A Guest Review of Brandywine Country Cooking School at Hamanassett Bed and Breakfast

What follows is a description sent to me by one of our cooking school participants. He and his wonderful wife, Carol, attended the 3 day Bounty Cooking School in July.  Hamanassett offers themed cooking classes throughout the year.  These classes are directed at the home cook who enjoys cooking and entertaining.  For prices and our calendar, click on Cooking School on the left. I hope you enjoy reading about our guest’s experience:

We so enjoyed our trip in April with long time friends. One of the highlights was our two-day stay at Hammanassett Bed and Breakfast Inn in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania. I was intrigued by a small pamphlet in our room about the cooking school held here at the Inn. Glenn Mon, owner, described the class as a hands-on affair with side trips in the valley to visit local suppliers, growers and ranches. We are fans of the Cooking Channel and PBS shows which often have segments where the chef goes out to the markets to see the local offerings. It was very appealing to us even though it’s a long way from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Long story short, we tentatively reserved a room, went home and checked our calendars, confirmed our reservation and so it came to pass that we were on our way back to Pennsylvania and the Hamanassett Inn. Our journey begins …….

Saturday, June 11, 2011

We flew out of SFO to Philadelphia, non-stop, first class. The plane was packed and it was an enjoyable flight up until the end when the thunderstorms and the billowing clouds made for a few bumps. Our car was ready and we were soon on our way out to I-95, destination Hamanassett B&B. There were frequent rain showers but the car did well and following the directions closely we soon were driving up the long driveway to the inn. It was a nice feeling to be back, we felt like this was kind of a home. Glenn Mon came out with a big smile and welcoming handshake and helped with the bags. Inside Ashley greeted us with warm hugs – we felt like family.

We had the same room, the Inverness, as our first visit and felt right at home. Since we were here they had put in French doors where the window had been and now we had access to the large sun deck with its white wicker rocking chairs, completely in character with the traditional décor of the Inn. The weather had cleared and being daylight savings time it was still quite light. After unpacking we sat out on the deck enjoying the warm air, the beauty of the grounds, the fountain and the koi pond. Dinnertime was approaching and Glenn had made us reservations at the Towne House in Media to try that delicious prime rib one more time.

Media is a short ten- minute drive north on Route 1 – IF you follow the printed directions from the inn. We missed the fork in the road and so were treated to a beautiful drive through green fields, large mansions, expansive manicured lawns and finally a friendly gas station attendant who set us back on the road to Media. We made a quick stop at a liquor store for a little something for happy hour and then finally found a parking place near the restaurant. The town was hopping. Little did we know it was the Annual Blues Stroll with 7 venues for jazz around the town. People roamed the streets, dressed very casually, shorts and tee shirts and the music filled the air.

We were already 20 minutes late for our reservation, but they found us a booth in the bar where we had great seats to listen to the Dixieland band downstairs. Yes, the prime rib was as good as before, as was the martini, the fried calamari, the Malbec and the chocolate gelato. Even with the tip, the tab was less than $ 100.00. A bargain compared to San Francisco. The drive home in the pitch dark of the country was a little dicey but we found the unmarked turnoff for Darlington Road successfully and parked the car at the Inn. As we strolled towards the door in the still warm air, we looked up and there was a full moon lighting the woods, really beautiful. We are on Pacific Time so it was only about 7:00 o’clock our time. We enjoyed a small glass of port in the living room listening to the classical music and reading some of the magazines that Ashley, a dedicated Anglophile, has gathered about the English Royalty and countryside. We had a lovely chat with a couple from Maryland, she investigated fraud and white-collar crimes for the state of Florida, and he was an instructor at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. – Then to bed and that wonderful antique king size bed.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

One of the highlights of Hamanassett is the gourmet breakfasts prepared by Glenn and Ashley. Equally impressive is the table setting, rich fabric tablecloth, silver candelabra, antique silver serving dishes, beautiful china, fresh flowers set in an alcove overlooking the terrace and the fountain. There is another long table; equally as impressive for most of the guests, this morning they served 24 breakfasts. We chose the latest sitting as it was about 5:00 in the morning for us.

We started with juices and coffee, followed by a poached pear and fresh croissants. This was followed by one of Ashley’s creations, a southwest egg dish with jalapenos, salsa, sour cream, avocados and a spicy sausage. It is a hefty breakfast, enjoyed leisurely with total satisfaction. To settle the meal we read the paper in the living room, sitting in the wing chairs, feeling like royalty.

Our cooking class is scheduled to start with a reception this evening at 5:30 so we had the whole day to ourselves. After a decent rest in the wicker chairs on the deck we decided to return to Winterthur to see the flowers and shrubs in bloom that had been dormant in our April visit. We just missed the peonies and daffodils but had a lovely stroll around the grounds.

At the appointed hour we gathered in the kitchen and met up with the other couple from Florida and after some champagne and delicious salmon bruschetta set to work making fresh Mozzarella cheese for our lunch tomorrow. We met the professional chef, Ann-Michelle Alberson, a very attractive and friendly young lady, with her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail she could have been a cheerleader, in a way she was. She had trained at La Varenne in Paris, the French Culinary Institute and the Culinary Institute of America so we were in good hands.

We donned our burgundy aprons provided in our gift bag, washed our hands and after a few pointers from Ann-Michelle gathered around the work surface, with our recipes in hand and started by warming a gallon of milk to 190 degrees. We added rennet and citric acid and let the mixture set. A sip of champagne and it was time to slice the congealing mixture into squares and start squeezing out the whey. Then the white glob is stretched; hand molded into balls and set to rest in the refrigerator. I thought it needed a bit of salt that was not called for in the recipe, all agreed, so we salted the whey and let the cheese soak in it overnight. So much for Mozzarella- easy, took about an hour.

It was now dinnertime and we chose the Brandywine Bistro about 3 miles from the Inn. I had steamed mussels, Carol had chicken Picatta. A nice bottle of French wine and some gelato finished the meal. The place closed early on Sundays and we were the last ones to dine. It was a piece of cake getting home and we were early to bed as the class starts early tomorrow right after breakfast.

Monday, June 13th.

We met at 8:00 AM for a continental breakfast of hardboiled eggs, bagels, cheese, ham, salmon and fresh fruit. At 8:45 we load into Glenn’s Range Rover and head out for the Red Haven Farm. We were escorted by the wife of the farmer and her young son out to the various parts of this working farm. We saw the sheep and the little lambs, some recently sheared for relief from the last two heat waves. Then over to the pigpen to visit the hogs. They were really fun to watch, as they are very social animals and constantly pushing others around, wallowing in the mud and having a good time. Carol and I were not sure if we had ever seen live pigs before. Then we trod across the field to see the cows. Udderly fascinating. Beautiful animals, several different breeds with many I’m sure waiting anxiously until milking time- mercy. Finally the chickens, all 50 of them all scratching and clucking around in a large field. . At l:00 the man goes into the coop for the eggs and gets about 3 dozen a day.

What was really interesting is listening to their philosophy of farming; they constantly move the animals and birds from one area to another to insure they have new food and clean room to roam. They use the best slaughterhouse to prepare the meats and actually accompany the animals to the site to keep them calmed down. I asked her if she thought the animals knew their fate, she wasn’t sure but felt better being with them to the end. To end our farm experience, Glenn bought six veal chops for tomorrows meal and two dozen eggs for the inn breakfasts.

Next stop-Thornbury Farm. Named for the Royal Rose Gardens in England, this vast farm sits right in the heart of the site of the biggest battle in the Revolutionary War. George Washington’s small army of colonials faced a huge British Red Coat army on one side and a contingent of Hessian mercenaries on the other. Our guide pointed out the hill where the colonials ran to the forest in retreat and then came back to fight hand to hand to the surprised British. The casualties were heavy on both sides and eventually Washington retreated to Valley Forge across the river.

But back to the farm. Thornbury is a CSA (Citizens Support Agriculture) operation where people buy shares in the farm and enjoy weekly bins of fresh vegetables and such delivered or they can actually come to the farm and pick. We walked the gardens of herbs and young vegetables; none of which were ready for picking and then gathered around a newly built beehive wood fired oven. Two wheelbarrows of oak logs had been burning since 7:00 AM to heat up the oven to around 1000 degrees. This is where we prepare our lunch of homemade Pizzas. From the cold room we were able to get some zucchinis, tomatoes and fresh herbs. Ann-Michelle had prepared pizza dough, a rich tomato sauce and a pesto sauce. And of course we had our fresh Mozzarella from last night.

So you take a handful of pizza dough, massage it around, roll it out, olive oil one side and put it in the oven for a few minutes. Then you apply the sauce and toppings on the un-oiled, side being creative as you care to and slipping it back in the oven for cooking. We were turning out gorgeous pies, even did a calzone, so many in fact we had to have the ranch manager and his assistant to eat all the pizzas. Great fun, good stuff.

Now it was time for Penns Wood Winery. We pulled in the driveway and up to an immaculately cared for farmhouse, sitting on a rise overlooking beautiful green vines as far as the eye could see. We met Gino, the owner, and proceeded to walk down the hill and out into the rows of grape vines. As we walked along, Gino would pluck suckers off the vines all the while telling us about the grapes and his theories and practices of viticulture. He was an interesting man. Back up at the tasting room we sampled many of the wines. When told of our menu tomorrow night he suggested a white, a red and a fabulous desert wine to complement our meal.

Back at the Inn it was time for little rest as we had been on the go all day. After refreshing we were off to Media again for dinner, this time at an Asian Fusion restaurant, Azie, for an absolutely delicious dinner – vegetable tempura for appetizers, halibut for me, teriyaki chicken with crunchy green beans for Carol. Very friendly staff and unusual décor made for a nice finish to a busy day.

Tuesday, June l4th

After another lavish breakfast, we slipped into our aprons and began preparing the ingredients for our menu tonight. One of the items was Trout en Papillote, so we would be off to historic Newlin Grist Mill to catch the fresh rainbow trout and enjoy the picnic lunch we were preparing. The chores were spread around. I was to make the corn salad with corn picked just that morning, Carol was to make the Gorgonzola ice cream, Sandra prepared eggplant, zucchini, onions, portabellas, peppers, all to be brushed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for Carl to grill on the fire. We all chipped in to make another salad of jicama, orange and cantaloupe with very different chili pepper vinaigrette.

We used flat bread for the base and rolled the vegetable up and wrapped them in plastic wrap. We doled out the salads in individual plastic containers, put all three in a wicker basket and wrapped the whole thing up along with napkins and plastic forks. It made a very impressive picnic presentation. But before we could eat, we had to catch the trout. With a simple bamboo pole, a hook baited with Velveeta cheese, it took about five minutes to get all the fish we needed from the fish pond- feisty little devils but an easy catch. After lunch it was back to the Inn for a lot more preparation.

My job was to make the stuffing, French the veal chops, cut the pocket and stuff the meat. This was much more challenging than I had thought, but finally it was done. Carol was making a Carmelized Pear Tatin , a creation of Gordon Ramsay – the guy on Hell’s Kitchen, for dessert to go with the Gorgonzola ice cream also from Ramsay . She also made Pomodoro a Riso, stuffed tomato with seasoned rice. Ann-Michelle meanwhile was making a saffron fennel salt with dried orange peel for the trout while Sandra made spinach ricotta gnocchi. The hard job of filleting the trout went to Glenn and when all was ready we each made our own parchment packets. You cut a large irregular circle out of a piece of parchment paper, oiled one side and placed a cabbage leaf on the paper followed by the trout filet, fennel orange salt, 2 lemon slices and a piece of dill. Then you folded it over in half and crimped the edges tightly to hold the steam. At this point we cooks were through and dismissed to get ready for dinner in an hour. Glenn and Ann-Michelle would do the actual cooking. Frankly we were exhausted. We had been on our feet for over three hours and the martini in the room was very welcome.

We dressed up a bit and came down to the dining room. The candles were lit on the perfectly set table and we were in for a treat. We started with the gnocchi, rich, smooth and delicious. A chilled white wine was poured. Next was the trout. The white packets were placed on the plate then slashed open to let the steam escape. Mine was absolutely delicious with the flavors all blending to make a new taste sensation- wonderful. The main course of stuffed veal chop and the tomato was excellent and paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon. We barely had room for the pear Tatin and Gorgonzola ice cream, what a combination, outstanding. A couple of glasses of the dessert wine and a few hours of warm conversation followed and it was nice that Ashley, Ann-Michelle and Glenn joined us for dessert so we could express our gratitude for a wonderful experience.

The long day, the excellent meal, good wine, fantastic dessert and late hour made the rush to bed imperative. And so to sleep – the sleep of contented souls.

Wednesday, June l5th

We elected to stay another day just to relax and see what a day in the Pennsylvania air would be like. Most of the other guests had left and Carl and Sandra would leave shortly after breakfast. Breakfast at 8:30, the table once again set with candles and silver. We started with a broiled peach over crème fraiche, topped with pineapple chunks and ginger with a strawberry garnish. Peach French toast, with Ashley’s special pecan bourbon sauce or maple syrup if you preferred, strips of bacon, scrambled eggs and really good coffee, followed this. My oh my!

We said our goodbyes to Carl and Sandra then took the paper into the sunroom and crashed. We had the inn to ourselves and a whole day to relax. We read magazines, walked the grounds, sat in the sun on our porch and napped the day away. So peaceful and the weather was perfect.

Glenn recommended a restaurant for dinner, the Garden Café, located in a large greenhouse in a very upscale nursery a few miles down the road. They specialized in farm fresh local food and of course we were now used to that. It lived up to its raves, a very unique setting the kind of place where well to do women would do lunch. We sat down and asked for a wine list as most tables and chilled coolers on them. “Oh we’re sorry, this is a Bring Your Own Wine place, and we can’t sell wine. This was a problem. We loved the setting and the menu but this was our last night in Pennsylvania and we wanted to celebrate. So we left the table explaining to the young waiter the situation. He said, “Well we can’t lose you, let me see if we have anything in the cooler.” He rummaged around moving cokes and mineral water then reached way back and pulled out a bottle of St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc. He poured us a glass back at the table and we asked if we could have the whole bottle. I asked the charge and he said it was on the house, as we can’t actually sell wine. What followed was a delightful dinner, the food was excellent and the gelato topped with chocolate and caramel sauce brought tears to my eyes- so good. Three members of the staff stopped by to chat and explain the operation, so young, so enthusiastic. We tipped very well, making up for the complimentary wine and drove home in the twilight of another wonderful day. We stepped out to the porch and watched the full moon rise from our wicker rockers. Then Carol said, “Bill, look at that, did you see it, that flash of light, there’s another”. And so the two California natives saw our first fireflies and enjoyed the show for several hours before retiring.

Thursday, June l5th

Time to go home: we were up and out of the inn early in the morning before any one was up. Ashley had packed us a breakfast as we would be missing yet another creation at the table. We topped off the gas in the rental car and headed down to the Philadelphia airport. Traffic was a little heavy but the directions were perfect and we were soon turning in the car at the airport.

Our flight to SFO was delayed so we settled back to enjoy our breakfast that included two prosciutto/caper bagel sandwiches, cut apple slices so no core to dispose of, scones, 2 hard boiled eggs, bottled water, plates, napkins and forks and a very nice note thanking us for coming to visit. We were impressed at the attention to detail.

Once aboard we enjoyed lunch and a bloody Mary, a very long nap and Bailey’s and coffee before we landed. Somehow the pilot made up the delay and we landed on time, 1:30 local time. Our driver, Dominic, was there and we were home in no time. Great trip: educational, delicious, scenic, historic, friendly and very enjoyable.


Bill Blackburn
Oakland, California
(Pictures to follow)