Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ramps Have the Best PR Firm EVER......

Yeah, I said it. First, let me mention that I've been a huge supporter of ramps in the past. Now, I've grown up.

So, what exactly is a ramp? Basically, it's a wild leek that calls West Virginia and parts of the mid-Atlantic home. I suppose the taste is sort of like a garlicky, leeky, spring onion. For a couple of years now, the 'food trendsetters' have been tripping over themselves heaping praise on this wild sprout like it was some new type of caviar we've never tasted before. Like I said above and you can see from this pic, I've cooked my share of ramps in the past.(the ramps are in the center of the photo, along with a host of other spring ingredients)

The problem is that I just don't get it. I don't understand why every alleged 'foodie', food magazine, and chef seems to drop everything they're doing in the name of ramps. I saw recently that a restaurant in New York City(and if it's happening in New York City it MUST be cool) was doing an entire ramp tasting menu....ramp ice cream, ramp sorbet, no thanks.

For me, I'd much rather elevate a stellar spring onion from my friend Samuel Martin or even better pulled fresh from our gardens. Or, how about pristine asparagus? Or the first of Tim Brown's strawberries?

Listen, I had ramps on our early spring menu this year, but I've finally come around to trusting my gut and palate(both of which are saying 'what's the big freaking deal'), so I'm telling the food intelligencia to piss up a rope. Even though all the cool kids on the playground are doing 48 course ramp tasting menus, I'll be the kid by himself on the other side of the playground covering himself in charred spring onion vinaigrette and wrapping just cut asparagus in country ham. Oh, I'll also be the chubby kid in the too tight Twisted Sister t-shirt stuffing morels with bone marrow and oxtail.

I suppose the lesson here is to cook what you love to eat and don't let trends or others influence you. If you're not feeling it, then you're not feeling it. If you cook what you love to eat and the people who raised what you're cooking are passionate about producing food, then you could honestly elevate dog shit to a higher level.*

*NOTE: Please take my word on elevating dog shit to a higher level. There really is no good reason to try this at home.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pea Tortellini and Beef Tongue

OK, here you go....pea tortellini, beef tongue, morel mushrooms, pea shoots, radish and horseradish cream.

It's difficult to describe how delicious this dish is. It certainly melds the green flavors of the peas and shoots with the earthy quality of tongue and morel mushrooms. Finish that off with a drizzle of lemon oil and some horseradish and I think you've got a match made in heaven!....If you're the type of person who turns their nose up at beef tongue(seriously, it's like eating the best beef you've ever had) then you need to put your big boy pants on and give this dish a try....YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU'RE MISSING!!!!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Not Much to Say Here, a picture says a thousand words.

The incredible Andy Smith paid us a visit a couple of weeks ago and I've been working on interesting ways to get his photos on my blog....I've been messing with wrapping them up in a neat little video.......this is the first experiment. Enjoy the show!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Pork Belly

Ah, yes. The pork belly. You see, the culinary world is much like the fashion world and pork belly has certainly had its 'Members Only jacket moment' in the sun recently. Its gotten to the point where there is almost a backlash against bacon and all things pork because almost every food mag and restaurant has taken a seat on the 'pork train' and we've seen some ridiculous, 'creative'(by creative, I really mean stupid) uses of bacon. As a result of the hoopla, I've eaten a bunch of great pork belly, but I've also eaten some iterations of pork belly that were, at best, horrible.(like so bad, I was wishing it had just been turned into grocery store bacon instead of the dish I had just eaten) These bad versions are the primary reason that I'm REALLY glad that everyone is backing away from the pork belly craze. The secondary reason is that now we can get back to properly executing what is a really amazing cut of meat to cook.

I've never claimed to be the first guy at the offal/non-tenderloin cuts party. However, I sometimes I do claim to be that guy at the party who is dancing by himself in the corner way to early in the evening. Yeah, I said it, I'm drunk with my love of offal and when the magazines and bloggers stop talking about pork belly or lamb neck or beef tongue or duck testicles, I'm still gonna be cooking them because, for me, it's not about the hype or trend; these are just way more flavorful cuts than a pallid plate of beef tenderloin.

So, back to the point. Pork belly. More specifically, this dish is wildflower honey glazed pork belly with a mushroom duxelle smeared brioche crouton and spring vegetables(asparagus, baby carrot, spring onion, morel mushrooms, pearl onion). First we take the belly and give it a quick cure of salt, sugar and pepper. Then, it's packed and off to take a bath for 24 hours. After coming out of the bath, we gently place the belly between to pans and weight it down over night. Once chilled, the belly cuts cut into portions and held until we're ready to complete the dish.

When it's time to start the dish, we dust the belly in Wondra flour and gently brown each side of the meat. The meat is then removed from the pan and the pan is deglazed with a mixture of wildflower honey, sherry vinegar and pork stock. Once gently reduced, the pork is added back to the stock and basted until the stock reaches a nice glaze consistency. Unlike other dishes, we do not add a knob of butter to the pan because we're looking for the acidity of the sherry vinegar to help cut the richness(and YES it is rich!) of the pork. The crouton is fried in chicken fat(yeah, it's good) and smeared with a mushroom duxelle that has been deglazed with Pernod. So, crouton+duxelle+pork belly+glazed vegetables. Finally a bit of glazing liquid as sauce for the plate and we're done.

So, this is just another sneak peak into our Spring menu which hits this wednesday. If you've never tried pork belly, come by and give this a shot. If you've had pork belly before, but weren't blown away by it, come by and give this a shot. Oh yeah, be on the lookout for a killer beef tongue, too!!!! I'm off to find my Members Only jacket.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Green, Eggs and Ham

Well, it's officially Spring! With the warmer days and greener grass comes a pretty major overhaul of the menu. Time to roll out the fresh green flavors!

Asparagus, along with chives, is one of the first Spring items to poke through the ground(actually, we've already cut a bunch of asparagus on the property) so naturally it would make an appearance on the Spring menu. The one dish in particular that I always choose to showcase asparagus is my own nod to Dr. Seuss, Green, Eggs and Ham. There are no 'green eggs' on this dish....that's why I put a comma between the 'green' and 'eggs'. Simply put, the dish is comprised of green items(asparagus), eggs(bernaise, caviar) and ham(always a country ham)

I took the opportunity to take a look back at some of my photos last night to see how my interpretation of 'green, eggs and ham' has changed over the years. Believe me, it has! So, here's a trip down memory lane for me and an interesting look into the evolution of a dish for you. Regardless of the plating, the basic concept of the dish has remained the same: present amazing asparagus and a few other flavors which are meant to enhance the main idea.

At the time of this photo, there wasn't a restaurant at the Sheppard Mansion yet. I was living and working in Bucks County, PA. I'm pretty sure this was the first iteration of 'green, eggs and ham'....part of a multi-course tasting menu at EverMay on the Delaware. The major components here were asparagus, bernaise sauce, country ham and a little bit of caviar for good measure.

Fast forward to 2008 and the Sheppard Mansion. The plating is a little different and I've added a sunny side quail egg, some micro herbs and radishes to the mix.

The here and now. This is what the dish looks like today. The components are still asparagus, caviar and country ham(specifically Surryano Ham here), but I've added another egg element(brown butter mayonnaise), some roasted and chilled fingerling potato(which add a really nice creamy note), lemon oil, radish and edible flowers and flowering herbs. I think this dish is really, really sexy.

I hope everyone will be able to visit the restaurant this Spring and taste this dish. As the days move forward, I'm going to try and post shots of many of our new Spring items. Enjoy!