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.
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.
Originally posted December 14, 2009
How many different ways are there to do fruit and Jell-O? A lot, apparently.
Fruit Refresher is actually a refreshing change from Jell-O with Cool Whip and mayonnaise. (I guess it’s kind of like that old saw about how the best thing about beating your head against a wall is it feels so good when you stop.) The recipe calls for fresh berries or fruit, which is good since Jell-O is always better with fresh/real ingredients. Mid-December is not exactly the best time for fresh berries in New England, but I found some decent-looking blackberries at the supermarket. I macerated the berries in sugar, drained them, and used the resulting syrup as part of the cold liquid for the gelatin.
The Jell-O could be any flavor, and since I just needed to dissolve it in boiling water, I decided I’d better start using up my sugar-free Jell-O. I went for black cherry, which was not only sugar-free but also a flavor I hadn’t used before. The preparation was simple – dissolve gelatin in boiling water, add cold liquid, chill until thickened, add the fruit, and chill.
I’m very tired tonight for some reason, so it was nice to have a relatively stress-free Jell-O, no unmolding, it just got spooned into our funky MoMA ice cream bowls. The book suggests serving this with cream, and that would have been good, but it was fine served plain. It’s hard to go wrong with fresh fruit, though I’m not sure about the artificial cherry flavor of the Jell-O. It reminded me by turns of cough drops and of wearing Bonne Bell lip gloss when I was in my early teens. Either way, this made for a bunch of ambiguous Proustian moments.
Originally posted October 25, 2009
I have a vague recollection of grasshopper desserts from my youth. Pies, usually, with chocolate crusts. They were pale green and minty, and the grownups seemed to like them because they had crème de menthe in them, which gave them a little bit of a kick.
This Grasshopper Dessert bears little resemblance to those, apart from the hue. The base is lime Jell-O – yes, this is another one of those lime-mint blends. However, since this is a “centerpiece dessert,” it contains two packets (six ounces) of Jell-O, and for some reason the amount of crème de menthe is the same as in the one-packet Quick Crème de Menthe Frappé. While two tablespoonsful of crème de menthe stands out in two cups of lime Jell-O, in four cups it seems to blend in rather nicely.
The light green tower in the middle of the dish is part of the Jell-O mixed into two cups of prepared Dream Whip. I have to say I was underwhelmed by the Dream Whip. I don’t really understand the concept. You add milk and vanilla extract to a packet of powder and whip it up with an electric mixer. It’s no easier, or more convenient, than whipping real cream. It’s not dairy-free, nonfat, or anything like that – so what’s the point? Worse, the stuff tastes like vanilla frosting out of a can. Cool Whip is actually less nasty.
On the plus side, I finally got a chance to use the technique for Cubed Gelatin again. (That was sarcasm, in case you missed it.) I did really like the color of this, the dark, rich green cubes glittering around the sides with the creamy green at the center. You have to give Jell-O credit, when you do it right it’s definitely pleasing to the eye. Overall, this one was really okay, though I have to add a nasty for the Dream Whip.
This recipe does make a fairly large quantity of Jell-O, and I was wondering how we were going to eat it all. Then on Tuesday night there was a little dinnertime meltdown, and I ended up eating all the leftovers for supper. I can now report that it is, in fact, possible to get full from eating Jell-O. Also, (and I mention this only because I know you’re wondering,) if you eat enough lime Jell-O, you will poop green.
Originally posted January 18, 2010
Fruited Gelatin Glaze is kind of a kooky addition to the book. All it is, really, is fruit in Jell-O, except instead of just eating it out of a dish you put it on a cheesecake. Here we have frozen strawberries in strawberry Jell-O, atop a vanilla cheesecake with a chocolate crumb crust. This is not one that will be difficult to eat. It tastes fine, although the combination of textures is a little weird. I think I had expected it to be more like the goopy canned fruit toppings you can get in the supermarket. I should have known better.
The cheesecake was made by Bryan, who seems to want to keep me in a culinary ghetto, walled in by Jell-O. (I suppose it would be in poor taste to go any further with this metaphor…) It’s a fine cheesecake, but I had been kind of looking forward to making it myself. I don’t think I’ve cooked anything besides Jell-O since I made an angel food cake for a party at the end of August. Now, I don’t profess to be a master chef or anything, but I can cook more than Jell-O. Truly I can. I think…
Ah, I’m just feeling cross because I had a hard drive failure at work almost a week ago and it’s really cut into my productivity. In fact, I’m writing this blog entry while I’m at the Lab on a holiday, installing software on the new hard drive – at this moment, a Windows XP virtual machine in Fusion, no less, which is enough to make any Mac fan cranky. Bryan is actually trying to be supportive. Yesterday’s Jell-O’ing included the maiden voyage of the new kitchen clogs Bryan got me for my birthday. (After attempting to “break them in” on the day, I came to the conclusion that they were too narrow and he had to order me the wider ones, which arrived last Friday.) I’m hoping that these will save me from getting backaches as I get caught up on my schedule. Just a few more to go, and I should be all up to date.
By the way, I’ve gotten some nice comments lately, and I’d like to thank the folks who have taken the trouble. Knowing that someone is reading definitely helps keep my motivation up when the Jell-Os get particularly nasty. I seem to be picking up readers from the UK, which is exciting to this old anglophile. I’m humbled by and appreciative of everyone’s time and attention.
Originally posted November 22, 2009
I’ve said in previous blog entries – and elsewhere – that the failures are more fun to talk and write about than the successes. This one, as it happens, was an interesting success. Well, mostly a success.
Just reading through the recipe, it was obvious this wasn’t going to turn out like just another gelatin dish. Besides Jell-O (any red flavor – I used raspberry) this one called for a can of jellied cranberry sauce, a cup of sugar, chopped nuts, and pectin, and with the additional gelling agent I guessed it was going to turn out with the consistency of Turkish delight. Sadly, it was exciting to be able to look forward to this change of pace.
There were only two minor problems preparing this recipe. The first, not that much of a problem, really, was deciding what kind of nuts to use. The New Joys of Jell-O is consistently vague about nuts, as though they’re all the same, or possibly, going by my memories of the 1970s, “nuts” in this context was shorthand for walnuts. That’s a reasonable option in this recipe, but walnuts are not my favorite, so I went with pecans instead. The other problem had to do with the pectin and was another of those “this book is a little outdated” things. The recipe calls for a half of a bottle of Certo pectin and does not mention a specific amount, but Certo pectin no longer comes in bottles but in plastic pouches. Each pouch is enough to make some standard-sized amount of jelly or jam, and I guessed that back in the day the bottle had contained the same amount of pectin, so I emptied a pouch into a measuring cup and used half (a quarter-cup, in case anyone’s wondering). Judging by the result, I was probably right. Yay me!
The preparation was pretty simple and mostly involved a lot of stirring. The jellied cranberry sauce was beaten until the shape of the can was completely obliterated and it was as smooth as I could get it, then brought to a boil. The dry ingredients were added and it simmered for ten minutes with frequent stirring. It came off the heat for the addition of the pectin and nuts and then had to be stirred constantly as it cooled for ten minutes to prevent the nuts from floating to the top. This sounds tedious, but actually it was a pleasure. The mixture smelled lovely, and it was a beautiful deep garnet color that made me happy while I was working.
The mixture went into a lubed square baking pan (the recipe says “buttered” but I wasn’t sure I wanted that strong a flavor so I used the nonstick spray) and chilled overnight. I was supposed to be able to turn this out onto a piece of wax paper (which we don’t have, so I was using a baking sheet) covered with sugar (to coat the candy to prevent stickiness,) but despite the nonstick spray and immersion in a hot water bath, the candy would not come out of the pan. No matter. I used the cubed gelatin technique, cut it while it was in the pan and removed the cubes with a cookie spatula, and this was completely satisfactory.
Because this resembled Turkish delight, I used powdered sugar to coat the candy. The recipe offered Baker’s Angel Flake Coconut as an alternative to sugar, and I like coconut so I bought a bag, but the way the coconut was clumping (not dry enough) I thought it wouldn’t stick well to the candy or serve the intended purpose. The recipe said to coat the candy with sugar, and after an hour add another coat to prevent sticking. This I dutifully did, and due to time constraints (it was bedtime) I took the photo right after I’d added the second coat. What happened overnight, and what happened to the third coat as well, was that the moisture in the candy dissolved much of the sugar, making a sort of cran-raspberry royal icing. So it didn’t look very appetizing for most of its life, but it did taste good. Bryan ate it voluntarily. Just for kicks and giggles I tried coating some of it with coconut and found I’d been right – some of it stuck, but not enough. It still tasted good.
Since this was a dish that would travel well, I brought a good-sized portion to the Lab, hoping to elicit some fresh opinions. I didn’t push it on anyone, and only a few brave souls, my bestest friends in the Lab, tried it. One found it too sweet. The person who ate the most was the person with the amazing metabolism who will eat almost anything when he’s hungry. The most valuable feedback was from our Turkish student, who confirmed that it was like Turkish delight, and also confirmed for me that Turkish delight is, in fact, Turkish. I had been in some doubt, because I had first heard of Turkish delight when I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and thought maybe it was a name given to some British confection to make it sound exotic. Anyway, she seemed to like it, but not that much, and I ended up bringing a good bit of it home.
Bryan and I ate it all up. No waste this time.
Originally posted October 25, 2009
I know, it’s been a few days since I last posted. A couple of months in, maybe I’m getting a little blog burnout. The Jell-O recipes are a little repetitive, and people keep asking me, “Why are you doing that?”
And there’s no good answer to that question. It’s a silly way to be an attention whore, is the honest answer. I started out with some lofty ideals, inspired by Michael Pollan and Morgan Spurlock. This was going to be a sort of running commentary about the terrible state of the typical American diet, dominated as it is by industrial food. Then I didn’t have the heart for self-righteous pontificating, and I decided that everyone else has been way too earnest about this stuff lately (like this guy) so really the Project was more of a nonsensical exercise in absurdism (somewhat in the vein of the Cacophony Society or the comedy of the Firesign Theatre). But I’m afraid that I’m just not that clever.
You know what, though – it is kind of fun. Sometimes it’s positively hilarious. People find it strange and interesting when I tell them about my Project. (If only more of them would read it!) I’m finding that food – eating, cooking, even just talking about it – has a way of connecting people. It’s a small but terribly important point, and I think that’s really why I’m staying committed to the Project.
Apart from all this self-pitying stuff, I’ve had a temporary shift in focus as Halloween approaches. I seem to have discovered that I rather enjoy playing dress-up, so I’ve spent a certain amount of time putting together the elements of my costume. It is kind of Jell-O related, so be sure to tune in on November 1, when I should be posting photos of my Halloween Jell-O Mini-Project.
So, on to the Jell-O….
Layered Bavarian sounds much more elaborate than it really is. It’s two layers, a plain Jell-O layer and a Jell-O and vanilla ice cream layer (basically the same as Black Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert). Since the recipe allows for the use of any flavor, I went for strawberry. It was okay. I liked the contrasting textures in this dish, and strawberries and cream is always a good combination. However, there’s just no getting around the fact that a red flavor mixed with cream makes for a creepy-colored dessert. Also, I think this would have been better with real strawberries incorporated into it.
I’m starting to understand how recipes like Florida Seacoast Salad came about. The General Foods R&D drones got bored.