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 22, 2009
I’ve said in previous blog entries – and elsewhere – that the failures are more fun to talk and write about than the successes. This one, as it happens, was an interesting success. Well, mostly a success.
Just reading through the recipe, it was obvious this wasn’t going to turn out like just another gelatin dish. Besides Jell-O (any red flavor – I used raspberry) this one called for a can of jellied cranberry sauce, a cup of sugar, chopped nuts, and pectin, and with the additional gelling agent I guessed it was going to turn out with the consistency of Turkish delight. Sadly, it was exciting to be able to look forward to this change of pace.
There were only two minor problems preparing this recipe. The first, not that much of a problem, really, was deciding what kind of nuts to use. The New Joys of Jell-O is consistently vague about nuts, as though they’re all the same, or possibly, going by my memories of the 1970s, “nuts” in this context was shorthand for walnuts. That’s a reasonable option in this recipe, but walnuts are not my favorite, so I went with pecans instead. The other problem had to do with the pectin and was another of those “this book is a little outdated” things. The recipe calls for a half of a bottle of Certo pectin and does not mention a specific amount, but Certo pectin no longer comes in bottles but in plastic pouches. Each pouch is enough to make some standard-sized amount of jelly or jam, and I guessed that back in the day the bottle had contained the same amount of pectin, so I emptied a pouch into a measuring cup and used half (a quarter-cup, in case anyone’s wondering). Judging by the result, I was probably right. Yay me!
The preparation was pretty simple and mostly involved a lot of stirring. The jellied cranberry sauce was beaten until the shape of the can was completely obliterated and it was as smooth as I could get it, then brought to a boil. The dry ingredients were added and it simmered for ten minutes with frequent stirring. It came off the heat for the addition of the pectin and nuts and then had to be stirred constantly as it cooled for ten minutes to prevent the nuts from floating to the top. This sounds tedious, but actually it was a pleasure. The mixture smelled lovely, and it was a beautiful deep garnet color that made me happy while I was working.
The mixture went into a lubed square baking pan (the recipe says “buttered” but I wasn’t sure I wanted that strong a flavor so I used the nonstick spray) and chilled overnight. I was supposed to be able to turn this out onto a piece of wax paper (which we don’t have, so I was using a baking sheet) covered with sugar (to coat the candy to prevent stickiness,) but despite the nonstick spray and immersion in a hot water bath, the candy would not come out of the pan. No matter. I used the cubed gelatin technique, cut it while it was in the pan and removed the cubes with a cookie spatula, and this was completely satisfactory.
Because this resembled Turkish delight, I used powdered sugar to coat the candy. The recipe offered Baker’s Angel Flake Coconut as an alternative to sugar, and I like coconut so I bought a bag, but the way the coconut was clumping (not dry enough) I thought it wouldn’t stick well to the candy or serve the intended purpose. The recipe said to coat the candy with sugar, and after an hour add another coat to prevent sticking. This I dutifully did, and due to time constraints (it was bedtime) I took the photo right after I’d added the second coat. What happened overnight, and what happened to the third coat as well, was that the moisture in the candy dissolved much of the sugar, making a sort of cran-raspberry royal icing. So it didn’t look very appetizing for most of its life, but it did taste good. Bryan ate it voluntarily. Just for kicks and giggles I tried coating some of it with coconut and found I’d been right – some of it stuck, but not enough. It still tasted good.
Since this was a dish that would travel well, I brought a good-sized portion to the Lab, hoping to elicit some fresh opinions. I didn’t push it on anyone, and only a few brave souls, my bestest friends in the Lab, tried it. One found it too sweet. The person who ate the most was the person with the amazing metabolism who will eat almost anything when he’s hungry. The most valuable feedback was from our Turkish student, who confirmed that it was like Turkish delight, and also confirmed for me that Turkish delight is, in fact, Turkish. I had been in some doubt, because I had first heard of Turkish delight when I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and thought maybe it was a name given to some British confection to make it sound exotic. Anyway, she seemed to like it, but not that much, and I ended up bringing a good bit of it home.
Bryan and I ate it all up. No waste this time.