Foods that fool the eye usually are not a good thing. You know this is true if:
You’ve ever bitten into candy expecting sweet and gotten a mouthful of sour.
You take a big bite of your mother-in-law’s scrumptious-looking meatloaf, only to conjure the image of a can of Alpo.
You munch on a deep-fried triangle-shaped pastry at an Indian restaurant expecting an apple turnover, and find that you’re eating a curry-filled samosa that sets your face on fire.
On the other hand, it can be fun to pull one over on friends and family — especially on April Fool’s Day — by serving foods that trick the eye. Bob Blumer, author of "Off the Eaten Path: Inspired Recipes for Adventurous Cooks" (Ballantine Books, $20), is the original chef du joke.
The star of "The Surreal Gourmet," which airs on the Food Network, Blumer devises entrees that would make Salvador Dali proud. Take,for example, his "diced" fish: He cuts firm-fleshed white fish into cubes and dots them with peppercorns for the numbers.
"Every day is April Fool’s Day at my house," Blumer said from his Hollywood home.
One of his favorite gags is to tightly pack vanilla ice cream in a glass tumbler, re-freeze it, and then pass it off later as a glass of milk alongside a plate of cookies. "When you pick it up," he sa id , "nothing comes out."
Blumer, who used to be a manager for Canadian folk singer Jane Siberry, became a cookbook author despite having no formal training in the kitchen. But as he wasgrowing up, his mother took him to a variety of art classes, from batik to ceramics.
"I’m a playful person," he said, "and a lot of what I’m making is pop art meets the culinary arts. Pop art is instantly appealing, as are surrealists. You don’t have to think about it a long time. It’s just a visual joke."
Although Blumer’s fare is more fit for grownups, his approach to food has inspired other authors, whose whimsical dishes beg for a seat at akiddie birthday or Halloween party. Clare Crespo, author of "The Secret Life of Food" (Hyperion, $19.99), creates "mushrooms" from meringue, records from black licorice and caterpillars from Hostess Sno Balls, with the help of some plastic googly eyes and pipe cleaners. Like Blumer, she has training in the visual arts, but not the culinary arts.
"I went to art school and had parents who were artists," said Crespo, of Los Angeles, "so I always looked at food as a medium or art supply." What sometimes inspires her are grocery store products, like the Berry Blue Jell-O that she uses to fill a goldfish bowl. Or she might see ingredients that remind her of other food, which is how she got an idea for "sushi" cupcakes — a concoction wrapped in a sheet of green fruit leather (Fruit Roll-Up) to resemble a California roll.
"I was making a cake and the frosting was powdered sugar, sour cream and coconut," she said. "Mixing it up in the bowl it was like, ‘Wow, it looks like sticky rice you’d see in the sushi bar.’ "
And then there are the flip-flops, which made the cover of her book. She belonged to a supper club, and one time the theme was "dishes that remind you of summer."
"Flip-flops are my favorite thing about summer," said Crespo, so she created an edible pair from potatoes and green beans.
Crespo said art should not be reserved for painting class, but may be implemented in daily routines, like making sandwiches.
"What I want to pass on to the world is to look at everything in your life as a basis of creativity," she said.
April Fool’s Day menu Salad: A bed of greens topped with edible flowers, served with dressing on the side in a watering can Appetizer: Ham and "Eggs" or Potato Flip-Flops Entree: "Bed" of Polenta Dessert: Pound Cake "Fries" with Raspberry "Catsup" or Jell-O Aquarium Beverage: Strawberry "Pepto-Bismol" milkshake