This week I took advantage of the extra-long holiday weekend to double up, and here we have a couple of fairly seasonal recipes.
First, at number seven in the New Joys of Jell-O countdown, we have Fig-Berry Preserves. This one appears in the chapter titled “Things You Never Thought Of”, and for good reason. If you think about it, using Jell-O to make preserves makes a certain amount of sense, but who would think of it? Well, the good folks at General Foods did.
The recipe is simple enough – three cups of mashed figs, two three-ounce (or one six-ounce) packets of strawberry Jell-O, and three cups of sugar. However, I was quickly flummoxed by the figs. Not only had I never cooked with figs before, I’m not sure I’d ever eaten figs in any form other than “Newton”. I was so fig-ignorant that when we got to the Stop’n’Shop I immediately gravitated to the dried figs, of which there were plenty. It took a few minutes for me to realize that dried figs wouldn’t lend themselves well to being mashed, and I was left wondering if the supermarket even had fresh figs, as I couldn’t recall ever having seen them. At least I had timing on my side, since this was the weekend of the biggest U.S. food-oriented holiday, and Bryan and I found some fresh figs after just a little hunting around the produce section.
Next I had to figure out how to prepare the figs. They looked as though they would have to be peeled, and I wasn’t looking forward to that because I had twenty-four of them to deal with. I did some googling, and learned that the peel is edible, but that figs can be peeled if desired. (A lot of help that was.) So I got out the paring knife and got stuck in. Meanwhile, Bryan’s curiosity had been piqued, and he was doing some more fig-googling, but it wasn’t any more conclusive than mine had been. Then he looked at the recipe, and pointed out that it suggested that the figs didn’t have to be peeled. At that point I was nearing the end of the first of the three packages, and I decided that I was done peeling.
I cut the stems off of the rest of the figs, put them all in the bowl, and got to work with the masher. The figs and skins were actually soft enough to mash, but I wasn’t happy with the texture, which looked like the guts of small animals. Our masher is one of those loopy ones, rather than the lattice type that can do a finer mash. No big deal – I dumped the mashed figs in the food processor and puréed them until the skins were reasonably well chopped up and the whole thing had a more uniform texture. I ended up with just about three cups of fig goo.
I put the figs in a large saucepan and stirred in the Jell-O and sugar, and brought the mixture to a boil. Another bit of weirdness in this recipe was determining when, exactly, it was fully boiling. Rather quickly, it started bubbling around the edges, but I knew that wasn’t the proper boil. A few minutes later, bubbles started rising thickly from the bottom of the mixture. Was that boiling? Unsure, I waited, and as the mixture continued to heat, it bubbled more and more rapidly, and then the mixture became translucent. The recipe says to continue boiling for three minutes after it starts, which sounds like a scarily precise amount of time. All I know is that I’m pretty sure I boiled it for at least three minutes. I think.
I had my canning jars and a canning funnel (brilliant piece of kitchen gear) at the ready, and I doled out the hot preserves among six small jars. The recipe says to seal them with paraffin, but we use the new-fangled self-sealing lids. The recipe doesn’t call for boiling the filled jars (so they have to be stored in the refrigerator), but I imagine I could have done that if I’d wanted to store them in a jelly cupboard or something like that.
Today we tried the Fig-Berry Preserves on halves of a nice sesame-seed bagel from Mamaleh’s deli. It was thinner/runnier than I was expecting, leading me to think that it couldn’t have hurt to cook it a bit longer. Otherwise, it wasn’t bad. The flavor of figs was strong, and mildly disconcerting at first just because it was still a new taste for me, but I got used to it. Bryan said he couldn’t taste the strawberry Jell-O at all, but I think it was just that, for once, the flavors in the dish had blended properly. It was very sweet, not surprising given the amount of sugar that went into it. This would be good on buttered toast, or scones. (If only there were a good place to get scones nearby…) We’re going to be eating peanut-butter-and-fig-berry sandwiches for a while.
Snappy Fruit Mold
Moving on, at number six in our countdown, we have Snappy Fruit Mold.
This one is a more conventional “Jell-O salad” from the “Sociable Side Salads” chapter. It starts with a three-ounce packet of “red flavor” Jell-O (I went with raspberry) and only 3/4 cup boiling water. I added eight ounces of jellied cranberry sauce and a tablespoon of grated orange rind to the hot liquid, and chilled it until thick over an ice water bath. When it was thick, I added a chopped Granny Smith apple and 1/3 cup chopped pecans (the recipe just says “nuts”, so I went with what I like best; walnuts would probably work, too), poured it into a lubed mold, and chilled it overnight.
So, nothing out of the ordinary there. The only dodgy part of this recipe is the recommended Whipped Cream Mayonnaise garnish. Not wanting to let my readers down, I decided not to omit it. It’s a simple creamy sauce of a half-cup whipped heavy cream (unsweetened) with a quarter-cup mayonnaise and an eighth-teaspoon salt folded in.This was mildly interesting to make because, first of all, it required attention to the whipping of the cream because I knew if I lost focus I’d end up with unsalted butter before I knew what was happening. Then, when I managed to stop short of butter, I found that folding in the mayonnaise was tricky because it was hard to distinguish the mayo from the cream. I wanted it to be well blended, but I knew that I had to be careful not to fold too vigorously or I’d deflate the cream. I think I succeeded, at least well enough for a quick tasting.
Unsurprisingly, the mold turned out quite firm and held its shape well. It definitely tasted “snappy” (and it reminded me of Cranberry Jelly Candy, which I made eight years ago). The Whipped Cream Mayonnaise was relatively inoffensive and went reasonably well with the Jell-O salad – although the mayonnaise flavor was noticeable, so I suspect people who hate mayonnaise would not like this. I put a dollop to the side in each bowl rather than putting it on top of the Jell-O, and while Bryan deemed it “not bad”, he left most of it in the bowl. I found myself dipping each bite in the cream and pretty much finished it off. To those of you following at home I say: Try it, if you dare.
It’s just occurred to me that I failed to avoid the orange in Snappy Fruit Salad, so I will be making donations to Planned Parenthood and the International Rescue Committee. I wish that didn’t feel so inadequate.
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.
Fresh Fruit Salad comes around in an interesting confluence of events. It happens to be an Orange Boycott recipe (I substituted lime Jell-O for orange) on a weekend when I wound up going to a counter-protest at the Boston Common to oppose a so-called “free speech rally” organized by some right-wingers who evidently felt that this was a good thing to do even so soon after Charlottesville. Planning for this rally had been underway since before violence erupted in Charlottesville, VA last weekend in the wake of a “Unite the Right” demonstration that included out-and-proud white supremacists and neo-Nazis. While smarter people might have at least postponed a rally that was planned to include many speakers who had appeared in Charlottesville, Boston Free Speech decided to go ahead with it.
The thing is, counter-protests mobilized pretty quickly, and the permit that was granted to Boston Free Speech mid-week required that they not carry weapons, or anything that could be used as a weapon (such as poles for flags). The organizers had to ask possible attendees not to bring neo-Nazi and Confederate paraphernalia (for appearances’ sake). Meanwhile, scheduled speakers were being uninvited (the most controversial ones) or dropping out. I guess not being allowed guns or swastikas made the whole thing not much fun for potential participants, and a few dozen rally-goers hung in there for less than an hour before being escorted away from the Common by police (for their own safety).
Bryan and I were running late, and ended up getting to the Common a short while after the rally-goers had left. The counter-protesters were carrying on with a sort of impromptu peace rally, which was upbeat and jubilant. There was a bunch of bicycle cops in the buffer zone looking bored, and beyond the buffer zone an empty space around the empty bandstand. We wandered around for a while, and the worst thing I witnessed personally was a guy letting his dog paddle around in the Frog Pond right in front of a sign saying that this was not allowed. I know there were some altercations that happened after we left, but no one was seriously hurt and the number of arrests was somewhere between “the Red Sox won a home game” and St. Patrick’s Day. I left the house expecting to fight Nazis and wound up just taking a long walk on a brilliant summer afternoon.
And then I returned home to another Jell-O recipe. Fresh Fruit Salad is, I would say, a variant on Waldorf salad. Chopped apples, halved grapes (dammit, fussing around with grapes again!) and chopped pecans get mixed into a bavarian made with lemon Jell-O, two-thirds cup sour cream, and one-third cup mayonnaise. (I know that one reader has a photo of someone vomiting copiously that he keeps for occasions like this.) This gets molded with plain gelatin (orange in the recipe, lime in my case) on the bottom and top, so that it looks more appetizing.
Preparing this was fairly routine, though I was annoyed by the timing of it. I had to leave the bavarian part in the fridge for a while, longer than it would take me to do the washing up and make the plain Jell-O, so I had to just wait around. It ended up thickening more quickly than I’d expected, so I ended up having to leave it out on the counter while I prepared the lime Jell-O. With the lime, I had to put some of it in the bottom of the mold and chill until thickened but not set (a half-hour, per the recipe), and then thicken the remaining Jell-O, spoon the bavarian into the mold, and put the rest of the Jell-O on top. I admit it, I got impatient with the first lime layer, as you can see in the photo. Time management has been a challenge for me lately, anyway, and this recipe made me feel especially inadequate.
I left the unmolding and tasting until after I’d gotten back from the gym today, so that I would be hungry and this recipe would stand the best possible chance to be appetizing. I have to say it didn’t look too bad once I’d unmolded it, and frankly, I think lime was a better choice than orange anyway.
Unfortunately, for eating it wasn’t so nice. I didn’t think it was all that bad, even though the mayonnaise flavor really predominated in the bavarian layer, but that may have been the post-gym hunger talking. I still think nuts don’t belong in Jell-O. Bryan, on the other hand, described it as “really unpleasant”, and actually picked all of the bits of fruit out of the bavarian layer and ate what he could of the lime Jell-O, leaving a nasty heap of bavarian-style jelly in his bowl.
Fresh Fruit Salad appears in a photo in the book – on a wedding buffet table where all the dishes are made with Jell-O, also featuring Salmon Dill Mousse and Creamy Bleu Cheese Salad. I feel bad for the happy couple. If it was the mother of the bride who planned this wedding, that groom is in for a bad time with his mother-in-law.
Originally posted November 22, 2009
One of the things I’m trying to do to make this Project as un-arduous as possible is to make recipes when fresh ingredients are in season. Since this is the beginning of the holiday season, readers should prepare themselves for the onslaught of apples, cranberries, and (ugh) dried fruit.
Contrary to the name of the recipe, this is more like poached apples. The basic idea is to make Jell-O (strawberry in this case), season it with lemon slices and a cinnamon stick, and simmer the apples in it. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Again, I have only myself to blame for any wrong turnings in this endeavor. The main problem stemmed from the kind of apple I used, namely, the ones that happened to be in the refrigerator. The recipe called for six baking apples, and there were six apples in the fridge. Bryan bought them, so I wasn’t sure what kind they were, and I really should have been more careful. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As I peeled and cored the apples the slow, laborious way, with a paring knife, I felt myself getting in tune with the mindset of housewives who typically resort to cookbooks like The New Joys of Jell-O. I quickly lost patience with the chore and wished there was an easier way to achieve the same result. Also, coring apples with a paring knife is a pain in the ass. I had set up the rest of the mise en place and left the apples for last. Since I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to prepare them, I didn’t start the Jell-O poaching liquid until I was well into it, but it turned out that I was over-cautious in that regard, and the apples were already starting to turn a little brown by the time I set them into the saucepan with the liquid, where they were to simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, being basted and turned occasionally. The aroma from the apples cooking in the Jell-O was not at all unpleasant, but at the same time it reminded me overwhelmingly of the gift shop section of Cracker Barrel, which was confusing. I have mixed feelings about Cracker Barrel.
Suddenly, sugary bubbles were starting to fizz up from under the saucepan lid – the apples had gotten past the simmer zone, and when I lifted the lid to check them, four of the six apples had cooked down to shapeless mush. I had used the wrong kind of apples. It was pure, undeserved luck that when the simmering was done there were two apples that had retained enough structure to be used in the photograph.
The recipe called for the apples to be chilled until set, about an hour, before serving. They were in the fridge for longer than that, but they hadn’t set, and that was okay. I garnished the two “good” dishes with scoops of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream, and it was actually a toothsome little number. My only real complaint was that the cinnamon flavor wasn’t strong enough. (I think the GF R&D drones must have been pretty timid about seasonings as a rule.) Bryan thought it would have been better with some sort of crumble topping, but allowed that this was one of the more palatable entries so far. It almost didn’t taste like a Jell-O dessert, except for the funky aftertaste. The bright red color was vintage 1970s.
I ran out of breakfast cereal and ended up eating the remaining two dishes of what turned out to be strawberry Jell-O applesauce for breakfast for the next couple of days. Nummy nummy num!
A Fun Link
Online acquaintance M– pointed me in the direction of a blog entry giving directions for making a gruesome meat hand using the hand-shaped mold. It’s so awesomely creepy it almost makes me wish I wasn’t “mostly vegetarian.” Check it out!