Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Oven-poached Dover sole with butter and capers

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We are trying to eat more fish.

This is made easier by the fact that our local Costco always has an excellent selection of fresh fish, often wild, always sustainably farmed and caught.

Ironically, while my husband and both sons really like fish, I struggle with it. I just don't love eating it most of the time. And because I don't love eating it, I resist preparing it.

I am the Roadblock To Fish in our house.

So when I find a fish recipe I don't mind making and enjoy eating, I stick with it.

Example: these neatly rolled bundles of Dover sole bathed in a briny, buttery sauce. Relatively easy to prepare, beautiful to behold, and not bad warmed up in the microwave the next day.

Does your family like fish? What's your favorite way to prepare it? Share your fabulous fish ideas in the comments - I need inspiration!

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Oven-poached Dover sole with butter and capers
Serve these neat little rolls of Dover sole over rice or couscous to make the most of the briny, buttery sauce. An excellent main dish for a dinner party.
  • 3 pounds Dover sole fillets
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 1/8 cup brine from jar of capers
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.Spray a large baking dish (or two smaller ones) with nonstick cooking spray. Roll each piece of Dover sole into a cylinder, then place it in the baking dish with the seam down. Continue with the rest of the fillets, nestling them tightly together in the pan(s).Put the butter, capers, and caper brine in a large Pyrex measuring cup and microwave about 90 seconds, until the butter is melted. (Alternatively, melt the butter with the capers and brine in a small sauce pan on the stove.) Pour the butter mixture over the top of all the fish fillets.Bake the fish about 30 minutes, until the rolls are cooked through and the butter mixture is bubbling. The fish will release liquid as it cooks, so don't be surprised to see more liquid in the pan at the end than there was at the beginning.Serve hot over rice or couscous, spooning some of the cooking liquid and the capers over the fish on the plate.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 8-10 servings

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Breakfast at work: Egg drop soup with bean thread noodles

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I may have to change the name of this blog.

"In Erika's Kitchen" is no longer accurate. Both my boys - Emery (14) and Weston (11) - now happily spend time in the kitchen turning out delicious creations the whole family enjoys.

Emery carried this bowl of egg drop soup with bean thread noodles down to my home office this morning. The tiny bowl on the side held black vinegar. I mixed the vinegar into the soup and slurped it down.

I have never had a more delicious bowl of soup.

I love summer vacation. And I love having big kids.

By the way, they also take out trash and recycling, put away laundry, carry in the groceries, and sweep when asked.

The Luckiest Mom In The World

Monday, August 5, 2013

Exploring the savory side of blueberries at the Culinary Institute of America

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The front door at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, California

In June 2013 the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council invited me to accompany a group of corporate chefs for a workshop on cooking with blueberries at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley. Are you thinking that I might be the luckiest food blogger on the planet? Me too.

Breakfast conversation when you're eating with corporate chefs:

"Do you have your own bakery? Yeah, me neither."

"I could save them a ton of money if I had a butcher on-site, but we just don't have the physical space."

"The one thing I tell students is make sure you look people in the eye when you're interviewing. There's nothing worse than bringing in a candidate for a job in my kitchen and having him look at the floor the entire time."

"Actually, doing a barbecue for 5,000 people isn't as hard as you think. My team's pretty much got it down."

"When we did that pastry competition, we had to store all the sugar sculptures on the desk in my office - it was the only place in the kitchen with air conditioning."

The corporate chefs with CIA Greystone instructor Lars Kronmark

If the Blueberry Council had brought fine dining chefs to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone to play with blueberries, maybe we would have been talking about foie gras, Michelin stars and molecular gastronomy. But the 16 corporate chefs and foodservice executives in our group talked about stuff much closer to my heart, the nuts and bolts of the food business: staffing, purchasing, margins, menu development, physical plant, corporate politics.

I found the business discussions fascinating and asked a million questions. How many people does it take to serve 4,000 meals a day (to Eric Ernest, Executive Chef at the University of Southern California)? How do you decide whether to let an entrepreneur buy into your franchise (to David Goldstein, Chief Operating Officer of Sharky's)? Do you use social media to market your new menus to students when you take over the dining halls at a new state school account (to David Aylmer, Regional Executive Chef for Chartwells)?

Our group included titles like Director, Food and Beverage; Senior Director of Training; Culinary Manager, On Site Food Service; and a few Executive Chefs or Corporate Executive Chefs. Most of them, but not all, had gone to culinary school. Many had been in the food business since puberty. While each chef had taken a different path through the world of restaurants and corporate kitchens, all landed in jobs that are a lot more management and a lot less hands-on cooking.

And yet the minute they got behind the stoves, aprons wrapped around waists, toques balanced carefully on heads, you could see the joy - and the chops. These chefs knew exactly what they were doing, and they did it with confidence, ease, care, and a whole lot of flair.

The corporate chefs in the CIA's Viking-equipped teaching kitchen

The point of the workshop: to introduce these corporate chefs to blueberries as a savory menu item. This wasn't about blueberry muffins or blueberry pie. Under the expert tutelage of CIA Chef Instructor Lars Kronmark, the corporate chefs used blueberries in salsas, salads, marinades, sauces, savory cheese puffs, and sandwiches. And not just fresh blueberries: The group also got to experiment with dried, freeze-dried, powdered, and pickled blueberries, as well as Chef Lars's homemade blueberry vinegar.

The inside of a freeze-dried blueberry

Blueberry products: dried, dehydrated, powder, concentrate, puree, and fresh

Chef Lars made an intense, savory blueberry jam (secret ingredient: saba, concentrated grape must)

Why does it make sense for the Blueberry Council to spend a boatload of money flying in corporate chefs from around the country to focus on blueberries? It's pretty simple: Supply and demand. As Mark Villata, the Blueberry Council's Executive Director told the group, the number of acres planted in highbush blueberries in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2005, to 231,000 acres as of last year. What's more, Chile has also ramped up cultivation and export of highbush blueberries. New varieties and higher yields mean more blueberries for sale all year round. The Blueberry Council's job is to create demand for all that new fruit.

On the first day, Chef Lars broke the group into four teams and assigned each team a few hand-picked recipes to execute. One was more complicated and delicious than the next: Turkish zucchini pancakes with feta and blueberries; tabbouleh with parsley, cinnamon and blueberries; Taiwanese-style baby ribs with five-spiced blueberry sauce. I have a mental block when it comes to plating, so I was awed by the artful presentation of the dishes that came out of the CIA's beautifully equipped Viking kitchen. And then - the best part - we ate their creations for lunch.

Chef Lars giving the group its marching orders
Dividing the work
USC's Eric Ernest
Steven Scaia, Executive Chef, Redmond Marriott Town Center
Jeremy Bringardner, Corporate Executive Chef, LYFE Kitchen
Kristian Forrest, Executive Chef, ARAMARK Higher Education
Dan Phalen, Corporate Executive Chef for Luby's Fuddruckers Restaurants
David Aylmer of Chartwells
Sharky's COO David Goldstein
Korean bulgogi-style beef marinating; it was served topped with pickled blueberries
Making fried wonton skins with duck leg confit and blueberries
Five-spiced blueberry sauce for baby ribs
Penny Poorman, Catalina Restaurant Group's Director of Food and Beverage, with ham and blueberry gougeres (cheese puffs)
Crispy masa boats with chorizo, topped with cheese and fresh blueberries
Blueberry gougeres (cheese puffs) with arugula
Lamb chops with blueberry glaze
Smoked chicken and blueberry tostadas with spicy red salsa
The second day's session in the Viking kitchen featured a Chopped-style competition, where each two-person team had to create two "small plates"-style dishes using a mystery protein, ingredients from Chef Lars's pantry, and blueberries. That's when the chefs' personal styles really shone through. John Byrne of US Foods, ever the Irish lad, stuck with lamb; Jeremy from LYFE Kitchen made a clean quinoa salad; Eric Ernest from USC channeled his inner Asian to make blueberry banh mi sandwiches. Each team stood up and presented its dishes. And then we ate.

Bernardo Coelho, Executive Chef at Restaurant Associates, with teammate Stefan Riemer, one of Disney's head pastry chefs
Penny Poorman slicing plantains
Steak in a blueberry marinade
Blueberry banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich)

Guacamole with blueberry-dusted tortilla chips
Beef carpaccio "lollipops" with blueberry filling
Blueberries and pork on fried masa cakes
Fritters and a French Dip-like sandwich with blueberry sauce
Blueberry-marinated ribs
Empanadas with blueberry dipping sauce
Turkey and blueberry quenelles with plantain chips
Fried quail egg and blueberry pancake breakfast stacks
Quinoa and blueberry bowl
Blueberry marinated flank steak with exquisite plating - those words were written in chocolate on the plate
Stefan Riemer and Bernardo Coelho
Andrew Edwards and Penny Poorman
Kristian Forrest and Dan Phalen
Michael Freeman, Senior Director of Training for McAlister's Deli, and David Goldstein of Sharky's
Eric Ernest and Jeremy Bringardner
US Foods' John Byrne and Deanna Day, Culinary Manager for Rich's Products Corporation
Steven Scaia and David Aylmer

And there was more. A blueberry tasting, where we tried blueberries in every form paired with savory elements like pork rinds, butter, and salt. One dinner at the CIA's restaurant, another at the Alpha Omega winery (with a barrel tasting, my very first!). A molecular gastronomy demo by Chef Lars, blueberry ice cream made with liquid nitrogen. Wine pairings with tiny blueberry appetizers. By the time the workshop was over, we were well fed, well educated, and well satisfied.

There was consensus at the end: Blueberries rock in savory dishes. Everyone left with new ideas about how to use blueberries in all their forms in their corporate menu planning. Mission accomplished.

Thanks to the Blueberry Council for including me in this wonderful workshop and paying for my travel. For more blueberry recipes and nutritional information, visit the Blueberry Council's website or connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.