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.
Originally posted September 26, 2009
First of all, I have to apologize for the photo. The color balance on this was very difficult to get right, between the red Jell-O and the terra cotta tiles and the fact that I can’t be arsed to learn what all those little glyphs mean on my camera’s menus so that I can make those adjustments there. I have a cunning plan to “borrow” a light kit that Bryan and I bought for his mom for Christmas a year or two ago so that she could take good photos of the jewelry she was making. She’s since moved on from jewelry to knitting and has hardly used the kit, so we don’t think she’ll miss it.
As for the Jell-O, color me amazed. This is another one that wasn’t bad at all. Again, it’s relatively simple, strawberries in strawberry-flavored Jell-O, and a creamy strawberry-flavored topping made with some of the liquid Jell-O and sour cream. (Sorry, Jack!) I think as artificial flavors go, strawberry is one of the better ones. Also, I used Trader Joe’s frozen strawberries, and they’re much, much better than the Birds Eye. I liked this more than Bryan did, but we finally agreed that it rated a single nasty. [Note for first-time readers: The original blog had a “nasty” rating system that was not resurrected for the blog reboot.]
The recipe doesn’t require that it be molded, as you can tell from the photograph from the book, but it’s given as an option that I thought I ought to take considering how badly I need to practice the technique. I’m happy to say that this went much better than the Jellied Ginger Upper. I had my towels all in place (and we all know how important it is to keep track of your towel) before the unmolding, and I found that it helped to watch the Jell-O around the sides of the mold – it starts to look kind of “melty” when it’s ready to go, and in fact I probably could have kept it in the warm water for a second or two less.
I was satisfied with this result, though, and am feeling at least a little more confident about making a mold for the Halloween party. If only I was as sanguine about a costume.
or, Dude, Where’s My Parsley?
Originally posted November 19, 2009
Here we enter into the first of our regularly-scheduled savory gelatin dishes. I started with this one because it looked like the least scary one. It’s a simple cucumber salad, with a lemon Jell-O base and sour cream (I think yogurt could work with this as well), seasoned with a little vinegar, onion, parsley and black pepper. It sounds kind of like Indian raita or Greek tzatziki, so it seemed like it wouldn’t be too ridiculous.
It was pretty easy to make, except for one problem – the recipe calls for the cucumbers to be coarsely grated, but we don’t have a box grater, just a microplane grater and a cheese grater. I tried using the microplane briefly, but I ended up with cucumber mush. In retrospect, I probably should have used the grating disk in our Cuisinart, but for some reason I thought that would be too much trouble, and I decided to finely chop the cucumber instead. I admit it, it did occur to me that this might make it difficult to drain enough liquid from the cucumber before adding it to the gelatin, but I went ahead with the chopping anyway.
I drained, I blotted, I blotted some more, and finally, when the cucumber was not obviously weeping, I added it to the seasoned Jell-O and sour cream mixture. I poured it all into a mold lubricated with non-stick cooking spray, and let it chill overnight.That non-stick cooking spray has not turned out to be the saving grace I was hoping it would be. This dish wouldn’t come out of the mold after the first dip in a hot water bath, and after the second dip it took a good shake to get it out. Once again, there was a little too much melting needed to release the mold, so it ended up sitting in a little pool of liquid gelatin. This time I thought, no problem – the recipe had required only a tablespoon of chopped parsley, so I had most of the bunch left and could use it to garnish the Jell-O for the photo. I opened the fridge, looked in the crisper where I’d put the unused remainder of the bunch, and found only a lot of Polaroid film and a big bag of apples.
Turning to Bryan: “Dude, where’s my parsley?”
Eventually we arrived at the truth of the matter – he had gotten a little over-enthusiastic about cleaning out the fridge that morning and had thrown out the parsley, for some reason assuming that it was old and no good. Argh.The mold appeared to be nice and firm, so after I’d taken a few photos of the whole thing, I thought I’d get some of the mold with a slice of it on a small plate, ready to serve. Cutting into it, I discovered its lack of structural integrity. Nothing resembling a slice was going to come out of this, and as soon as I removed a serving from it, cracks began to develop on top and the whole thing began to slowly collapse. It really would have been better if I’d coarsely grated the cukes as it said in the recipe. Oh well.
I ate the “slice” myself and gave Bryan an amuse-bouche in a custard cup. It wasn’t all that nasty. The savory ingredients do go a long way towards cutting the sweetness of the Jell-O, and it was somewhat reminiscent of other creamy cucumber salads. I found it rather refreshing, but Bryan said he wouldn’t go that far. If I were to make this again, I would probably add more pepper. However, I’m unlikely to make this again. Even though it wasn’t very nasty, it’s been sitting in the refrigerator growing increasingly formless, and we haven’t eaten any more of it since we tasted it. This one, I think, will be garbage disposal food.
Originally posted August 31, 2009
I’m not sure, but I think this recipe may have been included in the book as a joke. The ingredients are lime Jell-O, crushed pineapple, peppermint extract, and vinegar. The proportion of pineapple is fairly sizeable, and this made me nervous as I’ve been warned by a few different people that I should be careful when using pineapple because it contains an enzyme that inhibits gelling.
However, this appears not to have been a problem here. It’s difficult to tell from the photo, but the Jell-O in the ramekins is, indeed, fully set. I had intended to unmold the Jell-O from the ramekins onto the plate, but it would not come loose, despite the little knife and the warm water bath. I assume the ceramic wasn’t transferring the heat as well as, say, my metal bundt pan. Oh well, another Jell-O lesson learned. I may have to invest in some Pam for future recipes. (It’s not a General Foods/Kraft product, so naturally the Jell-O folks aren’t going to recommend using it.) Another little problem with using the ramekins is that I find myself wishing they contained crème brulée instead.
It would have been helpful if the recipe book had included a serving suggestion for this one, because I honestly have no idea what place this might have in a meal. Texture-wise it is rather like your more traditional relishes, in that the gelatin serves mainly as a binding agent for the crushed pineapple. Flavor-wise, I’m not sure what would be enhanced by this. The flavor is, to put it generously, complex. At first it’s just “mmm, lime Jell-O and pineapple, this is a bit of all right” and the vinegar just seems to enhance the tartness, which is something I like about both lime and pineapple. But then the peppermint sneaks up on you, and you wonder what the hell it’s doing there, like some kid in a crowd jumping up and flipping the bird in the background of a video of two dignitaries shaking hands. I’m thinking maybe you could have this with Nilla Wafers in a course somewhere between the salad (iceberg lettuce wedges with bleu cheese dressing?) and the dessert (something involving Cool Whip, definitely).