At number eight in our countdown, and in time to give you a suggestion for something to do with leftover Thanksgiving turkey, I present:
Last year around this time I made Turkey Soufflé Salad, and shopping for the turkey on the day after Thanksgiving meant my choices were limited. I wasn’t particularly happy with the deli slices I ended up using, so I made sure that Jellied Turkey Salad would come up on the editorial calendar before Thanksgiving, and I decided that I would just have to roast a turkey breast to get a satisfactory meat component.
A week or two before it was time to get to work on the Jell-O recipe, it occurred to me that if I was roasting a turkey breast anyway, maybe I ought to just go whole hog and make an early Thanksgiving dinner. After all, I hadn’t gotten to do a Thanksgiving my way in almost 30 years. Instead of my in-laws’ library-paste stuffing, I would make the stuffing I remembered from my youth, a simple dish of celery, onions and peppers sautéed in a lot of butter, mixed with croutons, and moistened with broth. Instead of heavy mashed potatoes beaten with cream cheese (cream cheese? why?) I would make basic potatoes mashed with butter, milk, salt and pepper (and not beaten, so they’d have that “real mashed potatoes” texture). I would have jellied cranberry sauce (with the can shape), a side veg, and brown’n’serve rolls, if I could find them.
So that’s what I did (minus the brown’n’serve rolls, which were not yet available). It was actually kind of fun. Cooking a multipart meal like that has a certain rhythm to it, coordinating the timing of the various elements. It went amazing well considering how long it had been since I’d cooked a big meal like that, although it was not without a few small hiccups. For starters, the turkey took longer to roast than I had been led to believe. I wasn’t totally happy with the gravy, which was probably doomed from the start due to the natural limitation of pan drippings from a lean breast. I’d kind of like a do-over on the stuffing because I couldn’t find herbed croutons and the unseasoned ones, well, they needed seasoning. Also, I found that I am totally lacking turkey carving skillz. Still, it was a nice dinner, and Bryan made a chocolate pecan pie for dessert, and I had leftover turkey for my Jell-O.
Then my procrastination tendencies kicked in and I kind of bollixed up the timing on this, which is why there’s no video for it. (Not that I expect anyone really misses it, but I’ll do an extra “penance” anyway and make a donation to the Boston Food Bank so that somebody else can have a nice Thanksgiving dinner.) We had the dinner last Saturday, and the leftover turkey wound up sitting in the fridge until I got to work on Jellied Turkey Salad on Wednesday evening. I looked up how long leftover turkey is safe to eat, and while most sources said three to four days, I found a discussion thread on Chowhound where people were maintaining that leftover turkey is fine for upwards of a week. Okay, I thought, this will just make it exciting…
… which is good, because making Jellied Turkey Salad is a bit of a dawdle. It’s your basic prepping of the solid ingredients (I did a little extra of everything, as usual), thickening the Jell-O over an ice water bath, mixing in the solid ingredients, and chilling it in a mold. That old story, one we know so well by now. Since I was making this before we ate dinner, I nibbled at the turkey while I was cutting it up, and found that it was better as leftovers than it had been right out of the oven, and I decided that the bother of roasting it had been worth it.
The mold sat in the fridge for an extra day (what can I say, it was a rough week), so on Friday it was with some trepidation that I unmolded it, took some photos, and sat down to try a piece. Bryan got home from work while I was setting up for the photos, and he assured me that he’d eaten some of the leftover turkey for lunch and hadn’t gotten sick, so that was encouraging.
After tasting it, I’m just as glad I didn’t go to the trouble of making a video, because there were no grimaces. Jellied Turkey Salad wasn’t particularly awful. The Jell-O was too sweet, but there were enough other ingredients in there that the sweetness wasn’t overwhelming. The turkey was fine, and I liked the flavor of the chopped tarragon. As with so many of the savory Jell-O recipes, the flavors just didn’t blend together well, so each bite was a little, I guess you could say, confusing to the palate. When Bryan tried a bite, he was startled; he said it wasn’t what he was expecting.
Jellied Turkey Salad appears in the chapter titled “Salads for the Slim Life”. I imagine that, as with so many “diet” foods of the mid-20th century, the primary function of this dish is to kill the appetite. I was pretty hungry when I tried this, so I ate several bites, but I had no desire to finish my portion, let alone eat the rest of the mold. The garbage disposal got the bulk of it, and Action Against Hunger will get its usual donation.
…And here we are, back to the nasty Jell-O. The good news is that we’re heading into the final countdown phase, and Cool Coleslaw Salad is the third-to-last of the savory Jell-O recipes!
I did have to drag myself back from the Mojave Wasteland to do this. I decided to start a new playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas last weekend, perhaps not the wisest decision, but my other distractions are starting to fail me. On the surface it seems kind of strange that a video game set in a dystopian alternate-timeline, post-nuclear-apocalypse future should be so soothing, but I’m starting to form theories about fight-or-flight and stress hormones. Maybe engaging in those imaginary fights allows for a release of stress that’s not possible in the real world, where all we can do is scan our Twitter feeds every morning hoping that World War III hasn’t begun. Also, I like the southwest desert a lot, the bleak beauty and the vast quietness of the landscape, which is captured really well in Fallout: New Vegas.
So I ventured out of my motel room in Novac and into my kitchen to make Cool Coleslaw Salad. There isn’t actually a whole lot to say about this one. The base is lemon Jell-O, but otherwise it’s not so different from a standard, non-gelatinous coleslaw. In that sense, it’s a close cousin to Molded Potato Salad.
A single batch of lemon Jell-O is prepared with a little less cold water than usual, but with salt and vinegar added. A half-cup of mayonnaise and a half-cup of sour cream get blended into the Jell-O, along with a few tablespoons of prepared mustard and some finely-chopped onion. I chilled the resulting savory bavarian over an ice-water bath until it was thickened, and then added shredded cabbage (the recipe calls for three cups, but I probably added more), a few tablespoons of diced pimiento, and a quantity of chopped parsley that was probably more than the tablespoon specified in the recipe. It all chilled in a glass bowl in the fridge overnight, et voila! Cool Coleslaw Salad!
All in all, I’m pretty happy about how it turned out. I’m glad I added extra cabbage, because I think if all the cabbage had been submerged in the gelatin that would have been kind of depressing. At least this looked like “a salad”, and to be honest, I think that visually, at least, it was not unappealing.
While I’m overall relieved to be done with these “sour cream and mayonnaise” recipes, I have to say that Cool Coleslaw Salad did not taste bad. It tasted like coleslaw. The onion and the mustard really cut into the sweetness of the lemon Jell-O, and the sour cream and mayonnaise mixture made sense, for once. The real problem with this dish was the mouthfeel. The combination of a crunchy vegetable and a creamy gelatin is just unpleasant.
For once, Bryan and I were entirely on the same page on a recipe. I gave him some to try, and he actually ate more than a forkful, agreeing that it tasted fine but just wasn’t very nice to eat. The garbage disposal got the bulk of it, so Action Against Hunger will be getting another donation.
I’m almost regretting doing a Memory Lane post today, because I am so hungry! I went to the gym a while ago and did some deadlifts, and came home to a house not only bereft of snacks but also down to the last four ounces of milk, so I couldn’t even have the big glass of chocolate milk with which I sometimes reward myself after dragging my substantial ass to the gym. Right now I feel like I’m so hungry I could even eat Chicken Mousse.
But maybe that’s because I don’t remember it. I know I made it, because I have my notes, and a photo. Judging by my notes, I wonder if I don’t have some sort of psychological block about Chicken Mousse. Apparently, it was pretty bad. To start with, lemon Jell-O and cayenne pepper do not play well together. Somehow, this isn’t surprising, and yet there they are, both in the same recipe.
As you might have guessed from the name, or from the photo, Chicken Mousse is a bavarian type Jell-O dish. The creamy ingredients? Mayonnaise and Dream Whip. I used the Mixmaster Junior to blend them together, to avoid the danger of mayonnaise blobs. That was probably wise, but the combination of mayo and Dream Whip was, unsurprisingly, very nasty.
Finally, instead of real chicken I used some sort of mock chicken, as I was trying, during the first iteration of the Project, to adhere to my mostly vegetarian diet. The reason that I am no longer doing this is because the mock meat was always bad in these recipes, and Chicken Mousse was certainly no exception.
Nevertheless, in the end I decided that the recipe wouldn’t have been helped by using real chicken. I used too much cayenne, and that was the best part. While it was “so bad it cracks me up”, I was also a little annoyed that I was dirtying dishes to make it. We gave it four “nasties”, and it left me asking, “Oh, god, why…?”
It’s a question a lot of us have been asking ourselves lately.
Fresh Fruit Salad comes around in an interesting confluence of events. It happens to be an Orange Boycott recipe (I substituted lime Jell-O for orange) on a weekend when I wound up going to a counter-protest at the Boston Common to oppose a so-called “free speech rally” organized by some right-wingers who evidently felt that this was a good thing to do even so soon after Charlottesville. Planning for this rally had been underway since before violence erupted in Charlottesville, VA last weekend in the wake of a “Unite the Right” demonstration that included out-and-proud white supremacists and neo-Nazis. While smarter people might have at least postponed a rally that was planned to include many speakers who had appeared in Charlottesville, Boston Free Speech decided to go ahead with it.
The thing is, counter-protests mobilized pretty quickly, and the permit that was granted to Boston Free Speech mid-week required that they not carry weapons, or anything that could be used as a weapon (such as poles for flags). The organizers had to ask possible attendees not to bring neo-Nazi and Confederate paraphernalia (for appearances’ sake). Meanwhile, scheduled speakers were being uninvited (the most controversial ones) or dropping out. I guess not being allowed guns or swastikas made the whole thing not much fun for potential participants, and a few dozen rally-goers hung in there for less than an hour before being escorted away from the Common by police (for their own safety).
Bryan and I were running late, and ended up getting to the Common a short while after the rally-goers had left. The counter-protesters were carrying on with a sort of impromptu peace rally, which was upbeat and jubilant. There was a bunch of bicycle cops in the buffer zone looking bored, and beyond the buffer zone an empty space around the empty bandstand. We wandered around for a while, and the worst thing I witnessed personally was a guy letting his dog paddle around in the Frog Pond right in front of a sign saying that this was not allowed. I know there were some altercations that happened after we left, but no one was seriously hurt and the number of arrests was somewhere between “the Red Sox won a home game” and St. Patrick’s Day. I left the house expecting to fight Nazis and wound up just taking a long walk on a brilliant summer afternoon.
And then I returned home to another Jell-O recipe. Fresh Fruit Salad is, I would say, a variant on Waldorf salad. Chopped apples, halved grapes (dammit, fussing around with grapes again!) and chopped pecans get mixed into a bavarian made with lemon Jell-O, two-thirds cup sour cream, and one-third cup mayonnaise. (I know that one reader has a photo of someone vomiting copiously that he keeps for occasions like this.) This gets molded with plain gelatin (orange in the recipe, lime in my case) on the bottom and top, so that it looks more appetizing.
Preparing this was fairly routine, though I was annoyed by the timing of it. I had to leave the bavarian part in the fridge for a while, longer than it would take me to do the washing up and make the plain Jell-O, so I had to just wait around. It ended up thickening more quickly than I’d expected, so I ended up having to leave it out on the counter while I prepared the lime Jell-O. With the lime, I had to put some of it in the bottom of the mold and chill until thickened but not set (a half-hour, per the recipe), and then thicken the remaining Jell-O, spoon the bavarian into the mold, and put the rest of the Jell-O on top. I admit it, I got impatient with the first lime layer, as you can see in the photo. Time management has been a challenge for me lately, anyway, and this recipe made me feel especially inadequate.
I left the unmolding and tasting until after I’d gotten back from the gym today, so that I would be hungry and this recipe would stand the best possible chance to be appetizing. I have to say it didn’t look too bad once I’d unmolded it, and frankly, I think lime was a better choice than orange anyway.
Unfortunately, for eating it wasn’t so nice. I didn’t think it was all that bad, even though the mayonnaise flavor really predominated in the bavarian layer, but that may have been the post-gym hunger talking. I still think nuts don’t belong in Jell-O. Bryan, on the other hand, described it as “really unpleasant”, and actually picked all of the bits of fruit out of the bavarian layer and ate what he could of the lime Jell-O, leaving a nasty heap of bavarian-style jelly in his bowl.
Fresh Fruit Salad appears in a photo in the book – on a wedding buffet table where all the dishes are made with Jell-O, also featuring Salmon Dill Mousse and Creamy Bleu Cheese Salad. I feel bad for the happy couple. If it was the mother of the bride who planned this wedding, that groom is in for a bad time with his mother-in-law.
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…
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.
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.
Well, we’re back to that weedy, rutted path known as Memory Lane.
I do have a vague recollection of Topaz Parfait, because it’s one of those recipes where the flavor of the Jell-O clashes rather badly with the additional ingredients. Appearing in the third chapter of The New Joys of Jell-O (“Bring on the Super Desserts”), Topaz Parfait gives the cook a chance to use the cubed gelatin technique while going on a little flavor adventure – and I mean “adventure” in the “bad planning” sense.
The adventure starts with a cup of strong coffee. Now, making coffee at Freak Mountain is always a bit of a production, because Bryan only buys whole beans, which have to be weighed on the kitchen scale and ground in the fancy-pants Italian burr grinder, to the right degree of coarseness or fineness, just before brewing. Our three main coffee-making options are French press, Chemex (I think we might have a reusable cotton filter somewhere), or a basic pour-over dripping into a thermal carafe. For this recipe, I used instant espresso.
The coffee is heated to boiling (always a bad idea with coffee), and lemon Jell-O and sugar are dissolved in it. Then cold water and brandy are added. I think you see where this is going. The Jell-O is poured into a square pan to chill until firm so that it can be cut into cubes, which are then layered with Dream Whip that’s been prepared with the addition of a little brown sugar and brandy. The Dream Whip, at least, is improved by this treatment.
Apparently the first major problem with this recipe was the smell. I don’t remember this specifically, but I can believe it. Even the nice Jell-O recipes can make the fridge smell a little funky. According to my notes, it “[made] the fridge smell like someone spilled a bottle of stout and didn’t clean it up”. I do like stout, but for drinking, not as an air freshener. Of course, the real culprit here was the brandy, which is something I don’t really like anyway, but the combination of brandy, coffee, and lemon Jell-O just doesn’t work well.
Since I’m at least a somewhat nice person, I let Bryan have the smaller dish of Topaz Parfait and took the tall one for myself. I finished it off, but only because Bryan said I couldn’t and I’m a sucker for a thrown-down gauntlet. It seems the aftertaste was quite something, and called for a palate cleanser of miniature marshmallows. We gave it three nasties, which puts it on the same level as Winter Fruit Mold (a/k/a Jell-O Fruitcake), Salmon Dill Mousse and Spanish Tuna Salad.
The thing about this recipe, and a couple of others, is that it made me want to do a proper coffee jelly, and I keep meaning to do it but haven’t gotten around to it yet. What I’d really like to do is a jelly version of Thai iced coffee, which I think would be really good, but I haven’t been able to find a satisfactory recipe for Thai coffee. I’d like to make it replicating the sweetened condensed milk that floats on top of the coffee at first and slowly swirls down into the coffee, combining with it in a sort of Brownian motion that’s intriguing to watch if you can resist drinking the coffee long enough.
A few months ago, after hunting around a bit at our local H-Mart, I found something called “instant Thai coffee drink” that I thought might be just the ticket, but it turned out to be instant coffee with sugar and, I’m guessing, powdered non-dairy creamer. (I’m enjoying some right now in my “Alien Caffeine Espresso Bar” souvenir mug from the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico.) Back to the drawing board, I guess.
So we’ve got some new recipes coming up for the next couple of weeks, and then I’m going to be taking a weekend off to participate in the Ladies Rock Camp Boston fundraiser for the Girls Rock Campaign Boston. It’s basically a weekend-long rock bootcamp culminating in a showcase, possibly at a very cool local club – and I won’t lie, I’m nervous as hell about it. I’ve scarcely picked up a guitar in years, but probably someone will stick an open-tuned guitar in my hands and tell me where on the fretboard I should be holding down all the strings with my index finger to play a song. I’ve heard some distortion pedal lessons might be involved. I guess if worse comes to worst they can always take me off of guitar and put me on cowbell.
I need to start getting into a more musical mindset. Maybe I should be listening to more Chuck Berry… (R.I.P.)
And while I’m R.I.P.ing, I really should say a few words about Robert Osborne. He was a writer and film historian, best known to me and many others as the host of the Turner Classic Movies cable channel (which is, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of the few worthwhile channels left on cable, thanks largely to Osborne). Before discovering TCM I had loved classic film, but Robert Osborne always had something to say that added to my appreciation. The breadth and depth of his knowledge about film were enormous, as was his enthusiasm, and he was generous with both in his work at TCM. He was also warm and kind, and, judging by the tribute programming they’ve been running on TCM this weekend, beloved by everyone who met him. He was the best of good eggs, and we were fortunate to have him share the planet with us. He died on March 6, and my heart goes out to the many, many people who share my sorrow.