joys of jello cake

Jell-O Crown Jewel Dessert Cake | Mad Men Blog Party & Giveaway

The final mini season of Mad Men starts Sunday night and I’m sadder than Lois Sadler sent back to the switchboard. Not only do I think Mad Men is one of the best shows on television, but the emphasis on good dialogue makes it the perfect kitchen companion — looking up isn’t critical unless Pete and Trudy are doing the Charleston or Roger shows a little cheek. The tinkle of Don’s ice cubes, that satisfying SNAP each time Betty Draper closes her purse, Sally’s lisp turning into sullen teen monotone, the never-ending smarm of Harry Crane, the clacking typewriters, and terrific jazzy score…  Mad Men, you’ve been a true pleasure.

But let’s not leave the 1960s behind just yet, hm? I know I wasn’t ready, so when the lovely and talented Carrie Burrill from Bakeaholic Mama asked if I’d like to participate in a Mad Men Blog Party & Giveaway, I couldn’t resist!

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Harwich Hermits

I am always on the hunt for old regional cookbooks, and naturally, I keep my eyes extra peeled for books celebrating the hearty and molasses-laden foods of my beloved New England.

When I find them, they usually aren’t in any shape to be used in the manner in which they were intended. Measurements are clunky (a teacup of butter), ingredients are dated (one yeast cake), and sometimes the amount of lard called for makes me shudder, but I still buy them.

Then sometime I get lucky and come across a book like this one, “New England Cookbook” by Eleanor Early, a 1954 gem that is old enough to be vintage, but new enough to be relevant. Better than its functionality, however, is its authoress. Eleanor writes with chatty charm that makes you want to lean in close. Each of the chapters has a fact-filled, amusing, and entertaining introduction, and nearly all of the recipes that follow have an anecdotal preface — something I love in a cookbook. Recipes are supposed to have a heartbeat and tell a story.

For example, before giving a recipe for Chicken Soup, Eleanor recounts the following tale:

I had a letter the other day from a friend in a reminiscent mood. The first paragraph was startling:

“So you’re going to do a cookbook…I remember the day you showed me how to make a lamb stew out of a bone I was going to give to Mrs. Harris’ dog, and the night you salvaged some chicken carcasses at Marie’s dinner party. With your New England thrift, I bet it will be a mighty economical book…”

The day I cheated Mrs. Harris’ dog has slipped my mind, but I do remember the chicken carcasses. Those chickens had not been picked at all. It would have been a sin and a shame to throw them away, and I took them home to make a lovely soup. Later I heard that some of the guests thought I was a little queer, although anybody who has ever made a good chicken soup knows that the richest stock comes from a meaty carcass.

You tell ’em Eleanor. I want to meet her for lunch, pull off my gloves by the fingertips, and have a serious discussion about how many potatoes are too many when it comes to chowder.

Some of the dishes have wonderful, weird names — things like Rum Tum Tiddy, Fannie Daddies, Sparkin’ Pie, and Jolly Boys. Still others are classic New England — Boiled Dinner, Johnny Cakes, Shaker Donuts, Red Flannel Hash, and Toll House Cookies.

As usual, I started a list to tuck into the front cover.

I could have opened up the book anywhere (well, anywhere but the chapter titled “Meat as the Yankees Cook It”) but I chose to start with Harwich Hermits. I love the spicy, molasses flavor of hermit cookies — a popular seafaring New England cookie  noted for its ability to last on long voyages — but had never made them myself. This recipe, named after the town of Harwich on Cape Cod, seemed like as good a place as any to start.

Don’t mind my unruly parchment.

The finished cookies (which are actually more like brownies in texture) were chewy, spicy, and packed with old-fashioned molasses and raisins flavor.  A perfect treat with a mug of coffee or glass of milk. Vintage cookbook success!

I am already looking forward to my next culinary date with Eleanor!

Harwich Hermits
Adapted from “New England Cookbook” by Eleanor Early (1954)

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup molasses
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup raisins, chopped
1/2 cup currants, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease or line a 9″ baking pan with parchment.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and spices. Place the raisins and currants in a small bowl and toss with a tablespoon (or as needed) of the flour mixture until the fruits are lightly coated. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and molasses and continue to beat.
  4. Add the flour mixture gradually until just combined. Fold in the raisins, currants, and nuts.
  5. Spread the mixture evenly into the pan and bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until deep golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. Cut into squares or bars while still warm.

View and print the recipe for Harwich Hermits.

Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake

I recently had the pleasure of reading Bonny Wolf’s “Talking with My Mouth Full” – a collection of memoir-style food essays that she describes as “kitchen stories” on topics ranging from Jell-O, aprons, fair food, southern BBQ, latkes, and many more – all with a few recipes.  Bonny feels the exact same way about the significance of food as I do, and she expresses it in a way that makes me teary if it’s late and I have had a glass of wine.

We cook and eat for comfort, nurture, and companionship.  We cook and eat to mark the seasons and celebrate important events.  We cook and eat to connect with family and friends and with ancestors we never knew.  And through this baking and breaking bread together, we come to know who we are and where we came from. – Bonny Wolf 

In an early chapter, Wolf shares her fond memories of a universally loved Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake from her days as a young bride.  In true 1970’s form, the recipe is of the shortcut variety, taking advantage of mixes and chocolate syrup to help the baker assemble the cake quickly and with essentially guaranteed results. 

As the 20th century picked up speed, things like prepared foods, mixes, and frozen vegetables became an acceptable way to manage the demands of working wife and homemaker.  But then, as preservatives, trans-fats, and high fructose corn syrup became higher and higher on the ingredients list, “convenience food” fell out of fashion.  There is pressure today to do things all-homemade, all-organic, all of the time. 

When crunched for time, I will sometimes doctor up a cake mix, but then I apologize profusely for not having time to do it “all from scratch.”  Homemade is arguably better, but that doesn’t mean a little contextual love shouldn’t be aimed the cake mix’s way.  Items like mixes, syrups, flavorings, and pre-made pie crusts are an enormously important part of culinary history and deserve their occasional place on the cake plate.  Wolf made her 1970’s Chocolate Pistachio Bundt sound so delicious, I knew I had to make it and taste for myself.

Which is what brought me to these three darlings.  Hello Mix 1, Mix 2, and Bottle 3.

I tried to at least balance things out a little with the organic chocolate syrup. 

Well, as expected the cake was a snap to put together, and came out perfect.  I brought it into work, sifted some powdered sugar on top, and set it out in the kitchen.

I kid you not, the entire cake was gone in an hour, and my office isn’t that big.  One of my co-workers even told me it was her favorite thing I had ever brought it.  I said, “Well, that’s cake-mix-moistness for you!”

I actually said “moistness” and I wasn’t joking.  Who am I?!

I am someone who likes a good slice of cake mix-pudding mix-chocolate syrup Bundt cake from time to time.  No gooey frosting, no melting scoop of ice cream – just a sprinkling of powdered sugar on a cake so moist you could use it to finger paint.

Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake
Adapted from “Talking with My Mouth Full” by Bonny Wolf

Ingredients
1 box (18.5 oz.) yellow or white cake mix
1 box (3.5 oz.) pistachio instant pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. almond extract
3/4 cup chocolate syrup
Powdered sugar

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a Bundt pan liberally with non-stick cooking spray.
  • In a large bowl combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water, orange juice, vegetable oil and almond extract. Mix together until smooth.
  • Transfer 1 cup of cake batter into a small bowl, then add the chocolate syrup.
  • Pour the pistachio cake mix batter into the Bundt pan, and then top with spoonfuls of the chocolate flavored batter. Using a knife, gently swirl the chocolate and pistachio cake mix batters together. Do not over mix!
  • Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then carefully turn onto a plate and top with sifted powdered sugar.

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Bread Pudding

When I came home from King Arthur Flour this week I brought 2 loaves of bread, several scones, a fruit tart, and savory tomato pie.  I tried to eat fast and share the wealth, but that was an awful lot of bread…

Fortunately, stale bread doesn’t mean bad bread.  It can easily be reinvented as a dessert of bread pudding when cubed and mixed with milk, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, and raisins.

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Blueberry Buckle

Can you guess what I love the most about Blueberry Buckle?

If you guessed the name itself…you are right.  I love foods with weird names.  Blueberry Buckle is allegedly called “buckle” because while it bakes the batter rises, but the berries and crumb topping weigh it down.  This causes the surface of the cake to buckle…hence the name.

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“Hot Doggities” Veggie Dog Bites

I love food ads in mom magazines from the 60s and 70s.  How could I not when it means I encounter things like these Kellog’s/Reynolds “Hot Doggities”?

I eat a lot of veggie dogs.  On the grill or sautéed in a skillet, I eat them in buns and add them to omlettes and batches of veggie chili.  Hot dogs aren’t gross if you know they contain zero mysterious “meats”. 

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