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Gluten free


December is here, root vegetables reign, and the pomegranate is back until end of January. Fast, after work suppers are hard to manage without relying on fast food or processed produce. Keep a few staples in the kitchen to back you up for when you feel like a healthy supper that doesn’t taste like a trip down diet lane. Dried algae are an affordable way of nutritionally boosting your dishes. Seaweeds are an excellent source of minerals in general and are easily added to soups, vegetables and stews.

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Plus seaweed helps render pulses and beans more digestible. Just add a little to them as they are cooking.

An all-in-one bowl of smoky goodness – this veggie bowl is simple, filling and fast. One of my pantry staples has become a Mexican chipotle powder from the London Borough market that’s pretty fiery but a great way of livening up a lentil stew without adding fatty bacon or pancetta à la version française.

Extremely low in fat and high in fibre yet behaves like a potato, the celery root (celeriac) has a lot going for it nutritionally with a strong taste that is great for soups, purées or for making healthy chips.  Looking like a cross between a radish, a turnip and a potato, it’s a bit of an ugly duckling root vegetable that can stand up to cooking holding it’s shape and flavour well.

In this bowl the chipotle is nicely absorbed by the celeriac and the eventual sprinkling of feta at the end combats the strong flavours and adds a touch of cool creaminess.

Kombu, edible Japanese seaweed, is extensively used in and it can be traced back to the year 797. One of its benefits is to render pulses and beans more digestible. Often it is cultivated locally too, the kombu I use is from western France.

The feta is a nice creamy salty cooling factor that is best added at the last moment.

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Ingredients

1 cup yellow lentils

1 cup chopped fresh celeriac

1 diced shallot

1 organic stock cube (optional)

Scant ½ teaspoon of chipotle powder

3 cups water

1 or 2 strands of kombu seaweed (optional)

1 teaspoon nut oil

2 tablespoons crumbled feta

Making

Peel and chop the celery root/celeriac. Heat the nut oil and lightly sauté the shallot before adding the lentils and the celeriac to the hot pan.

Add the chipotle powder and ensure the lentils and celeriac are well coated in the oil and the smoky powder.  If using, add the stock cube here, crumbling it slightly. The flavours will infuse here in the heat.

Then add the water, add the kombu, bringing everything to the boil, stirring well.  Then reduce the heat and simmer for about 35-40 minutes.

Serve with the feta crumbled on top.

Healthy brownies are all the rage. Adapted from a cookbook dedicated to cooking with agave nectar by Ania Catalano,  Heidi’s infamous black bean brownies have taken the food blogs by storm.  Now we’ve got red bean azuki brownies. The beans replace the flour, give texture, lend their crumbly nature and render something sinful slightly less so. Can a sweet red bean and rice bowl become a brownie? I don’t see why not. These are light and crumbly and best served chilled. Definitely a winner, a chewy dense chocolaty brownie with none of the guilt…or very little…

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Ingredients
200g bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150g unsalted butter
200g cooked adzuki beans
3 tablespoons dessicated coconut
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4  eggs
300ml maple syrup and/or agave nectar (use about 2/3 maple syrup and 1/3 agave – agave is very sweet)

Chopped nuts would be optional


Making

Melt the butter and chocolate over a low heat and mix in the vanilla essence, salt and then the cocoa powder. At the same time put the beans and the coconut in the food processor and pulse until crumbly. Separately, beat the eggs and the maple syrup mixture until fluffy. Fold the bean mixture into the chocolate then the chocolate mixture into the eggs and sugar. Pour the resulting batter into a well-greased 9 inch brownie tin and bake for about 30 – 40 minutes until done. Chill before serving as they get quite crumbly. Serve dusted with icing sugar.

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There is something about roasted fennel. Usually served raw with oranges, the flavour that emerges from soft slightly crispy, almost see through slow roasted fennel makes for something a little different. Turkey, chicken, crab meat, tofu would also work well.

Ingredients

3 sweet ripe oranges
fresh lettuce leaves
2 bulbs fennel
2 turkey breasts
salt, pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons walnut oil (or olive oil)

Making

DSC_0579The key to this is to make sure the fennel is nicely thinly sliced before roasting, too thick and it doesn’t get that delicious slow cooked translucent caramelized quality.

Adding cinnamon to the oranges when chopped into pieces brings out their flavour. Served alone, this is also a quick and easy Moroccan inspired salad or dessert.

Cook the turkey in a hot skillet with a little oil and a little cinnamon. Set aside. Once the fennel is done remove from the oven and let cool. Once cooled toss the orange, turkey and fennel together drizzle with the rest of the oil and cinnamon and serve on the lettuce. Also works well in a soft tortilla wrap or  cold the next day.

Feta in this is good but it’s not quite right. A good goat cheese and less of it is better, or perhaps a nice crumbly ricotta. Nonetheless, a good combination. Slightly sweet, salty, soft and crunchy, the combination works. A little honey goes a long way cooked into the quinoa and complements the beet and the cheese. Gomasio, the nutty sesame salt owes its roots to Japan and is addictive and delicious with beetroot.  On the subject of flavoured salt, I recently made a nice discovery in the form of Goumanyat on 3 Rue Charles François Dupuis near the Marais. You have to ring the buzzer to be let into this épicerie fine for reasons unbeknown to me. Apparently to sell fine spices, saffron and good wine these days you need to vet your potential clientèle before they can be allowed to enter the premises. Anyway, they sell a wide range of flavoured sea salts among other delights. I bought a lightly smoked salt with sweet piment. It’s like adding a few drops of an evening of Andalusian tapas, more specifically, a good chorizo without actually consuming any, to your cooking…..

DSC_0548Ingredients

1 small chopped cooked beetroot
(either precooked or already roasted, as you wish)
1 cup quinoa

2 cups cold water
1 teaspoon gomasio

3 tablespoons goat cheese

1 tablespoon honey
1 quarter clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds for sprinkling

Making

If using pre-cooked beetroot then ensure it’s chopped or sliced finely and put it in the oven for the time it takes to cook the quinoa. About 15 or 20 minutes. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and slowly toss around the chopped garlic. Don’t let it burn, keep the heat low. Then toss in the quinoa and quickly stir so it doesn’t stick. Allow the grains to toast a little and savour the nutty smell. Add the honey making a well in the center of the quinoa so the honey hits the hot pan and dissolves coating the grains and absorbing the garlic. Continue to stir over the heat for a few minutes. Then add 2 cups of cold water. Stir and bring to a boil then bring down the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Once most of the water is absorbed, take the quinoa off the heat, take the beetroot out of the oven and grab  a small round bowl and a plate. Spoon some cheese over the bottom of the bowl packing it in, then layer it with beetroot finishing with the quinoa. Quickly up end the bowl onto the plate, remove the bowl and serve sprinkled with gomasio and black sesame seeds.
(Note : This really only serves one person)

Pumpkin and lamb curry served in a pumpkin bowl. Pumpkins make great bowls.

They just take a lot of wrist work to empty. Sharpen your knives and dig in. Carefully.

In the same way as small children like to grab shiny round things that come in bright colours, I too cannot resist pumpkins. They’re just so satisfying to look at. This is pumpkin month, Halloween approaches and although it’s a rather discreet and misunderstood holiday in this neck of the woods, it doesn’t mean that we can’t think of dinnering ideas that involve these masses of autumn bounty. They’re all over the morning markets but you have to seize them quickly, the ones that can be carved into mysterious and terrifying objects go fast not to mention the ones that were obviously destined to provide crockery to people who might need some in which to serve that nights dinner…… Lamb and pumpkin curry – served in its own pumpkin bowl seemed like the perfect Sunday night supper. The recipe is simple and can be either veggie or not. Makes not a lot of difference. Well, unless you’re the lamb in question or a vegetarian. Then it does indeed make quite a bit of difference. Add other things, take them away, use coconut milk and green curry paste for an entirely more fragrant and less rich affair…

This may well just be the beginning of an array of ‘Things to fill pumpkin bowls with’…
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Ingredients

1 teaspoon mustard seeds
4 or 5 lamb chops or gigots (optional)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of hot curry paste (garam masala)
1 aubergine, cubed
1 sweet potato, semi-roasted
flesh of 4 small pumpkins, roasted
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 cups water
a handful of fresh spinach leaves

Making

Preheat the oven. The pumpkin will need to roast for about 45 minutes before you start making the curry so plan in advance. Removing the flesh from the pumpkin well in advance makes life a lot easier. Carefully remove the tops, cut into the flesh to get at the seeds, scoop, dig, tear, do whatever you have to to get the seeds out.

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Discard the seeds or set them aside for toasting later. Then start scooping out the pumpkin flesh. Have ready a roasting dish in which to roast the pumpkin and the sweet potato. Set the pumpkin bowls aside with their ‘lids’, rinse out any extra scraps of seed or flesh and pat dry. Put the pumpkin flesh in the oven with the sweet potato for at least 40 minutes. Then remove as much of the lamb as you can from the bone. In a hot pan quickly sear the lamb on both sides to seal in the juices, then remove from the pan and set aside. Add the onions to the hot pan with the garlic and the mustard seeds. Let soften for a few minutes before adding the aubergine. When the aubergine is soft add the meat, the roasted pumpkin and sweet potato. The sweet potato need only be partially cooked. Stir well for a few minutes, then add the curry paste. Stir well and add the water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about an hour on a low heat. Just before serving add the fresh spinach leaves. They’ll wilt only slightly and add a splash of green to the comforting caramel toffee texture of this warming spicy stew.

Spoon into the four pumpkins and serve with the lids on!DSC_0540

DSC_1058Socca on the Côte d’Azur, Farinata on the Ligurian coast, and something fast to do with the chickpea flour in the kitchen…..It had escaped my attention for so long, chickpeas have a certain quality and their flour a certain flavour (falafel anyone?) and so I wanted to do something with it. I tried making empanadas once with it and failed miserably. Crumbly empanadas just don’t really work, on any level. I forgot how difficult it can be to bake with only a gluten free flour. Inspired by a New York times article on socca and flatbreads, I decided to go more for an Indian take and left out the olive oil. These spicy crepes have become a constant evening meal. Chickpea flour is also a staple in Indian snacks and desserts, known more commonly as besan or garam flour. There are so many other fun recipes and ways to use it in both sweet and savoury dishes so this is but a first post where chickpea flour takes the lead role.
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The trick with the Ligurian farinata and the socca is the olive oil in the mix. A good olive oil. Then it’s served hot with lots of black pepper. Amazing.

These pancakes are more simple and the focus is on the spices and the coriander.

A tablespoon or two of pouring cream or plain yoghurt in the batter is a nice way to add a little flavour.

Ingredients (makes about 3 to 4 decent sized crepes, adjust as necessary)

2 cups of chickpea flour
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon hot curry powder
some chopped fresh coriander

1-2 cups water – use enough to make a smooth batter

Optional – a little fresh pouring cream or plain or Greek yoghurt – just to be crazy.

Note – experiment with different spices.
Also add some chopped banana instead of the spices with a tablespoon of raw cane sugar to make a great breakfast pancake

Making

In a bowl mix the flour and spices, then slowly add the water stirring well as it forms a paste. Continue to add a little more water as you mix, add the coriander and keep stirring until you have a smooth batter. Add the cream if using.

Set aside or refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Heat a pan with a little oil and or butter. When very hot put a tiny spoon of the batter onto the hot pan and let it spread. This is your pan tester! As the golden rule and sacred saying of pancake making says – the first one is always a disaster but it sets up your pan for the rest!

So, use this first dollop to soak up the extra oil in your pan and then scrape it off. Now your pan is ready.

Chickpea flour is a pain to bake with, no gluten and while it’s great for pancakes, it can take more cooking time to form a strong pancake. So pour a decent dollop of the batter on the pan and spread around, keep the heat fairly high. then let it sit for a while…when the batter starts to bubble see if you can flip it easily, then do the other side.

Serve immediately – alone or with a curry, with some yoghurt, in pieces as aperitif or…..

DSC_1018The lentil, a super food. With maybe less then a glamorous reputation. The lentil suffers often from a reputation as being only suitable for vegans who have no choice but to survive on pulses and grains. Think again. As mentioned last week, a recent trip to Syria was a fantastic food experience and in one particular restaurant, Naranj at the Bab Sharqi, they served a cold lentil mezze that was really amazing and I still think about it. It was cold with coriander, caramelized onions, a lot of garlic and maybe saffron… I had to go back and order it again. Anyway, easy enough to recreate a version of it but I don’t think I could ever capture the taste.

Contrary to popular belief, (particularly in France), lentils don’t need to be cooked to death. This is really a very important point. Overcooking is probably why so many people are put off eating lentils. There is an assumption that they take hours to cook and in the end are just a gooey mushy dark mess. It is not so. 10-15 minutes of simmering will render your red or yellow lentils crunchy and perfect. Some brands and varieties need longer and making a lentil soup requires more cooking time but otherwise don’t allow them to just sit there stewing. This is a fast filling alternative to a bowl of pasta and is full of iron and fiber and all kinds of ridiculous scientifically proven health benefits which won’t get detailed here. Suffice to say they can take on all kinds of great flavours eaten as a salad or still hot.

These spicy lentils absorb the spices well and have roughly the same cooking time as quinoa so often I add a cup to the mix too.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon each of the following:
turmeric
hot curry powder
cumin powder


half a teaspoon:
brown mustard seeds
cinnamon
butter
white pepper

1 clove garlic crushed
1 inch root ginger chopped finely
some fresh coriander
handful of raisins
1 cup yellow lentils

Greek yogurt – enough for one serving or as you wish
1 cup Quinoa (optional)

Making

Heat some oil in a pan until very hot and throw in the garlic, onion and ginger. Toss for a few seconds then immediately turn down the heat. Add the different spices one at a time stirring quickly so nothing burns. Add the raisins and the butter. To the paste add your lentils still stirring. Let the lentils absorb some of the spicy paste. The quinoa could be added here too.

Add 2 cups of cold water and bring to the boil. Then turn down heat to quite low and simmer for no longer then 15 minutes. The water should be more or less absorbed by the lentils.

Serve hot with fresh coriander and a dollop of Greek yogurt.