Tag Archives: Zeppoli restaurant

NJ Boasts 4 JamesBeard Semifinalists!; Martha Stewart Coming to Bridgewater; Mauritian Fish Curry

2015 James Beard Award Semi-Finalists Announced

These Garden State culinary luminaries are nominees this year – including in two national categories:

For Outstanding Chef (in the U.S.): Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama, Hoboken

For Outstanding Baker (in the U.S.): Marie Jackson, The Flaky Tart, Atlantic Highlands

For Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic: Both Scott Anderson, Elements, Princeton and Joey Baldino, Zeppoli, Collingswood

Congrats & best wishes to them all!
Finalists will be announced on March 24 and the winners named on May 4.
Here’s the complete 2015 list of semifinalists in all categories.

Heads Up Martha Stewart Fans

clean-slate-cover_sq

She’ll be signing copies of her latest book, Clean Slate, on Thursday, February 26 at the Costco in Bridgewater. Ms. S. will be there at 2 pm but only for one hour, so good luck! For event info phone 732.584.1003.

Homemade Fish Curry from the Island of Mauritius (via Northern VA)

Do I hear you saying, “from where?” I explain the where, why, who, what and how below. (This post is excerpted from my In the Kitchen column in the 2/6/15 issue of the Princeton Packet.)

Of the many important things in life that we have little or no control over, our children’s choice of mate has to rank right up there. So my husband Bill and I counted ourselves among the fortunate in this regard when our elder daughter, Alice, married Chris Le last year. He is all anyone could hope for in a son-in-law. But the bonus for me, a food writer, is that Chris hails from a food-obsessed family with an interesting and unusual cultural background.

Alice & Chris Le

Alice & Chris Le

Chris’s father, Thanh Le, emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam after the war. In Northern Virginia he met his future wife, Marie-Ange So Ting Fong, who was born and raised on the island of Mauritius, which is known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Situated off the coast of Madagascar, Mauritius is the only place on earth where the dodo lived. In 2010, the New York Times lauded the island’s “perfect year-round climate, talcum-soft sands, [and] crystalline waters.” This tropical paradise is multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. Languages spoken there include Mauritian Creole, French, and English, as well as several Asian tongues.

Chris and his two brothers were raised on dishes that span the Vietnamese, Chinese, and Mauritian repertoire. While his father, Thanh, likes to grill and barbecue, the bulk of the cooking is done by his mother, Marie-Ange, and her mother, Josephine So Ting Fong, who lives with the family part of the year. This past Christmas Eve the Les graciously invited me and Bill to join their extended family for what turned out to be a veritable feast.

Le Family Christmas Eve 2014

Le Family Christmas Eve 2014

I lost count after 15 dishes had hit the table, among them dumplings, egg rolls, Vietnamese grilled beef skewers, noodle dishes, abalone, and pickled eggs. All were terrific, but there was one dish that I couldn’t stop eating: Mauritian fish curry. This turns out to be a deceptively straightforward combination of fried fish with onions, a couple of spices, and a splash of vinegar. It’s a curry in the broader Southeast Asian sense of something having been cooked in spices, which may or may not include curry.

Mauritian Fish Curry

Mauritian Fish Curry

Of course, the first thing I did when I got home was to google recipes for Mauritian fish curry. But the images and recipes that popped up were quite different from what I had enjoyed. The apparently more common version turns out to be a “wet” curry, with the fried fish bathed in sauce, often tomato based. The Les’ is a “dry” curry, its moisture derived mainly from the oil that the fish is fried in. So I asked Ms. Le and her mother for their recipe, which they kindly supplied. (As is typical in recipes handed down in families, no one had ever measured ingredients, let alone recorded it on paper.) The only constants among theirs and the other recipes are onions, garlic, and fish (usually white-fleshed) fried in vegetable or seed oil. Many include – besides the aforementioned tomatoes – fresh ginger, cilantro, and thyme. Some use curry leaves or curry powder, as well as cumin or garam masala.

The Le family recipe contains none of these. Instead, spoonfuls of saffron and mustard seed provide color and flavor. Ms. Le cautions, “I would suggest that you test the recipe and adjust the amounts according to your taste.” She also suggests using your personal favorite fish. For her, that’s thick fillets of boneless tilapia, although her mother prefers tilapia (or other fish) with bones intact, and her husband favors salmon.

The recipe below is straight from the Le family, with one deviation. Marie-Ange Le and her mother allow the uncooked fish, sprinkled heavily with salt, to sit at room temperature for four hours. (Other Mauritian recipes stipulate one hour.) This helps the fish to crisp up nicely and not fall apart in the pan. But food safety experts advise never to let raw seafood sit out at room temperature, so you can skip that step and either coat the fillets lightly with flour just before frying or simply follow your normal routine for frying fish fillets. The results won’t be the same, but still good.

Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan

By the way: There’s another Tanner family wedding approaching. In October our other child, Elizabeth, will marry Ryan Ritterson. Bill and I can hardly believe that we’ve lucked out here, too. Ryan, like Chris, is all we could ask for to ensure our daughter’s happiness. His ancestry, though, is far less exotic. He’s from solid Midwestern stock. I promise not to hold that against him.

LE FAMILY MAURITIAN FISH CURRY
Serves 8 to 10

3 pounds thick fish fillets, such as tilapia or salmon, cut into large pieces
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying, such as peanut, soybean, or canola (not olive oil)
6 cloves chopped garlic
1 teaspoon powdered saffron, or 12 strands (1 gram) saffron, crumbled
1-1/2 tablespoons mustard seed
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 white onions cut in quarters (or eighths, if large) and the slices pulled apart

  1. Wash and pat dry the fish. Salt the fish on both sides, to taste, and deep-fry the fish in oil as you normally do. Remove the fish and set aside, reserving the oil.
  2. In a small bowl mix the saffron with a little warm water.
  3. Heat one cup of the reserved oil and stir-fry the onions and garlic until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown. Add the saffron mixture, the vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Combine and turn off the heat.
  4. Immediately add the mustard seed, then the fried fish and gently combine. Turn the heat back to medium-low and cook only until the mixture is just heated through. (Make sure that you do not overheat the mixture at the end, or the mustard seed will turn bitter.)
  5. If the fish curry is too dry, add more of the reserved frying oil.

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.

The Sorry State of Food TV; 2 NJ Slow Food Events; Craig Shelton’s New Gig; NJ & Beard Awards; Mistral Preview

This essay by Andy Greenwald on the state of Food TV is the best I’ve encountered. I was surprised to find myself agreeing with everything Greenwald writes – I thought I was the only one who felt this way! I was gratified in particular by this sentence about Emeril Lagasse‘s role as a Top Chef judge:

“Stripped of his catchphrases and his band, Emeril has revealed himself to be kind, patient and insightful, able to articulate the nuances of food we’ll never taste with expert, understated flair.”

Not only do I agree with that assessment as a viewer, but it reflects the conclusion I came to when Emeril was a guest on my radio show years ago. We did an entire hour show live from Marketfair mall in Princeton.

Pat & Emeril1

I expected lots of bam! and bluster, and instead I got a thoughtful, soft-spoken, gentle man who answered my questions with insight and modesty. It was only when a young boy in the audience shouted out, “Emeril, say Bam!” that he did – and talked about how great it was to have youngsters interested in cooking.

Slow Food Farmers Market (Central) & Expert Talk on GMOs (North)

Slow Food Central Snail

This Sunday, 2/24/13, will see the final Slow Food Central NJ winter farmers market of the season. This one is being held at Tre Piani restaurant in Forrestal Village along Route 1 in Princeton, from 11 am to 3 pm. There’ll be live music and you can sit down for food and drink at Tre Bar in between stocking up on meats, breads, mushrooms, cheeses, wines, baked goods, and sweets from these vendors:

Beech Tree Farm….Birds and Bees Farm…Bobolink Dairy and Bake House…Cherry Grove Farm…Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms…Donna and Company…Fulper Dairy Farm…Funni Bonz Barbecue Sauce…Happy Wanderer Bakery…Hopewell Valley Vineyards…Judith’s Desserts…Jammin’ Crepes…Pure Indian Foods Ghee…Rocky Brook Farm…Shibumi Exotic Mushrooms…Valley Shepherd Creamery and Woods Edge Wools Farm.

For information, phone 609.577.5113.

Slow Food SnailThen next Sunday, March 3rd, attend an afternoon meeting of Slow Food Northern NJ at the DeHart Community Center in Maplewood that starts at 1 pm with a tasting of local foods and includes talks on school gardens and the impact of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) on our lives. Speaker for that will be Michael Hansen of Consumers Union, who will “describe what genetic engineering is, the lack of required safety testing, and why you should be concerned.” Click here for info and to purchase tickets ($8 for members; $10 for the public).

Craig Shelton, Consultant

Craig SheltonNew Jersey’s most well-known chef (check out the interview with him I posted here last December) is now consulting at Mediterra in Princeton. Laurent Chapuis, the proprietor of the Princeton Corkscrew wine shop just a few doors down, was impressed with a recent  lunch overseen by Shelton. If you know Monsieur Chapuis, you know he is one tough customer, so his praise bodes well for this match.

Mediterra’s general manager, Carmine DePasquale, says that Shelton will be at the restaurant four to five days a week, mainly during lunch service, for at least the next three months. He isn’t so much behind the stove tweaking dishes or changing the menu as he is, DePasquale says, “showing us a different hospitality factor, a new way of managing how guests perceive things.” He’s working hand-in-hand with Mediterra chef Terry Strong and his sous chefs, yes, but also servers and the management team as a whole. Shelton, DePasquale says, has set his task as observing, commenting on what’s being done correctly (or not), and addressing issues around hospitality and even marketing. “The beauty of Craig,” DePasquale says, “is that he holds himself up to the Relais and Chateaux guidelines, and it’s always good to strive for that with every single person who walks through our door.”

Congrats to 2013 James Beard Awards Semi-finalists Scott Anderson, Joey Baldino, and Thirty Acres

If you call yourself a New Jersey foodie, you’ve likely heard by now that the Garden State receive three nods on the first round of balloting announced this week. Both Scott Anderson of elements in Princeton and Vetri-alumnus Joey Baldino of Zeppoli (his Sicilian restaurant in Collingswood) are among 2o chefs vying to be one of 5 semi-finalists for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic. Thirty Acres in Jersey City is one of 29 hopefuls for Best New Restaurant in the USA.

Thirty Acres, Jersey City

Thirty Acres, Jersey City

Five finalists in each category will be announced on March 18, and the ultimate sole winners on May 6.

Sneak Peak of Mistral Menu at elements, Princeton

Mistral-Logo

Speaking of elements, the projected opening of Mistral, the second (and more casual) restaurant by the same team, is now set for April. Those of us who can’t wait for its small plates of interpreted Mediterranean classics can get a smattering at elements between now and then. Prices start at $7 for fennel salad with lemon basil, red onion, and orange and run to $12 for bronzino with potato puree, black olive, and caramelized red onion.

In between are house-cured lomo (Spanish-style dry-cured pork tenderloin) with trumpet royale mushrooms, pimentos, and garlic; pressure-cooked octopus with “papas bravas” (their quotation marks), and caper aioli; and dark meat chicken with yuzu and soy honey glaze.