Under-the-Sea Pear Salad is kind of a weird-looking and weird-sounding recipe that I considered including with the savory recipes, mainly because of the cream cheese, and because of the way it looks in the photo in the book. Also, “Under-the-Sea” seems to suggest that there might be shrimp in it (and we already know that NJoJ is not above such things). Something about it scared me.
Let’s face it, the “Under-the-Sea” part of the name is enigmatic. What does it mean? Is the lime Jell-O top layer supposed to represent the ocean? And why are there pear bits under it? I feel like this whole thing is more of a metaphor than a dessert – but a metaphor for what?
Despite all the deep thinking this recipe engendered, the preparation was fairly straightforward, although there were the usual 43-years-on hiccups. While the recipe calls for a 16-ounce can of pear halves, such cans are now 15 ounces. (I bought an additional 8.5-ounce can so that I could add a little more fruit. Most of the pear halves got chopped up into coarse chunks first and stowed in the fridge.) The recipe also calls for two three-ounce packages of cream cheese, which just sounds weird to me, because for as long as I can remember cream cheese has typically been available in eight-ounce blocks. (I bought one of those and measured out six ounces on the kitchen scale, no biggie.)
The base of Under-the-Sea Pear Salad is a single batch of lime Jell-O, to which a little salt and lemon juice are added. Instead of cold water, 3/4 cup of juice from the canned pears is used. I set aside about a half-cup of the liquid gelatin, thickened the rest over an ice water bath, put it in the mold to form the top layer, and put that in the fridge to firm up a bit more while I dealt with the cream cheese layer.
That was a little trickier. The cream cheese is supposed to be softened and “creamy”, but even though it was quite warm yesterday, the cream cheese didn’t get very soft after sitting out for a while. I tried beating it with a wooden spoon, but it remained defiant. There was only one thing for it. I put it in the stand mixer and gave it the cheesecake treatment. After beating it as well as I could with a power tool, I added the liquid gelatin and beat it some more, pausing a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl while hoping that all those little lumps of cream cheese would get thoroughly incorporated into the gelatin.
Mercifully, the mixture did eventually homogenize, and then I added the now-cold pear chunks, which helped thicken the cream cheese/gelatin mixture and made it easier to spoon it over the barely-firm jelly layer. A good long overnight chill yielded this:
I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out, appearance-wise. It came out of the mold easily, and the canned pear halves turned out to be just the right size for a garnish on top of the mold. I don’t imagine this looked particularly appetizing to Bryan, but I like the dark and light green layers, and it did look appetizing to me.
For eating, this turned out to be a lot better than it sounded just from reading the recipe. Lime is still my favorite flavor of Jell-O, so it had that going for it at the outset. Not a lot of the recipes in the book include pears, so those made a nice change.
I didn’t love the cream cheese layer. The main reason I can think of is that tangy, cheesy flavor didn’t go all that well with the Jell-O, which is odd because the usual bavarians with whipped toppings tend to be too sweet. I almost forgot to mention that the cream cheese layer was flavored with an eight of a teaspoon of powered ginger, or I should say “supposed to be flavored”, because although I used more like 3/16 teaspoon, the ginger was barely detectable as a faint aftertaste. Maybe. Some diced crystallized ginger would have been better.
Finally, the texture of the cream cheese was possibly a little too thick. After Bryan finished eating his portion, he was licking his lips and his palate like a dog that’s been given a spoonful of peanut butter. Not a good look.
Okay, this is pretty obvious but you know I had to include it…
Strawberry Supreme isn’t a particularly seasonal recipe. I probably scheduled it for this time of year because it’s just barely past fresh strawberry season here in New England – which doesn’t really matter, because Strawberry Supreme calls for frozen strawberries. Jell-O has no season.
This is one of those two-parters, with half of the gelatin in straight jelly form with fruit suspended in it, and the other half (the top half) a bavarian with vanilla ice cream. The recipe says to prepare two packages of strawberry Jell-O and then separate the liquid gelatin into two parts to make the two different components of the dish. I’ve been in this game long enough now to know that this can be tricky, timing-wise, and I decided to prepare each component separately, one Jell-O package at a time. It probably takes a little longer, but at least this way I didn’t suffer from premature gelling.
The first part, the jelly part, was prepared the usual way, dissolving a package of Jell-O in a cup of boiling water, adding a cup of cold water, adding ten ounces of frozen strawberries (the only kind that comes in ten-ounce packages at the Super Stop’n’Shop is some fancy-dancy organic brand, but the berries were actually decent) and then chilling until thickened over an ice-water bath. The gelatin was doled out into dessert glasses (the recipe specifies “sherbet glasses”, which I don’t have and am not sure what they are) and stowed in the fridge during the preparation of…
The bavarian part was a package of strawberry Jell-O dissolved in a cup of boiling water, with a half-cup of cold water added. The recipe says to then chill until slightly thickened and then add a cup of softened ice cream. I guess I didn’t read it carefully enough, because I just saw the part about adding ice cream, thought that it was stupid to add ice cream to already-chilled gelatin, and just added what I was estimating was a half-pint from a pint of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla bean with a small scoop to melt into the hot gelatin liquid. (After I finished making the dish, I ate the rest of the ice cream, straight out of the container like in my college days, and it seemed as though there was more than half the pint left in there…) The bavarian part also included one and a half tablespoons each of rum and brandy, and two tablespoons of Cointreau. Once the ice cream was pretty well melted down, I chilled this over the ice-water bath, beating it with a whisk in a desperate, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to achieve the “bubbly” consistency described in the recipe. Maybe I should have recruited the MixMaster Junior to help out, but I think if the bavarian part had achieved a greater volume, it wouldn’t have fit into the glasses with the jelly part.
Incidentally, while we already had brandy and Cointreau, there was no rum in our oddball assortment of liqueurs and liquor, so we had to make a special visit to our friendly neighborhood hipster liquor store. (Due to popular demand, they now stock “pong balls” and red Solo cups.) I now have nearly a quart of rum. And a lot of mint growing wild in the yard. Anyone got a good mojito recipe?
In the end, Strawberry Supreme was not very different from the other strawberry bavarians I’ve made so far in the Project. Bryan described it as “relatively inoffensive”, and after taking the time and expense to get the rum, the booze was barely detectable – a hint of citrus flavor, a slight burn on the tongue. The absolute best thing about Strawberry Supreme, honestly, was that during this long weekend of “beach weather” it felt good to hold and eat something cold.
Part of the reason I’m posting on Monday instead of Sunday is that I was thinking I’d say something about the 4th of July, since I’ve been having Thoughts. On the other hand, I’m pretty burnt out on politics, and reluctant to lecture anybody. If you’ve been following NJoJ for a while, you know how I feel about the current regime. I’ll just say, if you’re wondering how I feel about my country these days, “It’s complicated”.
I do have a couple of links to share. One concerns that fellow Frederick Douglass, who I hear is being recognized more and more, and I guess that’s why his July 5, 1852 speech in Rochester, New York has gone viral. Seriously, though, while we celebrate our independence tomorrow, I think we should give a thought to all the people who didn’t benefit from it 241 years ago, and the people who are still struggling for a place at the table for a fair share of freedom’s rewards.
The other link is for Stephen Colbert’s #AmericanGreatness hashtag on Twitter. (Even better, if you use Twitter just check out the @StephenAtHome feed, as he seems to be filtering out trolls.) People from all over the country have been posting an amazing and inspiring variety of photos of the things that make the U.S. truly great, from natural beauty to thriving cities to more intimate shots of family moments. Politics is transitory; these are the things that will endure. I’m so grateful to Colbert for doing this. It’s something we really need right now.
So, I’ve been trying to take advantage of a long holiday weekend that has turned out to be far too short. On Saturday I finally got an electric guitar, a Squier (budget-range Fender) stratocaster, and a cool little practice amplifier that has a USB port (for digital recording, hopefully) and a bunch of built-in effects to keep me happily distorted until I’m ready to start shopping for pedals. I have a strap and some lesson books on order, so I’m on my way, though I tend to think that probably I’ll end up being to the guitar what Inspector Clouseau was to the violin. But we’ll see.
Meanwhile, our cat Ida has been slowly recovering from what appears to have been some sort of mental breakdown a few weeks ago, during which she decided that she hated our other cat, Sam (her offspring), and took up residence on top of the kitchen cabinets. Feeding her up there was fine, but she perceived coming down to use the litter box as a journey fraught with peril, and this was not a situation that we could allow to continue. On Friday evening we got her down and set up in the bedroom, where she seems to be gradually getting back to normal, but we still don’t know what happened. Even the vet seems mystified so far.
Just to add to the fun (and freak out the cats some more), a little while ago we had a plumber here trying to deal with our weird European tankless furnace/water-heater “combi” unit because the hot water suddenly cut out yesterday. The plumbing issues always seem to crop up on long holiday weekends, so that they’ll be as expensive as possible. $300 so far, and we still have no hot water.
So I’ve been a bit less focused on the Jell-O this week, but I did make a Strawberry Bavarian Pie for you.
To be honest, this wasn’t very interesting, just another Cool Whip bavarian, with frozen strawberries mixed in. The recipe calls for a nine-inch pie shell, but again I decided to go with a chocolate crumb crust because that makes this dessert a little more of a treat. As you can see, I attempted to use leftover Cool Whip to garnish the pie, and I’m way off my dollop game.
It occurs to me that despite everything else I had going on this weekend, I was still able to prepare this dessert, so in a way it was fulfilling the function for which it was intended. On some level, I was emulating the housewives for whom these recipes were created, women who were busy taking care of their families and felt that a nice dessert was part of a good family dinner (anyone else remember back in the day when it was usual and expected that families would eat dinner together?) but didn’t necessarily have time for something fancier. Actually, Strawberry Bavarian Pie would have been kind of a special dessert after supper when I was a kid.
Bryan and I tasted this after the plumber left, and for us it wasn’t so special. I told Bryan about how the recipe calls for an addition of a tablespoon of sugar to the gelatin, which I think might have been meant to balance out tartness in the strawberries. We both thought it was odd, given how sweet Cool Whip is, but then it occurred to us that Cool Whip might not have been quite as sweet back in the day. Looking at the history of high fructose corn syrup, it’s likely that these Jell-O and Cool Whip “no-bake pies” were developed before HFCS was widely adopted as a sweetener in mass-produced food products. (That might help explain why, much as kids my age were junk-food junkies back in the 1970s, few of us were obese.) We mulled over how it might be possible to find out what the ingredients in Cool Whip would have been in 1974, thinking that perhaps it would be possible to find vintage tubs on eBay or something like that. I didn’t find any vintage tubs, but I did fall down a rabbit hole of vintage Cool Whip commercials going back to 1966, when Cool Whip first hit the market, including the “Tucker Inn” series, which any child of the 1970s will remember. This one is especially relevant:
Hello. My name is Terra, and I’m a procrastinator.
It’s a problem I’ve had as long as I can remember. I was one of those kids who’d wait until after supper to start on a school project that was due the next day. I still remember one horrible night when I was in fourth grade, when I was supposed to make a dish that represented my ethnic heritage to bring to school and share with my classmates. Since I’m several generations away from my immigrant ancestors, the only thing my mother could think of was petit-fours as a nod to my French ancestry, and she left me to try to make some from scratch from a recipe. I’d never made cake or frosting from scratch before, so I was up ridiculously late for a ten-year-old. I was exhausted the next day at school, and the petit-fours turned out awful. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after that, but there were late-night paper-writing sessions and study all-nighters right through my school years.
Brandied Cherry Ring brought out all the old procrastinating instincts. Sometimes I procrastinate because I have a bit of a perfectionist streak. Sometimes I procrastinate because I dread doing something. This was mostly the latter case. Mainly it was the cherries; as regular readers of NJoJ may recall, I don’t really like cherries. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the brandy, either. We only keep it around for cooking; I never drink the stuff.
This recipe bears an uncanny resemblance to Cherry Chiffon, except that the liquid from the canned cherries goes into the Jell-O, and instead of Cool Whip the creamy part of the bavarian layer is Dream Whip. Then, of course, there’s the brandy. There isn’t a lot of it in the recipe, just a third of a cup that gets “heated” and poured over the cherries, which then sit for “about 30 minutes”. Something about the smell of the brandy was disturbing. It was less a “Proustian memory” and more of what’s commonly referred to these days as a “trigger”-
[ ] …
And I’m back. I just went to YouTube to put on a Fallout playlist because Pandora keeps stopping dead in the middle of a song, and I got sidetracked catching up on Jenna Marbles, and then I decided to treat myself to a viewing of the Mint Royale “Blue Song” video, but I’m finally back, swinging along to “Jingle Jangle Jingle” and hopefully ready to carry on with the Jell-O.
After soaking the cherries, the brandy/cherry liquid gets added to the watered-down canned cherry juice. The end result is about one and two-thirds cups room-temperature liquid, which gets added to a double batch of hot cherry Jell-O. This, I think, is where the recipe kind of goes wrong, making a double batch instead of two single batches. The recipe says to thicken the Jell-O, add the cherries to half of it, put the Jell-O/cherry mixture in a six-cup ring mold, and chill it until set but not firm. I put the Jell-O/cherry mixture in the mold in the fridge, but meanwhile I had the other half of the Jell-O still thickening over an ice-water bath that I had to work with before it got too much thicker. I added half a prepared batch of Dream Whip to that, and thickened it some more over the bath to kill some time, until it got quite viscous and I knew I had to add it to the mold whether the cherry layer was firm or not.
Well, the cherry layer wasn’t, quite, as you can see in the photo. It looks like the cherries stopped the bavarian layer from sinking all the way to the bottom of the mold. I think it would have come out more neatly if I’d made the layers as separate batches, which is how Cherry Chiffon was done.
I do like the added depth of color from the cherry juice, and the slight blending of the layers looks cool. Since I had an extra cup of Dream Whip, I took the opportunity to practice my piping-bag skill. The decoration makes this mold look kind of like a crown, but while I was doing this there was a faint aroma of “cheap dive bar” coming off of the mold that contrasted weirdly with the look of the thing.
When Bryan and I finally got around to tasting this after dinner, it proved to be not as bad as I was expecting. The texture of the canned cherries was unfortunate, as always, but the flavor wasn’t too bad. The brandy was almost undetectable, except that it was there in the cherries like a hazy, distant memory.
Bryan’s assessment: “Meh.”
It’s just as well that Chiffon Marble is a reboot, because I honestly have no recollection of having made it, ever. That’s not surprising, because it’s one of the simpler recipes in the book, in the “Nice Easy Things to Do with Jell-O” chapter.
The timing on this wasn’t great. I made it last weekend, while spontaneous protests were springing up in airports around the country in response to the executive order banning people from seven Middle Eastern and north African countries from traveling to the U.S. I was with them in spirit, after having spent the latter part of the week lending a sympathetic ear to the foreign nationals in the lab (including one individual from one of the named countries) who are anxious about the order, and increasingly disappointed in the U.S. It’s touching to know that they share our ideals and that they see this country as a source of inspiration as well as opportunity, which makes it that much harder to see how we’re letting them down.
So it would have been nice to get stuck into one of the more elaborate Jell-O creations, something to take my mind off of things for a little while. Instead, what popped up on the editorial calendar was Chiffon Marble, which contains a grand total of four ingredients – and that’s including boiling water and ice cubes. Still, it felt good to crank up my Galaxy News Radio station on Pandora (which I couldn’t access in London) and do a little “cooking”.
One mildly interesting thing is that this recipe calls for the Jell-O to be quick-thickened with ice cubes, so I went ahead and did that, and it worked – so I guess the kitchen was just chilly enough. (Great.) After the Jell-O was thickened, I set aside 3/4 of a cup of it and folded about a cup (half of a prepared envelope) of Dream Whip into the remainder. The idea, then, was that the bavarian part and the plain Jell-O part should be layered and then swirled around a bit with a knife to a achieve a marbled effect. It sounds fine in theory, but it turned out that the plain Jell-O was denser than the bavarian part, so it just sank into the middle of the bavarian. Swirling didn’t seem to help much. Clearly there was some sort of trickery involved in the photo from the book, because this is how mine turned out:
On the plus side, there was leftover Dream Whip for garnish, and lime is one of the nicer flavors of Jell-O, so it wasn’t hard to eat it all.
I have to say, too, that making Jell-O is not such a terrible coping strategy…
Well, this is the last Jell-O before the election, so I’m glad that it’s a fairly nice one.
As shown in the book, Strawberry Chiffon is just a variant on Cherry Chiffon, with strawberry Jell-O and strawberries instead of cherry Jell-O and cherries.
The recipe calls for fresh strawberries, and it turns out that even with all the fruit that comes to us year-round from California and Florida, it’s still a little tricky to find fresh strawberries in the supermarket in November. Shelf space in the produce section needs to be given over to things like apples and pumpkins, and the icky candied fruit that people put in fruitcakes. Luckily, there were some containers of pre-hulled strawberries in the prepared-fruit section, so I grabbed a couple of those. One of them worked out to be about a cup and a half of strawberry slices, a half-cup more than the recipe says, so that was perfect. (We had the other container of berries with breakfast this morning.)
The only other interesting aspect to preparing this was that, since the recipe specifies it, I decided to give another chance to the quick-set method of adding ice to the hot liquid gelatin. I was a little surprised to find that this time it actually worked. I suspect it might have something to do with the weather; now that fall is well and truly upon us, it’s getting cooler in the house, giving those ice cubes a better chance to chill the gelatin before they melt.
I didn’t want to use my Tupperware ring mold for this, because I figured it would end up looking too much like Cherry Chiffon, and where’s the fun in that? I went with the brain mold instead, partly because it’s the right volume for the recipe, and partly in honor of Chris Hardwick, host of “Talking Dead”* (and the panel show “@midnight”, and creator of the Nerdist empire), whose comedy show we went to see in Boston on Friday. I got the tickets during the pre-sale months ago, and I picked two front-row seats just because I could. The seating on the floor was cabaret-style, tiny round tables with four chairs to a table, the chairs facing to the sides rather than facing the stage. Bryan took the seat nearer the stage (he said he thought it would be hard for me to see over the lip of the stage, a likely story) which meant he was sitting right up against it.
As Chris got into his set, he began interacting with the audience. He came over to our side of the stage and remarked that we were practically sitting under it, and those had to be either the worst seats in the house, or the best. Then he knelt down, put a firm hand on Bryan’s shoulder, and asked Bryan what he did for a living. Bryan froze. It was like the scene in “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie goes to see Santa, except that instead of squeaking out “a… a football…” Bryan squeaked out “production editor”. Chris asked him what that was, and Bryan just couldn’t answer (eventually he managed “I make sure books come out good”), at which point Chris started giving him a hard time about being startled by this guy we’ve seen on the TV suddenly asking him questions. To be honest, Chris did look a little menacing – but it was hilarious. I suppose I should have jumped in and said something (I was thinking, “Dude, just ask me something, it’ll go quicker”) but I couldn’t stop laughing. This seems to be a pattern we’re developing, where Bryan falls into a hole, and rather than help him out of it I just stand by watching and laughing. I’m a bad wife.
Anyway, it was a fun evening with a lot of much needed laughter – and here I should also give a shout out to Chris’s friend, fellow comedian Mike Firman, who opened for him and closed with him and is also very funny, if not particularly menacing – so I guess I owe Chris Hardwick a tribute Jell-O, at least.
So Strawberry Chiffon turned out to be expectedly pleasant. We both wished that the strawberries were better, but in a way it was good that they weren’t super-sweet fresh and ripe, because that made the dish overall less sweet. I definitely recommend going with more than a cup of the fruit.
I continue to be intrigued by the bavarian part. I think that if I can make time to branch out more into off-book experimentation I’d like to see where I can go with it.
* I’ve been watching “The Walking Dead” since the beginning. I’m not the sort of person you’d expect to be making lots of Jell-O, am I?
I wasn’t planning to do a Halloween Jell-O project, but a week before the holiday, my friend K– tagged me in a Facebook post with a link to a video about making Jell-O “worms in dirt”:
It looked feasible, and like something that wouldn’t take a tremendous amount of time (the video is deceptively short) so I decided to attempt it over the weekend.
I got off to a bad start, believe it or not, trying to find drinking straws. Bryan and I went to Target first, because we had some other shopping to do and figured we could do it most efficiently there. I already had the Jell-O, unflavored gelatin, cream, and food coloring, so I only needed to get straws and Oreos for this recipe. Oreos were not a problem, but our local Target doesn’t appear to carry drinking straws. Well, no big deal, the Star Market is on the way home from Target, so we stopped there. We found straws, but not the standard straws you’d use to drink a root beer float or an egg cream. No, the only straws at the Star were meant for frozen drinks at parties, brightly colored and narrow. We couldn’t chase all over town for straws because at some point we had a Halloween party to get ready for, so we got a few boxes of the least narrow straws they had and returned to Freak Mountain.
Making the gelatin that was to become worms was easy, just a double batch of strawberry Jell-O with a packet of Knox unflavored gelatin, mixed with 3/4 cup heavy cream tinted with 15 drops of green food coloring. One thing I will say, the color was perfect – very wormlike.
The problem with this recipe is the mechanics of it. I started out splitting 100 straws between two drinking glasses, which looked like a reasonable setup. I bundled up the straws with twist ties, and started pouring the still-liquid gelatin into the first bundle. Perhaps not surprisingly to someone more science-minded than I am, the gelatin ran right out of the bottoms of the straws and began filling up the glass. As the gelatin got close to the top of the glass, I realized that the gelatin would overflow the glass well before the straws got anywhere near full.
I searched my kitchen for a taller vessel, and settled on an aluminum retro-style pitcher. It’s about as tall as the straws, but much wider than all 100 straws bundled together. At least the gelatin wouldn’t overflow it.
Now I had a new problem – the Jell-O was starting to set. By the time I was ready to pour it over the bundle of straws in the pitcher, it was becoming viscous and rather than flowing into the straws it was sliding over the top and down the sides of the bundle. I found myself patting thick gelatin into the tops of the straws, hoping it would flow down into them and stay there. I even scooped up handfuls of gelatin from the pitcher to pat into the tops of the straws. It was not pleasant. Finally, I decided I’d done all I could and put the pitcher in the fridge.
If, at that point, I thought the worst was over, I was wrong.
More than 24 hours later, I removed the pitcher from the refrigerator. The Jell-O had set up very firm, as it was supposed to. So firm that I couldn’t pull the straws out of the pool of gelatin that was surrounding them. I used a knife, and then a spoon, to remove as much of that gelatin as I could, throwing at least a regular-batch quantity of gelatin into the kitchen sink. After a while, I’d cleared out enough that I could start pulling out straws.
Another problem was that the jelly-coated straws were slippery and hard to grip. As I started extruding jelly from the straws, I found that it was difficult and frustrating to do it with just my hands. I hit upon the solution of holding the tops of the straws in my teeth, which worked pretty well except for a bit of drooling. It took me about 45 minutes to extrude the Jell-O that was in the straws, and this is what I ended up with:
Let’s review. I made 3 3/4 cups of Jell-O, and the photo above shows the quantity of not-very-wormlike worms I got out of it, maybe a half-cup altogether. The level of Jell-O in the straws was lower than the level of the Jell-O surrounding the straws in the pitcher. The short worms I got out of the straws weren’t even smooth and nice like the ones in the video. That half-cup of set Jell-O looked more like ground beef than worms.
I’m guessing that I needed a container as tall as the straws and just wide enough to hold all 100 of them in a tight bundle. Even then, I think the volume of that arrangement would have been less than the volume of Jell-O I’d prepared. Wider straws would almost certainly have been better. I should have spent more time finding better straws, calculated the volume I’d need a container to be, and then gone looking for a container with just the proper proportions to get this to come out right. Really. Who has time for that?
I decided that this was perhaps the stupidest Jell-O project I’ve done so far, giving even Frosted Fresh Grapes a run for its money. When I was making it, it occurred to me that this is a recipe that has “stay-at-home mom” written all over it, because who else would take the time to fool around one-by-one with 100+ drinking straws. I now suspect that this recipe is a hoax put out on the internet to make stay-at-home moms feel inadequate. Somebody should be ashamed of themselves.
But, as Bryan pointed out, whatever happened we still had that package of Oreos…