1.14.2006

Adventures in Vegan Gelatine

First, don't get any ideas. This stuff is horrible and evil. It is in no way worth it. Vegetarians and vegans really aren't missing that much when it comes to Jell-o, I mean it's not foie gras or anything (although in related news I was reading stuff today about veg pate and I thought, 'hmmmm'. No, I never learn any lessons. Never).

And I certainly didn't attempt it because a vegetarian or vegan has requested it. It was a self-assignment inspired by a Christmas Party I was co-hosting. The theme, Classis Holiday Foods of the 50's, in turn inspired by the Sandwich Loaf post over at Food Migration a few months back. (I did make the Sandwich Loaf. I loved the frosting, most people couldn't bring themselves to eat it, but one guy (from Spain if that means anything) ate several slices. Thick slices.) One vegetarian was expected to attend, and I just like to play around with things. So there had to be jello dishes, and they had to be weird and fun, and they had to be vegan.

Now, if you are anything like me, you are right now thinking, "Well, maybe she made it wrong. Maybe I can do it right." And I admit, you could be right, and I would like to hear about it. But I give you fair warning that this is not a worthwhile experiment or experience. Three evenings of failed vegan gelatine making later, I had one successful batch (and several terrible batches that I had to use anyway). It was fine. But ultimately, it was jello. And jello is just not worth it.

A couple trips to some health food stores, and I was the proud owner of some Agar Agar, with is a seaweed substance. You can use some other things, Google my trusty Internet steed led me to Agar Agar. Agar Agar is also responsible for a lot of Asian gummy jelly things. Some of these are very good - some are horrid. But a lot are vegan!

What I was attempting to make is this:

Called broken glass dessert, cut class dessert, stained glass dessert, or crown jewel dessert. Actually, looking at it right now I wish I had a couple boxes of Jello and some Cool Whip to make it for real. It's just so fun looking!

You make two or three different colors of jello, let them cool and solidify, then cut them into teeny little cubes. Then, make a fourth batch, let it cool a bit, mix it up well with Cool Whip, then mix in all those cubes. Press it into a loaf pan or other appropriate container and let that solidify.

In vegan gelatine making, you take fruit juice, simmer it with several tablespoons of Agar Agar for a little while, then treat it like jello. First up, cranberry juice. Wonderful, worked the first time, solidified to a normal texture, tasted like cranberry juice, was a pleasingly clear red, just like jello.

And then everything went terribly terribly wrong.

My plan was to make red and green - for cheesy Christmas effect. For the green, I was going to use white cranberry juice and color it green.

First attempt: never solidified. Put it back on the heat and stirred in a lot more agar agar. Still never solidified.

2nd attempt: started from scratch, used a crap load of agar agar, decided to throw in the green food coloring only when it showed signs of solidifying. It never did.

3rd attempt: decided it might be the white cranberry juice. Decided to use sugar dissolved in water and a crap load of agar agar. Well, it worked. Much much too well.


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I made this photo very big but texture is hard to discern from photos. These cubes were solid. I mean very very very solid. You could bite into them and all, and chew them. But who wants to chew jello? It is supposed to just sort of slither down your throat. And the taste was not just sweet sugar as I had planned, but weird Asian gummy x50.

But I had my jello cubes, and no more days and no more agar agar, so I forged ahead.

Here I am mixing the cool whip in (made with the red cranberry juice so a. it would work, b. it would taste better, and c. for happy chrustmas pinkness).

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When it was solid, I turned it out, frosted it with more cool whip, and decorated it with red and green marachino cherries.
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Here is a slice. Looks great! But don't be fooled . . .

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Thus ends the saga of vegan gelatine. No one could eat it at all. As you can see, it would have been worth it because cut glass dessert is the coolest.

I am fine with failure (obviously, otherwise I wouldn't put this stuff on the web), mostly I learn something in the process and turn around and try the dish with modifications again. This time, though, the failure didn't inspire future attempts. Maybe there's a lesson in there about white cranberry juice. But I think the take-away lesson today for all you kids at home - don't bother.

1.02.2006

Responsible Seafood Eatin'

seafoodwatch

My sis and I picked up these handy dandy little wallet sized guides to environmentally friendly seafood eating a few years back at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and have been blissfully whipping them out in restaurants and fish stores ever since. The fish are organized into three lists: Good, OK, and Avoid, depending on their abundance and the method in which they are caught or farmed.

What we didn't realize, however, is that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is even cooler than we thought because these guides are regional. We picked up new ones at the Naples Zoo and finally noticed. And then we also noticed we could go online and print out ones that are specific to the Northeast. So now we have a little collection - west coast, southeast, and the relevant one: northeast.

So go on, all y'all environmentally conscientious eaters: Monterey Bay Aquarium has taken a lot of the work and research and remembering out of ordering seafood and fish. Also included is a lot of helpful information, about how they reach their conclusions and what it all means.