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Downton delicious

You don't have to be a British aristocrat or one of their servants to enjoy the dishes in cookbook inspired by popular TV series

Posted: 01/2/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Promising more than 150 recipes from upstairs and downstairs, The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines (Adams Media, 254 pages, $19.95) peeks into the culinary corners of the posh and popular British TV series.

As the title admits, the book is unofficial, so there are no glossy pictures of the gleaming crystal and polished silver, rustling frocks and fetching hats of Downton Abbey, which starts its much anticipated third season on Sunday on PBS's Masterpiece Classics.

As a collection of recipes from a fictional world, the book belongs to an odd little genre that stretches from Mary Ann's Gilligan's Island Cookbook (lots of coconut) and Granny's Beverly Hillbillies Cookbook (hints on preparing groundhog) to such recent offerings as The Sopranos Family Cookbook (grilled sausages and baked ziti) and The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook (lots of red meat and cocktails).

Some of these books are novelty items that will appeal to hardcore fans only. Some also work for real cooks.

Covering the cuisine of Edwardian England, Baines (who also wrote The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook) at least has some rather grand source material. From breakfast in the servant's hall to tea with the Dowager Countess to an elegant formal dinner, the Los Angeles-based food writer imagines such dishes as Mr. Bates's Bread and Butter Pudding, Mrs. Isobel Crawley's Smoked Salmon Sandwiches and Sir Anthony's Apple Charlotte.

At times, Baines throws historical accuracy out the window because she's bowing to the tastes and cooking habits of her contemporary readers. We strongly suspect that Downton Abbey's cook, the redoubtable Mrs. Patmore, would consider extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and basmati rice to be "nasty foreign stuff," and that poor gormless Daisy the kitchen maid would be confounded by any recipe calling for Italian espresso powder.

At other times, Baines offers up too much historical accuracy. We don't care what kind of soup the Earl of Grantham likes; we are not purchasing 21/2 pounds of turtle meat.

There's also a smattering of social history, with the kind of etiquette tips that might help Mr. Crawley and his well-intentioned mother navigate the intricate class hierarchies of a grand house, or Lady Mary's arriviste fiancé from season 2, the appalling Sir Richard Carlisle, climb the slippery social ladder.

When it comes to actual cooking, Baines includes comprehensive recipes for an elaborate dinner in the style of "Service la Russe," which involves up to 13 courses brought in one after the other on separate dishes. Clearly, this will be hard to pull off without a cook, an imperturbable butler, a few matching footmen and a gaggle of scullery maids, not to mention several china services and a pantry full of Georgian silver.

Still, as the Dowager Countess would say, "Don't be defeatist, dear. It's very middle class." I did rouse myself to make a nice soup -- opulent dinners often began with a choice of clear or thick soup -- as well as a homey treacle tart that might even bring a smile to the face of O'Brien the Evil Lady's Maid.

Unsinkable Cream of Barley Soup

A version of this soup was served in the Jacobean-styled First Class Dining Saloon of the Titanic on the fateful night of April 14, 1912. As we know, the sinking of the Titanic is a crucial event for the inhabitants of Downton Abbey, as the death of Lord Grantham's heir in that disaster brings Cousin Matthew into their midst, sparking the aggravating uncertainty of his will-they-won't-they relationship with Lady Mary.

125 ml (1/2 cup) pearl barley

1 L (4 1/2 cups) reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided

15 ml (1 tbsp) unsalted butter

15 ml (1 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil

4 medium shallots, minced

1 L (about 4 cups) white mushrooms, sliced

4 stalks celery, chopped

15 ml (1 tbsp) minced fresh sage

5 ml (1 tsp) sea salt

2 ml (1/2 tsp) freshly ground black pepper

30 ml (2 tbsp) all-purpose flour

250 ml (1 cup) vermouth or dry white wine

60 ml (1/4 cup) heavy cream

125 ml (1/2 cup) sour cream

125 ml (1/2 cup) minced fresh chives

In a small saucepan over high heat, bring pearl barley and 375 ml (11/2 cups) of the broth to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, about 30-35 minutes. In a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat, heat butter and oil. Add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, still stirring frequently, until they start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add celery, sage, sea salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Then, sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir until flour is incorporated. Cook for about 1 minute. Mix in vermouth or white wine and cook and continue stirring until mixture thickens a bit and most of the alcohol has evaporated, about 1-2 minutes. Pour in remaining broth and increase heat to high. Bring soup to a rolling boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring every 5 minutes, until the soup has thickened, about 25 minutes. Add barley mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until soup is heated through, about 7 minutes. Mix in heavy cream and sour cream until thoroughly incorporated in soup. Dust with chives. Serve immediately or let chill in refrigerator overnight and then reheat to allow barley to fully soak in the flavours. Makes 4 servings.

Tester's notes: A rich soup with lots of subtle flavours. I added a bit of hot liquid to the sour cream first to temper it and then added the mixture back to the soup, making sure that it didn't boil. Wine isn't just a fancy add-on here; its acidity cuts the creaminess.

Treacle Tart

This straightforward and economical sweet would have been served downstairs. (As you can see, it doesn't exactly splash out on expensive ingredients for the filling.) Aptly enough, "treacle tart" is Cockney rhyming slang for sweetheart.

For pastry:

500 ml (2 cups) all-purpose flour

5 ml (1 tsp) kosher salt (or 2 ml or 1/2 tsp if using table salt)

12 ml (21/2 tsp) granulated sugar

228 g (250 ml or 1 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1.3 cm (1/2 in) cubes

90 ml (6 tbsp) ice water

For filling:

7 ml (11/2 tsp) lemon zest

125 ml (1/2 cup) rolled oats

2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground ginger

250 ml (1 cup) golden syrup

30 ml (2 tbsp) lemon juice

For topping:

Whipped cream

For pastry: Thoroughly mix together flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add butter, and mix until mixture resembles coarse meal. (You might need a pastry blender to do this; otherwise use your hands.) Add ice water, 15 ml (1 tbsp) at a time, until mixture just begins to clump together. Make sure the dough holds together when pinched. Place dough on a clean surface. Gently shape the dough mixture into two discs. Work the dough just enough to form the discs but do not overknead. Sprinkle a little flour around each of the discs, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 90 minutes. Remove 1 disc from the refrigerator. Let soften for 10 minutes in order to help with rolling. Then, with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, roll out disc to a 30 cm (12 inch) circle about 3 mm (1/8 in) thick. Carefully place on a 22-cm (9-inch) pie plate, gently pressing dough down so it lines up with bottom and sides of dish. Preheat oven to 205 C (400 F). For filling: In a large bowl, mix together the lemon zest, oats and ginger. Place half of mixture in pastry, then pour golden syrup and lemon juice, stirred together in a small bowl, on top. Cover with the rest of the oat mixture. Roll out the second disc following previous directions. Cut into strips to lay a trellis over the tart. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, then serve hot or cold with whipped cream.

Tester's notes: I really had no idea what to expect from this tart, but I was completely won over by its plebeian charms. This sweet really depends on the simple layer of oats and syrup fusing with the buttery shortcrust pastry, so do take the trouble to make home-made pastry. It won't be half as good if you use a frozen store-bought pie shell.

I gave the rolled oats a bit of a chop, so they were still textured but not too coarse. (Some recipes use bread crumbs) This is a flat tart, so I used a shallow tart pan with removable sides. In Canada, golden syrup can be found in many supermarkets under the name Lyle's Golden Syrup.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 2, 2013 C1

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