Food cubes: New or old?

In some science fiction, we will be eating cubes of food that are nutritionally complete but not very tasty. But are food cubes really a new thing? Or an old thing?

I will now try to clarify the concept. One can make food cubes by cutting some larger food item into cubes, but that is rather trivial. What is more interesting is some food item that can be given a cube shape as it is made. If it can be given such a shape, then it can be given other shapes, and we may more generally talk about shapeable foods.

The first known shapeable food was likely bread. Middle Easterners domesticated wheat around 11,000 years ago, and grinding stones are not much younger. This means that they were making flour, and likely also making bread from the flour. The first breads were likely unleavened breads or flatbreads, with leavened kinds following later. There are now numerous kinds of breads and breadlike foods, including crackers, biscuits, pretzels, cookies, pancakes, piecrust, cakes, and pasta, and breads have been made from other grains, like rye and American corn.

The next one is cheese. It was likely invented as a way of making milk edible and storable, and cheese-making tools go back 7,500 years. Some domestic animals are conveniently milkable, like bovines, water buffalo, sheep, goats, horses, and donkeys, and bovines, sheep, and goats had been domesticated not long after the domestication of wheat.

Advancing into recorded history, we find that tofu, soybean curd, was invented in China about 2,000 years ago. Advancing further to the Industrial Revolution, we find the invention of a variety of candies, like chocolates, and also gelatin desserts like Jell-O.

Most recently, Quorn have been developed. It is made from the mycelium of a soil fungus grown in a vat — that’s the strands that make up a fungus’s “body”. That may seem unappetizing, but there is a commonly-eaten fungus part. Mushrooms, which are the fruiting bodies of various fungi.

So it’s completely feasible with present-day technology to create nutritionally-complete food cubes. Start with cheese or tofu or gelatin or Quorn and fortify it with missing nutrients like vitamins.

But they don’t seem to be very popular, and I’ve yet to see anyone advertise their nutritionally-complete food-cube recipes.

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An image of Jesus is found in your Marmite. What do you do?

Hey, it could happen.

Cornbread – by Isolde

Cornbread
Adapted from ATK Family Baking Book

This is a sweet and tender Northern cornbread – moist enough to eat plain, but even better with honey butter.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup yellow cornmeal (not stone-ground – the bread will be drier and less tender)
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed (not cooked)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbs butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 400F, with the rack in the middle position.  Grease an 8″ square baking pan (I used 3 small loaf pans – 6.5″ x 3.75″).

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.  In a food processor, blend buttermilk, cornmeal, thawed corn and sugar until combined, about 5 seconds.  Add eggs and process until well combined, about 5-10 more seconds.

Fold buttermilk mixture into flour mixture with a rubber spatula.  Fold in melted butter until just combined (don’t overmix).

Pour batter into pan and smooth the top.  Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  For an 8″ pan, it’s 25-35 minutes; for the small loaf pans, it’s 15-20 minutes.

Let the bread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

cornbread

Holiday Drinks – by Isolde

Mulled Squink

This punch, reminiscent of the festive color of squid ink, will be appreciated by Squidmas revelers of all ages.

64 oz (2 quarts) 100% grape juice
64 oz (2 quarts) 100% blueberry juice
3/4 cup sugar
3 tbs lemon juice (to taste)
4 cinnamon sticks (4″ each)
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole cardamom seeds

Mix everything together in a big pot and let it simmer for a couple of hours.  Taste it, and if it’s a little flat, add more lemon juice.  And if you like it sweeter, you can add more sugar.  Strain out the spices, and serve hot.

Hot Buttered Apple Rum
from “Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes”

For the Pastafarians, ye be needin’ rum!

4 inches long stick of cinnamon, broken (to break it, put it in a heavy plastic bag and hit with a meat mallet)
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp whole cloves
7 cups apple juice
1 1/2 – 3 cups rum
1/3 – 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
butter

Cut a 6-inch square from a double thickness of 100% cotton cheesecloth.  Places the spices in the center, bring up the corners of the cheesecloth and tie the bag closed with clean kitchen string.

In a 3 1/2 to 6 quart slow cooker, combine the spice bag, juice, rum and sugar.  Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours, or on high heat for 3-4 hours. Remove and discard spice bag.  To serve, ladle hot punch into cups, and float about 1/2 tsp of butter on each serving.

squink

Self-Crust Pumpkin Pie – by Isolde

Self-Crust Pumpkin Pie
King Arthur Flour

If you’re looking for something a bit lighter for dessert, this is really tasty. And because you’re saving so many calories by leaving out the crust, you can make up for it by serving it with whipped cream or drizzling it with dulce la leche.

1/3 cup egg substitute (like Eggbeaters) or 2 large egg whites
15 ounces (1 can) pumpkin – not pumpkin pie filling!
1 cup nonfat dry milk
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour a 9″ pie pan.

Combine egg substitute (or whites) and pumpkin in a large bowl.  Add dry milk, sugars, spices and salt and stir until combined.  Stir in flour and water, then pour into prepared pan.  Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the center is almost set.  Let cool to lukewarm and serve, or chill overnight.

pie

Pizza Pull-Aparts – by Isolde

Pizza Pull-aparts
King Arthur Flour

Bread:

3 cups bread flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
3 tbs olive oil
1/3 cup instant potato flakes
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water (more as needed)

Cheese:

1 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
1 cup grated provolone or mozzarella
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning (or to taste)
3/4 cup water

For the bread, mix all together and knead  (by hand, mixer or bread machine) until you have a soft, smooth dough.  Cover and let rise for 1 hour (until it’s puffy, but not necessarily doubled).
While you’re waiting, Grease a 9″ springform pan.  You can also use a small bundt pan or a deep cake pan.  For the cheese, mix all ingredients together.  Don’t worry that it looks like a gloppy mess.

Cut the dough into golf-ball sized pieces and roll into balls.  Roll each piece in the cheese goop and place in the pan, layering when needed.  Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Get the oven preheating to 350F.

Bake for 30 minutes, then check on them.  If they’re browning too much, tent the top with foil.  Bake 10 more minutes.  Let them cool for five minutes, then remove them from the pan.

pizza-pull-aparts-2

Oatmeal Sweet Potato Bars – by Isolde

Oatmeal Sweet Potato Bars
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Crust and Topping:

2 1/2cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cups sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbs butter, softened

Filling:

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Beat in 1 cup of butter at low speed until it resembles wet sand, 1 – 1 1/2 minutes. Reserve 1 1/4 cups for topping. Sprinkle the rest in a foil lined 9×13 pan and press into an even layer. Bake until edges begin to brown, about 15 minutes.

While the crust is baking, mix reserved flour mixture, oats, brown sugar and 1 tbs butter.  For filling, mix all ingredients together.

Pour filling over hot crust. Bake 20 minutes. Sprinkle with topping. Bake an additional 15 – 20 minutes.

sweet-potato-bars