Wow. With this post, we’re at number three on the New Joy of Jell-O countdown, a reboot of Strawberries Romanov. This is a fancy-sounding name for a recipe that’s pretty simple, except for some awkward timing.
Strawberries Romanov is another strawberry bavarian, along the lines of Fresh Strawberry Pie or Layered Bavarian. There’s a bavarian layer, using Cool Whip as the cream component, and a plain Jell-O-and-fruit layer. As you can see in the photos, I’m using the term “layer” rather loosely. And that’s where the awkward timing comes in.
At least this one had fresh fruit in it. I started off hulling and slicing about a pint of fresh strawberries (they were only available in one-pound packages, so I estimated, making sure to save some for breakfast), which I then macerated with two tablespoons of sugar. The berries exuded almost a quarter-cup of juice, to which I added cold water to make a cup of cold liquid.
Next, I had to make a double-batch (using a six-ounce package) of strawberry Jell-O. I measured out 3/4 cup liquid gelatin and added two tablespoons of brandy, one tablespoon of Cointreau, and half of the cold strawberry liquid. I cooled that over an ice water bath until it was slightly thickened, and then whisked in two cups of Cool Whip to make the bavarian layer. The directions say to fold in the Cool Whip, but because it’s almost impossible to deflate Cool Whip, whisking works better. I poured the mixture into a lubed mold and put it in the fridge to set.
Now, here’s where the timing got wonky, and I’ll admit right up front it was my fault. I got impatient, and you’d think I would have learned by now that patience is sometimes crucial to Jell-O-making. Instead of waiting a bit, I went ahead and prepared the Jell-O-and-fruit layer. I think I was assuming that it would take longer for the Jell-O to thicken, and unfortunately, when it did, the bavarian layer was still pretty soft. I went ahead and tried to put the Jell-O layer on top of the bavarian layer, but it sort of sank in, making something more like a tunnel cake.
I suppose it would have been nice if it had ended up looking like it was supposed to, but I kind of liked the tunnel effect, and of course it didn’t taste any different. (I tried a slice with an extra dollop of Cool Whip. I don’t recommend that. It was a bit much.) Looking at my notes from the last time I made this, I see that I was guessing then, as I do now, that the “Romanov” part of the name is just because there’s a little booze in it. The brandy and Cointreau flavors were subtle. Bryan couldn’t taste them at all, and I could only taste them if I ate the bavarian layer by itself; in a bite containing both bavarian and Jell-O/fruit, I couldn’t taste the alcohol at all. Overall, the flavors blended well together, and as always, using fresh fruit helped.
I won’t lie, it’s a relief to be so close to the end of the Project. At the same time, I’ve been at this for so long that not having to make a Jell-O recipe every weekend is going to be kind of a big change. Once I committed myself to the editorial calendar, I wound up structuring my weekends around making, tasting, and writing about each recipe. In a couple of weeks, I won’t have that structure anymore.
Meanwhile, New Year’s seems like as good a time as any to make a few changes. I plan on getting back on track with learning guitar, adopting a new training regimen at the gym, and I just started the process of letting my hair go gray, which is actually pretty involved after dying it for years. I think 2018 is going to be rough, and I’m just not feeling the cute, soft look of blonde waves anymore. It feels like a good time to be heading towards crone-hood.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.