In the spirit of the Halloween season, today’s Jell-O recipes are “Especially for Junior Cooks”.
Don’t ask me about the name on this one. Since this is “for Junior Cooks” you know there’s no alcohol in it. It’s pretty simple, so it’s not like anyone would get a kick out of making it. You just prepare a single batch (three ounce package) of strawberry Jell-O per the instructions on the box, divvy it up between four dessert glasses (make them kind of small, this is only a half-cup of Jell-O per glass), chill it in the fridge until it’s firm, and serve it with a scoop of ice cream on top.
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, Jell-O á la mode is kind of weird. The combination of textures makes for a peculiar mouth-feel. On the other hand, the recipe doesn’t specify an ice cream flavor, so you don’t need to go with boring old vanilla if you don’t want to. Since the Friendly’s ice cream was still on sale at this supermarket this weekend, we picked up a carton of Forbidden Chocolate (formerly Double Chocolate). Flavor-wise, at least, this went well with the strawberry ice cream. We used up the whipped cream, so we ate this one without and it was fine, but a little spritz would not have gone amiss.
I can imagine a kid liking this. Okay, so it’s Jell-O, but at least you get to have some ice cream with it…
Snack Cups is more a premise than a recipe. You make a batch of Jell-O, any flavor, chill it until firm in paper cups, and add toppings to it before eating. There are topping suggestions:
…prepared whipped topping, sundae sauce, flaked coconut, chopped nuts, chopped or sliced fruit, marshmallow sauce, miniature marshmallows, colored sprinkles…
Actually, this sounds like something you might make for a kid who’s severely lacto-allergic and can’t have a proper ice cream sundae.
There’s enough latitude in this recipe that I decided, in honor of Halloween, to make this one as Dirt Cups, with cookie crumbs and gummy worms as the toppings. I didn’t use the official Kraft recipe, which includes Cool Whip and specifies Oreo cookies for the crumbs. Instead, for the Jell-O I used Devil’s Food flavored Jell-O instant pudding, and for the topping I used crumbs made from Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers (a less sweet, deeper cocoa flavor than Oreos), and Trolli mini sour gummy worms (mainly because I couldn’t find the traditional life-size gummy worms, and also because I thought the minis would fit better in the snack cups.)
Rather than paper cups, I decided to go with clear plastic because part of the fun of a snack called Dirt Cups is getting to see how much it looks like a cup of dirt. Another part of the fun was hiding some of the worms between the pudding layer and the cookie crumb layer. Bryan assumed that the worms he could see at the top of the cup were the only ones, and he was amusingly surprised to find more of them burrowing down there in the dirt.
The Dirt Cups were fun to make, fun to eat, and tasty, although the gummy worms did make for an odd overall texture. On the other hand, it’s Halloween, so what better time to be eating worms in dirt? It was nice to have a Halloween win after last year’s abject failure.
Unfortunately, I find I can’t help but think of my Dirt Cup experience in contrast with a video I saw of our president in the Oval Office hosting children of the press corps for a Halloween event. The children were in costume, and the president was going to give them candy, but first he needed to speak with them. Did he compliment their costumes, or ask them what their favorite candy was, or ask if they went trick-or-treating? Nope. He told them that it was amazing that the press produced such beautiful children (i.e., talked smack about their parents), and asked them how the press treated them. (I wish there had been at least one fearless wise-ass kid to pipe up, “My mom sent me to bed without dinner once…”) Setting aside the way he has of always making everything about him, you have to wonder if he remembers being a kid (we know he was one once because there are photos), or if he outright killed his inner child at some point. Halloween is a great time for adults to let themselves be more kid-like. The president had this perfect opportunity to have a little fun, and he just couldn’t do it. That’s genuinely sad.
With everything that’s been going on this year, I have to admit that I haven’t been feeling Halloween as much as usual. I didn’t bring candy to the office (for which my waistline thanks me), and for the annual party I ended up putting together a costume out of bits of previous costumes. With some heavy eye makeup, a lot of hairspray, and a Billy Idol sneer, I created my Punk Fairy. I feel like it captures the zeitgeist pretty well this year. It wasn’t my first choice, though. Inspired by the appearance at Target of adult-size onesie pajamas (I don’t know why, and I don’t want to know) I had thought I might work up a “Toddler Trump” costume, but then I couldn’t find a plain, non-cartoon-franchise onesie, and when I tried to do the classic Trump pout, I discovered that I couldn’t do it. It kept ending up looking like duckface, and even I had to admit that I’m too pretty to impersonate Trump.
Oh well. There are two more Dirt Cups in the fridge, a bag of Halloween candy in the cabinet (in case we get trick-or-treaters at Freak Mountain), and Killer Clowns from Outer Space on the DVR, and my old ass is having a fun holiday, because what’s the point of life without fun?
Today we’re back to the kids’ stuff, and doubling up to get that much closer to finishing by the end of the year.
Cool Cubes is an Orange Boycott recipe that originally called for orange Jell-O and mandarin orange sections. Luckily, this is a pretty simple recipe that’s easy to make with other flavors and fruit. All it is, really, is Cubed Gelatin layered in a tall glass with fruit, so I went with grape Jell-O and, for contrast, green grapes. In my not so humble opinion, this was probably nicer looking and tastier than the original recipe, which would have been quite boring.
Somehow, there was whipped cream left over from last week’s Fruit Flavor Flakes, so I used it to top our Cool Cubes. To be honest, though, grape Jell-O doesn’t go as well with cream as the berry or peach flavors. It wasn’t bad, just… I mean, you wouldn’t make an ice cream float with grape soda, would you?
I asked Bryan if he liked cubed or flaked gelatin better. He was noncommittal.
Banana-Marshmallow Special was the more kidlike of these two, probably because of the inclusion of miniature marshmallows.
It wasn’t as simple to make as Cool Cubes, which is why, I imagine, I managed to screw it up a little bit. The recipe says to make a single batch of strawberry Jell-O and chill until almost set, to prevent the marshmallows from floating to the top. Well, I was using the trusty cold-water bath method to chill the Jell-O, but I didn’t have quite enough ice, and I was getting a little impatient, so I added the banana slices and marshmallows when the Jell-O was thick, but not quite almost set. I added extra marshmallows and banana slices, so there wasn’t so much a problem with solid ingredients floating to the surface, but the powdered sugar coating on the marshmallows came off in the viscous Jell-O and formed a sort of colloidal suspension in the gelatin, which is why the Jell-O part looks a bit cloudy. I wonder if a kid would do better, but I rather doubt it.
The Jell-O with marshmallows and bananas in it gets put in glasses, dishes or paper cups to set. There’s another Junior Cooks recipe coming up that says to put the Jell-O in paper cups, and that got me to thinking that maybe I could use Dixie riddle cups for these recipes. That just goes to show how far away from any kid-centered orbit I am, because it turns out that Dixie riddle cups went away a long time ago, and failed to stick around past a short-lived revival twenty years ago. The designs on modern paper cups just don’t appeal to me, so instead I got some reusable plastic cup containers, which will make it easier for me to bring the leftovers to work for lunch.
I added some mini-marshmallow to the top of the Jell-O in the cups – I don’t know why, because it’s not like this wasn’t sweet enough already. It’s what kid-me would have done, for sure.
We ate Cool Cubes and Banana-Marshmallow Special in one sitting. Unsurprisingly, Bryan preferred the Banana-Marshmallow Special, mainly because of the marshmallows. I think I preferred the Cool Cubes, though, and this was more because of the bananas. I don’t love bananas in Jell-O. It’s mainly a texture thing. Although I like bananas, there’s something a little creepy about them. They make me think about bugs, especially the more ripe they are. The bananas I used in this recipe were ones I had bought at the supermarket the same morning I made the Jell-O, so it’s not like they were very ripe, but they were a weird texture in a dish that was, let’s be honest, all weird textures, very firm Jell-O and marshmallows that had softened a bit from contact with the thick-but-not-set gelatin.
Still, there was something about Banana-Marshmallow Special that really said “1970s” to me. I think kid-me would have really liked it. 50-year-old me wasn’t so keen on the way the sugar had coated my mouth when I was done eating it. I’m starting to understand why people might be keen to recapture their lost youth.
Today we’re looking at another “Especially for Junior Cooks” recipe.
However, this post isn’t going to be as carefree as it ought to be. I took a “staycation” last week, with the ambition of doing some serious house cleaning, but got brought up short on that by a couple of things. One was that what I really needed was a bit of a rest, and after a couple of rooms I realized I wasn’t going to get it if I kept on doing all that work by myself. Another was that last week the news was pretty much one gut punch after another, which made the need for some self-care even more pressing.
Early in the week, unexpected caffeine withdrawal headaches (it’s sad, it turns out I’m more of an addict than I realized) were compounded by the president’s belligerent rhetoric directed at North Korea, which gave us Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers bad Cold War flashbacks. I started thinking along the lines of “who cares if the bathroom is perfectly clean if we’re all going to die in a nuclear apocalypse anyway?” So I shifted my focus to playing Fallout New Vegas (for practice), working with my trainer at the gym to test my one-rep maxes on the major lifts (to keep my Strength stat up), and practicing guitar (to get my Charisma stat a bit higher). All of those activities had the added bonus of taking my mind off of the news and me physically away from social media.
On Saturday we went to a party down the shore at the home of the founder of my lab at MIT. I left my phone stowed in a duffle bag all day while I drank wine, watched egrets doing their thing in the marsh, and chatted with the good folks from the lab. It was very nice while it lasted – and then late in the evening I pulled out my phone to show someone pictures of my past Halloween costumes, and after that made the mistake of looking at Twitter, where I read about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA and the incident where one of their number drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring nineteen more.
This makes it a little difficult to feel light-hearted about a Jell-O project when Jell-O is, arguably, part of the so-called “white culture” being championed by the so-called “alt right” (Bill Cosby notwithstanding, and he’s certainly not someone I would choose as a shining example of African American culture, either). It’s difficult to feel light-hearted in general right now. I’ve been wanting to make a statement about how the white guys with the tiki torches don’t represent me, but I’m not sure how to do it without sounding self-righteous. They really don’t, though. As a melanin-challenged person, I don’t feel as though “my culture” is under threat, and I recognize what a privilege that is. Anyway, my view of U.S. culture is rather different from theirs, incorporating as it does the essential influences of all those groups the neo-Nazis believe to be inferior. The U.S. has never been a homogeneous culture. Thank goodness.
But I did make some Jell-O on Sunday, so let’s get back to the fittingly named Rainbow Parfait. This recipe is deceptively simple-sounding, consisting of two flavors of Jell-O (lemon and raspberry) that are layered in tall glasses for maximum visual impact. I’m out of raspberry (all red flavors, actually), and since we were time-constrained by that party I decided to skip the usual Saturday visit to Stop’n’Shop and use another flavor that I already had on hand. This time, it was grape, because purple is yellow’s complementary color, and I figured the contrast would be reasonably, erm, psychedelic and in the spirit of the original recipe. (The book was, after all, published in the early 1970s when the counterculture had pretty much gone mainstream.)
The problem with this recipe is that the timing is all wonky. You’re supposed to make two separate batches of Jell-O at the same time (okay so far), and then you thicken them a bit. Fine. But then you’re suppose to add a layer of one flavor of thickened Jell-O to the glasses, chill that layer until it’s fairly firm, then add the next layer, chill, and so forth. The problem with this is, as I’ve found, that once the Jell-O starts setting up, it’s just going to keep getting thicker, and these directions just sound kind of silly. Instead, I chilled the lemon and grape Jell-O until they were pretty thick but not set, quickly layered them in the glasses, and then put them in the fridge to chill until firm.
I think the original idea in the recipe was that you’d end up with quite flat and distinct layers of color. Doing it my way, with the Jell-O soft and sort of mounding, the layers blend a little where the two flavors of Jell-O meet and they’re not perfectly level. This gives the dish a sort of tie-dye effect that I quite like.
For eating, this was probably one of the least weird recipes I’ve done. Of course, it’s really just two-flavor Jell-O, and if you’re okay with Jell-O, it’s fine (though I would have liked a squirt of Redi-Whip on top). The best part was the visual appeal, which definitely added to the pleasure of eating it.
It looked especially nice once I’d spooned some of it out of the glass. The flavor specificity of the recipe is unnecessary – this would work well with any combination of light-colored and dark-colored Jell-O flavors. In fact, I think the purple of the grape flavor was a little too dark, and I kind of wish I’d gotten a little more adventurous with the flavors, for example using peach and Berry Blue. It could be fun to use this layering technique to make Cubed Gelatin for a kind of hippie-dippie effect. If the opportunity presents itself I’ll have to try it.
And you know what, finishing this up is actually making me feel a little better. Ah, the magic of Jell-O…