This Sunday evening will find me in front of the television engrossed in the final episode of Downton Abbey’s third season. I have been thoroughly charmed by this Masterpiece Theater offering since my good friend, Betsy, told me I would love it shortly after the first season began. She was so right, and I haven’t missed an episode since.
As a confirmed Anglophile, this account of the residents of a large English estate during the early 1900s is just my cup of tea. The story has enthralled me with wonderful characters, intriguing story lines, beautiful costumes and British humor and pathos.
One of the most fascinating parts of this drama is watching the kitchen staff of this large estate prepare and serve all of the beautiful food for the meals for the upstairs family and the staff. So when I saw that there was a cookbook available that had recipes from the manor, I simply had to add a copy to my collection.
I am so glad I did because The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines maybe not be “authorized, approved, licensed or endorsed by Carnival Film and Television Ltd.” but it is still jam-packed with wonderful insights into the art of British cooking and the characters of Downton Abbey.
Two of my Downton staff favorites are Mrs. Patmore, the head cook and Daisy, the scullery maid who aspires to an assistant cook position. Watching them prepare meal after meal for both family and staff is fascinating. Their successes and mishaps are so much a part of the entertainment of this program and one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. I guess I relate to kitchen drama!
Many of the recipes from The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook would be hard to pull off without a full staff in support, but the following two recipes are very doable for a kitchen staff of one. It was great fun to make them just last week for a group of friends who came for dinner.
The first recipe for mussels was very easy and the resulting pan juices were the best I have ever dipped a good piece of baguette into for a delightful mussel accompaniment. This recipe may have been designed to serve as an appetizer at an elegant soiree, but it will appear on our table often as Gregg and I enjoy mussels for a light supper.
The Countess of Grantham’s Moules en Sauce
1/2 cup light Bacardi rum
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large onions, peeled and sliced into rings
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 cups mussels, cleaned and debearded
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
Thyme for garnish
In a small bowl, mix together rum and wine and set aside. Melt butter over medium-low heat in a large saucepan. Add onions, celery, garlic, and cayenne pepper. Stir occasionally until the onions are transparent. Place mussels in a pan and stir. Once the mussels begin to release their juice, pour the wine-rum mixture over them. Stir in bay leaves and thyme and then add kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Once the mussels have opened, add 2 large tablespoons of the cream into the sauce. Pour mussels and sauce into bowls, and then add another tablespoon of cream and thyme for garnish.
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The following recipe reflects the type of cooking that was often done for the staff of the manor. This pie is the perfect example of comfort food and elevates the simple pot pie to a dish you could serve to anyone including the lady of the estate or the queen.
Warm Chicken Pot Pie
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
2 cups carrots, cut into small cubes
1 cup celery, cut into small cubes
1 cup frozen green peas
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup large onion, chopped
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 unbaked pie crusts
1 large egg white
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large saucepan, mix together chicken, carrots, celery and green peas. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth and then enough water to cover and boil for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. In a separate saucepan, heat butter and onion over medium heat, cooking until chopped onion is translucent. Slowly stir in flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder and poultry seasoning. Add the remaining 2 and one-half cups chicken broth and the milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from the heat and set aside. Place pie crust in a deep-dish pie dish, then brush with egg white. Cover with pastry weights and bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and then remove pastry weights from the pie. Evenly pour chicken mixture into baked pie crust and then pour hot butter-onion mixture over chicken mixture. Cover with unbaked pie crust, then seal edges and cut away excess dough. Be sure to make several small cuts on pie top to allow steam to escape. Bake pie in oven for 45 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving. Recipe Notes: As I prepared this dish which is presented above just as it appeared in the book, I noted several problems that I did change. First of all, I drained the cooking liquid off of the chicken and vegetable mixture and I’m so glad I did. I would have had a wet icky mess in a soggy crust if I hadn’t. I also combined the hot butter-onion mixture with the drained chicken-vegetable mixture and then poured that into the crust. I was very pleased with a tasty pie after making these slight method modifications.
Quote of the Week
Cooking these beloved dishes may be bittersweet, as you know something those residing at Downton Abbey do not: that this period before the World Wars was the last hurrah of British gastronomy, and soon many of Downton’s beloved dishes would be taken away due to war rationing and a changing marketplace. Yes, the world of Downton Abbey no longer exists; its time has passed. Yet with these recipes you can re-create it and live one day as a lady, the next as a lady’s maid. As the saying goes, you are what you eat.
-- Emily Ansara Baines