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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What kinda food yous guys got there?

OK, so I've actually fielded this question in its current grammatical state, so that's my get out of 'you're being a dick' jail. If it actually happened then I can write about it, right?(I'm honestly not sure about the spelling of yous, but you get the point)

So, this does beg the question of 'How do you describe your food?'. That's legit and I'm gonna take a stab at it. I will start off by saying that this is a tough question for me to answer. It's right up there with 'what's your signature dish?' My stock answer to that one is....That's like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite.

So, how would I describe our cuisine? Well, we used to say it's refined American cuisine with French influences. Actually, I suppose that's not a bad description, but it's so much more than that. Is the food influenced by the area? Yep. Is it seasonal? Yep. Respect tradition? Yep. Innovative? Yep. Bottom line is that it's a cuisine that's built from my personal experiences. I spent a bunch of years below the Mason Dixon line, so there is certainly a southern soul to the food. I grew up in south central PA, so there are definitely PA Dutch influences. Growing up, we spent a lot of time in Balitmore and DC, so the Chesapeake Bay and its flavors play a role in planning our menu.

I work very closely with farmers and butchers, so I've got a healthy respect for and, oh ok I'll say it, love of offal.

So, what can you expect when you sit down at the Sheppard Mansion? Well, certainly refined American cuisine that is based on classic French technique. Well-sourced products? Yes. Innovative techniques? Yes. A little bit of Chesapeake, some PA Dutch twists and a little dip down South and maybe some tongue? Yes. The other thing you can expect is that every day we are doing the very best that we can to present a very interesting dining experience for you.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Good Bye Summer

Summer has officially kicked it. We've seen it coming for weeks, summer produce slowly being switched out for the bounty of Fall. I can't really put a finger on how I feel about this Summer. Suffice it to say, it was strange. This week brings our full Fall menu. It's 'game' time! I'll be posting the new dishes this week, but I thought I'd leave you with my favorite pics and dishes from this summer.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


The culinary world is much like the fashion world. Styles change. Trends and fads come and go. One constant, regardless of trend fad or style, is execution. It doesn't matter if you're at a diner or a Michelin three star restaurant. Execution is king and consistency is queen.

There are many moving parts that go in to presenting a plate of food. Part of it is dreaming up the concept of the dish. Part of it is teaching the technique behind the dish. Part of it is preparing that dish over and over again with the same consistency of execution. The last 'part' is the one that matters most. You can write amazing menus with amazing ideas. You can be a great teacher of your techniques to your staff, but when it gets right down to it, if the cooks who are in the shit at 8pm on a saturday night can't execute your ideas consistently, who cares? All the planning, sourcing, writing, teaching,'s all for naught if the execution sucks. Pack it up and go write cookbooks or something.

I love food. I love cooking. I love restaurants and 'restaurant life'. However, if I really dig deep the thing that really drives me is execution. You can do something a million times perfectly and it will be that one million and first time that you burn it or under season it....and the world goes sideways. It has to be perfectly executed every time. Every plate. Here's an example: The 19 year old kid in the picture above works hot 1st course at the Mansion. He handles a whole host of dishes in addition to the amuse every night. He's got a lot of dishes that require multiple steps but the one that always makes him roll his eyes is the foie gras;(in fact I don't even order it as foie gras during service. I call it 'damn it') it's also the order that can quickly put him in the shits if other orders stack on top of it. It only requires two steps. Toast brioche. Sear foie gras. Everything else is plating. It's only two steps, why is it so bad? Execution. Toasting the bread to the perfect color and searing the foie gras to the correct doneness requires a bit of 'hand holding'. Basically, you're whole night can go sideways in the blink of an eye. Even worse is if a piece of too dark brioche goes to the pass....then to the trash and start over....and you're officially in the shit. Congrats.

It's perfecting execution that drives me. Every day is different and something you thought you had a handle on can step up and smack you in the face at any time. Can you peel this carrot faster and better than you did yesterday? Can you make 34 perfect pretzel rolls faster than yesterday? Will the plates look and taste as good at 8:15 when you have orders stacked up like an air traffic controller as they did at 5:30 when the night was starting?

Talk all you want about new cooking trends, fads, styles, foams, gelees, liquid nitrogen, whatever. No matter what you're talking about it all comes down to two words. Execution and Consistency. In order to be a great cook, you've GOT to master these two words. I'm still working at it....every day, I'm up against their wall.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Borage Flowers


I picked up these little beauties from Kathy Glahn today. It's so wonderful to be able to have a special relationship with your growers that you can suggest seriously specialty items to them and they grow them for you. She just always seems to find a way....awesome(see: huckleberries)

I draw a ton of inspiration from the French chef Michel Bras. I really admire how natural his food looks and how he draws inspiration from the land around him. Having the borage flowers at our disposal puts me one step closer to composing plates that 'pop' with not only flavor, but with a natural, refined look.

Questions....are they edible? Yes. Can you use them year round? We'll see. Where are they on the menu? Our 'green salad'. Yeah, it's not your 'usual' green salad.

Alaskan Halibut

Yeah, so the beginning of the post is actually the finished product. In my never ending search for pristine products, I've gotten my hands on some amazing Alaskan halibut. This fish comes to us via FedEx and is literally two days out of the water when it arrives at our back door. I know what you're thinking....'Hey, Andy, aren't you the local, sustainable guy?'. Sure I am. However, this area can't supply all the ingredients that we use on our menu(especially fish and luxury ingredients....hello truffles.) So, in these cases, I source the very best products I can from very reputable producers.

This halibut was so amazing when it we were butchering it a ton of ideas ran through my head for how to present it. We also had some halibut cheeks(yes, cheeks) delivered, so I thought it would be nice to pair the fillet and cheek together on the same plate. Garnish items include brussels sprouts, bacon, butternut squash puree, beets and a golden raisin vinaigrette. The fish is simply dusted with wondra flour and browned. Once browned, we flip it over, kill the heat and baste it with butter, parsley and shallots. The fish finishes cooking in the pan and gets a wonderful nutty flavor from the browning butter. Interestingly enough, you get two totally different textures of fish on this plate. The cheeks carry a bit more flavor and a more dense texture. The fillets carry a nice fresh flavor, but texturally, they simply melt in your mouth.

I'm really happy, not only with the super high quality of this fish, but also the fully composed dish. Welcome to Fall!

Check out Scott describing our butchering process.

Friday, September 25, 2009


So.....I bought a big ol' dehydrator.

For quite some time, I've been talking about cooking what's in season, when it's in season. Well, here in south central PA, that means amazing asparagus in May, corn and tomatoes July through the end of September and ALOT of root vegetables from November until mid-April. While I am certainly happy to celebrate the wide world of root vegetables, I'm also always looking for new flavors to add to our menu.

This past June, The Sheppard Mansion hosted former Top Chef contestant Richard Blais for a dinner in conjunction with the Gettysburg Festival. Before the dinner started, I had a few minutes to give Richard a tour of our property and we got to talking about preservation(rumor has it that we have a room dedicated to aging hams and a pretty extensive cold cellar......I'll never tell) and how to take products that are at their peak and preserve them for use later in the year. Now, it certainly doesn't take a Top Chef and 'the guy from the Sheppard Mansion' to come up with this idea. People have been preserving foods for hundreds of years, primarily for survival purposes. No or limited refrigeration meant having to 'put up' foods for the winter.

What we are doing is trying to put innovative and creative spins on traditional foodstuffs. Making our own raisins? Check. Dried corn? Check. Dehydrated huckleberries? You got it. What's next? Who knows.....All I can tell you is that we're having a ton of fun working with the dehydrator and are sure to come up with lots of interesting uses for it!

So, here's the specs. It's a L'Equip 535 watt FilterPro.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Turning over a new leaf.....

.....It's Fall. So, in the spirit of the changing seasons, I'm turning over a new leaf and am dedicating myself to posting on the blog every day. Yep, you read that right....every day. Check it...I'll be here with new ideas, thoughts, pictures, menu items, etc.

So many amazing things are happening here at The Sheppard Mansion that I need to let everyone know about it! I haven't been as frequent a poster on my blog because I've been tweeting(follow me @chefandylittle) about the restaurant, but I think alot of my tweets could easily be full blown posts and then all of you in the blogosphere could get a more detailed account of what's going on.

So, there you have it. I've been lax in longer. A post every day is what's gonna happen!

Happy reading and please feel free to shoot me topics that you'd like to see me discuss on the blog. In case you've missed it, I'm not usually timid with my opinion. Come on.....just ask me how I feel about beef tenderloin or factory farming or, or, or, or, you get the point.