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Food that isn't what it seems, need creative ideas

For a themed dinner party (a huge one, I have to feed about 50 people) I'm looking for ideas for food that isn't what it seems.
Like: noodles that are not pasta but zucchini ribbons, meatballs that look like meatballs but are actually vegetarian (maybe lentils, or faux meat), cauliflower rice, ...
It should not get too gimmicky, and it should be something that is doable in very large batches.


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  1. I'm drawing a blank other than stuffing into cupcake papers and baking in cupcake molds > 'stuffing/dressing' and frosting with whipped/mashed potatoes-could be done in quantity without terribly much effort.

    2 Replies
    1. re: iL Divo

      I was thinking similar except in cake form.

      Casserole of meat, sauce, vegetables then covered in mashed potato frosting.

      1. re: iL Divo

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      2. As a vegetable, spaghetti squash is the definition
        of food that isn't what it seems. Could be made ahead of
        time as a vegetable for a large group.

        1. Dessert "taco" using ice cream. Shell is pie crust, shaped (folded) baked in foil accordians, or sweetened taco shells fried. Chocolate ice cream thru cookie press or ricer to form "ground beef". Vanilla ice cream as "sour cream". Strawberry syrup as "salsa", green colored coconut as "lettuce". Chopped cherries as "tomatoes".

          Example recipe and image here

          1. Individual Meatloaf/hamburger patty "layer cakes" that look like carrot cake.


            1 Reply
            1. re: MidwesternerTT

              Or meatloaf cupcakes with mashed potato frosting. Gross, I know, but comfort food is comfort food.

            2. You might also look at links found when you search for "Trompe L'Oiel food"

              The video from Gourmet has great ideas - mozzarella/yellow tomato "hardboiled eggs", scallops (I think you could use mock-crab if costs are a concern) prepared as "scrambled eggs".

              2 Replies
              1. re: MidwesternerTT

                It's spelled "trompe l'oeil", means "fools the eye". You omitted the link to the video.

                I make "fauxtato salad" by soaking and slightly overcooking large dry lima beans. The canned version of this bean is butter beans, not the smaller green ones. You want most of the skins to split, mimicking the texture of cut-up boiled potatoes. Sub for spuds in any potato salad recipe. I defy anyone to taste a difference. It's much closer to the real thing than the typical cauliflower-instead-of-spud creations.

                1. re: greygarious

                  Apologies for the typo swap of the "e" and "i". I intentionally did not provide the video link, since it's not a link to a recipe.

              2. Along w/ the meatloaf cake, you could do a cake that looks like a hamburger, with pb frosting for bun, choc frosting for patty, almond slivers for sesame seeds, gummy candy or colored frosting for lettuce, tomatoes, etc. It reverses both courses.

                1. I once did cheese straws with colored salt on top so they looked like sugar cookies. The idea was cute, but I wouldn't do it again because it basically ruined the first bite for every single person. I still can't get the looks of revulsion out of my head. After they knew what they were getting, they enjoyed them, but the first bite was nothing but disappointment.

                  1. Faux caviar.. http://austingastronome.blogspot.com/...

                    Cookies colored / shaped as dog biscuits.

                    1. Roast a spaghetti squash (slice a raw one lengthwise, lay flat and roast until you can easily pierce the skin), then dig out all the spaghetti-like strands with a large fork, and toss with anything you would put in pasta. Also, a dessert soup would be nice--like, a watermelon gazpacho or honeydew soup. Also, as an app, make cinnamon sugar (flour) tortilla chips, and a fruit salsa, (any citrus/juicy fruits, along with chopped mint, made to look like pico de gallo).

                      1. You can google a recipe for "vegetarian chopped liver" it's made with eggplant but looks like chopped liver. It's pretty good.

                        1. Squid can also double as 'pasta'. Pound flat, roll up, and freeze a bit. You can then slice it into thins strips of 'pasta'. I've also made avocado balls stuffed with crab. Pretty simple but don't know that I'd do it for a crowd of 50.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: mike0989

                            I wouldn't want to tackle *anything* for 50 people that involved pounding!

                            You can also Google "illusion food" to find a bunch of recipes that were popular in the Middle Ages.

                            1. re: Chowbird

                              Oh it's not too bad. I use a cast iron skillet which makes quick work of it.

                          2. Nasi goreng or any other fried rice made with cauliflower rice

                            Seared tofu scallops in sweet chili sauce

                            Thai yellow curry - various fruits or coconut jelly (nata de coco) in a mango puree drizzled with coconut cream. Can serve with sweet sticky rice or a sweet flatbread. Garnish with thai basil.

                            1. I would like to try cauliflower with crab boil. Supposed to be similar to cocktail shrimp.

                              Cook cauliflower in mix of crab boil (Zatarans or Old Bay) lemons garlic and onions.

                              1. Don't laugh too hard at the source, but the cheese in this recipe is key-
                                Cauliflower crust pizza. You can bake the crusts ahead of time, add toppings and reheat just before serving

                                Whole roasted carrots served like a hot dog:

                                Banana soft serve "ice cream"- no cream, only ingredient is frozen bananas (also amazing if you add some peanut butter in there!):

                                1. I am blanking on specifics, but food that is not what it seems was a specialty of the ancient Romans, and there are many good present-day cookbooks with doable ancient recipes.

                                  1. I once had "faux deviled eggs" that were peeled and halved new potatoes with a yolk-sized hole scooped from slightly off-center which was then filled with a spicy, yellow potato salad. They were good but rather filling.

                                    1. Parmesan cheese cookies maybe. Or savoury cookies in general.

                                      Also i don't know if you know what Ebelskiver (or æbleskiver) is. It's a traditional danish or scandinavian dish. Usually sweet, a little ball of dough eaten with jam and powdered sugar.

                                      I saw a famous danish chef reinterpret it in a savoury version with bacon and onion filling, vinegar powder and a beetroot "jam".

                                      So making a traditional dessert savoury or as mentioned before with the tacos, a tradional main course into a dessert is always an idea :)

                                      1. Thanks all for the great ideas. Looks like the theme for the whole dinner is going in a completely different direction (I'm working on this with a group of people, so it's not really my decision).
                                        But I hope to be able to use them somewhere else some day!

                                        1. Mock apple pie made from Ritz crackers.

                                          1. Fake fries: make polenta from white cornmeal, cool in a thin layer in a shallow pan. When fully cooled, cut into "fries" & deep-fry.

                                            1. A restaurant I used to frequent in Detroit made a dessert pizza. Sweet biscuit crust, raspberry puree for "sauce," and shredded cheesecake for "cheese." (I imagine they froze a block of cheesecake and then shredded it.)

                                              1. Spicy Thai red curry ice cream with salty chicken cracklins on top. "dessert for an app?" LOL