Beard Awards: Big-time Semi-finalists from NJ; Food Photography Lesson; Marvelous Meyer Lemons

Jersey Chefs Up for National & Regional Awards

I was thrilled to see 3 Garden Staters on the national lists and another 3 up for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic among the semi-finalists for the 2014 James Beard Awards, which were announced earlier this week.

Maricel Presilla

Maricel Presilla

Marc Vetri

Marc Vetri

Congrats to Maricel Presilla and Marc Vetri for their nominations as Outstanding Chef in the U.S. – Presilla for Cucharamama in Hoboken and Vetri for Vetri in Philadelphia. But because he crossed river this year with Osteria in Moorestown Mall, I’m claiming him for NJ! I can’t stop myself from including another name here: Gabrielle Hamilton, who’s nominated for her work at her NY restaurant, Prune. But since she was raised in Lambertville, I’m labeling her NJ, too.

Ben Nerenhausen & Scott Anderson. Courtesy PrincetonInfo.com

Ben Nerenhausen & Scott Anderson. Courtesy PrincetonInfo.com

Congrats also to Ben Nerenhausen of Mistral in Princeton, who is nominated for Rising Star Chef in the U.S.

Congrats, finally, to these 3 who are among the 20 nominees for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic region: Scott Anderson, Elements; Joey Baldino, Zeppoli; Lucas Manteca, The Red Store. What’s particularly gratifying to me is that all 3 restaurants are in the southern half of the state – Princeton, Collingswood, and Cape May, respectively – which has long played second fiddle to the more populous metropolitan areas up north.

A dandy showing! Good luck to all.

Want to improve your food photography?

Lord knows I need to! We’ll get the chance on Sunday, March 9th when professional photographer Frank Veronsky of Princeton Photo Workshop presents “Shoot It & Eat It” at Tre Piani in Forrestal Village. During the 3-hour class, guests will first photograph and then down a 3-course dinner. Click here for details and to register.

My Meyer Lemon Madness (with recipes)

(Adapted from my “In the Kitchen” column in the Princeton Packet of 2/28/14)

Meyer lemons 006

A few years ago I fell hard for sweet, floral Meyer lemons at San Francisco’s Ferry Building Farmers Market. At the time they weren’t regularly available around these parts, so my San Fran-based daughter, witness to my infatuation, thoughtfully gave me a dwarf Meyer lemon tree for Christmas. My sapling arrived months later, complete with excellent instructions for potting and growing, from Four Winds Growers based in Winters, CA.

Meyer Lemon brochure 002Here in Zone 7 the tree must winter indoors. It took three growing seasons, but this past summer mine produced 5 big beauties (pictured above) that ripened just before the first frost. (A 6th was still small and green; more on that later). I was so excited, I planned an entire dinner party for 4 guests around those 5 lemons.  For inspiration I turned to this L.A. Times article: “100 Things to Do with a Meyer Lemon.”

Here’s my menu:

Meyer lemon feast 013Nibbles & drinks: Marcona almonds; hefeweizen beer with slices of Meyer lemon
Main: Roasted monkfish with Meyer lemon salsa; basmati rice; zucchini and sliced Meyer lemons
Dessert: Meyer lemon-almond cake with Meyer lemon Chantilly cream

As you can tell, I stretched my quintet as far as it could go. I even used the lemon leaves for table decor. ??????????

Amazingly, the dinner did not result in Meyer lemon overload and, with one exception, was wildly successful. Beer and Meyer lemon is a match made in heaven, although it takes a few minutes for the lemon to assert itself. I chose monkfish for its dense, meaty, snow-white flesh, but found the salsa, which contained shallots and olives as well as the fruit, bitter and overpowering. Next time I’ll substitute the compound butter I’ve included in the recipe below. On the other hand, the combination of thin rounds of zucchini and even thinner ones of lemon sautéed together in olive oil was a revelation! I may never make zucchini without lemon again.

??????????Without a doubt, though, the Meyer lemon-almond cake, a variation on one of Claudia Roden’s, stole the show. It has the texture of a tea cake and is as simple to make. It’s good on its own, and its flavor even deepens overnight, but I felt compelled to gild the lily by adding Chantilly cream flavored with Meyer lemon.

??????????

As to the fate of that last green fruit left on the tree: It continued to grow indoors, albeit at a greatly reduced pace. Just as it became full, ripe, and ready for plucking, this recipe from Bobby Flay for Meyer lemon potatoes the New York Times. It turned out to be the perfect coda to my Meyer lemon season.

ROASTED MONKFISH WITH MEYER LEMON COMPOUND BUTTER
Serves 4.

1-1/4 pounds monkfish, in one piece (tuna can be substituted)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
Salt & pepper, to taste
For the Meyer lemon compound butter:
1/2 stick butter, softened to room temperature
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1-1/2 teaspoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, leaves only
Salt & pepper to taste

  1. Make the compound butter: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mash and stir until well blended. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat an oven-safe baking dish with oil.
  3. Make a series of small incisions on both sides of the fish, and insert a sliver of garlic into each cut. Rub or brush fish with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Place fish in prepared dish and roast in preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until just opaque and cooked through. Slice fish into thick, diagonal slices and serve with compound butter at room temperature.
    Serves 4.

4 responses to “Beard Awards: Big-time Semi-finalists from NJ; Food Photography Lesson; Marvelous Meyer Lemons

  1. LOVE the lemon article! Very impressed. The lemon cake is gorgeous.

  2. I, too, enjoy growing my own Meyer lemons–my trees have just lost their fragrant blossoms and one of them has two fruits, from the last flowering season, still slowly growing–but I am in awe of your creativity and skill in using them in so many ways! Lemon-zucchini sounds especially wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

    • My tree is looking pretty pale and spent right now – kind of like a woman who has just gone through a difficult labor and delivery. Dare I hope she will revive and reproduce this coming growing season? Has yours done that?

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