Seeing is believing with April Fools' inspired treats

April 7, 2014
Meatloaf and mashed potato cupcakes, top, and Jell-O black cherry colas. PHOTOS BY JACK CLEMONS

Earlier this week we celebrated the dubious holiday of April Fools’ Day. Origins for the practice of pranks on the first day of this month aren’t clear, and most explanations or assertions are filled with deliberate misinformation in keeping with the spirit of the day. Perhaps it’s the timing of many ancient European festivals of renewal that resulted in the tradition of trying to have people believe ridiculous things.

It’s not uncommon for news sources to print, post or broadcast false stories, most notably a 1957 British television program about Swiss famers harvesting spaghetti. This three-minute hoax was so believable, the BBC received hundreds of phone requests for instructions on how to grow spaghetti trees in a home garden. If you watch the video (it’s available on the internet), you can almost understand how viewers were duped.

A well-known anchorman narrates (in his sonorous British accent) how the unique weather conditions produced a bumper crop of spaghetti. He’s accompanied by film clips of women picking the strands from the branches, placing them in baskets and spreading them out to dry in the sun. The piece ends with a scene at a restaurant where the fresh spaghetti is served as part of a celebratory meal.

Food jokes have long been a mainstay of April Fools’ Day. Many of my friends remember falling victim to an older sibling who replaced the contents of the sugar bowl with salt. After one mouthful of salty breakfast cereal, hilarity ensued and paybacks were threatened. A cruel trick is to twist apart Oreo cookies, remove the cream and reassemble them using toothpaste (make sure it’s white; the gel or striped variety may raise suspicions).

Restaurants around the country have joined the silliness, advertising taco smoothies, barbecued tofu brisket and eagle-caught salmon. Other nonsense offerings include scratch & sniff menus and edible pizza boxes baked from pizza crust dough.

More humorous and delicious alternatives include spreading a sliced bagel with cream cheese and setting a peach half in the middle. From a distance it resembles a fried egg, but tastes nothing like one. A grammar school favorite is dirt cake: crushed chocolate cookies and pudding, layered in a (clean) flowerpot garnished with gummy worms. There’s also a kitty litter cake featuring tootsie rolls, but the yuck factor is too high for me to try that one.

We got into the spirit of April Fools’ Day this year with the ideas seen in the photo. On top is a meatloaf and mashed potato cupcake. For this, you need to mix your favorite meatloaf seasonings with the leanest beef possible. I stirred in a tablespoon of milk for added tenderness, and tomato paste to create a more chocolatey brown color.

These were baked in a muffin tin lined with silicon cupcake cups. Foil cups would also work, but the paper variety will disintegrate. Make sure the mashed potatoes aren’t made from Yukon golds, or the frosting will be too yellow. I whipped the boiled potatoes with sour cream for added whiteness and lightness. The swirled design in the icing comes from a pastry bag with a star point - wait until the potatoes are slightly cooled or it’s difficult to hold the bag.

The cherry cola isn’t drinkable because it’s actually fruit gelatin that was chilled in glasses, complete with immovable straws. You could be truly obnoxious to a wine lover and run this play using wine goblets or stemless glasses. The good news here is that the gelatin is still a tasty sweet snack for children of all ages.

Dirt Cake

2 6-inch plastic flowerpots (new)*
1 15-oz package Oreo cookies
8 oz softened cream cheese
1 t vanilla
1/2 C confectioners sugar
3 C milk
2 3.4-oz packages instant vanilla
pudding mix
12 oz frozen whipped topping, thawed
gummy worms for garnish

Clean the inside of flowerpots with boiling water; set aside to dry. Place the cookies in a zip-top bag and seal. Using a rolling pin, crush the Oreos until the mixture resembles potting soil; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whip together cream cheese, vanilla and sugar until fluffy; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together milk and pudding mix for at least 2 minutes. Fold in thawed whipped topping. Gently fold in cream cheese mixture, stirring until blended. Pour a 2-inch layer of filling into each flowerpot.

Top each with one inch of cookie crumbs. Repeat, ending with crumbs for the top layer. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled. *Alternatively, layer the pudding and crumbs in individual glass dishes. Yield: 10 to 12 servings.

Meatloaf & Mashed Potato Cupcakes

3 white potatoes
1/2 C sour cream
12 oz lean ground beef
1 T tomato paste
1 T ketchup
1 T grainy mustard
1 T milk
1 egg yolk
salt & pepper, to taste
1/4 t marjoram
1/4 t basil
1/4 t oregano
1/2 t dried onion
splash Worcestershire sauce

Peel and chop the potatoes. Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high, then reduce heat to medium and cook until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain potatoes thoroughly and return to the saucepan.

Add sour cream and whip with an electric mixer until creamy; set aside. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, mixing until incorporated. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with foil or silicon cups. Spoon the meat mixture into the cups and bake until nicely browned, about 20 minutes.

When meat is cooked, place the mashed potatoes in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe icing on the tops of the cupcakes in a decorative pattern. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve.

Glasses of Jell-O Soda

1 package fruit gelatin mix*
3 drinking straws, optional

Prepare the gelatin according to the package directions. When powder has been completely incorporated, pour liquid into three 6-oz glasses. Place a straw in each glass (if desired). Keep glasses in the refrigerator until set, about 3 to 4 hours. *Note: black cherry looks like cola or red wine.