As I write this, I’m nursing a mild hangover in honor of the founder of the lab where I work, after attending his retirement party last night. It was supposed to be cocktails and dinner at the Faculty Club, ending sedately at 9:00, but then an impromptu after-party was organized at a hotel bar that happens to be on my way home, so… (Five drinks over the course of five and a half hours, with a proper meal in there somewhere, and I’m feeling it today. Middle age can be a real bitch sometimes.) Luckily, this week’s Memory Lane selection happens to be on a more defined bit of track – years later, I’m still annoyed about this recipe.
Glazed Hors d’Oeuvres is right up there with Frosted Fresh Grapes in the top ranks of World’s Stupidest Jell-O Recipes. It appears, appropriately, in the section titled “Things You Never Thought Of”. (Because “You” are probably not a blithering idiot.) The basic idea is that you make some little open-face sandwiches, and then, like, glaze them with lemon Jell-O. Seriously. I did that. And you don’t just forget something like that.
I started by getting one of those miniature bread loaves that are unnaturally square (probably Pepperidge Farm party bread), and I topped the slices with what looks like cranberry sauce, and mock turkey (which wasn’t very good). Then I placed them on a wire rack above a baking pan to catch the drips and attempted to glaze these mini-wiches with lemon Jell-O seasoned with black pepper, bay leaf, dried dill, salt, cayenne pepper, and vinegar. Is your mouth watering yet?
The instructions say to do a coat, chill the hors d’oeuvres, and then add a second coat. I noted that “there’s no way this will work”, because the Jell-O went from “syrupy” to “slightly thickened” very quickly. After reviewing the data from my notes I’m making an educated guess that this is because I attempted this recipe in February. It seems like the warmer weather months would be a better time to do this, but it turns out that Pepperidge Farm party bread is only available seasonally, and while I could find no indication of when “party bread season” is, I’m guessing it’s roughly coincidental with Mallomar season.
Anyway, the end result was not pleasing. Nothing about the Jell-O (flavor, texture, color, or gloss) seemed necessary or added anything to the sandwiches. The end result was a waste of otherwise perfectly tasty little cocktail sandwiches. (I had to make some extra without the Jell-O, and those were much better.) I noted that the good thing about this recipe was that a lot of the Jell-O ended up in the drip pan. The best thing about this recipe is that it reminded me of a classic scene from This Is Spinal Tap:
Just in time for the holiday season, here’s something, um, different to do with that leftover turkey.
Turkey Soufflé Salad bears an uncanny resemblance to Garden Soufflé Salad, with a slightly different assortment of veggies and the addition of turkey. The base is a lemon Jell-O bavarian with mayonnaise as the fatty ingredient, a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to (one hopes) cut the sweetness of the Jell-O, and some grated onion and ground pepper for (one hopes) savory flavoring.
As with Garden Soufflé Salad, the recipe says to put the liquid Jell-O mixture in a square baking pan and put that in the freezer for 15-20 minutes until it’s firm to about an inch in from the edges and still soft in the middle. Also as with Garden Soufflé Salad, it didn’t work that way; after about 25 minutes a thin coat of Jell-O was firm and starting to freeze on the surfaces of the pan, while the rest of it remained liquid. I hereby declare this technique “totally bogus”. If there is a next time, I will thicken the Jell-O over a trusty ice-water bath before proceeding to the next step, which is to whip it in a mixer until “fluffy”. Using the technique described in the book yields a still fairly liquid gelatin that would be better described as “foamy”.
As usual, I chopped up a little extra of all of the veggies, including, for the first time, pimientos. I had never encountered them outside of green olives and “loaf” before, and I was surprised to find that I liked the aroma, which made me feel a little better about this recipe.
Really the most interesting thing about making this one was the turkey. We don’t normally eat turkey here at Freak Mountain, and we certainly don’t host big Thanksgiving turkey dinners (the lack of a dining room lets us off the hook), so I had to buy turkey specifically for this recipe. Bryan and I went to the Super Stop’n’Shop the day after Thanksgiving, and I expected that I’d be able to buy a turkey breast (pre-cooked if I was really lucky) to use in Turkey Soufflé Salad. Unfortunately, I found I had two turkey options – a whole frozen turkey, or packages of cooked, deli-sliced turkey. I bought two packages of the latter, which at least had the advantage of being in nice, firm slabs that were easy to cut into cubes. One package yielded a cup and a half of cubed turkey, exactly the amount specified in the recipe.
We ate the second package for lunch in sandwiches with Swiss cheese on rye, with about the same level of enthusiasm meat-eaters have for Thanksgiving leftovers.
Veggies and turkey bits got folded into the foamy, mayonnaise-y gelatin base, poured into 1.25-cup molds, and chilled overnight. They unmolded beautifully into festive-looking servings. The photo doesn’t look so bad, but that’s because it’s not enhanced by Smell-O-Vision. To put it politely, the meat/Jell-O/mayonnaise combination does not smell appetizing.
I think it didn’t taste as bad as it smelled, but it wasn’t good. To be honest, the sandwich-meat turkey was pretty bland (which is a complaint I’ve heard about turkey generally) so mostly it added a weird texture to the salad. Meat and Jell-O together seems to be a bad idea, and I’m left scratching my head over the concept of aspic. I mean, I get the idea of using jelly to preserve meat, but why not just scrape it all off before you serve it? That’s what we always did with canned hams when I was a kid.
As it happened, on the day I was tasting this, we were planning to make a call on our friend JB–, who was sitting shiva for his mother. It’s traditional to bring food to shiva, but I wasn’t sure it would be appropriate to bring Turkey Soufflé Salad. Meanwhile, Bryan messaged JB– to see if he needed anything, and JB– responded that they were good for food, but seeing as it was us, he’d expect some Jell-O. Little did he know… I kind of hope JB– didn’t actually eat the Turkey Soufflé Salad, but I do hope he found it amusing. This is not a dish for enjoying, but rather a dish for ridiculing.
Whatever he did with it, I hope he did it quickly, because when I opened the fridge to get milk for my coffee this morning, the leftover Turkey Soufflé Salad was really stankin’ it up. This stuff ripens.
Needless to say, we didn’t eat the rest of it. Donations have been made to Action Against Hunger, Planned Parenthood, and the International Rescue Committee.
(In case anyone’s wondering, I’ve also reinstated my membership in the ACLU in support of my LGBTQ friends and others whose rights might be endangered by the coming administration.)
I hate to sound like I’m trying to make excuses, so please be assured that I’m telling you this by way of explanation. I’m suffering from election fever, and not in a good way. I’ve been spending more and more time paying attention to the U.S. presidential campaign, partly because I plan to vote for Clinton and I’m looking for positive reasons to do that, and partly because I don’t just want to see Trump lose the election, I want to see him crash and burn, and I want a front-row seat when that happens. (I generally try not to get too political here, but I trust no one who’s been following NJoJ is surprised by this.) In practical terms, this means that I’ve been slacking in other areas, like blogging, gym-ing, and sleeping.
Even so, I feel like the there’s some serendipity in the way the timing has worked out on this, because just in time for Indigenous Peoples Day (as it’s now officially known here in Nerdvana) I get to crap all over Italian cuisine with a little dish called Antipasto Salad.
Antipasto Salad is a savory Jell-O recipe with an unlikely assortment of ingredients, including salami, Swiss cheese, celery, raw onion, and olives. That big jug of vinegar you see in the photo is something I normally use when I’m washing a load of dishtowels to wash out that kitchen funk, but every once in a great while it gets pressed into service to mask the sweetness of Jell-O. Or to try, at least.
I made one serious mistake in preparing this, which was to ask Bryan to pick up the ingredients for me. After a cursory reading of the recipe, he bought sliced salami and sliced Swiss cheese, and decided that the six-week-old leftover celery from Garden Soufflé Salad would be okay to use in this recipe. (Rest assured, this has since been discarded.) I had him get me some fresh celery, but decided just to work with the sliced meat and cheese.
(So we’re clear, I don’t find strategic incompetence endearing. I understand that sometimes it’s necessary to manage expectations, but perhaps it’s also best not to allow expectations to get too low…)
You might recall that Bryan and I keep a mostly vegetarian diet (we also eat fish), so I hadn’t eaten salami in possibly more than 30 years. Maybe it was the brand that Bryan picked out, but when I tried it, I though to myself, “I’m ‘cheating’ for this?” I found it bland, and fatty. Maybe a good spicy Italian salami would have tasted better, but Bryan (rightly, I think) judged that it wouldn’t be worth using something like that in a Jell-O dish.
Since I couldn’t really “finely cut” the sliced meat and cheese, I cut it into strips, figuring that I’d get the Jell-O nice and thick before adding the solid ingredients so that they wouldn’t just float to the top. The choice to buy a small quantity of olives from the salad bar was smart (because neither of us particularly likes olives), but I have to gripe a little, because slicing them was a pain in the neck. As I’ve done with past savory Jell-O salads, I prepared more of the solid ingredients than indicated in the recipe, trying for a more appetizing proportion of solids to jelly. Once again, I eschewed the ice cube quick-thickening method in favor of an ice water bath, and when the Jell-O was thick enough, I stirred in the other ingredients, put the lot in a decorative glass bowl, and put it in the fridge to firm up.
Well, as it turns out, I picked the wrong recipe to spare you all from the guilt of not watching another of my cringe-worthy videos. Finally, I’d hit upon one that was truly foul. It didn’t even look nice, and it smelled bad. When I got it out to taste it, Bryan ran upstairs to hide.
It tasted pretty bad, too. Despite the vinegar, the Jell-O was too sweet, and even though I’d added more meat, cheese and veggies, the solids-to-jelly ratio was still too low. Again I found myself wishing that I’d at least sautéed the onions a little in butter, because raw onions in Jell-O are just nasty.
Since I was bailing on doing the video, I decided to take some pictures instead. Here’s my reaction to Antipasto Salad in a series of photos:
Sure, I can dish it out…
But can I take it?
What is it I’m tasting here?
This salami is not good…
Whoops, there’s the onion…
It just gets worse the more I chew…
Why do I do this to myself?
I hope somebody appreciates this…
When Bryan ventured back downstairs, I made him try a bite. His opinion of the dish was expressed mainly in a series of short grunts.
We weren’t even able to finish off a small portion between the two of us. Most of this became garbage disposal food. A donation is being made to Action Against Hunger. I am truly sorry for this one.
I have to say, after a few “scary” Jell-O recipes that turned out to be not so scary, I was really hoping that Jellied Gazpacho would turn out to be fairly nasty. Oh, yes. I had all kinds of plans for this one. First, there was the drinks pairing – my first instinct (a very wrong one, I know) was to go for Corona, or tequila, or a Mexican boilermaker. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Then I decided to look up the origin of gazpacho and found that it comes from Andalusia, arguably the most historically and culturally important part of Spain, so I didn’t want to treat it like a common Tex-Mex side dish.
I remembered that a batch of gazpacho had figured prominently in Pedro Almodovar’s 1988 film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The gazpacho had been spiked with something – my recollection was that it was vodka (which you have to admit would be pretty good), but when I looked it up I found that it was sleeping pills. That didn’t seem like a good idea, and I ended up scrapping the drinks pairing altogether.
If we’re being honest, it’s hard to bash Jellied Gazpacho for the ingredients. It’s mostly fresh vegetables and herbs. The traditional binder for this cold soup is bread (often stale bread is used, presumably as a way to avoid food waste), and that has been replaced by lemon Jell-O. Fresh garlic has been replaced here by garlic powder (the recipe calls for garlic salt, which I thought we had, but evidently Bryan bought the powder instead), but at least the flavor is there.
The one ingredient I was seriously dreading was the canned mushrooms. I’ve always disliked mushrooms, in particular the canned ones, which develop an unpleasant mouthfeel in the canning process. I’ve tried to learn to like fresh mushrooms, without much success, so I didn’t see any real reason to substitute them for the canned ones here.
Jellied Gazpacho should have been a pleasure to make, given all the lovely chopping of lovely fresh ingredients, but the prep work on this was an annoying experience. It turns out that Bryan has been slacking on the knife-sharpening duties. You see, years ago he decided that he was something of a “foodie”, and one of the foodie toys he picked up for himself was a professional-grade knife sharpening kit. We have a decent set of Henckels knives, and keeping them sharp is definitely worthwhile – but perhaps more of a commitment than Bryan was prepared to make.
To be fair, the dull knives did make the prep work feel more “authentically 1974”. Before the Food Network put professional chefs in our faces, your average mid-century middle-class or working-class homemaker probably wasn’t aware of the importance of keeping knives sharp. Knives would get dull (probably weren’t that sharp to begin with), and she’d just operate on the assumption that chopping vegetables was a lot of slow drudgery, Maybe she’d get suckered into buying the Ginsu knife before deciding that fresh vegetables are too much trouble to do for anything other than special occasions.
(Looking into this a little, I’m thinking that “the decline of knife sharpening” could easily become its own post. But I digress…)
Apart from the vegetable chopping, making this recipe is pretty simple. Once the veggies are chopped, they’re combined with the seasonings and left to sit and marinate while a double batch of lemon Jell-O is prepared and thickened. Then, the veggies and Jell-O are combined, chilled to thicken a bit more, et voila! Jellied Gazpacho.
This is a “loose” gelatin dish, which was a bit disappointing because in the back of my mind I had been anticipating another molded one, which would have been more of a challenge. Another disappointment – this one didn’t taste bad at all. I had been hoping for a nasty one to give the blog a bit of, you know, conflict, but I had been able to chop the mushrooms up finely enough that they weren’t really noticeable, and between the vegetables and the seasoning there were enough savory flavors that the sweet lemon flavor of the Jell-O was barely detectable.
The main issue I had was with the texture. The gelatin just did not add a nice texture to this cold soup, and the veggies were a bit buoyant in it, so I wound up with a fair amount of seasoned lemon Jell-O in the bottom of my bowl as I ate this. I decided to try running the Jellied Gazpacho through a few pulses in the Cuisinart, and that actually helped. The whole thing seemed to be blended better, and it stayed blended. We even managed to eat some for supper (with a fresh baguette and butter, and a Pepperidge Farm frozen chocolate cake for dessert). Still, even though I finished my portion (Bryan didn’t), I didn’t want any more.
I could see myself making gazpacho again, but with a more traditional recipe, using bread as a binder. Using Jell-O did not in any way enhance or improve on the concept. It didn’t make it all that weird or scary, either. It was just “meh”. A donation is being made to Action Against Hunger because somebody should be getting some kind of satisfaction out of this.
You might be relieved to know that I was neither looking for nor finding some sort of profound insight in Jellied Fresh Vegetable Salad. It’s really just a Jell-O salad.
Not that there wasn’t an interesting side issue, of course. Over the last week or so I’ve stumbled upon a couple of internet entities (they’re on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Amazon, and probably some other fora I’ve never heard of) that are dedicated to mid-century kitsch. One, Making It Modern, plumbs the depths of vintage cookbooks for the kookiest-sounding recipes, makes and tastes those recipes, and then re-creates them in a contemporary (i.e., more palatable) way. Another, Velveteen Lounge Kitsch-en, is mainly about cocktails but sometimes turns its attention to food kitsch.
Both entities have followers who are similarly fascinated by vintage cookbooks and scary-sounding recipes, but apparently very few of us have the cojones to actually make and eat them. Others do love to post those old, weird-looking photos, though, so lately I’ve been looking at a lot of dishes that are, to be honest, way scarier than anything in The New Joys of Jell-O.
Maybe that’s why, when I made and ate Jellied Fresh Vegetable Salad last weekend, it just didn’t seem all that weird to me.
The preparation was quite straightforward, with a couple of minor hitches. One ingredient, tarragon vinegar, was not available at my local supermarket, so I bought some dried tarragon, googled a recipe, and made my own. I think it turned out all right, though I wasn’t sure whether the aroma I was detecting was the vinegar or the photographic chemicals Bryan had been fooling with earlier in the day.
Another ingredient, two bouillon cubes, was mildly complicated by the fact that bouillon cubes appear to come in a different size than I remember from the 1970s. I misspoke on the video – my recollection is that they were about a centimeter cubed (not a half-centimeter, which would be ridiculously tiny). The cubes I found were much bigger, so I decided to just use one. That seems to have been adequate.
As with the Molded Potato Salad, the Jell-O, vinegar, bouillon and pepper are combined, cooled until slightly thickened, and then blended with the “creamy” ingredient. In this case it was sour cream, which had me craving onion-soup dip and potato chips. (Heaven help me, I think I’m going native!) In both recipes, I found it safe and beneficial to whisk in the creamy ingredients to get a smooth texture. I thickened it over a cold water bath, folded in the veggies, and put it in the molds to chill and firm up.
I had found some small vintage Jell-O branded molds at the Cambridge Antique Market a while ago, and this seemed like a good time to finally put them to use. They turned out to be a good serving size for this dish, and also a close match to the photo in the cookbook. Unfortunately, the Jell-O logo failed to imprint itself in the salad. I blame the lube for that (it will accumulate in the nooks and crannies) but it’s a step I’m not willing to skip.
I’m quite pleased with the way this ended up looking, despite the lack of logo. I daresay it looks better than the 1974 photo. As you can see, the veggies are nicely distributed throughout the mold and give it a festive appearance. My lettuce is rather more, um, assertive, but I like the color.
Now, the weird thing about this is that I actually kind of liked how it tasted. (Stockholm syndrome, maybe?) The vinegar, pepper, and bouillon almost overcame the sweet lemon flavoring, so that the Jell-O part of the salad was more like a ranch dressing. (People like ranch dressing, right?) Meanwhile, the crunchy texture of the vegetables had a satisfying mouthfeel.
I could see doing this with unflavored gelatin, some fresh herbs for seasoning, and a higher proportion and better variety of crisp fresh vegetables. Honestly, this turned out to be not so scary at all (unlike Jellied Prune Whip), though I have to confess that I didn’t eat it all, so I’ve made another donation to Action Against Hunger so that something positive can come from my waste of food.
I’ve also done a tasting video, and I’m less embarrassed by this than I was by the last one. After all my grousing about the drinking culture in New Orleans, I ended up drinking a glass of chilled vinho verde to help me chill out in front of the camera, and that worked out pretty well. (Also, I now have a better understanding of how so many entertainers wind up with substance abuse problems.) Now I just need to figure out how to set loose my sparkling personality. Heh.
or, Dude, Where’s My Parsley?
Originally posted November 19, 2009
Here we enter into the first of our regularly-scheduled savory gelatin dishes. I started with this one because it looked like the least scary one. It’s a simple cucumber salad, with a lemon Jell-O base and sour cream (I think yogurt could work with this as well), seasoned with a little vinegar, onion, parsley and black pepper. It sounds kind of like Indian raita or Greek tzatziki, so it seemed like it wouldn’t be too ridiculous.
It was pretty easy to make, except for one problem – the recipe calls for the cucumbers to be coarsely grated, but we don’t have a box grater, just a microplane grater and a cheese grater. I tried using the microplane briefly, but I ended up with cucumber mush. In retrospect, I probably should have used the grating disk in our Cuisinart, but for some reason I thought that would be too much trouble, and I decided to finely chop the cucumber instead. I admit it, it did occur to me that this might make it difficult to drain enough liquid from the cucumber before adding it to the gelatin, but I went ahead with the chopping anyway.
I drained, I blotted, I blotted some more, and finally, when the cucumber was not obviously weeping, I added it to the seasoned Jell-O and sour cream mixture. I poured it all into a mold lubricated with non-stick cooking spray, and let it chill overnight.That non-stick cooking spray has not turned out to be the saving grace I was hoping it would be. This dish wouldn’t come out of the mold after the first dip in a hot water bath, and after the second dip it took a good shake to get it out. Once again, there was a little too much melting needed to release the mold, so it ended up sitting in a little pool of liquid gelatin. This time I thought, no problem – the recipe had required only a tablespoon of chopped parsley, so I had most of the bunch left and could use it to garnish the Jell-O for the photo. I opened the fridge, looked in the crisper where I’d put the unused remainder of the bunch, and found only a lot of Polaroid film and a big bag of apples.
Turning to Bryan: “Dude, where’s my parsley?”
Eventually we arrived at the truth of the matter – he had gotten a little over-enthusiastic about cleaning out the fridge that morning and had thrown out the parsley, for some reason assuming that it was old and no good. Argh.The mold appeared to be nice and firm, so after I’d taken a few photos of the whole thing, I thought I’d get some of the mold with a slice of it on a small plate, ready to serve. Cutting into it, I discovered its lack of structural integrity. Nothing resembling a slice was going to come out of this, and as soon as I removed a serving from it, cracks began to develop on top and the whole thing began to slowly collapse. It really would have been better if I’d coarsely grated the cukes as it said in the recipe. Oh well.
I ate the “slice” myself and gave Bryan an amuse-bouche in a custard cup. It wasn’t all that nasty. The savory ingredients do go a long way towards cutting the sweetness of the Jell-O, and it was somewhat reminiscent of other creamy cucumber salads. I found it rather refreshing, but Bryan said he wouldn’t go that far. If I were to make this again, I would probably add more pepper. However, I’m unlikely to make this again. Even though it wasn’t very nasty, it’s been sitting in the refrigerator growing increasingly formless, and we haven’t eaten any more of it since we tasted it. This one, I think, will be garbage disposal food.
I’ve been having so much fun fooling around with iMovie, I decided to make you guys a bonus video!