Originally posted October 25, 2009
I have a vague recollection of grasshopper desserts from my youth. Pies, usually, with chocolate crusts. They were pale green and minty, and the grownups seemed to like them because they had crème de menthe in them, which gave them a little bit of a kick.
This Grasshopper Dessert bears little resemblance to those, apart from the hue. The base is lime Jell-O – yes, this is another one of those lime-mint blends. However, since this is a “centerpiece dessert,” it contains two packets (six ounces) of Jell-O, and for some reason the amount of crème de menthe is the same as in the one-packet Quick Crème de Menthe Frappé. While two tablespoonsful of crème de menthe stands out in two cups of lime Jell-O, in four cups it seems to blend in rather nicely.
The light green tower in the middle of the dish is part of the Jell-O mixed into two cups of prepared Dream Whip. I have to say I was underwhelmed by the Dream Whip. I don’t really understand the concept. You add milk and vanilla extract to a packet of powder and whip it up with an electric mixer. It’s no easier, or more convenient, than whipping real cream. It’s not dairy-free, nonfat, or anything like that – so what’s the point? Worse, the stuff tastes like vanilla frosting out of a can. Cool Whip is actually less nasty.
On the plus side, I finally got a chance to use the technique for Cubed Gelatin again. (That was sarcasm, in case you missed it.) I did really like the color of this, the dark, rich green cubes glittering around the sides with the creamy green at the center. You have to give Jell-O credit, when you do it right it’s definitely pleasing to the eye. Overall, this one was really okay, though I have to add a nasty for the Dream Whip.
This recipe does make a fairly large quantity of Jell-O, and I was wondering how we were going to eat it all. Then on Tuesday night there was a little dinnertime meltdown, and I ended up eating all the leftovers for supper. I can now report that it is, in fact, possible to get full from eating Jell-O. Also, (and I mention this only because I know you’re wondering,) if you eat enough lime Jell-O, you will poop green.
Originally posted January 18, 2010
Fruited Gelatin Glaze is kind of a kooky addition to the book. All it is, really, is fruit in Jell-O, except instead of just eating it out of a dish you put it on a cheesecake. Here we have frozen strawberries in strawberry Jell-O, atop a vanilla cheesecake with a chocolate crumb crust. This is not one that will be difficult to eat. It tastes fine, although the combination of textures is a little weird. I think I had expected it to be more like the goopy canned fruit toppings you can get in the supermarket. I should have known better.
The cheesecake was made by Bryan, who seems to want to keep me in a culinary ghetto, walled in by Jell-O. (I suppose it would be in poor taste to go any further with this metaphor…) It’s a fine cheesecake, but I had been kind of looking forward to making it myself. I don’t think I’ve cooked anything besides Jell-O since I made an angel food cake for a party at the end of August. Now, I don’t profess to be a master chef or anything, but I can cook more than Jell-O. Truly I can. I think…
Ah, I’m just feeling cross because I had a hard drive failure at work almost a week ago and it’s really cut into my productivity. In fact, I’m writing this blog entry while I’m at the Lab on a holiday, installing software on the new hard drive – at this moment, a Windows XP virtual machine in Fusion, no less, which is enough to make any Mac fan cranky. Bryan is actually trying to be supportive. Yesterday’s Jell-O’ing included the maiden voyage of the new kitchen clogs Bryan got me for my birthday. (After attempting to “break them in” on the day, I came to the conclusion that they were too narrow and he had to order me the wider ones, which arrived last Friday.) I’m hoping that these will save me from getting backaches as I get caught up on my schedule. Just a few more to go, and I should be all up to date.
By the way, I’ve gotten some nice comments lately, and I’d like to thank the folks who have taken the trouble. Knowing that someone is reading definitely helps keep my motivation up when the Jell-Os get particularly nasty. I seem to be picking up readers from the UK, which is exciting to this old anglophile. I’m humbled by and appreciative of everyone’s time and attention.
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.
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”.
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.
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.)
I tend to be a bit of an old-fashioned purist about “the holiday season”. I grew up in a time when Thanksgiving was its own holiday, and the run-up to Christmas kicked off when Santa appeared at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Even though I lost interest in the parade a long time ago, I still feel like the holiday season has gotten stretched well beyond reasonable bounds (much like U.S. political campaigns), beginning as it does weeks before Halloween.
Well, apparently now that I’m becoming old and irrelevant I need to try not to get all hung up on how things were done “back in the day”. In the spirit of compromise (considering that the display of artificial pre-lighted trees went up in Sears a month ago) I’m firing up my “Holidazed” iTunes playlist and using Thanksgiving week to start on a series of mostly holiday-related Jell-O recipes, starting with Jellied Holiday Nog.
This is one that I do sort of remember, mainly because of the deceptive title. I’m not a big fan of eggnog, but I’ll drink it when it’s around, and when I got to this recipe, it seemed like there was a certain logic to gelling it. I mean, it’s so thick and creamy already, you almost expect it to happen naturally; it’s kind of like a drinkable pudding.
Sure enough, Jellied Holiday Nog starts with Jell-O vanilla pudding mix and lemon Jell-O – quite a lot of both – which doesn’t sound so bad. I used the sugar-free pudding mix; unless you’re dealing with serious health issues, I don’t recommend it, because that (as well as the sugar-free Jell-O gelatins I’ve tried) tends to develop intractable lumps during the cooking process.
The combined Jell-O and pudding get mixed with a rather outlandish quantity of Dream Whip and some flavorings, making a good eight cups of Jellied Holiday Nog, which is a lot. You’re supposed to serve it with Cranberry Orange Sauce, but for some reason I opted to leave my Jellied Holiday Nog naked except for a sprinkling of nutmeg. I was probably put off by the tapioca, which I’ve never liked because the texture makes me gag unless I eat it very carefully, and the payoff for eating tapioca just isn’t worth it.
Traditionally, eggnog doesn’t contain lemon (or any sort of citrus flavor) so it’s not surprising that I would find this too lemony.
The vanilla pudding flavor must have been pretty strong, too, because it reminded me of a dinner buffet at a restaurant in Clovis, New Mexico that I encountered while driving across the U.S. in April 1998. The buffet was traditional New Mexican, offering enchiladas with red sauce and enchiladas with green sauce, and for dessert there was a choice of “strawberry shortcake” (thawed frozen strawberries, individual-sized sponge cakes, and Cool Whip) or “banana pudding” (vanilla pudding with banana slices and Nilla wafers). I don’t know about that Cranberry Orange Sauce, but Jellied Holiday Nog could have used a side of Nilla wafers.
I gave the recipe one-to-two “nasties”, but I have absolutely no desire to make it again. That said, a major point in its favor is that it should be easy to halve in case anyone is curious to try it but doesn’t want to end up with eight cups of the stuff.
Given past failures in sharing Jell-O recipes on the holidays, I have no plans to make a Jell-O recipe for Thanksgiving – although I am mulling over taking the opportunity to make a cheese ball, something I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a cheese ball in the wild, but cheese balls were among the images in my early “food porn” – the Hickory Farms holiday catalogs that started arriving in the mail in early November when I was a kid. I was intrigued by the cheese balls, and the petit-fours, tortes, and gift-box assortments, and I would just sit around poring over those catalogs. (I don’t know why we got them, because as far as I know my parents never ordered anything out of them.) I’m getting hungry just thinking about it all.
I should probably get myself a snack now. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this honorable, warm and emotional holiday video:
I hope your hiking shoes are all broken in by now, because we’re going to be spending a good bit of time treading down Memory Lane from now, past the holidays, and on through my birthday in January. (I have big plans for the Big Five-Oh that shall be revealed in due course, but they don’t have a lot to do with Jell-O.)
I do vaguely remember Ported Cherry Dessert, because it requires actual port wine, and I happened to have a bottle of it on hand, courtesy of an actual Portuguese person.
At the time that I was working on the original iteration of the Project, the Lab in which I work was heavily involved in the first phase of the MIT Portugal Program, collaborating with researchers in Portugal and participating in the supervision of the work of Portuguese doctoral candidates. For a few years, at any given time there would be at least one or two Portuguese students in the Lab for a semester or more at a time, enjoying our particular version of “the MIT experience”, and we would regularly host Portuguese faculty for shorter periods. One of them gave me this bottle of port. It’s nothing special, but a decent wine, and I appreciated that A– thought of me (a mere administrative assistant), so I felt mildly guilty for using it in a Jell-O dish.
The MIT Portugal Program has shifted focus somewhat in the second phase, and apart from one research project that was pending for years, our involvement now is minimal. However, MIT is generally a pretty “international” environment, and we still have a lot of non-U.S.-Americans in the Lab, which has made the election more engaging as we Americans have to think about it carefully when we talk with them about it. As it turns out, the outcome been rough on all of us.
I went to bed around 10:30 on the night of Election Day, as things were starting to look bad for Clinton, so I wasn’t shocked at the result when I tuned into NPR the next morning. What I hadn’t been expecting was the deep sense of shame that I felt. Along with the recent Trump news stories (the Access Hollywood recording and assault accusations, his refusal to release his tax returns with all sorts of lame excuses, his campaign rhetoric) I had been paying attention to the reports of how he’s been doing business for decades (e.g., abusing the legal system to avoid paying contractors), having my memory refreshed of his romps through the tabloid news, and learning about his upbringing and how he has treated his family. I came to the conclusion that Donald Trump is a terrible person, so bad that he’d be implausible as a movie villain; selfish, petty, narcissistic, vulgar; incurious and anti-intellectual; opportunistic and unethical. And we just elected him to be President of the United States. I thought we were better than that. Silly me.
On Wednesday, I felt as though I should be apologizing to our international students and staff, to at least try to assure them that there are people in this country who aren’t represented by the Trump candidacy. They said that they felt badly for us being stuck with him for at least four years. They also said that they suddenly feel much less welcome in the U.S. We have a few Muslims on staff, and they’re understandably nervous. One of our researchers is gay, and he’s concerned about the possibility of advances for the LGBTQ community being rolled back. Of course, we female types are worried about what this means for reproductive rights. Everyone is wondering what might happen to research funding under a Trump administration, especially considering that a lot of our research concerns sustainability.
I’m heartsick at the outcome of this election, sad that it’s left people feeling anxious and afraid, ashamed that Trump’s is the image we’re going to be projecting to the rest of the world. I haven’t been out demonstrating, but I’m mulling over ways to constructively oppose the coming administration. It’s hard to know what to do right now, since there’s a lot of uncertainty around what to expect (Trump has flip-flopped and waffled so much, both during the campaign and since winning the election), but I have a few ideas, and NJOJ will definitely be in on the protest action.
This being a Jell-O blog, my plan is to keep it a little light, and positive. One symbolic (and admittedly silly) gesture I will be making is to eschew the use of orange Jell-O for the rest of the Project. I’ve already gone though the calendar, picked out the Virgin and Reboot recipes with orange Jell-O in them, and identified substitutes. For Memory Lane and Reposts, I’m thinking contributions to relevant charities would be a good way to go – Planned Parenthood for sure, and I’m trying to decide on one that provides assistance to refugees. There are some really good ones, and it’s a tough choice. I’ll be providing sidebar links. Stay tuned!
Meanwhile – Ported Cherry Dessert. Another thing I remember is something I indicated in my notes, an ongoing dissatisfaction with frozen fruit. I wonder if it was better in the mid-20th century, or if my standards are just too high.
The Birds Eye Quick Thaw Sweet Cherries specified in the recipe were no longer available when I made this, nor were there any plain old frozen cherries (I’m wondering now why it’s so hard to find processed cherries at all). I found myself wishing that I’d deviated from the recipe in other ways. The gelatin and hot liquid (lemon juice, cherry juice, and wine amounting to one cup) were mixed in a blender, and then ice was blended in. I think this was supposed to be another quick-set recipe, because the next step is to put the gelatin into dessert glasses, garnish with sour cream and whole cherries, and then chill it. The problem with doing it in that order, I found, was that the sour cream and cherries sank into the gelatin (as you can see in the “á la Freak Mountain” photo), which wasn’t set up enough to support them. I really should have chilled this until firm, and then added the garnish.
Even so, this one wasn’t so bad. The “two nasties” rating was something of a compromise that partly reflected my dissatisfaction with the frozen fruit and also reflected the fact that Bryan didn’t care much for the flavor, although I did. Wine jellies usually seem to go well, and this one might almost be worth a redo with fresh fruit and a little reordering of the preparation steps. It’s always nice to do a recipe that doesn’t leave you scratching your head and wondering why…
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?