My Grandpa’s Cranberry Jell-O Salad

I know, I know— Jell-O? 

This is exactly the kind of recipe I swore that I would never post on Comfort du Jour. Its use of pre-packaged, artificially flavored and colored gelatin goes against every culinary instinct in my being and I hope you don’t see me as a food snob for saying so. After more than two decades of avoiding highly processed foods (like, um, Jell-O), my body gets raging mad over even a taste of artificial ingredients— usually with a display of symptoms ranging from inflammation and painful joints to headaches and digestive upset. It’s frustrating and kind of weird. But I am the unlucky bearer of an autoimmune disorder, and I just have to deal with it.

They’re trying really hard to make this seem like a health food. News flash: it ain’t!

Despite all of that, I made this recipe and I am sharing it for one reason only: nostalgia.

I ran across this stained, crumpled note in the depths of my recipe box when I was looking for something else last week, and it gave me “all the feels.” You see, my grandpa on my dad’s side shared this recipe with me on one of my visits to see him in his post-retired days in Florida, back when I was oblivious to the effect of the aforementioned highly processed foods. Grandpa was a real character, and I enjoyed visiting him at his home in Cocoa, visiting interesting places such as Cape Canaveral and Ron Jon (the beach shop, which he assured me was the only one of its kind). I loved touring his beautiful rose garden that he tended with fierce dedication, and getting dressed up for dinner with him at some really, ahem, “fancy” establishments.   

This neon-colored, congealed mess of a “salad” is something you’d expect to see in a cafeteria line-up, and that makes a lot of sense if you knew my grandpa. He loved cafeterias and buffets, and I chuckle when I remember the time he was so excited to take me out to eat at a place that he said “serves everything you could ever imagine— steak, pasta, fried chicken, salads, ice cream— all in one restaurant!” He raved about it during the entire car ride, and then he turned into the parking lot for Golden Corral. Thank goodness some high school prom kids came in for dinner that night or I might have felt overdressed!

Sincerely, I miss his fun-loving spirit, and when I shared this recipe with my husband, he commented that it was the first time I’d mentioned my grandpa as a culinary influence. But he wasn’t, really. During the years that my passion for cooking was developing, Grandpa owned and worked on a dairy farm and in his free time (that’s a joke), he also delivered mail on a rural route. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t in the kitchen much at all, except to bring in a fresh pitcher of milk to serve with dinner. He simply didn’t have much extra time, and when he did, we enjoyed fun things like picking peaches and riding in his boat. I was his first grandchild (daughter of his eldest son), and I like to believe I was his favorite. He sure treated me like it, and I suspect that my cousins all felt the same way.

I topped my Jell-O “salad” with sweetened cream mixed with sour cream.
But if you’re fancy like my grandpa, you could use Cool Whip. 😉

It wasn’t until I was a young adult and Grandpa was retired that we started to bond over food. He had made banana bread one morning when I visited, and when I commented on the cranberry Jell-O salad in his recipe box, he told me to write down a copy. This recipe, he said, was a great way to use up leftover cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving. 

I’m sure glad we had some this week. 🙂



My Grandpa's Cranberry Jell-O Salad

  • Servings: About 6
  • Difficulty: So Easy!
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This recipe is pure nostalgia for me, shared a long time ago by my paternal grandfather. It's an easy, fun way to use up leftover cranberry sauce after Thanksgiving.


Ingredients

  • 1 small box flavored gelatin (see ingredient note for suggestions)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows (Grandpa used the pastel multicolored ones)
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • 1 cup leftover cranberry sauce (the whole berry kind)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecan pieces
  • Whipped cream for serving (optional)

Choose a gelatin flavor that will complement your cranberry sauce. If your leftover sauce is on the sweet side, raspberry gelatin works well. For pairing with a tart cranberry sauce, consider cherry, strawberry or orange.

Directions

  1. Stir boiling water into gelatin in a medium size bowl until dissolved. Add miniature marshmallows and stir until they have melted to about half their original size. Add ice and stir to melt. Chill the mixture for about 30 minutes, until partially set.
  2. Stir partially set gelatin to loosen it up. Fold in leftover cranberry sauce and pecans. Transfer mixture to a small square or rectangle glass dish. Smooth the top, place a cover on it and refrigerate until firm.
  3. Cut into squares and top with a dollop of whipped cream.


Les’s Veal & Eggplant Parm

When Terrie asked me a couple of months ago what I wanted for my birthday meal this year, I initially asked her for some kind of lobster, a dish she’s made before that I devoured. But the more I thought about it, the more a different idea bubbled in my head.

Five years ago, on Aug. 27, 2017, my mother died at age 91. It was two days before my birthday, and we chose to have her funeral on Aug. 29, largely at my request because it could be a sort of celebration for relatives who had arrived when she took ill.

With my mom on my mind, I told Terrie I wanted to play chef on my birthday weekend as a tribute to one of the few meals Mom made that I actually loved.

Once or twice a year, Mom would make veal parmigiana in an electric skillet (you know the one, square cast aluminum with the little pinwheel vent thing on top of the lid), and from the moment you walked into the apartment after school, the aroma was so distinct you instantly knew what was happening—a respite from the usual overcooked meat, baked potato and canned vegetables. What we smelled was veal parm, which she served with spaghetti with marinara (Ragu) and Parmesan cheese (Kraft, the familiar green container). Still, for me and my sisters, it was sublime.

When I first began cooking, veal parm seemed like a giant challenge, and I stuck to ordering it in restaurants. Around the same time, as an adult, I discovered the joy of eggplant. Then, one night in an Italian restaurant, I chose a dish called “Veal Sorrentino,” which added a slice of prosciutto between a veal cutlet and eggplant slices, and it was cooked in a pan with white wine sauce and a touch of tomato. Henceforth and forevermore, I knew what I was gastronomically bound to do whenever I wanted veal parm. Combine veal and eggplant.

Now as much as I enjoy veal Sorrentino, I don’t make that at home. Rather, I prefer veal and eggplant as a red sauce parmigiana meal, and, being as we still had lots of fresh tomatoes from our first successful garden in years, I spent a few hours cooking up a marinara on Saturday to go with Sunday dinner. This sauce was similar to the Not Quite Pizza Sauce I shared here a few weeks ago, but without the red bell pepper, and with the onions sautéed and blended right into the sauce. I married this sauce with veal and eggplant, and it was excellent.

Layer upon layer of Italian comfort food.

It helps to have the meal and kitchen counter space planned for this dish, because you need room for all the breading and frying. The first step is slicing a good Italian eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds, salting them on paper towels and letting them sweat for 30 minutes or more. Arrange the plates or containers to be used for preparing the eggplant and veal. My first plate held seasoned flour for dredging the eggplant and cutlets; salt and pepper the latter on both sides. The eggplant, of course, after its salting, won’t need more seasoning.


I used a rectangular Pyrex dish to hold four eggs, beaten. A second Pyrex contained a mix of Italian-seasoned bread crumbs (we actually used seasoned panko crumbs, then used an attachment on our immersion blender to grind them finely) and if you’re bold like we are, add some cheese to it; I used our Parm-Romano blend.

After consulting with Terrie, I decided to use our electric skillet (another nod to Mom, though this stainless All-Clad skillet is nothing like Mom’s old cast aluminum), and got that filled with about 1/2-inch deep canola oil, set to 375° F; the temperature may vary, depending on the vessel you use for frying, but whatever you put into the oil should sizzle and bubble as soon as it makes contact. Keep a roll of paper towels nearby; we used a ton of them catching the cutlets and eggplant as they came out.


During the frying phase, I put the marinara on a back burner at low to warm it and preheated the oven to 350° F. We bought fresh, pre-sliced mozzarella (the kind you’d use for Caprese), so I didn’t need to worry about prepping the cheese.

Once the eggplant and cutlets were fried, it was time to assemble. In a 9-by-13 Pyrex, I ladled healthy spoonfuls of marinara on the bottom, then lay down the cutlets. On top of that went marinara, followed by eggplant, followed by more marinara, followed by mozzarella, with a healthy sprinkling of our Parm-Romano Blend as a final touch.


It baked (under foil for half the time) for about 45 minutes (ovens may vary by a few minutes) and what came out was pretty awesome. Homemade sauce on tender veal and fresh eggplant with a crunch of breading and those savory cheeses—oh yes, the cheeses are my favorite part!

This dish is the ultimate comfort to me.

For hours during and after this birthday meal, the kitchen smelled like my old apartment on 80th Street in Jackson Heights, N.Y., on those rare, but wonderful nights when Mom was making veal parm. The leftovers were pretty damn good, too.

Veal & Eggplant Parm

  • Servings: About 8
  • Difficulty: average
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When it came to dinner growing up, my sisters and I got a lot of the basics: meat, baked potato, canned vegetable. But oh for the once or twice a year when Mom decided to cook one of her specialty dishes—veal parmigiana. That’s the aroma I tried to re-create with my kicked-up version of it, with eggplant and garden-fresh, homemade marinara.


Ingredients

  • 1 medium Italian eggplant. cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • Kosher salt, for sweating the eggplant slices
  • 1 1/2 lbs. veal cutlets
  • 4 large eggs, beaten (for breading)
  • About 1 cup all-purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper (for dredging)
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs (for breading)
  • 1/2 cup Parm-Romano blend or Parmesan (for breading)
  • Vegetable or canola oil, for frying (enough to measure 1/2-inch deep in frying skillet)
  • About 4 cups favorite marinara sauce (see ingredient notes, below)
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced

Use any marinara sauce you like for this recipe. I made one very similar to this one, omitting the roasted red pepper and blending the onions right into the sauce. https://comfortdujour.com/2022/08/26/not-quite-pizza-sauce/

Directions

  1. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on paper towels sprinkled with kosher salt. Sprinkle salt over the top of the slices as well, and let them stand for 30 minutes to remove excess moisture from the eggplant. Wipe them dry with clean paper towels and set aside for breading.
  2. Heat oil in an electric skillet or over medium heat to approximately 375° F.
  3. While the oil comes up to temperature, set up a breading station with three dishes: one containing seasoned flour, a second containing beaten eggs and a third with a mixture of the Italian breadcrumbs and Parm-Romano blend.
  4. Dredge the veal cutlets lightly in flour, shaking off the excess. Dip in the beaten egg, allowing excess to drip off. Coat both sides in the breadcrumb-cheese mixture. Arrange breaded cutlets on a parchment-lined plate.
  5. Repeat the same dredging steps with the sweated eggplant slices.
  6. Fry the cutlets and eggplant until golden on both sides, and set aside on paper towel-lined baking sheet until all are finished. The paper towels will absorb excess oil.
  7. Preheat oven to 350° F, with rack in center position.
  8. Spoon about one cup of the marinara sauce into a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish, and spread it evenly across the bottom. Arrange a single layer of fried veal cutlets over the sauce, and then ladle a generous spoonful of sauce over each cutlet. Arrange the fried eggplant slices over the sauced cutlets, and repeat with another layer of sauce. You should still be able to see the veal and eggplant; don’t try to bury it in sauce. If you have extra marinara, use it to dress some spaghetti or linguine to serve on the side.
  9. Arrange the fresh mozzarella slices evenly over the top of the sauced eggplant. Cover loosely with foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 more minutes, until cheese is golden, bubbly and oozing.



My Favorite Martini

One might look with suspicion at the photos on my smartphone, especially if they didn’t know my backstory or my penchant for showing, rather than telling, what is happening in my life. As I was scrolling my photo roll the other day—looking for a random image of what, I don’t remember—I noticed that I frequently snapped images of mainly three things: bread dough, cats and martinis. Alrighty, then.

Cats have been part of my world for as long as I can remember, and apparently even longer, as I even have a photograph of myself as an infant, with a black and white cat right next to me—a guardian angel, no doubt. Many cats have graced me with their presence and their trust over my lifetime, and I am fascinated by their expressions, their agility and their overall adorableness. I try in vain to capture their essence.

Bread dough has played a major role in my recent life as well, especially after the “birth” of my sourdough starter in 2016. I am fascinated by the development of dough, and humbled that I can be part of the magic that happens in it. I make a lot of bread and I take a lot of pictures of that process.

So what about martinis, and where do they fit in as a most-photographed item? I realized, upon closer inspection, that most of my martini pictures were taken right around 4:30 p.m., the time of day I would regularly wish my Aunt Joy a happy “Happy Hour” across the miles that separate us. However did we manage before texting?

An afternoon martini helped me navigate some of the madness during our kitchen remodel.
Gotta love that blue tape on the door.

In previous years, my happy hour libation would have been a simple glass of wine, and occasionally enjoyed at a wine bar with a girlfriend. But COVID changed everything, and with so much time on my hands for experimenting, the cocktail has had a real renaissance moment at my house. I have dabbled in mixology, trying out different spirits and techniques—even investing in the correct glassware—and my new favorite is definitely the martini. It is simple, but refined. It goes down easy, but not too easy.

I suppose my grandmother had a little something to do with martinis being my chosen cocktail, though I do not remember her ever making them as I do today—gin, shaken with ice and vermouth, sprinkled with bitters and poured into a chilled coupe glass with a skewered, lemon peel-stuffed olive. For her happy hour, Gram simply poured her martini ingredients over ice in a short glass. She made hers with vodka, and always “dirty” with a little bit of briny olive juice, and I don’t remember whether she added vermouth. Maybe if she found it on sale.

The first time I remember sharing a martini with Gram was in Spring 1992 in central Florida, where she and my grandpa retreated each year to escape the brutal upstate New York winters. My week there marked the first time I felt like an adult in my relationship with Gram, but that had nothing to do with the cocktail.

My grandpa had just passed away after a lengthy stay in the hospital, and though my mother had been there to say goodbye, and one of her sisters had stayed a bit longer to spend precious final moments and offer support to Gram, neither was able to stay indefinitely, and Gram was alone when her husband died. Even their snowbird “cronies,” as she called them, had already migrated back to their homes up north. I was living in North Carolina at the time, and I felt compelled, as the geographically nearest relative, to make the 10-hour drive (which is practically nothing, when you’re in your 20s) to be with her. She appreciated my presence, but for most of my visit it seemed clear she did not need it.

We traipsed around town for a few days as if all was normal, visiting the farmers’ market, where we bought fresh tomatoes and cucumbers for all the salads we ate. She taught me how to use the flat edge of a paring knife to loosen the tomato skin for easier peeling, and I still do it that way today. We chatted about my blossoming relationship with my boyfriend at the time, and she beamed with pride as I told stories about my job on the radio. We shared afternoon martinis, including on the day the funeral director dropped by the house to deliver my grandfather’s ashes, and I was astonished that she did not collapse in grief. Then, on the day before I was scheduled to drive home, Gram pulled off the main drag into a gas station lot and I realized the reason for my visit.

“Oops, you’ve stopped on the full-service side, Gram,” I told her, recalling how careful she had always been—and urged me to be—to pinch pennies by clipping coupons, canning her own pickles, stretching out leftovers and stitching handmade clothes. There was no way, I figured, that she intended to pay extra for an attendant to fill her tank. And then she shocked me by explaining that Grandpa had always taken care of gassing up the car and she supposed she’d have to get used to paying more now that he was gone. That’s when I realized that there was an important reason for me to be there. Finally, after so many years of the being the student, I had a chance to teach something new to the best teacher I ever had.

“OK, pull to the other side and step out of the car with me. Today I am going to teach you how to pump gas, Gram.” She was a grateful student.

Would she have appreciated this lesson in martini making? Of course! She’d remark with a lilted voice at how fancy and elegant my version of a martini is, as if I were making a cocktail for the Queen of England (also a martini maven). She would even pretend to hold the stem of a coupe glass very gingerly, with her pinky finger extended.

And then she’d grab a juice glass and pour her own favorite martini, the vodka version, straight over ice.


This is my favorite martini, with orange bitters and occasionally a strip of organic lemon peel.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Fords gin
  • 0.5 oz. Dolin dry vermouth
  • 2 quick shakes Regan’s orange bitters
  • A lemon peel-stuffed olive to garnish
  • Optional strip of organic lemon peel, if you’re feeling extra fancy (or if they’re on sale)

Instructions

First things first, chill down your cocktail glass. Some people like to keep them in the freezer, but I prefer to chill only the bowl of the glass by filling it with ice cubes and a splash of water. Give it a spin with your cocktail pick. Why? It is a law of physics that the ice-in-motion will chill the glass faster than the ice just sitting there.

Next, measure the gin and vermouth into a cocktail shaker, and give it two quick shakes of orange bitters. This may seem unusual, but the bitters play very nicely with my preferred gin and makes the drink feel complete.

Now, cap the shaker and give it a good shaking. Some people prefer to stir a martini to prevent over-diluting it, but I generally prefer to shake it and I have found that using a generous scoop of ice chills it down very quickly, also preventing over-dilution. Don’t shake it violently, just enough to mix the ingredients completely. 20 seconds should do it.

Pour the shaken martini into the chilled glass. I like chilling it with ice because the stem of the glass doesn’t get frosty or slippery from the freezer.

Dump the ice that has been chilling your glass (be sure to let all the water fall out), and strain your beautiful martini right into it. Skewer the olive and drop it into the glass.

Repeat as desired.



On Christmas with Our Grandma

The whole family is abuzz about the ways my Gram made Christmas special. I’ve been reminiscing this season, as I’ve hung on our own tree the precious ornaments Gram gave me throughout my childhood. My aunt coached me through the making of Gram’s molasses cookies, a recipe that was handed down from my great-grandmother. And today, I’m misty-eyed over this sentimental essay shared by my younger cousin, Brad. Our grandmother made an indelible mark on all of us. ❤

Terrie

Christmas conjures memories, often of things from childhood. Like presents received, trips visiting family, or perhaps getting terribly sick with the flu and swearing off mincemeat pie or anything that even smells like it for rest your life. OK, that was a little personal memory. But you get the idea.

Like my cousin, Terrie, I have many fond memories of our grandma. She was a special, kind, fun, silly and loving person to us both. Grandma taught Terrie and me a lot of lessons about cooking, and I say to this day, just as my cousin does, that my love for cooking stems from the many hours spent in her kitchen. 

When I was young, one Christmas tradition was that the week after Thanksgiving, it was time to go spend an entire day at Grandma’s kicking off the Christmas season. I would be dropped off early in the morning and Grandma would have the day planned. It started with me putting up the Christmas village she made at a ceramics shop, which, coincidentally, was owned by family members from my dad’s side of the family. (It was a pretty rural community.)


The village is one of my favorite things to do each holiday season, and I am very particular about the arrangement, the color of the lights, where the little pipe cleaner townspeople live and what they are doing in their little Christmas town. I think each year as a child, I had new and more elaborate soap opera-type stories.

At Grandma’s house, after the Christmas village came the tree. As I remember, it was the silver tinsel-type tree that was considered chic during the ‘70s. That, or knowing Grandma’s frugality, it was found at a yard sale. I do remember she had some beautiful and, what I thought at the wise age of 5 or 6, were super-fancy and expensive ornaments. The fragile ones Grandma would hang up, and the less-likely-to-break-in-an-excited-youth’s-hands ones, I would place around the tree. And then move. And move again. And move again. To this day, I rarely hang an ornament that isn’t moved about two or three times before the holiday season is over.

The afternoon brought the cookie baking, and Terrie is going to share one of our favorites—Gram’s Molasses Cookies. During my early years, I was the only grandkid living close to Grandma, so I got to spend the whole day as “host” of my own baking show in her kitchen. I seriously would pretend I was on TV telling my audience what I was doing. Making the cookies was so much fun—learning to sift the flour and why you had to sift, measuring the ingredients, asking about the difference between “oleo” and butter. Terrie has a photo that Gram took of me baking those cookies, and to say I was not the tidiest 4-year-old “chef” would be an understatement.

I am so thrilled that Terrie is sharing this recipe, and I hope they bring warmth and happiness to your family this year and for years to come, as they have with Terrie and me.

Brad, making molasses cookies at Gram’s house.
(Terrie’s note: he was so freaking cute!)

If you’d like to go behind-the-scenes in making the molasses cookies that are so special to our family, you can link to the recipe by clicking the photo below. Enjoy!