This is one of those “reboot” recipes that I don’t remember at all – but that’s okay, because Orange Pineapple Bavarian is a perfectly pleasant dessert that I really don’t mind making again.
I got off to a bit of a rocky start with this one. Due to heat-induced confusion, I had Honey-Pecan Bavarian on the brain, so when Bryan and I went to the supermarket to get ingredients, I had a list of things I needed for Honey-Pecan Bavarian (which – spoiler alert! – is up for a “memory lane” post in the near future). The only ingredient the two recipes have in common is boiling water, so back out in the steam-bath I went to fetch tinned mandarin orange bits and crushed pineapple.
Orange Pineapple Bavarian calls for orange-pineapple or orange Jell-O. I’m pretty sure I remember seeing the orange-pineapple flavor around, but not lately, and since I’m getting tired of “orange” in a number of different ways, I decided to go with island pineapple, of which I have a few boxes in my Jell-O stash. (Yes, I have a Jell-O stash.) I figured the grated orange rind (grating citrus rind, even orange, is still a pleasant thing to do) and mandarin sections were sufficient to keep this true to the name of the recipe.
The prep on this was straightforward and at the same time involved enough that, with Pandora set to play my Galaxy New Radio channel, I could settle into my Zen happy place. I dissolved the Jell-O and two tablespoons of sugar in a cup of boiling water, added 3/4 cup of syrup from the tinned fruits and the grated orange rind, and thickened it a bit over an ice water bath. Meanwhile, I whipped up a packet of Dream Whip, folded three-quarters of that into the Jell-O (setting aside the rest for garnish), and when all that had thickened up more over the ice water bath I folded in the fruit.
Just to be weird, I went with the brain mold for this one. I haven’t used it in a while, and I was kind of thinking I could subtitle the recipe “Trump’s Brain”, but that doesn’t fit at all, because this Jell-O tastes nice and is as inoffensive as it could be. (Not that I have any idea what Donald Trump tastes like, but I imagine he tastes pretty nasty. Basting in spray tan for years probably doesn’t improve one’s flavor.) Also, as you may be able to see, despite the orange bits in it, the whole thing doesn’t look orange at all. Maybe it could be Melania’s brain instead.
One issue with the brain mold is that the gelatin tends to spread laterally rather soon after it’s been unmolded. It quickly loses its proper brain-y proportions, and the gray-matter wrinkles start smoothing out, so I recommend that if you’re going to serve a brain-shaped Jell-O, unmold it just before serving for the greatest visual impact on your guests.
I feel like using the island pineapple flavor Jell-O was a good call. I like pineapple anyway, and that was the predominant flavor in the dish, so I was happy with it. The garnish turned out to be a little tricky, though. Day-old Dream Whip isn’t the easiest thing to work with, for starters. Then I started adding fresh mint leaves from our yard, all the while thinking, “This can’t get any more creepy, can it?”
Bryan ate it with a sort of martyred expression on his face, but admitted that it really wasn’t bad. The only issue I had with it was that I felt like something was missing – and I realized that, with a few additions and alterations, this could have been Jellied Ambrosia Salad. Ambrosia (as my grandmother called it, also known as Five-Cup Salad) is one of the things from my white-trash-y upbringing for which I still have a soft spot, so watch for Jellied Ambrosia in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, enjoy some classic brain-related humor….
Every time I do a Memory Lane post, I have to hang my head in disappointment at how inadequate my notes are. For example, with Mardi Gras Mold, the recipe calls for “1 package (3 oz.) Jell-O Gelatin, any red flavor”. I neglected to note which red flavor I used, and it’s weird, now, how frustrating that is. I mean, that’s not an unimportant detail. The difference between strawberry, raspberry and cherry Jell-O is actually significant. No, really, it is.
I have a growing list of things that I would do if I had a time machine, and one of those things is going back to 2009 to give myself advice on doing this blog. Set up an editorial calendar and pace yourself! Take better notes! Add dates to your notes, for fuck’s sake! Come to think of it, if I could go back to 2009 and tell myself how to do this properly, I’d be well finished with it by now, and hopefully working on some other project. Of course, in that case, I wouldn’t be going back to 2009 to give myself advice, and, oh, damn those time travel paradoxes…
This is one of the sucky things about closing in on 50. I’ve been aware for quite a while that time speeds up as you get older, but it’s only now that I’m getting a sense of how little time I have left, and how little I’ve done with what I’ve had already. Now, sure, 50 isn’t all that old. It’s still safely within the zone of “middle age”. The problem is that most of the interesting stuff is meant to be done, or at least started, when you’re young, when you have peak energy and stamina, and joints that function silently without calling attention to themselves. According to The Life Script™, I’m supposed to be starting to bask in the glory of all that I’ve accomplished throughout my lifetime, receiving a chair or other token for career longevity, and having young grandchildren stay for sleepovers in my spacious suburban abode.
Well, I don’t have a house with spare bedrooms. I don’t have children (so no grandchildren). Thanks to a layoff and subsequent cross-country move, I’m not in MIT’s Quarter-Century Club (though I would be by now if things hadn’t gone a bit pear-shaped in 1998). I do have loads of memories and experiences – marriages, and travel, and getting to know some really excellent people. There’s still more, though, I know it.
I’m not sure what I did with my copy of The Life Script™. Most likely I left it behind at my father’s house when I moved out to go to college, along with a bunch of other stuff I didn’t care about. I’ve never missed it, particularly. I suspect that following it would have made me at least as miserable as it seemed to make my parents, especially since I’ve known from a young age that I want to live a less conventional life. It’s been an interesting 49-and-some years, but the “mid-life crisis” is a boring cliché for a reason. Everyone hits this point and thinks, “What’s next?” I don’t even have a blueprint for it, and letting things happen, as I’ve done all my life, seems rather counterintuitive at this stage. They say that the unexamined life is not worth living (hell, I’ve said it, and then gotten blamed for inspiring mayhem) but the examined life is certainly the longer, bumpier path.
(In case anyone’s wondering, the tone of this post is largely down to the music I’m listening to while I write, which is the soundtrack to the short-lived British TV series Snuff Box. Snuff Box is brilliant, but practically the definition of dark comedy, and the music lends itself to regrets.)
According to my notes, Mardi Gras Mold did not taste of regret. (No, that would be Jellied Prune Whip.) In fact, I indicated that it “seems not unpleasant”. My only specific memory of it is that it was the start of me getting over a lifelong dislike of maraschino cherries. The recipe calls for a third of a cup of the buggers, diced, and while it’s not exactly ham-and-egg-in-Jell-O, I’m sure I had to gird my loins for this one. In fact, at the top of my notes (from when I was just starting to make the recipe) is the comment “Not enough maraschino cherries – so what?” My very last comment was “I wish I’d had enough cherries…” So there you go, a little bit of proof that growth and change are possible as we get older.
As you can see from the photo, the top layer is straight red gelatin, and the bottom layer is a bavarian. In this case, the recipe gives the option of using either Dream Whip or whipped heavy cream. (I went with the Dream Whip. Why? I don’t know…) Suspended in the bavarian layer are the above mentioned diced maraschino cherries and a quarter-cup of slivered blanched almonds. My notes say that “something is missing…”, but also that “nuts do not belong in Jell-O”, which seems pretty obvious when you think about it.
Like many of these layered desserts, the layers did not adhere well, which I attributed to the fact that the bavarian layer seemed to contain a large proportion of Dream Whip. Bryan enjoyed playing with it, though, and the flavor wasn’t too bad, so we gave it two “nasties”.
As for why it’s called Mardi Gras Mold, I’m still wondering about that. At my age, it’s good to know that life still holds a few mysteries…
Originally posted September 26, 2009
First of all, I have to apologize for the photo. The color balance on this was very difficult to get right, between the red Jell-O and the terra cotta tiles and the fact that I can’t be arsed to learn what all those little glyphs mean on my camera’s menus so that I can make those adjustments there. I have a cunning plan to “borrow” a light kit that Bryan and I bought for his mom for Christmas a year or two ago so that she could take good photos of the jewelry she was making. She’s since moved on from jewelry to knitting and has hardly used the kit, so we don’t think she’ll miss it.
As for the Jell-O, color me amazed. This is another one that wasn’t bad at all. Again, it’s relatively simple, strawberries in strawberry-flavored Jell-O, and a creamy strawberry-flavored topping made with some of the liquid Jell-O and sour cream. (Sorry, Jack!) I think as artificial flavors go, strawberry is one of the better ones. Also, I used Trader Joe’s frozen strawberries, and they’re much, much better than the Birds Eye. I liked this more than Bryan did, but we finally agreed that it rated a single nasty. [Note for first-time readers: The original blog had a “nasty” rating system that was not resurrected for the blog reboot.]
The recipe doesn’t require that it be molded, as you can tell from the photograph from the book, but it’s given as an option that I thought I ought to take considering how badly I need to practice the technique. I’m happy to say that this went much better than the Jellied Ginger Upper. I had my towels all in place (and we all know how important it is to keep track of your towel) before the unmolding, and I found that it helped to watch the Jell-O around the sides of the mold – it starts to look kind of “melty” when it’s ready to go, and in fact I probably could have kept it in the warm water for a second or two less.
I was satisfied with this result, though, and am feeling at least a little more confident about making a mold for the Halloween party. If only I was as sanguine about a costume.
You might be relieved to know that I was neither looking for nor finding some sort of profound insight in Jellied Fresh Vegetable Salad. It’s really just a Jell-O salad.
Not that there wasn’t an interesting side issue, of course. Over the last week or so I’ve stumbled upon a couple of internet entities (they’re on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Amazon, and probably some other fora I’ve never heard of) that are dedicated to mid-century kitsch. One, Making It Modern, plumbs the depths of vintage cookbooks for the kookiest-sounding recipes, makes and tastes those recipes, and then re-creates them in a contemporary (i.e., more palatable) way. Another, Velveteen Lounge Kitsch-en, is mainly about cocktails but sometimes turns its attention to food kitsch.
Both entities have followers who are similarly fascinated by vintage cookbooks and scary-sounding recipes, but apparently very few of us have the cojones to actually make and eat them. Others do love to post those old, weird-looking photos, though, so lately I’ve been looking at a lot of dishes that are, to be honest, way scarier than anything in The New Joys of Jell-O.
Maybe that’s why, when I made and ate Jellied Fresh Vegetable Salad last weekend, it just didn’t seem all that weird to me.
The preparation was quite straightforward, with a couple of minor hitches. One ingredient, tarragon vinegar, was not available at my local supermarket, so I bought some dried tarragon, googled a recipe, and made my own. I think it turned out all right, though I wasn’t sure whether the aroma I was detecting was the vinegar or the photographic chemicals Bryan had been fooling with earlier in the day.
Another ingredient, two bouillon cubes, was mildly complicated by the fact that bouillon cubes appear to come in a different size than I remember from the 1970s. I misspoke on the video – my recollection is that they were about a centimeter cubed (not a half-centimeter, which would be ridiculously tiny). The cubes I found were much bigger, so I decided to just use one. That seems to have been adequate.
As with the Molded Potato Salad, the Jell-O, vinegar, bouillon and pepper are combined, cooled until slightly thickened, and then blended with the “creamy” ingredient. In this case it was sour cream, which had me craving onion-soup dip and potato chips. (Heaven help me, I think I’m going native!) In both recipes, I found it safe and beneficial to whisk in the creamy ingredients to get a smooth texture. I thickened it over a cold water bath, folded in the veggies, and put it in the molds to chill and firm up.
I had found some small vintage Jell-O branded molds at the Cambridge Antique Market a while ago, and this seemed like a good time to finally put them to use. They turned out to be a good serving size for this dish, and also a close match to the photo in the cookbook. Unfortunately, the Jell-O logo failed to imprint itself in the salad. I blame the lube for that (it will accumulate in the nooks and crannies) but it’s a step I’m not willing to skip.
I’m quite pleased with the way this ended up looking, despite the lack of logo. I daresay it looks better than the 1974 photo. As you can see, the veggies are nicely distributed throughout the mold and give it a festive appearance. My lettuce is rather more, um, assertive, but I like the color.
Now, the weird thing about this is that I actually kind of liked how it tasted. (Stockholm syndrome, maybe?) The vinegar, pepper, and bouillon almost overcame the sweet lemon flavoring, so that the Jell-O part of the salad was more like a ranch dressing. (People like ranch dressing, right?) Meanwhile, the crunchy texture of the vegetables had a satisfying mouthfeel.
I could see doing this with unflavored gelatin, some fresh herbs for seasoning, and a higher proportion and better variety of crisp fresh vegetables. Honestly, this turned out to be not so scary at all (unlike Jellied Prune Whip), though I have to confess that I didn’t eat it all, so I’ve made another donation to Action Against Hunger so that something positive can come from my waste of food.
I’ve also done a tasting video, and I’m less embarrassed by this than I was by the last one. After all my grousing about the drinking culture in New Orleans, I ended up drinking a glass of chilled vinho verde to help me chill out in front of the camera, and that worked out pretty well. (Also, I now have a better understanding of how so many entertainers wind up with substance abuse problems.) Now I just need to figure out how to set loose my sparkling personality. Heh.
or, Dude, Where’s My Parsley?
Originally posted November 19, 2009
Here we enter into the first of our regularly-scheduled savory gelatin dishes. I started with this one because it looked like the least scary one. It’s a simple cucumber salad, with a lemon Jell-O base and sour cream (I think yogurt could work with this as well), seasoned with a little vinegar, onion, parsley and black pepper. It sounds kind of like Indian raita or Greek tzatziki, so it seemed like it wouldn’t be too ridiculous.
It was pretty easy to make, except for one problem – the recipe calls for the cucumbers to be coarsely grated, but we don’t have a box grater, just a microplane grater and a cheese grater. I tried using the microplane briefly, but I ended up with cucumber mush. In retrospect, I probably should have used the grating disk in our Cuisinart, but for some reason I thought that would be too much trouble, and I decided to finely chop the cucumber instead. I admit it, it did occur to me that this might make it difficult to drain enough liquid from the cucumber before adding it to the gelatin, but I went ahead with the chopping anyway.
I drained, I blotted, I blotted some more, and finally, when the cucumber was not obviously weeping, I added it to the seasoned Jell-O and sour cream mixture. I poured it all into a mold lubricated with non-stick cooking spray, and let it chill overnight.That non-stick cooking spray has not turned out to be the saving grace I was hoping it would be. This dish wouldn’t come out of the mold after the first dip in a hot water bath, and after the second dip it took a good shake to get it out. Once again, there was a little too much melting needed to release the mold, so it ended up sitting in a little pool of liquid gelatin. This time I thought, no problem – the recipe had required only a tablespoon of chopped parsley, so I had most of the bunch left and could use it to garnish the Jell-O for the photo. I opened the fridge, looked in the crisper where I’d put the unused remainder of the bunch, and found only a lot of Polaroid film and a big bag of apples.
Turning to Bryan: “Dude, where’s my parsley?”
Eventually we arrived at the truth of the matter – he had gotten a little over-enthusiastic about cleaning out the fridge that morning and had thrown out the parsley, for some reason assuming that it was old and no good. Argh.The mold appeared to be nice and firm, so after I’d taken a few photos of the whole thing, I thought I’d get some of the mold with a slice of it on a small plate, ready to serve. Cutting into it, I discovered its lack of structural integrity. Nothing resembling a slice was going to come out of this, and as soon as I removed a serving from it, cracks began to develop on top and the whole thing began to slowly collapse. It really would have been better if I’d coarsely grated the cukes as it said in the recipe. Oh well.
I ate the “slice” myself and gave Bryan an amuse-bouche in a custard cup. It wasn’t all that nasty. The savory ingredients do go a long way towards cutting the sweetness of the Jell-O, and it was somewhat reminiscent of other creamy cucumber salads. I found it rather refreshing, but Bryan said he wouldn’t go that far. If I were to make this again, I would probably add more pepper. However, I’m unlikely to make this again. Even though it wasn’t very nasty, it’s been sitting in the refrigerator growing increasingly formless, and we haven’t eaten any more of it since we tasted it. This one, I think, will be garbage disposal food.
It’s kind of ironic that I’ve named this category of recipes “Memory Lane”, because often I have no memory of them at all. Scanning through my editorial calendar, it looks like I’ve front-loaded the blog with the more memorable items (whether this was intentional or not, I’ll leave the reader to guess), so from here on in you can count on Memory Lane to be cracked and increasingly overgrown by weeds.
It’s clear from the photo why I have no memory of Layered Parfait Mold. I’m pretty sure I’ve made a number of them like this, a jelly layer atop a bavarian layer. Back when I was rating the recipes, I gave this one two “nasties”, because it wasn’t as nice as I expected, and because I was dissatisfied with the Trader Joe’s frozen fruit medley that I used for the jelly layer. Frozen fruit is great in a gelatin dish insofar as it helps to cool the gelatin so that it thickens faster, but it’s difficult to find frozen fruit that has both flavor and a non-weird texture.
Reviewing the recipe, I see that I could have made this more interesting. Apparently I just went with strawberry for both layers, but the recipe calls for “any flavor” Jell-O. I can see now I should have mixed it up a bit. At least then the photo would have been more interesting, and I could have had a bavarian layer than wasn’t creepy pink. Naturally, that was the tastier layer. That was the part Bryan liked, probably because it had ice cream in it, and ice cream makes everything better.
In the last unmemorable Memory Lane piece, Quick Creme de Menthe Frappé, I announced that I would try to have all of the recipes completed and posted by my fiftieth birthday in January 2017. I don’t see that happening at this point. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of this Project, it’s the need to pace myself, and the main thing is to actually finish. As far as I’ve been able to discover, nobody else has been able to cook their way through this book, so that, when it happens, will be an accomplishment.
I’ll be honest with you – a major ongoing challenge has been maintaining enthusiasm for Jell-O. Other people who’ve done Jell-O blogs have claimed to love (or be obsessed with) Jell-O. They also tend to be housewives and/or Mormons. I’m way outside of both of those demographics, and while I clearly have Jell-O memories going way back, it’s not like it’s ever been my favorite thing.
It turns out that the key is having enthusiasm for the Project itself. It hit me a few weeks ago when Bryan and I were making one of our semi-regular visits to the Cambridge Antique Market, where we find a lot of our vintage cookbooks, jelly molds, and kitchenware. We ran across a shoebox full of old recipe booklets, many of them church- or school-produced things outside my area of interest, but one of them happened to be an early 1960s vintage copy of Joys of Jell-O, with just the sort of weird color food photography I adore. There was no price tag on it, so I checked with the woman who was overseeing the booths on the floor, and she told me that the shoebox was for sale as a lot, $25 for all of them. In that case, I told her, I would have to mull it over. I explained a little about the Project and why I was particularly keen to have the Jell-O book. I thanked her, and wandered off to look at other booths.
A few minutes later, I heard her call out, “Is the Jell-O Lady still here?” She had phoned the vendor and gotten him to agree to sell me the Jell-O book separately. I was touched by her thoughtfulness, and weirdly thrilled to be publicly called out as “the Jell-O Lady”.
Can I be “the Jell-O Lady” for another couple of years? Yeah. I think I can.
During the original Project, for Passover I decided to try to make a Joy of Jell-O version of the seder plate classic charoset, but with plonk (I draw the line at Manieschewitz) and cherry Jell-O. It was successful enough that, since I didn’t have a photo, I made it again for the reboot:
1 3-oz. package cherry Jell-O
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 apple, chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dissolve the Jell-O in 1 cup of boiling water. Add 1/4 cup cold water, and wine. Chill over an ice water bath until thickened. Fold in apple, nuts, and cinnamon. Pour into a lubed 3.5 cup mold and chill until set. Unmold, nosh with matzoh. Delish!
This time around, I used black cherry Jell-O, and while it’s not bad, I recommend sticking with the regular cherry flavor. Black cherry is a little too close to “cough syrup flavored” for my palate, but it does have a nice color, and it holds up well with the apples and wine. The Jellied Charoset is nice and chunky, more like stuff held together with Jell-O than stuff suspended in Jell-O, so more like real food. As I expected, it’s good on matzoh (aptly named “bread of affliction”) which needs all the help it can get.
Apart from my distaste for Manieschewitz wine (indeed, for sweet fortified wines generally), I think it’s important to use a dry red because the Jell-O is so sweet already. The tartness of a dryer wine, surprisingly, gives the Jell-O dish a more sophisticated flavor. Last time, it was Redtree pinot noir. This time, it’s a Beringer 2006 cabernet sauvignon that I happened to have lying around. I know almost nothing about wine, but Julia Child always said not to cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink, and that advice has served me well. Especially since I’m going to have to finish off that cab by myself. Bryan is a teetotaler, and when he cooks with wine it’s with bottles of “red” or “white” that he gets two for $14 at Whole Foods. I sampled the partially used “red” he has stashed in the fridge, and it left the inside of my mouth tasting like a hobo.
I am aware that Jell-O isn’t kosher for Passover, or at any other time. I used it because this is, after all, the New Joy of Jell-O Project, but the serious Passover celebrant could certainly use a kosher gelatin dessert, or an unflavored, plant-based gelling agent (Mr. Google informs me that such things are used in Asian cooking, so if you were looking for an excuse to visit H-Mart, here it is) with Kedem juice and your favorite Israeli wine.
In case anyone’s wondering, I’m not actually Jewish. Bryan is Jewish-ish, descended from a long line of unobservant Jews on his father’s side. (His mother is Catholic.) He was sent to a Hebrew Sunday school for his religious education, and when his parents threw him a big bar mitzvah party, it was at Anthony’s Pier 4 (until a few years ago, a well-known seafood restaurant in Boston), and the main dish was chicken cordon bleu. My family is Catholic, but I never received a religious education and wound up an atheist.
When we were first thinking about getting married, we figured we would go with the Jewish tradition, since that was the only religion either of us had any real feeling for. For a while we attended shabbos services at Harvard Hillel, where even the female Reform rabbi felt that Bryan should go through a formal conversion “to affirm his commitment to the community”. We took remedial Judaism classes at a schul in Lexington, observed the High Holidays (fasting for Yom Kippur was no joke; I wound up with a pounding headache at some point around mid-afternoon), and more-or-less kept kosher for Passover one year. This is particularly challenging if you’re vegetarian and coming at it from the Ashkenazic tradition, which excludes rice, beans, pulses and maize in addition to the wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats that are prohibited in the Torah. (Ashkenazis were finally allowed by the Rabbinical Assembly to expand their options this year – about 25 years too late for us.) After all of that, we decided that it wasn’t really necessary to go through a formal conversion to be “Passover Jews”, and we were satisfied with being Jewish-ish. In the end, we got married in a civil ceremony performed by a Justice of the Peace who was a friend of Bryan’s father (the first time; the second time, it was Vegas and an Elvis impersonator. Not even kidding about this.)
I’ve never been to a proper seder. The closest I came was a Passover dinner with the family of an old boyfriend. They weren’t particularly observant, and I think they were intimidated by the prospect of explaining the seder to A–‘s shikseh live-in girlfriend. The main things I remember are how nasty the Manieschewitz was (A–‘s family were amused at my reaction) and that they didn’t have a lamb bone for the seder plate, so they used a Milkbone dog biscuit instead. Jellied Charoset doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?