Holidays, like the "4th of July", really bring out the food creativity in folks. For many years in my younger cooking days, there was that red, white and blue cake made with blueberry stars and strawberry stripes as my patriotic offering. I still see them on occasion, usually soaked with milks fresh out of the oven and topped with either "Cool Whip" and coconut or white frosting with those stars and stripes. Then there was the tedious "Jello Molds" layered with different levels of color that took many settings in the fridge before it was complete. They were always challenging if you wanted to add fruit or veggies or be too extravagant and try to add acidic kiwi or pineapple only to find them melting before your eyes when flipping to unmold.
Trying to get the white right with an addition of whipped or sour cream was also terrifying. Sometimes I got lucky and they unmolded perfect, but the holiday colored ones rarely had the flavor that was expected, but they were colorful and festive most of the time. It was all luck; gelatin can be a little tricky at times, although if successful, the end result can be amazing.
I did love the congealed salads the ladies would create for church socials. I may have seen almost every shape possible from designer ring molds to fish and triple layer castle style molds; boy weren't those the days of great food. So many different things, recipes, and weird foods I learned from church. If you knew me during that time, gawking over some of those wonderful meals, you might even think I may have been baptized in Ginger Ale, my eyes would light up at those dinners, and I was always asking for recipes! For some reason there was always a seven-layer Mexican dip at those functions, can't say I've ever made one, but still love them all the same.
There are still kitchens out there with collector copper molds hanging on the walls and you know who you are, but that's okay too, its fun to collect them in my book. Nowadays you can really find some fancy ones out there and if they are not strictly for salads or aspics, they are mostly for cakes and will work just the same for molding almost anything. If you have ever made a "Garfield" or "Woody" from "Toy Story" cake and kept that mold, you can always make your next meatloaf with that wonderful southern ketchup glaze on it. Maybe, be super creative with some sliced peppers or olives; making eyes and smiles after it's baked. Of course, it would be fun explaining what it is to the rest of the family. However, you know it will taste great and I'd bet all eaten!
If I had a big enough kitchen, you might find a whole wall dedicated to those collector molds. There are some really rare ones floating around out there if you can find them. Any mold makes a great hostess gift, particularly for a dinner party, I'd actually like to own a few more myself, but smaller, unique, one of a kind, cast food molds are very hard to find. Most molds found today are cheap metal and really don't last very long if used a lot.
On occasion at yard sales or in antique shops you might find a few interesting molds. If you ever run across a hexagon shape from the 40's with an open middle, better grab it, I've been looking for one since the early 80's. The one I had just disappeared on me one day for some reason and I have really missed it. Those eight sides or more were perfect for portion size servings and if you were a little more creative, each section could be different. I won a two hour mystery box challenge with a smoked white fish dip in that mold, after that is when it seemed to go missing. I always wondered where it went or if the dishwasher at that time misplaced it. I reckon I'll never know, but it is sorely missed for sure.
The French and German techniques of cooking utilize oblong, metal slide top, ceramic, or sometimes a cast iron style mold, referred to as "Terrine Mold" or "Pate Press". They are mainly used for cooked force meats (various blends of game or domestic meats pressed together) or gelatinized terrines of colorful vegetables for slicing. In competition during culinary training I had to make several different types of terrines for display judging. I loved that end of cooking; one could really make some beautiful "Food Art" with different flavors and wonderful shapes and colors using different style molds. As I remember, it took forever and a day to layer and set a lot of those creations. But all in all they were some of the most colorful, flavorful, sometimes exotic looking foods when unmolded, sliced and displayed, usually on mirrors if competing.
Here in the south, our food history tells of many wonderful congealed salads recipes from the 50's, 60's, and early 70's. One that you might recall if your over say 45 years of age, is that orange Jello carrot salad, or cranberry-cherry nut one with added "Cool-Whip" as a pink layer throughout. One of my favorites was made with horseradish and cream cheese as a bottom layer and a sweet pineapple preserve congealed salad layer for a top. It was normally a smaller mold served with "Captains Wafers" or "Ritz" crackers, sweet with heat. I used that flavor combination a lot when catering ladies golf luncheons down in Florida. It always seemed to be a hit with someone always asking what was in it. Of course "Everything is better when it sits on a Ritz", although I do prefer those buttery "Butterfly Pepperidge Farm Crackers", but hey, that's just me I reckon.
This 3 day weekend will either be very restful or cookout busy for most of us, unless by chance you have to work. Foods like hot dogs and burgers will be a big part of the festivities I'm sure. So if you have time and plan ahead just a little, and need either a side dish or appetizer to go with that main course, maybe you can mold something up.
Kids and Jello always go together and if entertaining friends, you can always impress a few with a congealed style colorful salad served up on a bed of fresh leafy greens just now ready to pick from our great summer gardens. Some of us planted early this year, I'm already eating a few great tomatoes from mom and dad. It's really looking like a crook neck squash summer out there as well. I've got a mess of that squash laid out on the kitchen counter to saute up for dinner tonight, a little olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper is all those beauties should need.
In case your mold minded this "Independence Day" here are a few recipes that might spark a few ideas. I'm wishing all a safe and happy 4th as we remember the freedoms we so enjoy.
Coconut Baby Shrimp Salad Mold
1 bag frozen cooked baby shrimp, (thawed, drained, and pressed dry with paper towels)
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayo
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning, (optional)
zest from a lemon, finely grated
lemon juice from half of lemon,( about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup Panko style bread crumbs, more or less, or unsalted (cracker crumbs)
1 small bag fresh frozen coconut, (thawed, drained, and pressed dry with paper towels
1/4 cup finely diced celery
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
Prepare shrimp by draining and removing all excess liquid (cook by boiling in slightly salted water if only raw shrimp can be found), set aside.
With a stand or hand mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth, add the mayo, white pepper, sea salt, Old Bay seasoning, lemon zest, and juice, mix on medium low speed until fully incorporated.
Fold in Panko crumbs, prepared coconut, celery, bell pepper, and shrimp and thoroughly mix. mixture should be slightly sticky (not dry nor over wet or runny), adjust with added crumbs if needed or additional lemon juice if too dry.
Over place plastic wrap onto the surface of a mold, leaving enough wrap to cover the bottom of the food.
Press or form mixture into the mold, cover with plastic wrap firmly pressing to remove all air pockets and leaving wrap firmly against the surface of food to prevent drying. Refrigerate the mold for at least 2 hours, or until firm.
When ready to serve, remove plastic wrap from bottom part of mold and place serving dish upside down onto mold and invert up right onto serving dish, removing mold and remaining plastic wrap from top of mold. Smooth edges with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Decorate if wanted and serve chilled with toast points, crackers, etc.
Pretzel Crusted Strawberry Jello Squares
2 cups pretzels, finely crushed
1 1/2 sticks of butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
vegetable spray, Pam
8 ounce bar. cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
8-12 oz. Cool Whip whipped topping
6 ounces strawberry Jello
2 cups boiling water
2 (10 oz.) packages frozen strawberries
Mix the pretzels, butter and sugar together and spread in the bottom of a 9"x13" glass casserole dish sprayed with vegetable spray, pressing until firm. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
Mix together the cream cheese, sugar and Cool Whip and spread over the pretzel crust.
Mix together Jello, water, and frozen strawberries and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes until slightly thick.
Pour over the top of the cream cheese mixture and spread. Chill until set. (about 4-6 hours)
Cut in squares and serve chilled.