Warm Spinach Salad with Lentils and Feta

When I used to work at the Westside Bakery Cafe in Berkeley, CA, one of my favorite lunch items was a warm spinach salad with lentils and feta.

You’ll need: 1 cup of lentils, an onion or two, a carrot, a can of tomatoes, some garlic, a bunch of spinach, feta cheese, bay leaf, thyme, a nice vinegar and olive oil.

Chop a half a carrot and a half an onion and briefly saute in olive oil. Add a bay leaf and the seasonings of your choice. I actually used Herb de Provence this time. Zatar would be another cool choice. To this add 1 cup of lentils and two cups of chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the lentils are tender and have absorbed most of the liquid. Remove from the heat.

Chop an onion and as much garlic as you like. Briefly saute in olive oil, add oregano, thyme, or other herbs of your choice. I’m the sort of person who can’t make a tomato sauce without adding crushed red chiles. You may not be. Then add the tomatoes from a can of Roma tomatoes. Cook until sauce-like, and adjust seasonings.

We really like this mildly flavored and buttery olive oil from Bariani.

Pick a tasty wine. This was an Italian wine we got when we belonged to the Bonny Doon “Dewn” wine club. Its exact name escapes me at the moment.

Wash the spinach, dry, and place in a big bowl. Crumble the feta cheese into the bowl over the spinach. If you have leftover grilled or roasted chicken, like us, this is another nice addition.

Check the seasonings of your tomato sauce and stir in a bit of decent vinegar. I used the Balsamic style vinegar from Bariani. Add the warm lentils to the tomatoes and stir together. Pour the tomato and lentil mixture over your spinach and feta, and toss.

Warm bread or Pita bread is a good accompaniment. This is the sourdough whole wheat bread from the Arizmendi Bakery. I really like it. They use a great sourdough starter they got from their sister bakery, the Cheese Board in Berkeley. The bread has a wonderful smell like new mown hay.

OK, it’s not the prettiest meal in the world, but it is very tasty and quick to prepare.

Pot Roast Pasta

My actual favorite part of pot roast or another braised meat, is to make pasta from the leftovers. Chop yourself a half an onion and some garlic.

Saute them briefly in olive oil.

Deglaze with wine and add canned tomatoes and cook until sauce-like. Add the beef and whatever pan gravy you have to the tomato sauce. Check the seasonings.

Boil some pasta.

I’m sure there are many fine pastas in the world. I’ve been using DeCecco dry pasta for years now and it’s my favorite.

Pull the pasta and add it to the sauce. If you need to loosen it up, add some pasta water. Serve with a nice red wine.

We got this one on a recent trip to Paso Robles. It was a very dark Syrah, almost like a Petit Syrah in character. Quite reasonable, and not over oaked, with dark berry flavors.

Soup Noodles

Well, that isn’t Soup Noodles, it’s a Fourth Degree Cocktail:

2 oz Junipero
1/2 oz M&R Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz Dolin Vermouth
Dash Absinthe
Lemon Peel

Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel over drink.

I just love how you can see the little droplets of lemon oil on the surface of the drink.

The original drink from the early 20th century is equal parts Italian Vermouth, French Vermouth, and Gin with a dash of Absinthe. I’ve dried it out slightly and this cocktail falls right into my sweet spot for aromatic cocktails. Complex, simple, not too sweet, and wonderfully balanced. Just a fantastic cocktail.

Now that’s Soup Noodles.

Soba noodles in broth with baked tofu, mushrooms, spinach and an egg. Usually go for the Chinese style broth with xiao shing rice wine, soy, chile, scallions, garlic, and ginger. Top it off with some cilantro.

Fish Provencal-ish

One of my favorite fish preparations is baking it in a spicy tomato sauce with olives and capers.

Unfortunately, the only decent looking fish at our local market was Pollack, the world’s most tasteless fish. There’s a reason some Asian genius decided to use this as a base to create artificial crab.

Pre-heat your oven to 325 F.

Make a tasty tomato sauce. I actually kind of like leeks a bit better than the yellow onions I used here.

I like line a baking dish with sliced lemons, then place the fish on this.

Then top the fish with some herbs, in this case thyme, and salt and pepper. Cover the fish with the tomato sauce and put it in the oven.

“Wait, what are all these unusual stainless items which arrived at our front door,” sez Ms. Sweetpea?

Acting on a tip from DrinksCompanion I scored a set of 28 oz stainless tins and 18oz cheater tins from BarSupplies.com. Not to mention a full set of stainless jiggers in varying sizes. Interesting posts will follow explaining, if you don’t feel like reading DrinksCompanion’s exegesis.

Linguini is one of my favorite dry pastas. I don’t exactly know why. Versatile?

Take the fish out of the sauce and plate, toss the pasta with the sauce.

Served it with some olive bread from Arizmendi Bakery.

It was only OK this time Again, Pollack is really a pretty boring fish. Probably fish balls or fake crab sticks is the thing to do with it, rather than just eating it. Halibut or Cod would be preferable. But, there you go, a fast and easy to make dinner for a weeknight.

BOTW — Stewart’s Root Beer

For some reason the taqueria where we typically get Tuesday night dinner (Taco Tuesday!) never seems to have the non-diet version of Root Beer. Tonight, for the first time in the 5 years we’ve been going there, they finally had it. Woo!

Anyway, it’s appropriate, as I’m skipping the booze for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

I was a bit disappointed to see that while Stewart’s does use natural cane sugar as a sweetener, they still use “natural and artificial flavors”.

It’s a pretty good Root Beer all the same. Could be a bit spicier for me. Still, not as syrupy as some. Carbonation a bit harsher than I’m used to. But, then, I almost never drink carbonated beverages other than beer.

The usual Papalote dinner for me. Chile Verde burrito with pinto beans and guacamole. Of special note is their delicious salsa. It is made with roasted tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, and, I believe, Chile d’Arbol. Spicylicious.

Some Things Get Better With Age

I was hoping this would be the Beer of the week post. Unfortunately, this stout didn’t do much for me. A bit thin, with the coffee flavor really only present as an aftertaste.

Believe it or not, I’ve really had this wok since 1985. Asian IGA on Park Street in Madison, Wisconsin. And, yes, it does seem to get better with age.

Minced seasonings.

Cornstarch dissolved in water.

Marinating chicken.



Cooked Chicken.

Stir fried chicken with cashews and spinach.

Spicy Tofu Redux (again)

As she had been out of town the last time I made spicy tofu, Mrs. Flannestad requested that I repeat the Shitake and Chard version for her last night.

As usual, it turned out quite delicious, especially with the Far West Fungi shitakes.

However, we did experiment with Wildwood Tofu’s (no Soy Deli, thanks!) “Super Firm” tofu.

I’m afraid it turns out I’m not much of a fan of “Super Firm” tofu. Rather than creamy, it has a spongy texture that is just not appealing.

Pasta alla Norma for two

A nice quick pasta for a weeknight.

Put a pot of salted water on to boil your pasta. Peel and dice an eggplant, chop an onion, and 4 cloves of garlic.

Brown the eggplant in batches and reserve.

Saute the garlic for a couple minutes, add the onions, oregano, thyme, and pepper flakes. When onions are cooked, deglaze with a bit of dry white wine or vermouth.

Drop your pasta.

Chiffonade a bunch of mint leaves. Reduce the wine and add a pint of cherry tomatoes. Cook until they burst, and add the reserved eggplant. Cook until the eggplant is tender, (some will “melt” into the sauce.) Check seasonings, stir in half the mint.

When the pasta is done, pull it and toss it with the sauce. If your “sauce” needs to be a little looser, add some pasta water.

Crumble feta cheese on top and top with the remaining mint and fresh ground black pepper.

BOTW–Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale

Beer of the Week!

Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale

Some of my favorite beers are “Fresh Hop” beers. That is, they are made with freshly harvested hops. These beers can only be made when the hop flowers are ready to be picked. Basically, the beer batch must be going and the hop flowers harvested simultaneously. Then the flowers rushed to the brewery to be added to the beer.

Toronado Pub has had a fresh hop festival for the last couple years, and it is one of the highlights, for me, of the fall beer drinking season.

One beer that I have missed nearly every year is the Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale. The nature of fresh hopped beers means that they are only available for a limited time each year, and I’ve just missed it every year.

I OD’d a bit on Sierra Nevada when we first moved to California. I was unemployed. Much TV was watched and many 24 packs of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale were purchased. Eventually I got a job and a bit tired of the flavor profile of Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale.

The interesting thing about Fresh Hop beers is that they are not necessarily more hoppy than your average West Coast IPA. But, that the hop character is different. It is more alive, vegetal and complex. Sometimes there can almost be a barnyard character.

The Sierra Nevada Harvest 2007 is a bit more traditionally hoppier than some of the other fresh hopped ales I’ve had. Grapefruit, pine, all those wonderful hop flavors are present. A good malt backbone to support the hops. Complex sweet notes combined with interesting bitters.

Yeah, that’s something to look forward to next year!

Fried dark meat chicken, marinated tomatoes and greens, roasted yukon gold potatoes with shitake mushrooms. Obviously I am struggling with depth of field and white balance issues with this camera. Sorry about that.