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.