Sunday, December 20, 2009

The 'O' matters....a lot

I'm a huge fan of macaron. Please don't confuse them with 'macaroon' which is a curious mix of coconut, egg whites, and sweetened condensed milk. At best, this macaroon is a too-sweet, coconut transfer system. As worst, it's absolutely nasty.

The one 'o' macaron that I love is primarily associated with the French. For me, it is primarily associated with Pierre Herme. Check this post out from my visit to Herme last January.....I'm still thinking about it and haven't even come close to having an American version of macaron that I was satisfied with......well, until now.

So, what's to love about a macaron? Let's start with the cookie. In its basic form, it's a sandwich cookie. The cookie part is almond flour, confectioner's sugar, egg whites and sugar syrup. Yeah, you got it. It's a meringue cookie. Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside. The filling can be butter cream, gels, Nutella, basically anything that can be a filling.

Last week, I decided to add macarons to our cookie tray that we present with out checks. So, I let the tinkering begin. Once I had solved various issues including browing, chunky almond meal, cracking cookies, etc, I decided to roll the macarons out and in true Sheppard Mansion style, I decided to use our homemade raspberry verbena jelly that I preserved in August with Tim Brown's top of the line fruits.

So, here's the finished product. I'm still working on a chocolate macaron filled with nutella and a pretzel macaron with salted chocolate ganache. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 14, 2009

I love Beau Ramsburg.

Is that too much sharing?

If you are an infrequent reader of my blog(shame on you), then you'll need to be clued into the fact that Beau Ramsburg is the rock star farmer behind Rettland Farms, in addition to being the creative mind behind the blog Farmgate Philosopher. Rettland provides The Sheppard Mansion with pork, chicken and eggs(oh, and alfalfa hay for when I decide that it would be a great idea to bake ham hocks in hay. Holy crap was that dish good...too bad people were wigged out about hay.) So, when I say that Beau provides us with pork and chicken, I don't mean boneless, skinless chicken breast or pork tenderloin. He brings us the whole dealio. That fact affords me the amazing opportunity to work with chicken feet, necks, pork jowls, tongue, get the point. The good stuff or if you're a rube, the stuff you turn your nose up at without even ever trying it.(INSTANT QUESTION: Would I serve it if it tasted like shit?) It's OK, that means there is more for those who are looking for massive flavor. So, that brings us to this dish.

A torchon of Beau's Berkshire Pork with pickled baby vegetables, herbs and flowers from the garden and a mustard cream.

The method we used was to confit all the pork offal(head, tongue, tail, etc.) in lard. Once cooked, the meat was pulled from the bone, seasoned, formed into cylinders, wrapped in plastic wrap and hung in our walk-in to chill.

The reason I love Beau Ramsburg is because of this torchon. It is, pure and simple, a piece of pork flavor dynamite in the mouth. You can't get this type of flavor from an animal that wasn't well treated. It's just impossible. Furthermore, I feel that the tastiest parts of the pig are included in this dish. Not to take away from the flavor of the rest of Beau's animal, but this is simply the good stuff. I talk way too much about terroir and how I want my food to taste like where it comes from. This dish accomplishes what I sent out to do every morning when I put on my coat and apron: express Central PA on the plate and in the mouth.

To those of you who had this dish, a sincere thank you and I hope you enjoyed it.(I speak in the past tense because this dish has been put to bed for a little bit) To those of you that didn't take the plunge, I feel sorry for you. You missed out on a remarkable food experience. Perhaps another time.

Once again, the photos are courtesy of Andrew Smith. Please check out this photo blog, VisualRealia

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


I take a ton of pride in the products and producers that come in to my kitchen at The Sheppard Mansion, be it Ramsburg's eggs, chicken and pork, or Kathy Glahn's amazing produce or our own beef, I think these products are the best that you can find in any restaurant anywhere. Yes, I said anywhere and notice I didn't say 'some of the best'. I said THE best. These products are a full expression of our terroir, as it's tough/impossible to express an area without locally raised foodstuffs. So, suffice it to say, I love those products. However, some of the freshest, most vibrant ingredients on our menu don't ever have to make a trip in a truck to get here. They are grown on the property. That's right. You can go outside and see them growing right in front of your'll most likely run into me or one of the guys out cutting herbs and greens just before or during dinner service. OK, so 'that's not so special', you're thinking....I'd have to agree with you; BUT this is. We're still snipping herbs and greens from our garden. You see our boxes face directly south and are situated against the brick house, so the soil stays pretty warm even in the face of snow. You cut your herbs in the snow?

Yep. We do. That's dedication.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Shoo.....

Here's to a PA Dutch classic. Some might consider this an acquired taste. Some might turn their nose up at, but there are few foodstuffs that scream Central PA as much as shoo-fly pie. I grew up on shoo fly pie, chocolate shoo fly pie(sup, Ramsburg?) and its kind of dry cousin, shoo fly cake. I say 'kind of dry' because I judge shoo fly pies on the ratio of moist molasses to crumb topping and shoo fly cake has a thick cake layer.

So, what exactly is shoo fly pie? It's basically a crust filled with molasses that is thickened with an egg and finished with a crumb topping. So, as with any other dish that has few ingredients, the ingredients are very important. Oh yeah, you gotta love molasses. Period. This pie is basically just a molasses transport system. So, search out a molasses that you like. Also, I like to add some dark coffee to my pie...I think the bit of bitter that the coffee adds as it cuts the heavy sweet of the molasses.

So, here's the recipe we use at the restaurant:

1 9 inch pie crust
1 cup molasses
3/4 cup hot, dark coffee
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, beaten
3/4 C AP flour
1/2 C packed dark brown sugar
1/4 C malted milk
2oz. butter

Whisk together the molasses, coffee, baking soda and egg in a mixing bowl. Pour mixture into the pie shell. Combine the flour, brown sugar, and malted milk in a bowl and cut the butter into the flour mix until it resembles coarse sand. Sprinkle the flour and butter mix evenly over the molasses. Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes.

I like to make a puddle of caramel sauce on the plate, put the shoo on top of the caramel and top the pie with cinnamon stick ice cream. Simply Central PA. Simply delicious.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Pickin' on the little guy....

I'm gonna reference this article a lot, so read it first then come back to your regularly scheduled reading.

Ah, it seems the weather is perfect for a Humane Society/PETA throwdown. Well, I've got a few spare minutes to knock this puppy out of the park so here goes.(bonus points for those of you that picked up on the irony of the term 'puppy')

In the spirit of full disclosure, I own two cats that are very old and I love both of them very much, so there.

So, the Humane Society has decided to pick a fight with Hudson Valley Foie Gras over elevated pollutant levels. Hmmmm, have you ever been to north eastern North Carolina? Next time you're on your way to the Outer Banks, turn off the AC and roll down your windows. You'll enjoy one of the most rank pig shit smells, courtesy of factory pig farming, that will literally make you want to throw up.(Pass the factory farmed pork chops, please) THAT is elevated pollutant levels. Wonder why the Humane Society isn't doing anything about that? My guess is that Big AG has pockets too deep, so it's easier to piss in a little guys pool than take on the real problem.

Paul Shapiro has characterized Hudson Valley as a factory farm. I'm was deeply saddened to read this part of the article because I think Mr. Shapiro has done some great work with regards to exposing ACTUAL factory farms. Perhaps he should plan a trip to North Carolina or Colorado or Iowa and get back to the roots of factory farming. I think he has forgotten.

The real tragedy here is that once again in America we've trained our eye not on a situation worth fixing, but on a situation that is easy. Can you take issue with how foie gras is produced? Sure. BUT, hey, if you don't like it then just shut up and don't eat it. Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Sonoma Foie Gras before it are EASY targets. Why doesn't the Humane Society and PETA go after factory farmed beef and pork or....I've got it....that turkey you all just ate for Thanksgiving that was jammed in a crate and living in its own shit for months.(Please read this it'll make you think that the Humane Society and PETA should be going after factory farmed turkeys) Go after those guys. Oh, wait, you want an easy fight, so you're gonna take on an industry with low profit margins and no lobbyists in Washington. Right. Way to be a hero.

People want to argue that gavage(google it) is cruel. OK, seriously? Have any of you ever been to a Ryan's 'Steakhouse' or Old Country Buffet or the York Fair? That shit is cruel. Listen, humans force feed themselves on a daily basis. If some of the people I've seen at the KFC buffet could line up and have a tube inserted into their mouths that would get the instant potatoes and gravy into their system faster, I'm sure they would gladly pay extra for the experience.(Just as an aside...could we do away with ALL paper napkins if buffets would just offer tubes for us to slam our food down? I gotta call Greenpeace...this idea is HOT...Wait, if Greenpeace bit on the idea, then would they be at odds with the Humane Society? YES, it would be a full-scale activist WAR or lawsuit which is a close as these folks get to war, lest they get their smooth hands dirty.)

Listen...I love foie gras. I love cooking it, I love eating it. Yes, it's a fattened liver of a duck. Big deal. Again, if you don't like it, don't eat it. I think being an exclusive vegetarian is boring, but hey, it's your call. Don't tell me that I can't cook foie gras because some folks think it's inhumane. I'll make that decision. A decision that each of you consider every time you decide to buy Big AG's factory farmed beef, pork and chicken at the grocery story. That's inhumane.

I will continue to buy my foie gras from Hudson Valley because I think they are a fantastic ARTISAN foie gras producer..... AND, I will continue to cook it because it's just so damn delicious.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nothing about food....

Happy Thanksgiving. Tomorrow will be the first Thanksgiving in 9 years that I'll spend the entire day with my family and I'm really very excited about it.

Truth is, I'm not a huge fan of turkey, but I am a HUGE fan of folks gathering around the table and celebrating together. It's something that's a little lost on us today in our 30 minute meal/I don't have time world. The idea of celebrating each other and relaxing for hours over food and drink. I would like to propose that we establish eating holidays once every two months. You know....1 day every two months or so that is dedicated to the joy of the table and conversation. Call me crazy(it wouldn't be the first time), but I think it would be very nice.

Tomorrow, we will take a day to give thanks. Make sure to thank whoever cooks your Thanksgiving meal; they deserve it.

In the spirit of 'nothing about food', I've posted some awesome candid photos that the master Andy Smith took a couple of weekends ago at the restaurant. A month or so ago, I lent Andy my copy of Marco Pierre White's White Heat and mentioned to him how inspired I have always been by the black and white photos in the front half of the book. Well, here are some black and whites of us cooking. Enjoy.

By the case anyone cares, I'll be eating freshly baked sticky buns and drinking champagne tomorrow AM while I watch the Macy's Parade from start to finish. What are you doing?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Just messin' around....

Here are some shots from my iPhone(nothing close to what the MASTER Andy Smith can do) of a warm autumn salad that I'm considering for the menu. The veg are all separately prepped(roasted, glazed, etc.) and then warmed on pickup in country ham butter..... the purees are salsify and caramelized shallot(cooked with thyme and pureed with cream cheese) beet jus, dehydrated olives. Boy, does this eat good!!!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Naming Conventions

I have to admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that I've been guilty of that which I'm about to rant in the past and have since reformed my ways. Actually, no I haven't. I've just grown up a little bit.

Also, by 'you' I mean chefs everywhere.

LET'S GET OVER THE STUPID NAMING CONVENTIONS ON MENUS. There, I've said it. Well, Andy, what do you mean 'naming conventions'. What I mean is let's call a spade a spade. About .001% of the dining public gives a shit that you're cooking your egg at 61.5 degrees C. Just call it a soft egg and be done with it. Also, nobody gives a shit that something was cooked sous vide. You don't write 'cooked in a copper pot' on your menu. Sous vide is simply a technique and the circ. is a tool, much like a copper pot or stand mixer. Can you imagine a dessert menu that said 'Carrot cake made in a stand mixer'. No, you can't and possibly don't care.

How about this gem? Calling a piece of peeled tomato flesh 'tomato sashimi'. Hello? Wouldn't simply 'tomato' suffice? AND....carrot confit? Technically, confit means cooked in its own fat and I have yet to come across a carrot that had fat, so..... If by carrot 'confit' you mean a carrot cooked in carrot juice, then say carrot cooked in carrot juice or how about this one: carrot. Here's where we get to the root of the problem. Carrot cooked in carrot juice doesn't sound nearly as sexy as carrot confit.

This last one I've been especially guilty of in the past: using quotes on the menu. OK, three things. 1) using quotes to be whimsical and show that you're not taking the literal definition of a technique was really cool when Keller did it in the 90's. It's getting lame now. 2) Using quotes on the menu isn't your license to screw up whatever you put quotes around. Oh, so you don't really know how to make a perfect Sauce Bernaise, so put quotes around it and it can be your own little 'riff'. It's not a riff. It's lame. 3) Using quotes to describe that you're 'doing a play on' something is so last week, too. The dining public isn't stupid. If you've got a concord grape sorbet and a peanut butter tart, they get the fact that it's peanut butter and jelly. Call it what it is and be done with it. If the guest doesn't 'get it', 9 times out of 10 it's not because you didn't put the name in quotes, it's because it was a horrible idea to begin with.

I'll say this again. I've been guilty of most of, if not all of the above in my career. That doesn't make it right.

All chefs have egos. We desperately want to be separated from the crowd, because let's face it, there are a ton of talented chefs out there. I think that in our striving to stand out, we're taking too many liberties when writing menus. The conventional wisdom is that if we can write a sexy, shocking menu with lots of buzz words and techniques, our restaurant will get discovered and that will lead to people beating down the doors on a tuesday night. That might be true and in the age of the internet and PR firms, menus can be viewed by anyone with an internet connection. However, I'm preferring to go the other way(are any of you frequent readers surprised that I'm a little different?) and follow a 'less is more' rule when writing menus. Sure, the technique will still be there and the same amount of ingredients will be there. Yes, I will still notate which farms our products come from because I believe that these remarkable products stand apart because of the people who raise them. It's not just a sneaker. It's a Nike sneaker and by that logic, it's not just a pig, it's a Rettland Farms pig and that matters; if it didn't matter, I'd leave it off. I want our restaurant to be judged on the merits of our food and service; not on whether or not I'm using all the current trendy buzzwords on the menu. You don't eat the menu, do you? The bottom line in all of this blabber is the question that I always come back to: 'How does it eat?'

If the answer is 'that's the best piece of food I've ever put in my mouth', then who needs a menu?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Let's Make a Deal

OK, brace yourselves. Holiday season is upon us. I'm sure we've all spotted our first 'get'em while they're hot' holiday shopping commercial on TV. Kinda sad, isn't it? Oh well, let's roll up our sleeves and make this year one to remember.

Once I saw that first commercial, I was ready to start thinking about holiday party season. I really enjoy seeing guests in their festive holiday wear through the kitchen window as they arrive at the Mansion for company holiday parties or family gatherings. The holidays are a very special time for us at the Mansion and we want to share that feeling with you. SO.........give us a call and book your holiday gathering! Let us do all the work...all you have to do is sit back, relax and drink in the holiday cheer! How about this? Bring a group of 20 people and get a private room. That's right. A dining room all to yourselves!!!! So..... Company party? We can do that. Family gathering? We can do that! Prime rib dinner with all the trimmings? We can do that! Cocktail reception? We can do that! Lunch with the office? We can do that! Lunch with 20 of your closest friends? We can do that! A blowout multi-course chef's table complete with wine pairings and me serving you? We can do that!(well, me serving you is the hilarious part!) How about convincing the boss to take you to the Mansion for lunch and then giving you the rest of the afternoon off??? WE CAN DO THAT!

Karen is anxious and waiting by the phone for your holiday requests(yes, yes....dates are filling fast.).....LET THE DEAL MAKING BEGIN!!!! Actually, how about I take the first shot? Here you go.....BOOK A PARTY OF 20 OR MORE PEOPLE IN THE MONTH OF DECEMBER AND WE'LL GIVE YOU 2 $50 GIFT CARDS TO USE HOWEVER YOU WISH.(HELLO PRESENTS.....) Come on, you know you want to.

HOLIDAY HOTLINE - 717.633.8075

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A tale of two hot dogs

I love a good hot dog. Not a dressed up 'were trying to be cool' high end hot dog, just a simple, everyday hot dog. Don't know why, I just do. Maybe it's a genetic thing.

My mom is originally from Easton, PA where they have a hot dog that is hands down everyone's favorite and has been for many decades. Actually, it's been a favorite even after moving locations multiple times. As a kid, I used to go to Jimmy's when it was at its Delaware River location(I'd like a table for 2 please at James on the Delaware) and get her 'taste of home' every time we visited the area. Jimmy's has since moved to a shopping mall just off of Route 22 and it's only now that I'm older that I have a full appreciation for what they do. You see, they only do hot dogs. You walk in and the guy behind the counter simply asks 'how many?' and 'with everything?'. That's it. You can get a bag of chips or a soda if you want, but their business is hot dogs and business is good. A Jimmy dog consists of the following. A steamed/roasted hot dog, mustard, onions, a full sized pickle spear and bun. The bun is steamed and I would bet a large chunk of $$$ that the hot dogs and bun have met up with beer somewhere along the way. Just a guess, but I've eaten quite a few of these dogs. I actually used to alter my route home from the CIA simply to have a few hot dogs from Jimmy's. There is something very special about the steamed goodness that lives inside those cellophane wrappers. By the way, there is a very specific way they wrap up the hot dogs for you and it hasn't changed for as long as I can remember. This is just a great hot dog.

OK, so let's remember that I'm Hanover born and is my dad. As you can imagine, Hanover has its own claim to hot dog fame. There are not many things that make me as happy as two hot dogs with everything and a fry with chili. Don't know how to explain it, it just makes me smile. That smell. Those onions. I could go on and try to describe the taste sensation, but I have to just back away from the computer and say that if you've never had one, you should come to Hanover and try it. AND, if you have had a hot dog with everything and don't like it, then you have the palate of a donkey's backside. Plain and simple. Oh, for the true Hanoverians who are going to ask me if I'm a Famous or Texas guy, well let's put it simply. There is only one true hot dog with everything in Hanover and it lives at the FAMOUS.

Oh yeah and in the Hatfield and McCoy battle that is Easton vs. Hanover family hot dog wars. Hanover wins.....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I've got a few cookbooks. OK, that's bullshit. I've got more cookbooks than a Barnes and Noble. Period. AND, I've read most of them. So, suffice it to say, I've 'been around the block' with regards to cookbooks. I have my favorites and it's not easy to break into that group.(it's surprisingly small) Yes, I've got all the Ducasse books....Helene Darroze? Check. Anne Sophie Pic? Check. Herve This?(are they cookbooks or science books....) Check. Pierre Herme? Check. So, what are my favorites? If you knew me, you'd know.

When I first started cooking I was inspired by one book. Patrick O'Connell's Inn at Little Washington Cookbook. Not surprisingly, I ended up cooking there and learning the daily 'in's and out's' that went into building the nuts and bolts behind that book. That singular book drove me in the early years of my career.

Now, many years removed from my time at The Inn at Little Washington, I'm back in Hanover, the town where I grew up, and I'm trying to build a sense of regional cuisine that people from all over the US and abroad can identify as truly 'of our area'. Promoting the terroir, if you will.

A book landed on my doorstep this morning that has touched me in a way that no other book has in many years. Yes, I've read this hot book or that celebrity chef book, but nothing has moved me as much as this book. It's the closest thing that I've experienced since I opened the cover of Patrick's book nine years ago.

Sam Beall has created a cookbook that, although I'm not even close to finishing, provides an instant 'sense of place' and transports the reader to the east Tennesse foothills that he obviously loves so much. This book takes you there. Makes you want to eat the food of the foothills and does so by telling such an amazing story.

I've not really started to 'dig in' to this book, but I will say this: It's already speaking to me.

America is blessed with a diverse culture, which has spawned an amazing array of regional cuisines; many of which we are still waiting to discover in their contemporary iteration. It doesn't matter if it's Creole, Southwestern, Tennessee Foothills or wonderful central Pennsylvania. Each has its spokesperson and leader and with this book Sam Beall has transported me to east Tennessee.

Do yourself a favor and BUY THIS BOOK.

Disclaimer: I've never met Sam Beall. Have only visited Blackberry Farm once for about 30 minutes. Am getting no compensation for this post. THE BOOK IS JUST THAT GOOD. However, if as a result of this post, someone from Blackberry Farm would like to invite me to do a guest chef dinner at said property....I'd certainly have to give it some consideration. :-)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Simple Pleasures

Here's the thing....when friends visit the restaurant, many times they come bearing gifts for the kitchen.(which we REALLY appreciate). I'm not talking about Mauviel cookware or socks. No, I'm talking about the simple pleasures that really light the twinkle in obsessive, hungry and thirsty cook's eyes. An example is perhaps a case of National Bohemian beer.....or the ever popular Nutter Butter cookies. However, when friend and fellow blogger Carol Blymire visits, she always showers us with the third of my obsessive food and drink trifecta, Pop Tarts.(She's been able to source dulce de leche and blueberry muffin pop tarts....wha?) Yes, the guys cooking the foie gras, truffles and south central PA's most amazing meats and produce are overcome with joy at the sight of a $12 case of beer, peanut butter cookies and toaster 'pastries'....oh yeah, just a small detail, we rarely even toast the Pop Tarts, just open the package and eat them raw. A delicious snack for the cook on the run. So, with that, I give you my very own discovery .....Gingerbread Pop Tarts.(who ever said I couldn't source great products?) I'll report back as to just how delicious they were.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Hello thumb. Meet mandoline blade. Back once it doesn't hurt like hell to type.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shoo Fly Pie

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Yeah, I wish I could claim it, but this gem goes to Da Vinci. However, I have to say that this quote rang through my head when I was considering shoo fly pie on our menu.

I love shoo fly pie and have since I was a kid. In Lancaster County and the surrounding area, restaurants and stores can be known for their pies and whether or not they have a dense crumb or have more of the 'goo'. I have a high school friend who now lives in California and is after me to send him my recipe for shoo fly pie so he can make a taste of home in Cali.(It's coming.)

As Fall rolls in on us in Central PA, I get the itch for shoo-fly. I suppose you could bake a shoo-fly any time of the year, but for some reason, Fall makes me crave the molasses and crumb. It just fits.

So, I'm considering how to put shoo-fly pie on the menu. Can I blow it apart and do a interpretation of shoo-fly? Well, yes I can, but I want to? No. This is when the quote hits me. Some things shouldn't be overthought and overwrought. Shoo-fly pie is one of these things. However, it needs to be done perfectly to be relevant. So, what is the perfect shoo-fly pie?

Perfect shoo steps. 1) Flaky, sweet crust. Check. 2) 3/4 goo level.(high quality molasses is KEY here. The 'goo' is basically molasses bound with a little egg. Hint...a little bitter goes a long way to round out the over the top sweetness. What's bitter? Coffee......) Check 3) 1/4 crumb level what has move flavor than simply brown sugar and flour. Check. OK, so I've got what I consider to be the perfect shoo pie.(I like the goo level and can't stand a dry shoo fly pie)

So, now the pie is out of the oven....what can go with it? Well, I decided on a little caramel sauce, some cinnamon stick ice cream and chocolate crumbles. No bells and whistles, just basically a slice of pie and ice cream...but a damn good slice of pie and ice cream. When you've got two major components in a dish you have no room for error. The pie must be perfect. The ice cream must have just enough spice to cut the sweetness of the pie and caramel. No room for error.

I love this dish....not sure I love it more than the sticky bun with white chocolate ice cream, but I love it. Don't ask me to choose between my kids.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Harvest Dinner Deep Thoughts....

We finished up our two day Harvest Dinnerpalooza late last night and as I sat in the dining room after everyone had left I thought to myself 'this is a great beginning'. You might think this odd(well, if you don't think my blog is a little odd, you should seek medical help) that after two nights of preparing the finishing touches on our annual dinner I would be considering a beginning not an end. It's easy think about 'finishing up' after an evening that was as fun and exciting as the evenings we had, but I was ready to build on what we laid out during those two nights.

I won't go into details about the dinner. If you wanted the details, you would have been at the dinner. If you still want details, sign up for next years dinner(we already have commitments, so I'd call NOW).

Three years ago we produced our first Harvest Dinner to a small group of people, who although small in number were very excited about the scope of the dinner. Honestly, after that dinner I remarked to Karen that I didn't want to do another Harvest Dinner. I wasn't sure people 'got it' and we really didn't have that big of a fact, i think only one dining room was used. During the summer months of last year, the question came up 'do we want to to another Harvest Dinner?' I got on board, but I have to say I was pretty nervous about whether or not we'd have a good turnout. Well, in 2008 we filled two dining rooms for the dinner and had another amazing time.(I'm not sure what I worry about....if our staff were left with just the producers who grow for us and no one came, we still have an amazing would just be tough to pay the bills.) Fast forward to 2009 and we had two full NIGHTS of celebration. So, in three short years this yearly celebration of our producers and their harvest has grown from using only one dining room to two full nights. That's the beginning I'm talking about.

I'm a 'want it yesterday' kind of guy. I expect things to happen NOW and have a problem with waiting. So, it's comforting for me to look back over three years and see the building success of our harvest dinners. So, after the dinner when I was able to reflect a little bit I realized that this dinner and every day after it marked a beginning. The beginning of bringing our style of food and food products to people. Every day we have the ability to make an impact with how creatively we are sourcing, pairing and preparing the food. There will never be an end to this, just a series of new beginnings as we discover new and innovative ways to work with the amazing products that are delivered to our backdoor.

Special thanks to Kathy Glahn, Beau Ramsburg, and Heather Sheppard Lunn....without your inspired products we'd have no reason to put on a crisp white coat every morning and do what we do.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Old School

We're a 'what's next' society. Always looking for the hip new ingredient, cultural cuisine, chemical, powder, equipment.....the list goes on and on. Pick up any food magazine, watch TopChef or Iron Chef America or read the food section of any national newspaper; people are gaga over molecular gastronomy. It's the 'new black' of the culinary world. Is it fad or is it here to stay? That's a debate for others to have and another time. My point is that the old school stuff has proven the test of time and there simply is no molecular gastronomy or avant garde cuisine without the basics. A lot of cooks want to 'run before they can walk'. Playing with foams and making 'apple caviar' before they can even describe the steps to making a solid consomme. I've seen cooks who were highly decorated from culinary school who's excuse for consomme as cloudy as muddy water was that I didn't buy high enough quality ground meat. Hello?

So, let's go old school. I'm making a tortellini of smoked chicken with hard cooked egg, root vegetables and a chicken consomme as the first course for our Harvest Dinner. Yeah, it's basically a refined version of chicken noodle soup. So, how about the chicken consomme? First, I started with roasted chicken bones and a hand full of chicken feet. I poured chicken stock over the bones and feet and added a bit of mirepoix vegetables.(bay leaf, peppercorns. Check)This stock simmered for about 4 hours and then was strained and chilled, so I'm starting my consomme with a very rich stock....lots of body. Today, I poured the cold stock into a pot and added ground pork, pureed onions and carrots, lightly whipped egg whites, bay leaf, peppercorns and some red wine vinegar(how many people know what the acid from the vinegar or tomatoes is for? Free tour of the bowling alley for a correct answer....) I slowly brought the stock up to temperature while constantly stirring. When the stock reached temp., the raft started to form. What's a raft? The raft is the clarification net that traps impurities as the stock gurgles through it. As the egg whites and pork reach temp. they form at the top of the stock and form one of the most beautiful sights in cooking. When you carefully vent the raft and see beautiful clear stock bubbling through, it is an amazing sight akin to a beautiful sunset or a blooming flower.

Once you've allowed the consomme to bubble through the raft(once you've gotten good formation of the raft, turn the heat down to simmer or you'll break the raft) it's time to get the consomme out of the pot. I find that a siphon works best. Following the siphon step, then it's time to strain through coffee filters. After sending the consomme through a never ending series of coffee filters. Then......yeah, this is a labor intensive's time to take paper towels and blot off any noticeable bits fat that might appear. After all of this, the final test is whether or not your consomme is so clear that you can read the date on a dime. Well, I didn't have a dime...I had a quarter. So, here's what I got.

The finished product had a ton of body and an amazing chicken flavor. Why does this matter? Couldn't you just use regular, ordinary chicken stock? Well, yes you could, but you'd be ordinary. If you're satisfied with being ordinary, that's cool. You have to live with yourself.

Try a little old school some time. You'll be glad you did....AND, you won't be ordinary.

Sorry the photos aren't as clear as the consomme. It was an iPhone night...didn't have the digital camera.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Where does your beef come from?

Much has been written about ground beef over the past few days. If you're out of the loop, check out this article in the New York Times. Actually, let's be truthful. It seems we're getting bombarded with news alerts about a different food recall every week. I am of the opinion that the best thing you can do to not only get the most flavorful food, but the safest food is to know where your food came from. When I get beef, I know where it came from.(if you're living in Hanover, you do too. You've driven past them countless times)

Want flavorful food? Want safe food? Want food with a story? Want food that represents the area where you live? Well.......know where your food comes from AND talk to the folks responsible for producing that food. Period.

By the can have access to the very same beef I use at the restaurant. Yes, you can cook this amazing beef at home. Call the Mansion at 717.633.8075 for details on how to get you hands on this great product.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

What did you eat today?

I put things in my mouth for a living. Good, bad, underseasoned, overseasoned, smooth, fade, sweet, get the point. The chef's palate is his most prized tool.(By the way, it's also the home cook's most prized tool) Not a sharp knife, not an immersion circulator, not even a trusty spoon. Without taste, there is no reason for the others. So, not only is on the spot flavor analysis crucial, but having 'flavor recall' is VERY important for developing dishes. So, every new taste gets filed away for use at a later date.

So, I told you that so I could tell you this. I ate an apple today that redefined honey crisp apples for me. Redefined honey crisp apples. Suffice it to say I've eaten a few apples in my life.(including the amazing Arkansas Black) Yesterday, my friend Samuel Martin delivered a half bushel of honey crisp apples to the restaurant. Now, I know there are honey crisp apple available at your local grocer. I've even had honey crisps from Lancaster County. The hook here is that the apples I got weren't 'perfect' looking. They were a little spotty and didn't glisten with the sheen of grocery store apples. However, they were easily the size of softballs and HEAVY. This is a good sign in my book.

I took my first bite. Crisp, snap, full of juice and LOADED with complex flavor. Initially, I was hit with a bit of tart flavor, but that was quickly overrun with caramel, the caramel then gave way to part cider, part grass. The bite(yes this was the first bite) then finished with the floral scents of honey. I know all of this seems a little over the top, so let's boil it down to this. This apple was a revelation. No food pyrotechnics, no liquid nitrogen....just an amazing apple plucked right from the tree. It was so good that I really had no desire to think about what to do with this apple. I just closed my eyes and filed that taste away.

Times like this make me wonder if we savor the food we eat enough on a daily basis. I'm not gonna lie to you, I eat fast food. I eat junk food. However, I also can sit back and really TASTE the food I'm eating.

So, what did you eat today?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Harvest Dinner

Yes, we're in year 3 for our Annual Harvest Dinner. Every year that we have produced a Harvest Dinner I'm been excited to show off not only the pristine foodstuffs that are delivered to our backdoor, but it's also a superb opportunity for our guests to get up close and personal with the people who produce our food.

For this year's event, we've upped the ante. Not only are we lucky to have Beau Ramsburg(chicken and pork), Kathy Glahn(produce) and Heather Lunn(Beef) join us to talk about their products, but we've added two special wrinkles that I'm especially excited about. We're also having the fine men from Charles Nells meats(our butcher) to talk about the butchery process and what happens during the time the animal leaves the field and gets delivered to my back door. With this addition, we've completed the path from farm to table. Guests will be able to ask questions about every step of the process, which I think is super cool. The latest addition is also very cool and very special for me. Renee Catacalos, editor of Edible Chesapeake magazine, will be joining us and sharing her expertise with our guests. If you haven't had a chance to read Edible Chesapeake magazine, shame on you, but.....there will be plenty of copies at the dinner.

Hey, Andy. Can I still get a ticket? Yes, we have a few seats left. When is it? Monday, October 12 at 6pm. How much is it? $95 which includes wine pairings, tax, gratuity. Yeah, it's basically a ticket. Yeah, it's an incredible, stupid crazy deal. What's the menu like? Glad you asked.

Here it is:

‘Chicken or the Egg’
Tortellini of smoked rettland farms chicken, hard cooked egg, housemade noodles, root vegetables, foie gras broth


A composition of greens, shaved vegetables and mushrooms from our area


Cheerwine glazed Rettland Farms Pork Shoulder
Fingerling potato salad, pickled turnip and celery root

Sheppard Mansion Farms Beef
Strip loin, offal pain perdu, shallot puree, horseradish sauce


Apple Cider Doughnuts
Caramel ice cream, toasted almond crumble

There you have it. There will be snacks with bubbles before the dinner gets started.(sweet and salty toasted pumpkins seeds anyone?) Don't miss your chance to get up close and personal with the best products and producers that south central PA has to offer. To secure your reservation, call the restaurant at 717.633.8075. Mention this blog post and get a free tour of the bowling alley.... :-)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Take me home country roads.....

Yesterday was an amazingly beautiful Fall day along the East Coast. Great day for a little drive. So, Karen and I decided to head down to Virginia and check out some apples.

I'm sure you've already got a few questions. 1) Aren't you from Hanover, so what home were those country roads taking you to and 2) Isn't Adams County, renowned for its apples, almost in your back yard?

So, here's the answer to question 1. If I had to have an adopted home, it would be northern and western Virginia. I spent my college years in Harrisonburg, VA attending James Madison University and cut my cooking teeth as a cook at Patrick O'Connell's Inn at Little Washington, so I've spent some time in VA. I'm not exactly sure why, but I really have an intense connection to Virginia, so I look at it with fond memories and as a second home. The simple beauty of the area is very inspiring.

Question 2. Yes, Adams County is bursting with apple orchards, however, we were in search of a specific variety: Arkansas Black. After a quick internet search, we found an orchard in, you guessed in, Flint Hill, VA that had a ton of fantastic Arkansas Black apples.

So, we jumped in the car and headed south. First stop, the Apple House in Linden, VA for barbeque and apple doughnuts. Simply amazing. The next stop for us was Moore's Orchard, just outside of Flint Hill. Moore's also happens to be the orchard where Laurence Gottlieb, former executive sous chef at The Inn at Little Washington, used to buy his apples for the Inn.

After a short conversation about Laurence and the Inn, we got down to business. I tasted the Arkansas Black(and wasn't disappointed that we drove 2.5 hours for this apple) and a Stayman and decided on a bushel of Blacks.

This pic isn't of a full bushel, I assure there are lots more apples than that!

So, why all the fuss about the Arkansas Black apple? Well, it's not so much about this particular variety,(I have a lot of love for honeycrisp, too) as it is about branching out and finding new varieties of apples. According to an article in Saveur magazine only 11 varieties of apples(out of an estimated 14,000) make up 90 percent of all apples consumed in the USA. So, we've seen a revolution with heirloom tomatoes over the past 10 years and I think apples are next. There are so many different varieties and each has its own distinct flavor profile and distinct usage. If you live anywhere in the Mid-Atlantic region and are buying Washington State apples from the grocery store, you should be ashamed of yourself. I've heard a lot recently about 'convenience' and how 'I just don't have time'....if you're in that group that doesn't make flavorful, sustainable food a priority in your life(eating REAL food isn't about elitism and doesn't have to be expensive, it's about priorities) and want to continue to buy flavorless, unripe food at the grocery store because you think it's easy, I can't help you and frankly, don't want to. If you wanna make it a priority to get good foodstuffs to your house for your family, let's talk.

TAKING CARE: We live in a world where we are constantly hearing news reports about millions of pounds of ground beef being recalled(can you actually fathom how much a million pounds of ground beef is, much less 44 million many beef did that take?) or a salmonella outbreak in leafy greens or scallions. All of this leads me to the question: How much care is the factory farm industry taking with your food? You don't have to be a genius to know the answer to this question.

So, Andy, why are you getting on this soap box? Karen took the pic above and while it is an awesome shot, you can't see the huge smile on my face. Really, it's there. Why smile? As we decided on buying a bushel of Arkansas Blacks, I turned around and noticed that the lady who sold us the apples was taking each individual apple and placing it in a box for us. Why is this significant? Well, first, it was A LOT of apples. Second, she could have just dumped the basket into the box and have been done with it. Nope, she took(and I joined her for the second basket) each individual apple and placed it on newspaper, so that it wouldn't get bruised or damaged. She was TAKING CARE of the food. This wasn't something super soft like an ultra-ripe peach. They were apples. Tough apples. I got the feeling that she could have been selling anything, regardless of how soft it was, and she would have taken the same amount of time making sure it was properly placed in our container for transport. It was almost reverential. This experience leads me to the following questions. Do the people you buy your food from 'take care' of it? Do you 'take care' of it once you've gotten it home. Do you 'take care' of it while it's cooking? Do you take the time to savor it once it's on the plate?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Mac is back. A story of love and hate.

OK, for the dozens(I'm not exaggerating) of people who have called the restaurant, now you've got your answer. Yes, the lobster macaroni and cheese is back on the menu.

So, what's the 'love/hate' part of it, Andy? I'm not crazy about the dish. The idea gained popularity a couple of years ago when chefs like Thomas Keller and Patrick O'Connell started to interpret this American classic. I remember being taken with Patrick's interpretation during my first days working in his kitchen. Macaroni and cheese in a parm. tuile topped with white truffle? Yes, please. Well, it's 2009 and 'dressed up' macaroni and cheese is dying in ubiquity(yeah, it's a word now.) Every one is doing their spin on it, some OK, some downright terrible. From a culinary view and a menu planning standpoint, I'd LOVE to be able to take the lobster macaroni and cheese off the menu and move on. You see, we only have 4 slots at the top of our menu, one of which gets taken up with the macaroni and cheese. So, that limits me to showing only three new dishes on our menu. I'm not really crazy out that. That's the hate part of the story. Although, it does give me a chance to use our awesome country ham.

Here's the love part. People move toward restaurant cooking for many different reasons. Back to Patrick O'Connell again, he's famous for saying that 'you don't choose this profession, it chooses you.' He's right. So, as chefs, we're all here for different reasons, but because cooking chose us. I think one thing that drives all of us is the satisfaction that we get when someone digs our food. Well, sometimes in your career you get a dish that people really like and you can't take it off the menu. This isn't a 'beef tenderloin' situation where people just order it because they like mushy, flavorless food. People like this dish. They anticipate when this dish will come on to the menu; call and ask if it's back; wonder if they can buy large quantities of it to eat at home. I appreciate that people like this dish. I love that they come to the restaurant to eat it. I'd be stupid to take it off the menu, right? How about I serve the mac and cheese with a complimentary side of beef tongue????

The photos on this post are obviously not taken by me....they're too good. They were taken by my good friend and photographer Andy Smith. I love they way his pics tell our food story. Simply amazing.


God bless you or gesundheit.....Yeah, saying hassenpfeffer sounds like you've got some wicked allergies.

When I was considering new menu items, I knew I wanted to do some type of preparation with rabbit. I wasn't sure if I was going to present the whole animal or just the legs. After a few different ideas, I landed on doing some type of twist on hassenpfeffer. Honestly, I just like to say hassenpfeffer. Traditionally, hassenpfeffer is a stew of marinated rabbit. So, what to do, what to do.

First, I decided to bag the rabbit legs with apple cider. Then there was a trip to the hot tub at 69.9 degrees for 12 hours.

Once the rabbit is out of the tub, it's chilled and held for service. So, what goes with apple cider braised rabbit leg? Well, how about brown butter egg noodles? So, we make our own egg yolk heavy pasta dough and, once it's cooked toss it with brown butter. The final touch is a bit of root vegetables. The rabbit legs are napped with a sauce made from apple cider, white wine, heavy cream, garlic and shallots.

So, how do you take a rustic German rabbit stew and make it completely over the top? How about grating some black truffle over it? OK, talked me into it.

I love this dish. It shows off a little technique on our part, allows us to have brown butter egg noodles(aren't these one of life's amazing pleasures? If you've never had them, do yourself a favor and get you some) on the menu and gives us the opportunity to grate some truffles! Hope you'll check into the restaurant and try it out!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Sticky Buns

I usually don't talk too much about desserts on the blog. I don't know why, maybe I'm just biased toward the savory foods, BUT I do like desserts and will try and be a little better about talking about our dessert program on the blog.

I'm really excited about this dessert. I've loved sticky buns since I was a kid and always thought it would be fun to spin sticky buns on to our menu at some point. Actually, a prune and armagnac sticky bun made an appearance last winter with melted brie as a cheese course. This time around, I've gone back to my good old friend armagnac, however this time with golden raisins. I'm topping it with white chocolate ice cream and a sauce made from the baking juices. The dough is a brioche with salted butter and dark brown sugar swirled in.

I could eat this dish every night and not get tired of it. Well, I don't know about EVERY night, but you get the point. I love the mix of caramelized sugars, fruit, a little bit of liquor and white chocolate ice cream. Simply amazing!

I had a couple of shots of the perfectly plated dessert, but I settled on posting this shot. I plated the dish, took some photos and then put the plate off to the side. When I came back, the ice cream had melted into the sauce and just looked amazing. So, here you go, no food styling, no lighting, just a lusty, sexy plate of food. Come on, you know you wanna get some!!!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

What do you have at the end of the day?

This post can be filed under the broader heading 'Stuff they don't teach you in culinary school'.

A lot happens in our day. There are gonna be the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. At the end of the day, what we take home with us is the work we did during the day. We know when our heads hit the pillow that we put out the best work that we could possibly do that day and that tomorrow we're going to wake up and do the best that we know how to all over again. Nobody can take that away from us or give that to us.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Smoked Ham Hock Baked in HAY!!!!!

Yes, you read this right. Smoked ham hocks....baked in hay. OK, I'll admit this isn't something you run across that often. I was actually inspired by a No Reservations episode where Tony Bourdain visits with Marco Pierre White and Marco described baking a rabbit in hay. As Marco describes it, all of the answers are right in front of us, we just need to look to Nature for inspiration.

So, I did a little research and found that alfalfa hay was the most desirable for baking, so I called up Beau Ramsburg, uber-farmer to the stars and asked if he could get me a bale of alfalfa hay. After a few minutes of 'what are you gonna do with that?' type questions, my hay was on the way.

I decided that I thought smoked ham hocks would be an interesting jumping off point for my baking in hay idea. So older recipes I found called for baking a whole ham in hay, so smoked ham hocks weren't that far off. Here's a video of my set up. Basically, a deep hotel pan, some apple cider and alfalfa hay.

So, once I was setup, I got one of our ham bags(the bags we use for wrapping our cured hams and hanging them in the curing room) and stuffed the hocks in the bag so I could keep the excess hay off of the hocks.

After a couple of hours in the oven, the hocks came out and got a quick rinse under cold water. From there, I shredded the hocks and added some gelatin to apple cider.....then tossed the shredded hock with the cider and packed it into a terrine mold.

So, I gotta tell you. The hocks took on a decidedly grassy, hay-like(imagine that) flavor. It works really well with the smoke of the hock and the sweetness of the cider(the hay is actually a bit sweet). On its own, it's really good. However, once I pulled the hock out of the terrine the next step was 'what to pair with it?'. Here's what I came up with.

The base is pumpernickel bread toasted in brown butter.....then the terrine topped with Maldon salt.....sauerkraut vinaigrette, sunny up quail egg....cornichon, radish sprouts. I gotta say....the terrine is really pretty tasty on its own with a smear of mustard, but.....adding the pumpernickel bread and a little 'egg gravy' puts this bad boy over the top. I know the sound of anything 'baked in hay' will deter most folks from trying this, but it is really delicious.... I think the first step in 'baking in hay' was a great success and I can't wait to try out some other ideas.