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Make It a Mold!

Try these retro dishes to add a little coolness to summer
July 21, 2005 - Ethel Hofman, Jewish Exponent Feature

The Jewish Kitchen

Back in the 1960s, gelatin ruled. Everything was jellied - chicken, tuna, vegetables, fruit - and molded. Young brides got rather creative; the molds came in endless variations: sweet and savory; layered and crammed with fruit, vegetables and nuts; vibrant, shimmering and creamy for dessert.

As I thumb through my old collection of food-stained recipe cards, I find directions for Salmon Mousse (standard at every summer luncheon), Diced Chicken in Tomato Aspic (when I wanted to impress) and for kids, Choc-Straw Dessert.

Gelatin - a tasteless, odorless substance extracted by boiling bones, hoofs and animal tissue - is considered nonkosher by some authorities because it's often made from nonkosher animals. Other Jews consider it okay to eat because they feel the substance has changed sufficiently in the manufacturing process.

Nevertheless, in the 1980s, a product came on the market called "kojel" - a vegetarian kosher gelatin made from agar, carrageen and other vegan emulsifiers. And it opened up a whole new culinary vista for observant Jews.

As an ingredient, gelatin was invented in 1845 by Peter Cooper, though the new product didn't catch on until a cough-syrup manufacturer added it to his line of products and officially called it "Jell-O." When Elizabeth King became the "Jell-O girl" in advertisements - assuring mothers that it was easy to fix and great for kids - the product took off. The rest is history.

In these days of retro fashion, gelatin molds have made a comeback. Best of all, they can be made ahead of time, making them all the more enticing for busy cooks.

For a main course, try the Salmon-Cucumber Mousse or the Lebanese Chicken in Aspic. Add to that some warm rolls, a salad of shredded romaine with dried cranberries and almonds, along with a glass of Chablis, and you have the perfect beat-the-heat meal. To finish it off, scoop Lavender-Scented Melon Mold into parfait glasses. Crown with nondairy topping or, for a dairy meal, splurge with a dollop of rich, sweet whipped cream.

Some quick hints:

• If not using a mold, use a clear glass bowl to show off colorful food layers.

• Follow recipe directions! Flavored and unflavored gelatin are dissolved by different methods.

• Before pouring ingredients into the bowl or mold, you can very lightly grease the mold itself with mayonnaise.

• Let gelatin mixture thicken to consistency of an unbeaten egg-white before adding fruit, vegetables, nuts, etc. If using canned fruit, drain well to avoid diluting the gelatin; in fact, use a bit less water when you make the gelatin (or use some of the canned juice, which makes it sweeter).

• To speed up thickening, place mold in the freezer or in a bowl of ice-water. Remove as soon as mixture starts to thicken.

• To unmold: Loosen edges with a round bladed knife, then soak a kitchen towel in hot water, wring out, and press around the mold and into any depressions. Place a plate on top of the mold. Holding tightly, invert the whole thing. If gelatin does not slide out, dip mold in warm water for a few seconds, loosen edges and invert again.

Salmon-cucumber Mousse (Dairy)

1/4 cup cold water
1 envelope (1/4 oz.) unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup boiling water
2 Tbsps. lemon juice
1 can (16 oz.) salmon, well-drained
1 small sweet onion, cut in chunks
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. paprika
2 Tbsps. snipped fresh dill
11/2 cups seeded, diced cucumber
lemon slices/dill fronds for garnish

Sprinkle the gelatin over 1?4 cup cold water. Let stand 2 minutes. Pour 1/4 cup boiling water over. Stir to dissolve. Stir in the lemon juice. Set aside.

Place onion in the food processor and chop coarsely. Add the salmon, mayonnaise, cream, gelatin mixture and paprika. Process until smooth. Pour into a bowl. Refrigerate till mixture begins to thicken.

Fold in the dill and cucumber. Transfer to a 6-cup bowl or into a 1.5-quart fish mold. Refrigerate until set. Unmold.

Garnish with lemon slices and dill fronds (optional). Serve with crackers or sliced cucumber.

Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 158; protein, 8 g; carbohydrates, 4 g; fat, 12 g; cholesterol, 49 mg; sodium, 319 mg.

Lebanese Chicken Salad in Aspic (Meat)

cold water
1 envelope (1/4 oz.) unflavored gelatin
boiling water
1/4 tsp. hot sauce
11/2 cups diced cooked chicken
2 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsps. snipped chives
1 package (3 oz.) orange-flavored gelatin
11/2 cups coleslaw, drained
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 package (3 oz.) lemon-flavored gelatin
11/2 cups tabbouleh, drained well

Spray a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Pour 1/2 cup cold water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the unflavored gelatin over top. Let stand for 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour boiling water over top. Stir to dissolve completely. Stir in the hot sauce. Refrigerate to thicken slightly.

In the meantime, gently combine the chicken, egg and chives. Fold into thickened gelatin. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Refrigerate to set.

In a large bowl, dissolve orange gelatin in 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir in 3/4 cup cold water, the coleslaw and cumin. Chill until beginning to thicken. Stir and pour over the chicken layer. Refrigerate to set.

Dissolve the lemon gelatin in 1 cup boiling water, then stir in 1/3 cup cold water. Chill until beginning to thicken.

Stir in the tabbouleh and pour over the coleslaw layer. Refrigerate until set. When completely firm, run a knife around the edges and unmold.

Serves 8 to 10.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 226; protein, 12 g; carbohydrates, 35 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 63 mg; sodium, 217 mg.

Chocolate Bavarian Cream (Dairy)

1/4 cup cold water
1 envelope (1/4 oz.) unflavored gelatin
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 squares (2 oz.) unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp. orange extract
chocolate curls or orange slices (optional)

Spray a 4-cup mold with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water. Set aside.

Mix the egg yolks and sugar together in the top of a double boiler. Add the milk, whisking to blend. Cook over hot water, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.

Add softened gelatin, stirring till dissolved. Whisk in melted chocolate. Cool.

Whip the cream, add orange extract and fold into egg mixture. Spoon into prepared mold or into parfait glasses. Chill.

Garnish with some chocolate curls or orange slices (optional).

Serves 4 to 5.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 378; protein, 6 g; carbohydrates, 27 g; fat, 30 g; cholesterol, 242 mg; sodium, 49 mg.

Brandied-Peach Rice Mold (dairy)

2 cups boiling water
cold water
2 packages (3 oz. each) peach-flavored gelatin
1 cup rice pudding
3 Tbsps. brandy, divided
2 peaches, thinly sliced

Spray a 6-cup mold or bowl with nonstick cooking spray.

Dissolve 1 envelope of peach gelatin according to package directions, using 1 cup boiling water instead of 2 cups water. Chill until beginning to set.

Stir into rice pudding. Pour into prepared mold or bowl. Refrigerate to set.

Prepare remaining package peach gelatin according to package directions using 1 cup boiling water, 2?3 cup cold water and 2 tablespoons brandy. Chill for 1 hour or beginning to set.

Pour over rice pudding. Refrigerate until set. Unmold.

Garnish with sliced peaches dotted with remaining brandy.

Serves 6 to 8.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 144; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 29 g; fat, 1 g; cholesterol, 4 mg; sodium, 88 mg.

Lavender-Scented Melon Mold (Pareve)

11/4 cups boiling water
2 Tbsps. lavender leaves, packed
1 package (3 oz.) strawberry-flavored gelatin
3/4 cup heavy cream, whipped
2 cups diced honeydew or cantaloupe
1/4 cup, plus 2 Tbsps., toasted slivered almonds, divided

Pour the boiling water over the lavender leaves. Steep for at least 30 minutes at room temp.

Strain, discarding the leaves.

Microwave the lavender-scented liquid to bring to boiling. Pour over the gelatin and stir to dissolve completely. Chill until beginning to thicken.

Fold in the whipped cream, melon and 1/4 cup almonds. (No white streaks should remain.) Pour into a 4-cup mold or bowl.

Refrigerate to set. Unmold.

Garnish with the rest of the toasted almonds.

Serves 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 226; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 20 g; fat, 15 g; cholesterol, 41 mg; sodium, 50 mg.

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