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Halloween Downton Dining Upstairs with Squash Risotto

Turnip lantern
Turnips were the first jack o lanterns

We are a few days from Halloween. Did you know that Halloween has ancient origins in Ireland? It was originally called Samhain, and the day marked the end of the harvest season for Celtic farmers. Irish immigrants brought their traditions to America and adapted to their new surroundings. Originally, turnips served as Jack o Lanterns, but pumpkins are so much easier to carve.

This week we recap a couple of traditional Irish served at recipes which would have been enjoyed by Branson’s family, but if you like Lady Mary who really doesn’t really do Halloween, your cook can quickly create a quick and lovely orange squash risotto.

Traditional Halloween Foods

The Irish still celebrate Halloween with two food traditions.

  1. Colcannan is a cabbage and potato dish, also known as bubble and squeak in other parts of the UK. Here is the recipe for a main course colcannon we made last year. Leftovers make scrumptious colcannon cakes.
  2. Barmbrack means “speckled cake”. It is baked in either a loaf pan or cake pan depending on your family tradition. Here is the recipe for Branson’s Barmbrack we made last Halloween.  The brack foretells the future. Baked with charms, a piece is served to each member of the family, and your piece may contain a charm which will determine your fate:
    • A coin: good things, hopefully riches, on the way
    • A ring: you’ll be married within the year
    • A snippet of cloth: rags, poverty, bad luck in the year ahead

Downton Dish

S4 will be here soon enough
S4 will be here soon enough

ITV is currently broadcasting the latest Season 4 in the UK.   In the US and Canada, PBS launches in January (see the countdown clock above).  Each week I share Downton news, but if you haven’t seen all seasons (1-4) beware of spoilers below.

What I will Say about Season 4

Since Downton fans span the globe I am watching along with the UK fans, but promise not to divulge major spoilers before January.  I did keep quiet last year (although it was really hard) so I think I can be trusted, mostly.

There are a few things I will say about Season 4E6:

  • Upstairs the Dowager and Isobel wage war again with the good Dr. Clarkson as scorekeeper.
  • Downstairs Daisy and Ivy feud, but Ivy is clueless as to why.
  • There is a bit of shuffling of duties downstairs as one staff member realizes a lifelong dream.

Tweet This:  The Downton Abbey Food Stylist

LisaHeathcote If you thought cooking Downton dishes was a challenge, imagine how difficult it is to recreate dishes that won’t melt under the lights when filming the show.  Lisa Heathcote, food stylist for the show, recently shared some of her secrets in a live Twinterview.  You can still check out the interview by following @lisa_heathcote.  My favorite part was that she loves jiggly jelly as much as I do.

PBS S4 Launch Party Evening Inspired by Downton: Jan. 4/5

An weekend of food and culture awaits in beautiful Vermont.
A weekend of food and culture awaits in beautiful Vermont.

If you can’t travel to the UK to visit Highclere, the next best thing is to celebrate with other fans in the USA. Vermont Public Television is hosting their second Downton inspired culinary weekend January 4th/5th. This event will launch Season 4 at the renowned Essex Resort, in Burlington Vermont.

I am honored to be asked once again to play a part in the proceedings.  Lord D and I look forward to this wonderful event of fabulous Downton food and festivity. Be among the first in the US to see Episode 1 in a theatre setting. Last year everyone had so much fun dressing up for Day 1, that they chose to wear their finery on Day two. Check out a clip from last year (yes, the Pamela is me).

Tickets are now on sale for this great event in support of public television, the network which brings Downton to the US.

Amazing Tea:  Clearview Tea Company

lovely creemore market blend
I can’t get enough of the creemore market blend

I have had many tea purveyors around the world approach me to promote their tea brands, but in the end my heart belongs to my homeland and a humble tea enthusiast who has made loose tea her passion.  Rebecca and Maggie Brown make their home in Creemore with Lord G, who actually is a Lord, and their son lives in London.  Mother and daughter take great pains to source the best tea leaves from around around the world.

Creemore is a lovely century old town which is not unlike Downton’s village in quaint charm.  I have become absolutely enchanted by their Creemore Market blend which is Earl Grey with a hint of vanila.  The delicate aroma from my teapot when I brew a pot at the office is a great stress release.  Check out their website at  They ship to the US and around the world.

Your chance to win a copy of the 2014 Calendar

2014 Calendar I just received my copy of [easyazon-link asin=”0789326361″ locale=”us”]Downton Abbey 2014 Wall Calendar[/easyazon-link].  

Stay tuned for a chance to win a free calendar here at the end of November.  Like last year, there will be a skill testing question.

Abbey Cooks Entertain: Only $7.95

With 220 traditional Downton era recipes with a modern twist, this is a great book to have on hand when planning a Downton cocktail party, a romantic dinner, or hearty downstairs meal with family and friends.

This 432 page ebook sells for only $7.95. Book sales help offset my costs in food, equipment and time to keep bringing you new dishes each week.

While the book is available on Amazon, you can only get a signed copy here on my site. If you don’t have an eReader I would suggest the PDF version which allows you to print recipes as you go, if you wish.

Squash Risotto

colorful, healthy and comforting
colorful, healthy and comforting

While the Italians might not have been “too picky” in their choice of brides (The Dowager, S1), the same cannot be said about their passion for great food.  Risotto is one of those simple, hearty, low fat glorious dishes.  It is essentially arborio rice, stock, parmesan and whatever ingredients you wish to include.

The Arabs introduced short grain rices into Spain and Italy during the Middle Ages.  The popularity of these rices was fueled by its high price, so of course was highly prized by the gentry who could afford it.  All roads lead to Milan which had been under Spanish rule, where rice was a staple and and slow cooking was a preferred method of cooking, which also explains how paella evolved in Spain.  You may have heard of “Risotto alla Milanese”, the most famous of risotto creations, and the most simple.

For Halloween or any harvest meal, try squash which is in season and have that lovely orange color.  Roasting the squash first imparts great flavour.  Unfortunately risotto does not get better the next day. In fact you end up with a gluey mess.  But don’t despair, you can form leftover risotto into patties or balls, roll in crumbs and pan fry.  Delicious.

Makes 6 servings


  • 1 whole butternut squash
  • 6 cups nonfat chicken broth
  • EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. saffron (or ground cumin)
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh sage
  • 4 cups baby spinach, chopped


  1. Slice open squash, seed and then cut into strips, seasoning with salt and olive oil.  Place on a shallow baking sheet.
  2. Roast skin side down in a preheated oven at 450°F until tender and golden, about 50 minutes. Cut flesh from the skin and cube into 1/2 inch pieces.  This can be done ahead of time.  Otherwise you can start the risotto when the squash has about 10 minutes left to cook.
  3. Simmer the broth in a medium sized pot.
  4. In a large heavy pot, add onion in 2 tbsp. of EVOO,  stirring until softened, about 6 minutes on medium heat.  Add the rice, garlic, and cumin, stirring for 3 to 4 minutes.  This coats the rice and prepares it for its transformation into creamy goodness.
  5. We are now going to begin adding the liquid. Add the wine and stir until it has been absorbed, and then begin adding the hot broth,  1/2 cup broth at a time stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed.  Keep repeating until rice is creamy-looking but still al dente, about 18 minutes total.
  6. Stir in the squash, then stir in cheese, sage, spinach, stirring to combine.
  7. Serve risotto immediately, grating fresh parmesan on top.
  8. I always make more than I need so I can make risotto cakes the next day, shaping into patties, dipping in egg and crumbs and then pan frying.  Serve plain or with your favorite sauce.

Start your holiday gift lists

Gift ideas for your Downton fan. Click on the icons to take you to Amazon to order in time for the holidays.

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