Red Pepper Sauce

I really like using vegetable-and-nut sauces. Things like this and the Sorites Paradox Pesto add tons of color and nutrition to a plate, and variety to a vegetarian diet. Plus, because there’s little chopping and prep work, they’re usually manageable for me to assemble and contribute to dinner unless my energy is really, really poor.

This can be used to top fresh vegetables (it’s especially nice on green ones, as it’s a bit like a shortcut romesco sauce, except with red peppers instead of tomatoes), liven up a salad dressing or toss with pasta.

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Mushroom Gravy (for Mashed Potatoes)

I made this for my office potluck, to which I was to bring mashed potatoes and gravy.
I was out the afternoon that the signup sheet was set out. I received an email about it when I checked my email at home later that day, and thought to myself I must go sign up for mashed potatoes in the morning. I’ve made them for the potluck the past two years.

The first year at this job, I had to politely talk to our international guy, and ask him if he really wanted to make them or if there was something else he was really good at. He yielded, and that was year one. Last year, nobody fought me for the slot.

When I arrived at work the next day and made my way back to the lunchroom, our receptionist, who just joined us in the last few months, had already put her name under the line that read Mashed Potatoes and Gravy. Crum, I thought, looking at the list. I could make something else, but I really wanted to make the mashed potatoes. It’s manageable and predictable, and I have a potato ricer, which gives them a great fluffy texture, and, well – I’m good at it, okay?

I went back to my office, and said to my co-worker, “’Receptionist’s Name’ has already signed up for the mashed potatoes.”

She whirled around in her chair to face me. “No!” she cried, a stricken look on her face. “We can’t have that. I want your mashed potatoes.”

“Well, I don’t know what to do. I’m not going to go up to her and tell her that I want to make them. It would sound like I’m telling her that I’m a better cook than she is. It would just be rude.”

My co-worker sat silent for a moment, looked away, then back at me. “I’ll say something to her.”

“What are you going to say? ‘Hey, we don’t want any of your lousy mashed potatoes’?”

“I’ll think of something.”

A couple hours later, she came to my desk.

“I talked to her.”

“What did you say?”

“We were talking about something else, and I asked her, ‘Hey, have you had a chance to buy the potatoes for the potluck yet?’, and she said ‘No, I haven’t bought them yet but I heard that Jocelyn likes to make the mashed potatoes.’”

My jaw dropped. “You mean…”

My co-worker smiled. “Somebody else beat me to it.”

At the potluck, our receptionist, who made a pilaf dish that was also well-received, said, “I
see why everybody wanted you to make the mashed potatoes.”

I may have used more butter and cream than usual, just to drive the point home.

To appease the meat-eaters, because I try to avoid forcing my dietary practices on those who are not joining me for a meal in my home, I brought meat gravy from Whole Foods and this experimental mushroom gravy, which was a first try for me. The meat gravy from Whole Foods got eaten more than the jarred gravy someone else brought last year. This, however, did get some takers and from them, positive reviews.

12 oz. cremini mushrooms (two boxes worth)
2 large shallots, chopped (about 1 c.)
2 T. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 t. paprika
1 T. olive oil
1/4 c. tamari
1/4 c. sherry
Water to process
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and clean them thoroughly using a damp paper towel or small brush. Place the cleaned mushrooms in a glass roasting pan along with the shallots, olive oil, garlic cloves and thyme. Season with salt and pepper, remembering that the mushrooms will lose much of their volume through roasting, and toss thoroughly to combine. Place the mushrooms in the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until their liquid has been released and largely evaporated and the mushrooms are wrinkled in appearance. Remove from the oven and place in blender container. Add the olive oil, paprika, tamari and sherry, plus a small amount of water for processing if needed, and blend on high speed until totally smooth. Taste and correct seasoning if needed. It needs a lot of pepper, perhaps more than one would think.
Reheat carefully if needed. Serve over mashed potatoes, use as a basis for soup, or as an ingredient in other dishes.

Asparagus with Romesco Sauce

This romesco sauce recipe comes from Vegetarian Times, and it is better than one I had used previously out of a Williams-Sonoma cookbook. They suggested a blanch-and-grill procedure for the asparagus, to which I said, “On a weeknight? Yeah, right.”

If you have the tomatoes, peppers, and onions prepared in advance, which you could do the evening before or, if you have a husband on spring break, that afternoon – everything else goes together pretty quickly. This dish makes a wonderful light meal all on its own.

The fresh chiles are supposed to be peeled in this recipe – I know that sounds nuts, but it worked better than I thought it would. I cut the stems flush with the top of the pepper, stood them on their heads, and peeled from the tip down using my Oxo peeler. I didn’t get every bit of peel off, but I didn’t sweat it.


4 plum tomatoes, roasted in oil
2 red bell peppers, roasted in oil
½ onion, roasted in oil
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. almonds
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 ancho chiles (I used pasilla because I couldn’t find any ancho.)
2 T. sherry vinegar (I had to pay out the nose for this, but it tastes great.)
1 T. paprika
1 oz. slice toasted bread
salt to taste

2 lbs. asparagus, peeled if thick
1 T. olive oil
¼ c. water
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Roast tomatoes, peppers, and onions in 1 T. olive oil to coat until soft, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, and, when cool enough to handle, peel vegetables and set aside. Move oven rack to top position and set oven to broil.

Heat 2 T. oil in a skillet over medium heat. Brown almonds and garlic and remove from skillet. Place in blender. Fry chilies for 2 minutes. Peel and seed chiles. Add remaining ingredients to blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt to taste.

Place asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet with a rim. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and add the water to the sheet. Place the sheet on the top rack of the oven and broil for 5-7 minutes, depending on thickness. If your asparagus seems too thick to cook via this treatment, pop it in a nonstick pan with the same additions, cover tightly, and steam over medium-high heat until the water is gone.

Serve asparagus with a generous drape of romesco sauce.

Parsley Pesto

I found out years ago (through my work at WFM) that the pestos I liked best weren’t the super-authentic all-basil garlic pine nut Parmigiano Reggiano ones. Mostly, I found that using all those ingredients didn’t result in a balanced pesto, but one that had a harsh edge and an overwhelming flavor. It’s expensive to make, too. I fell in love with a Texas-born WFM spinach pesto – I still have the recipe for it, but it’s in foodservice quantities. Hard to translate a pesto recipe that makes a gallon down to a usable amount.

But this one is in that one’s spirit. This is an improvised one I made this evening – it is quite good, has a pleasant light herbaceous taste, and doesn’t knock you out of your chair. No, the garlic is not missing, I just didn’t use any. You certainly could add some minced garlic – I just think it’s nice to have it without it once in a while.

A food processor is indispensable for this.

1 1/4 c. curly parsley, finely chopped (do this part with a knife – works better)
1/3 c. walnut halves (trust me)
some basil – tonight I had about 10 leaves left, some big, some small
about 2 oz. hard cheese – I used Dry Jack, but Reggiano or Romano would work fine
olive oil to process (Put some in. If it’s not moving in the processor, add more)
salt and to taste

Using the knife blade of the processor, process the parsley, nuts, and basil with some olive oil. Change to the shredding disk and shred in the cheese. Switch back to the knife blade and combine the mixture, adding more olive oil if necessary. Turn out into a bowl and season with salt to taste. If it’s too pastelike and looks like it won’t toss over pasta well, add more oil. If you’re spreading it on bread, you might want it pastelike.

Lemon-Caper Sauce

I took this recipe from Paulette Mitchell’s Vegetarian Appetizers. She pairs it with roasted vegetables. I served it over steamed slender asparagus, it being asparagus time now here in California. I’m going to miss Kalamazoo now that spring is coming around here – I know there are farmer’s markets here, but the lack of diversity in the Kalamazoo farmer’s market was an enjoyable challenge. You could have all the asparagus you could possibly eat for about a month after the farmer’s market started in May, and then that was it. Then midsummer you could have all the tomatoes you could possibly eat. Then in November you could get anything you wanted, as long as it was squash. It forced you to eat seasonally – which makes you appreciate what you have when you have it.

This sauce was very good and it goes together quickly – there’s only a little chopping involved. I’d happily use it with artichokes, though I’d probably cut down on the lemon juice a bit to make it thicker and then run it through the blender so it wouldn’t have bits in it. Come to think of it, that would be a good idea if one was serving it over skinny little asparagus, too, but I don’t want to add an additional step and dirty dish. It was a hit with Michael, too. I’ll make it again.

¼ c. mayonnaise (I use one made with organic eggs – you could use a soy one if you are so inclined)
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 t. Dijon mustard (I used my favorite Moutarde de Meaux)
½ t. honey (having none, I used an identical amount of sugar)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. minced shallot (small ones are generally easy to find – if you really can’t bring yourself to bring a shallot, you could use the same amount of chopped onion, rinsed under water briefly)
1 t. capers, drained and rinsed
1 t. fresh thyme or ½ t. dried thyme
freshly ground pepper and salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients and stir. See? Easy.

Veggie Bolognese

If you like mushrooms, you should make this. Even if you don’t like mushrooms, you should make this. It made a mushroom-tolerator out of me.

I did not like mushrooms growing up. The whole idea of eating fungus – I just couldn’t get past it. Even now, when I look at the frozen Quorn products, they freak me out a little bit.

I do better with mushrooms now, though they’re certainly not on my list of most favorite foods. What got me started on eating them at all was a sauce that was one of the products in our fresh pasta lineup at Fresh Fields/WFM. It was a Veggie Bolognese, made at our commissary in Rockville, and it was just wonderful. It was not a great seller, but if you sampled it to customers with fresh bread – even cold – you could count on it walking out the door.

They don’t sell it any more, but it’s not hard to make. I remember the ingredients very well from puzzling over enjoying something that contained so many mushrooms. The worst part of it is cleaning them, and even that’s not too bad.

The original was more mushroomy and less tomatoey, but I have a certain level of mushroominess that I still cannot get past. If you have no such issues, you could double the amount of mushrooms in this recipe and get a product closer to the original.

olive oil (plenty)
1 1/2 large onions, chopped
5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, washed, stemmed and cut into about 3/8 in. sq. pieces
1 can Muir Glen (there I go again – you’d think I worked for Muir Glen, wouldn’t you?) Whole Fire Roasted Tomatoes, chopped coarsely (knife or food processor, whatever you feel.)
2/3 c. minced curly parsley
1 tsp. dried rosemary
3 T. tamari
1/2 c. dry red wine
generous amount of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450. Place the chopped mushrooms on a baking sheet with a rim and dose with a generous drizzle of olive oil and season with salt. Toss together. Place in the preheated oven, and roast, stirring once or twice, for about 15 minutes, or until substantially shrunken in appearance. While the mushrooms are roasting, sauté the onions in olive oil until they are beginning to brown slightly. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes, parsley, and rosemary. When the mushrooms are finished roasting, add them into the sauce, along with the tamari, the wine, and the pepper. Simmer for as long as you can stand it – a couple hours is best – and serve over any good-quality chunky pasta. Farfalle or medium shells are good choices. Don’t insult it by showing up with angel hair. Make a big green salad and as M.F.K. Fisher says, (thanks Debbie) You Have Dined.

Tahini Sauce & Yogurt-Cucumber Sauce

I think both of these are necessary for falafel. Many restaurants I’ve had it at just use the tahini sauce, but I think that using both gives you the proper “what a mess” factor falafel should have. And they’re both simple to make.

Tahini Sauce
1/4 c. tahini
1/4 c. cold water
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. olive oil
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together until the sauce is smooth. Easy, right? It’s a good no-cholesterol-but-creamy salad dressing, too.

Yogurt-Cucumber Sauce
This is basically a raita without any herbs, or chunky-style tzatziki – however you want to look at it.

1 c. yogurt (lowfat works fine)
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into strips and diced finely
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 T. water
2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together.