Tag Archives: Jell-O

Memory Lane: Glazed Hors ‘d Oeuvres

photo from book showing some of the Things You Never Thought Of

Glazed Hors d’Oeuvres (lower right), circa 1974

As I write this, I’m nursing a mild hangover in honor of the founder of the lab where I work, after attending his retirement party last night. It was supposed to be cocktails and dinner at the Faculty Club, ending sedately at 9:00, but then an impromptu after-party was organized at a hotel bar that happens to be on my way home, so… (Five drinks over the course of five and a half hours, with a proper meal in there somewhere, and I’m feeling it today. Middle age can be a real bitch sometimes.) Luckily, this week’s Memory Lane selection happens to be on a more defined bit of track – years later, I’m still annoyed about this recipe.

Glazed Hors d’Oeuvres is right up there with Frosted Fresh Grapes in the top ranks of World’s Stupidest Jell-O Recipes. It appears, appropriately, in the section titled “Things You Never Thought Of”. (Because “You” are probably not a blithering idiot.) The basic idea is that you make some little open-face sandwiches, and then, like, glaze them with lemon Jell-O. Seriously. I did that. And you don’t just forget something like that.

my handwritten notes

I had a lot to say about Glazed Hors d’Oeuvres

I started by getting one of those miniature bread loaves that are unnaturally square (probably Pepperidge Farm party bread), and I topped the slices with what looks like cranberry sauce, and mock turkey (which wasn’t very good). Then I placed them on a wire rack above a baking pan to catch the drips and attempted to glaze these mini-wiches with lemon Jell-O seasoned with black pepper, bay leaf, dried dill, salt, cayenne pepper, and vinegar. Is your mouth watering yet?

The instructions say to do a coat, chill the hors d’oeuvres, and then add a second coat. I noted that “there’s no way this will work”, because the Jell-O went from “syrupy” to “slightly thickened” very quickly. After reviewing the data from my notes I’m making an educated guess that this is because I attempted this recipe in February. It seems like the warmer weather months would be a better time to do this, but it turns out that Pepperidge Farm party bread is only available seasonally, and while I could find no indication of when “party bread season” is, I’m guessing it’s roughly coincidental with Mallomar season.

seven mini open-faced, Jell-O coated sandwiches on platter

Glazed Hors d’Oeuvres á la Freak Mountain

Anyway, the end result was not pleasing. Nothing about the Jell-O (flavor, texture, color, or gloss) seemed necessary or added anything to the sandwiches. The end result was a waste of otherwise perfectly tasty little cocktail sandwiches. (I had to make some extra without the Jell-O, and those were much better.) I noted that the good thing about this recipe was that a lot of the Jell-O ended up in the drip pan. The best thing about this recipe is that it reminded me of a classic scene from This Is Spinal Tap:

Virgin Recipe: Under-the-Sea Pear Salad

photo from book, loaf-shaped two-layer lime gelatin mold

Under-the-Sea Pear Salad, circa 1974

Under-the-Sea Pear Salad is kind of a weird-looking and weird-sounding recipe that I considered including with the savory recipes, mainly because of the cream cheese, and because of the way it looks in the photo in the book. Also, “Under-the-Sea” seems to suggest that there might be shrimp in it (and we already know that NJoJ is not above such things). Something about it scared me.

Let’s face it, the “Under-the-Sea” part of the name is enigmatic. What does it mean? Is the lime Jell-O top layer supposed to represent the ocean? And why are there pear bits under it? I feel like this whole thing is more of a metaphor than a dessert – but a metaphor for what?

Despite all the deep thinking this recipe engendered, the preparation was fairly straightforward, although there were the usual 43-years-on hiccups. While the recipe calls for a 16-ounce can of pear halves, such cans are now 15 ounces. (I bought an additional 8.5-ounce can so that I could add a little more fruit. Most of the pear halves got chopped up into coarse chunks first and stowed in the fridge.) The recipe also calls for two three-ounce packages of cream cheese, which just sounds weird to me, because for as long as I can remember cream cheese has typically been available in eight-ounce blocks. (I bought one of those and measured out six ounces on the kitchen scale, no biggie.)

The base of Under-the-Sea Pear Salad is a single batch of lime Jell-O, to which a little salt and lemon juice are added. Instead of cold water, 3/4 cup of juice from the canned pears is used. I set aside about a half-cup of the liquid gelatin, thickened the rest over an ice water bath, put it in the mold to form the top layer, and put that in the fridge to firm up a bit more while I dealt with the cream cheese layer.

That was a little trickier. The cream cheese is supposed to be softened and “creamy”, but even though it was quite warm yesterday, the cream cheese didn’t get very soft after sitting out for a while. I tried beating it with a wooden spoon, but it remained defiant. There was only one thing for it. I put it in the stand mixer and gave it the cheesecake treatment. After beating it as well as I could with a power tool, I added the liquid gelatin and beat it some more, pausing a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl while hoping that all those little lumps of cream cheese would get thoroughly incorporated into the gelatin.

Mercifully, the mixture did eventually homogenize, and then I added the now-cold pear chunks, which helped thicken the cream cheese/gelatin mixture and made it easier to spoon it over the barely-firm jelly layer. A good long overnight chill yielded this:

round two-layer lime Jell-O mold on Blue Heaven platter

Under-the-Sea Pear Salad á la Freak Mountain

I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out, appearance-wise. It came out of the mold easily, and the canned pear halves turned out to be just the right size for a garnish on top of the mold. I don’t imagine this looked particularly appetizing to Bryan, but I like the dark and light green layers, and it did look appetizing to me.

For eating, this turned out to be a lot better than it sounded just from reading the recipe. Lime is still my favorite flavor of Jell-O, so it had that going for it at the outset. Not a lot of the recipes in the book include pears, so those made a nice change.

I didn’t love the cream cheese layer. The main reason I can think of is that tangy, cheesy flavor didn’t go all that well with the Jell-O, which is odd because the usual bavarians with whipped toppings tend to be too sweet. I almost forgot to mention that the cream cheese layer was flavored with an eight of a teaspoon of powered ginger, or I should say “supposed to be flavored”, because although I used more like 3/16 teaspoon, the ginger was barely detectable as a faint aftertaste. Maybe. Some diced crystallized ginger would have been better.

Finally, the texture of the cream cheese was possibly a little too thick. After Bryan finished eating his portion, he was licking his lips and his palate like a dog that’s been given a spoonful of peanut butter. Not a good look.

Okay, this is pretty obvious but you know I had to include it…

Virgin Recipe: Barbecue Salad

my honest reaction to Barbecue Salad

So bad…

Back with another nasty one, I’m gratified to say that this is the worst one I’ve done in quite a while. Just when I thought I was getting used to the savory Jell-O recipes, this one surprised me with its extreme unpleasantness.

Barbecue Salad is a close relative to the first savory Jell-O I ever did, Molded Tomato Relish. The main difference between the two is that Molded Tomato Relish is made with stewed tomatoes, while Barbecue Salad is made with tomato sauce, and includes pepper along with salt and vinegar. Since it was the first, I remember Molded Tomato Relish pretty well, in particular the way Bryan and I tasted it simultaneously on a three-count, and after a few moments simultaneously burst out laughing over how weirdly bad it was.

Still, as regular readers know (and others can find out by perusing the links in the Table of Contents), there’s been a lot of water under that bridge. I really thought I was becoming inured to the weirder Jell-O, that the thrill was gone. But no. Glory hallelujah, Barbecue Salad is thoroughly, hilariously bad.

small tomato jelly mold on a bed of lettuce leaves with a tiny dollop of mayo on top

Barbecue Salad, with mayonnaise garnish

The key to the nastiness has got to be the tomato sauce. It’s not something we ever use at Freak Mountain, so I wasn’t familiar with the ingredient. We make our own pasta sauce (or, as my Italian-American in-laws call it, “gravy”) starting with crushed tomatoes, so there’s always some texture to it. Canned tomato sauce, it turns out, is a very smooth tomato purée. Mix it with gelatin and you end up with something that is creepily similar to the mayonnaise I used as garnish (as suggested in the book). The mouthfeel is distinctly slimy. I don’t mind mayonnaise, normally, but I would never eat it on its own by the forkful. Barbecue Salad has helped me to understand my friend F– who is repulsed by mayo.

For the vinegar, I chose apple cider vinegar, and I think that may have been a mistake, as it was probably too sweet. In hindsight, what this recipe needs is a serious hit of acidic flavor, and my old standby white vinegar would have served that purpose much better. As for the salt and pepper, they were both undetectable.

I’d like to know who was the sadist who came up with this recipe. He or she has a lot to answer for. As I was tasting this, I was reminded of the scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where Harry and Dumbledore are retrieving the locket horcrux, and Harry has to force Dumbledore to drink all of the (really nasty) potion in the basin to get to the locket at the bottom. Three bites of Barbecue Salad and I was through. If there was a horcrux in there, I’m afraid Voldemort still stands a chance.

Recipe Repost: Grasshopper Dessert

Originally posted October 25, 2009

a bowl of cube gelatin with a creamy center mound

Grasshopper Dessert circa 1974

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.

more cubed gelatin with center creamy mound

Grasshopper Dessert á la Freak Mountain, 2009

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.

Virgin Recipe: Molded Vegetable Relish

Your Humble Narrator tasting the Jell-O

Why did this take me so long?

It feels like ages since I did a nasty Jell-O, but it’s only been a couple of months. I’ve been having a weird relationship with time lately. On the one hand, time in the Trump regime goes by slowly, what with all the drama and “bombshell” news. It’s hard to believe it’s only been four months since the inauguration. On the other hand, on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis, time slips through my hands like water as I try to get done everything I want to do (work, gym, spending time with spouse and cats, Jell-O, guitar, Fallout…) but somehow I get sucked into the interwebs or old movies on TCM instead. Time has been almost unmanageable, for me at least. Still, I’ve managed to do Molded Vegetable Relish for you.

This is one of those Jell-O molds that strike fear in the hearts of random people on the internet. Oh no! Lime Jell-O with vegetables in it! The horror! But I’ve grown numb to it, and anyway, Molded Vegetable Relish couldn’t be as bad as the last couple of weeks have been for the U.S.

bowls of cabble, celery, pickle, and sliced olives

For my Molded Vegetable Relish – chopped cabbage, chopped celery, chopped pickle, and sliced martini olives

Molded Vegetable Relish gives the cook the option of choosing from six different vegetable combinations: 1) cabbage, celery, carrots, and green pepper; 2) cabbage, celery, green pepper, and pimiento; 3) cabbage, celery, pickle, and pimiento; 4) cooked peas, diced celery, and cabbage; 5) cabbage and sliced stuffed olives; or 6) carrots and green pepper. (I’m sensing a theme here…) To make this as repellent as possible, I went for door number three, except that instead of pimientos I used martini olives for maximum nastiness. The recipe is non-specific about the type of pickles, so I used what we had in the fridge, Grillo’s Italian dill slices. So, yes, what we’re talking about here is lime Jell-O with cabbage, celery, chopped dill pickle, and sliced stuffed olives that have been marinating in vermouth.

I have learned that, for the viewers, the most interesting bits of my videos are the ones where I make “yuck faces” as I taste the Jell-O, and I aim to please.

As far as preparation goes, the lime Jell-O gets made more or less in the usual way, a single batch (3-oz. packet) with 3/4 cup cold water instead of a full cup, with the addition of vinegar, salt, pepper, and grated onion. I found myself in the weird position of feeling as though I hadn’t added enough onion to my Jell-O (and that just ain’t right…) After thickening (over an ice water bath), the chopped veggies are mixed in and the whole mess is put into a mold and stuck into the fridge to firm up.

lime Jell-O mold with bits of veggies suspended in it

Molded Vegetable Relish in all its glory

The result was a bright-green mold, the color possibly enhanced by the almost-monochrome solid ingredients. It was certainly visually striking. It almost didn’t look like food. (Almost?)

This was not the worst Jell-O recipe I’ve done, but it definitely wasn’t good. To start with, there really wasn’t enough onion in it. I’m not sure if more would have helped, though. Between the salt and pepper and vinegar, and the salty, vinegary pickles and olives, there should have been enough savory flavoring in this, but all of that just could not cut the sweetness of the lime Jell-O. Instead, the flavors clashed in a rather aggressive way.

As Bryan noted, at least it didn’t have mayonnaise in it.

I took pleasure in shoving most of this down the garbage disposal, so Action Against Hunger is definitely getting a piece of this action.

Virgin Recipe: Alaska Surprise

… featuring guest taster JB!

This recipe sounded like it might be a good one for company, and as it happened our friend JB was in need of some diversion, so we invited him to Freak Mountain for a lunch of Bryan’s baked mac’n’cheese, and Jell-O. JB is one of the people who helped to convince me to reboot the blog, so this was long overdue.

Given what we’ve been doing here, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise that Alaska Surprise is baked Alaska, but with Jell-O (any red flavor) instead of ice cream. (Surprise!) The preparation is a little time-consuming because it’s in three stages, done hours apart. First, there’s a batch of clear Jell-O made with a half-cup of ginger ale instead of cold water, which has to be chilled until firm and then cut into cubes. Second, there’s a batch of Jell-O made with a pint of vanilla ice cream instead of cold liquid, which is thickened, and the cubes of clear Jell-O are stirred into it.

Jell-O mold, pink creamy gelatin with darker cubes in it

Alaska Surprise – the naked mold

This is put in either a load pan or a four-cup mold and chilled until firm. The Jell-O gets unmolded and chilled again. As I think you can see in the photo above, I experienced the same problem I had with Crown Jewel Cake, where the creamy gelatin didn’t adhere to the clear Jell-O cubes, which led to cracking and separation.

pink Jell-O with red cubes and meringue on the sides

Very soft meringue around the sides of the mold. The growing crack in the top is clearly visible here.

The third stage is the meringue, done shortly before serving. The directions in the book don’t call for cream of tartar, and I tried whipping up a meringue as directed without it, but it wouldn’t stiffen up properly and I ended up adding a little cream of tartar, which helped, although I think my meringue was still a bit soft for this.

(While I made the meringue, JB raided our cookbook collection for Bryan’s stash of vintage ice cream recipe books. For nearly 30 years, JB has been hosting an annual weekend-long event of camping and creative ice-cream-making that makes the Project seem tame.)

Jell-O mold covered in meringue

Jell-O mold covered in meringue

The mold is sitting on a round of foil because I wanted to be able to transfer it easily from a plate onto whatever I was going to use to put it under the broiler. I mulled over this a fair bit. The book says to put the mold on a board covered with foil. I don’t know who might happen to have a board laying around the kitchen that’s the right size for this, but I sure don’t, so I ended up sliding the mold onto a baking sheet.

very well done meringue

Blink, and suddenly you’ve got blackened meringue…

The meringue ended up very well done on top, and hardly at all on the sides. In my defense, this is my first time using our broiler, and Bryan was not particularly forthcoming with advice on how to use it. The over tends to be slow, so I guess I was assuming the broiler would be, too, especially since it’s electric (in a gas oven, what?), but the coils heated up quickly.

Alaska Surprise with a serving spooned out of it

Alaska… Surprise!

Even though this was only in the oven for maybe a minute and a half, the creamy Jell-O got all melty, not quite liquid but very soft, and the Jell-O cubes were kind of swimming in it. I made regular baked Alaska once when I was a teenager, and the ice cream didn’t melt this much – but, of course, part of the trick to baked Alaska is that you make sure the ice cream is frozen hard before you coat it in meringue and broil it, The Jell-O isn’t as cold, so it starts out closer to melting temperature. That’s science, people.

Bryan and JB thought that maybe I wouldn’t have had so much of a melting issue if I had broiled it on something less heat conductive, but I’m not so sure, because the baking pan didn’t actually get that hot. One thing that might have helped that’s a usual part of baked Alaska is a layer of pound cake on the bottom. A round of pound cake underneath the mold might have insulated it from any heat transferred from the baking sheet, and also soaked up some of the melted Jell-O, which would have been rather nice in its own right. I considered trying that, but after last week’s major deviation from the plot, I wanted to follow this recipe more closely. If anyone really wants to try making their own Alaska Surprise, I would advise going with the pound cake bottom.

For eating, this was intensely sweet. I used strawberry flavored Jell-O because it’s my favorite red flavor, but in retrospect maybe raspberry, which is a little more tart, would have been better. I didn’t care much for the combination of textures, but JB seemed to find it interesting. Both he and Bryan ate all of the servings I gave them but didn’t go for seconds, and we all needed something to drink afterwards.

One thing I realized was that the ginger ale wasn’t noticeable in the clear Jell-O. When I mentioned it to JB, he mused that maybe using something with a more intense flavor would have worked better. I told him about how I’d tried substituting ginger beer for ginger ale once and found that the stronger ginger flavor didn’t really do anything for the recipe. He had an interesting insight, that maybe the ginger ale is meant to enhance the flavor of the Jell-O (as bay leaves do in savory dishes), rather than giving additional flavor to it. That sounds plausible. Let’s go with that.

Afterwards, the sugar coma we experienced lent itself to a viewing of a couple of episodes of series one of Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy. If you happen to be out of your favorite recreational substance, it turns out that Alaska Surprise is a reasonable substitute.

A big thanks and hugs to JB for Jell-O’ing with us today!

Virgin Recipe: Peach Gem Pie

orange Jell-O and peaches set in a pie crust

Peach Gem Pie circa 1974

I was a bad girl this week. I deviated significantly from the original recipe for Peach Gem Pie, which is, as you can probably tell from the old photo, just orange Jell-O with peach slices in it, in a pie crust. Oh, yes, and there’s a little almond extract in the Jell-O. Because of my Orange Boycott, I was planning on substituting peach Jell-O for orange anyway, but then after the week we’ve had here in the U.S. and abroad, I just couldn’t face Jell-O in a pie shell. I just couldn’t.

So it occurred to me that I could do what the U.S. Congress failed to do this week – I could take a not-so-good thing and make it better. Following on the success of Easy Fruit Tarts, I decided to turn Peach Gem Pie into a Peach Gem Tart.

tart with peaches and peach flavored gelatin

Peach Gem Pie á la Freak Mountain

I started with Julia Child’s sweet short crust recipe and made a nine-inch tart shell. I spread a layer of French vanilla Jell-O instant pudding in the bottom of the tart shell, arranged Del Monte canned peach slices (so sue me, peaches are well out of season right now) in a pretty pattern on the pudding, and spooned thickened peach Jell-O over the peaches to form a glaze. I forgot to add the almond extract to the Jell-O (rather than listening to music while I worked, I was listening to NPR programming and got distracted) but remedied that somewhat by serving the tart with almond-flavored whipped cream.

The end result was not bad at all. It certainly looks prettier than the pie shown in the book. Orange Jell-O has a garish hue, but peach Jell-O is actually a rather pretty color. The flavor is subtler, too, and I wonder whether it would have made a difference if I’d remembered to add the almond extract. Probably not. These Jell-O recipes tend to be pretty timid about the added flavors. I was a little dubious about whether the almond flavor would go with the peaches, but in the whipped cream it worked much better than I expected.

slice of Peach Gem Tart with a dollop of whipped cream

Definitely serve with whipped cream

I did make a few mistakes. The main one is that the crust turned out tough; most likely I overworked it, got a little cocky after it turned out so well last time. Another is that I added too much almond extract to the whipped cream. A teaspoon of vanilla extract to a half-pint of whipping cream works well; a teaspoon of almond extract is, I’m thinking, about twice as much as you want. (The aftertaste, it burns…) Finally, one three-ounce package each of pudding and Jell-O is way too much for a single nine-inch tart. It was fine because I ate the leftovers, but if anyone wants to try to recreate this, I recommend planning on making two tarts. Seriously, this turned out to be a decent dessert. Bring them to Easter dinner. The colors are seasonal, and I could see this working well after a main course of ham. Ham from a can. Oh, the memories… Did I mention it was a rough week?