Thursday, January 7, 2010

What's Cooking? Faux Food: Whimsy in the Kitchen

This was first published in the April, 2009, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

The photo at the left may look like eggs on toast, but really it’s yellow tomatos and mozarella cheese on toast.

When April Fool’s Day rolls around, many people turn into jokesters, and the kitchen is just one place where practical jokes run amok. I may never forget the fateful April Fool’s Day when my mother decided to put salt in the sugar bowl to fool my father when he drank his coffee.

I was at an age when I hadn’t yet tasted coffee, and for sure I didn’t understand the significance of putting two teaspoons of salt into a cup of coffee. I thought my father would laugh, but when the first sip of coffee got spewed all over and the cursing began, I learned a valuable lesson.

There’s a difference between playing around with food and making it inedible. Salt in the sugar bowl is a bad idea. Decorating a cake to look like a hamburger is cute and playful.

Not everyone’s got the artistic skills to pull off a major cake decorating endeavor, and it’s not necessary to fool the recipients of the faux food – the illusions can be obvious and still be fun.

And while some faux food projects are strictly kid stuff, others are suitable for family dinners or for adults with a sense of humor.

One of the easiest things to do is to use round cake pans to mold meatloaf. Cook it as usual, but then stack the meatcakes and frost with mashed potatoes. A meatloaf layer cake can have mashed potatoes as the filling, or use cooked veggies instead. Carrots would look pretty and wouldn’t get smashed by the weight of the meatcake.

For an extra festive touch, use ketchup to write a message on the top of the meatloaf cake. If you’re really creative, use your vegetable carving skills on radishes or carrots, or turn a spiral of tomato skin into a rose.

A bundt pan or ring mold could also be used as the mold for the meat, then frost with the mashed potatoes or other root vegetables. If your family likes them, this would be a good place for mashed rutabagas or winter squash, either on their own or mixed with potatoes.

For decoration, a sprinkling of shredded white cheese could simulate shredded coconut, while cherry tomatoes could represent cherries and mushroom caps could represent chocolate truffles.

Want pie instead of cake? Make a shepherd’s pie, but instead of using mashed potatoes on top, use slices of potato cut to look like apple wedges to simulate an apple pie. You could bake your shepherd’s pie in a pie shell or in a round casserole dish.

For a dessert, toast a piece of pound cake and top it with a flat, round blob of sweetened mascarpone cheese. Top that with half of an apricot, peeled. Squint a bit, and it will look like a sunnyside-up egg on a piece of toast.

For the same effect as an appetizer, toast some bread and top it with a circle of mozzarella cheese or any other white cheese that melts easily. Melt it gently in a microwave or under a broiler until it is just barely melted, to simulate the white part of the egg.

For the yolk, find appropriately-sized yellow or orange tomatoes. Peel them, and cut in half, and place the tomato half on the cheese, cut side down. Drizzle a little olive oil on the tomato to make it shiny and to simulate melted butter. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

Dessert pizza could be made with a sweet dough crust or even a giant sugar cookie. Use raspberry or strawberry preserves for the sauce and top with shredded white chocolate. Use round chocolate candies for meatballs.

The possibilities are endless. Just make sure that your creations are as pleasing to the palate as to the eye.
Pin It button on image hover