This week it’s a desultory number four in the New Joy of Jell-O countdown – Ring Around the Fruit Mold. This one comes from the “Centerpiece Desserts” chapter, possibly because it involves a double-batch of Jell-O. Superficially, it appears similar to another Centerpiece Dessert, Banana Nut Ring with Ginger Topping, but unlike Banana Nut Ring, it matched my dark mood this weekend.
After another of those weeks (is there any other kind of week anymore?), I had an unusually social weekend (two parties and an intense bench-press session with my trainer), and coming at the Jell-O, I was exhausted both physically and mentally. Saturday night we went to a work function, which involved a walk about a mile and a half each way in a minor snowstorm because Bryan didn’t feel like driving, and that actually wasn’t too bad, since I got to meet some new people, and the food and wine were okay, but these work things are always stressful because you have to try to be on your best behavior (except the girlfriend of a new employee, who sat at a table and pouted over her phone almost the entire time). Sunday morning we went to a brunch with neighbors at the home of our friends F– and K– who live just a few blocks away, and I had to be careful not to eat to avoid lifting on a full stomach. The topic of “current events” was avoided for the most part, and, surprisingly, there are still lots of other things to talk about, but it always feels like an effort not to start fretting about what’s happening, and we finally caved in with F– shortly before leaving. It sort of helps to know other people are anxious, too, but not that much.
And then there was Ring Around the Fruit Mold, which didn’t help at all. It starts with a double batch of strawberry or raspberry Jell-O (I had a six-ounce package of raspberry, so I used that) and two 15-ounce cans of fruit cocktail (because they didn’t have 30-ounce cans at Target). I made the Jell-O using the juice from the cans for the cold liquid (with water to add up to 1 3/4 cup). The mold chilled overnight, and Sunday afternoon after my workout I made the filling – the drained fruit cocktail, a third of a cup of chopped pecans, a half cup of miniature marshmallows (good thing I had leftovers from last week’s Watergate Salad), and a cup of prepared Dream Whip.
(Speaking of the Watergate Salad, I did bring the leftovers to the lab. I put it in the fridge with a note on it, posted an announcement on Slack that it was there for the tasting – and I ended up being the only one who ate it. I’m starting to feel like I must be either unusually brave or unusually stupid.)
Anyway. If you were ever wondering if it’s really necessary to use a warm-water bath to loosen up the Jell-O before unmolding it, I now have an answer for you: YES. I set the Jell-O in my Tupperware ring mold, and, feeling lazy, decided to dispense with the warm-water bath. See, the cool thing about the Tupperware ring mold is that the center and the outside are two parts that are held together with the famous Tupperware seal, and when you loosen the center piece, the Jell-O falls easily out of the mold when it’s been warmed on the outside. I discovered that if you don’t warm the mold, even if it’s been lubed, some of the Jell-O can stick to the sides. It was the worst unmolding fail I’ve experienced in a long time. The ring came out in pieces, and I had to flip a couple of chunks over and sort of re-form it on the serving platter.
I piled up the filling in the center of the mold, and it immediately started trying to escape at the weakest point of the Jell-O ring. The washed-out colors of the canned fruit were not enhanced or helped in any way either by being mixed with Dream Whip and marshmallows or in contrast to the red Jell-O. The whole thing looked incredibly depressing.
Fittingly, we ended up tasting Ring Around the Fruit Mold after dinner while watching the second disk of the second season of Ash vs. the Evil Dead, the episodes where Ash is in the abandoned asylum having his head messed around by
Bill Baal. As I dished it out, it occurred to me that it was like something that might be served as a special holiday treat on a psychiatric ward. This recipe tasted at least as depressing as it looked. The Jell-O wasn’t so bad, but the filling was intensely disappointing. I expected it to be kind of like ambrosia salad, but it wasn’t. At all. The texture of the fruit cocktail was particularly creepy mixed with Dream Whip and in contrast with the marshmallows and nuts. Maybe more marshmallows would have helped. Probably not.
I may have to make a bonus contribution to Action Against Hunger this week, because I will be very surprised if we eat any more of this one.
feat. Bonus Jell-O: Watergate Salad
Well, this was another of those weeks that feel almost eternal. I don’t even remember last weekend, it seems like such a long time ago. Leftover pecans and Whipped Cream Mayonnaise were the only evidence that I could find that the weekend after Thanksgiving actually happened. Wait, what? Was Thanksgiving really only a week and a half ago?
Today I finally tossed that Whipped Cream Mayonnaise, and I was happy to have the pecans because I used them in another Jell-O recipe. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s take a quick look at today’s regularly scheduled Jell-O.
Number five on the New Joys of Jell-O countdown is our final recipe from Especially for Junior Cooks, Dream Parfait. There isn’t a lot to say about this one. It’s strawberry Jell-O layered in a tall dessert glass with prepared Dream Whip. That’s it. Make the Jell-O per the directions on the box, chill until it’s thick and jiggly but not quite set, and layer it in glasses with Dream Whip.
I started this one after getting back from the gym this afternoon. I made the Jell-O right away, before changing out of my workout clothes, and popped it in the fridge, figuring I’d come back later, make the Dream Whip, and finish chilling the gelatin over an ice water bath. I ended up leaving the Jell-O in the refrigerator for about two hours, and was surprised to find it nearly set (contrary to the directions on the box, which say it takes four hours). I’m not complaining, as that saved me a bit of bother rather late on a Sunday afternoon. My only other observation is that while this is quite easy to make, it’s a little less so from a food styling perspective. I wish I had put the Dream Whip in a piping bag, because it was difficult to just spoon it in to get neat-looking layers.
It tasted fine. It’s strawberry Jell-O and cream – of course it did.
I wasn’t planning on doing an extra recipe this weekend, but then on Friday, while I was reading all the news about Michael Flynn’s plea deal, I ran across a tweet that Kraft Foods had posted the night before:
Watergate Salad? On a day when a major event in this generation’s “Stupid Watergate” was unfolding? What kind of weird coincidence was that? So of course I had to make it.
But first I had to know – why was it called Watergate Salad? I figured there was a fair chance that it had been on the menu at the Watergate Hotel in the early 1970s (strange as it sounds, such things could be had at restaurants in the 1970s), but when I looked it up, I discovered that the “salad” had been developed in 1975, the year Jell-O pistachio pudding mix was introduced. (So “a tradition for many generations” might be a slight exaggeration, unless they’re referring to fruit flies.) Originally, it was dubbed Pistachio Pineapple Delight, until consumers started asking for the recipe as Watergate Salad. There are a few different rumors circulating about the origin of the name, but nothing that anyone can substantiate. My guess is that it started as sarcasm and quickly caught on. I can respect that.
Watergate Salad is clearly a close relative of ambrosia salad. It consists of five simple ingredients (Jell-O pistachio instant pudding mix, crushed pineapple, chopped pecans, miniature marshmallows, and Cool Whip) that just all get tumped together, mixed, and chilled. You don’t even have to make the pudding mix into pudding; it just goes in dry. (The recipe is on the pudding box if you want to try it.) It takes about five minutes to prepare, if you use pre-chopped nuts.
Bryan and I had it with brunch this morning, as suggested by one of the rumored origin stories. It tasted a lot like ambrosia salad, although it was a lot sweeter than my grandmother’s version. It turns out I was right about sour cream versus Cool Whip. Also, it could use more fruit. When I went to the gym a few hours later, I was thirsty all through my workout and had to keep taking hits from my water bottle. My trainer and I are switching to Sunday sessions, so it’s a good thing I only have a few more of these Jell-O recipes to go.
I could probably eat more of it (though at the moment I have a mild bellyache from the Dream Parfait), but Bryan really wants me to bring the leftovers to the Lab for the students to try. I’m getting too old for this…
This week I took advantage of the extra-long holiday weekend to double up, and here we have a couple of fairly seasonal recipes.
First, at number seven in the New Joys of Jell-O countdown, we have Fig-Berry Preserves. This one appears in the chapter titled “Things You Never Thought Of”, and for good reason. If you think about it, using Jell-O to make preserves makes a certain amount of sense, but who would think of it? Well, the good folks at General Foods did.
The recipe is simple enough – three cups of mashed figs, two three-ounce (or one six-ounce) packets of strawberry Jell-O, and three cups of sugar. However, I was quickly flummoxed by the figs. Not only had I never cooked with figs before, I’m not sure I’d ever eaten figs in any form other than “Newton”. I was so fig-ignorant that when we got to the Stop’n’Shop I immediately gravitated to the dried figs, of which there were plenty. It took a few minutes for me to realize that dried figs wouldn’t lend themselves well to being mashed, and I was left wondering if the supermarket even had fresh figs, as I couldn’t recall ever having seen them. At least I had timing on my side, since this was the weekend of the biggest U.S. food-oriented holiday, and Bryan and I found some fresh figs after just a little hunting around the produce section.
Next I had to figure out how to prepare the figs. They looked as though they would have to be peeled, and I wasn’t looking forward to that because I had twenty-four of them to deal with. I did some googling, and learned that the peel is edible, but that figs can be peeled if desired. (A lot of help that was.) So I got out the paring knife and got stuck in. Meanwhile, Bryan’s curiosity had been piqued, and he was doing some more fig-googling, but it wasn’t any more conclusive than mine had been. Then he looked at the recipe, and pointed out that it suggested that the figs didn’t have to be peeled. At that point I was nearing the end of the first of the three packages, and I decided that I was done peeling.
I cut the stems off of the rest of the figs, put them all in the bowl, and got to work with the masher. The figs and skins were actually soft enough to mash, but I wasn’t happy with the texture, which looked like the guts of small animals. Our masher is one of those loopy ones, rather than the lattice type that can do a finer mash. No big deal – I dumped the mashed figs in the food processor and puréed them until the skins were reasonably well chopped up and the whole thing had a more uniform texture. I ended up with just about three cups of fig goo.
I put the figs in a large saucepan and stirred in the Jell-O and sugar, and brought the mixture to a boil. Another bit of weirdness in this recipe was determining when, exactly, it was fully boiling. Rather quickly, it started bubbling around the edges, but I knew that wasn’t the proper boil. A few minutes later, bubbles started rising thickly from the bottom of the mixture. Was that boiling? Unsure, I waited, and as the mixture continued to heat, it bubbled more and more rapidly, and then the mixture became translucent. The recipe says to continue boiling for three minutes after it starts, which sounds like a scarily precise amount of time. All I know is that I’m pretty sure I boiled it for at least three minutes. I think.
I had my canning jars and a canning funnel (brilliant piece of kitchen gear) at the ready, and I doled out the hot preserves among six small jars. The recipe says to seal them with paraffin, but we use the new-fangled self-sealing lids. The recipe doesn’t call for boiling the filled jars (so they have to be stored in the refrigerator), but I imagine I could have done that if I’d wanted to store them in a jelly cupboard or something like that.
Today we tried the Fig-Berry Preserves on halves of a nice sesame-seed bagel from Mamaleh’s deli. It was thinner/runnier than I was expecting, leading me to think that it couldn’t have hurt to cook it a bit longer. Otherwise, it wasn’t bad. The flavor of figs was strong, and mildly disconcerting at first just because it was still a new taste for me, but I got used to it. Bryan said he couldn’t taste the strawberry Jell-O at all, but I think it was just that, for once, the flavors in the dish had blended properly. It was very sweet, not surprising given the amount of sugar that went into it. This would be good on buttered toast, or scones. (If only there were a good place to get scones nearby…) We’re going to be eating peanut-butter-and-fig-berry sandwiches for a while.
Snappy Fruit Mold
Moving on, at number six in our countdown, we have Snappy Fruit Mold.
This one is a more conventional “Jell-O salad” from the “Sociable Side Salads” chapter. It starts with a three-ounce packet of “red flavor” Jell-O (I went with raspberry) and only 3/4 cup boiling water. I added eight ounces of jellied cranberry sauce and a tablespoon of grated orange rind to the hot liquid, and chilled it until thick over an ice water bath. When it was thick, I added a chopped Granny Smith apple and 1/3 cup chopped pecans (the recipe just says “nuts”, so I went with what I like best; walnuts would probably work, too), poured it into a lubed mold, and chilled it overnight.
So, nothing out of the ordinary there. The only dodgy part of this recipe is the recommended Whipped Cream Mayonnaise garnish. Not wanting to let my readers down, I decided not to omit it. It’s a simple creamy sauce of a half-cup whipped heavy cream (unsweetened) with a quarter-cup mayonnaise and an eighth-teaspoon salt folded in.This was mildly interesting to make because, first of all, it required attention to the whipping of the cream because I knew if I lost focus I’d end up with unsalted butter before I knew what was happening. Then, when I managed to stop short of butter, I found that folding in the mayonnaise was tricky because it was hard to distinguish the mayo from the cream. I wanted it to be well blended, but I knew that I had to be careful not to fold too vigorously or I’d deflate the cream. I think I succeeded, at least well enough for a quick tasting.
Unsurprisingly, the mold turned out quite firm and held its shape well. It definitely tasted “snappy” (and it reminded me of Cranberry Jelly Candy, which I made eight years ago). The Whipped Cream Mayonnaise was relatively inoffensive and went reasonably well with the Jell-O salad – although the mayonnaise flavor was noticeable, so I suspect people who hate mayonnaise would not like this. I put a dollop to the side in each bowl rather than putting it on top of the Jell-O, and while Bryan deemed it “not bad”, he left most of it in the bowl. I found myself dipping each bite in the cream and pretty much finished it off. To those of you following at home I say: Try it, if you dare.
It’s just occurred to me that I failed to avoid the orange in Snappy Fruit Salad, so I will be making donations to Planned Parenthood and the International Rescue Committee. I wish that didn’t feel so inadequate.
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.
At last, I get to do an Orange Boycott post! (After the last couple of weeks, I was really looking forward to this.) As you can sort of tell in the photo from the book, Banana Nut Ring calls for orange Jell-O. I substituted Island Pineapple flavor, which I think tastes better anyway.
This recipe is a two-parter. First, there’s the ring mold, which is simply Jell-O with banana slices and chopped pecans stirred into it once it’s thickened up. There are a couple of issues with this.
The first, as I’ve noted in Mardi Gras Mold and Honey Pecan Bavarian, is that nuts in Jell-O are just weird. Those are two textures that do not go well together. Luckily, I like pecans, so this one wasn’t nasty on top of being weird.
The second is the bananas. I had to try not to be too annoyed, because it’s just “banana nature”, but the slices would stick together (which I had discovered with Peach-Banana Dessert but I guess it didn’t bug me as much then). You would think that once you add banana slices to a bowl of thickened Jell-O, the Jell-O will act as a coating or lubricant to keep the slices separate, but as much as I stirred and tried to separate them, the slices kept clumping up. It’s best to look upon this as an exercise in patience.
Anyway, I whipped up the Jell-O ring and chilled it overnight. Upon unmolding it, I discovered one small drawback to using the Island Pineapple flavor – the mold was a very odd color, I think rather like how Bryan sees green things because of his colorblindness. On the other hand, the peculiar yellow-brown hues reminded me of color palettes that were popular in the 1970s, so that was kind of a happy accident. Okay, not so much happy, but appropriate.
The second part of the recipe is the “Ginger Topping”, a bit of a misnomer because it’s pretty thick, and it gets piled into the center of the ring mold rather than spread on top of it. This is just a batch of Dream Whip with crushed pineapple and slivered candied ginger folded into it. Tasting it, I decided that the Ginger Topping is a bit of all right. Because of the fairly strong vanilla flavor of the Dream Whip, it reminded me of pineapple upside-down cake, which I haven’t had since I was a kid, but I may have to make it sometime soon, even if I have to use a store-bought cake mix to do it. Also, it reminded me of ambrosia salad a bit, plus I dig candied ginger (I was noshing on it while cutting up what I needed for the recipe), so what’s not to like?
The finished product was straight outta the 1970s, and I was pleased. The photo looks strange, but I swear that was the actual color of the thing. It was like someone had sent it over in a customized DeLorean, express delivery from 1974.
For eating, this was surprisingly good. Yes, I’m saying “good”. For once, the flavors blended together nicely in a tropical (that is, southern United States) mélange. With the topping, it was easy enough to overlook the peculiar textural note of the pecan chunks in the Jell-O. The flavor of pineapple was predominant, but the pecans, bananas, and Dream Whip were assertive enough. I would have liked more ginger flavor, though; rather than trying to sliver the slices of crystallized ginger, I should have chopped them up fine so that they’d be more thoroughly distributed throughout the topping.
The main drawback to this recipe was that it was relatively straighforward and quick to make, and while preparing it and listening to music took me to my happy place for a while, I didn’t get to spend enough time there.
On the positive side, once I hit “publish” on this one, I’ll be all caught up with my editorial calendar, and that’s one less thing to feel crappy about. Woo hoo!