Category Archives: With Video

Virgin Recipe: Artichoke Salad

lime Jell-O mold with vegetable bits floating in it

Artichoke Salad

Wow. It seems like I’d hardly gotten over being horrified by Barbecue Salad when I was faced with this fresh hell, dubbed by the General Foods Corporation as Artichoke Salad.

Artichoke Salad in the mold

Mmm, this is a chunky one…

It’s a fairly simple recipe, consisting of artichoke hearts (Birds Eye frozen) and sliced mushrooms that are marinated in Four Seasons Italian salad dressing and then suspended in lime Jell-O with just the slightest whiff of added vinegar. No salt and pepper, I ask you. And some sliced pimentos to give it that festive look.

I have to admit, this recipe really played on my increasingly troublesome tendency to procrastinate. Normally I would do the cooking on a Saturday, and the tasting/video on Sunday, but I managed to futz around doing other things on Saturday last week (the guitar is always an awesome excuse not to do something else), made the Jell-O on Sunday, and recorded the video on Monday. The posting is due up today, per my editorial calendar, and I’m cutting this kind of fine. I still need to get in some guitar practice (damn you, F barre chord!) and I’d really like to spend some time in the Mojave Wasteland, where nobody has ever heard of Donald Trump.

I’m going to make this happen, though. I am determined.

The good thing about the procrastination is that I wound up marinating the artichoke hearts and mushroom slices for several hours, quite a bit more than the “at least one hour” recommended by the recipe. Both vegetables really needed it, the hearts because they were tough from the get-go, and the shrooms because, well, they’re shrooms. Beyond that, putting this all together was totally routine by now.

pouring dressing over single serving of Artichoke Salad

Adding the Good Seasons and mayo dressing makes this extra special…

The recipe helpfully suggests that the Italian dressing that gets drained off of the vegetables can be mixed with mayonnaise to make a dressing for the Jell-O salad. That sounded kind of nasty, so I went ahead and did that. To be honest, I think that actually it wouldn’t have been a bad dressing if the Good Seasons didn’t taste like it was full of stabilizers and way too much salt, but in its way it was a proper addition to this particular recipe.

I wasn’t expecting much of this one, and I was not disappointed. As I expected, the lime Jell-O was far too sweet, but at the same time some of the Italian dressing residue had mixed with it, so there was a confusing melange of flavors there. The artichoke hearts remained tough after all the time in the marinade, so after eating one from my serving that took a couple of minutes to chew properly, I didn’t go back for more. They did end up dyed green by the Jell-O, though, which was interesting to look at. I expected the mushrooms to be unpleasant, and they were. The pimentos added nothing to this dish. Add this one to the already rather full “WTF” file.

Most of this went down the garbage disposal (which needed a couple of days to thoroughly digest those artichoke hearts) so Action Against Hunger is going to be seeing another donation from me. This is such a weird way to do a little bit of good in this world…

Virgin Recipe: Barbecue Salad

my honest reaction to Barbecue Salad

So bad…

Back with another nasty one, I’m gratified to say that this is the worst one I’ve done in quite a while. Just when I thought I was getting used to the savory Jell-O recipes, this one surprised me with its extreme unpleasantness.

Barbecue Salad is a close relative to the first savory Jell-O I ever did, Molded Tomato Relish. The main difference between the two is that Molded Tomato Relish is made with stewed tomatoes, while Barbecue Salad is made with tomato sauce, and includes pepper along with salt and vinegar. Since it was the first, I remember Molded Tomato Relish pretty well, in particular the way Bryan and I tasted it simultaneously on a three-count, and after a few moments simultaneously burst out laughing over how weirdly bad it was.

Still, as regular readers know (and others can find out by perusing the links in the Table of Contents), there’s been a lot of water under that bridge. I really thought I was becoming inured to the weirder Jell-O, that the thrill was gone. But no. Glory hallelujah, Barbecue Salad is thoroughly, hilariously bad.

small tomato jelly mold on a bed of lettuce leaves with a tiny dollop of mayo on top

Barbecue Salad, with mayonnaise garnish

The key to the nastiness has got to be the tomato sauce. It’s not something we ever use at Freak Mountain, so I wasn’t familiar with the ingredient. We make our own pasta sauce (or, as my Italian-American in-laws call it, “gravy”) starting with crushed tomatoes, so there’s always some texture to it. Canned tomato sauce, it turns out, is a very smooth tomato purée. Mix it with gelatin and you end up with something that is creepily similar to the mayonnaise I used as garnish (as suggested in the book). The mouthfeel is distinctly slimy. I don’t mind mayonnaise, normally, but I would never eat it on its own by the forkful. Barbecue Salad has helped me to understand my friend F– who is repulsed by mayo.

For the vinegar, I chose apple cider vinegar, and I think that may have been a mistake, as it was probably too sweet. In hindsight, what this recipe needs is a serious hit of acidic flavor, and my old standby white vinegar would have served that purpose much better. As for the salt and pepper, they were both undetectable.

I’d like to know who was the sadist who came up with this recipe. He or she has a lot to answer for. As I was tasting this, I was reminded of the scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where Harry and Dumbledore are retrieving the locket horcrux, and Harry has to force Dumbledore to drink all of the (really nasty) potion in the basin to get to the locket at the bottom. Three bites of Barbecue Salad and I was through. If there was a horcrux in there, I’m afraid Voldemort still stands a chance.

Virgin Recipe: Molded Vegetable Relish

Your Humble Narrator tasting the Jell-O

Why did this take me so long?

It feels like ages since I did a nasty Jell-O, but it’s only been a couple of months. I’ve been having a weird relationship with time lately. On the one hand, time in the Trump regime goes by slowly, what with all the drama and “bombshell” news. It’s hard to believe it’s only been four months since the inauguration. On the other hand, on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis, time slips through my hands like water as I try to get done everything I want to do (work, gym, spending time with spouse and cats, Jell-O, guitar, Fallout…) but somehow I get sucked into the interwebs or old movies on TCM instead. Time has been almost unmanageable, for me at least. Still, I’ve managed to do Molded Vegetable Relish for you.

This is one of those Jell-O molds that strike fear in the hearts of random people on the internet. Oh no! Lime Jell-O with vegetables in it! The horror! But I’ve grown numb to it, and anyway, Molded Vegetable Relish couldn’t be as bad as the last couple of weeks have been for the U.S.

bowls of cabble, celery, pickle, and sliced olives

For my Molded Vegetable Relish – chopped cabbage, chopped celery, chopped pickle, and sliced martini olives

Molded Vegetable Relish gives the cook the option of choosing from six different vegetable combinations: 1) cabbage, celery, carrots, and green pepper; 2) cabbage, celery, green pepper, and pimiento; 3) cabbage, celery, pickle, and pimiento; 4) cooked peas, diced celery, and cabbage; 5) cabbage and sliced stuffed olives; or 6) carrots and green pepper. (I’m sensing a theme here…) To make this as repellent as possible, I went for door number three, except that instead of pimientos I used martini olives for maximum nastiness. The recipe is non-specific about the type of pickles, so I used what we had in the fridge, Grillo’s Italian dill slices. So, yes, what we’re talking about here is lime Jell-O with cabbage, celery, chopped dill pickle, and sliced stuffed olives that have been marinating in vermouth.

I have learned that, for the viewers, the most interesting bits of my videos are the ones where I make “yuck faces” as I taste the Jell-O, and I aim to please.

As far as preparation goes, the lime Jell-O gets made more or less in the usual way, a single batch (3-oz. packet) with 3/4 cup cold water instead of a full cup, with the addition of vinegar, salt, pepper, and grated onion. I found myself in the weird position of feeling as though I hadn’t added enough onion to my Jell-O (and that just ain’t right…) After thickening (over an ice water bath), the chopped veggies are mixed in and the whole mess is put into a mold and stuck into the fridge to firm up.

lime Jell-O mold with bits of veggies suspended in it

Molded Vegetable Relish in all its glory

The result was a bright-green mold, the color possibly enhanced by the almost-monochrome solid ingredients. It was certainly visually striking. It almost didn’t look like food. (Almost?)

This was not the worst Jell-O recipe I’ve done, but it definitely wasn’t good. To start with, there really wasn’t enough onion in it. I’m not sure if more would have helped, though. Between the salt and pepper and vinegar, and the salty, vinegary pickles and olives, there should have been enough savory flavoring in this, but all of that just could not cut the sweetness of the lime Jell-O. Instead, the flavors clashed in a rather aggressive way.

As Bryan noted, at least it didn’t have mayonnaise in it.

I took pleasure in shoving most of this down the garbage disposal, so Action Against Hunger is definitely getting a piece of this action.

Virgin Recipe: Jellied Salad Niçoise

photo of the salad before serving

Jellied Salad Niçoise

Did you miss me last week? No? Okay, but I missed you. I missed you so much, I made you this lovely Jellied Salad Niçoise.

lettuce, green beans, green pepper, tuna, heavy cream, tomato, lemon Jell-O, vinegar, anchovies, mayonnaise, red onion, Good Seaons Italian dressing, black olives, egg

It’s hard to imagine, but all of these things went into a single Jell-O recipe.

These savory Jell-O recipes keep disappointing me – not because they’re so bad, but because they’re not bad enough. Jellied Salad Niçoise had so much potential, and then failed to live up to it. Just look at the motley crew of ingredients I had to assemble for this. Anchovies! Mayonnaise! Italian dressing! The only way that this could come out was “badly”.

So I got stuck into preparing it, and this was possibly the most involved Jell-O recipe I’ve done so far. It took a good two hours to put together, much of which involved chopping vegetables, although it all started off with hard-boiling an egg.

picture of the recipe as it appears in the book

Proof that I am not making this up…

Rather than describe the whole process, I’m just going to give you a picture of the recipe, straight out of the book. Even just reading it, it sounds kind of nuts.

The weirdest part is that it requires what I think of as “a single batch” (that is, a three-ounce box) of Jell-O, with less cold water than usual. It wasn’t enough to cover the solid ingredients in the mold, and I was sure that when I went to unmold it, the whole thing would fall apart and be a complete disaster. I was pretty excited by that prospect, because I thought it would make for some good video. It’s been too long since this blog has lived up to its true potential as a sort of culinary “Jackass”, and I was hopeful, but this surprised me. As you can see from the photo, Jellied Salad Niçoise unmolded unexpectedly well. I was sure that the loose bed of chopped lettuce at the bottom would make the whole thing unstable and lead to a collapse, but I suppose by now I should have more faith in the Jell-O.

For eating, it wasn’t very good, but it could have been worse. It turned out that one chopped up boiled egg wasn’t enough to stink up the whole dish, and even the anchovy-tinged mayonnaise was less repulsive than it could have been (unless, I suppose, you’re one of those people who just hate mayonnaise on principle).

tuna-veggie salad in mold before adding Jell-O

Jellied Salad Niçoise Sans Jelly

While I was in the midst of making it, Bryan strolled into the kitchen and pointed out that, if not for the Jell-O, this wouldn’t be such a terrible recipe. Indeed, the Salad Niçoise didn’t look so bad in the mold before I poured Jell-O over it and piled on the chopped lettuce. Aside from leaving out the Jell-O, I would have preferred a simpler dressing, just some oil and vinegar with a little salt and pepper, which is what I generally prefer for salad dressing. We don’t use store-bought bottled dressings, which is why I used the Good Seasons.

Needless to say, Bryan and I didn’t eat more than one portion of Jellied Salad Niçoise, and the rest went straight into the garbage disposal. A donation is being made to Action Against Hunger to atone.

I’m trying not to go too heavy on the politics here, but I’m still resisting, and for the video I wore a “pussy hat” made by my friend Donna, who has an Etsy shop and has been doing a brisk business in pussy hats lately. (She also makes other kinds of hats, jewelry, accessories, and toys.) If you like it, please check out her shop, Via Donna, at https://www.etsy.com/shop/ViaDonna.

Virgin Recipe: Carrot, Celery and Olive Salad

lemon Jell-O mold with carrot/celery/olives next to mini holiday trees

Fa la la la la…. la la la la….

This is going to be a quick one, as I am exceedingly busy right now, but I wanted to make sure to get this posted.

Your Humble Narrator pulling a face after tasting this recipe

A picture is worth a thousand words…

Carrot, Celery and Olive Salad. what can one say? To me it seemed a little anticlimactic, but from what I’ve seen on the internet, the idea of carrots in Jell-O sends shivers up many spines. That didn’t bother me as much as the olives. I selected what are now sold as “martini olives” for the visual appeal, but these olives are (conveniently, I suppose) marinated in dry vermouth, the flavor of which is enhanced by lemon Jell-O. The result is…. not good.

The charities are definitely getting their cut for this one. Between both Bryan and me, we only got a few bites out of one mold before giving up.

I look at it this way – 2017 can only get better from here. Let’s try to be hopeful, anyway…

Virgin Recipe: Turkey Soufflé Salad

yuck

“I think I found the turkey…”

Just in time for the holiday season, here’s something, um, different to do with that leftover turkey.

Turkey Soufflé Salad bears an uncanny resemblance to Garden Soufflé Salad, with a slightly different assortment of veggies and the addition of turkey. The base is a lemon Jell-O bavarian with mayonnaise as the fatty ingredient, a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to (one hopes) cut the sweetness of the Jell-O, and some grated onion and ground pepper for (one hopes) savory flavoring.

As with Garden Soufflé Salad, the recipe says to put the liquid Jell-O mixture in a square baking pan and put that in the freezer for 15-20 minutes until it’s firm to about an inch in from the edges and still soft in the middle. Also as with Garden Soufflé Salad, it didn’t work that way; after about 25 minutes a thin coat of Jell-O was firm and starting to freeze on the surfaces of the pan, while the rest of it remained liquid. I hereby declare this technique “totally bogus”. If there is a next time, I will thicken the Jell-O over a trusty ice-water bath before proceeding to the next step, which is to whip it in a mixer until “fluffy”. Using the technique described in the book yields a still fairly liquid gelatin that would be better described as “foamy”.

celery, onion, green pepper, lemon Jell-O, pimientos, turkey, lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt

A motley assemblage of ingredients…

As usual, I chopped up a little extra of all of the veggies, including, for the first time, pimientos. I had never encountered them outside of green olives and “loaf” before, and I was surprised to find that I liked the aroma, which made me feel a little better about this recipe.

Really the most interesting thing about making this one was the turkey. We don’t normally eat turkey here at Freak Mountain, and we certainly don’t host big Thanksgiving turkey dinners (the lack of a dining room lets us off the hook), so I had to buy turkey specifically for this recipe. Bryan and I went to the Super Stop’n’Shop the day after Thanksgiving, and I expected that I’d be able to buy a turkey breast (pre-cooked if I was really lucky) to use in Turkey Soufflé Salad. Unfortunately, I found I had two turkey options – a whole frozen turkey, or packages of cooked, deli-sliced turkey. I bought two packages of the latter, which at least had the advantage of being in nice, firm slabs that were easy to cut into cubes. One package yielded a cup and a half of cubed turkey, exactly the amount specified in the recipe.

We ate the second package for lunch in sandwiches with Swiss cheese on rye, with about the same level of enthusiasm meat-eaters have for Thanksgiving leftovers.

Turkey Soufflé Salad unmolded on serving plate

The pimientos make this look so festive!

Veggies and turkey bits got folded into the foamy, mayonnaise-y gelatin base, poured into 1.25-cup molds, and chilled overnight. They unmolded beautifully into festive-looking servings. The photo doesn’t look so bad, but that’s because it’s not enhanced by Smell-O-Vision. To put it politely, the meat/Jell-O/mayonnaise combination does not smell appetizing.

I think it didn’t taste as bad as it smelled, but it wasn’t good. To be honest, the sandwich-meat turkey was pretty bland (which is a complaint I’ve heard about turkey generally) so mostly it added a weird texture to the salad. Meat and Jell-O together seems to be a bad idea, and I’m left scratching my head over the concept of aspic. I mean, I get the idea of using jelly to preserve meat, but why not just scrape it all off before you serve it? That’s what we always did with canned hams when I was a kid.

As it happened, on the day I was tasting this, we were planning to make a call on our friend JB–, who was sitting shiva for his mother. It’s traditional to bring food to shiva, but I wasn’t sure it would be appropriate to bring Turkey Soufflé Salad. Meanwhile, Bryan messaged JB– to see if he needed anything, and JB– responded that they were good for food, but seeing as it was us, he’d expect some Jell-O. Little did he know… I kind of hope JB– didn’t actually eat the Turkey Soufflé Salad, but I do hope he found it amusing. This is not a dish for enjoying, but rather a dish for ridiculing.

Whatever he did with it, I hope he did it quickly, because when I opened the fridge to get milk for my coffee this morning, the leftover Turkey Soufflé Salad was really stankin’ it up. This stuff ripens.

Needless to say, we didn’t eat the rest of it. Donations have been made to Action Against Hunger, Planned Parenthood, and the International Rescue Committee.

(In case anyone’s wondering, I’ve also reinstated my membership in the ACLU in support of my LGBTQ friends and others whose rights might be endangered by the coming administration.)

Virgin Recipe: Jellied Gazpacho

I have to say, after a few “scary” Jell-O recipes that turned out to be not so scary, I was really hoping that Jellied Gazpacho would turn out to be fairly nasty. Oh, yes. I had all kinds of plans for this one. First, there was the drinks pairing – my first instinct (a very wrong one, I know) was to go for Corona, or tequila, or a Mexican boilermaker. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Then I decided to look up the origin of gazpacho and found that it comes from Andalusia, arguably the most historically and culturally important part of Spain, so I didn’t want to treat it like a common Tex-Mex side dish.

I remembered that a batch of gazpacho had figured prominently in Pedro Almodovar’s 1988 film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The gazpacho had been spiked with something – my recollection was that it was vodka (which you have to admit would be pretty good), but when I looked it up I found that it was sleeping pills. That didn’t seem like a good idea, and I ended up scrapping the drinks pairing altogether.

Jellied Gazpacho ingredients

Herbs and veggies – this actually kind of looks good…

If we’re being honest, it’s hard to bash Jellied Gazpacho for the ingredients. It’s mostly fresh vegetables and herbs. The traditional binder for this cold soup is bread (often stale bread is used, presumably as a way to avoid food waste), and that has been replaced by lemon Jell-O. Fresh garlic has been replaced here by garlic powder (the recipe calls for garlic salt, which I thought we had, but evidently Bryan bought the powder instead), but at least the flavor is there.

4 oz. of canned mushrooms lying like slugs on a cutting board

Even Bryan, a mushroom fan, admitted that these canned ‘shrooms look like slugs

The one ingredient I was seriously dreading was the canned mushrooms. I’ve always disliked mushrooms, in particular the canned ones, which develop an unpleasant mouthfeel in the canning process. I’ve tried to learn to like fresh mushrooms, without much success, so I didn’t see any real reason to substitute them for the canned ones here.

Jellied Gazpacho should have been a pleasure to make, given all the lovely chopping of lovely fresh ingredients, but the prep work on this was an annoying experience. It turns out that Bryan has been slacking on the knife-sharpening duties. You see, years ago he decided that he was something of a “foodie”, and one of the foodie toys he picked up for himself was a professional-grade knife sharpening kit. We have a decent set of Henckels knives, and keeping them sharp is definitely worthwhile – but perhaps more of a commitment than Bryan was prepared to make.

To be fair, the dull knives did make the prep work feel more “authentically 1974”. Before the Food Network put professional chefs in our faces, your average mid-century middle-class or working-class homemaker probably wasn’t aware of the importance of keeping knives sharp. Knives would get dull (probably weren’t that sharp to begin with), and she’d just operate on the assumption that chopping vegetables was a lot of slow drudgery, Maybe she’d get suckered into buying the Ginsu knife before deciding that fresh vegetables are too much trouble to do for anything other than special occasions.

(Looking into this a little, I’m thinking that “the decline of knife sharpening” could easily become its own post. But I digress…)

Your Humble Narrator dishing a chunky spoonful of Jellied Gazpacho out of a serving bowl

Dishing out a heaping helping of Gazpacho, Jell-O style

Apart from the vegetable chopping, making this recipe is pretty simple. Once the veggies are chopped, they’re combined with the seasonings and left to sit and marinate while a double batch of lemon Jell-O is prepared and thickened. Then, the veggies and Jell-O are combined, chilled to thicken a bit more, et voila! Jellied Gazpacho.

This is a “loose” gelatin dish, which was a bit disappointing because in the back of my mind I had been anticipating another molded one, which would have been more of a challenge. Another disappointment – this one didn’t taste bad at all. I had been hoping for a nasty one to give the blog a bit of, you know, conflict, but I had been able to chop the mushrooms up finely enough that they weren’t really noticeable, and between the vegetables and the seasoning there were enough savory flavors that the sweet lemon flavor of the Jell-O was barely detectable.

Jelly residue in the bottom of the bowl

But in the end, was there really any reason for gazpacho to be jellied in the first place?

The main issue I had was with the texture. The gelatin just did not add a nice texture to this cold soup, and the veggies were a bit buoyant in it, so I wound up with a fair amount of seasoned lemon Jell-O in the bottom of my bowl as I ate this. I decided to try running the Jellied Gazpacho through a few pulses in the Cuisinart, and that actually helped. The whole thing seemed to be blended better, and it stayed blended. We even managed to eat some for supper (with a fresh baguette and butter, and a Pepperidge Farm frozen chocolate cake for dessert). Still, even though I finished my portion (Bryan didn’t), I didn’t want any more.

I could see myself making gazpacho again, but with a more traditional recipe, using bread as a binder. Using Jell-O did not in any way enhance or improve on the concept. It didn’t make it all that weird or scary, either. It was just “meh”. A donation is being made to Action Against Hunger because somebody should be getting some kind of satisfaction out of this.