Amateurs

Perhaps the most delightful byproduct of a blog about gelatin is when people tell you they made a recipe you posted. It's happened a few times and I get a kick out of it whenever someone tells me about it. Sometimes they're seasoned cooks who feel comfortable in the kitchen (and with following directions - jello is chemistry after all) and sometimes they're...less so. Amateurs, if you will. But as fickle as jello can be, certain recipes are a lot more forgiving than you might imagine. A few months ago my partner told me he was going to make the infamous jello pretzel salad for a competition with a few friends at school (he's also in graduate school, but we're not in the same program because we like to do things the hard way). There's a group of about six friends who get together every month or so for dinner at someone's house and they call it "Come Dine With Me" after a UK television show, apparently. So each dinner they choose a dish for two challengers to prepare for the next dinner and he chose jello as the theme. When he first told me this I was delighted and then a little leery that he could pull it off without my help. I should point out that my partner is not a total moron and is quite a good cook but a jello amateur is a jello amateur.

But he picked the recipe and we talked through it on the phone and off he went to the grocery store.

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He's British, so we had several conversations about what exactly Cool-Whip is and where to find the cream cheese but he made it home with the proper ingredients and got to work.

There were a few check-in phone calls (particularly pertaining to the "done-ness" of the jello) but the final product looked pretty good (at least in person, next time we'll work on the food photography).

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The competition ended in a draw (which I still find hard to believe, jello pretzel salad is a blue ribbon choice) but I was super impressed. Always a good reminder to have a little more faith in your own and others' abilities when trying something new.

Pip pip, gov'na. 

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And, we're back.

Well, friends. I went and turned my life upside down a bit so there hasn't been much time for jello blogging. But I've been missing it and, I can assure you, I haven't stopped making jello so I have quite the backlog of gelation-related adventures to share. I'll kick things off with a improvised little number that I brought to my dear friend (and oft mentioned jello-photographer) Paige's house for a barbecue this weekend.

I just moved to California for the summer and, after spending two days cleaning and unpacking in my 400 sqft one-bedroom home for the next few months, I went hunting for jello. The local Trader Joe's doesn't carry gelatin (perhaps their only shortcoming) and Whole Foods only has the unflavored stuff (so fancy). I found a Safeway a few miles away and my partner and I raced the setting sun on our bicycles to pick up a few boxes. He's a very patient man.

Our kitchen was still a bit of a mess and I didn't want to make an entire mold so I literally just made half a box (6 tablespoons) of raspberry jello with 1.5 cups of hot water in a glass mixing bowl. I then added California's finest blueberries while it was still liquid so it formed a nice even layer on the bottom. I actually made this the morning of the barbecue and was able to unmold it later in the afternoon because it was a small amount that firmed up quickly. Glass molds are actually pretty tricky because the thick glass doesn't conduct heat the nice, even way that metal does so you have to be a bit more patient and give the glass time to warm up. It wasn't a perfect unmolding but the blueberry garnish covered up the few small flaws and it actually turned out to be quite pretty.

Jello at a party is always a novelty (and usually a hit) and this one would only have been improved with a side of whipped cream. Next time.

 

Happy Birthday to Me (and Bill Cosby)

He may be 49 years older than me but Bill Cosby and I have two things in common: our birthdays and Jell-O. Today I turn 25 and although I'm not having a "quarter life crisis" (eye roll) the last year has certainly been one of change. I'm feeling incredibly thankful for my amazing friends, family, and YOU my dear blog readers. All five of you. I love each and every one of you.

But enough about my birthday, you're here to read about gelatin right? Well for the 4th of July I decided to make some festive star-shaped jigglers. I haven't made jigglers in many, many years and I must admit that it was a little tricky cutting them out.

I may have been a little overambitious because I made a double recipe in one of my jellyroll pans and it was pretty stressful trying to unmold so I could cut out the shapes.

 Cherry Jigglers

Cherry Jigglers

Once I had the massive sheet of jello out of the pan I used a metal cookie cutter to make the stars and I have to say that they were pretty festive.

 Cherry Jigglers 1

Cherry Jigglers 1

Jigglers are super easy to make:

2 1/2 cups of boiling water

2 - 6 oz. packages of Jell-O, any flavor

Just stir the gelatin into the boiling water until completely dissolved and let set in a 9x13 inch pan for at least 4 hours. Unmold and cut into squares or whatever shape your heart desires.

I served my Cherry Jell-O stars with blueberries and Cool-Whip because that's just how you do things on the 4th of July.

 Cherry Jigglers 3

Cherry Jigglers 3

Now, enjoy this classic Jell-O Jiggler commercial from before I was even born:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XX1H9Lq0438&w=425&h=349]

Happy Molding!

Jello Pretzel Salad

So I'll admit that "jello," "pretzel," and "salad" aren't usually words that you hear together nor do they sound very appetizing but this is one of the tastiest jello recipes I've ever made. The salty pretzels, the smooth cream cheese, and the sweet jello is so, so good. I've seen various versions of this recipe pop up from time to time in recipe books and online but I decided to use this recipe to start from.

Jello Pretzel Salad

Editor's Note: Recipe updated June 28, 2016 with minor adjustments

2 cups of crushed pretzels (not too fine, but no huge chunks)

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3/4 cup of butter (a stick and a half. I know. but trust me)

1-6 oz. box of Strawberry Jell-O

2 cups of fresh sliced strawberries (or whatever fruit you'd like to add)

1-8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened 

1 cup of sugar

1-8 oz carton of Cool Whip

First, grease a 9x13 inch pan (I only made half a batch so I used a smaller pan in my photos). Then melt the butter and mix in the crushed pretzels and brown sugar. Press the pretzel mixture into the pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Next, dissolve the package of Strawberry Jell-O into 1 cup of boiling water and then slowly stir in 2 cups of cold water. Add the sliced strawberries and put the jello in the fridge to firm up a bit. You don't want it to be runny but definitely still stir-able. Got it? Good.

On to the creamy layer. Beat the cream cheese with the sugar until smooth. This is important! You don't want a lumpy layer. Blend in the Cool Whip and then spread the mixture on top of the cooled pretzel layer. Make sure this layer extends all the way to the edge! You need to create a "seal" between the pretzels and jello. The last thing you want is soggy pretzels. Blech.

Carefully pour the jello and strawberry mixture onto the creamy layer and refrigerate at least a few hours. This dish is best served within 48 hours or the pretzels start to get a little...soggy. And like I said before, the last thing you want is soggy pretzels.

Did any of you eat this delightful salad growing up? I want to hear your family recipes!

Happy molding!