Well, it’s been another one of those weeks. It seems like most weeks are “one of those weeks” lately, so it was nice to get back to another “Especially for Junior Cooks” recipe.
But before I get into that, I’d like to direct the reader to Jellied Salade Niçoise, where just a couple of days ago I received a very nice comment from songwriter George Potor, who had written a song about Jellied Salade Niçoise and then happened upon my blog post. He included a link to his song, which seems to capture the essence of the dish. It made my weekend, really. He also mentioned a song about SpaghettiOs Cupcakes, which I found in this Bon Appetit post. Who knew weird processed food recipes could be such a deep mine for creativity? It occurred to me briefly that The New Joys of Jell-O could be made into an album, but that would be a multi-disk set that no one would listen to. Probably best not to go there.
Jiffy Cooler would surely be a very short song. It’s just a softer Jell-O (“red flavor”, prepared with a full cup of cold water) made into a bavarian with a pint of vanilla ice cream. When we went to the supermarket, the Friendly’s ice cream was on sale, so we bought a carton of vanilla, and also a carton of peppermint stick, which is my favorite and, unfortunately, only available for “the holiday season”. I gather that’s started already. (I don’t want to get too far off topic, but it’s only mid-October and I’m already seeing Christmas-themed ads on television – way too soon, people! It feels like Mallomar season has barely started.)
I chose strawberry for the red flavor, but raspberry would have been fine. One might even consider branching out from the red flavors and try this with peach, or Berry Blue, both of which go well with cream. (It’s just hitting me now that Jiffy Cooler made with Berry Blue would make a nice visual match for my Blue Heaven dish ware.) The “Jiffy” part is not random, or a misnomer. This is actually a pretty quick recipe to make, since you just make the Jell-O, melt the ice cream into it, and chill it for an hour or so. Mine was in the fridge for more like two-and-a-half hours while I was at the gym, and it still turned out to be a fairly soft jelly dish.
I was even looking forward to tasting it when I got back from my workout, not least because I decided to serve it with whipped cream and Oreo cookies on the side. (Shh! Don’t tell my trainer!) I definitely recommend that. Bryan and I both wound up dipping our cookies in the Jell-O and cream, and it all went very well together.
Maybe it’s the endorphins talking, but for once I feel like I’m ending the week on a high note. The Jell-O was good, we have Oreos to eat, I got to hear one of the recipes made into a song, and now that this one is done, I have thirteen recipes left in the Project. Thirteen! The end is in sight…
So I’ve been undergoing that exercise in masochism otherwise known as trying to stay informed and engaged in the U.S. electoral process. In practice, all that means is that I’m letting myself get more anxious than necessary and falling behind in some more enjoyable and less stressful pursuits. Here’s me trying to get caught up.
As I hinted at in Cherry Chiffon, for my pre-savory “free week”, I decided to try out a couple of recipes from Junk Food. This is a book that defies description. It was published in 1980, and is a collection of photos, essays and artwork that characterize American food from the Great Depression through the 1970s. Bryan picked it up in the mid-1980s, and I read it a lot while we were living in Fandom House. When Bryan and I split up, I missed this book so much that he tracked down another copy for me. Now that we’re back together, we can’t bring ourselves to part with either copy, which is a shame for all of you out there, because the chances of this book getting reprinted are less than nil. Acquiring the rights for all the disparate items in the book would be (and was, back in the day) a publishing nightmare.
There are so many great pieces of writing, from “The 24-Hour Breakfast” by Robin Green (in which the author eats breakfast in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Tijuana, and Disneyland in one 24-hour span and then, like, writes about it), to “A Mac with the Colonel” by Ira Simmons (in which the real Colonel Sanders critiques McDonald’s food), to “The Glutton’s Guide to Eating Out” by Paul Zimmerman (a sort of instructional treatise on all-you-can-eat buffets). There’s one piece, “Real and Delicious Junk Food Recipes You’ll Save and Enjoy” by Salvatore Boroso and John Farago, that we always found amusing, but we never quite had the nerve or motivation to try any of the recipes – until a couple of weeks ago.
Wanting to get the leftover cherries over and done with, I started with the Oreo Soup. My first task was to scrape the “stuf” out of a package of Double Stuf Oreos. I set the Pandora app to play my Galaxy News Radio channel, and while I listened to old jazz, early R&B, and American standards, I methodically separated the stuf from the chocolate wafers. It was a pleasantly meditative exercise, and I swear I felt thoroughly blissed out by the time I was done. I highly recommend this activity as a way to de-stress – but maybe not too often…
The stuf got whizzed in the Cuisinart, and rather than the “maelstrom” mentioned in the recipe, it seemed to quickly get flung out to the sides of the beaker and to just cling there out of reach of the blades. I wonder if that’s because Oreo filling is no longer made with lard, as it would have been when this recipe was created. Anyway. I added the sour cream, which blended with and thinned the stuf so quickly that I was sparing with the cherry juice. It didn’t seem to take much to get the mixture to the consistency of heavy cream, but the color was still very pale. Oh well.
The recipe just says to add the drained cherries to the soup; it doesn’t specify leaving them whole or processing them into the soup, so I decided to just go ahead and purée them. I think that was the right call.
I forgot to add the sprinkle of cinnamon on top. Oh well. Oreo Soup wasn’t bad, but the flavor and texture of the stuf really dominated, and again I wondered if the lard-free composition of modern stuf isn’t at least partly to blame here. I think in the future if I ever feel the need to separate a package of Oreos into its component parts, I’ll find a different excuse.
Now that I had a bowl of chocolate wafers, I could move on to Almond Joy Creme Pie. The cookies are the main ingredient of the simple crumb crust; the addition of melted butter and several minutes in a hot oven got that step out of the way.
There are a few different parts to the filling in Almond Joy Creme Pie. One is instant chocolate pudding made with chocolate milk (in our “of Jewish heritage” household, via Fox’s U-Bet) and chocolate liqueur. Another is Almond Joys with the almonds removed that are then puréed in the food processor and thinned with a non-specific quantity of chocolate liqueur. The last is Cool Whip (leftover from Cherry Chiffon in this case).
The filling ingredients get folded together and placed in the chocolate wafer crust. The almonds from the candy bars were supposed to be saved for garnish, but I didn’t think they looked very decorative so I ground them into the Almond Joy purée and used slivered almonds for garnish instead. The pie then sits in the fridge for several hours to firm up.
The recipe calls for an 8-inch pie plate, but I used a 9-inch plate, and a smaller one would have been too small, so I really lucked out there.
After a full day of chilling, the pie was firm enough to hold a slice, but just barely. I suspect that the culprit is the chocolate liqueur, which I ended up using rather liberally in the Almond Joy purée. Bryan didn’t think the alcohol was very noticeable, but I did. In fact, Bryan really liked this one, and over the four evenings it took us to consume the whole pie, he was always eager for dessert (which is seldom the case when we’re working through a Jell-O recipe).
With the first slice of Almond Joy Creme Pie, it hit me – this is stoner food. Now, I’m not going to lie and say I never inhaled, but my experience with marijuana is limited to a few attempts, years apart, when I was much younger, and I don’t think I’ve ever really been stoned. Nevertheless, I can imagine having the munchies and devouring this pie.
I was originally going to make this post all about marijuana and junk food, figuring that there had to be a clear connection between these things. I did some research, and found that, despite the stereotype of stoners inhaling Doritos or Taco Bell, when people get stoned and get the munchies, they’ll eat pretty much whatever is on hand – so if there’s junk food in the cupboard they’ll eat junk food, but if there’s more healthful food around, they’ll eat that. I found a number of different lists of “the most epic foods to eat when you’re baked”, and they were all quite different.
(No one is saying to eat Jell-O when you’re stoned, though I can image that might fun…)
Apparently food manufacturers are getting bolder about marketing to stoners. For example, the ads suggesting Taco Bell is good “late night” food are aimed at people who might be “partying”. Other ads featuring people acting like doofuses (like recent Burger King and Sonic campaigns) are thought to be depicting stoners. The expectation is that as more states legalize marijuana (as Massachusetts is, I hope, about to do) companies will be increasingly open about selling to this market. Already there’s a weed-themed sub chain, Cheba Hut, out west. However, Screaming Yellow Zonkers aside, there isn’t much junk food being produced specifically for stoners.
Still, given when the book Junk Food was produced, it would not surprise me if recipes like Oreo Soup and Almond Joy Creme Pie (as well as others like Milky Way Mousse and Crepes Jambon Drunken Mammy) were intended to be enjoyed by people under the influence. With a little over five weeks until the election, I understand the impulse.
With this one, I felt like I was finally doing something right – until I learned that today is National Ice Cream Day.
Fresh Strawberry Pie is the sort of no-bake dessert that uplifted the spirits of 1970s moms. Central air conditioning was less common in homes then than it is now, so summertime cuisine was heavy on things we think of as picnic or cookout food – salads instead of cooked vegetables or hot pasta dishes, potato chips instead of mashed or French fried potatoes, meats cooked outside on the grill (by Dad, usually), and of course no-bake desserts. Anything to avoid heating up the kitchen, which I understand completely because Freak Mountain has no air conditioning of any sort.
The crust can be either a regular pie shell or a crumb crust, and when temperatures are in the 90s Fahrenheit (30s Celcius) as they’ve been this weekend, bashing up some cookies and mixing them with melted butter is a damn good option. I was going to make a chocolate crumb crust using Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers and Nilla Wafers per Mother Wonderful’s Cheesecake and Other Goodies (my go-to cheesecake recipe book for the last 25 years) but while we were in the supermarket I gave in to the temptation to try a crust made with Oreos instead, because that seemed like it would be more true to the Project somehow. It turned out really well. The main problem was that I only needed two thirds of the package of Oreos for the crust, leaving a third of a package of Oreos for, well, lunch. Okay, I didn’t eat all of them, and I ate them with the leftover strawberries, so that cancels out some of the calories, right?
Heat like we’ve been having this weekend seemed like it might make the Jell-O part a little trickier. The pie filling goes in two parts, a Cool Whip bavarian made with half of the Jell-O that goes on top of the crust, and then the remainder of the Jell-O combined with fresh strawberries which goes into the middle of the pie. I used the ice water bath technique to thicken the bavarian part (another reason this recipe is nice to do in hot weather) but it wouldn’t thicken up to the “mounding” stage for some reason. I thought maybe it had to do with the heat, since the ice was melting quickly in the water. Should I have used more ice? Salted the water? Anyway, it didn’t work as described in the recipe, but it worked well enough. One odd addition to this part of the recipe is red food coloring. The recipe calls for a few drops, so I added four. It made absolutely no difference whatsoever. Now I’m getting chills thinking of all the kids of my generation who unwittingly ingested an unnecessary dose of Red Dye #2 with this.
The Jell-O/strawberry part (thickened over a fresh ice water bath) went just the way it was supposed to and ended up floating nicely on the bavarian in the center of the pie.
I seem to be developing the habit of going to the gym to lift before tasting my Jell-O creations so that I come at them hungry. That probably wasn’t necessary with this recipe, but it certainly didn’t hurt (especially after all those Oreos I ate yesterday). The bavarian part firmed up more in the refrigerator overnight, so I was able to get a fairly clean slice. Since I had leftover Cool Whip, I decided to garnish my slice with one of those famous Cool Whip dollops – and discovered that it was softer than Cool Whip should be. Aha! Maybe the bavarian’s refusal to set up completely wasn’t my fault after all.
For eating, this is reasonably pleasant. I think I’ve remarked before that strawberry is one of the less offensive artificial flavors, and it goes well with cream, even fake cream. The real strawberries make the whole thing more refreshing. My main quibble is that the Oreo crust is too sweet, but that’s totally my fault. (And Bryan remarked that it seems silly to complain that the cookie crust of your Jell-O pie is too sweet.) I would go for the wafer cookie crust if I was going to make this again. To be honest, that’s unlikely, given how nutritionally questionable this is, but I do think we’ll end up eating all of this particular pie.
That said, this relatively nice one was certainly welcome at the end of what turned out to be another crazy week. I’m starting to feel leery even of NPR (and I’ve been an NPR junkie for 30 years), and I’m doing whatever I can to keep my spirits up. The Project is helping, and so is the gym. (Lifting is a meditative activity for me because of the focus I need to bring to it.) We’ve been loading up on the British comedies, and I’ve been mainlining Loose Tapestries, ELO and early Pink Floyd, staying hopped up on whimsy. The 1970s are making more and more sense to me…