Upstairs food, downstairs food
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 7, 2013 at 2:31 p.m.
When Hazel Bellamy, bride of the handsome but petulant James Bellamy, has the family cook, Mrs. Bridges, prepare cottage pie for upstairs lunch, James reacts like a spoiled child. To eat such a humble dish is beneath his station. He storms from the table.
I'm speaking, of course, about the classic BBC drama “Upstairs Downstairs,” which aired in the 1970s. It has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the wake of the surprising popularity of “Downton Abbey.” As fans waited a year for Season 3 — it finally began on Sunday — many have watched or re-watched “Upstairs Downstairs,” noting parallels, comparing fashions, choosing favorite characters and basically delighting in the era. Edwardian cocktail party, anyone?
That cottage pie is downstairs food, like the shepherd's pie shared by the “Downton Abbey” staff in Season 2. Both are rustic, humble and thrifty, frequently made with leftovers. (For recipes for traditional and contemporary cottage pie and shepherd's pie from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.)
Upstairs food is refined, with more expensive cuts of meat, elaborate sauces, elegant soups and ingredients — caviar, oysters, crab and saddle of lamb, for example — that would never be served below stairs. When it comes to casual fare upstairs, think sandwiches, like the platterful Mrs. Padmore, the abbey's cook, sends up to Matthew during a late-night visit with Lady Mary.
I'm taking inspiration from those sandwiches, which seem the perfect food to serve during this Sunday's episode. And although we don't dress for dinner these days, I'm dressing for “Downton Abbey.” And my silver goblets are already polished.
This recipe is extremely flexible. If you don't have or don't like crab, use chopped bay shrimp. Replace the cream cheese with creme fraiche, use radishes instead of cucumbers, and shredded radish greens if you don't have watercress.
Some Simple Evening Sandwiches
Serves 2 to 3, easily doubled
— Body meat of 1 Dungeness crab
2 tablespoons minced celery
1 tablespoon minced onion
— Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
12 slices of sandwich bread
— Smoked-salmon spread, such as Dave Legro's, available at local farmers markets
2 tablespoons snipped chives or minced Italian parsley
½ cup old-fashioned style cream cheese, stirred to loosen
½ to 1 teaspoon fennel pollen, optional
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
— Several sprigs of watercress
Put the crab meat into a small bowl, add the celery, onion and lemon zest, toss and stir in the mayonnaise. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Set 2 slices of bread on a clean work surface and spread the crab mixture over both. Top with a second piece of bread, cut in quarters and set on small platter.
Set 2 more slices of bread on the work surface and cover both with smoked-salmon spread. Sprinkle with chives or parsley, top with a second slice of bread, cut in quarters and add to the platter.
Set 2 of the remaining slices of bread on the work surface and spread cream cheese over both slices. Sprinkle fennel pollen on top, if using. Cover the cream cheese with cucumbers, season lightly with salt and pepper, top with watercress, add a second slice of bread, cut in quarters and add to the platter with the other sandwiches.
Serve immediately, with Champagne or good beer alongside.
If this recipe seems daunting, you can divide the work over a couple of days by making both the filling and the pastry a day or two before cooking this delicious pie, perfect winter fare no matter your station in life. These days, it is enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity because innards such as kidneys are now readily available at our farmers markets.
Steak, Kidney and Mushroom Pie
Makes 6 servings
— Pate Brisee (recipe follows)
3 tablespoons butter or beef fat
1 pound lamb kidneys, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
— Kosher salt
1 large yellow onion, cut into small dice
— Seasoned Flour (see Note below)
2 pounds well-marbled beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 to 6 ounces maitake mushrooms, broken into pieces
— Black pepper in a mill
2 cups rich beef stock
1 cup dark beer or dry red wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, optional
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Make the pastry dough, if you have not already done so. Refrigerate it until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Put the butter or beef fat into a frying pan set over medium-high heat, add the sliced kidneys and saute quickly, turning or shaking all the while, for just 1 or 2 minutes. Season with salt and use a slotted spoon to transfer the kidneys to a small bowl or plate. Set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the onion and saute until very limp and fragrant, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the seasoned flour into a paper or plastic bag, add the beef and shake until the beef is evenly coated with the flour mixture. With the heat on high, add the beef to the onions and saute until evenly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and several turns of black pepper and add the stock and wine. Cover and simmer about 3 minutes, until the mushrooms are just wilted. Remove from the heat.
Taste and correct for salt and pepper.
Transfer the beef mixture to an ovenproof container — a 2-quart souffle dish works well — cover and bake for 1 to 1½ hours, until the beef is tender.
Remove from the oven and increase the heat to 425 degrees.
Working quickly, stir in the reserved kidneys and all their juices, the Worcestershire sauce, if using, and the parsley and cover the meat with the pastry.
Return to the oven and bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 12 to 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Note: To make seasoned flour, put 1 cup all-purpose flour into a brown lunch bag or sturdy plastic bag, add 2 teaspoons kosher salt, several generous turns of black pepper and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Spanish paprika. Shake to blend well.
Makes 1 9-inch pie shell
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup butter, cut in pieces and chilled
3 tablespoons lard (or additional butter)
6 tablespoons ice water
Put the flour and salt into a medium mixing bowl and stir with a fork.
Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, work the butter and lard, if using, into the flour until the mixture is evenly crumbly.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add 5 tablespoons of the butter. Using your index finger, quickly work in the water, making spirals from the center of the well to the out edges. If the dough seems too dry, sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of water.
Gather the dough into a ball, cover with a damp tea towel and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. (The dough can be held for several days; to do so, wrap it tightly in foil or plastic wrap.)
To roll out the dough, remove it from the refrigerator 30 minutes in advance. Flour a clean work surface, set the dough in the middle and use a floured rolling pin to shape it into a 1/8-inch thick circle, beginning in the center of the dough, rolling outward and rotating the dough.
Use a fork to prick the dough in several places before setting it on top of the meat.
Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM.
E-mail Jordan at email@example.com.
You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
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