Originally posted November 29, 2009
ETA; As Casey Kasem might say, at number nine in our countdown, we have…
Well, I did warn you about the onslaught of cranberries, apples and so forth. This recipe was surely seasonal, and while it wasn’t all that quick, it did confirm for me that Cracker Barrel’s official corporate scent is artificial strawberry and spices.
Quick Cranberry-Apple Mold is another one of those whipped gelatin concoctions that involves dissolving gelatin, sugar, and spices in boiling water in the maelstrom of a blender beaker, and then chilling/blending it with crushed ice. (The fridge at Freak Mountain has a built-in ice dispenser, and while I was skeptical about it initially, I’ve decided that the thing totally rules.) The resulting liquid roughly doubles in volume, and Your Humble Narrator poured about three quarters of it (my, a lot of work with fractions today!) into a bowl set in an ice water bath to thicken, and added fresh cranberries and an apple cut into wedges to the foam remaining in the blender.
According to the recipe, the fruit was supposed to end up roughly chopped, but I had trouble getting it all down to the blades, so I had to whiz it all together probably a bit too much and the fruit got pretty well incorporated into the gelatin mixture. I have to confess I deviated from the recipe in another way, intentionally – remembering the timid seasoning of the Cinnamon Glazed Apples, I doubled the spices. The recipe called for an eighth of a teaspoon of cinnamon and an eighth of a teaspoon of ground cloves. That’s pussy seasoning, I decided, and I upped it to a quarter of a teaspoon each.
Anyway, the fruit blend was combined with the thickening foam, and it went into one of my secondhand-store molds, in which it chilled overnight. The unmolding was a success, as I’m learning that effective use of the nonstick cooking spray involves applying more than seems reasonable at first. It turns out that it really doesn’t add flavor, so there’s no harm in using more. Despite the foamy texture, the mold had decent structural integrity and held its shape until it was gone.
As for the flavor – well, my first thought was, “This tastes like Cracker Barrel, too!” (Maybe I should dedicate a short blog post to Cracker Barrel. The holiday season would be about the right time for it…) Something about the aroma and flavor of spiced strawberry Jell-O transports me instantly to a faux-homey, faux-log-cabin gift shop at an interstate exit, where I’m most likely standing in front of the admittedly impressive selection of candy. Returning to Freak Mountain, the Quick Cranberry-Apple Mold was a lot like applesauce. I still can’t make up my mind about whether I did the right thing by increasing the amounts of the spices. They clashed a bit with the strawberry Jell-O, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were too strong. Meanwhile, the ground-up cranberries gave it a bolder flavor and added a bit of interest to the texture.
Speaking of the texture, did I mention it was foamy? I wrote it down twice in my notes, so I guess the foaminess was a real standout feature here. The color was rather nice, and overall it wasn’t too bad. We did manage to finish this one off, but we didn’t do so eagerly.
The Hunting of the Snark
The other day Bryan told me I’m not being snarky enough in this blog. I think that had been somewhat my intention on starting out, but I haven’t been able to manage it for a number of reasons, chief among them being my lack of talent for “snark on demand.” In conversation I’ve been known to toss out some spontaneous snark, but in a blog it’s far too easy to self-censor. Unfortunately, there’s some part of me that’s always trying to be nice. Then there’s the problem that few of the recipes I’ve done so far have lent themselves to much snarkiness, and this is just down to the nature of Jell-O. It’s bland. It’s hard to have any feelings about it at all. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get a little more worked up about the scarier Jell-O dishes. In the meantime, if anyone wants to see more snark in this blog, they should feel free to add it in the comments.
Strawberry Supreme isn’t a particularly seasonal recipe. I probably scheduled it for this time of year because it’s just barely past fresh strawberry season here in New England – which doesn’t really matter, because Strawberry Supreme calls for frozen strawberries. Jell-O has no season.
This is one of those two-parters, with half of the gelatin in straight jelly form with fruit suspended in it, and the other half (the top half) a bavarian with vanilla ice cream. The recipe says to prepare two packages of strawberry Jell-O and then separate the liquid gelatin into two parts to make the two different components of the dish. I’ve been in this game long enough now to know that this can be tricky, timing-wise, and I decided to prepare each component separately, one Jell-O package at a time. It probably takes a little longer, but at least this way I didn’t suffer from premature gelling.
The first part, the jelly part, was prepared the usual way, dissolving a package of Jell-O in a cup of boiling water, adding a cup of cold water, adding ten ounces of frozen strawberries (the only kind that comes in ten-ounce packages at the Super Stop’n’Shop is some fancy-dancy organic brand, but the berries were actually decent) and then chilling until thickened over an ice-water bath. The gelatin was doled out into dessert glasses (the recipe specifies “sherbet glasses”, which I don’t have and am not sure what they are) and stowed in the fridge during the preparation of…
The bavarian part was a package of strawberry Jell-O dissolved in a cup of boiling water, with a half-cup of cold water added. The recipe says to then chill until slightly thickened and then add a cup of softened ice cream. I guess I didn’t read it carefully enough, because I just saw the part about adding ice cream, thought that it was stupid to add ice cream to already-chilled gelatin, and just added what I was estimating was a half-pint from a pint of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla bean with a small scoop to melt into the hot gelatin liquid. (After I finished making the dish, I ate the rest of the ice cream, straight out of the container like in my college days, and it seemed as though there was more than half the pint left in there…) The bavarian part also included one and a half tablespoons each of rum and brandy, and two tablespoons of Cointreau. Once the ice cream was pretty well melted down, I chilled this over the ice-water bath, beating it with a whisk in a desperate, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to achieve the “bubbly” consistency described in the recipe. Maybe I should have recruited the MixMaster Junior to help out, but I think if the bavarian part had achieved a greater volume, it wouldn’t have fit into the glasses with the jelly part.
Incidentally, while we already had brandy and Cointreau, there was no rum in our oddball assortment of liqueurs and liquor, so we had to make a special visit to our friendly neighborhood hipster liquor store. (Due to popular demand, they now stock “pong balls” and red Solo cups.) I now have nearly a quart of rum. And a lot of mint growing wild in the yard. Anyone got a good mojito recipe?
In the end, Strawberry Supreme was not very different from the other strawberry bavarians I’ve made so far in the Project. Bryan described it as “relatively inoffensive”, and after taking the time and expense to get the rum, the booze was barely detectable – a hint of citrus flavor, a slight burn on the tongue. The absolute best thing about Strawberry Supreme, honestly, was that during this long weekend of “beach weather” it felt good to hold and eat something cold.
Part of the reason I’m posting on Monday instead of Sunday is that I was thinking I’d say something about the 4th of July, since I’ve been having Thoughts. On the other hand, I’m pretty burnt out on politics, and reluctant to lecture anybody. If you’ve been following NJoJ for a while, you know how I feel about the current regime. I’ll just say, if you’re wondering how I feel about my country these days, “It’s complicated”.
I do have a couple of links to share. One concerns that fellow Frederick Douglass, who I hear is being recognized more and more, and I guess that’s why his July 5, 1852 speech in Rochester, New York has gone viral. Seriously, though, while we celebrate our independence tomorrow, I think we should give a thought to all the people who didn’t benefit from it 241 years ago, and the people who are still struggling for a place at the table for a fair share of freedom’s rewards.
The other link is for Stephen Colbert’s #AmericanGreatness hashtag on Twitter. (Even better, if you use Twitter just check out the @StephenAtHome feed, as he seems to be filtering out trolls.) People from all over the country have been posting an amazing and inspiring variety of photos of the things that make the U.S. truly great, from natural beauty to thriving cities to more intimate shots of family moments. Politics is transitory; these are the things that will endure. I’m so grateful to Colbert for doing this. It’s something we really need right now.
For some reason, WordPress won’t let me use strikethrough formatting in the title, so let me just note that, for the purposes of the Project, the official title of this recipe is Quick
Orange Fruit Salad.
This one is definitely an Orange Boycott, given that the base Jell-O is orange, and the “salad” part is mostly orange sections. This meant that I had to get kind of creative with the substitutions.
I thought that it could be fun to go with one of the more interesting Jell-O flavors – in my stash I have boxes of flavors like mango and “Melon Fusion”, but I decided that after the narrow passage of Trumpcare in the U.S. House of Representatives this week, I wanted to get as far from orange as possible. That meant Berry Blue. Blue is, of course, the complementary (or opposite) color to orange on the color wheel you learned in elementary school.
I had to put more thought into what I was going to use in place of the orange sections, and I settled on a bit of an assortment, like a standard, non-gelatinous fruit salad. At the range of restaurants we tend to frequent, fruit salad is almost always bits of cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, grapes, and maybe banana slices and/or blueberries, so I thought I’d try for something like that. Ruling out cantaloupe on account of the color, and bananas on account of their maddening tendency to clump together, I finally settled on honeydew and a strawberry and blueberry mix from the prepared-fruit section at the supermarket.
The recipe also calls for halved green grapes, and that was the key point where I did follow instructions. This part was kind of annoying, cutting the grapes in half. It reminded me of making Frosted Fresh Grapes, and I decided that, really, any preparation of grapes beyond washing them and pulling them off of the stems is a waste of time.
The preparation of Quick
Orange Fruit Salad was mostly straightforward. The recipe includes the addition of a dash of salt and two teaspoons of lemon juice to the gelatin, and I went ahead and did that. This is supposed to be quick-thickened by the addition of ice in place of the cold water, but I guess the temperature in the kitchen wasn’t quite cool enough yesterday because, once again, this technique didn’t quite work, and I ended up thickening it over an ice-water bath. Once that was done, I added the fruit, put it in a pretty serving bowl, and was struck, as I put it into the fridge to chill, by the aquamarine color of the Berry Blue Jell-O and how it made me think of a fish bowl. I started wishing that I’d cut the honeydew slices into little fish shapes, and…. Nah. Life’s too short.
For me, this turned out to be a perfectly nice dessert. I didn’t measure out the fruit and probably added more than the recipe called for, but this just meant that it seemed more healthful. The grape halves sank to the bottom, but that wasn’t a big deal once I’d dished out a portion. The Berry Blue flavor was better than I remembered, but maybe the addition of the salt and lemon juice had something to do with that. It reminded me of Smarties (the American kind, not the British kind) or Sweet Tarts. I found that I really liked the color, too. It reminded me of summer, which is taking its own sweet time coming around this year. Also, it kind of matched my hair’s current “accent” color, as my trainer pointed out when I was telling him about this earlier today, which is why I included a somewhat rare photo of myself tasting the Jell-O. However, to my colorblind spouse, Berry Blue Jell-O is a weird sort of blue-gray. “It doesn’t look like food!” he protested. I’ll be eating the lion’s share of this one.
The apron I’m wearing in that photo was sent up to me this past week by R–, a former student/researcher in our lab who’s now working on his Ph.D. at Yale. The shiny red cerebrum reminded him of my brain-shaped Jell-O mold, and he couldn’t resist the kind gesture, for which I’m grateful.
It’s been kind of a gloomy week, between the weather and the GOP trying to kill and/or subjugate us 99%ers, so small kindnesses have meant a lot. A Facebook friend whom I’ve never met in person was good enough to share positive feedback after viewing the video of my Rock Camp band’s performance (luckily we were first in the lineup; I kind of feel like I owe a beer or other beverage of choice to anyone who makes it all the way through the song), and, most importantly, he took my interest in pursuing music seriously.
The interesting thing about my Facebook friend is that he’s politically conservative, and we’re both trying not to cut people off because of political differences. I know some people who are doing that, and I understand that they have their reasons, but (rather uncharacteristically, to be honest) I’m trying not to be so quick to give up on some large portion of humanity. It’s nice that some people are affirming my (admittedly shaky) faith in people.
I call this a “recipe reboot”, but I still have my notes from when I made this the first time around, for posting on October 5, 2009. In fact, it was the first recipe where I made notes as I prepared and tasted it. I must have decided to reboot it because I don’t have photos – or, rather, I have some photos of something pink that might have been Strawberry Yogurt Whip, with a time-stamp from around the right date, but whatever the pink stuff is, it doesn’t look very “whipped”, so I can’t be sure. Anyway, Strawberry Yogurt Whip is one of those “Nice Easy Things to Do with Jell-O”, so reprising it now is no great hardship.
The recipe lists four ingredients, two of which are water, so this is basically Jell-O, slightly thickened, whipped together with yogurt and chilled until firm. Sounds simple enough, but another reason that I decided to reboot this is because I was not entirely happy with the result using strawberry yogurt as specified in the recipe. Back in 2009, I used Stoneyfield Farms lowfat fruit-on-the-bottom, and regretted using the lowfat version. Also, individual-serving yogurt cups were downsized from eight ounces to six ounces some time ago, so I had to buy two servings, mix them together, and measure out a cup. Boo hoo.
Also, I found myself wondering about yogurt now versus yogurt in 1974. As I recall, in the early 1970s, yogurt was still fairly exotic to the middle-American palate. It was health food, or food for “nut’n’berry freaks”. The only time I ever had yogurt back then was when I was playing at the home of my friend who lived next door. Her mother was kind of a hippie, and a single mom when that sort of thing was much less common than it is today. They had furniture made out of big electrical wire spools (that I envied then, and still do), a lot of artsy-crafty things to do, and for snacks, crunchy-granola things like yogurt. My family were kind of the opposite of hippies; we had Ethan Allen furniture, and no yogurt.
Having googled it just now, I see that there’s a little more to the history of yogurt in the U.S. than my recollections suggest. I was thinking that maybe yogurt that was available to users of The New Joys of Jell-O in 1974 would be more “pure” than a lot of yogurts today that are full of sugar, thickeners, and preservatives. Not so, according to this New Yorker article from 2013 about the recent Greek yogurt trend. Manufacturers were adding thickeners and sweeteners to yogurt during the 1950s and 1960s, even as it was being marketed as a health food. However, it took Dannon’s ad campaign in the 1970s touting yogurt’s longevity-granting health benefits to push it into the mainstream.
So yogurt in 1974 was probably a lot like yogurt that’s available now, apart from the package size. Even so, I decided to use plain Fage full-fat Greek yogurt, which turned out to be a good call. The tartness of the plain yogurt balances perfectly with the sweetness of the Jell-O, giving Strawberry Yogurt Whip an almost-real strawberry flavor. I’m not too worried about the fat in the yogurt; I figure it’s got to be better for me than thickeners and extra sugar, and has a better flavor, too. My guess is that Strawberry Yogurt Whip is more of a “health food” than a lot of yogurts on the market today.
This one also has very nice visual appeal (a pleasant pink color, as opposed to the neon pink of the photo from the book) and, to my mind, an interesting texture. I’ve liked the whipped gelatins from the first one I did, although Bryan disagrees with me there. He thinks they’re weird. I think when you’re making over a hundred Jell-O recipes, the more variation you have, the better. I will admit that this can be weird, texture-wise, if you don’t put them in the dessert glasses quickly enough. I think you can kind of see in the photo how the foamy part becomes a “head” on top of some more placid Jell-O, especially in the kitty-kat glass. I ate one of those, and found myself a little creeped out by the transition from foamy to smooth Jell-O.
Still, if you have kids and you’re trying to get more calcium-rich foods into them, this might not be a bad way to do it. Strawberry Yogurt Whip is a bit of all right.
Incidentally, if you noticed there was no post last week and expected a nasty Jell-O this week, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I took the weekend off Jell-O’ing to do a “rock camp”. I mentioned it a few posts ago, and I’m happy to report that I did not get demoted to cowbell, although I was given a standard-tuned electric guitar and expected to play proper chords. The whole thing turned out to be a mixed bag for me, but I’m glad I did it – and also glad it’s over and done with, though I really enjoyed jamming with the Silver Daisies and am wondering how I can get more of that into my life.
Originally posted January 18, 2010
Fruited Gelatin Glaze is kind of a kooky addition to the book. All it is, really, is fruit in Jell-O, except instead of just eating it out of a dish you put it on a cheesecake. Here we have frozen strawberries in strawberry Jell-O, atop a vanilla cheesecake with a chocolate crumb crust. This is not one that will be difficult to eat. It tastes fine, although the combination of textures is a little weird. I think I had expected it to be more like the goopy canned fruit toppings you can get in the supermarket. I should have known better.
The cheesecake was made by Bryan, who seems to want to keep me in a culinary ghetto, walled in by Jell-O. (I suppose it would be in poor taste to go any further with this metaphor…) It’s a fine cheesecake, but I had been kind of looking forward to making it myself. I don’t think I’ve cooked anything besides Jell-O since I made an angel food cake for a party at the end of August. Now, I don’t profess to be a master chef or anything, but I can cook more than Jell-O. Truly I can. I think…
Ah, I’m just feeling cross because I had a hard drive failure at work almost a week ago and it’s really cut into my productivity. In fact, I’m writing this blog entry while I’m at the Lab on a holiday, installing software on the new hard drive – at this moment, a Windows XP virtual machine in Fusion, no less, which is enough to make any Mac fan cranky. Bryan is actually trying to be supportive. Yesterday’s Jell-O’ing included the maiden voyage of the new kitchen clogs Bryan got me for my birthday. (After attempting to “break them in” on the day, I came to the conclusion that they were too narrow and he had to order me the wider ones, which arrived last Friday.) I’m hoping that these will save me from getting backaches as I get caught up on my schedule. Just a few more to go, and I should be all up to date.
By the way, I’ve gotten some nice comments lately, and I’d like to thank the folks who have taken the trouble. Knowing that someone is reading definitely helps keep my motivation up when the Jell-Os get particularly nasty. I seem to be picking up readers from the UK, which is exciting to this old anglophile. I’m humbled by and appreciative of everyone’s time and attention.
Well, this is the last Jell-O before the election, so I’m glad that it’s a fairly nice one.
As shown in the book, Strawberry Chiffon is just a variant on Cherry Chiffon, with strawberry Jell-O and strawberries instead of cherry Jell-O and cherries.
The recipe calls for fresh strawberries, and it turns out that even with all the fruit that comes to us year-round from California and Florida, it’s still a little tricky to find fresh strawberries in the supermarket in November. Shelf space in the produce section needs to be given over to things like apples and pumpkins, and the icky candied fruit that people put in fruitcakes. Luckily, there were some containers of pre-hulled strawberries in the prepared-fruit section, so I grabbed a couple of those. One of them worked out to be about a cup and a half of strawberry slices, a half-cup more than the recipe says, so that was perfect. (We had the other container of berries with breakfast this morning.)
The only other interesting aspect to preparing this was that, since the recipe specifies it, I decided to give another chance to the quick-set method of adding ice to the hot liquid gelatin. I was a little surprised to find that this time it actually worked. I suspect it might have something to do with the weather; now that fall is well and truly upon us, it’s getting cooler in the house, giving those ice cubes a better chance to chill the gelatin before they melt.
I didn’t want to use my Tupperware ring mold for this, because I figured it would end up looking too much like Cherry Chiffon, and where’s the fun in that? I went with the brain mold instead, partly because it’s the right volume for the recipe, and partly in honor of Chris Hardwick, host of “Talking Dead”* (and the panel show “@midnight”, and creator of the Nerdist empire), whose comedy show we went to see in Boston on Friday. I got the tickets during the pre-sale months ago, and I picked two front-row seats just because I could. The seating on the floor was cabaret-style, tiny round tables with four chairs to a table, the chairs facing to the sides rather than facing the stage. Bryan took the seat nearer the stage (he said he thought it would be hard for me to see over the lip of the stage, a likely story) which meant he was sitting right up against it.
As Chris got into his set, he began interacting with the audience. He came over to our side of the stage and remarked that we were practically sitting under it, and those had to be either the worst seats in the house, or the best. Then he knelt down, put a firm hand on Bryan’s shoulder, and asked Bryan what he did for a living. Bryan froze. It was like the scene in “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie goes to see Santa, except that instead of squeaking out “a… a football…” Bryan squeaked out “production editor”. Chris asked him what that was, and Bryan just couldn’t answer (eventually he managed “I make sure books come out good”), at which point Chris started giving him a hard time about being startled by this guy we’ve seen on the TV suddenly asking him questions. To be honest, Chris did look a little menacing – but it was hilarious. I suppose I should have jumped in and said something (I was thinking, “Dude, just ask me something, it’ll go quicker”) but I couldn’t stop laughing. This seems to be a pattern we’re developing, where Bryan falls into a hole, and rather than help him out of it I just stand by watching and laughing. I’m a bad wife.
Anyway, it was a fun evening with a lot of much needed laughter – and here I should also give a shout out to Chris’s friend, fellow comedian Mike Firman, who opened for him and closed with him and is also very funny, if not particularly menacing – so I guess I owe Chris Hardwick a tribute Jell-O, at least.
So Strawberry Chiffon turned out to be expectedly pleasant. We both wished that the strawberries were better, but in a way it was good that they weren’t super-sweet fresh and ripe, because that made the dish overall less sweet. I definitely recommend going with more than a cup of the fruit.
I continue to be intrigued by the bavarian part. I think that if I can make time to branch out more into off-book experimentation I’d like to see where I can go with it.
* I’ve been watching “The Walking Dead” since the beginning. I’m not the sort of person you’d expect to be making lots of Jell-O, am I?
Originally posted October 25, 2009
I know, it’s been a few days since I last posted. A couple of months in, maybe I’m getting a little blog burnout. The Jell-O recipes are a little repetitive, and people keep asking me, “Why are you doing that?”
And there’s no good answer to that question. It’s a silly way to be an attention whore, is the honest answer. I started out with some lofty ideals, inspired by Michael Pollan and Morgan Spurlock. This was going to be a sort of running commentary about the terrible state of the typical American diet, dominated as it is by industrial food. Then I didn’t have the heart for self-righteous pontificating, and I decided that everyone else has been way too earnest about this stuff lately (like this guy) so really the Project was more of a nonsensical exercise in absurdism (somewhat in the vein of the Cacophony Society or the comedy of the Firesign Theatre). But I’m afraid that I’m just not that clever.
You know what, though – it is kind of fun. Sometimes it’s positively hilarious. People find it strange and interesting when I tell them about my Project. (If only more of them would read it!) I’m finding that food – eating, cooking, even just talking about it – has a way of connecting people. It’s a small but terribly important point, and I think that’s really why I’m staying committed to the Project.
Apart from all this self-pitying stuff, I’ve had a temporary shift in focus as Halloween approaches. I seem to have discovered that I rather enjoy playing dress-up, so I’ve spent a certain amount of time putting together the elements of my costume. It is kind of Jell-O related, so be sure to tune in on November 1, when I should be posting photos of my Halloween Jell-O Mini-Project.
So, on to the Jell-O….
Layered Bavarian sounds much more elaborate than it really is. It’s two layers, a plain Jell-O layer and a Jell-O and vanilla ice cream layer (basically the same as Black Raspberry Ice Cream Dessert). Since the recipe allows for the use of any flavor, I went for strawberry. It was okay. I liked the contrasting textures in this dish, and strawberries and cream is always a good combination. However, there’s just no getting around the fact that a red flavor mixed with cream makes for a creepy-colored dessert. Also, I think this would have been better with real strawberries incorporated into it.
I’m starting to understand how recipes like Florida Seacoast Salad came about. The General Foods R&D drones got bored.