Reinventing the Happy Meal

Working for those two weeks ate up a lot of my time.I know that I’ve been playing it safe regarding the recipes I’ve chosen up until this point. The latest one is no different: ratatouille. At the least, I figured it would give me a reason to finally watch Pixar’s film.

At moments it felt as though the film was letting me see a reflection of myself in my journey, or where I hope my journey will take me. But I’m not a self-proclaimed foodie. I don’t sit and take pictures of each plate of food or wax poetic about the millions of flavor combinations that are possible. But understanding food has become an intrinsic part of my life. With each recipe that I make or look at in the book, I find myself questioning more and more the purpose of things. The other day while starching tofu before frying, I realized that the process resulted in the type of tofu which I always liked at restaurants but had never been able to replicate.

Even this early on in the process, I find myself examining how it is that I learn versus how the book teaches. I find the book lacking– mainly because it requires me to operate on faith a lot of the time and I’m never certain as to where I can modify or cut corners. When making substitutions, it is important to know what purpose something serves so that you know if your substitution is adequate. Vegan bakers understand that applesauce is an acceptable substitute in brownies because they are meant to be dense, but may fail at a cake where you want a lighter and fluffier batter.

With this greater understanding, I turned not to the ratatouille, but to my side dish. [I do highly recommend making the ratatouille and serving it with a balsamic vinaigrette, like a confit byaldi, but the recipe is already vegan so I find no reason to repost it. I executed it without any issues, and please please– have faith in Julia! Tomatoes are easy to peal and deseed/juice and it is well worth the step.] However, I planned to serve dinner and didn’t want to serve my friends a plate of plain vegetables. Despite their deliciousness, even I wanted a protein on my plate. I envisioned a stroganoff type dinner with the ratatouille still being a large part. I sauteed the onions and mushrooms, and began the béchamel sauce in a separate pan. At the last second after the seitan had heated with the mushroom mix, I dumped the béchamel to the larger pan, stirred everything and brought it to the table.

McDonald’s has yet to capitalize on what I made. I’d like to introduce the new MeatShake, part of the Breakfast Menu. Enjoy the sweet and the savory — a vanilla meat and mushroom … concoction. In my state of hunger and chattiness I had grabbed the carton of Very Vanilla soy milk. The wonderful mushrooms tasted sweet and the seitan soaked up the very vanilla flavor and left us with a strange sweet, yet meaty taste in our mouths.

I am thankful for the company I had that evening and that this gaff didn’t change their opinion of me as a cook. When I had the opportunity to buy soy milk this morning, I opted for the plain original flavor again. My foray into sweetened soy milks is over, but the vanilla taste in my mouth makes me want to revisit Julia’s dessert section.

The sauce itself was a success. I am posting it below, although it seems to be the same everywhere. Just don’t make the same mistake I did and end up with sweet meat for dinner. This is one of the mother sauces and can lead to wonderful things. I like to have this basic iteration with a lot of pepper and broccoli rabe.

Béchamel Sauce:

  • 6 Tbsp Earth Balance
  • 3-4 Tbsp flour
  • 2 c Soy milk (UNFLAVORED)

You can adjust the amount of milk a lot depending on the consistency of sauce you want. Warm the milk in a separate saucepan and set aside.

  1. Place the butter in a heavy saucepan and let it melt completely without browning.
  2. Dump in the flour and stir it quickly into the butter.
  3. Cook and stir the flour/butter mixture over medium heat for approximately 5 to 8 minutes. It will dry out slightly and turn a bit darker than a golden color. Do not let it brown.
  4. Pour in just a few tabslespoons of the hot milk — this should be enough to moisten the flour/butter mixture. Stir it thoroughly to break up the mixture. Add the rest of the milk gradually and whisk constantly.

That is your basic bechamel sauce. From here you can go anywhere — add fake cheese, salt, pepper, garlic, go wild! This is often used as the basis for vegan mac and cheese recipes as well (even using nutritional yeast in lieu of fake cheese).

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About Ania K

Writing, cooking, and eating in Brooklyn.
This entry was posted in Sauces, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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