bistro feasto

sometimes it's fun to pretend you're making dinner in the french countryside: standing over a steaming stovetop, a jaunty apron around your waist, stirring and whisking, humming a little tune, pausing once in awhile to slow dance with someone you love. it really completes the fantasy to be cooking actual french food. creamy vegetable soups, crunchy endive salads, and homey cassoulets are nice, but the frenchie choices for vegetarians, and vegans especially, can be limited. and maybe a little boring.

one of my favorite bistro-inspired dishes, though, is lentils with (vegan) sausages and spinach. there is something about this dish that i will never get bored with. i've made it over and over, and unlike most of my favorite weeknight dishes, i never seem to throw in variations. it is nearly perfect as it is, and just makes you feel wonderful when you eat it. perhaps this is the best definition of french bistro fare: simple but elegant, a sense of refinement but nothing stuffy. after a hard day of work, lauren and i made this along with a lovely composed salad (butter lettuce, feta, pears, cashews and a drizzle of balsamic), and a special beer, brewed with hops grown in philadelphia!

so even while the dingy sidewalks are slick with chilly rain and fallen leaves, you can fluff a tablecloth over your kitchen table, light a few candles, pour a glass of beaujolais nouveau, and and whisper to yourself, "eh, c'est la vie," before taking a bite of this delicious bistro dish.

Lentils w/ Vegan Sausage & Spinach
~makes 4-6 servings~
~takes 30 minutes~

2 tsp oil (olive oil w/ some body is perfect), butter, or margarine
1/2 a large white onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 pound of brussel sprouts, cleaned and quartered (optional)
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 cup of regular brown or fancier de puy lentils, rinsed
2 cups of water or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 large bunch of spinach or 3 cups of baby spinach
2 vegan sausages, sliced into rounds (if they're homemade, you get a gold star!)

- over a medium flame, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil (or melt the margarine) in a medium pot, throw in the onion and garlic in and sautee til softened, about 5 minutes.

- add the brussels, carrots and celery and sprinkle with salt and pepper. sautee until tender. if the vegetables stick to the bottom of the pot, add a splash of broth (red wine is even better!).

- add the lentils, and stir around with the vegetable mixture for a minute. then add the 2 cups of water/broth, turn the heat to high, and bring to a boil.

- once boiling, lower the heat to medium-low and add the thyme and bay leaf. let this simmer briskly until the lentils are cooked all the way through, about 20 minutes.

- in a separate pan, heat the other teaspoon of oil. fry the sausages until browned.

- once the lentils are done, and the sausages are fried up, add the sausages to the pot. stir the spinach in (you can do this in a few batches if your pot is smaller), until it wilts, which only will take thirty seconds or so.

- stir everything together. taste for salt, pepper, or a bit of spice, if you like. serve piping hot.

- eat with gusto and remember to regret nothing.



a new icon

it's deeply enjoyable to me that because The Cheesesteak is one of philadelphia's edible icons (enough to warrant a televised showdown), the vegetarian/vegan cheesesteak has become another kind of icon for this town. an impressive number of bars, cafes and eateries boast their own version of this copycat sandwich. truly, these seitan beasts are everywhere.

do you know that i've never had a real philly cheesesteak? i have followed a meatless diet for so long, that a pat's, geno's, tony lukes' or whatever else has never touched my lips. this is a fact i'm pretty proud of. however, i have sampled dozens of vegetarian versions. like most popularized food items, some are great, some are bad. most are just okay.

this being said, i feel confident in claiming that blackbird pizza's is some next level shit. ryan and i met for lunch on friday and tucked into these beauties, pausing only to exclaim our delight between massive bites.

the seitan was very thinly sliced, perfectly peppery, and piping hot. there was no skimping on the onions and mushrooms, and vegan cheese was melted (YES - MELTED!) evenly over everything. the roll was crusty and sturdy - a detail so often overlooked in mainstream sandwich construction. i usually like to save half my sandwiches for round 2, but this one was too good and i showed no restraint.

now at $8 and change (and, don't forget to tip the nice vegans!), this sammie ain't exactly cheap - but who can put a price on joy?




this past friday night, we gathered at beloved shot & a beer joint bob and barbara's, for a birthdy throwdown. our bestie Halimah turned 25! so in her honor, we settled in at the city-wide special watering hole for long, solid bar session. you know, one of those nights where you park it at the bar, the hours roll by, the beers keep coming, and before you know it people are talking to strangers, jovially yelling over each other and dancing to the jazz band. maybe a few friends even trade smooches on a drunk lark. the bartenders start to hate you even though you mean to spread love through your tips. i wish i could elucidate this better but it just felt very...philly.

after the majority of the friends had disbanded, ryan, hammy and i stumbled out of the bar and into the clear autumn air. tipsy, but not yet tired, someone proposed a nightcap before turning in for good. we decided to get one more at tattoo mom, mostly out of its convenient location to pizza (eep!) and home. on our bike ride down south street, i proposed a slightly classier option - brauhaus schmitz. much to my surprise, my cohorts heartily agreed to abandon our punk rock destination for the german-themed bar. something about brauhaus has always been tinged with douchiness (is it that boot thing?), or fratiness, or something, but it also has the potential to be really nice. which would it be on that saturday morning at 1:20AM?

blonde, redhead, brunette

thankfully, the meathead contingent had already retired for the evening, and the bar was pretty quiet. yeah, there were still a few questionable looking/acting young men, but we ignored them and ordered our delicious final beers of the night. i can't remember what ry and ham ordered (full disclosure: i think i acheived 2.5 out of 3 sheets to the wind), but i ordered a big, beautiful mug of spaten optimator (the dark beer on the far right in the photo above). yes, 17 ounces of this 7.2%, bottom fermented, rich and roasty malted doppel bock was a bold choice for a night cap. but after a night of mediocre lager, it tasted SO good, and i really took my time sipping. if we'd actually gone to that other bar, i certainly would've ended up gulping yet another crappy beer, and probably would've ordered a second. instead, all three of us lingered, truly enjoying the complex, deep aromas and flavors of our brews. and at $5.50, this heady bev was worth every dime.

ending our night this way felt, well, very adult. adult in the best way - a savvy, relaxing way to spend a little more time together before hitting the sack. perhaps appropriate for a quarter century b-day, eh?