I am having a weirdly hard time posting about the final recipe from The New Joys of Jell-O. First, I procrastinated for a few days. Then, I wrote up a draft last night. This morning I was up hours before the crack of dawn because something in the heating system at Freak Mountain crapped out last night, and we’ve been trying to figure it out, doing what we can to prevent pipes from freezing, and monitoring the situation (downstairs is literally refrigerator-cold as I write this) – and during the “monitoring” phase I thought I’d edit and upload the photos and finish off the draft. I started having some technical difficulties, so I logged out and logged back in again, and while my photos were there in my WordPress store, the draft I wrote up yesterday had vanished. It figures.
Orange Pineapple-Glazed Ham is also my last Orange Boycott recipe, which I am, again, glad to do after the utterly ridiculous week the U.S. has just had. I made this on Wednesday, just as excerpts from Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House were coming out in the media, following closely on the heels of the infamous “my button is bigger than his button” tweet. Enough already!
Anyway. It seemed weird to just, like, bake a ham on its own, so I decided to build a meal around it. My vague recollections of the ham dinners of my youth mainly involve potatoes and cabbage (I only ever got to experience the most boring aspects of my Irish heritage), and I didn’t want to do that because it’d stink up the house, so I thought I’d head in a southern direction and do hoppin’ john for New Year’s, with a side of corn bread. That would have made a great New Year’s Eve post, which is partly why I was so cranky about being sick and not being able to do it. Still, better late than never…
I got started a few hours before I expected Bryan to be home from work so that dinner would be ready when he was (a rare instance of me being a good wifey), and began with the corn bread. I used the basic recipe from my 1980s-vintage Betty Crocker cookbook, and aside from a little difficulty incorporating the shortening into the batter (we bought a can of Crisco specifically for this) it went well. As I greased the baking pan with Crisco, something I had done many times when baking things from mixes as a kid, I was struck by how familiar the motion felt, although I hadn’t done it in many years. Muscle memory is a very interesting thing.
While the corn bread was baking, I got to work on the mise en place for the hoppin’ john. I used this recipe, but there are a lot of them out there, lots of variations, the main constant being black-eyed peas. Apparently the idea is that if you eat frugally on New Year’s Day, you’ll have a prosperous year. It is a fairly economical dish, and also hearty and tasty and easy to make. I chopped up an onion, a green pepper, and a few celery stalks, minced a few cloves of garlic; softened it all up in hot olive oil; added a quart of broth, a well-soaked pound of black-eyed peas, and the seasonings; gave it a stir and left it for a good, long simmer.
At some point, the corn bread was done (all nice and crusty and golden brown) and I left that on the stove top to keep warm. I won’t lie, one of the great things about making this dinner was that I had the oven going from beginning to end, and I was thrilled to get overheated without being feverish.
Next was the ham. Really, the hardest part about making
Orange Pineapple-Glazed Ham was finding the ham. The recipe calls for a two-pound canned ham. The first place we looked was the supermarket within walking distance of Freak Mountain. They had one-pound canned hams. A one-pound ham is an oddly small ham, and I thought I could do better. We went back to Freak Mountain, got the car, and drove to the Super Stop’n’Shop, where we found the shelf in the meat department where the canned hams should be, but there were no hams. Someone from the meat department came out to help us, and when we told him what we were looking for he said that if there were no hams on the shelf they were probably sold out. We thanked him, and while we were mulling over going to a third store, he came up to us with a ham he’d found in the stockroom. There was one problem – it was a five-pound ham. Did I want to buy a ham that was more than twice what I needed, or did I want to keep driving around looking for a ham of just the right size? Naturally, laziness won out. I tried not to think about what would happen to the other three pounds of ham.
When the time came, since I was making this a week after I’d planned on doing it, I thought I’d better be safe and check the use-by date on the ham. I needn’t have worried – it said “April 2020”. Not quite post-apocalypse survival fare, but not bad.
I cut what I judged to be a two-pound chunk off of the ham, placed it in a baking dish, studded the top with cloves, and doused it in a mixture of a quarter-cup ham juice, a firmly-packed half cup of brown sugar, and a three-ounce packet of Island Pineapple Jell-O. The directions say to bake it in a 325℉ oven until heated through, about a half an hour, basting frequently. There was quite a bit of sugar/Jell-O syrup in the pan, so that was not hard to do, and it meant I got to stay nice and toasty warm as it was cooking. Mmmmm, oven heat…
While that was happening, I set some Carolina rice cooking in the rice maker. Everything was done when Bryan got home.
The whole thing turned out well, better than my early Thanksgiving dinner. I was happy with the corn bread, and the hoppin’ john (my first, either making or eating) had a recognizably “southern” flavor to it. (That might have been helped along by the ham cubes I added to it.) I could see myself making it again, and I think I would play around with the seasoning a bit. One of the things I had to do was substitute a “smoke powder” for the liquid smoke specified in the recipe, and I may have used a little too much of that.
As for the
Orange Pineapple-Glazed Ham, when I took the first bite, I thought to myself, “This is what ham should taste like.” It’s just as well I didn’t do a video (recovering from the flu bug, I didn’t look or sound so hot) because there was no grimacing or groaning at all. Frankly, apart from being salty, canned ham is a pretty bland piece of meat, so the sugar and pineapple flavoring could only have helped. In fact, I would guess that pineapple-flavored gelatin is a better choice for this than orange, Trump or no Trump.
I ate a whole slice (not bad, considering I couldn’t finish my portion of hoppin’ john) and Bryan had two. Meanwhile, there was so much of the sugar/Jell-O syrup in the baking dish that, in hindsight, I probably could have just done the whole five-pound ham in it. As it is, we’re wasting less of the ham than I expected. Not only did I add some to the hoppin’ john, but also I think Bryan brought a ham sandwich to work on Friday, and yesterday we had fried ham with eggs for breakfast.
I’ll probably make the usual charitable donations anyway, once the current household crisis is over. Now that I’m done cooking through the book, I need to find another way to do this regularly. One thing I’ll say for this Project, it’s definitely helped me up my philanthropy game.
I’m not sure what I’ll be doing with the blog going forward, but in the near future, at least, I plan to post some New Joy of Jell-O Project stats – how much of each flavor, how much Cool Whip, an estimate of how much I’ve spent, that sort of thing. Just out of curiosity. I feel the need to sum up, somehow. Just not now. When I’m warm and adequately rested…
feat. Pineapple Upside Down Cake
We’re back to the Orange Boycott this week with Double
Orange Pineapple Whip, and damn, was this ever a good week for it. I won’t waste time recounting our weekly presidential shitstorm, but it’s feeling pretty good to be able to type Orange today.
The thing with Double
Orange Pineapple Whip is that it’s a pretty simple recipe, and I felt like taking pineapple a little further, so I decided this was the week I was finally going to make a Pineapple Upside Down Cake. I remember liking this a lot as a kid, but, weirdly, Bryan had never had it. Admittedly, it’s one of those “white trash” recipes that get made with canned this and boxed that, but I suppose part of the reason why I wanted to make it was that it was potentially a comfort food. Thinking about it, that’s a little weird given how uncomfortable my childhood was, but it’s in keeping with the spirit of the Project, so there.
First thing, I needed a recipe. I thought in our bookcase full of cookbooks there must be a decent one, and the first book I reached for was my trusty 1980s vintage Betty Crocker cookbook. There was a Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe, but for the cake part it specified “buttermilk baking mix” (a//k/a Bisquick). My recollection (and preference) was that it was made with yellow cake, so I kept looking. My antique Better Homes and Gardens cookbook didn’t have a recipe for this at all, nor did White Trash Cooking, which really surprised me since Pineapple Upside Down Cake would fit in nicely with the ice box cakes and “dump cakes” featured in that book. Bryan found a kind of fancy-sounding recipe that involved making the cake from scratch, but that wasn’t really what I was looking for.
I finally turned to Mr. Google (which, let’s face it, has largely replaced promotional cookbooks), where I found that Betty Crocker had posted exactly what I was looking for – and it was so simple that I almost felt silly needing a recipe. All it took was a quarter cup of butter, a cup of brown sugar, a can of pineapple slices, a jar of maraschino cherries, and a box of Better Crocker Supermoist yellow cake mix. Looking at a picture tells you pretty much all you need to know to make it. The only non-obvious part was the substitution of the pineapple jiuce for the water in the cake mix.
It made the whole house smell amazing while it was baking. That really made the endeavor worthwhile, although I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the result. The main thing was that I think I should have used light brown instead of dark brown sugar. The other thing was that I guess I handled the cake a little too roughly while it was hot (you’re supposed to flip it onto the serving plate right out of the oven) so it sank a bit in the middle. Still, I served the first bit warm with vanilla ice cream, and it was tasty, albeit very sweet. Bryan wasn’t terribly excited by the whole thing, but he rarely turns his nose up at cake and ice cream. I thought it was okay, but maybe not the comfort food I had been hoping for.
I made Double
Orange Pineapple Whip while the cake was cooling. It started with bringing seven ounces of ginger ale to a boil (I know – what?), dissolving a three-ounce packet of Island Pineapple Jell-O in it, and adding a cup of pineapple juice (hence, “Double Pineapple”). I chilled it over an ice water bath until it was slightly thickened and then whipped it up with Mixmaster Junior until it was light and fluffy.. I divided the fluff among four dessert dishes and put them in the fridge to chill overnight.
I was happy to see that the Jell-O stayed foamy as it chilled, so that there was no weird, creepy layer of solid gelatin at the bottom. I tasted it after getting home from the gym this afternoon, and while I topped it with whipped cream for the photo, I don’t think the garnish was strictly necessary for the eating. The foamy Jell-O was kind of fun to eat, and it was light and refreshing. (It also gave rise to a couple of good, solid belches, if you’re into that sort of thing.) Bryan said it was “very citrus-y”, and I agree that the flavor was good. In fact, I suspect that Double
Orange Pineapple Whip was better than the original. This is one that I would encourage the interested reader to make.
So this “pineapple weekend” actually cheered me up a bit, though I have to be careful not to get in the habit of “eating my feelings”. There are just too many of them these days. Then there’s the question of what to do with the leftover ginger ale and pineapple juice. If only I had rye whiskey on hand, I’d be all set…
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!
In a development that’s making Bryan none too happy, I’ve found myself starting to think in terms of familiar dishes that can be remade with Jell-O. Case in point, as I mentioned last week, my grandmother’s ambrosia. In case you’re interested, here’s my recipe:
- 1 3-oz. package Island Pineapple flavor Jell-O
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
- 1 8-oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
- 3/4 cup juice from canned fruit
- 1 cup flaked coconut
- 8 oz. sour cream
- approx. half a 10-oz package white mini-marshmallows
- maraschino cherries for garnish, if desired
Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water, add reserved juice. Chill over ice water bath until slightly thickened. Stir/whisk in sour cream. Continue chilling/thickening. While the Jell-O is thickening, lubricate a 6-cup mold; place cherries in bottom of mold. When Jell-O is thickened, fold in oranges, pineapple, coconut and marshmallows. Spoon carefully into mold, trying not to shove cherries around. (Good luck with that.) Refrigerate until set, at least four hours, or overnight. Unmold onto serving platter. There is no need to garnish further.
My grandmother made ambrosia (also known as ambrosia salad, or five-cup salad) for Christmas and Thanksgiving. It was always the five basic ingredients – sour cream, crushed pineapple, mandarin oranges, flaked coconut, and miniature marshmallows. She had a particular holiday-themed plastic dish that she used for serving it that had fluted sides, and for decoration she would place a maraschino cherry in each curve around the side and one in the center.
I know that there are a lot of variations on the recipe, and I got curious and did a bit of research. I discovered that I’m not the first person to do a Jell-O version, although the other ones I found tend to use orange Jell-O and omit the marshmallows. I found a couple of instances of people putting prepared Jell-O in ambrosia, such as this story from NPR, which I find frankly bizarre. The other instance – well, watch if you dare…
There are several options for the creamy dressing besides sour cream. I’ve seen a lot of recipes that call for Cool Whip, which is anathema as far as I’m concerned, but it seems to be very popular, either by itself or combined with some other creamy ingredient. Some recipes call for real whipped cream, which should be fine, though I suspect that would make the dish too sweet for my taste. Another variation is thinned and beaten cream cheese, often folded into whipped cream or Cool Whip. Health-conscious cooks use yogurt. Mayonnaise is mentioned, but rarely. I even found a recipe that omits the coconut and marshmallows but includes cottage cheese – one of those things that, once seen, cannot be unseen.
Of course, the greatest variety is in the fruit. While citrus and coconut are traditional, some people use canned fruit cocktail (ick), bananas, strawberries, dates, and much more. The fruit can be fresh, frozen, canned, or some combination thereof – whatever the cook likes and/or has on hand. Nuts are sometimes added as well, usually pecans or almonds.
Heading further down the rabbit hole, I looked into the history (or perhaps a better term would be “evolution”) of ambrosia. This article lays it out pretty well (and is an enjoyable read if you have a few minutes), but I’ll summarize: Ambrosia got its start as a citrus fruit salad in the American South, where such fruits are native, not long after the end of the Civil War. The completion of the trans-continental railroad made it possible to include coconut, which was shipped to San Francisco from Hawaii. At that time, it was a simple layering of fruits, coconut, and sugar, sometimes dressed with fruit juice or sherry. Over time, this came to be served as a holiday treat, sometimes with cake and whipped cream. Starting in the 1920s, promotional recipes for a product called Whitman’s Marshmallow Whip (a sort of powdered marshmallow creme mix) introduced a new variation on the traditional fruit salad, and the creamy version was born. At about the same time, confectioners were inventing marshmallow candies that could be made in discrete pieces (the marshmallows we know today), and these were quickly incorporated into ambrosia recipes. The gelatin variation first made its appearance in 1950. By the time I was enjoying my grandmother’s ambrosia as a kid in the 1970s, its variants were legion.
What’s kind of strange and interesting to me is that, although all of my general-purpose cookbooks include some sort of ambrosia recipe, ambrosia is considered to be primarily a Southern dish. It’s not often that I encounter someone up here in Yankeeland who grew up with ambrosia as a traditional holiday dish. In fact, I’ve encountered a good amount of snobbery about it. (For example, one Christmas at the home of one of Bryan’s mother’s sisters, her in-laws brought a large bowl of ambrosia salad, which was regarded with the ol’ hairy eyeball by Bryan’s mother’s family.) The thing is, I don’t have any Southern roots. My maternal ancestors came to Massachusetts from France with a generations-long stopover in Canada along the way. So how did both ambrosia and tourtières become part of the family holiday menu? My grandmother passed away some 20 years ago, so I guess this will have to remain a mystery.
Probably I will never have more than a tenuous grasp on the “white trash” in my background, but I can’t bring myself to disavow it, even though it’s not really something that I share with most of the people I know now, here in my life in Nerdvana. Besides, there’s no point being embarrassed or ashamed about something you can’t control. It’s one of those odd things that make me unique.
Anyway, to no one’s surprise, the Festive Ambrosia Mold turned out fine. The Jell-O simply gave shape and hold to a dish that would otherwise have been formlessly heaped in a bowl (preferably a fancy glass one, according to most of the videos I watched.).There are only a couple of small tweaks I might make. One, despite the pineapple flavor Jell-O, I don’t think there was quite enough crushed pineapple in this. Two, I really should have taken all the cherries in the jar and lined them up around the bottom of the ring mold, instead of trying to make a pattern based on the fluting. Better still, if I had used a mold with little round indentations in which the cherries could have sat. Maybe halve some cherries and place them on top of the Jell-O after it was unmolded? I suppose I could have cut up the cherries and incorporated them into the mixture, but my grandmother never did that. I think she would have approved of Festive Ambrosia Mold.
This is one of those “reboot” recipes that I don’t remember at all – but that’s okay, because Orange Pineapple Bavarian is a perfectly pleasant dessert that I really don’t mind making again.
I got off to a bit of a rocky start with this one. Due to heat-induced confusion, I had Honey-Pecan Bavarian on the brain, so when Bryan and I went to the supermarket to get ingredients, I had a list of things I needed for Honey-Pecan Bavarian (which – spoiler alert! – is up for a “memory lane” post in the near future). The only ingredient the two recipes have in common is boiling water, so back out in the steam-bath I went to fetch tinned mandarin orange bits and crushed pineapple.
Orange Pineapple Bavarian calls for orange-pineapple or orange Jell-O. I’m pretty sure I remember seeing the orange-pineapple flavor around, but not lately, and since I’m getting tired of “orange” in a number of different ways, I decided to go with island pineapple, of which I have a few boxes in my Jell-O stash. (Yes, I have a Jell-O stash.) I figured the grated orange rind (grating citrus rind, even orange, is still a pleasant thing to do) and mandarin sections were sufficient to keep this true to the name of the recipe.
The prep on this was straightforward and at the same time involved enough that, with Pandora set to play my Galaxy New Radio channel, I could settle into my Zen happy place. I dissolved the Jell-O and two tablespoons of sugar in a cup of boiling water, added 3/4 cup of syrup from the tinned fruits and the grated orange rind, and thickened it a bit over an ice water bath. Meanwhile, I whipped up a packet of Dream Whip, folded three-quarters of that into the Jell-O (setting aside the rest for garnish), and when all that had thickened up more over the ice water bath I folded in the fruit.
Just to be weird, I went with the brain mold for this one. I haven’t used it in a while, and I was kind of thinking I could subtitle the recipe “Trump’s Brain”, but that doesn’t fit at all, because this Jell-O tastes nice and is as inoffensive as it could be. (Not that I have any idea what Donald Trump tastes like, but I imagine he tastes pretty nasty. Basting in spray tan for years probably doesn’t improve one’s flavor.) Also, as you may be able to see, despite the orange bits in it, the whole thing doesn’t look orange at all. Maybe it could be Melania’s brain instead.
One issue with the brain mold is that the gelatin tends to spread laterally rather soon after it’s been unmolded. It quickly loses its proper brain-y proportions, and the gray-matter wrinkles start smoothing out, so I recommend that if you’re going to serve a brain-shaped Jell-O, unmold it just before serving for the greatest visual impact on your guests.
I feel like using the island pineapple flavor Jell-O was a good call. I like pineapple anyway, and that was the predominant flavor in the dish, so I was happy with it. The garnish turned out to be a little tricky, though. Day-old Dream Whip isn’t the easiest thing to work with, for starters. Then I started adding fresh mint leaves from our yard, all the while thinking, “This can’t get any more creepy, can it?”
Bryan ate it with a sort of martyred expression on his face, but admitted that it really wasn’t bad. The only issue I had with it was that I felt like something was missing – and I realized that, with a few additions and alterations, this could have been Jellied Ambrosia Salad. Ambrosia (as my grandmother called it, also known as Five-Cup Salad) is one of the things from my white-trash-y upbringing for which I still have a soft spot, so watch for Jellied Ambrosia in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, enjoy some classic brain-related humor….