The Great Moon Hoax Dinner

2006.Aug.27 Sunday · 3 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

“But the region which we first particularly inspected was that of Heraclided Falsus (No. 7), in which we found several new specimens of animals, all of which were horned and of a white or grey color, and the remains of three ancient triangular temples which had long been in ruins. We thence traversed the country southeastward, until we arrived at Atlas (No. 6), and it was one of the noble valleys at the foot of this mountain that we found the very superior species of the Vespertilio-homo. In stature they did not exceed those last described, but they were of infinitely greater personal beauty, and appeared in our eyes scarcely less lovely than the general representations of angels by the more imaginative schools of painters. Their social economy seemed to be regulated by laws or ceremonies exactly like those prevailing in the Vale of the Triads, but their works of art were more numerous, and displayed a proficiency of skill quite incredible to all except actual observers. I shall, therefore, let the first detailed account of them appear in Dr. Herschel’s authenticated natural history of this planet.”

– in the New York Sun, by Dr. Andrew Grant, GREAT ASTRONOMICAL DISCOVERIES Lately Made BY SIR JOHN HERSCHEL, L.L.D, F.R.S, &c. At The Cape of Good Hope. [From Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science]

Buenos Aires – It was the talk of the time. The New York Sun was one of the most respected papers of the 19th Century, and continued publication from 1833 until 1967, in one form or another. Most famous for its 1897 publication of the editorial, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, the paper’s editor at the time was fond of somewhat sensational news – and is quoted as saying, “When a dog bites a man, that is not news. But when a man bites a dog, that is news.” The paper was the host of a serialized six part article titled as in the above quote, and later dubbed The Great Moon Hoax. The article described the discovery of life, including clearly humanoid, intelligent life, on the moon, supposedly discovered by the most famous astronomer of the day, Sir John Herschel, and his team, via a new telescope. The author, Dr. Grant, didn’t exist, and although the piece is generally attributed to Richard Adams Locke, a reporter for the Sun, he never publicly admitted to it, nor did the paper, and there has always been at least some speculation that someone else wrote it. The piece is reproduced, sans illustrations, on Wikipedia, and is worth at least a casual read. Mostly the stunt just increased the paper’s circulation, and even when the hoax was later revealed, the public supported the paper… the other newspapers that wholesale lifted copies of the article and reported “the news” as their own discovery, were duly embarrassed… This weekend fell on the anniversary of the publication of the series… so, why not use the moon as, at least, a tenuous inspiration for our menu?

Lunar New Year Firecracker PrawnsOne of the fun things for me this weekend is that on Saturday, one of my regular readers had contacted me and asked if she might spend the day hanging out, asking questions, and participating in the preparation of the dinner, along with sitting down to dine later in the evening. I was delighted, it gave me someone to talk to while working – usually the day passes more or less in silence, other than the sounds of sizzling pots and pans and usually a little music in the background. Since this theme, also, left things pretty wide open, I got to really play with my ideas and come up with some fun dishes. The first was based on a classic Chinese Lunar New Year dish, Firecracker Prawns. I used medium sized shrimp, and let them marinate for about six hours in a mixture of soy sauce, white wine, garlic, ginger, onion, rocoto peppers, tomato powder, sugar, salt, and cornstarch. Then I sauteed them and let them cool. Meanwhile I made pretty classic sushi rice, with the exception of liking to add a bit of chopped nori seaweed to the mix which gives a little herbal speckle to the resulting rice. I decided to present the shrimp at room temperature, glazed with their sauce (which thickens because of the cornstarch), as sushi.

Full Moon NoodlesThis dish was less successful in my view. The flavors were right, but the texture of the noodles needs work. It’s based on a classic Japanese dish, Tsukimi Udon, literally “Moon Viewing Noodles”, though often referred to as “Full Moon Noodles”. Making true fresh udon is a chore that involves more work than I was willing to put in for a few bowls of noodles, and so I decided to make simple buckwheat pasta. It took a lot of work to get a texture that held together – I followed some supposedly classic recipes for simple ones, but all stuck together, and broke apart too easily. In the end, I made the noodles extra thick which allowed them to more or less hold together, but it also meant that when cooked they were a little dense and chewy. The noodles are served in hot broth – in this case a mix of chicken and beef stock with some added soy sauce – with a raw egg yolk with some of its white cracked into the “nest” of the noodles and then the boiling broth is poured over the top, poaching the egg to order, and leaving the yolk runny. A little garnish of chopped green onion and chili flakes gave the dish some color, but overall, it needs work.

The Cow Jumped Over the Moon SteaksSomewhere in the course of the dinner, I had to fit in the cow jumping over the moon, it was practically a moral imperative. Obviously that meant steak. The other part came from a simple inspiration of a non-alcoholic cocktail that’s out there floating around the ether referred to as The Cow Jumping Over the Moon”… an odd mix of various ingredients including yogurt, grape juice, and whole grapes. I decided on a simple sauce of reduced red wine, beef stock, and slivered grapes, really pretty basic, but quite good. I’d seen a recipe for a sumac-rubbed steak with a Cabernet sauce, and decided to use that as a base – though the rub used was a fiery chili and sumac paste. I didn’t want the fiery part on this dish, and so I marinated the steaks overnight in a mixture of onion, garlic, sumac, nutmeg, salt, pepper, sugar, and olive oil. I decided to serve the steak with some polenta, and incorporated yogurt into the liquid used to cook the polenta, which gave it added richness as well as the final ingredient from the cocktail – I also added a bit of sumac to the polenta mix to keep the flavor profile going. I really liked this dish!

Green Cheese PlateOnce again, an imperative – the moon being made of green cheese and all – I had to have a cheese plate. Green cheese wasn’t likely, so blue cheese it was… close enough for government work, as they say. I love an interesting cheese plate, much as I love cheese by itself, I think pairing cheeses with complimentary partners is even better. What isn’t easy to see in picture is that underneath the cheese and its accompaniment are whisper thin slices of raw beets, which are pretty as can be. I let them air dry for a little while and then soaked them in olive oil – because of drying them out a bit, they soak up the oil more readily and become nearly transluscent. The cheese is a simple Danish blue. The accompanying jam is a tomato, walnut, and almond jam – I simmered a half cup each of finely chopped almonds and walnuts, along with two pureed plum tomatoes, and a cup of sugar, for about half an hour over low heat. A pinch of salt at the end enhanced the flavor. The garnish in the center is some chopped walnuts dry toasted with some salt and cayenne pepper. I guess I could claim that the plating is a representation of the lunar cycle… Personally, I think the whole combination worked beautifully, and I really liked the interplay of textures as well as flavors.

Moon PillowsFor the last course it came down to either Moon Cakes or Moon Pies. Given that I’d moved off the Asian connection with the later courses, I decided to go with something inspired by classic moon pies – little moon pillows. First I had to make marshmallows. Yes, make them. It actually turned out to be far easier than I ever expected, and the results came out quite nice. I’ll refer you to Michael Chu’s Cooking for Engineers step-by-step walkthrough for the process. The only thing I didn’t do was roll the end results in powdered sugar, instead covering them with a simple glaze made from cocoa powder, butter, sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla, with a little Chinese five-spice powder for kick – guess the Asian influence crept back in! I’ve still got a big slab of marshmallow – guess I’m going to be drinking some hot cocoa for the next couple of days…

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