Off the grid of late, spending every available minute, and every ounce of inspiration, on a book synopsis that had to be submitted last week. My two protagonists (female 31-year old first cousins) are of Polish descent, and Eastern European food has been on my mind.
A handheld mandolin is my key to this salad’s success.
This salad is my daughter’s recipe and was inspired by my mother-in-law’s Slavic kitchen–heavy on the cucumber and fresh dill. As recipes go, I added my own stamp––cooked farro and fennel, and for the past several months I’ve been making some variation of this weekly. In my book of rules, that’s the mark of a recipe worthy of sharing.
I love the addition of farro, the powerhouse grain, which adds a welcome earthiness and chew to the salad so that it can suffice as a main course.
The key to success is using a mandolin. One of my favorite kitchen tools, it is handy for slicing foods paper thin. Years ago I purchased an expensive large, stainless mandolin but it takes up too much valuable kitchen space. I put it in storage and never use it. Enter the $14.99 hand-held mandolin that is easy to store, clean and serves my purposes as well as the big boy.
(Note that I’m not, nor have I ever been, compensated for endorsing product I like. Just want to share my experiences if they are positive.)
If you’re not on a sodium-restricted diet, the salted cucumbers lend the balance and contribute to the flavor profile. I don’t skip this step and take a heavy hand with the shaker. Mix and match ingredients according to your whim. I often add avocado and when tomatoes are in season, will substitute them for the radishes.
Key West has two of the things I love most in life: eccentric characters and shellfish. We’ve been holed up for a few weeks at a VRBO (an excellent find, a rare tranquil spot close to Duvall) as I brainstorm characters for Potlikker, a novel set in today’s Detroit.
Even though we’re as far south from Detroit as one could be in the USA, there is no shortage of inspiration. And we’re eating well–the food is fantastic.
Whether spending ten bucks for fried lobster tacos or ceviche from a food cart, buying fresh-caught seafood from one of the excellent markets and cooking it
Snapper at Latitudes
yourself, or splurging and taking a boat toLatitudeson Sunset Key for lunch or dinner–for this seafood junkie, the food doesn’t get much better. I’ve been patronizing various seafood markets in the area, broiling lobster tails, hammering stone crab claws (they’re in season now) and grilling grouper and snapper. All of the seasonings needed to make a fine meal are lemon or lime juice, salt, pepper, butter and garlic.
Yesterday I hit pay dirt; a tiny little stand where a fisherman brings the evening catch and his wife sells it the next morning –a solid 1/3 less cash than any place else I’ve discovered. (Duval and Catherine behind La te da.)
We’ve a small but adequate kitchen and the following recipe was easy to put together. I abbreviated several recipes, took advice from a fellow traveller, and carved together an excellent, yet reasonably simple recipe for Chili Rellanos inspired by the local shrimp.
Blue Heaven’s Key Lime Pie
It’s said that everything is better with bacon. Maybe so, but any south-of-the-border dish that incorporates poblano peppers is always the best-of-the-best to me.
They’ve a unique flavor profile with just the right amount of heat. Poblano peppers that have been broiled or blackened over an open flame are ideal for stuffing with any number of food combinations. Finished off with key lime pie from Blue Heaven, slam dunk.
Corn kernels could be added to the mixture, as well as jalapeño or chipotle pepper, for additional heat. Delicious served with rice or heated tortillas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tania 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.
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.
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