The Gleeful Gourmand: January 2014

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Easy (Asian) Chicken with Broccoli

When our son was about 1 year old, we gave him his very first taste of hummus. Both my husband and I love hummus, and it seemed natural to let our son try it, especially since we had heard that hummus was great to give to babies for exploring new and different tastes and textures. He tried a couple of small bites, seeming to enjoy it.

A couple of minutes later, I looked over and noticed his lips looked a little different, as if there was a blister forming. I asked my husband if it had been there before, if he had hit his lip on anything, and we both agreed that he had not. We watched in horror for the next couple of minutes as more blisters appeared and his lips swelled to the size of Angelina Jolie's. Realizing that it was an allergic reaction, I immediately called the pediatrician on-call at our doctor's firm. I described his symptoms and she asked me calmly if he was breathing okay (yes, his breathing was just fine, in fact, he looked quite happy except for his doubled-up lips), and then asked me to list what he had been eating.

I listed everything, and when I got to the few bites of hummus she interrupted and said, "Yep! He's allergic to hummus. Give him some Children's Benadryl immediately." We did this, and as we watched the medicine take his lips back down to a normal size little by little, she explained, "It's actually the sesame oil - tahini - found in hummus that he's probably allergic to. It's a lot more common than you'd think."

Up until this point we hadn't been too cautious in what we fed him, but we obviously knew not to give him anymore hummus, or things that had sesame seeds on them. Fast-forward two years, and after going through a much more serious and scary ordeal with Tilapia, we had him tested for everything under the sun. In addition to most fish, shellfish, and tree nuts, it showed that he is highly allergic to sesame seeds and sesame oil.

Now, fish, shellfish, and nuts are relatively easy to avoid. Sesame seeds and sesame oil show up in everything  from crackers, bread, and some chips, to rice mixes (Far East, I'm looking at you). We had to learn how to be incredibly vigilant about each box and bag of food that passed his way. We also realized that we could never really take him to any Asian restaurants, because most Asian foods are made with - yep - sesame oil. Which brings me to the point of this post. Both my husband and I love Asian food - all of it, actually. Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese - you name it. But how could we start introducing him and the girls to really good Asian food, and avoid this allergy? I decided to start collecting recipes and try my own hand at it, beyond the ordinary stir fry.

First up we have this Easy Chicken with Broccoli recipe. It comes via All The Cooks, which is a great social cooking app. The thing that I love the most about this recipe is not only how delicious it is, but how the marinade you soak the chicken in while readying all the other components breaks the chicken down into the most delicately succulent bites you could ever imagine. I marveled at the way my wooden spatula cut as easy down a piece of this chicken as if it had been a pat of melting butter.

Chicken, sautéing gently in a wok.

Broccoli, fresh and tender, is quickly seared for a moment or two, bringing out all the gorgeous, vibrant green hues. It adds a much-needed crunch factor, and thanks to the awesome sauce you pour over the top, even my kids gobbled up the stalks (of course, it helped that we made them pretend that they were giants and they were eating trees).

Searing the broccoli quickly in the wok and then removing it is what gives you that gorgeous green color.

We served this on a bed of brown rice, and it was a major family hit. My son declared it one of the best meals ever. My only suggestions about this recipe would be to take note of the sugar content. It uses both regular sugar and brown sugar, and after making the dish a couple of times, I actually scaled both of these back by half: I don't like Asian food to be too cloying - it can sometimes mask all the other delicate flavors trying to shine through. I also didn't use the suggested red pepper flakes - which may have helped cut the sweetness - but I didn't want it to be too spicy for the kids. You could also experiment by tossing other veggies in the mix.

Easy (Asian) Chicken with Broccoli

Keep checking back for more additions to other Asian foods I'm cooking - without the sesame seeds and sesame oil! You can get the recipe for Easy Chicken with Broccoli by clicking here.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Beef Tenderloin Two Ways

Well hello there, friends! Wow. Did anyone get the license plate number of the truck that hit us? Oh yeah, that was no truck, that was Christmas. And Winter Break. And New Year's. And then the Polar Vortex. I'm trying to blame as much as I can on the Polar Vortex because why not? There's nothing much going on in the month of January. The mere fact that we got so worked up over it (I like to say Polar Vortex with a deep, slightly sinister British accent, by the way) indicates that age-old truth: When the holidays are over, it gets mighty boring, mighty fast.

Now is the time when we look back over the holidays and think about all the fun we had, and all the glorious food we consumed. Of course, there's nothing stopping us from consuming glorious food right now, except, oh wait. We forgot. There were some resolutions thrown in there about two weeks ago that had something to do with never consuming another carb. Or refined sugar. Or anything with gluten in it. And absolutely cutting back on the alcohol. Certainly not hunkering down and tucking into something as wonderful as my mom's annual Christmas breakfast of Sausage and Cheese Strata - all steaming hot and rich, with a beautiful crunchy, golden brown cheesy top - chased by a cinnamon roll and some fruit, because you have to at least pretend to be a little healthy in the midst of such revelry.

What the Gleeful Gourmand had for Christmas breakfast. Try not to drool too much.

Certainly not. Except, let's face it. The reason we break so many resolutions is not just because we're all addicted to refined sugars and carbs (which we probably are), but because January is so bleak. So, so bleak. Let's call a spade a spade: Is it easer to A) Keep your resolution in a month where nothing is happening, it's really cold, you don't feel like going outside, and your local grocery store is not exactly bursting with colorful, fresh, local produce -- or B) Stick to your resolutions when it's warm outside, everything is in bloom and beautiful, and you can't turn around without tripping over a farmer's market with colorful, fresh, local produce?

Wintertime was meant for hearty, earthy meals, resolutions be darned. And while I myself do cut way back from the splendors of holiday eating in January, I also recognize that in such a bleak month, some fun must be had. Within reason. Therefore, I give you two recipes, which we combined to make a wonderful Tenderloin for Christmas dinner, and urge you to throw your own "This Month Is So Boring" dinner party for your close pals. Throw some logs on the fireplace and get ready to get inspired by

1) Rosemary-Crumb Beef Tenderloin with Pancetta Roasted Tomatoes

2) Porcini-Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Truffle Butter Sauce

Before the magic can happen, the mess has to happen.

Both of these recipes work beautifully on their own, because you cook the tenderloin exactly the same in both: 350˚ for 30-40 minutes. But the flavors were what we played around with because of a mistake on the part of yours truly. First, I was supposed to get panko so that my husband could make the first recipe (he's in charge of the entrée on Christmas), but I got breadcrumbs by accident because they were in exactly the same canister with very little to differentiate it from the panko. Then, to add insult to injury, as we were rushing out the door Christmas Eve, throwing kids, and bags, and stuff in the car, I forgot to actually put the breadcrumbs in the bag carrying all our food. Guess how many stores are open on Christmas Day?

The tenderloin, crusted, and ready for the oven.

But my husband is nothing if not inventive, and he went back to his trusty source and realized that he could make a different crust on the tenderloin using something we did have: mushrooms. We also did the Pancetta Roasted Tomatoes, but we omitted the olives because I can't stand olives. However, for those who do love olives, I'm sure that portion of the recipe would still be great with them in.

Hello, gorgeous.

It was a complete success. The tenderloin was so tender and juicy, and all the flavors melded beautifully. The mushrooms played well with the mustard that coated the beef, and gave it all a slightly spicy, earthy, rich taste. We served it with some equally rich side dishes like my mom's potato and fennel gratin, and my sister-in-law's awesome andouille sausage dressing, and a light pear salad on the side. And that's the beauty about this entrée: So many things could go well with it, and you could make it as light or hearty as you like.

Rosemary-Crumb Beef Tenderloin - with a twist of mushrooms.

Give it a whirl - mix and match like we did, or try them separately. Throw that dinner party with some of your closest pals, and take back January. Let's make this month fun again, gosh darn it. Enjoy!