipster liquor store that it is – pleasant-enough plonk, gets the job done. Judging by the website, I might be a little too old to properly appreciate it, but the way I’m feeling right now, possibly the only libation I could properly appreciate would be, say, a fifth of bourbon, but hey, I got shit to do.

The attacks in London and the Trump administration’s shameful response were the capper on what has been kind of a lousy week for me. We’re still having our little plumbing problem – comatose water heater – and we’re expecting a visit from Plumber #2 tomorrow, since Plumber #1’s second visit, on Friday, failed to yield results. I also have a Plumber #3 on reserve, in case Plumber #2 strikes out. Next step is replacing the pricey unit, which was installed only seven years ago. (Let this be a lesson to you, kids: Don’t buy a tankless water heater that’s widely used overseas but scarcely even heard of in your home country.) Meanwhile, I’m getting a hot shower every other day, at the gym, and Bryan’s just taking cold showers. We boil water to wash dishes. It’s a drag.

And speaking of drag, our little feline drama has been dragging on. After talking to the vet some more and watching a few episodes of My Cat from Hell, we decided to try “territory switching”, shutting Sam in the bedroom and letting Ida have the run of downstairs. Since we did that Friday evening, Ida has gotten to the point where she doesn’t keep trying to hide, and we opened the door to the bedroom late this afternoon. We’ll see what happens when Sam emerges. I’m hoping I can get this post finished before the shit hits the fan. This is a lot more stressful than it might sound to someone who’s not a “pet person”.

So I’m making Jell-O with wine, and drinking wine. Wine Gelatin Dessert is a simple matter of making the Jell-O as usual, with a little extra sugar, and using a half cup of wine with a quarter cup of cold water for the cold liquid part. The recipe calls for “any red flavor”, so I selected the last box of black cherry from my stash, which was only about a year past its use-by date. (Maybe I should have saved it for the apocalypse that’s surely coming?)

individual-sized black-cherry-colored gelatin mold with dollop of Cool Whip on top

Wine Gelatin Dessert, with dollop

The Jell-O kind of smells like a wino when you first add the diluted wine to the hot liquid, but as I expected, the wine actually enhanced the final product. I think it would have been better if the wine had been drier, but the pinot noir was tart enough to balance the sweetness of the Jell-O. Bryan said it made the Jell-O taste “less artificial”, and he liked the way the mold jiggled. I did make the mistake of using molds that were too big, making it pretty much impossible to center the jelly on the plates.  I garnished it with Cool Whip that was left over from last week’s Strawberry Bavarian Pie (and even reviewed my go-to instructional video for Cool Whip dollops), but I don’t think the topping goes all that well with wine-fortified Jell-O. Still – waste not, want not, right?

Virgin Recipe: Strawberry Bavarian Pie

white Squier strat

New arrival at Freak Mountain

So, I’ve been trying to take advantage of a long holiday weekend that has turned out to be far too short. On Saturday I finally got an electric guitar, a Squier (budget-range Fender) stratocaster, and a cool little practice amplifier that has a USB port (for digital recording, hopefully) and a bunch of built-in effects to keep me happily distorted until I’m ready to start shopping for pedals. I have a strap and some lesson books on order, so I’m on my way, though I tend to think that probably I’ll end up being to the guitar what Inspector Clouseau was to the violin. But we’ll see.

Meanwhile, our cat Ida has been slowly recovering from what appears to have been some sort of mental breakdown a few weeks ago, during which she decided that she hated our other cat, Sam (her offspring), and took up residence on top of the kitchen cabinets. Feeding her up there was fine, but she perceived coming down to use the litter box as a journey fraught with peril, and this was not a situation that we could allow to continue. On Friday evening we got her down and set up in the bedroom, where she seems to be gradually getting back to normal, but we still don’t know what happened. Even the vet seems mystified so far.

Just to add to the fun (and freak out the cats some more), a little while ago we had a plumber here trying to deal with our weird European tankless furnace/water-heater “combi” unit because the hot water suddenly cut out yesterday. The plumbing issues always seem to crop up on long holiday weekends, so that they’ll be as expensive as possible. $300 so far, and we still have no hot water.

So I’ve been a bit less focused on the Jell-O this week, but I did make a Strawberry Bavarian Pie for you.

strawberry pie in chocolate crumb crust with ugly-ass Cool Whip dollops

Strawberry Bavarian Pie á la Freak Mountain

To be honest, this wasn’t very interesting, just another Cool Whip bavarian, with frozen strawberries mixed in. The recipe calls for a nine-inch pie shell, but again I decided to go with a chocolate crumb crust because that makes this dessert a little more of a treat. As you can see, I attempted to use leftover Cool Whip to garnish the pie, and I’m way off my dollop game.

photo of pie from book

Strawberry Bavarian Pie circa 1974

It occurs to me that despite everything else I had going on this weekend, I was still able to prepare this dessert, so in a way it was fulfilling the function for which it was intended. On some level, I was emulating the housewives for whom these recipes were created, women who were busy taking care of their families and felt that a nice dessert was part of a good family dinner (anyone else remember back in the day when it was usual and expected that families would eat dinner together?) but didn’t necessarily have time for something fancier. Actually, Strawberry Bavarian Pie would have been kind of a special dessert after supper when I was a kid.

Bryan and I tasted this after the plumber left, and for us it wasn’t so special. I told Bryan about how the recipe calls for an addition of a tablespoon of sugar to the gelatin, which I think might have been meant to balance out tartness in the strawberries. We both thought it was odd, given how sweet Cool Whip is, but then it occurred to us that Cool Whip might not have been quite as sweet back in the day. Looking at the history of high fructose corn syrup, it’s likely that these Jell-O and Cool Whip “no-bake pies” were developed before HFCS was widely adopted as a sweetener in mass-produced food products. (That might help explain why, much as kids my age were junk-food junkies back in the 1970s, few of us were obese.) We mulled over how it might be possible to find out what the ingredients in Cool Whip would have been in 1974, thinking that perhaps it would be possible to find vintage tubs on eBay or something like that. I didn’t find any vintage tubs, but I did fall down a rabbit hole of vintage Cool Whip commercials going back to 1966, when Cool Whip first hit the market, including the “Tucker Inn” series, which any child of the 1970s will remember. This one is especially relevant: