No, not this Bubble:
Unlike Eddie Monsoon’s personal assistant, Melon Bubble is a deceptively simple-looking recipe, consisting mainly of melon balls suspended in Jell-O. I went into this expecting it to be a bit of a dawdle, but found it to be pleasantly involving.
First, I had to make the melon balls. I chose this “baby watermelon” partly on the basis of the possible visual impact of deep pink balls in lemon Jell-O, and partly because every goddamn fruit salad I order in a restaurant is half cantaloupe and honeydew chunks, so I’m tired of those melons – but largely because our summer weather hasn’t let up yet, and despite the drought I’m happy enough for summer to last as long as possible.
That was really the only discretion I had in the recipe. Otherwise, the Jell-O is prepared as usual, but with 1/4 cup of cold water replaced by 1/4 cup of Cointreau. I set aside 2/3 cup of the liquid Jell-O, thickened the remaining 1 1/3 cup, added the watermelon balls, put the Jell-O/balls in serving glasses, and popped the lot in the fridge. Then, the fun part – I thickened the 2/3 cup Jell-O a little bit, then went to town with my trusty Mixmaster Junior until it was thick and fluffy. The fluff went on top of the Jell-O/balls, et voila! Melon Bubble á la Freak Mountain.
I was happy with the way it turned out, visually, but Bryan (who is red/green colorblind) remarked that it looked as though some giant alien frogs had laid tadpole eggs in our dessert glasses. Ew.
Luckily, it takes more than that to put me off my food. For eating, Melon Bubble is pretty good. The Cointreau cuts the sweetness of the Jell-O and adds a nice complexity to the flavor of the dish – which didn’t really surprise me, since I’ve found that to be the case with other Jell-O recipes that include some sort of alcoholic beverage. Alcohol turns Jell-O into a grownup dessert, and the tart orange flavor of the Cointreau made the lemon Jell-O downright refreshing. The mild taste of the watermelon was a nice contrast here. The aftertaste is actually rather nice, as well.
I liked the Jell-O foam on top (the stuff fascinates me for some reason) but Bryan groused that it was “too stiff”. I think he was expecting it to have a more creamy texture, probably an expectation set by all the bavarians we’ve been having lately.
My only regret with this one is that I don’t have a glass serving dish, because I think this would have looked better in a large dish rather than in individual glasses. There’s another one coming up that would do well with a glass serving dish presentation, so maybe we’ll head up to the Cambridge Antique Market sometime soon…
or A Rhapsody in Prunes
When I first started mulling over Jellied Prune Whip earlier this week, my thinking was that it would fit neatly into the theme of “aging” that seems to be evolving in NJoJ. What comes to mind when you think of prunes? Old people, of course.
I puzzled a little over why prunes are associated with the elderly. I mean, if you think about it, it’s not immediately obvious – prunes are really just giant raisins made out of plums, and raisins (especially in those little packable red boxes) are often associated with children. My theory is that it has to do with the (relatively recent) idea that prunes are only used to relieve constipation, a condition that commonly afflicts older people, if the Metamucil ads are to be believed. (I can guarantee you that this is not an issue here at Freak Mountain.) Mr. Google told me that prunes contain mild laxatives as well as dietary fiber, although research shows that they’re only effective for, erm, maintaining regularity when three or four ounces are eaten daily. As I know now, that’s kind of a lot of prunes, even divided into two or three servings.
Mr. Google also told me that a lot of prune distributors have opted to use the term “dried plums” for their products to try to dispel that “nature’s laxative” image. Sunsweet even markets a product of individually-wrapped prunes (“Ones”) that it was promoting a few years ago as a sort of natural candy. I keep actual candy (Jelly Belly jellybeans, Skittles) at my desk at work, and after a lot of grousing by a co-worker about a lack of healthful snacks, I added a tub of Ones to the counter. It took ages for them to get eaten. The co-worker had some, as did I, but the students wouldn’t touch them. I don’t think “dried plums” are going to catch on anytime soon.
This recipe sent me down a prune rabbit hole. The prune component is listed as “chopped cooked prune pulp”, as though any idiot would know what cooked prune pulp is. Turning to the internets, I quickly discovered that I wasn’t the only modern cook who’d been flummoxed by prune pulp, and others before me had turned to vintage cookbooks. I found one recipe that involved soaking the prunes in water for several hours, cooking them for a half-hour in the soaking water with a cup of sugar, and then letting them stand for more hours. Ain’t nobody got time for that, and besides, I’ve never encountered prunes so dry and hard that they would require hours of soaking and cooking.
A similar Prune Whip recipe was published in the Dallas Observer several years ago. The writer declared that her prunes seemed soft enough that she didn’t think she’d have to cook them, and I took that as license to be lazy in my own attempt. (The article includes other fun facts about Prune Whip: it was a favorite of President Eisenhower; fruit “whips” made with beaten egg whites were popular in Britain going back to at least the nineteenth century.) In my defense, the pulp of my prunes was so soft that it would be spreadable if I scraped it out of the skins. Besides, the qualifier “chopped” suggests a chunky texture, so I just chopped up the prunes right out of the bag and added the quarter-cup of sugar indicated in the recipe.
The “whip” part is a method of producing gelatin that I’ve used before and like. Lemon Jell-O was prepared in the usual way (with a little grated orange rind and salt added per the recipe), cooled over an ice water bath until slightly thickened, and then whipped to a froth with my trusty MixMaster Junior electric hand mixer. A light, fluffy lemon Jell-O is a delightful thing. Then I had to go and spoil it by folding in the prune bits. That was the tricky part. I was using the folding technique I’d learned from Julia Child – slice the spatula straight down through the fluff, fold carefully, scrape and turn, repeat – but those prune bits were sticky and a bit gooey and would stubbornly clump together. If I’d been using a traditional egg-white-based recipe, this would have been a disaster, but luckily gelatin is made of sturdier stuff. I piled the mixture into far too many dessert glasses and put it into the fridge to set.
Only then did it occur to me to ask Mr. Google for some Prune Whip images so that I’d have an idea of what it was supposed to look like. The photo in the Dallas Observer seems very dark (it was made with unflavored gelatin and prune juice, so it looks particularly prune-y), and indeed my search showed that that one is not really representative. While there wasn’t much uniformity among the images (some were uncooked whips like mine, some were soufflés, and some just looked like the end result of eating prunes), I didn’t see any that looked like light-colored whip with discrete chunks of prune floating in it. “Chopped” be damned, I really should have puréed the prunes. Oh well. It’s not like this is the first time The New Joys of Jell-O has steered me wrong.
We tasted Jellied Prune Whip this morning after breakfast. Whipped cream is a traditional garnish for this dish, and we’ve decided to start keeping a can of Redi-Whip in the fridge because it almost always helps. (Plus the nitrous oxide left in the can at the end is like my prize in the bottom of the box.) In this case, not so much. Bryan and I agreed that it tasted like “an old people thing”, though we couldn’t quite say why. Maybe because it tasted of resignation. Neither of us could imagine our grandparents having eaten such a thing. The prune chunks were a sort of non-sequitur in the whipped gelatin context, unpleasantly reminiscent of raisins added to foods (for which Bryan and I share a distaste), and this confirmed my suspicion that I should have puréed the prunes. Texture-wise, that would have helped, but an even mixture of whipped Jell-O and prune would have made for a worse overall flavor.
Bryan didn’t think it was so bad, but for me this was one of the worse, if not the worst, of the dessert recipes so far. I generously gave him the smaller dish of Whip, and then ended up struggling to finish the larger dish. Possibly I shouldn’t have made the effort. I had a stomach virus a few days ago, and the Prune Whip confused my intestines, which have been rumbling and gurgling all afternoon and evening.
As for insights into aging, Jellied Prune Whip didn’t offer any, although I spent the weekend somewhat unstuck in time. While I was making the Whip, I was listening to a Pandora station I created based on the music featured in the video game Fallout 3, a mid-century mix of post-WWII, pre-rock’n’roll pop music, heavy on the jazz and blues, spiraling out from a base of Ink Spots, Roy Brown, and Billie Holiday. Yesterday evening, Bryan and I binge-watched the entire second series of Grace and Frankie (a “dramedy” about people in their 70s) on Netflix. Jellied Prune Whip shifted from “vintage” to “antique”, and I slid from “aging” to “not really all that old after all”. I just hope that if I’m still alive in 25 years, I can rock a pair of Chucks as well as Lily Tomlin can.
Originally posted September 21, 2009
Note: In honor of Blizzard Juno… er, Juno the Blizzard…. (I do not approve of the new practice of naming winter storms) I bring you Orange Snow. Always remember the sage advice of Frank Zappa, “Watch out where the huskies go…”
Finally, a recipe that makes me smile! This one has a lot going for it. It has mostly real, simple ingredients – orange jello, orange juice, a little orange zest, and an egg white. It’s delightfully light and fluffy. It even tastes good, like orange sherbet.
It was fun to make. I prepared the jello, dissolving the gelatin in a cup of boiling water. I added the juice and zest, and cooled it over an ice water bath until it was “slightly thick.” In jello parlance this means “about the same consistency as a raw egg white,” so it’s a good thing I had one handy for comparison. At this point, I had to add the egg white to the jello and, still over the ice water bath, I beat it all up to a lovely thick froth using another of our antique market finds, a 56-year-old Sunbeam Mixmaster Junior. Per the recipe, I piled the froth lightly into my Blue Heaven custard cups (and a parfait glass – there was a lot of froth there) and popped it all into the fridge. The next day, there it was, Orange Snow.
It had about the same texture as hair mousse, which I found kind of fun, and as I said, the flavor was actually quite pleasant. I would guess that this was helped in large part by the fact that about half of the orange juice was fresh-squeezed (from the orange I had zested.) Bryan ate it without any of the usual pissing and moaning, although he didn’t want seconds. This was ready on Sunday, and I ended up eating the rest of it over the course of the day. There was so much air in it that it wasn’t very filling, and the real beauty part is that it was largely guilt-free. The Jell-O was sugar free (because that was all the market had for orange Jell-O when I bought it) and the other ingredients were orange juice and an egg white; in other words, breakfast.
Bryan’s Variation: Use lemon jello, substitute lemonade for the orange juice and lemon zest for the orange zest. Call it Yellow Snow.
Originally posted December 6, 2009
First of all, I’d like to apologize for the time lag in posting and in responding to comments. I’ve been battling a cold all week and pretty much just crashing after supper. Luckily, it hasn’t progressed beyond a mild head cold and didn’t turn out to be swine flu, which is what we all worry about when we get the sniffles these days. The curative properties of Jell-O, maybe?
Anyway, thanks to The Joy of Jello Project, until the middle of next August, “holiday” to me means “captive audience.” It also means “an opportunity to inflict some Jell-O on my in-laws.”
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I managed to get out of work a little early, got in a leg workout at the gym, ate supper, and spent three hours making two Jell-O recipes. I selected the reasonably pleasant-sounding Pink Lady Pie, and for that seasonal flavor I selected Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold.
Pink Lady Pie
Pink Lady Pie was one of the more interesting ones to make so far because it’s fairly involved. The first step was prebaking a pie crust, and in the spirit of NJoJ and 1974, I used a Mrs. Smith’s pie crust I found in the freezer case at the supermarket. (It turned out to be pretty decent, probably better than what I could have made from scratch.) I made the filling while waiting for the nicely browned crust to cool. I had to heat three egg yolks, water and sugar over a double-boiler until the mixture was slightly thickened. It had been a long time since I’d used a double-boiler, so on my first attempt I overheated the water and ended up cooking the eggs. I had to dump them and start over. For once we had plenty of eggs in the fridge, and my second attempt was successful.
Here things started to get a little funky. The Jell-O was supposed to be added to and dissolved in the egg mixture. The raspberry Jell-O I happened to have on hand was the sugar-free kind. Even in boiling water it’s difficult to get sugar-free Jell-O to dissolve completely, and it proved to be impossible in the merely hot water/egg/sugar mixture. I ended up with little specks of semi-dissolved gelatin throughout the mixture, and judging by the appearance I didn’t think this was so bad, as it gave it a suggestion of naturalness – always a welcome result with Jell-O.
While the egg/gelatin mixture thickened over an ice water bath, I prepared a packet of Dream Whip, and then whipped up three egg whites with sugar and a little vanilla extract to make a meringue. First the meringue and then half of the Dream Whip got folded together with the gelatin mixture to make a fluffy girly-pink filling for the pie shell.
After chilling overnight the pie filling was firm, and on Thanksgiving morning I got out the piping bag and a star tip and decorated the pie with the rest of the Dream Whip. I was doing better than I expected with the piping bag, until I was finished and then somehow managed to express a random blob of Whip onto the pie. Still, it doesn’t look so bad, does it?
Well, the proof of the Jell-O is in the eating, and it didn’t taste so bad either. I had to add a nasty for the Dream Whip, which continues to leave me underwhelmed, and for the undissolved specks of Jell-O, which had a peculiar rubbery texture reminiscent of mouse cartilage.
Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold
Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold is stealth scary. It sounds innocent enough – two great tastes that go great together and all that. However, the top layer contains canned whole-berry cranberry sauce (not scary to a lot of you, maybe, but I strongly prefer the jellied kind) and the bottom layer contains – oh, I don’t think I’ll give it away just yet.
It started out like the beginning sequence of a 1970s horror movie, where nice, normal people are doing something pleasant, not realizing that a chainsaw-wielding maniac or a phalanx of zombies lurks in their near future. I dissolved two packages of lemon Jell-O, a quarter-cup of sugar and a quarter-teaspoon of salt in two cups of boiling water. I added a cup and a half of cran-apple drink and set aside two cups of the resulting liquid, adding my cranberry sauce to the remainder and chilling that over ice water until it was thickened. This was poured into my bundt pan, which I thought would do for the eight-cup ring mold specified in the recipe, and popped it into the fridge.
This is the point where the sun was just slipping below the horizon and one normal person, probably the dorky guy (somebody’s younger brother, maybe) had disappeared into the woods/house/mall and his friends were starting to get worried. I chilled the set-aside two cups of gelatin mixture over my ice water bath until it was thickened. (Cue theremin or screechy strings.) Then I added – two cups of Cool Whip! And then (crescendo) a quarter-cup of mayonnaise!
(Temporary release of tension.) I folded in a finely-chopped apple, and carefully spooned this layer onto the cranberry layer and put it all into the refrigerator to chill overnight.
(Amping up the score again for more deaths, and a gory denouement….) The unmolding was only semi-successful, as I failed to get it even remotely centered on the bottom part of the Rubbermaid cake carrier I was going to use to transport the Jell-O to Thanksgiving dinner in outer Metro-West. The layers were at least properly melded together, but the bundt pan was again a little too large for the recipe. I’m just glad I took a photo before we packed everything up and headed out to the burbs, because this didn’t survive the drive intact. The g-forces of stop-and-go traffic were just too much for the gelatin, and the ring got pulled apart. I’m still not sure exactly how to solve this problem, apart from leaving the Jell-O in the mold until serving time. Given my mixed success with unmolding, this strikes me as a risky proposition.
As for the taste, well, as an adult I’m better able to bear things like whole-berry cranberry sauce than I was when I was a child and decided I didn’t care for them, so the top layer wasn’t so terrible. The bottom layer, however…. The flavor of the mayonnaise was definitely noticeable, and I could only conclude that its inclusion in the recipe was an act of pure sadism on the part of the General Foods R&D drones. Even drugs couldn’t explain this. While it wasn’t unbearably nasty, we didn’t want seconds.
As For The In-Laws….
I got no feedback from them, because none of them tried either dish. I suspect that my mother-in-law put out the word that I was bringing Jell-O, and every other woman in the family made a dessert, even the aunt who simply does not cook. Once again, Bryan and I were the only tasters.
So we ended up bringing home most of the Pink Lady Pie and the Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold. We ate all of the pie over the course of a couple of days, though not eagerly. Showing yet another way in which Dream Whip is a lame substitute for whipped cream, the decoration on top of the pie became gradually firmer, more the consistency of cake frosting than of cream. I guess if you look at it a certain way, it’s good that it sits there as it was when it came out of the piping bag rather than melting like real cream. I’d still rather have real cream. And the Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold – we couldn’t. We just couldn’t.