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A record 10 million viewers across the UK enjoyed another great episode of Downton Abbey last night (S3E3), and has quickly become one of my favorites, particularly since food gets specific mention.
In this episode our favorite Downton servants are treated to an extravagant meal of Edwardian classics, many of which were dishes served in 1st Class on Titanic. I cooked through that ambitious menu (menu and recipe links here) in honor of the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking. I hope that these menu choices on Downton Abbey were reflective of Julian Fellowes keen interest in Titanic, and not foreshadowing any tragic events on Downton Abbey (like the estate burning down).
Here are links to the dishes mentioned: scroll down to the bottom of the page to get the recipe.
- Oysters a la Russe
- Calvados Duck
- Asparagus Salad with Saffron Vinaigrette
- Lobster Rissoles in Mousseline Sauce
- Truffled Eggs on Toast (see recipe below)
This delightful meal would be particularly decadent today since these ingredients are far more expensive than they would have been in Downton’s time, primarily because of availability, and since we don’t have huge estates where we grow/raise our own food. Still, it would have been a new experience for servants. The kitchen and serving staff would recognize these dishes, having prepared them for their employers. However, their own diet consisted of heartier meals, which we now associate with “pub food”.
Eat, Cook, Love: Rekindle Your relationship with Food
I love these downstairs Servant’s Hall scenes as much as the Upstairs dining room scenes. Food brought people together, building community. In our home, Lord D is head of program viewing (he found Downton in the first place), and found a wonderful two part documentary series called Eat, Cook, Love, produced by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). You can view it here, on a wonderful website with other thought provoking materials.
The series explores how the modern world has lost connection with food. Our reliance on quick/convenient/cheap processed food has affected our connection with one another. Since we no longer cook food for ourselves we have no idea what is going into our bodies. Since we no longer seem to have the time, knowledge, or desire to cook, the pride in preparing a home cooked meal, sharing fellowship and love with one another in our own homes has been lost, a byproduct of our modern lifestyle.
Lord D and I were shocked to learn that France, the home of haute cuisine, is the second largest consumer of McDonalds food after the US. The tradition of passing down cooking skills in the home has been lost. Possible solution? Make cooking exciting, enticing, easy. Adults who can learn to cook three simple dishes they love, will be able confidently entertain. Children who participate in preparing meals are more likely to eat everything on their plate with a sense of accomplishment that they helped. When you cook together you are more likely to eat together and reconnect.
It’s all about the love: when it comes down to it, cooking is about love. I have frequently written here about cooking as a way to show love to others, so I was thrilled that the documentary made a big deal about it. Lord D always comments about how he can taste the love that I put into my cooking. The healthy ingredients, the particular spices I use, are personal to me. Most recipes are a blueprint, and once you know the basics of the chemistry involved, a jumping off place for your own inspiration. The dining room table is a canvass for your creations. The food of Downton Abbey in the Edwardian era was more about display of wealth than sharing wealth, but be assured that the Mrs. Patmore’s staff who prepared the food took pride in their work and love for the Crawley Family.
Start Simple for the Love of Downton: My goal has always been to inspire everyone to get back into the kitchen through the love of Downton Abbey. Many of the dishes above can be quite complicated, but two recipes today are easy to pull together and you can take pride in the results. These and many more recipes will be laid out in my Downton Abbey Cooks Entertain ecookbook which should be available in time for Christmas.
Upstairs: Truffled Egg Toast
This is a popular brunch item dish you will find in many upscale bistros, but it will also be served as an appetizer at lunch or dinner. Without the truffle oil, it is very much like Toad in the Hole, which you may be more familiar with.
- 1 inch+ thick slice of square good quality bread (I like whole grain)
- 2 egg yolks
- melted butter or olive oil
- 1/4 cup grated fontina cheese (low fat works, too)
- 1 tsp. truffle oil (or olive oil if you don’t have any)
- Freshly ground salt and ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
- Cut the crusts off the bread and lightly brush melted butter/oil on the sides of the bread.
- Using a sharp knife cut a shallow square well into the centre of the bread, by cutting an outline and then scooping out the middle.
- Butter an oven safe frying pan or well-used baking sheet (it could get messy), and place the bread on the buttered surface.
- Distribute the grated fontina evenly around the well, then carefully add the egg yolks on top.
- Bake for 3 minutes or until the cheese has melted, the bread has toasted, and the eggs have set a bit.
- Remove from the oven, stir the runny yolks and drizzle the truffle oil on the surface. Finish with freshly ground salt and pepper on top.
- Serve hot.
Downstairs: Traditional Hotpot
Hotpot is a traditional English comfort food which Daisy would have easily been able to prepare for the Servant’s Hall. There are many regional variations around Britain, which can find in pubs across the UK. Coronation Street fans will know Betty’s Hotpot which now can be found in Tesco. The basic recipe consists of layers of lamb (or beef) and root vegetables (carrot, parsnips, onions, leeks) along with sliced potatoes. Layering continued until the pot was filled, traditionally a stoneware dish.
I have other traditional hotpot recipes with lamb, but this is an easy version I prepared in my slow cooker using beef (not everyone likes lamb) for a church supper we had on the weekend. It is a one pot meal which will be ready for you when you get home. I prepped the meat and veggies (storing the sliced potatoes separately in cold water so they don’t darken) the night before and quickly assembled the dish in the morning.
Mrs. Patmore did not have a slow cooker, so would have baked with the lid on for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F, then at 300 F for 2 1/2 hours. Finally, removing the lid for 30-40 minutes back at 350 degrees to crisp up the potatoes.
- 2 1/2 pounds of 1″ pieces of cubed beef, trimmed of fat
- 5 large white potatoes (peeled and thinly sliced)
- 2 onions (peeled and chopped)
- 4 medium carrots (peeled and diced)
- Other root vegetables you might use: parsnip, celery
- 1 cup beef stock (or beef bouillon cube dissolved in hot water)
- 3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp. dried thyme, tarragon or your favorite herb you enjoy with beef.
- 3 tbsp. flour
Serves 4 to 6 people
- Pat the beef dry with paper towels. This gives you a nice browning to the meat. Fry in batches at medium heat in a frying pan heated with olive oil.
- Once the meat has browned, remove, then fry the root vegetables approximately 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle on the flour and cook a few more minutes.
- Layer the slow cooker with potato on the bottom, then beef, then vegetables, repeat. Ensure that the top layer is potato and you overlap the potatoes.
- Pour the beef stock over the contents.
- Turn Slow Cooker to heat setting ‘low’ and leave for 8 hours.
Enjoy and spread the love.