Category Archives: Memory Lane

Memory Lane: Quick Crème de Menthe Frappe

Originally posted October 11, 2009

pale green jelly mold with darker green dots on top

Don’t worry, you’ll forget this image as soon as you click off the page.

Okay, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t really remember this one, and the notes I took are scant. It’s one of those simple recipes from the first chapter of the book, where you’re supposed to be just getting the hang of Jell-O, but reading the recipe is one of those “what the hell” moments. It’s lime Jell-O flavored with with crème de menthe, of all things, whipped up in a blender to give it that frothy look.

This was my second venture into the “lime Jell-O and mint” flavor palate, the first being Minted Pineapple Relish (to be reposted in the not-too-distant future). There are a few such recipes in the book, which is puzzling because it’s really not a good combination of flavors. In my notes, I speculated about whether this was supposed to evoke the flavor of mojitos. I’m not a big fan of rum, so I haven’t downed a lot of mojitos in my time, but I don’t recall them tasting like this. (And I can’t imagine Ernest Hemingway, a famous mojito drinker, approving of this dessert.)

Unsurprisingly, I determined that the combination of lime Jell-O and mint is better without the addition of pineapple, although the aftertaste was still not pleasant. It started out vaguely refreshing, and gradually turned into a sort of burning on the tongue. Nevertheless, I gave it two nasties.

Doing this as a Memory Lane post feels like a bit of a cheat, but it doesn’t seem like something worth repeating. Besides, as I’m pushing fifty, I’m starting to appreciate that life is just too short to spent extra time making and eating mint-enhanced lime Jell-O.

That said, turning forty-eight last month gave me an idea. I’ve been following a blog called Fit is a Feminist Issue that was started by two Canadian philosophy professors who, as they were approaching fifty, decided that they were going to make a goal of being their fittest ever by their fiftieth birthdays (which were last summer/fall) and blog about it along the way. Since they did the fitness thing, I’m thinking that I will make my fiftieth birthday the outside limit for getting through The New Joys of Jell-O. That way, no matter what, in January 2017 I’ll have something to celebrate.

Memory Lane: Fromage de Tête (Creamy Blue Cheese Salad)

Originally posted late February/early March 2010

Cheese Jell-O molded in the shape of a brain

The cheesy color shows off the brain details quite nicely.

To be honest, when I was plotting the reboot of my Jell-O blog, I decided to do the Memory Lane thing as a way to save myself some work. It’s actually turning out to be more difficult than I was expecting. In some ways, cooking and then writing shortly afterwards is much easier. The details are fresher, and there aren’t value judgements to be made about whether to embellish when recollection comes up short. Mulling can take at least as much time as whipping up a Jell-O recipe, and I tend to be honest to a fault, which may be why I’ve not been particularly successful in the fiction writing department.

Then there’s the way that my memories have of not quite matching up to my notes. I was surprised to see that I’d given Creamy Blue Cheese Salad three nasties, because I could have sworn I gave it more. Creamy Blue Cheese Salad should be one of the less appetizing Jell-O recipes in the book, containing as it does softened cream cheese, Dream Whip, and bleu cheese (Maytag bleu from Wisconsin, which sounded like it would be suitable for Jell-O) in the usual lemon Jell-O base — not to mention the cayenne pepper seasoning.

And yet…

My notes indicate that Bryan ate three pieces, and I dubbed it “not blatantly offensive” (the cayenne being barely detectable), adding that it would be better with unsweetened whipped cream in place of the Dream Whip. Apparently, the three-stage flavor (lemon, Dream Whip, bleu cheese) was not as bad as I thought it would be.

What?

My recollection of Creamy Blue Cheese Salad is that the best part was the way it worked with my brain mold, which led me to dub this recipe Fromage de Tête. It was the perfect amount of Jell-O for the mold, plus it was roughly brain-colored. I did a short video, because it was impossible to fully appreciate this dish with just a still photograph.

(If you just watched the video, I can confirm that, yes, Bryan and I are easily amused.)

Of course, the final arbiter of Fromage de Tête was our late, great cat Mr. Fuzzybutt, who was a consumate mooch and cheese lover. He ate a bit of it, but was clearly bothered by the aftertaste.

very handsome Maine coon cat

Our Mr. Fuzzybutt, not a fan of the Creamy Blue Cheese Salad.

Memory Lane: Hand of Glory

Originally posted November 1, 2009

The Hand of Glory is the dried and pickled hand of a man who has been hanged, often specified as being the left (Latin: sinister) hand, or, if the man were hanged for murder, the hand that “did the deed.”

According to old European beliefs, a candle made of the fat from a malefactor who died on the gallows, lighted, and placed (as if in a candlestick) in the Hand of Glory, which comes from the same man as the fat in the candle; this would have rendered motionless all persons to whom it was presented.

from the Wikipedia entry for Hand of Glory

Ah, October, probably my favorite month of the year. The foliage is colorful, the days are getting shorter but are not yet too short, the air is becoming crisp enough that I can start pulling out all the sweaters I’m finally starting to miss after schvitzing  all summer, and it’s capped off by a great holiday, Halloween. I love Halloween because it’s all about confronting our fears (of death, primarily) by making fun of them. There are no heavy religious overtones to the holiday, relatively little family pressure, and no gift-giving obligations. It’s a chance to indulge the inner drama geek I barely realized I had until a few years ago, the one time of year when I can justify spending more than a utilitarian amount of time on hair, makeup and clothes.

Also, candy.

hand-shaped mold and boxes of Jell-O

Hand of Glory – the essentials

Hand of Glory is not in The New Joys of Jell-O, but it’s the coolest thing I’ve done with Jell-O to date. During the original Project, my friend K–* loaned me her hand-shaped gelatin mold and asked me to use it to make a Jell-O for the Halloween party that she and her husband F– (a researcher at the Lab) were giving, as they do every year, for Lab folk and other friends. At that point, I had already done enough fruit-suspended-in-Jell-O that I was grateful for the opportunity to get a little creative with it.

lime Jell-O marshmallow brain surprise

Lime Jell-O marshmallow pineapple surprise doesn’t show off the brain-y details very well

There are a few different body-part molds out there — the hand, the heart, and the ever-popular brain mold. A pretty common way to use them is to combine Jell-O with a creamy substance to create a flesh-like or just plain creepy color. For instance, I’ve been advised that combining red Jell-O and Cool Whip gives a reasonably authentic internal-organ appearance to a heart mold.

I wanted to take it further than that.

I wanted to make a corpse hand, and I wanted it to have some detail, so first I needed to make some dark blue veins. I started with half of a packet of berry blue Jell-O dissolved in a half cup of boiling water, to which I added four drops of blue food coloring, one drop of red, and one drop of green, and then a little ice to cool/thicken it. My notes indicate that I didn’t think the color was dark enough, nor the gelatin thick enough, but piping this into the bottom of the lubed hand mold, following the veins on the back of my own left hand as a pattern, actually worked out pretty well. For good measure, I also added dark-blue fingernails**.

Jell-O veins in the bottom of the mold

The veins were drawn in with thickened gelatin in a squeeze bottle.

Next was the flesh of the hand. I didn’t mean for this to look like the hand of a fresh corpse, so pink was right out. I added the other half of the packet of berry blue to a three-ounce package of peach Jell-O, using the usual amount of water. I cooled this until it was thickened enough to mix in six or seven ounces of Cool Whip that I’d flavored with a little almond extract, and added a drop of green food coloring. This pleased me greatly.

Hand mold with "decaying flesh" ready to be refrigerated

I had to prop up one side of the mold with a dish towel to keep the blue-green “flesh” inside the hand part of the mold.

I thought that the “mitt” part on which the hand sits should suggest congealed blood, so I did up a batch of raspberry Jell-O with frozen berries. I can’t remember whether it was just raspberries or a mix of raspberries and strawberries (kind of looks like a mix to me), but either way it looked awesome and just filled the mold.

berry-filled gelatin tops off the mold

Mmmmm, concealed blood…

Having learned from my mistakes on Ginger Peach Dessert, I took more care this time and my Hand of Glory came out of the mold as well as I could have hoped.

Hand of Glory in aluminum baking pan

The Hand of Glory is looking good after unmolding – no melty spoodge!

It looked a little plain in that baking pan, though. As they say, the Devil is in the details, and this being Halloween, more details were definitely called for. I added the dirt of the grave (Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, ground up in the food processor with a little melted butter, aka crumb crust) and some gummy worms to complete my little culinary tableau. As I said, the coolest thing to date.

Hand of Glory on a bed of chocolate crumb dirt being crawled over by gummy worms

The Hand of Glory in all its gory glory

The Jell-O Hand of Glory was a hit at the Halloween party, mainly as a table decoration, although people ate the gummy worms and the crumb crust “dirt”. Of course, Bryan and I sampled the Hand part, and actually it was pretty good. The flavors blended together well, and I thought it was fun to eat, though clearly I am less squeamish than a lot of people.

Me in 1950s housewife getup

The dress is vintage and fits like it was made for me. Scary….

I should mention, too, that my costume turned out surpassingly well. I dressed as a 1950s housewife, and I got a lot of double-takes because people genuinely didn’t recognize me at first. (The blonde wig was a particularly good disguise back when I was 100% brunette.) Several people asked if I was supposed to be Betty from “Mad Men”, but I hadn’t started watching the show then. I just loved the idea of turning up as June Cleaver with a corpse  hand in a baking pan. That’s how I roll.

* K– isn’t a huge Jell-O aficianado, but she is from Minneapolis. ‘Nuff said.

** Legend has it that fingernails continue to grow after you die. Not true. It’s the skin receding that gives the illusion of fingernails growing on a corpse. I just thought you’d like to know that.

Memory Lane: Jell-O Brunch – Salmon Dill Mousse and Crown Jewel Cake

Originally posted December 2009

Crown Jewel Cake, Salmon Dill Mousse, coffee and orange juice

A Jell-O brunch suitable for that depressing down time between Xmas and New Year’s.

Somewhere along the way, I hit upon the idea of creating Jell-O “meals” as a way of killing at least two birds with one stone – hence, the Jell-O brunch. I have no way of determining the exact date when this was originally posted, but judging by the sad-looking tinsel garlands framing Freak Mountain’s kitchen windows, I probably did this between Christmas and New Year’s. That week always feels like a bit of a let-down to me, so in a sad way this Jell-O brunch was perfect.

Salmon Dill Mousse

For a certain type of person, the film reference here is obvious – Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. For the non-nerds out there, Meaning of Life comprises a string of sketches that address chronologically the various stages of human life, from birth to the afterlife. In one of the sketches about death, the Grim Reaper turns up at a dinner party at the country cottage of an upper middle class couple. The hosts and dinner guests slowly catch on to the fact that the Grim Reaper isn’t a simple local farmer but rather Death Himself, and everyone at the table is dead. When asked how they could all have died at the same time, the Reaper points out the salmon mousse as the fatal dish. “Golly, you didn’t use canned salmon, did you?” the host snaps at his wife. “I’m most dreadfully sorry!” she replies, clearly mortified.

So I was off to an inauspicious start, because I also used canned salmon, thinking it would be less trouble than, say, poaching fresh salmon. I may have been wrong there. Who knew canned salmon would have so many bones in it, so many tiny but potentially hazardous bones? I had to pick them out by hand, which took a long time and was a major pain in the ass and left me already disposed to disliking Salmon Dill Mousse.

Because of the angst involved in preparing the salmon, it’s easy to forget that there are other ingredients, but Salmon Dill Mousse also includes lemon juice, sour cream, mayonnaise, minced onion, dill weed, and lemon Jell-O, which seems to be the go-to on-the-shelf Jell-O flavor to substitute for (no longer made by General Foods) savory gelatin. I made no notes about combining the other ingredients with the salmon, but the recipe indicates that the salmon is combined with the non-Jell-O ingredients, and the resulting salmon salad (which probably wasn’t so bad at that point) was blended into a double batch of thickened lemon Jell-O and chilled in a loaf pan. I noted afterwards that “this had better at least be palatable, because there’s a lot of it”.

Salmon Dill Mousse in serving platter

Salmon Dill Mousse looks so innocent with that fresh dill garnish, doesn’t it?

My noted response upon tasting Salmon Dill Mousse was “ew”. It had an exceedingly unpleasant mouthfeel, and as is usually the case with these savory Jell-O recipes, it was too sweet. On the other hand, Bryan ate a whole slice. He wanted to give it two “nasties”, but I wanted to give it four, so we compromised and gave it three. I wished I’d added more lemon juice… onion… dill… something to cover the Jell-O flavor. Of course, in hindsight I know that nothing would have helped.

I made an impulsive decision to start believing in God just so that I could curse him for afflicting me with Salmon Dill Mousse, but later thought better of it.

Crown Jewel Cake

Crown Jewel Cake lovingly displayed on a cake stand with a slice cut out

Crown Jewel Cake circa 1974

Mercifully, Crown Jewel Cake was fun to make, as are many of the recipes that are more involved. The “jewels” are batches of Cubed Gelatin in orange, cherry and lime flavors. The base of the “cake” is a lemon Jell-O bavarian made with Dream Whip.

Photos of this one are featured both on the back cover and in a two-page spread in the middle of the book (which I’ve echoed in the Project’s social media profiles) and it’s easy to see why – Crown Jewel Cake is a great example of Jell-O’s visual appeal. Those bright primary colors are reminiscent of sunny days and childhood, and Jell-O desserts often look fun, as shown in this television ad from 1980:

my Crown Jewel Cake looking lame compared to the 1974 version

Crown Jewel Cake a la Freak Mountain

The end result was not so satisfying. The bavarian part lacked structural integrity, as you can see in my photo. I find myself hoping that this was a mistake on my part, because this recipe looks so neat that I want it to work. Flavor-wise, it wasn’t bad. Bryan disliked it less than the Cool Whip bavarians. (Still a puzzle to me, he seems to prefer Dream Whip.) Once again, I was reminded of my grandmother’s ambrosia salad. The main problem with the eating of this was that, with the bavarian part so soft, and the Jell-O “jewels” quite firm, the overall texture was kind of weird.

Maybe some time I’ll try to “reboot” this one. The Salmon Dill Mousse, however, shall never again make an appearance at Freak Mountain.

Memory Lane: Molded Tomato Relish

Originally posted on October 17, 2009

a toy boxer and two Disney Quasimodos attack Molded Tomato Relish

My little friends made a valiant attempt to defend me from Molded Tomato Relish, to no avail.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’m wimping out, that the Jell-O recipes I’ve posted so far have been entirely too palatable. I’m under no illusions about this blog. I know that on some level it’s like the Jackass of through-cooking blogs, and what readers want to see are weird things suspended in Jell-O and detailed descriptions of my attempts to eat them.

Those posts are coming, don’t worry. But first, Bryan and I are getting ourselves psyched to take them on. Some of the recipes in The New Joys of Jell-O really are that bad – memorably bad, PTSD bad.

And that brings me to Molded Tomato Relish. Actually, Molded Tomato Relish wasn’t all that bad (Bryan disagrees with me on this), but it happened to be the first savory Jell-O I did, so it haunts us.

In a recent comment thread in my Facebook feed, in response to this (Buzzfeed, sorry) link, a friend of a friend remarked that jellied tomato actually sounds interesting. I had similar thoughts when setting out to make Molded Tomato Relish. Well, not so much “interesting”; more like “mostly harmless”. This is a simple one, combining a package of lemon (or strawberry – ick) Jell-O with a 16-ounce can of stewed tomatoes, a half teaspoon of salt, and a tablespoon of vinegar. Until I looked at the book just now, I had a vague recollection that there was some other seasoning involved, but that must have been wishful thinking. The book says to use the tomato can as a mold, but screw that. I had recently bought some new molds, and I was eager to use this one, which happened to be just the right size for this recipe.

Instead of making Jell-O the usual way with water and then suspending the tomato in it, the recipe says to heat the stewed tomatoes to boiling, simmer, and then add the Jell-O powder and other ingredients. You can see in the photo that the Jell-O is much less obvious in this dish than it is in other such dishes. The main advantage to this is that it’s denser and unmolds more easily than your typical Jell-O mold, so at least it turned out looking good for the photo.

Note that I set up the photo with the toys attacking the molded dish before we actually tasted it. I just thought it was funny, and did not realize how prescient this food styling decision would turn out to be.

I cut small pieces for Bryan and me. We each spooned off a bit. We may have counted to three before tasting in unison. As we chewed, our faces took on perplexed expressions, and then suddenly, again in unison, we burst out laughing. It was laughter of dismay and astonishment, with perhaps a slight hysterical edge. Man, that was some bad Jell-O.

I think the vinegar was supposed to cut the sweetness of the Jell-O, but it didn’t. Instead, there were three different flavors not only failing to blend together but outright refusing to get along at all. It was like the gustatory equivalent of a kung fu fight scene in a cheap Asian B-movie as featured on Uncle Morty’s Dub Shack, funny and chaotic and cringeworthy all at once.

We made some pithy, disparaging comments that unfortunately neither Bryan nor I can remember now. Bryan does recall that he was going to try to salvage it somehow (this was early in the original Project, before we gave up on our rule not to waste food), but it ended up sitting in the fridge for a few weeks before we finally tossed it.

Memory Lane – Frosted Fresh Grapes

Originally posted September 8, 2009

I’m able to write this from memory, without any notes (this was an early point in the Project, before I’d started making notes), because this sticks out in my mind as one of the dopier recipes in the book. At first, I kind of dug the concept, pretty sugar-frosted grapes that look like this:

GoodFFG

Not made by me. Obviously.

Frosted Fresh Grapes is a recipe from a bygone era – an era in which people didn’t have to worry so much about raw egg being contaminated with salmonella. It says to lightly beat an egg white, dip the grapes in the egg white to lightly coat them, and then dip them in lemon Jell-O powder to frost them. Now, maybe that was kosher in 1974, but this 2009 lady was not going to eat grapes dipped in raw egg white*.

There is such a thing as powdered egg white. It’s pasteurized, therefore safe. No salmonella**. The idea is to just add water, and voila! Egg whites! If only it really was that easy. The powder did not dissolve readily. In fact, I seem to recall that it never did fully dissolve, but after a while I wound up with a liquid that seemed to be the consistency of egg whites, so I went ahead with the dipping process.

FrostedFreshGrapes_1-downscaled

So very sad…

It did not go well. The egg white was very drippy and didn’t seem to want to form a thin, smooth coat on the grapes. As a consequence, the dry Jell-O went on as a lumpy, uneven coat, and of course the reservoir of powder developed lumps that made it more difficult to work with. It was a frustrating process, and the results weren’t pretty.

Reading a Food Network recipe for sugar frosted grapes as I was writing this, I felt a bit foolish. Dip all the grapes at once, swish ’em around, and then strain off the excess? Of course. Tumble the moistened grapes in the sugar like Shake’n’Bake? Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?

Then again, who eats this stuff, anyway? Last I heard, grapes are nature’s Skittles.

* The astute and careful reader will note, eventually, that there are recipes involving egg whites beaten into meringue but not cooked that I have not only prepared from raw eggs but also eaten. All I can say is, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

** I’m thinking about this too much. “Salmonella” sounds like the name of a character in some benighted sequel to “Finding Nemo”.