Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Potato and Gelatin Salad: or, Foisting gelatin molds on unsuspecting relatives

We at A Book of Cookrye recently volunteered to bring potato salad to an extended family cookout. Now, to be quite honest I never really cared for potato salad. In fact, I've never actually eaten it before- aside from occasionally tasting it to find out that yep, I still don't like it. Therefore, volunteering to bring it probably surprised everyone as much as if I'd volunteered to smoke a rack of ribs (note: I have never successfully operated a grill in my life and every single person in my family knows it).
But, the reason I made such a generous offer is that I get to make.... this!

Potato Salad Gelatin Mold

1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 tbsp sugar*
1 tsp salt
¼ c room-temperature water
1 c boiling water
¼ c lemon juice
8 stuffed green olives, sliced
3 hard cooked eggs, chopped
4 cups diced cooked potatoes
1 c diced celery
¼ c diced green pepper
¼ c diced pimiento
¼ c chopped green onions
¼ c chopped parsley
1½ tsp salt
1 c mayonnaise
½ c heavy cream, whipped

In a very large bowl (pick one a lot bigger than you think you'll need, otherwise you won't be able to stir everything together without various chopped things flying out all over the countertop), sprinkle gelatin in room-temperature water and let stand for a few minutes until soaked. Mix with boiling water, sugar, and salt, (and a little pepper if desired), stir til combined thoroughly. Add lemon juice.
Add remaining ingredients to gelatin mixture. Pour into mold. Chill till firm.
Makes 8 servings.

*This seemed pointless, so left it out and it tasted fine.
In case you never use pimentos, one of the little 2-oz sized jars of pimentos is either a quarter cup or close enough to it that you can just dump the whole thing in and not have a half-empty jar of pimentos lurking in the back of the refrigerator.
Eight servings is the original recipe's claim. But you should know that this is eight very big servings.

Source: Better Homes & Gardens Salad Book, 1958 via Mid-Century Menu

Yep, spud Jello! I've been reading Mid-Century Menu for quite some time, and  This isn't the first time I served unsuspecting relatives food from the more dreaded parts of culinary history. I've previously brought in foods from Depression-era Britain (a time period which no one wants to taste again). Now, RetroRuth has stated that this recipe may look dreadful and creepy, but it's actually really good. Since we know there are no lies on the Internet, that must mean people will like this potato salad... right? Though in all seriousness, I have made a few other recipes from her site, and she has yet to mislead me when she says whether something's good or not.
Well, let's get on with it, shall we?

I couldn't justify boiling a pot of water long enough to boil a single potato, so this spud got microwaved instead. As a brief note on cooking technique, we at A Book of Cookrye do not understand why people bother peeling potatoes beforehand which is maddeningly tedious and also sends so much of the potato into the trash can. After it's cooked, you can just pick the skin off with your fingers in a few seconds. And as you can see, there's practically zero wasted potato clinging to the skin.

For the record, we're cutting this recipe in half. The original calls for four cups of potatoes. Four cups of potato is one quart, and that's before we get to all the other things.  Since we are not making potato salad to serve fifty, this recipe is getting a teeny bit downscaled.

Interesting thing about boiling eggs is that absolutely everyone we've met who does it uses a different method which they swear by. Yet no two people we've ever met do it the same way. We at A Book of Cookrye, since we never really liked boiled eggs, didn't actually even try to make them until well after we could legally buy alcohol. It's really hard to make them because you can't test them to see if they're done- you find out after you cut them open and can't return them to the water if they weren't done yet. After several attempts which either were still runny in the middle or had that bright green ring around the yolk that drives so many people to a fury, we let Delia Smith show us how.
I'm going to guess that a few people reading this are impressed at this perfection, and the rest of you are just like "So what?"

Right, that's the eggs done. If you're not doing the elaborate molded presentation with the flower garnish, the rest of this recipe is just chopping things and stirring them together.
I've been wanting to plant that sprouted sweet potato for some time, but the squirrels in my neighborhood wouldn't let it survive.

All right, so this is where we get to just dump everything in a bowl and call it a potato salad. Or so I thought. I checked the ingredients list and saw it called for whipped cream. I remembered to buy it the night before, but I hadn't actually whipped it. I thought about getting out the electric mixer, but since we're cutting this recipe in half, that bowl contains only a quarter cup of cream. Was it really worth setting up the power tools? Besides, I've seen all those cookbooks that say that it comes out so much nicer if you do it by hand.
That's barely enough cream to cover the bottom of a relatively tiny soup bowl.

For those who haven't tried  hand-whisking cream themselves, it is not as hard as you may think. This took five minutes. However, five minutes of unceasingly stirring something really hard will still give you a sore wrist. I mean, it's feasible, and I guess hand-beating cream is easy enough that you can do it without really exhausting yourself, but unless your mixer has suddenly burned out and you need to have whipped cream before you have time to replace your dead appliance, I wouldn't bother.

Really, what annoyed me the most was that I couldn't just buy the just the one quarter cup of cream I needed. No one in Our House of Cookrye uses cream, ever. And cream seems to have a shelf life as short as that of strawberries once you get it home. So it's not like we could keep this partially-used half-pint (the smallest size I could get) until someone someday needed it. But to prevent waste, I just made whipped cream and popped it in the freezer. If you take away nothing else from this post, please leave with this: You can make whipped cream, just put it in the freezer, and it will turn into absolutely delicious ice cream. And you can easily make very tiny batches and experiment with truly weird ideas; if something turns out terrible, you can at least have used very little ingredients or time making it.
And so, waste has become dessert!

Right, um, let's move away from delicious and easy homemade ice cream and go back to potato gelatin.

Sitting next to each other on top are the whipped cream and the mayonnaise. Now, the latter is what I was the very least excited about putting in this.One of the reasons I do not like potato salad at all is that it has so much mayonnaise. While mayonnaise is a perfectly lovely ingredient, it's not something I want to eat big globs of. And here I just plopped a huge splot of it on top of all those vegetables I spent all that time chopping. I wasn't even worried about the gelatin- after all, Mid-Century Menu has assured me that this is in fact a good potato salad despite the gelatin. And she never steered me wrong when I tried a recipe of hers before. Even the chocolate cake with canned tomato soup in it, as bizarrely wrong as that sounds, was so good I served that to people without telling anyone what was in it and people fought over slices and demolished the whole thing.
Speaking of gelatin, I forgot to add it. Like any good secret ingredient, it hid under everything else as soon as I dumped it in, leaving behind  only a glistening trail of pepper flecks as it made its way to the bottom of the bowl.

See? Practically invisible. You'd never know it's there. Actually, nothing looked wrong with this salad until you stirred it together and it turned to glop.

This isn't potato salad, this is a soup! As already mentioned, I am no potato salad expert, but I always thought they should not be a bunch of cold things swimming in white goop. But I was only slightly worried. I told myself that this is almost exactly what this recipe looked like on Mid-Century Menu- hers turned into this pathetic goop just like mine, and in the end it was so firm she could unmold it and the little vegetable designs she put on top stayed in place. Besides, once I got it in a container, it didn't look so bad. It especially looked all right in photographs, which don't show you how runny it is.

Heck, from the side, it even looks exactly like what one might purchase by the tub at the supermarket on the way to a cookout.

The next day, it looked exactly the same as the night before. But the gelatin had been very busy all night. It looked like a perfectly innocent potato salad. The only way anyone could tell something was abnormal was if they decided to flip the container upside down.
Please note the potato salad's severe violation of the law of gravity. This is why you always serve potato gelatin in an upright container. Seeing a salad successfully resist the laws of physics can unnerve guests.

I must admit I chickened out at the end of this recipe, and did not unmold the salad from its container. In my defense, this is a simple case of knowing your audience. In this case, these were my relatives, and they do not like it when a potato salad can stand up on its own.
But I think word did get out, because an awful lot of people were asking what's in it in slightly suspicious tones. However, the gelatin was not as obvious as you might think. Sure, this was the first potato salad I've ever seen that you could cut in slices like a cake, but it didn't have that jiggliness one associates with gelatin molds. In case you doubt my word on how good this is, over half of the potato salad was gone, which is a pretty good rate for a side dish at a cookout. Even those who didn't like boiled eggs ate a full portion of it. This is how much salad was gone by that evening:

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Book of Cookrye goes south!

As previously mentioned, we at A Book of Cookrye pounced on some steeply discounted plane tickets to go to...

Indeed, we went to Charlotte to visit friends! This is actually the first time I've been to what people near-unanimously agree is the Deep South. Granted, I once journeyed to New Orleans which people definitely agree is very Southern, but New Orleans is this distinct mix of French and American that really doesn't exist outside of Louisiana.
Fun fact: I managed to buy up every roll of ISO 1600 color film in New Orleans because Fujifilm had just discontinued it right before I went there.

At any rate, apparently I am fated to return to Charlotte, as the construction signs proclaim that the airport is already preparing for my next arrival!
"It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression 'As pretty as an airport.'" -Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

All right, obviously no one's actually renovating an airport just for A Book of Cookrye. That's just one of the many references to Queen Charlotte in the city. Not only is she the city's namesake, but she's also a sort of municipal mascot. Which I find deliriously amusing, given that she was the wife of King George III, who (for those of you who are not from the US) is the chief villain and all-around bad guy in American retellings of the war for independence from Britain.If you're not from the US, you may not understand how much spite gets dumped on him in our history books. He's right up there with Satan and the guy who shot John Lennon. So, to discover that an American city made a mascot of his wife caused us no small amount of snerk.
But we at A Book of Cookrye, though we thought we were going to Charlotte, actually barely stayed there long enough to drive right out of town to where our friends live. Since we live in a region that exists in perpetual drought, we were utterly stunned at how green it is once you leave the city.

It's so green, even the cell towers have bushy green needles!
See if you can spot the point where my friends realized that I really do take a picture of anything.

Granted, they don't look like healthy pines so much as they resemble the artificial Christmas tree someone bought in 1972 that has been shedding bristles ever since. But doesn't it blend right into the surrounding forest?
Though in all seriousness, Carolina really is gorgeously green once you leave the city. It even smells like pine and flowers when you step outside. This is the apartment complex my friends live in. Keep in mind, this isn't a super-upperclass area with a small army of gardeners on retainer. Things grow so well here, this is low-budget, almost-minimum-effort gardening.
Sure, it's unimaginative 1970's construction, but the trees make it so lovely.

All right, enough of the great outdoors (though my raised-in-a-drought-zone self couldn't believe how lovely it is). This is A Book of Cookrye, not A Book of Botanye. And we are in Carolina, where the gas stations have drive-thrus!

I should note that we first stopped at a semi-posh restaurant but I kind of had to leave. You see, I've been broke with irregular income for so long, I unintentionally learned how to read the prices on a menu without seeing anything else printed on it. Furthermore, I am not what one might call fit for being seen in high-class establishments. All the people who can actually afford such places always glance over their tables at me with some very expensive stink-eye. I'm sure that the place was lovely, but I panicked from the combination of the expense and the judgemental patrons and couldn't order anything more than one of the cheapest, tiniest plates from the list of side dishes. So what did we find instead?

Now this is America!

Indeed, we were taken to Sheetz, which has yet to open a location in our state. One of their gimmicks is using the letter Z wherever possible on their menus and price signs.

 The further you get from Mexico, the more interesting the burritos get.

To be fair, they didn't even try to call them Mexican, instead calling this the Mexican-American. Also, to be fair, a chili-cheese-Tater Tot burrito is probably insanely delicious. Also, this gas station had Cheerwine (which is only sold in a tiny region of the US) and its even rarer diet cousin.
And with that, a new addiction was born!


But enough of gas station restaurants. Naturally, few people can go en voyage for a week and eat out the whole time. And so, we were taken to Publix! That chain has yet to venture to my region of America, so this was quite the cultural experience. First, they have a very creative and amazing floral department.

In case you forgot this is the south, they sold cast-iron skillets right alongside the other pots and pans. And these are the deep ones that you can use for all the usual skillet things, plus deep-frying.

Had I not had to consider the price of checking a second suitcase, I might have gotten one of these adorable blue-green things.

Furthermore, what should have equal shelf-space with the pickle relish but these:

I've only seen chow chow sold at either the folksiest of farmers' markets or the foofiest of foofy grocery stores. But here it is right next to the pickled eggs floating in a mysterious magenta fluid (side note: who eats pickled eggs?)
Also of note, has anyone else noticed that Jimmy Buffet is turning into a vertically-integrated business entity that may come to rival Disney? He has multiple Margaritaville resorts, Margaritaville casinos, Margaritaville restaurants, Margaritaville clothes... he has even invaded the frozen dinner aisle.
What do you think Jimmy Buffet would have branded himself with had Margaritaville not been such a big radio hit?

You have to give the man credit. Walt Disney had to create multiple movies and characters before he could make an empire out of them. Jimmy Buffet has managed to do the same thing on just one pop song.
Now, since we were in Publix, which I am told is renowned for their sandwich counter, my friends wanted to treat me to one of these apparently famous deli creations. But I quaked at the prices and we ended up getting this instead.

 My friends would come to regret taking me to the next (slightly cheaper) supermarket as soon as I saw the name...

If you didn't the last time we mentioned it, say "Harris Teeter" out loud. You almost inevitably end up with a southern accent about halfway through "Teeter" unless you really carefully enunciate. And if you do that, you end up sounding a lot more prim than anyone saying "Harris Teeter" ever should.
Just to prove that they're dead serious about the name, they even put it in the floor tiles.
This is extraordinarily fine craftsmanship for a supermarket floor.

This is such a happy store. They put this right in front of the door to greet who might soever walk in:

Indeed, you might even say the sparks flew as we entered!

In true Southern fashion, they had some passive-aggressive commentary in the grocery store signage. I detect a bit of amusement aimed at those who purchase things like kombucha, coconut water, and aloe juice:
"Those dern hippies or hipsters or whatever they are now--- and their new age drinks!"

I forgot that not only I was in the south, but I was (nearly) on the East Coast until I happened to pass through the beer section:

Oh Yuengling. How I do miss being within your distribution zone. Even if the guy currently running the company is an unrepentant douche.
Elsewhere in the Harris-Teeter, we found what must be the poshest egg selection I've ever been allowed to see:

Real actual quail eggs! Duck eggs! Eggs from those chickens who make blue eggshells!
You know what? All this fanciness and high-class stuff is getting a bit overwhelming, so why not leave the expensive refrigerator case for the sodas? Surprisingly, these were priced about the same as what one might pay for a bottle out of a vending machine rather than painfully expensive.

As a side note, it seems that semi-upscale sodas sweetened with sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup have become popular enough that even the cheaper supermarkets sell them.

Back to Harris-Teeter, where I mortified my friends with my excessive taking of pictures!
You may be thinking that A Book of Cookrye has never featured such high-tax-bracket groceries unless they were a manager's special. And you would be right! Our grocery cart looked less like quail eggs and more like this:

Particularly observant readers may notice the one not-store-brand item we decided our wallet would permit. Perhaps it is an extravagance, but have you ever had a Cheerwine float?

However, perhaps one is not in the mood for cooking at home. Indeed, one of the nice things about going abroad is that the food gets different. However, before going out in public, we had to first stop and wash clothes, whereupon I was treated to perhaps one of the most elegant, simple, and creative acts of laundromat vandalism I've ever had the privilege of seeing.

And so, we at A Book of Cookrye went to our first actual restaurant that wasn't a service counter in a supermarket or a gas station!
Since this is America, dining adventurously does not require exiting the car.

Guess which of these two cups is a large!

Incidentally, it is true that iced tea in the south is so sweet you can pour it on pancakes.
All right, we've gotten lovely drive-thru, we've dined at gas stations, and we've cooked for ourselves! Why not go out in public?
Indeed, there are so many things to see, like one of the first Krispy Kremes to open in America. This location has ridden the meteoric rise of Krispy Kreme, survived the severe Krispy Kreme crash that followed, and continued selling "hnuts" 24 hours a day for decades.

Elsewhere during daylight hours, we passed by this pizza place that inspired some surprisingly passionate rants about the lousy food. I do think it's adorable that they used one of those cheap Tiffany pizza-parlor lamps for their logo.

But all too tragically soon, this visit came to an end, and all my things had to go right back into the cases.
When your suitcase is the color of the seventies, no one ever wants to try to rob you.

But there was one consolation to having bid goodbye to close friends and air so clean it smelled like pine and honeysuckle: I had stashed in my case some gift cards to places where I never allow myself to spend my own money.
This more than made up for waiting at the gate in those uncomfortable chairs.

And with that, we at A Book of Cookrye were whisked through the air back home!