Fresh cranberry relish combined with gelatin and shaped in an attractive mold will add pizazz to the Thanksgiving feast yet still not deviate from the traditional foods most people expect to be a part of this holiday meal. The same is true of a white and wild rice mixture, formed in a ring mold, with the center full of Brussels sprouts.
Molding foods into attractive shapes is nothing new but can be relied upon to achieve a more formal or special effect. Molded foods also offer convenience, since most may be prepared in advance.
Any utensil that gives a shape to a finished dish can be used as a mold--cake or bread pans, custard cups and fluted bowls, in addition to the many types of standard molds. And almost every food may be molded--one way or another.
After having faded into the background for several years, the technique of using gelatin to mold foods is once again enjoying popularity. This trend also is bringing back old favorite recipes, sometimes with a new twist.
For instance, remember Perfection Salad? The lemon-vinegar tart gelatin with shredded cabbage, celery and carrots won a gelatin cooking contest in 1903, long before mechanical refrigeration put the ice man out of business. Variations have been showing up ever since.
Our 1989 offering substitutes spinach for cabbage and celery root for standard celery. Rather than mixing the ingredients together, they're molded in layers.
Using unflavored gelatin provides the advantage of controlling flavor and sweetening in the finished product. It was also used in the Cranberry Relish Mold, this time flavored with Grand Marnier.
In both these recipes the gelatin is combined with sugar and water, then heated until dissolved. It then must be chilled to the consistency of unbeaten egg whites, 30 to 45 minutes, before the other ingredients are added.
To set gelatin more quickly, place the bowl containing the gelatin in a larger bowl of ice and water and stir until thickened. Or place the container in the freezer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so it chills evenly throughout.
Should the mixture become too solid, it may be remelted by placing the bowl containing the gelatin in a larger one of warm water. Stir occasionally for a minute or less to melt.
After combining it with the other recipe ingredients, the gelatin mixture is poured into a mold and chilled until firm. Rinsing the mold with water or spraying it with non-stick cooking spray before adding the gelatin mixture should not be necessary but may be done if desired.
Avoid using fresh or frozen pineapple, fresh figs, kiwi, papaya, jicama and ginger root as recipe ingredients as these contain enzymes that can break down the proteins in gelatin. Figs, papaya and fresh or frozen pineapple and their juices may be used if boiled for two minutes before adding them to the dissolved gelatin mixture.
To unmold, carefully loosen the gel from the sides of the container with the tip of a sharp, thin-bladed knife. Dip the mold into warm (not hot) water to the depth of the gelatin contents for about five seconds.
Moistening the top of the gelatin and the serving dish with cold water enables the gelatin to be moved after unmolding. Place the serving dish over the mold. Hold the mold and dish firmly together and invert. Shake firmly until the gelatin slips from the mold onto the serving dish. If the gelatin does not come out easily, repeat the procedure.
Not all molded foods require the use of gelatin. Cooked rice has enough natural cohesiveness to hold together after being tightly packed into a buttered mold. It can be kept warm until serving or prepared ahead and reheated before unmolding.
Vegetable custards, also called timbales, are a mixture of eggs, cream and pureed vegetables baked in molds, or darioles. The cooked custard maintains the mold shape when turned out onto individual plates or a platter and offers an attractive serving alternative.
Also included in today's recipes are a take-off on an old favorite, molded tomato aspic with cottage cheese and the ever-popular Conversation Salad.
1989 PERFECTION SALAD
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups water
1/2 cup vinegar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups grated carrots
1 1/2 cups grated celery root
2 cups chiffonnade spinach
Thinly sliced cucumber
Combine gelatin, sugar and salt in large saucepan. Add water. Stir over medium heat until gelatin is dissolved. Stir in vinegar and lemon juice. Chill mixture to consistency of unbeaten egg whites.
Spread carrots in bottom of 8x4-inch loaf pan. Pour 1 1/2 cups gelatin mixture over top. Place pan in freezer until gelatin is set.
Distribute celery root evenly over carrot layer. Pour 1 1/2 cups partially set gelatin over and return pan to freezer until layer is set.
Distribute spinach evenly over celery root layer. Pour remaining partially set gelatin over, up to rim of pan. Refrigerate until firm.