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).
Originally posted September 21, 2009
Note: In honor of Blizzard Juno… er, Juno the Blizzard…. (I do not approve of the new practice of naming winter storms) I bring you Orange Snow. Always remember the sage advice of Frank Zappa, “Watch out where the huskies go…”
Finally, a recipe that makes me smile! This one has a lot going for it. It has mostly real, simple ingredients – orange jello, orange juice, a little orange zest, and an egg white. It’s delightfully light and fluffy. It even tastes good, like orange sherbet.
It was fun to make. I prepared the jello, dissolving the gelatin in a cup of boiling water. I added the juice and zest, and cooled it over an ice water bath until it was “slightly thick.” In jello parlance this means “about the same consistency as a raw egg white,” so it’s a good thing I had one handy for comparison. At this point, I had to add the egg white to the jello and, still over the ice water bath, I beat it all up to a lovely thick froth using another of our antique market finds, a 56-year-old Sunbeam Mixmaster Junior. Per the recipe, I piled the froth lightly into my Blue Heaven custard cups (and a parfait glass – there was a lot of froth there) and popped it all into the fridge. The next day, there it was, Orange Snow.
It had about the same texture as hair mousse, which I found kind of fun, and as I said, the flavor was actually quite pleasant. I would guess that this was helped in large part by the fact that about half of the orange juice was fresh-squeezed (from the orange I had zested.) Bryan ate it without any of the usual pissing and moaning, although he didn’t want seconds. This was ready on Sunday, and I ended up eating the rest of it over the course of the day. There was so much air in it that it wasn’t very filling, and the real beauty part is that it was largely guilt-free. The Jell-O was sugar free (because that was all the market had for orange Jell-O when I bought it) and the other ingredients were orange juice and an egg white; in other words, breakfast.
Bryan’s Variation: Use lemon jello, substitute lemonade for the orange juice and lemon zest for the orange zest. Call it Yellow Snow.
Originally posted January 16, 2010
Note: Almost exactly five years later, I’m reposting this about a week after my birthday. I didn’t have any Jell-O for my birthday this year, which doesn’t exactly compensate for being five years older, but it’s something.
I guess I’m just not as smart as I sometimes think I am. You’d think I would have learned my lesson with the Jell-O brunch, but with this confluence of recipes on the schedule, I couldn’t resist doing another “theme” post. I must say, though, that unless I pick up the pace I’m going to have to Tom Sawyer a bunch of unwitting friends and acquaintances into attending a Jell-O buffet – and nobody wants that…
Spanish Tuna Salad
Don’t ask me what makes this salad “Spanish,” because I honestly don’t know. As I work through The New Joys of Jell-O, I often have the impression that recipes were named (and/or developed) using a process akin to Mad Libs.
Spanish Tuna Salad is your basic “things suspended in Jell-O,” savory style – tuna, diced tomato, chopped celery and scallion, and, in theory, small strips of cucumber. However, the cucumber Bryan selected from the bin at the supermarket turned out to be a zucchini, so I just went with that. I suspect it could only have improved the dish. The chopped vegetables (which I “eyeballed” rather than measured, taking care only to not skimp) and chunks of white albacore tuna were added to a thickened lemon Jell-O that had been seasoned with pepper and vinegar. This was put into individual gelatin molds and left in the fridge to chill overnight. Probably the best thing I can say about Spanish Tuna Salad is that it gave Bryan a night off from cooking. The next best thing I can say is that it wasn’t as bad as the Salmon Dill Mousse (although Bryan disagreed with me on this). It looked like some sort of kooky diet dish from a recipe out of a 1970s-vintage issue of Ladies Home Journal, and as has been the problem with the savory Jell-Os so far, the sweetness of the Jell-O was not sufficiently cut by the seasonings and other ingredients. I found the flavor too complicated, the sweet lemon gelatin bumping rudely against the tuna and the celery. The texture wasn’t as creepy as that of the Salmon Dill Mousse, but it still wasn’t remotely pleasant to eat. My overall impression was that this was the sort of thing a young housewife of forty years ago would have made if she didn’t know any better, having married young and gone directly from living with her parents to living with her husband. Once I’d formed this impression, I felt like a bit of a chump.
Key Lime Pie
First, a disclaimer: Yes, I know what key lime pie is, and I know that this isn’t really it. Again, it was those crazy GF R&D drones who named the recipes, not me. When I was making up my schedule, I tried to balance the weird, scary, and outright offensive-sounding recipes with the kinder, gentler ones, hence the pairing of Spanish Tuna Salad with Key Lime Pie. Also, I like lime, so I decided to schedule that one for my birthday. We ended up eating it the day after – close enough. Key Lime Pie sounded like it would be a bit of all right, especially since the recipe calls for two teaspoons of lime zest and a half-cup of lime juice. I juiced the limes I used for zesting, so this had a bracing quantity of fresh, genuine flavoring. The zest and juice, plus a teaspoon of aromatic bitters (don’t ask) were added to lime Jell-O, and the hot liquid was stirred gradually into a well-beaten egg yolk. (I managed not to cook the egg this time – hooray!) This was chilled over an ice water bath until it was slightly thick, and then a can of sweetened condensed milk was stirred into it. Finally, a beaten egg white was folded into the mixture and the lot was poured into a pre-baked pie shell (again, a store-bought crust from the freezer case) and popped into the fridge to chill and firm up.
When I first tasted it, it seemed to me that the real and fake lime flavors clashed a bit on the palate, but I quickly got used to that. Otherwise, it wasn’t bad at all. The real juice and zest gave the pie a nice dash of acidity, and the sweetened condensed milk gave it firmness without the peculiar artificial flavors of Cool Whip or Dream Whip. The recipe recommended garnishing the pie with Dream Whip, and while I did kind of regret presenting a plain pie in the photograph here, it was a relief to eat a Jell-O dessert without Dream Whip in it. While it wasn’t exactly the sort of Key Lime Pie you would expect to get in a good restaurant in Florida, it was a reasonable consolation after eating the Spanish Tuna Salad.
Bryan took seconds.
Originally posted December 6, 2009
First of all, I’d like to apologize for the time lag in posting and in responding to comments. I’ve been battling a cold all week and pretty much just crashing after supper. Luckily, it hasn’t progressed beyond a mild head cold and didn’t turn out to be swine flu, which is what we all worry about when we get the sniffles these days. The curative properties of Jell-O, maybe?
Anyway, thanks to The Joy of Jello Project, until the middle of next August, “holiday” to me means “captive audience.” It also means “an opportunity to inflict some Jell-O on my in-laws.”
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I managed to get out of work a little early, got in a leg workout at the gym, ate supper, and spent three hours making two Jell-O recipes. I selected the reasonably pleasant-sounding Pink Lady Pie, and for that seasonal flavor I selected Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold.
Pink Lady Pie
Pink Lady Pie was one of the more interesting ones to make so far because it’s fairly involved. The first step was prebaking a pie crust, and in the spirit of NJoJ and 1974, I used a Mrs. Smith’s pie crust I found in the freezer case at the supermarket. (It turned out to be pretty decent, probably better than what I could have made from scratch.) I made the filling while waiting for the nicely browned crust to cool. I had to heat three egg yolks, water and sugar over a double-boiler until the mixture was slightly thickened. It had been a long time since I’d used a double-boiler, so on my first attempt I overheated the water and ended up cooking the eggs. I had to dump them and start over. For once we had plenty of eggs in the fridge, and my second attempt was successful.
Here things started to get a little funky. The Jell-O was supposed to be added to and dissolved in the egg mixture. The raspberry Jell-O I happened to have on hand was the sugar-free kind. Even in boiling water it’s difficult to get sugar-free Jell-O to dissolve completely, and it proved to be impossible in the merely hot water/egg/sugar mixture. I ended up with little specks of semi-dissolved gelatin throughout the mixture, and judging by the appearance I didn’t think this was so bad, as it gave it a suggestion of naturalness – always a welcome result with Jell-O.
While the egg/gelatin mixture thickened over an ice water bath, I prepared a packet of Dream Whip, and then whipped up three egg whites with sugar and a little vanilla extract to make a meringue. First the meringue and then half of the Dream Whip got folded together with the gelatin mixture to make a fluffy girly-pink filling for the pie shell.
After chilling overnight the pie filling was firm, and on Thanksgiving morning I got out the piping bag and a star tip and decorated the pie with the rest of the Dream Whip. I was doing better than I expected with the piping bag, until I was finished and then somehow managed to express a random blob of Whip onto the pie. Still, it doesn’t look so bad, does it?
Well, the proof of the Jell-O is in the eating, and it didn’t taste so bad either. I had to add a nasty for the Dream Whip, which continues to leave me underwhelmed, and for the undissolved specks of Jell-O, which had a peculiar rubbery texture reminiscent of mouse cartilage.
Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold
Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold is stealth scary. It sounds innocent enough – two great tastes that go great together and all that. However, the top layer contains canned whole-berry cranberry sauce (not scary to a lot of you, maybe, but I strongly prefer the jellied kind) and the bottom layer contains – oh, I don’t think I’ll give it away just yet.
It started out like the beginning sequence of a 1970s horror movie, where nice, normal people are doing something pleasant, not realizing that a chainsaw-wielding maniac or a phalanx of zombies lurks in their near future. I dissolved two packages of lemon Jell-O, a quarter-cup of sugar and a quarter-teaspoon of salt in two cups of boiling water. I added a cup and a half of cran-apple drink and set aside two cups of the resulting liquid, adding my cranberry sauce to the remainder and chilling that over ice water until it was thickened. This was poured into my bundt pan, which I thought would do for the eight-cup ring mold specified in the recipe, and popped it into the fridge.
This is the point where the sun was just slipping below the horizon and one normal person, probably the dorky guy (somebody’s younger brother, maybe) had disappeared into the woods/house/mall and his friends were starting to get worried. I chilled the set-aside two cups of gelatin mixture over my ice water bath until it was thickened. (Cue theremin or screechy strings.) Then I added – two cups of Cool Whip! And then (crescendo) a quarter-cup of mayonnaise!
(Temporary release of tension.) I folded in a finely-chopped apple, and carefully spooned this layer onto the cranberry layer and put it all into the refrigerator to chill overnight.
(Amping up the score again for more deaths, and a gory denouement….) The unmolding was only semi-successful, as I failed to get it even remotely centered on the bottom part of the Rubbermaid cake carrier I was going to use to transport the Jell-O to Thanksgiving dinner in outer Metro-West. The layers were at least properly melded together, but the bundt pan was again a little too large for the recipe. I’m just glad I took a photo before we packed everything up and headed out to the burbs, because this didn’t survive the drive intact. The g-forces of stop-and-go traffic were just too much for the gelatin, and the ring got pulled apart. I’m still not sure exactly how to solve this problem, apart from leaving the Jell-O in the mold until serving time. Given my mixed success with unmolding, this strikes me as a risky proposition.
As for the taste, well, as an adult I’m better able to bear things like whole-berry cranberry sauce than I was when I was a child and decided I didn’t care for them, so the top layer wasn’t so terrible. The bottom layer, however…. The flavor of the mayonnaise was definitely noticeable, and I could only conclude that its inclusion in the recipe was an act of pure sadism on the part of the General Foods R&D drones. Even drugs couldn’t explain this. While it wasn’t unbearably nasty, we didn’t want seconds.
As For The In-Laws….
I got no feedback from them, because none of them tried either dish. I suspect that my mother-in-law put out the word that I was bringing Jell-O, and every other woman in the family made a dessert, even the aunt who simply does not cook. Once again, Bryan and I were the only tasters.
So we ended up bringing home most of the Pink Lady Pie and the Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold. We ate all of the pie over the course of a couple of days, though not eagerly. Showing yet another way in which Dream Whip is a lame substitute for whipped cream, the decoration on top of the pie became gradually firmer, more the consistency of cake frosting than of cream. I guess if you look at it a certain way, it’s good that it sits there as it was when it came out of the piping bag rather than melting like real cream. I’d still rather have real cream. And the Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold – we couldn’t. We just couldn’t.
Originally posted October 29, 2009
Ginger Peach Dessert sounds a little fancy, but it’s really just your basic fruited Jell-O. The base is orange, and the cold liquid is ginger ale. At least, that’s what the recipe calls for, but after my disappointment with the Jellied Ginger Upper, I wanted to go for a stronger ginger flavor, so I used Reed’s Jamaican ginger beer instead. The fruit is, alas, canned peaches.
This sounded like a recipe that would lend itself to being molded, so I decided to use it as a practice run with the hand-shaped mold that was loaned to me for my Halloween party commission work. It struck me that this might be a tricky mold to use, for a number of reasons, the primary one being the extremely irregular shape of the mold. I knew there was no way I could fumble my way out of this one with a knife. Also, the mold is made of plastic, and I hadn’t worked with plastic molds yet, so I didn’t have a feel for how this would work.
The recipe didn’t make quite enough to fill the mold, but it was full enough. The way this mold is formed, the hand sits atop a mitten-shaped platform of Jell-O, and luckily there was at least enough to fill the mold above the outline of the hand where the platform started. I’ve been told that it’s extremely difficult to unmold from this if all you do is fill the hand, and I believe it.
As it turned out, it was difficult to unmold anyway. I blame myself. I forgot to coat the mold with nonstick cooking spray. I filled a baking pan as full as I dared with hot water from the tap, but it wasn’t deep enough to immerse the underside of the mold, and this problem was exacerbated by the irregular shape of the thing. The wrist section is much deeper than the fingers. After what seemed like far too long in the water, I tried turning it out onto the platter. Nothing. So I got out the hairdryer and felt silly blow-drying my mold for a few minutes, with no visible effects. I went back to immersing, then back to the hair dryer, then immersing again, until finally the thing plopped out onto the platter. As you can see in the photo, the unmolding required far too much melting of the Jell-O, so what I ended up with was a diseased looking hand sitting in a pool of orange spooge.
This was not a big hit with the Peanut Gallery. I’m now thinking that this may not have been a good recipe to mold after all, because the Jell-o was closer to “soft set” than it was to “nice and firm.” Bryan didn’t like the texture, and he had to ask me what flavor the Jell-O was. The latter complaint may have had to do with the ginger beer. Reed’s is one of the better ones around, but it’s very sweet and the ginger flavor lacks sharpness. (We used to love another ginger beer, Old Tyme, which was so spicy it made me sneeze, but that appears to have vanished from the marketplace.) I don’t think it worked so well in this recipe because, as is often the case, it just didn’t blend well with the flavor of the Jell-O. I’m not fond of artificial orange flavor, so I didn’t mind it so much, though. The canned peaches were, as usual, a disappointment.
The real bummer here, of course, is that I have not allayed my fear of disappointing our hosts at the Halloween party…