Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jello Salad

“J-E-L-L-Ohhhh” – sing it with me! I couldn’t tell you why I love congealed salads so much; maybe it’s the cool jiggly-wiggly texture, or the magic of making it, or even the fascinating rainbow colors. I love Jello salads. Simple as that. While writing blog posts, it occurred to me that many (many) people outside of the Southern United States have no idea what a Jello salad is, and don’t even refer to it as a “congealed salad” or they’ll run screaming. I have yet to try the fantastic rainbow layered Jello salad, but I do have a few favorites up my sleeve.

My new favorite is the Strawberry Pretzel Jello salad. It had better be my favorite because it took me three attempts to get it right! After the second failed attempt, I threw that bag of pretzels to the back of the cupboard, and swore I wouldn’t touch the recipe again. But, my curiousity (and tastebuds) got the best of me, and I gave it another shot. Boy, I’m glad I did. You begin by crushing pretzels for a sweet and salty crunchy crust, then layer with a Cool Whip and cream cheese topping, then the Jello in all its gloriousness. Is that a word? It’s fitting. The first two times I made the salad (more a dessert, really) my lack of patience got the best of me, and I attempted to assemble everything while it was still too hot. What happened was a sad, sad fate. The Jello migrated its way to the bottom of the pan, mingled with the pretzels, floated the cream cheese to the top, and made a soggy sweet and salty mess. Insert sad face here. TWICE!

So, as determined as I was, I knew I had to be patient the third time around. After baking the pretzel crust, let it cool – completely! The freezer helps here. The next step involves spreading the Cool Whip and cream cheese mixture. This works best if you soften your cream cheese to room temperature so the mixture is easily spreadable. Now, when you spread this creamy goodness over your pretzel mixture, make sure you good and well seal up all those edges – spread the mixture to the very edge of your dish, no holes allowed! (Otherwise you’ll end up with the Jello migration.) Now place this again in the freezer for 20-30 minutes to firm up once again. While this is happening, you’ve simultaneously made your strawberry Jello (adding fruit is optional), and have placed it in a bowl in the fridge and allowed to begin setting up as well. Once your pan of pretzel and cream cheese has cooled, and your Jello has cooled (about 30 minutes, or lightly coating a spoon), slowly pour the Jello mixture into the pan. Then return the pan to the icebox until it fully sets up (3 hours or so).

Once it’s set, slice into squares and serve! A beautiful layered salad; pleases the pickiest of eaters! My neighbor, who hates pretzels, thought it was a buttered pecan crust! If you’re counting your calories before the holidays, use low fat cream cheese and reduced calorie Cool Whip. You could even cut the sugar down in the cream cheese layer and it’d still be delicious! If you’d like to add fruit to the Jello layer, go ahead; bananas or peaches would be great, pineapples require you to drain them, and reduce the water added to the Jello. Enjoy your new favorite Jello salad, and be sure not to tell your most beloved picky eaters it contains a pretzel crust!

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Ingredients:

2 cups crushed pretzels
3/4 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar, plus 3/4 cup sugar
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 (8-ounce) container whipped topping
2 (3-ounce) packages strawberry gelatin dessert mix
2 cups boiling water

Directions:

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
For the crust, mix the pretzels, butter, and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Press the mixture into a 9 by 13-inch pan and bake for 7 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool, completely.
In a mixing bowl, beat together the room temperature cream cheese and 3/4 cup of sugar. Fold in the whipped topping, and spread over the cooled crust. Make sure the cream cheese mixture reaches the edges of the pan. Freeze until well chilled, approximately 30 minutes.
Prepare Jello according to the directions, place in refrigerator about 30 minutes, until it lightly coats a spoon. Gently pour the Jello over cream cheese mixture, and refrigerate until fully set, 3-4 hours. Cut and serve!

~Peace, Love, and J-e-l-l-o Ya’ll!

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