Following a harrowing return trip from Vancouver, BC, I made my way to The Gourmandise School in Santa Monica for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council’s Little Changes Kitchen Challenge. The mission–show how blueberries, or those little blue dynamos, could be incorporated into various recipes, whether they be entrées, hors d’oeuvres or desserts. There would be a savory and sweet category with four chefs engaged in a little friendly competition for the title winning position. Each chef, paired with a local blogger or food writer, would have a couple of hours to create a stand out dish that the judges could not resist. My chef partner was Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections, and for about three hours we whisked, whipped, and stirred our way to the finish line with our eyes on a win.
Working alongside Valerie was quite a treat, and hustling around the cooking school’s kitchen felt like a regular day at work for me. The cake was based on a pound cake style recipe, but the special addition of Earl Grey tea was the notable spark of flavor. We made a fresh blueberry jam with Meyer lemon zest, as well as a creamy, silky buttercream frosting to top the master cake. A few scoops of the white buttercream were mixed with blueberry jam and crushed, dehydrated blueberries to create a blueberry buttercream. Two thin, baked cake layers received a topping of blueberry buttercream and fresh blueberries. The final layer and exterior of the cake was slathered with the remaining white buttercream, studded with flowers and more blueberries of course.
While Valerie and I skidded through the kitchen and back and forth to the extra storage room’s fridge, the other chefs finished off their dishes. Our opponent was the appropriately sweet pastry chef Roxana Jullapat, formerly of Cook’s County, who plated blueberry meringues with blueberry ice cream and blueberry sauce. Lynn Chen worked with her, side-by-side, making a platter that reminded me of British eton mess or a pavlova. The savory competitors were working feverishly to compose a dish that would pull the judges to their respective side. Chef Daniel Mattern,formerly of Cook’s County, had Stacey Sun with him as he prepared Mediterranean-spiced buffalo meatballs in phyllo cups with yogurt and blueberries. Immediately across from him, Chef Josie Le Balch worked with actress and host Alison Sweeney to stew up beef short ribs in a blueberry barbecue sauce. Jullapat and Le Balch walked away with the honor of winning over the judges, but each team deserved hearty congrats for their effort.
The Blueberry Council hit it on the head with the little changes campaign. It’s more than just incorporating blueberries into your meals. It’s about the small steps you can take to live healthier. If that means eating a handful of little blue dynamos every morning, great. If it means foregoing the elevator to walk two flights of stairs at work, that’s great too. It could even mean having one less diet soda a week…if that happens to be your weakness. Since last fall, I’ve managed to shed a lot of pounds, and honestly, that required some major overhaul in some areas of my life. The little changes included drinking more water, incorporating more outdoor activity into my workouts, always carrying one (or three) snacks in my bag, etc. Although it has felt like a long time to just reach this point, looking back on the last six months or so, the big and little changes have added up to something. Might as well keep it up!
In April, the Blueberry Council will update their site with photos and video from the competition, as well as versions of the recipes that any home cook can replicate. When there’s a video camera in your face, and you are rushing about a kitchen, there’s no guarantee what you’ll say or how you’ll look. That’s my disclaimer for whatever may pop up online. Visit the Kitchen Challenge page for more!
Here are a few blueberry-based recipes from the archives that you should try sooner than later. Maybe it will light a spark of creativity, and you’ll add more of these little blue dynamos to your recipes as well.
Blueberry Ginger Muffins
Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Bundt Cake
Blueberry Almond Ice Cream
Blueberry Peach Smoothie
Peach and Blueberry Almond Pie
Disclaimer: The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council provided compensation for participants. All opinions are my own.