Sarcasm is the main ingredient in Kristy Prattini’s cooking. When she and nephew Dalton Landry get together, it’s more than just a dash or a sprinkle. But, Prattini says, that’s the beauty of being an aunt. She says aunts can be a little different, maybe letting bedtime slide in favor of “Harry Potter” or giving a 12-year-old a little leeway to sharpen his wit.
“I’m going to make meat out of air,” Prattini announced at the beginning of a recent cooking session. “It’s amazing.”
Prattini is a vegetarian. Her husband, Bob, is a vegan, meaning he eats no animal products at all.
Dalton and his older brother, Tyler, 17, as you might imagine, are typical teenage boys, meaning they’ll eat just about anything. The rest of the extended family are, by and large, omnivores. This presents a challenge when planning a menu for a family dinner.
“I like meat too much,” Dalton, of Denham Springs, said of trying out vegetarianism. He also hunts, with squirrel and duck being his preferred targets. Recently, he roasted a whole chicken without any help from his mom, Stephanie, or anyone else.
“I asked her to make me do it all myself,” he said, adding that the results were delicious.
The menu he and his aunt were working on this time was vegetarian and mostly vegan, a nod to Bob Prattini’s tastes. The pair made a Vegetable Lasagna featuring Seitan, the created-not-quite-from-air meat substitute; Buffalo BBQ Tofu, Crabby Patties sans crab and a cheesecake topped with strawberries.
Dalton and Kristy Prattini, always close, routinely cook together. Recently, the pair began watching episodes of “Chopped” and creating their own contests at home. One dish they made was dessert nachos, starting with stale pita and ending with leftover strawberries and herbs.
“It’s a really good way to use up groceries,” Prattini said.
Speaking of strawberries, Dalton teasingly asked Prattini if she remembered to buy strawberries for the strawberry-topped cheesecake.
“No,” she said. “I expect you to pick them from the backyard.” Translation: They’re in the fridge.
Landry laughed as he headed to the refrigerator, muttering about maybe looking there before asking.
Prattini was right; the Seitan was sort of plucked from thin air.
“There’s definitely some chemistry involved,” Prattini said, mixing wheat gluten with vegetable stock, tahini and other seasonings. The result, a gooey substance that somewhat resembled slightly runny, lumpy peanut butter, drew its share of comments from Dalton, but it cooked into crumbles that looked and tasted like ground turkey.
Seitan is crucial to meals meant to feed a variety of tastes — vegan, vegetarian and omnivore, Prattini said.
“I try to make something everybody likes,” Prattini said. “The lasagna is good because it combines so many classic flavors. Tacos are also good because everyone can fix their own,” she said.
The Seitan is somewhat time-sensitive in that, much like making a quick bread, the longer the wet ingredients sit with the wheat gluten, the chewier the resulting meat substitute will be. Making it means ingredients have to be ready to go and the cook has to be quick to get it in the oven.
Once it was cooking, Prattini turned her attention to the lasagna’s filling, mixed greens combined with vegan mayonnaise, and layered it with no-cook lasagna noodles, the fake meatballs and the homemade tomato sauce Dalton was working on.
He admitted he preferred the tasks that involved stirring, saying his favorite things to make at home are cake mixes. But watching him, it seemed that whacking graham crackers into oblivion with a large meat tenderizer came in a close second.
Once the crackers were suitably minute, Dalton combined them with butter and pressed them into a pie pan and briefly baked it. Then, he poured in a cheesecake batter, this time made with real cream cheese. Prattini said that, on occasion, she’ll make a version for her husband with vegan cream cheese, but it’s quite costly.
Dalton may or may not have stolen a few bites of the cheesecake batter when Prattini wasn’t looking, which was fine; Prattini returned the favor just a few seconds later, while Dalton was occupied slicing strawberries.
She added that, most of the time, cooking for such a variety of appetites isn’t as expensive as you might think. “The bulk spice aisle at Whole Foods is the bees’ knees,” she said.
Buying things like the wheat gluten for the Seitan and the smoked paprika for the Buffalo BBQ Tofu in bulk helps keep them affordable, she said.
The Crabby Patties the pair made were also a favorite when Kristy and Bob Prattini got married. Kristy Prattini did all the cooking for their reception. Making them this time around earned some looks and at least one wrinkled nose from Dalton.
“It’s a little bit crab cake and a little sushi,” Dalton said, eyeing the mixture that included seaweed with something like suspicion. “They’d be better with shrimp.”
“Aren’t shrimp, like, biologically similar to roaches,” vegetarian Prattini asked.
It’d been a little too long without a jibe.
“I’d eat a roach if I was hungry enough,” Dalton said with a smirk.
“I’m not a bit surprised,” Prattini said, shaking her head.
As the cooking wrapped up and the eating started, it became apparent that the sarcasm was critical to their relationship.
Prattini related how, one time, Dalton overstepped his bounds, snapping that she wasn’t his mother.
“No, I am not your mother,” she replied. “I don’t have to take you to school at 7 every morning. I don’t have to buy you food and clothes. I don’t have to do any of those things, but I do them because I love you.”