Category Archives: Memory Lane

Memory Lane: Chicken Mousse

I’m almost regretting doing a Memory Lane post today, because I am so hungry! I went to the gym a while ago and did some deadlifts, and came home to a house not only bereft of snacks but also down to the last four ounces of milk, so I couldn’t even have the big glass of chocolate milk with which I sometimes reward myself after dragging my substantial ass to the gym. Right now I feel like I’m so hungry I could even eat Chicken Mousse.

weird yellow-y Jell-O mold with bits of red and green veg in it

Chicken Mousse

But maybe that’s because I don’t remember it. I know I made it, because I have my notes, and a photo. Judging by my notes, I wonder if I don’t have some sort of psychological block about Chicken Mousse. Apparently, it was pretty bad. To start with, lemon Jell-O and cayenne pepper do not play well together. Somehow, this isn’t surprising, and yet there they are, both in the same recipe.

page of handwritten notes

Chicken Mousse memories…

As you might have guessed from the name, or from the photo, Chicken Mousse is a bavarian type Jell-O dish. The creamy ingredients? Mayonnaise and Dream Whip. I used the Mixmaster Junior to blend them together, to avoid the danger of mayonnaise blobs. That was probably wise, but the combination of mayo and Dream Whip was, unsurprisingly, very nasty.

Finally, instead of real chicken I used some sort of mock chicken, as I was trying, during the first iteration of the Project, to adhere to my mostly vegetarian diet. The reason that I am no longer doing this is because the mock meat was always bad in these recipes, and Chicken Mousse was certainly no exception.

Nevertheless, in the end I decided that the recipe wouldn’t have been helped by using real chicken. I used too much cayenne, and that was the best part. While it was “so bad it cracks me up”, I was also a little annoyed that I was dirtying dishes to make it. We gave it four “nasties”, and it left me asking, “Oh, god, why…?”

It’s a question a lot of us have been asking ourselves lately.

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:

Memory Lane: Coffee Cream Dessert

And here we are, back to Memory Lane, or, in this case, Lack-of-Memory Lane. Coffee Cream Dessert was not at all memorable. Neither the photo nor my notes ring any bells, recollection-wise, and they didn’t inspire me to remake this one, either.

I gave myself a relatively easy Jell-O week, because I knew I’d be attending the March for Science on April 22. The Boston march was more of a rally, after the Women’s March in January showed that funneling a demonstration on the Common out to a march on the streets of Boston is a tricky and time-consuming proposition. Instead, community groups, mainly at the universities, marched to the Common for the rally. This time, Bryan and I weren’t with a group, so we just ambled over the Charles in our own time, and Bryan enjoyed the marching band that played before the speakers started at 2:00. (I myself am neutral on marching bands.)

rally-goers gathering on Boston Common despite rain, view from under umbrella with a blue-skies pattern underside

View of the Boston March for Science from under my wishful-thinking umbrella…

As if to underscore one of the points of the rally, the weather we had yesterday was colder and considerably less pleasant than the weather at the January march. It rained as the Common filled up with rally-goers, and temperatures in the mid-40s Fahrenheit (mid-single-digits celcius) made for perfect Reynaud’s conditions. I’m glad we went, but I had to leave early when I couldn’t feel my hands anymore.

It’s been great seeing all the pictures from the marches around the world, but at the same time it’s a little disheartening that so many of us feel it’s necessary to do this. Also, it feels a bit quixotic, since the world leaders making non-fact-based policy decisions don’t seem to care.

two glass dessert dishes filled with light mocha-colored gelatin topped with whipped topping

Coffee Cream Dessert

At least this week’s Jell-O is an Orange Boycott recipe, so I’ll be sending a few shekels to the International Rescue Committee and Planned Parenthood, and hopefully that will do some good.

My notes on Coffee Cream Dessert use the word “weird” repeatedly, which makes sense. The base of this one is orange Jell-O, but it’s prepared like a “frappe” rather than a standard gelatin dessert. The gelatin powder is combined in a blender with scalded milk, sugar, and instant coffee granules until the gelatin is dissolved, and then ice and vanilla extract are added and blended until the ice is melted. It needs only a short time to set before serving, so the whole thing can be made quickly, which seems to be the chief virtue of this recipe.

page of handwritten notes

Coffee Cream Dessert notes

The instant coffee (the book recommends Maxwell House, Sanka, or Yuban) posed a bit of a problem, since we at Freak Mountain look down our collective nose at instant coffee (except for instant espresso, which is handy for baking, and a brilliant addition to brownies). I wanted to use Maxwell House, but Bryan couldn’t find a small jar of it. I didn’t indicate what I did use, so I’m guessing it was probably instant espresso.

Anyway, the combination of orange Jell-O and coffee seems to have been sub-optimal, creating an odd flavor and aftertaste. Do coffee and orange ever go together? A quick Google search suggests that this is, indeed, a done thing – although given that one of the top hits is this cocktail recipe from Sandra Lee‘s “Semi-Homemade Cooking” program on Food Network, I’m seriously doubting the credibility of the concept.

This is another of those recipes that make me want to try to do a proper coffee jelly. I know I keep saying that, so I guess the pressure is mounting. Looking at my editorial calendar, I think I may be able to get to it in the summer. For the time being, I’m still trying to make a habit of practicing the guitar. After all, I’m going to need something to do when I’m done cooking through The New Joys of Jell-O – and I will, at some point in the foreseeable future, be done with it…

Memory Lane: Topaz Parfait

coffee-colored Jell-O layered in glasses with Dream Whip

Topaz Parfait á la Freak Mountain

Well, we’re back to that weedy, rutted path known as Memory Lane.

I do have a vague recollection of Topaz Parfait, because it’s one of those recipes where the flavor of the Jell-O clashes rather badly with the additional ingredients. Appearing in the third chapter of The New Joys of Jell-O (“Bring on the Super Desserts”), Topaz Parfait gives the cook a chance to use the cubed gelatin technique while going on a little flavor adventure – and I mean “adventure” in the “bad planning” sense.

The adventure starts with a cup of strong coffee. Now, making coffee at Freak Mountain is always a bit of a production, because Bryan only buys whole beans, which have to be weighed on the kitchen scale and ground in the fancy-pants Italian burr grinder, to the right degree of coarseness or fineness, just before brewing. Our three main coffee-making options are French press, Chemex (I think we might have a reusable cotton filter somewhere), or  a basic pour-over dripping into a thermal carafe. For this recipe, I used instant espresso.

The coffee is heated to boiling (always a bad idea with coffee), and lemon Jell-O and sugar are dissolved in it. Then cold water and brandy are added. I think you see where this is going. The Jell-O is poured into a square pan to chill until firm so that it can be cut into cubes, which are then layered with Dream Whip that’s been prepared with the addition of a little brown sugar and brandy. The Dream Whip, at least, is improved by this treatment.

a page of my handwritten notes

So many thoughts about Topaz Parfait…

Apparently the first major problem with this recipe was the smell. I don’t remember this specifically, but I can believe it. Even the nice Jell-O recipes can make the fridge smell a little funky. According to my notes, it “[made] the fridge smell like someone spilled a bottle of stout and didn’t clean it up”. I do like stout, but for drinking, not as an air freshener. Of course, the real culprit here was the brandy, which is something I don’t really like anyway, but the combination of brandy, coffee, and lemon Jell-O just doesn’t work well.

Since I’m at least a somewhat nice person, I let Bryan have the smaller dish of Topaz Parfait and took the tall one for myself. I finished it off, but only because Bryan said I couldn’t and I’m a sucker for a thrown-down gauntlet. It seems the aftertaste was quite something, and called for a palate cleanser of miniature marshmallows. We gave it three nasties, which puts it on the same level as Winter Fruit Mold (a/k/a Jell-O Fruitcake), Salmon Dill Mousse and Spanish Tuna Salad.

The thing about this recipe, and a couple of others, is that it made me want to do a proper coffee jelly, and I keep meaning to do it but haven’t gotten around to it yet. What I’d really like to do is a jelly version of Thai iced coffee, which I think would be really good, but I haven’t been able to find a satisfactory recipe for Thai coffee. I’d like to make it replicating the sweetened condensed milk that floats on top of the coffee at first and slowly swirls down into the coffee, combining with it in a sort of Brownian motion that’s intriguing to watch if you can resist drinking the coffee long enough.

Alien Caffeine coffee mug in front of computer

Oh, so meta…

A few months ago, after hunting around a bit at our local H-Mart, I found something called “instant Thai coffee drink” that I thought might be just the ticket, but it turned out to be instant coffee with sugar and, I’m guessing, powdered non-dairy creamer. (I’m enjoying some right now in my “Alien Caffeine Espresso Bar” souvenir mug from the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico.) Back to the drawing board, I guess.

So we’ve got some new recipes coming up for the next couple of weeks, and then I’m going to be taking a weekend off to participate in the Ladies Rock Camp Boston fundraiser for the Girls Rock Campaign Boston. It’s basically a weekend-long rock bootcamp culminating in a showcase, possibly at a very cool local club – and I won’t lie, I’m nervous as hell about it. I’ve scarcely picked up a guitar in years, but probably someone will stick an open-tuned guitar in my hands and tell me where on the fretboard I should be holding down all the strings with my index finger to play a song. I’ve heard some distortion pedal lessons might be involved. I guess if worse comes to worst they can always take me off of guitar and put me on cowbell.

I need to start getting into a more musical mindset. Maybe I should be listening to more Chuck Berry… (R.I.P.)

And while I’m R.I.P.ing, I really should say a few words about Robert Osborne. He was a writer and film historian, best known to me and many others as the host of the Turner Classic Movies cable channel (which is, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of the few worthwhile channels left on cable, thanks largely to Osborne). Before discovering TCM I had loved classic film, but Robert Osborne always had something to say that added to my appreciation. The breadth and depth of his knowledge about film were enormous, as was his enthusiasm, and he was generous with both in his work at TCM. He was also warm and kind, and, judging by the tribute programming they’ve been running on TCM this weekend, beloved by everyone who met him. He was the best of good eggs, and we were fortunate to have him share the planet with us. He died on March 6, and my heart goes out to the many, many people who share my sorrow.

Memory Lane: Pastel Dessert

calico cat napping on a desk chair

Can’t work, cat’s sleeping in my chair…

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.

pale green Jell-O bavarian in dessert glasses with Dream Whip garnish and cherries on top

Not the pastel color I was going for, but this works…

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…

Memory Lane: Winter Fruit Mold

Jell-O mold that resembles a fruitcake

This is exactly what you think it is…

Okay, this one I remember. How can you forget fruitcake in Jell-O mold form? This is the sort of thing for which we all wish someone would invent “brain bleach”.

I know that fruitcake is the butt of a lot of easy jokes, but I honestly dislike the stuff. First of all, those candied fruit bits have such unappetizing texture, color and flavor. Then, I’ve never liked fruit that’s baked into cake or bread (e.g., raisin bagels), although over the years I’ve learned to tolerate raisins in oatmeal cookies only because I don’t ever want to have to turn down cookies.

There’s probably someone out there thinking, “I have this great recipe for fruitcake that will totally change your mind about it.” No way. I might try it, and be polite about it, but I won’t like it. And I can tell you that the last time I tasted a fruitcake was on December 10, when Bryan brought home a bit of a fruitcake that a couple of his co-workers had made from a vintage recipe to celebrate Emily Dickinson’s birthday. It wasn’t bad. I appreciated the effort – but I didn’t like it.

My notes on Winter Fruit Mold are oddly scanty, occupying less than half a page in my little notebook. I remarked that it wasn’t as bad as I expected – although candied fruit is always nasty. (Too true!) The chunky ingredients in Winter Fruit Mold include “candied mixed fruit” (whatever that happens to be), light raisins (yuck), currants, maraschino cherries, and chopped walnuts – everything I’ve always hated about fruitcake, without the benefit of booze-soaked cake.

Your Humble Narrator with Winter Fruit Mold

Introducing the Lab to another Jell-O creation…

The other thing I felt was notable was the whole wine issue. The recipe calls for a cup and a half of cherry wine, although 12 ounces of ginger ale flavored with a teaspoon of rum extract may be substituted. (As the kids say – wut?) I couldn’t find cherry wine, so I used a Portuguese red (Castelo do Sulco Reserva), which turned out to be a not-bad drinking wine and probably less nasty than cherry, which I imagine in 1974 would have been a too-sweet wine made by hippies that appealed primarily to kids who’d dropped out of high school to follow the Grateful Dead.

Winter Fruit Mold is also memorable because I brought it to the Lab holiday party. It was definitely a conversation starter, and a few people gamely tried a little of it, but most of it did not get eaten.

Memory Lane: Jellied Holiday Nog

trifle bowl of Jell-O dish topped with maraschion cherries, with smaller bowl of violently-colored sauce in front

Jellied Holiday Nog with Cranberry Orange Sauce, circa 9174

I tend to be a bit of an old-fashioned purist about “the holiday season”. I grew up in a time when Thanksgiving was its own holiday, and the run-up to Christmas kicked off when Santa appeared at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Even though I lost interest in the parade a long time ago, I still feel like the holiday season has gotten stretched well beyond reasonable bounds (much like U.S. political campaigns), beginning as it does weeks before Halloween.

half a page of handwritten notes about Jellied Holiday NogWell, apparently now that I’m becoming old and irrelevant I need to try not to get all hung up on how things were done “back in the day”. In the spirit of compromise (considering that the display of artificial pre-lighted trees went up in Sears a month ago) I’m firing up my “Holidazed” iTunes playlist and using Thanksgiving week to start on a series of mostly holiday-related Jell-O recipes, starting with Jellied Holiday Nog.

recipe page from book

In case you want to try it for your own holiday festivities…

This is one that I do sort of remember, mainly because of the deceptive title. I’m not a big fan of eggnog, but I’ll drink it when it’s around, and when I got to this recipe, it seemed like there was a certain logic to gelling it. I mean, it’s so thick and creamy already, you almost expect it to happen naturally; it’s kind of like a drinkable pudding.

Sure enough, Jellied Holiday Nog starts with Jell-O vanilla pudding mix and lemon Jell-O – quite a lot of both – which doesn’t sound so bad. I used the sugar-free pudding mix; unless you’re dealing with serious health issues, I don’t recommend it, because that (as well as the sugar-free Jell-O gelatins I’ve tried) tends to develop intractable lumps during the cooking process.

The combined Jell-O and pudding get mixed with a rather outlandish quantity of Dream Whip and some flavorings, making a good eight cups of Jellied Holiday Nog, which is a lot. You’re supposed to serve it with Cranberry Orange Sauce, but for some reason I opted to leave my Jellied Holiday Nog naked except for a sprinkling of nutmeg. I was probably put off by the tapioca, which I’ve never liked because the texture makes me gag unless I eat it very carefully, and the payoff for eating tapioca just isn’t worth it.

something that looks like jellied eggnog served in Blue Heaven dishware

Jellied Holiday Nog á la Freak Mountain

Traditionally, eggnog doesn’t contain lemon (or any sort of citrus flavor) so it’s not surprising that I would find this too lemony.

The vanilla pudding flavor must have been pretty strong, too, because it reminded me of a dinner buffet at a restaurant in Clovis, New Mexico that I encountered while driving across the U.S. in April 1998. The buffet was traditional New Mexican, offering enchiladas with red sauce and enchiladas with green sauce, and for dessert there was a choice of “strawberry shortcake” (thawed frozen strawberries, individual-sized sponge cakes, and Cool Whip) or “banana pudding” (vanilla pudding with banana slices and Nilla wafers). I don’t know about that Cranberry Orange Sauce, but Jellied Holiday Nog could have used a side of Nilla wafers.

I gave the recipe one-to-two “nasties”, but I have absolutely no desire to make it again. That said, a major point in its favor is that it should be easy to halve in case anyone is curious to try it but doesn’t want to end up with eight cups of the stuff.

Given past failures in sharing Jell-O recipes on the holidays, I have no plans to make a Jell-O recipe for Thanksgiving – although I am mulling over taking the opportunity to make a cheese ball, something I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a cheese ball in the wild, but cheese balls were among the images in my early “food porn” – the Hickory Farms holiday catalogs that started arriving in the mail in early November when I was a kid. I was intrigued by the cheese balls, and the petit-fours, tortes, and gift-box assortments, and I would just sit around poring over those catalogs. (I don’t know why we got them, because as far as I know my parents never ordered anything out of them.) I’m getting hungry just thinking about it all.

I should probably get myself a snack now. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this honorable, warm and emotional holiday video: