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Isobel mourns the loss of well prepared food.

It was an interesting evening for Downton Abbey fans in America.  In some homes there was stiff competition for control of the remote as the Super Bowl was being broadcast at the same time. Greasy Super Bowl food competed with dainty Downton appetizers in many kitchens.   For those conflicted about which to watch there was a brief window of opportunity for football fans to catch a bit of Downton during the power outage in New Orleans.  It was a good episode, as Downton recovers from tragic loss. Let others focus on other plot elements of S3 E5 and 6, I am still not quite ready to talk about it, particularly with fans who are still catching up.

As you recall last week there were terrible kitchen tragedies which rattled both experienced and novice cooks alike.  I am still a bit shaken, quite frankly.  But this week we see the healing process begin.  Human nature is such that we while we need time to grieve for the burnt kidney souffle, we have to pick ourselves up and carry on.  We can blame whomever we wish, but in the end when we seek solace, comfort and instruction from those around us, we can re-build our lives.

Ethel learns to

Ethel learns a receipt

Ethel, to her credit, realizes that she needs help and recruits Mrs. Patmore to help prepare luncheon for the Crawley “girls”.  Mrs. Patmore supplies her with recipes which really are quick easy to cook.  As Mrs. Patmore so delicately put it: “anyone with use of their limbs can cook a salmon mousse” Here is a salmon mousse recipe I use for a lovely pinwheel tea sandwich.

With instruction and the use of an alarm clock to keep track of when things need to come out of the oven, she picks herself up and grows strong in her determination to carry on.

charlotte Russe

Her Charlotte Russe

Isobel was surprised to smell cooking in her house and was quite impressed with the result of Ethel’s efforts.  The meal was topped off with a lovely charlotte russe. I hope you like my lower fat Strawberry Charlotte Russe which replaces half of the cream with yoghurt.

As life brings setbacks and failures, you never forget your first well-prepared meal, and neither will your surprised friends and family.   It helps build confidence and inner strength.

Yes, this episode helped with the healing process, although I still feel that some comfort food is still in order.

Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie

Shepherd's pie with potatoes

Shepherd’s pie with a mix of regular and sweet potatoes.

Long winters and sad Downton story lines call for comforting servant’s hall food.  Shepherd’s Pie is a simple dish made of minced lamb or mutton, topped with mashed potatoes. When beef is used it is properly called cottage pie. It dates back to the 1800s, originating in the sheep raising areas of northern England and Scotland, when frugal housewives sought creative ways to “make over” cooked meat, marking the acceptance of potatoes as a food source for humans. We do have to give credit to Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, for his tireless efforts to  elevate the humble potato from the hog trough to the dining room table outside of Ireland. This is one of those dishes that is regionalized so that it can be as basic as meat, onions and potatoes, but feel free to you customize to the tastes of fellow servants in your Abbey, using vegetables that you have on hand. I have lightened up the dish with lean meats and non fat yoghurt in the potatoes.

Serves 4


  • 1 lb. ground round lamb, mutton, or lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 cup parsnips, finely chopped
  • ½ cup Beef Stock
  • 1 ¼ cups hard cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 cups The Best Mashed Potatoes
  • 3 cups mashed sweet potato (optional)


  1. Preheat to 400°F and grease an 8 x 10 inch baking dish.
  2. Sauté onions, carrots, and parsnips in a small amount of vegetable oil over medium heat until tender.
  3. Add the ground meat and sauté until no pink remains. Next add the thyme, Worcestershire Sauce, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  4. Add the beef stock and cook, uncovered, over low heat for about 10 minutes, adding more stock as necessary to keep moist.
  5. Add the frozen peas, and spread the mixture evenly in the baking dish. Cover the mixture with the grated cheese.
  6. Add the mashed potatoes on top of the mixture. For a special treat, fill a large pastry bag with a fluted end and pipe the potatoes on top of the meat, but be sure your potatoes are well mashed or the lumps will clog.
  7. Place the piping bag in a tall flower vase to help you fill it. You can also use sweet potatoes instead of potatoes or use both to satisfy all of your guests.
  8. Bake for 30 minute or until the potatoes are lightly browned.

Best Healthy Mashed Potatoes

The trick to the best mashed potatoes is to use a waxy potato, like Yukon Gold, which has a high moisture content, and to heat the ingredients you are adding. I will heat skim milk, but in this recipe we use chicken stock and strained yoghurt to get that rich taste of cream.

Makes about 3 cups


  • 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled and cut into one inch pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • ¼ cup chicken stock, warmed
  • ¼ cup non fat Strained Yoghurt
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Place the potatoes and garlic in a steamer basket fitted over a large pot of boiling water. Cover and steam until you can easily pierce with a fork, about 15 minutes.
2. Remove the steamer and discard the water, then place the potatoes in the empty pot. Add the warm stock and yoghurt, and mash by hand. Alternatively use a rice masher to break up the potatoes and stir in stock and yoghurt.

Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Tools you Can Use

Cooks need their tools

Cooks, like other professionals, have their tools and as Mrs. Patmore says “it is a poor workman who blames his tools”.  You can  make do with the basics, but as you gain confidence and love for cooking, you should start to recognize items to help you cook.  Mrs. Patmore didn’t have electronic gadgets to cook with so be assured you can make do without the expensive gizmos.  This section helps you identify some equipment that I use.  If you wish you can order directly from Cooking.com or Amazon.com, both reputable stores I have used in the past.

Potato Ricer

This is my favorite ricer.