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.
In the spirit of the Halloween season, today’s Jell-O recipes are “Especially for Junior Cooks”.
Don’t ask me about the name on this one. Since this is “for Junior Cooks” you know there’s no alcohol in it. It’s pretty simple, so it’s not like anyone would get a kick out of making it. You just prepare a single batch (three ounce package) of strawberry Jell-O per the instructions on the box, divvy it up between four dessert glasses (make them kind of small, this is only a half-cup of Jell-O per glass), chill it in the fridge until it’s firm, and serve it with a scoop of ice cream on top.
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, Jell-O á la mode is kind of weird. The combination of textures makes for a peculiar mouth-feel. On the other hand, the recipe doesn’t specify an ice cream flavor, so you don’t need to go with boring old vanilla if you don’t want to. Since the Friendly’s ice cream was still on sale at this supermarket this weekend, we picked up a carton of Forbidden Chocolate (formerly Double Chocolate). Flavor-wise, at least, this went well with the strawberry ice cream. We used up the whipped cream, so we ate this one without and it was fine, but a little spritz would not have gone amiss.
I can imagine a kid liking this. Okay, so it’s Jell-O, but at least you get to have some ice cream with it…
Snack Cups is more a premise than a recipe. You make a batch of Jell-O, any flavor, chill it until firm in paper cups, and add toppings to it before eating. There are topping suggestions:
…prepared whipped topping, sundae sauce, flaked coconut, chopped nuts, chopped or sliced fruit, marshmallow sauce, miniature marshmallows, colored sprinkles…
Actually, this sounds like something you might make for a kid who’s severely lacto-allergic and can’t have a proper ice cream sundae.
There’s enough latitude in this recipe that I decided, in honor of Halloween, to make this one as Dirt Cups, with cookie crumbs and gummy worms as the toppings. I didn’t use the official Kraft recipe, which includes Cool Whip and specifies Oreo cookies for the crumbs. Instead, for the Jell-O I used Devil’s Food flavored Jell-O instant pudding, and for the topping I used crumbs made from Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers (a less sweet, deeper cocoa flavor than Oreos), and Trolli mini sour gummy worms (mainly because I couldn’t find the traditional life-size gummy worms, and also because I thought the minis would fit better in the snack cups.)
Rather than paper cups, I decided to go with clear plastic because part of the fun of a snack called Dirt Cups is getting to see how much it looks like a cup of dirt. Another part of the fun was hiding some of the worms between the pudding layer and the cookie crumb layer. Bryan assumed that the worms he could see at the top of the cup were the only ones, and he was amusingly surprised to find more of them burrowing down there in the dirt.
The Dirt Cups were fun to make, fun to eat, and tasty, although the gummy worms did make for an odd overall texture. On the other hand, it’s Halloween, so what better time to be eating worms in dirt? It was nice to have a Halloween win after last year’s abject failure.
Unfortunately, I find I can’t help but think of my Dirt Cup experience in contrast with a video I saw of our president in the Oval Office hosting children of the press corps for a Halloween event. The children were in costume, and the president was going to give them candy, but first he needed to speak with them. Did he compliment their costumes, or ask them what their favorite candy was, or ask if they went trick-or-treating? Nope. He told them that it was amazing that the press produced such beautiful children (i.e., talked smack about their parents), and asked them how the press treated them. (I wish there had been at least one fearless wise-ass kid to pipe up, “My mom sent me to bed without dinner once…”) Setting aside the way he has of always making everything about him, you have to wonder if he remembers being a kid (we know he was one once because there are photos), or if he outright killed his inner child at some point. Halloween is a great time for adults to let themselves be more kid-like. The president had this perfect opportunity to have a little fun, and he just couldn’t do it. That’s genuinely sad.
With everything that’s been going on this year, I have to admit that I haven’t been feeling Halloween as much as usual. I didn’t bring candy to the office (for which my waistline thanks me), and for the annual party I ended up putting together a costume out of bits of previous costumes. With some heavy eye makeup, a lot of hairspray, and a Billy Idol sneer, I created my Punk Fairy. I feel like it captures the zeitgeist pretty well this year. It wasn’t my first choice, though. Inspired by the appearance at Target of adult-size onesie pajamas (I don’t know why, and I don’t want to know) I had thought I might work up a “Toddler Trump” costume, but then I couldn’t find a plain, non-cartoon-franchise onesie, and when I tried to do the classic Trump pout, I discovered that I couldn’t do it. It kept ending up looking like duckface, and even I had to admit that I’m too pretty to impersonate Trump.
Oh well. There are two more Dirt Cups in the fridge, a bag of Halloween candy in the cabinet (in case we get trick-or-treaters at Freak Mountain), and Killer Clowns from Outer Space on the DVR, and my old ass is having a fun holiday, because what’s the point of life without fun?
feat. Pineapple Upside Down Cake
We’re back to the Orange Boycott this week with Double
Orange Pineapple Whip, and damn, was this ever a good week for it. I won’t waste time recounting our weekly presidential shitstorm, but it’s feeling pretty good to be able to type Orange today.
The thing with Double
Orange Pineapple Whip is that it’s a pretty simple recipe, and I felt like taking pineapple a little further, so I decided this was the week I was finally going to make a Pineapple Upside Down Cake. I remember liking this a lot as a kid, but, weirdly, Bryan had never had it. Admittedly, it’s one of those “white trash” recipes that get made with canned this and boxed that, but I suppose part of the reason why I wanted to make it was that it was potentially a comfort food. Thinking about it, that’s a little weird given how uncomfortable my childhood was, but it’s in keeping with the spirit of the Project, so there.
First thing, I needed a recipe. I thought in our bookcase full of cookbooks there must be a decent one, and the first book I reached for was my trusty 1980s vintage Betty Crocker cookbook. There was a Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe, but for the cake part it specified “buttermilk baking mix” (a//k/a Bisquick). My recollection (and preference) was that it was made with yellow cake, so I kept looking. My antique Better Homes and Gardens cookbook didn’t have a recipe for this at all, nor did White Trash Cooking, which really surprised me since Pineapple Upside Down Cake would fit in nicely with the ice box cakes and “dump cakes” featured in that book. Bryan found a kind of fancy-sounding recipe that involved making the cake from scratch, but that wasn’t really what I was looking for.
I finally turned to Mr. Google (which, let’s face it, has largely replaced promotional cookbooks), where I found that Betty Crocker had posted exactly what I was looking for – and it was so simple that I almost felt silly needing a recipe. All it took was a quarter cup of butter, a cup of brown sugar, a can of pineapple slices, a jar of maraschino cherries, and a box of Better Crocker Supermoist yellow cake mix. Looking at a picture tells you pretty much all you need to know to make it. The only non-obvious part was the substitution of the pineapple jiuce for the water in the cake mix.
It made the whole house smell amazing while it was baking. That really made the endeavor worthwhile, although I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the result. The main thing was that I think I should have used light brown instead of dark brown sugar. The other thing was that I guess I handled the cake a little too roughly while it was hot (you’re supposed to flip it onto the serving plate right out of the oven) so it sank a bit in the middle. Still, I served the first bit warm with vanilla ice cream, and it was tasty, albeit very sweet. Bryan wasn’t terribly excited by the whole thing, but he rarely turns his nose up at cake and ice cream. I thought it was okay, but maybe not the comfort food I had been hoping for.
I made Double
Orange Pineapple Whip while the cake was cooling. It started with bringing seven ounces of ginger ale to a boil (I know – what?), dissolving a three-ounce packet of Island Pineapple Jell-O in it, and adding a cup of pineapple juice (hence, “Double Pineapple”). I chilled it over an ice water bath until it was slightly thickened and then whipped it up with Mixmaster Junior until it was light and fluffy.. I divided the fluff among four dessert dishes and put them in the fridge to chill overnight.
I was happy to see that the Jell-O stayed foamy as it chilled, so that there was no weird, creepy layer of solid gelatin at the bottom. I tasted it after getting home from the gym this afternoon, and while I topped it with whipped cream for the photo, I don’t think the garnish was strictly necessary for the eating. The foamy Jell-O was kind of fun to eat, and it was light and refreshing. (It also gave rise to a couple of good, solid belches, if you’re into that sort of thing.) Bryan said it was “very citrus-y”, and I agree that the flavor was good. In fact, I suspect that Double
Orange Pineapple Whip was better than the original. This is one that I would encourage the interested reader to make.
So this “pineapple weekend” actually cheered me up a bit, though I have to be careful not to get in the habit of “eating my feelings”. There are just too many of them these days. Then there’s the question of what to do with the leftover ginger ale and pineapple juice. If only I had rye whiskey on hand, I’d be all set…
Well, it’s been another one of those weeks. It seems like most weeks are “one of those weeks” lately, so it was nice to get back to another “Especially for Junior Cooks” recipe.
But before I get into that, I’d like to direct the reader to Jellied Salade Niçoise, where just a couple of days ago I received a very nice comment from songwriter George Potor, who had written a song about Jellied Salade Niçoise and then happened upon my blog post. He included a link to his song, which seems to capture the essence of the dish. It made my weekend, really. He also mentioned a song about SpaghettiOs Cupcakes, which I found in this Bon Appetit post. Who knew weird processed food recipes could be such a deep mine for creativity? It occurred to me briefly that The New Joys of Jell-O could be made into an album, but that would be a multi-disk set that no one would listen to. Probably best not to go there.
Jiffy Cooler would surely be a very short song. It’s just a softer Jell-O (“red flavor”, prepared with a full cup of cold water) made into a bavarian with a pint of vanilla ice cream. When we went to the supermarket, the Friendly’s ice cream was on sale, so we bought a carton of vanilla, and also a carton of peppermint stick, which is my favorite and, unfortunately, only available for “the holiday season”. I gather that’s started already. (I don’t want to get too far off topic, but it’s only mid-October and I’m already seeing Christmas-themed ads on television – way too soon, people! It feels like Mallomar season has barely started.)
I chose strawberry for the red flavor, but raspberry would have been fine. One might even consider branching out from the red flavors and try this with peach, or Berry Blue, both of which go well with cream. (It’s just hitting me now that Jiffy Cooler made with Berry Blue would make a nice visual match for my Blue Heaven dish ware.) The “Jiffy” part is not random, or a misnomer. This is actually a pretty quick recipe to make, since you just make the Jell-O, melt the ice cream into it, and chill it for an hour or so. Mine was in the fridge for more like two-and-a-half hours while I was at the gym, and it still turned out to be a fairly soft jelly dish.
I was even looking forward to tasting it when I got back from my workout, not least because I decided to serve it with whipped cream and Oreo cookies on the side. (Shh! Don’t tell my trainer!) I definitely recommend that. Bryan and I both wound up dipping our cookies in the Jell-O and cream, and it all went very well together.
Maybe it’s the endorphins talking, but for once I feel like I’m ending the week on a high note. The Jell-O was good, we have Oreos to eat, I got to hear one of the recipes made into a song, and now that this one is done, I have thirteen recipes left in the Project. Thirteen! The end is in sight…
…And here we are, back to the nasty Jell-O. The good news is that we’re heading into the final countdown phase, and Cool Coleslaw Salad is the third-to-last of the savory Jell-O recipes!
I did have to drag myself back from the Mojave Wasteland to do this. I decided to start a new playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas last weekend, perhaps not the wisest decision, but my other distractions are starting to fail me. On the surface it seems kind of strange that a video game set in a dystopian alternate-timeline, post-nuclear-apocalypse future should be so soothing, but I’m starting to form theories about fight-or-flight and stress hormones. Maybe engaging in those imaginary fights allows for a release of stress that’s not possible in the real world, where all we can do is scan our Twitter feeds every morning hoping that World War III hasn’t begun. Also, I like the southwest desert a lot, the bleak beauty and the vast quietness of the landscape, which is captured really well in Fallout: New Vegas.
So I ventured out of my motel room in Novac and into my kitchen to make Cool Coleslaw Salad. There isn’t actually a whole lot to say about this one. The base is lemon Jell-O, but otherwise it’s not so different from a standard, non-gelatinous coleslaw. In that sense, it’s a close cousin to Molded Potato Salad.
A single batch of lemon Jell-O is prepared with a little less cold water than usual, but with salt and vinegar added. A half-cup of mayonnaise and a half-cup of sour cream get blended into the Jell-O, along with a few tablespoons of prepared mustard and some finely-chopped onion. I chilled the resulting savory bavarian over an ice-water bath until it was thickened, and then added shredded cabbage (the recipe calls for three cups, but I probably added more), a few tablespoons of diced pimiento, and a quantity of chopped parsley that was probably more than the tablespoon specified in the recipe. It all chilled in a glass bowl in the fridge overnight, et voila! Cool Coleslaw Salad!
All in all, I’m pretty happy about how it turned out. I’m glad I added extra cabbage, because I think if all the cabbage had been submerged in the gelatin that would have been kind of depressing. At least this looked like “a salad”, and to be honest, I think that visually, at least, it was not unappealing.
While I’m overall relieved to be done with these “sour cream and mayonnaise” recipes, I have to say that Cool Coleslaw Salad did not taste bad. It tasted like coleslaw. The onion and the mustard really cut into the sweetness of the lemon Jell-O, and the sour cream and mayonnaise mixture made sense, for once. The real problem with this dish was the mouthfeel. The combination of a crunchy vegetable and a creamy gelatin is just unpleasant.
For once, Bryan and I were entirely on the same page on a recipe. I gave him some to try, and he actually ate more than a forkful, agreeing that it tasted fine but just wasn’t very nice to eat. The garbage disposal got the bulk of it, so Action Against Hunger will be getting another donation.
Originally posted November 24, 2009
I approached Jellied Waldorf Salad with some trepidation. I’m not especially fond of Waldorf salad anyway, nor really any salad that combines sweet and savory ingredients. I find them disturbingly ambiguous, and prefer a salad to be either straight-on vegetables with a simple dressing of oil, vinegar, pepper, and maybe some grated cheese, or a nice fruit salad suitable for breakfast or a summer dessert. I figured, if Waldorf salad is disturbing on its own, it will be even more so in the form of a Jell-O dish.
In a way that was almost soothing, this was boringly easy to make. I had bought a bag of Trader Joe’s “baking walnuts” (i.e., pre-chopped) so the only prep work was chopping the celery and an apple, and the apple didn’t even need to be peeled. (Thank goodness.) I made a batch of orange Jell-O, chilled it over an ice water bath until it was very thick, folded in the chunky ingredients, and poured it all into a pre-lubed mold. The only weirdness was that while the recipe said to pour it into a four-cup mold, the whole thing seemed to fit nicely into a two-cup mold. That was all right – that meant it would be smaller and easier to eat.
Since I used my straight-sided mold, it was easy to slide a knife around the outside to loosen it, and it unmolded without the need of a hot water bath. It always does my heart good to have a mold turn out without a pool of melted gelatin in the bottom of the plate. As you can see, it looks pretty crunchy-granola, but it set up nice and firm, and it was easy to cut off pieces for Bryan and me to try.
First of all, I have to say that it isn’t nearly as bad as we were expecting. It turned out like a sort of fruit-and-nut aspic, with the Jell-O serving mainly to bind together the apple, celery, and walnuts. I diced the celery fairly fine, so it wasn’t’t very assertive but mostly complemented the apple chunks. Jell-O is certainly less objectionable when it’s dominated by “real food” ingredients, and the whole thing had a healthful texture and flavor, in kind of a good way. Even better, the Jell-O I used was sugar-free, so I’ll probably be having this for breakfast for a couple of days.
The recipe says you can serve this with mayonnaise thinned with honey, but that, Bryan said, would have made it really nasty. My one real regret here is that there’s no “presentation.” The recipe says to serve it on a bed of greens, and I didn’t even do that. This leaves it confusingly “bi-.” It’s not exactly a dinner salad but it’s not exactly “desserty” either. It tasted fine and all, but this stuff just bugs me.
Bryan pointed out that it’s a bit like charoset, a dish made for the Passover seder that represents the mortar with which the Jewish slaves worked in Egypt before Moses led them into the desert. I’m thinking my faithful readers might want to be sure to tune in sometime between 30 March 2010 and 6 April 2010 to see where I end up going with that...
October 1, 2017, ETA: The inclusion of orange Jell-O makes this an Orange Boycott post, and donations will be duly made to Planned Parenthood and the International Rescue Committee. Given everything that’s been happening lately, I’ll also be making a contribution to the One America Appeal for hurricane relief.