Category Archives: Recipe Reboot

Recipe Reboot: Fruit Flavor Flakes

dish of pale green Jell-O flakes topped with whipped cream from a can

Fruit Flavor Flakes – oh, what a relief it is!

I’ve been doing these “recipe reboots” because, although I made them already in my first go at the Project, I had no notes or photos, and they didn’t turn up in the Wayback Machine, so I felt honor-bound to make them again. Also, for the sake of completeness, I wanted to have posts and photos from all of the recipes in the book. Normally this is a little annoying, for reasons that I expect are obvious. Then there are times like this, where a recipe is welcome because of the contrast with the previous week’s culinary caper.

breaking up Jell-O in the pan with a fork

Flaking the fruit flavor

Fruit Flavor Flakes is simply a presentation method for plain Jell-O. The recipe, such as it is, consists of directions for preparing a three-ounce package of Jell-O, any flavor. (I chose a box of Melon Fusion that I had in my stash – and it wasn’t even past its use-by date yet.) This is chilled until firm in a shallow pan and then “flaked”, either using a fork or by pressing through a potato ricer or wide-mesh strainer. I don’t have either of the last two things, so I used a fork, which was oddly satisfying. The flaked Jell-O is then piled lightly in dessert dishes, and may be garnished with whipped topping and/or fruit if desired. That’s it.

Bryan remarked, sarcastically, that it tasted so much better forked. Well, screw him if he can’t enjoy the simple things in life.

After last week’s Green Goddess Salad Bowl of horrors, the simplicity of this recipe was beautiful. Suddenly, without the addition of ingredients like mayonnaise and anchovies, plain Jell-O became tasty, light and refreshing. It was pretty the way it sparkled in the glass dish. It was the perfect foil for whipped cream from a can.

box of Melon Fusion Jell-O, can of whipped cream

All the ingredients!

Even better, it took next to no time to make, with the bare minimum of ingredients – although I did make a quick (parking meter, one quarter, twelve minutes) excursion to China Fair to pick up some new glass dessert dishes.

I think I really needed a break this weekend. I think we all do. As I write this, Hurricane Irma is working its way up Florida, even as recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey in Houston are in early days, and I just got a text from MIT that there’s been a shooting in Tech Square (about a mile from Freak Mountain). I can hear the sirens. I’m starting to lose track of all the terrible things the Trump administration is doing.

It’s been a hell of a year. I’m already looking forward to New Year’s Eve, when I expect I’ll be posting the last recipe in the Project. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in Life After Jell-O, but whatever it is, it’s got to be better than what’s happening now…

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?

Recipe Reboot: Quick (Not Orange) Fruit Salad

For some reason, WordPress won’t let me use strikethrough formatting in the title, so let me just note that, for the purposes of the Project, the official title of this recipe is Quick Orange Fruit Salad.

bowl of blue Jell-O with bits of strawberry, blueberry, honeydew, and halved graps, next to a smaller bowl containing a serving of the salad

Quick Orange Fruit Salad

This one is definitely an Orange Boycott, given that the base Jell-O is orange, and the “salad” part is mostly orange sections. This meant that I had to get kind of creative with the substitutions.

I thought that it could be fun to go with one of the more interesting Jell-O flavors – in my stash I have boxes of flavors like mango and “Melon Fusion”, but I decided that after the narrow passage of Trumpcare in the U.S. House of Representatives this week, I wanted to get as far from orange as possible. That meant Berry Blue. Blue is, of course, the complementary (or opposite) color to orange on the color wheel you learned in elementary school.

I had to put more thought into what I was going to use in place of the orange sections, and I settled on a bit of an assortment, like a standard, non-gelatinous fruit salad. At the range of restaurants we tend to frequent, fruit salad is almost always bits of cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, grapes, and maybe banana slices and/or blueberries, so I thought I’d try for something like that. Ruling out cantaloupe on account of the color, and bananas on account of their maddening tendency to clump together, I finally settled on honeydew and a strawberry and blueberry mix from the prepared-fruit section at the supermarket.

The recipe also calls for halved green grapes, and that was the key point where I did follow instructions. This part was kind of annoying, cutting the grapes in half. It reminded me of making Frosted Fresh Grapes, and I decided that, really, any preparation of grapes beyond washing them and pulling them off of the stems is a waste of time.

side view of finished Jell-O dish in glass bowl

Fish bowl Jell-O?

The preparation of Quick Orange Fruit Salad was mostly straightforward. The recipe includes the addition of a dash of salt and two teaspoons of lemon juice to the gelatin, and I went ahead and did that. This is supposed to be quick-thickened by the addition of ice in place of the cold water, but I guess the temperature in the kitchen wasn’t quite cool enough yesterday because, once again, this technique didn’t quite work, and I ended up thickening it over an ice-water bath. Once that was done, I added the fruit, put it in a pretty serving bowl, and was struck, as I put it into the fridge to chill, by the aquamarine color of the Berry Blue Jell-O and how it made me think of a fish bowl. I started wishing that I’d cut the honeydew slices into little fish shapes, and…. Nah. Life’s too short.

Your Humble Narrator shoveling a spoonful of Jell-O into her bright-red gob

Tasting Quick Orange Fruit Salad

For me, this turned out to be a perfectly nice dessert. I didn’t measure out the fruit and probably added more than the recipe called for, but this just meant that it seemed more healthful. The grape halves sank to the bottom, but that wasn’t a big deal once I’d dished out a portion. The Berry Blue flavor was better than I remembered, but maybe the addition of the salt and lemon juice had something to do with that. It reminded me of Smarties (the American kind, not the British kind) or Sweet Tarts. I found that I really liked the color, too. It reminded me of summer, which is taking its own sweet time coming around this year. Also, it kind of matched my hair’s current “accent” color, as my trainer pointed out when I was telling him about this earlier today, which is why I included a somewhat rare photo of myself tasting the Jell-O. However, to my colorblind spouse, Berry Blue Jell-O is a weird sort of blue-gray. “It doesn’t look like food!” he protested. I’ll be eating the lion’s share of this one.

Your Humble Narrator wearing an apron featuring a lurid image of a brain

Modeling my awesome, Jell-O-y brain apron

The apron I’m wearing in that photo was sent up to me this past week by R–, a former student/researcher in our lab who’s now working on his Ph.D. at Yale. The shiny red cerebrum reminded him of my brain-shaped Jell-O mold, and he couldn’t resist the kind gesture, for which I’m grateful.

It’s been kind of a gloomy week, between the weather and the GOP trying to kill and/or subjugate us 99%ers, so small kindnesses have meant a lot. A Facebook friend whom I’ve never met in person was good enough to share positive feedback after viewing the video of my Rock Camp band’s performance (luckily we were first in the lineup; I kind of feel like I owe a beer or other beverage of choice to anyone who makes it all the way through the song), and, most importantly, he took my interest in pursuing music seriously.

The interesting thing about my Facebook friend is that he’s politically conservative, and we’re both trying not to cut people off because of political differences. I know some people who are doing that, and I understand that they have their reasons, but (rather uncharacteristically, to be honest) I’m trying not to be so quick to give up on some large portion of humanity. It’s nice that some people are affirming my (admittedly shaky) faith in people.

Recipe Reboot: Strawberry Yogurt Whip

two dishes of indeterminate Jell-O variant with dollops of Cool Whip on top

Pink stuff with Cool Whip dollops, circa 2009

I call this a “recipe reboot”, but I still have my notes from when I made this the first time around, for posting on October 5, 2009. In fact, it was the first recipe where I made notes as I prepared and tasted it. I must have decided to reboot it because I don’t have photos – or, rather, I have some photos of something pink that might have been Strawberry Yogurt Whip, with a time-stamp from around the right date, but whatever the pink stuff is, it doesn’t look very “whipped”, so I can’t be sure. Anyway, Strawberry Yogurt Whip is one of those “Nice Easy Things to Do with Jell-O”, so reprising it now is no great hardship.

The recipe lists four ingredients, two of which are water, so this is basically Jell-O, slightly thickened, whipped together with yogurt and chilled until firm. Sounds simple enough, but another reason that I decided to reboot this is because I was not entirely happy with the result using strawberry yogurt as specified in the recipe. Back in 2009, I used Stoneyfield Farms lowfat fruit-on-the-bottom, and regretted using the lowfat version. Also, individual-serving yogurt cups were downsized from eight ounces to six ounces some time ago, so I had to buy two servings, mix them together, and measure out a cup. Boo hoo.

three clear glass teacups with bright pink, frothy Jell-O in them

Strawberry Yogurt Whip, circa 1974

Also, I found myself wondering about yogurt now versus yogurt in 1974. As I recall, in the early 1970s, yogurt was still fairly exotic to the middle-American palate. It was health food, or food for “nut’n’berry freaks”. The only time I ever had yogurt back then was when I was playing at the home of my friend who lived next door. Her mother was kind of a hippie, and a single mom when that sort of thing was much less common than it is today. They had furniture made out of big electrical wire spools (that I envied then, and still do), a lot of artsy-crafty things to do, and for snacks, crunchy-granola things like yogurt. My family were kind of the opposite of hippies; we had Ethan Allen furniture, and no yogurt.

Having googled it just now, I see that there’s a little more to the history of yogurt in the U.S. than my recollections suggest. I was thinking that maybe yogurt that was available to users of The New Joys of Jell-O in 1974 would be more “pure” than a lot of yogurts today that are full of sugar, thickeners, and preservatives. Not so, according to this New Yorker article from 2013 about the recent Greek yogurt trend. Manufacturers were adding thickeners and sweeteners to yogurt during the 1950s and 1960s, even as it was being marketed as a health food. However, it took Dannon’s ad campaign in the 1970s touting yogurt’s longevity-granting health benefits to push it into the mainstream.

So yogurt in 1974 was probably a lot like yogurt that’s available now, apart from the package size. Even so, I decided to use plain Fage full-fat Greek yogurt, which turned out to be a good call. The tartness of the plain yogurt balances perfectly with the sweetness of the Jell-O, giving Strawberry Yogurt Whip an almost-real strawberry flavor. I’m not too worried about the fat in the yogurt; I figure it’s got to be better for me than thickeners and extra sugar, and has a better flavor, too. My guess is that Strawberry Yogurt Whip is more of a “health food” than a lot of yogurts on the market today.

three glasses of whipped Jell-O garnished with strawberry slices

Strawberry Yogurt Whip á la Freak Mountain

This one also has very nice visual appeal (a pleasant pink color, as opposed to the neon pink of the photo from the book) and, to my mind, an interesting texture. I’ve liked the whipped gelatins from the first one I did, although Bryan disagrees with me there. He thinks they’re weird. I think when you’re making over a hundred Jell-O recipes, the more variation you have, the better. I will admit that this can be weird, texture-wise, if you don’t put them in the dessert glasses quickly enough. I think you can kind of see in the photo how the foamy part becomes a “head” on top of some more placid Jell-O, especially in the kitty-kat glass. I ate one of those, and found myself a little creeped out by the transition from foamy to smooth Jell-O.

Still, if you have kids and you’re trying to get more calcium-rich foods into them, this might not be a bad way to do it. Strawberry Yogurt Whip is a bit of all right.


me, Sonya, and Maura on bass; behind Sonya, awesome drummer Julie

First – and last – performance by the Silver Daisies. April 9, 2017 (ONCE, Somerville, MA; photo by Wei Yu)

Incidentally, if you noticed there was no post last week and expected a nasty Jell-O this week, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I took the weekend off Jell-O’ing to do a “rock camp”. I mentioned it a few posts ago, and I’m happy to report that I did not get demoted to cowbell, although I was given a standard-tuned electric guitar and expected to play proper chords. The whole thing turned out to be a mixed bag for me, but I’m glad I did it – and also glad it’s over and done with, though I really enjoyed jamming with the Silver Daisies and am wondering how I can get more of that into my life.

Recipe Reboot: Chiffon Marble

picture of recipe from book

Chiffon Marble circa 1974

It’s just as well that Chiffon Marble is a reboot, because I honestly have no recollection of having made it, ever. That’s not surprising, because it’s one of the simpler recipes in the book, in the “Nice Easy Things to Do with Jell-O” chapter.

The timing on this wasn’t great. I made it last weekend, while spontaneous protests were springing up in airports around the country in response to the executive order banning people from seven Middle Eastern and north African countries from traveling to the U.S. I was with them in spirit, after having spent the latter part of the week lending a sympathetic ear to the foreign nationals in the lab (including one individual from one of the named countries) who are anxious about the order, and increasingly disappointed in the U.S. It’s touching to know that they share our ideals and that they see this country as a source of inspiration as well as opportunity, which makes it that much harder to see how we’re letting them down.

Dream Whip and lime Jell-O

Yes, this is really all there is to it

So it would have been nice to get stuck into one of the more elaborate Jell-O creations, something to take my mind off of things for a little while. Instead, what popped up on the editorial calendar was Chiffon Marble, which contains a grand total of four ingredients – and that’s including boiling water and ice cubes. Still, it felt good to crank up my Galaxy News Radio station on Pandora (which I couldn’t access in London) and do a little “cooking”.

One mildly interesting thing is that this recipe calls for the Jell-O to be quick-thickened with ice cubes, so I went ahead and did that, and it worked – so I guess the kitchen was just chilly enough. (Great.) After the Jell-O was thickened, I set aside 3/4 of a cup of it and folded about a cup (half of a prepared envelope) of Dream Whip into the remainder. The idea, then, was that the bavarian part and the plain Jell-O part should be layered and then swirled around a bit with a knife to a achieve a marbled effect. It sounds fine in theory, but it turned out that the plain Jell-O was denser than the bavarian part, so it just sank into the middle of the bavarian. Swirling didn’t seem to help much. Clearly there was some sort of trickery involved in the photo from the book, because this is how mine turned out:

my Chiffon Marble, showing clearly how the plain Jell-O sank to the bottom of the glasses

Chiffon Marble á la Freak Mountain

On the plus side, there was leftover Dream Whip for garnish, and lime is one of the nicer flavors of Jell-O, so it wasn’t hard to eat it all.

I have to say, too, that making Jell-O is not such a terrible coping strategy…

Recipe Reboot: Black Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert

a bottle of merlot, a box of raspberry Jell-O, and a pint of Ben & Jerry's vanilla

Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert ingredients

Black Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert had a major strike against it at the outset – black raspberry flavored Jell-O no longer exists. There was none on the supermarket shelf, and when I looked it up on the Kraft Foods website, I discovered that it’s no longer among the available flavors. (I don’t remember this being a problem when I made it in 2009.) So the recipe is called Black Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert, but now it’s just Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert, which isn’t quite the same thing.

Since the required Jell-O flavor is unavailable, all bets were off with regard to the other ingredients: water, sherry, and vanilla ice cream. We don’t keep sherry around, because I’m not fond of fortified wines. That may be because of an experience I had early in my drinking career, when some well-meaning legal-drinking-age person bought me a bottle of tawny port, on which I got very drunk and subsequently very sick.

Still, I do like how alcohol can enhance the flavor of Jell-O, so I decided to substitute a less-sweet wine. I thought I’d try for a full-bodied red wine, since I was losing some depth of flavor with red raspberry Jell-O, and I had a little glimmer of inspiration from a pleasant memory of life in Brooklyn. Several blocks from us in Park Slope there was a café called the Chocolate Room that did wine pairings with desserts, and they had a nice raspberry wine that went well with chocolate cake. I thought if I could find a raspberry wine here, it might work well with this Jell-O dish, so I went to our local hipster liquor store*, only to be thwarted once again.

I had to turn to my miniscule wine stash, hoping I had a red that wasn’t “corked“, or vinegar. Luckily, I had a Beringer 2006 merlot that’s held up well, so I used that in the recipe instead of sherry. There was a brief moment of panic when I noticed that the raspberry Jell-O and merlot combination smelled rather like a household cleaner, but that aroma dissipated eventually.

If you’re a regular reader of NJoJ, you might have already guessed that this is an ice-cream-based bavarian, and all there is to it is preparing the Jell-O as directed, substituting a quarter-cup wine for a quarter-cup of cold water. A pint of vanilla ice cream (I went with an old favorite, Ben & Jerry’s) is gradually melted into the liquid gelatin, and it gets chilled until firm. That’s it – hence its inclusion in the chapter titled “Nice Easy Things to Do with Jell-O”.

creamy pink gelatin with blackberries

Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert

I served my Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert with fresh blackberries, and it was okay. The wine flavor was a subtle and sneaky thing, and it didn’t blend well with the gelatin and ice cream flavors, but it wasn’t unpleasant. Otherwise, this was quite sweet. Also, the texture was very soft. I think this would be particularly good to have while recovering from dental surgery.

* Funny story: One time Bryan and I were at City Liquors when a bro came in and asked one of the store employees if they had “pong balls”. “You know, the balls you play beer pong with?” The employee was bemused by the question. They carry a good selection of wines and a large assortment of craft beers; it’s definitely not a “pong ball” kind of place.

Recipe Reboot: Jellied Ginger Upper

It’s funny how often a simple Jell-O dish can raise sticky questions. Jellied Ginger Upper gave me a weird sort of deja vu. I couldn’t remember, or find any evidence of, having made this before, making the “reboot” status of this one a little shaky. At the same time, I remembered making a Jell-O recipe that included ginger ale. Was it this one? I did a little digging and found that, nope, it was Ginger Peach Dessert. I can’t imagine why I was confused.

two whole pears, a bottle of ginger ale, a 3-oz package of raspberry Jell-O

It doesn’t get much simpler than this…

So this is one of those simple ones, and I think it was the right one for this long holiday weekend. Apart from boiling water and a little lemon juice, the only ingredients are Jell-O (“any red flavor”), diced peaches or pears (canned or fresh), and ginger ale.

As you can see in the photo, I went for fresh pears. It turned out that one pear was enough for the recipe, so I had the other one for a snack. It’s hard to feel strongly about pears one way or another. They have such a light flavor that they often get used as filler with (or instead of) apples, but I guess sometimes you just want a bit of lightly sweet fiber in your diet. (Or Babycham.)

The ginger ale was another ingredient that might have been ripe for tinkering, had I not already done it with the Ginger Peach Dessert. I had assumed that ginger ale would have too mild a flavor, and substituted ginger beer. Normally Bryan and I really like ginger beer (the more gingery the better, preferably spicy enough to make us sneeze) but it turned out that it didn’t go well with Jell-O. Live and learn.

raspberry Jell-O mold with bits of pear suspended in it

Jellied Ginger Upper

In this case, it turned out that ginger ale does go well with raspberry Jell-O. The flavor of the soda (or “tawnic”, as my mother-in-law would say) is subtle but recognizable. The mildness of the pears was a good fit, and anyway, peaches would have made it almost a repeat of Jellied Peach Melba. One interesting similarity that I noticed between Jellied Ginger Upper and Ginger Peach Dessert is a somewhat soft-set texture. The gelatin is firm enough to hold a molded shape, but the mouthfeel is softer than one might expect. I wonder if that has anything to do with the carbonation of the ginger ale, although since it gets added to the hot Jell-O liquid, I would think that the carbon dioxide would outgas quickly (and the mixture did get quite foamy as I slowly poured in the ginger ale) and not leave much in the way of bubbles to affect the texture of the set gelatin.

Possibly I need to do further research on this. It occurred to me that another direction to go with off-book gelatin dishes might be soda-flavored jellies, which could be fun, and it could be interesting to see whether it’s the carbonation affecting the texture. Stay tuned!

One final note: The recipe for Jellied Ginger Upper recommends garnishing with Frosted Fresh Grapes. To which I say, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; er, won’t get fooled again…