Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spaghetti Sauce:

Not Sketti Sauce

A good while back I watched an episode of Honey Boo Boo (don't judge) where the family made a rather interesting version of spaghetti sauce, affectionately referred to as "sketti". Based on what I was able to gather, the sauce is roughly 50% margarine and 50% ketchup. Any seasonings? Nope. Margarine and ketchup, only. Was it at least slowly simmered over a low heat to somehow hopefully and magically deepen or develop the flavors of the ketchup and margarine? Nope. Microwaved.   

(I'm not going to show you good people how to make sketti. So don't fret and stick with me here.)

Out of purely morbid curiosity, I made it. I know, I know, it's gross but I just had to find out. I knew it would be awful....but sometimes in life you just gotta make that call for yourself. It's like when your wife pulls some unidentified Tupperware container from the way, way back of the fridge with some leftover whatever, hailing from days of yore, and smells it. She recoils in disgust and says: "Ew!!! Gross!!! Here, smell this!!!". And you do. You know it's bad but you still smell it anyway. Why didn't you just learn vicariously from her obviously bad experience? After all, you did just witness her recoiling in disgust. Wasn't that enough? Apparently not.

So I made the sketti. Surprisingly, it wasn't what I was expecting at all, really. In fact, I was actually somewhat familiar with it. And it was exactly as it should be. It was surprisingly, yet logically, sweet and tangy. The richness of the margarine tones down the tang of ketchup and adds a certain undeniable balance that.......oh shut up, Justin! Nutshell? It reminds me of SpaghettiO's. Does it taste exactly like SpaghettiO's? No, but the first thought that came to my mind when I tasted it was that of those beloved little round O's from my childhood. I guess you could say it was "SpaghettiO-esque". That being said, there's a reason why I don't eat O's anymore: they taste like sketti. Learn vicariously my friends, don't try this at home.

What I have for you today is my own version of spaghetti sauce. Or pasta sauce, if you will. I know that's kind of a generic term that can mean a million things. But for me, growing up, spaghetti sauce was always synonymous with marinara. It was something that was always in the "mix" for an easy weekly dinner. And this goes back to before I can remember. For me, it's one of those comfort-type foods that is easy to make and it will usually please pretty much anyone.

I prefer my sauce kinda chunky. So I leave the veggies a little bit larger so they provide something to bite into when you get a taste. Not huge chunks but significant enough to create an identifiable bite. I love to bite down on that odd piece of bell pepper mixed in the sauce and think to myself: Damn! That bell pepper is amazing.

Hint: We put this over stuffed cheese manicotti tonight and it rocked.    

Vegetarian Spaghetti Sauce


  • 3 15 oz. cans tomato sauce
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained 
  • 2/3 small can of tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dried basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 large bell pepper, diced
  • 1/3 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves


1. In a large dutch oven or pot, over a medium high heat, combine the first 10 ingredients (up to and including the bay leaves). Bring ingredients to a simmer, then reduce heat to low to maintain simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

2. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium high heat. Add in the bell peppers and saute for 2-3 minutes. Then add the shallots and continue to saute for about 2 more minutes. Finally, add the garlic and saute for another 2 minutes. 

3. Now add your sauteed veggies to the pot with the sauce. At this point taste and adjust your salt and pepper if necessary.  Let simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

4. Serve over pasta of your choice.

Servings: 6

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Portobello Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches:

Not From Philly, Contains No Steak

Here's another prime example of a dish that doesn't seem like it would be good without the "steak". Not only is it good, it's fantastic. So in the spirit of just "going for it", here we go again.

I have never been one to really embrace the fake meats that are available out there so I tend to avoid them like the plague. My philosophy is that if you're going to be a vegetarian, just own it, man! Don't try to fill your plate with fake steak, chicken, fish, sausage, etc. That, to me, just means you can't let go of the meat. My humble advise, should you care to accept it, is to simply let go. The best revelation I've ever had in my life as a consumer of edible substances is that you must embrace the sheer kick-assity of vegetables. For me, they were always the side note. An afterthought. I never truly gave them a chance. They were the proverbial "red headed stepchild" of the dinner plate. 

And as far as fake meats are concerned, don't get me wrong, early on in my culinary quest into vegetarianism, I ran through them to see if they might be at least somewhat acceptable. What I found is that I was repeatedly repulsed by their flavor. For example, there is a little somethin'-somethin' about the taste of seitan that is unmistakable. A certain je ne sais quoi, as it were. And there is no amount of spices, herbs, or any other flavor enhancers that can mask it. As I sit here typing this, I just had one those "ew, gross" shivers. 

That being said, I typically don't eat those products whether they are store bought or homemade. Instead, I opened my mind a bit and came to discover that the redheaded stepchild is actually a pretty cool kid. 

In the case of this recipe, I looked at several different versions online, both containing meat and no meat. I always focus on studying the meat-centric recipes because I found that many of the vegetarian recipes are so far moved from the originals, that they take on a totally different form, life, appearance, etc. They add too many ingredients and change too many things around. Before you know it, the outcome is nothing like what you set out to accomplish in the first place. Stop! You don't usually have to do that. It doesn't have to be that difficult. The fact is, many times, just a few tweaks here and there are all you need to get a vegetarian version of a dish that is very similar and just as satisfying as the meat version.    

Based on what I found with other "authentic" Philly Cheesesteak recipes, these sandwiches are generally pretty simple and straightforward. There's nothing too complicated about making them and that's the beauty of this dish. It's simple in that it doesn't contain too many ingredients, it's not complicated to make and the outcome is over the top. I mean really, what more could you ask for? 

This recipe was inspired by this one here. While the ingredient list didn't change, I did make changes to ingredient amounts to fit my personal preferences. 

Vegetarian Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches


  • 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 3 large portabello mushrooms (5" - 6" caps), stems and gills removed, 1/4 inch sliced
  • 3 Tbsp red wine
  • 1/2 large bell pepper, thinly sliced 
  • 1/2 large onion, thinly slice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 - 6 slices provolone cheese
  • 2 hoagie rolls (approx. 7" each)


1. Preheat oven to 250°F.

2. In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil over a medium high heat. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until they are softened and brown, approximately 4 minutes.

3. Remove the mushrooms from the skillet, place into a bowl and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel and place back over the medium-high heat.

4. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of oil to the skillet and add your bell peppers and onions. Saute them for approximately 5-8 minutes until they are also softened and brown.

5. Now reduce the heat to medium low and add the mushrooms back to the pan. Stir to combine all veggies. Season with salt and pepper to your liking. 

6. In the pan, divide the veggies into two piles roughly matching the length and width of your hoagies rolls. Place two or three slices of cheese on top of each pile. Allow the cheese to melt. It doesn't have to be completely melted as you are going cook further in the oven but it should at least be more than halfway there. This should take 2-3 minutes.  

7. Slice your rolls in half but not all the way though in "butterfly" fashion. Fill your rolls with the veggie/cheese filling. 

8. Roll each sandwich in a 15" sheet of aluminum foil. Place both foil wrapped sandwiches in the oven directly on the rack and let cook for 15 minutes.   

Servings: 2