Ode to The Earle (plus a piquant little fish sauce)

                                    If walls could talk.

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The entrance to The Earle.

The other evening, I walked down the dark stairwell into The Earle Restaurant, off Main on Washington, in Ann Arbor. At the end of the stairs, there’s a door. I open.

To my right is laughter, Happy Hour in full swing in the bar where mussels are practically free. To my left, a tinkle of ivory on the baby grand, Cole Porter on the Steinway, providing a tranquil oasis to savor conversation, fine wine and classically prepared cuisine. Where to turn? Either way, I was sliding back in time.

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Roasted Garlic with Crostini and Accompaniments

I’d met a friend, Tania Evans, another long-term Earle patron, and we opted for dinner. We sat in a booth overlooking the slender tables at this landmark restaurant and shared a roasted garlic appetizer plate. After I was into my second glass of Montepulciano, I swear those walls whispered, “She’s back”.

Dennis Webster, the owner of The Earle since its inception.

Dennis Webster, the owner of The Earle since its inception.

The owner since inception, Dennis Webster,  tells me that the main dining area of The Earle is in the lower level of the old Germania Hotel built in 1885, and is now listed on the National Historic Register. The elegant stone walls are the original foundation of the building.

According to the UM alumni site,  The University of Michigan was founded in 1817, but it took another 50-plus years before the institution began accepting women.  I’ll bet conversation within those walls were a bit more titillating after women were admitted. They certainly had much to discuss observing the decades my girlfriends and I tipped glasses in this subterranean mecca.

After I graduated from Michigan in the late seventies, the walls watched me eyeing the stranger at the end of our table of friends. That man, a friend of a friend, would  become my husband.

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Chef Shelley Caughey Adams, one of the magicians behind the magic.

In the eighties, the same walls watched as I delivered fresh pasta to The Earle kitchen. The Earle was the first wholesale account I’d landed after opening my shop, The Back Alley Gourmet.

For the past thirty-five years, the walls of The Earle watched me come and go, meet friends for their infamous Happy Hour, and trade tastes of duck after sharing one of their stunningly prepared scallop dishes. (Those scallops, incidentally, in all of their recipe permutations through the years, are the best I’ve had anywhere and everywhere.)

Steve Golderg, long-time  sommelier at The Earle.

Steve Golderg,long-time sommelier at The Earle.

About  eight years ago, in fact, the walls watched me hide behind Steve Goldberg, the sommelier–– a skinny guy with a big heart––who let me peek around him to check out a blind date.

Should I stay? Should I run? I wonder what the walls thought of my silliness. Soon my flirty eyes followed this man, my blind date, and I made up my mind. That man, Richard, became my second husband.

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Tania Evans, enjoying one of the 10,000 wines that The Earle has in storage.

Tonight, my friend Tania and I, Sommelier Steve, (once an Earle bouncer back in the 70’s), and Dennis talk about Ann Arbor’s newest and oldest restaurants, and our memories of old downtown.

IMG_3525Tania orders the lamb and  I choose the salmon (headline picture and recipe for the sauce, below). I loved the piquant butter sauce ladled above the fish and I begged Chef Shelley, head chef at The Earle, the recipe.

And the wine, oh the wine! The wine cellar was built during the restaurant’s remodeling in 1998, and is temperature controlled in order to facilitate long term storage of red wines.  (Currently there are around 10,000 wines in storage.)  Each year the Wine Spectator magazine reviews wine lists from around the world.  The Earle has received their second highest award (Best of Award of Excellence) for over 20 years running. I’ve yet to dine at a local restaurant that serves such an integrity of fine wines with generous pours by the glass.

Tania and I talk about old friends and their businesses, talk about Tania’s equine appraisal business, Riverbend Equine Services, and I remind her to check out my daughter-in-law’s diner on Jefferson in Detroit, Rose’s Fine Foods.

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Jolene Green presents us the choice of desserts, the Creme Bruleé always my favorite.

We chuckle about Tania’s old horse named Greta and my young daughter, also named Greta, and her Chicago design studio.

We talk about our horse riding days along the Huron River on Tania’s horses, our hikes in the deep woods around Ann Arbor, many of these forests now in preserves and easements that Tania knows as a Stewardship Committee Member of our Legacy Land Conservancy.

It’s easy to slide into old memories, rekindling old friendships.

The Earle, too, is a dear old friend, whispering a memory, sharing a toast. For us Earle devotees, The Earle is a recurring love-affair.

Recipe Notes: This recipe was graciously shared by Chef Shelley. She notes that it is important not to overheat the sauce after butter is added or sauce will break. The salmon at The Earle is served with grilled shrimp on a bed of sautéed spinach. Feel free to adjust the amount of lemon juice, herbs and salt to suit your palate.

Recipe: Lemon-Herb Beurre Blanc

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces white wine
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 8 ounces butter,unsalted, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 pinches kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Instructions

  1. In shallow saucepan, bring white wine and shallots to a boil. Reduce by half.
  2. Add butter gradually while simmering. Continue to add butter in three parts, swirling between additions.
  3. When all butter is incorporated, add lemon juice. Season with salt, add herbs and pour over fish. Serve immediately.

Time: 10 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 4

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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Virtual Book Tours, Music, and Free Books!

Disclaimer: Today, this is more of a music/book blog than a food blog; I’m in the middle of a virtual book tour, loving today’s stop at BooksChatter, and want to share with you the great job they do incorporating playlists into the tour.

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Squash Blossoms, too, were an inspiration.

I shared with them the songs that inspired me while writing the novel, SIMMER AND SMOKE, and they compiled a playlist after my interview. And that first song–Ella Mae; I must have listened to it a zillion times while writing the book. I still cry every time I hear it. Click the BooksChatter link, scroll down and listen–if you like folk music, it’s the first song on the list.

News: My agent, Wendy Sherman, called last week with a book deal from Lake Union Publishing, they want to buy Simmer and Smoke and give me an advance to write a second book within the year. Lake Union is one of Amazon Publishing House’s latest imprints.

IMG_3306I’ve had the door slammed in my face for years trying to sell this book. I’m very grateful. (Maybe winning 1st Place Fiction in the 2015 Royal Dragonfly awards had something to with it.) But my advise to anyone involved in any creative endevor is to follow your heart, massaging, pampering and loving your baby even if no one looks at it but you.

So to celebrate and spread my gratitude, I’m giving a free kindle edition of the book away to anyone who’d like a copy. No scam. No selling your e-mail address to anyone, I promise. (Notice the lack of ads and solicitations on this blog?) Just comment below that you’d like one. Wednesday, January 27, will be the last day I’ll distribute the freebies.

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A Winter Beach Campfire Supper: Braised Lamb Shanks and Flatbreads

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It was hard to find a parking space at the gym this morning.

January blogs, Tweets and FB comments that begin with earnest New Year’s Resolutions are as nettlesome and abundant as Time Square selfies taken as the ball drops. Boring.

I was at the gym this morning; here’s a picture of the parking lot––it was an open field of asphalt last month. You read what I’m sayin’. It’s crazy buying exercise equipment in January; if you’re sticking to your guns, check Craig’s List in March.

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The snow was shoveled away to set up the fire on sand; just like summer!

My family took New Year’s day outside this year, swept away the snow, and Tom (my daughter’s partner) built a fire using hardwood ash. We proceeded to make dinner over the open flame on a Lake Michigan beach.

I’m aware that most folks reading this blog will only be inspired to put on a sweater, but the lamb shanks were braised the day before the old-fashioned way: inside an oven.

We reheated the meaty lamb leftovers over the fire (in a Dutch oven) to smear across the flat bread; enough hot mulled wine and you’ll think you’re in Hawaii.

Those lamb shanks, by the way, turned out to be the gift that kept on giving. The New Year’s Eve meal was superb served with smashed potatoes; we used leftover meat to smear over the flatbreads the following day; and the day after, my son turned the leftover lamb stock, juices and marrow (combined with leftover Hop ‘n John) into the most savory soup that memory recalls.

A mountain of garlic was used in the braise.

A mountain of garlic was used in the braise.

Braised Lamb Shanks! What a superior winter dish. When entertaining, it’s an awesome make-ahead, as it seems to improve with age.

Lucy’s recipe was based loosely on this Bon Appetit recipe. Deviating from Bon Appetits’, Lucy tripled the amount of garlic, and used “tons” of herbs––parsley, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon–– in the braise, garnishing the final dish with parsley and lemon zest.

Her shanks also took longer to cook than the recipe indicates; we enjoy the meat tender, caramelized and almost falling off of the bone. She reduced the oven temperature to 300 degrees and braised the shanks for four hours.

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Grilling flat bread over an open flame.

Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse fame) provided inspiration for the  flat bread recipe, for which she is known.

Lucy switched up Ms. Water’s recipe by substituting rye flour, “…which makes it really crisp”, with whole wheat. As well, she didn’t use the cast-iron skillet technique, but grilled them over the open flame. A delictable little plate for the lamb.

By the way, my sarcasm regarding New Year Resolutions doesn’t have a leg to stand on; I was sweating it out with all the other earnest folks at the gym today in our communal mantra resolving:

 

2016 will be… “the one”.

Ya think?

                                May all your wishes for the New Year come true!

Recipe: Alice Water’s-inspired Grilled Flatbreads

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rye flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more as needed)

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. Stir in the water and olive oil and knead to form a moist dough. Cover with a clean cloth and let rest 30 minutes.
  2. Divide the dough into 16 balls. Roll out on a lightly floured work surface until they are a 6X3-inch oval.
  3.  Carefully lay flatbreads atop a grill over an open fire* and cook 1-3 minutes, depending upon heat of flame, or until lightly charred on the bottom. With a spatula, flip breads and drizzle tops with olive oil. Cook until the bottom side is lightly charred and serve.

Number of servings (yield): 16 flatbreads

* Dried ash wood was used for the fire. Let the wood burn down a bit into coals before cooking and grilling.

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

 

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