At last, I get to do an Orange Boycott post! (After the last couple of weeks, I was really looking forward to this.) As you can sort of tell in the photo from the book, Banana Nut Ring calls for orange Jell-O. I substituted Island Pineapple flavor, which I think tastes better anyway.
This recipe is a two-parter. First, there’s the ring mold, which is simply Jell-O with banana slices and chopped pecans stirred into it once it’s thickened up. There are a couple of issues with this.
The first, as I’ve noted in Mardi Gras Mold and Honey Pecan Bavarian, is that nuts in Jell-O are just weird. Those are two textures that do not go well together. Luckily, I like pecans, so this one wasn’t nasty on top of being weird.
The second is the bananas. I had to try not to be too annoyed, because it’s just “banana nature”, but the slices would stick together (which I had discovered with Peach-Banana Dessert but I guess it didn’t bug me as much then). You would think that once you add banana slices to a bowl of thickened Jell-O, the Jell-O will act as a coating or lubricant to keep the slices separate, but as much as I stirred and tried to separate them, the slices kept clumping up. It’s best to look upon this as an exercise in patience.
Anyway, I whipped up the Jell-O ring and chilled it overnight. Upon unmolding it, I discovered one small drawback to using the Island Pineapple flavor – the mold was a very odd color, I think rather like how Bryan sees green things because of his colorblindness. On the other hand, the peculiar yellow-brown hues reminded me of color palettes that were popular in the 1970s, so that was kind of a happy accident. Okay, not so much happy, but appropriate.
The second part of the recipe is the “Ginger Topping”, a bit of a misnomer because it’s pretty thick, and it gets piled into the center of the ring mold rather than spread on top of it. This is just a batch of Dream Whip with crushed pineapple and slivered candied ginger folded into it. Tasting it, I decided that the Ginger Topping is a bit of all right. Because of the fairly strong vanilla flavor of the Dream Whip, it reminded me of pineapple upside-down cake, which I haven’t had since I was a kid, but I may have to make it sometime soon, even if I have to use a store-bought cake mix to do it. Also, it reminded me of ambrosia salad a bit, plus I dig candied ginger (I was noshing on it while cutting up what I needed for the recipe), so what’s not to like?
The finished product was straight outta the 1970s, and I was pleased. The photo looks strange, but I swear that was the actual color of the thing. It was like someone had sent it over in a customized DeLorean, express delivery from 1974.
For eating, this was surprisingly good. Yes, I’m saying “good”. For once, the flavors blended together nicely in a tropical (that is, southern United States) mélange. With the topping, it was easy enough to overlook the peculiar textural note of the pecan chunks in the Jell-O. The flavor of pineapple was predominant, but the pecans, bananas, and Dream Whip were assertive enough. I would have liked more ginger flavor, though; rather than trying to sliver the slices of crystallized ginger, I should have chopped them up fine so that they’d be more thoroughly distributed throughout the topping.
The main drawback to this recipe was that it was relatively straighforward and quick to make, and while preparing it and listening to music took me to my happy place for a while, I didn’t get to spend enough time there.
On the positive side, once I hit “publish” on this one, I’ll be all caught up with my editorial calendar, and that’s one less thing to feel crappy about. Woo hoo!
This is going to be a quick one, as I am exceedingly busy right now, but I wanted to make sure to get this posted.
Carrot, Celery and Olive Salad. what can one say? To me it seemed a little anticlimactic, but from what I’ve seen on the internet, the idea of carrots in Jell-O sends shivers up many spines. That didn’t bother me as much as the olives. I selected what are now sold as “martini olives” for the visual appeal, but these olives are (conveniently, I suppose) marinated in dry vermouth, the flavor of which is enhanced by lemon Jell-O. The result is…. not good.
The charities are definitely getting their cut for this one. Between both Bryan and me, we only got a few bites out of one mold before giving up.
I look at it this way – 2017 can only get better from here. Let’s try to be hopeful, anyway…
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?
This week, in Recipes for the Post-Apocalypse….
Just kidding. Kind of. You may notice in the photo that the two boxes of cherry Jell-O look different. The one in the back was pulled from my stash, and the one in front was purchased yesterday. I had never thought about the shelf-life of Jell-O before, so out of curiosity, I examined the older box, and discovered a use-by date: October 29, 2011.
Would it really be dangerous to use a packet of Jell-O five years after its ostensible expiry? I turned to Mr. Google. I was not the first person to have this question, and among the answers the consensus seems to be that powdered Jell-O can last indefinitely when stored in a cool, dry place. It isn’t so much that the contents go bad, but if the packaging breaks down and moisture gets in, mold can grow and make the gelatin unsafe to eat.
I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve been playing some of the games in the Fallout franchise. The game world is an alternate-history United States, many decades after a nuclear war with China that occurs in 2077. One of the tasks the player-character performs is collecting food that can be used to restore health points, and along with the meat of various creatures that the player has to kill in the Wasteland, there are a lot of 21st-century leftovers lying around, somehow still safe to eat (if slightly radioactive). So now I’m wondering – where’s all the Jell-O? If Nuka Cola, Cram (tinned meat) and potato crisps are still edible 200 years on, there should be some Jell-O (or maybe “Gel-Oh!”) out there for the scavenging.
Well, I’m better at making Jell-O than I am at playing those games (I enjoy them, but I suck at them, and I cheat a bit because I don’t want to have to die a million times to see how the stories go), so – Cherry Chiffon.
Armed with my new knowledge of the shelf-life of Jell-O, I opened the old packet, and recognized some clumping as a sign that moisture had gotten in. (Freak Mountain is barely climate-controlled.) Into the bin it went. Luckily, I’d bought a few new packages of the cherry flavor, because the recipe calls for two, one for each layer.
The first layer is just cherry Jell-O with canned dark sweet cherries (one 8.75-oz. can) suspended in it. It turned out that my options at the supermarket for canned cherries were limited to the brand and size I bought; at 15 ounces, I have some leftovers. I’m not sure what to do with them, because I don’t really care for canned cherries, much as I’ve never liked maraschino cherries. One interesting thing about being a grownup is that you develop the ability to, well, be a grownup about eating things that you don’t care for, as long as they’re in small quantities, but six ounces of canned cherries are more of a challenge.
I may attempt this recipe for Oreo Soup from one of my absolute favorite books, a sort of anthology/art/coffee table book called Junk Food. Stay tuned….
The second layer is a simple bavarian of cherry Jell-O and 4.5 ounces of Cool Whip. Since the smallest available container of Cool Whip is eight ounces, I have some of that left over, which is handy, because if I make the Oreo Soup, I can use the leftover Oreo wafers and Cool Whip for Almond Joy Creme Pie, which appears a couple of pages after Oreo Soup in Junk Food. It just never ends, does it?
Something I was really iffy about when making Cherry Chiffon was the order of the layering. It seemed to me a bad idea have the gelatin layer on top. In my experience, the bavarians tend to be softer and less dense than the straight gelatin, so not exactly the best base for a Jell-O mold. Still, I went ahead with the recipe per the instructions, figuring that if the bavarian layer collapsed under the weight of the gelatin layer, I’d at least get to bitch about it on the internet.
I went about unmolding the Cherry Chiffon expecting the worst. What I ended up with was – a perfectly firm Jell-O mold. The bavarian layer turned out much firmer than I’d expected. The layers even seemed to be adhering to each other. I had thought that even if the bavarian layer held up, the gelatin layer might slide off, a distinct possibility given how slant-wise the layers came out. (We live in a crooked little house; nothing at Freak Mountain is level.)
Cherry Chiffon is far from the worst Jell-O I’ve made so far, but I don’t exactly love it. The Pepto-pink color of the bavarian layer is off-putting, as is the cough-drop cherry flavor. The canned cherries aren’t all that bad, but taste-wise they’re overwhelmed by the artificial cherry flavor of the Jell-O, and their texture is kind of icky.
I wish I could say I won’t be making this again, but there’s a Strawberry Chiffon variant coming up later on in the calendar. At least there’s no such thing as canned strawberries.
It’s funny how often a simple Jell-O dish can raise sticky questions. Jellied Ginger Upper gave me a weird sort of deja vu. I couldn’t remember, or find any evidence of, having made this before, making the “reboot” status of this one a little shaky. At the same time, I remembered making a Jell-O recipe that included ginger ale. Was it this one? I did a little digging and found that, nope, it was Ginger Peach Dessert. I can’t imagine why I was confused.
So this is one of those simple ones, and I think it was the right one for this long holiday weekend. Apart from boiling water and a little lemon juice, the only ingredients are Jell-O (“any red flavor”), diced peaches or pears (canned or fresh), and ginger ale.
As you can see in the photo, I went for fresh pears. It turned out that one pear was enough for the recipe, so I had the other one for a snack. It’s hard to feel strongly about pears one way or another. They have such a light flavor that they often get used as filler with (or instead of) apples, but I guess sometimes you just want a bit of lightly sweet fiber in your diet. (Or Babycham.)
The ginger ale was another ingredient that might have been ripe for tinkering, had I not already done it with the Ginger Peach Dessert. I had assumed that ginger ale would have too mild a flavor, and substituted ginger beer. Normally Bryan and I really like ginger beer (the more gingery the better, preferably spicy enough to make us sneeze) but it turned out that it didn’t go well with Jell-O. Live and learn.
In this case, it turned out that ginger ale does go well with raspberry Jell-O. The flavor of the soda (or “tawnic”, as my mother-in-law would say) is subtle but recognizable. The mildness of the pears was a good fit, and anyway, peaches would have made it almost a repeat of Jellied Peach Melba. One interesting similarity that I noticed between Jellied Ginger Upper and Ginger Peach Dessert is a somewhat soft-set texture. The gelatin is firm enough to hold a molded shape, but the mouthfeel is softer than one might expect. I wonder if that has anything to do with the carbonation of the ginger ale, although since it gets added to the hot Jell-O liquid, I would think that the carbon dioxide would outgas quickly (and the mixture did get quite foamy as I slowly poured in the ginger ale) and not leave much in the way of bubbles to affect the texture of the set gelatin.
Possibly I need to do further research on this. It occurred to me that another direction to go with off-book gelatin dishes might be soda-flavored jellies, which could be fun, and it could be interesting to see whether it’s the carbonation affecting the texture. Stay tuned!
One final note: The recipe for Jellied Ginger Upper recommends garnishing with Frosted Fresh Grapes. To which I say, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; er, won’t get fooled again…
It seems like I’ve been spending a lot of time on Memory Lane lately. It might be a function of the Big Five-Oh looming in the not-too-distant future, or it may be because I’m working my way through A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression (which is an interesting, if not exactly uplifting, read), or it may be because I’ve been spending so much time listening to my Galaxy News Radio channel and thinking about the evolution of American popular music, but I feel like I’m looking back a lot – not wistfully, but trying to get a better sense of my place on the continuum. For a long time I’ve had this notion that life is a puzzle that makes more sense as you find and slot in the pieces, and the past is a good place to go looking for puzzle pieces.
Last Sunday morning I found this tweet in my timeline:
The person Steve Martin was retweeting has apparently just discovered Martin’s old standup material, which is great (oh, to be able to hear “King Tut” for the first time again!), but it looks like he jumped to the conclusion that because it’s new to him, it must have been forgotten by everyone else. Mentioning Martin in his tweet really put the icing on this faux pas. Maybe he thought he was doing him a favor.
Jay seems to lack a sense of himself in relation to history. Perhaps, like a lot of young people today, he thinks that the past is irrelevant to him because things have changed so much, so fast. It didn’t occur to him that there’s a generation or two before him who remember Steve Martin’s earlier work and consider it hugely influential, even (as many replies to his tweet noted) legendary – and who may be among Martin’s 7.7 million Twitter followers. In this internet age, it would have been easy enough to discover the foundation of Martin’s enduring success (which certainly doesn’t indicate an “underrated” early career), but Jay’s reference point was himself, and he mistakenly thought that was sufficient.
But enough of this “get off of my lawn” stuff…
Where was I? Oh, yes, Honey Pecan Bavarian. I don’t remember this one at all. In fact, the photo I uploaded initially turned out to be not Honey Pecan Bavarian, which I only realized after reading the recipe for reference.
Going by my notes, I was psyched to make this one because it contains “REAL CREAM”, which I can imagine would have seemed like a huge relief after recipes involving Cool Whip, Dream Whip, and mayonnaise. The Jell-O is strawberry flavor, which apparently goes well with honey, although in hindsight I am dubious. I indicated that the honey flavor “is pretty strong”, so I guess you have to like honey if you’re going to make this one.
A tip for anyone who decides to try to make this – the recipe says to “stir carefully” when adding the cream to the thickened gelatin; I found that beating the cream into the gelatin worked better. However, careful stirring is probably the way to go with the pecans. Pecans? Yes, though I remarked that “nuts still don’t belong in Jell-O”.
The pieces remained intact when I served them, which is always a good feature in a Jell-O mold. Bryan didn’t like the smell, and I concurred, noting that “it does smell a little like ass”. He couldn’t finish his portion, and couldn’t explain why (which may not mean that much, really), but I didn’t think it was that bad.
Still, I’m just as glad I didn’t have to make this again. I may have forgotten it, but at least I wasn’t doomed to repeat it.
In a development that’s making Bryan none too happy, I’ve found myself starting to think in terms of familiar dishes that can be remade with Jell-O. Case in point, as I mentioned last week, my grandmother’s ambrosia. In case you’re interested, here’s my recipe:
- 1 3-oz. package Island Pineapple flavor Jell-O
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
- 1 8-oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
- 3/4 cup juice from canned fruit
- 1 cup flaked coconut
- 8 oz. sour cream
- approx. half a 10-oz package white mini-marshmallows
- maraschino cherries for garnish, if desired
Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water, add reserved juice. Chill over ice water bath until slightly thickened. Stir/whisk in sour cream. Continue chilling/thickening. While the Jell-O is thickening, lubricate a 6-cup mold; place cherries in bottom of mold. When Jell-O is thickened, fold in oranges, pineapple, coconut and marshmallows. Spoon carefully into mold, trying not to shove cherries around. (Good luck with that.) Refrigerate until set, at least four hours, or overnight. Unmold onto serving platter. There is no need to garnish further.
My grandmother made ambrosia (also known as ambrosia salad, or five-cup salad) for Christmas and Thanksgiving. It was always the five basic ingredients – sour cream, crushed pineapple, mandarin oranges, flaked coconut, and miniature marshmallows. She had a particular holiday-themed plastic dish that she used for serving it that had fluted sides, and for decoration she would place a maraschino cherry in each curve around the side and one in the center.
I know that there are a lot of variations on the recipe, and I got curious and did a bit of research. I discovered that I’m not the first person to do a Jell-O version, although the other ones I found tend to use orange Jell-O and omit the marshmallows. I found a couple of instances of people putting prepared Jell-O in ambrosia, such as this story from NPR, which I find frankly bizarre. The other instance – well, watch if you dare…
There are several options for the creamy dressing besides sour cream. I’ve seen a lot of recipes that call for Cool Whip, which is anathema as far as I’m concerned, but it seems to be very popular, either by itself or combined with some other creamy ingredient. Some recipes call for real whipped cream, which should be fine, though I suspect that would make the dish too sweet for my taste. Another variation is thinned and beaten cream cheese, often folded into whipped cream or Cool Whip. Health-conscious cooks use yogurt. Mayonnaise is mentioned, but rarely. I even found a recipe that omits the coconut and marshmallows but includes cottage cheese – one of those things that, once seen, cannot be unseen.
Of course, the greatest variety is in the fruit. While citrus and coconut are traditional, some people use canned fruit cocktail (ick), bananas, strawberries, dates, and much more. The fruit can be fresh, frozen, canned, or some combination thereof – whatever the cook likes and/or has on hand. Nuts are sometimes added as well, usually pecans or almonds.
Heading further down the rabbit hole, I looked into the history (or perhaps a better term would be “evolution”) of ambrosia. This article lays it out pretty well (and is an enjoyable read if you have a few minutes), but I’ll summarize: Ambrosia got its start as a citrus fruit salad in the American South, where such fruits are native, not long after the end of the Civil War. The completion of the trans-continental railroad made it possible to include coconut, which was shipped to San Francisco from Hawaii. At that time, it was a simple layering of fruits, coconut, and sugar, sometimes dressed with fruit juice or sherry. Over time, this came to be served as a holiday treat, sometimes with cake and whipped cream. Starting in the 1920s, promotional recipes for a product called Whitman’s Marshmallow Whip (a sort of powdered marshmallow creme mix) introduced a new variation on the traditional fruit salad, and the creamy version was born. At about the same time, confectioners were inventing marshmallow candies that could be made in discrete pieces (the marshmallows we know today), and these were quickly incorporated into ambrosia recipes. The gelatin variation first made its appearance in 1950. By the time I was enjoying my grandmother’s ambrosia as a kid in the 1970s, its variants were legion.
What’s kind of strange and interesting to me is that, although all of my general-purpose cookbooks include some sort of ambrosia recipe, ambrosia is considered to be primarily a Southern dish. It’s not often that I encounter someone up here in Yankeeland who grew up with ambrosia as a traditional holiday dish. In fact, I’ve encountered a good amount of snobbery about it. (For example, one Christmas at the home of one of Bryan’s mother’s sisters, her in-laws brought a large bowl of ambrosia salad, which was regarded with the ol’ hairy eyeball by Bryan’s mother’s family.) The thing is, I don’t have any Southern roots. My maternal ancestors came to Massachusetts from France with a generations-long stopover in Canada along the way. So how did both ambrosia and tourtières become part of the family holiday menu? My grandmother passed away some 20 years ago, so I guess this will have to remain a mystery.
Probably I will never have more than a tenuous grasp on the “white trash” in my background, but I can’t bring myself to disavow it, even though it’s not really something that I share with most of the people I know now, here in my life in Nerdvana. Besides, there’s no point being embarrassed or ashamed about something you can’t control. It’s one of those odd things that make me unique.
Anyway, to no one’s surprise, the Festive Ambrosia Mold turned out fine. The Jell-O simply gave shape and hold to a dish that would otherwise have been formlessly heaped in a bowl (preferably a fancy glass one, according to most of the videos I watched.).There are only a couple of small tweaks I might make. One, despite the pineapple flavor Jell-O, I don’t think there was quite enough crushed pineapple in this. Two, I really should have taken all the cherries in the jar and lined them up around the bottom of the ring mold, instead of trying to make a pattern based on the fluting. Better still, if I had used a mold with little round indentations in which the cherries could have sat. Maybe halve some cherries and place them on top of the Jell-O after it was unmolded? I suppose I could have cut up the cherries and incorporated them into the mixture, but my grandmother never did that. I think she would have approved of Festive Ambrosia Mold.