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More fruitcake on hand for another wedding at Downton (ITV)

Another Downton Day in America.  This week’s episode S3E3 (E1 & E2 were shown on Masterpiece last week) of Downton Abbey led us on an emotional roller coaster.  First it was happy days for fans as Edith’s wedding was sure to be more fun than Mary’s and perhaps we would actually see a wedding reception this time around.  Meanwhile, Downton was in ruin and the Crawleys were sent off searching for a new home.  In the end, the tables are turned:  wedding goes down in flames, while Daisy saves the day  by remembering that Lavinia had given her a letter to post explaining to her father that Matthew belonged to Mary and not her. I am still not quite sure how or why one would write a letter like that, or how Reggie managed to have amassed a fortune while Lavinia went under cover for Sir Richard to clear a huge debt that he held over her father.  Regardless, Matthew can now claim the fortune to help save the day.

We didn’t see much of Mary’s wedding but Edith’s seem to be more familiar and modern by our standards even if she only had a month to prepare.  For me, the best part of the episode is when our favorite Downton servants are treated to an extravagant meal of Edwardian classics, many of which were dishes served in 1st Class on Titanic.  I cooked through that ambitious menu (menu and recipe links here) in honor of the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking so recognized the salad and duck instantly.  I am sure that these menu choices were reflective of Julian Fellowes keen interest in Titanic, but perhaps was also meant to foreshadow the catastrophe at the altar.

Upstairs Down

A fabulous meal of pickelty bits served in the servants hall.

Shame to let such great food go to waste, as the Dowager quipped “if the poor don’t want it you can bring it over to me.”  Some was sent to the poor and  appetizers were served in the servants hall.  Still, it would have been a new experience for servants.  The kitchen and serving staff would recognize these dishes, having prepared them for their employers.  However, their normal diet consisted of heartier meals, which we now associate with “pub food”. Alfred thought them to be “pickelty bits” and was more interested in having some cheese. Out of the mouths of babes.

Here are links to the dishes mentioned:  scroll down to the bottom of the page to get the recipe.

Lobster Rissoles with Mousseline sauce

A delightful combination of sweet and savoury flavours

As you might expect in a recipe served at Downton, the dish is French and it is traditionally wrapped up in a pastry like a turnover and then deep fried. “Rissole” comes from the Latin russeola, “reddish paste,” a reference to the appearance of the filling.  A relative of croquettes, in other parts of the world they aren’t wrapped in pastry. Insteasd they are coated in breadcrumbs.  A crab cake would be considered a rissole.

You can simply mix chopped lobster with a bit of onion and few spices and call it a day, but try this vintage recipe which incorporates the healthy components of dates and figs to up your game.  These are baked not deep fried.  The egg wash does a great job of sealing in the pastry so that it flakes in your mouth not in your hands (or carpet).

Makes 10 – 15 appetizers depending on the size you make them


  • 1 1/2 cups lobster meat, cooked and finely chopped (you can also use crab)
  • 1/2 cup dates, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried figs, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup green onion*, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. marjoram (or oregano), ground
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 recipe of my Pie Pastry, chilled,  or 2 sheets of butter puff pastry
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten for an egg wash
  • Mousseline Sauce


  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Mix together the first 7 ingredients in a medium sized bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Roll out dough.  The pie pastry is a bit flaky so don’t roll too thin, but since puff pastry puffs make sure you do roll out quite thin.  Decide if you want bite-sized rissoles (try a 2″ biscuit cutter, but stretch the dough a bit since it can be too tiny) but you will likely be happy using a standard 3″ biscuit cutter which will make a nice appetizer size with lots of filling. An empty tuna can works in a pinch as a cutter (Abbey Cooks improvise).
  4. Use a teaspoon to spoon some filling in the centre of the circle.  Brush a little water along the edges to help the seal.  Fold over and pinch to seal.
  5. Use a pastry brush and give a healthy wash of egg to help brown and seal the pastry.
  6. Place the rissoles on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 15- 20 minutes depending on the size. Since the ingredients are already cooked you really only need to ensure the pastry has browned up, both on the top and bottom.
  7. Serve warm or cold, with the mousseline sauce (lemon flavored cream sauce) as a dip.

My book has Many More Entertaining Ideas

In minutes you can download a great looking collection of period recipes.  Check out my new ebook Abbey Cooks Entertain with 220 Downton era recipes to please finicky guests like Albert at your Abbey. Written by a fan for fans, you can only download a signed copy here or you can download from Amazon. If you don’t have an ereader, might I suggest downloading the PDF version of the book which you can print.

Originally posted on Wired


Much of the United States is sweating through a heat wave, but a company calledSoma is preparing to quench the thirst of design fans with a cool new water filter. Soma just finalized a $3.7 million dollar round of fundraising, and along with $147,444 they raised earlier in 2013 through Kickstarter, the San Francisco-based startup is looking at a glass way more than half full.


Their first product is a clever, hourglass shaped carafe that offers elegant style and environmentally friendly bonafides to desiccated design connoisseurs. At its core is a proprietary filter made of a vegan silk mesh filled with “organic catalytic activated coconut shell carbon,” also known as burnt coconuts, all packaged in a biodegradable plastic shell. The Soma system is intended to be a centerpiece that can be proudly displayed on a table rather than a utilitarian vessel hidden in the refrigerator.


Soma is following the path of companies like Method who washed away decades of silly branding and brought a minimal sensibility to the dish soap market and Warby Parker who gave people a new way to look at designer eyewear. They’re trying to bring a museum quality aesthetic to a product category filled with chintzy plastic pitchers and hope to soak up a portion of the $420 million dollars customers spend on rival Brita products annually. For those who want to bring refreshing design to a dry product category, the Soma story provides three lessons.




Small Droplets, Big Ripples


At the start, Soma couldn’t point to independent studies that showed their filter worked better, because they didn’t exist. However, CEO/Co-Founder Mike Del Ponte knew a strong design could help convince customers that their technology was legit. “Soma’s exterior is simple and elegant,” says Del Ponte. “There is complexity inside the carafe that we obsessed over, so the user can enjoy the benefits, without having any aesthetic compromises.” The Soma carafe doesn’t have any obvious, visual, technical advantages—it just looks smart. The hourglass shape eliminates the need for a handle which in turn makes the carafe consistently attractive from every angle. In the absence of evidence, customers and investors took these tiny cues as a sign of Soma’s strength.

Go With the Dollar Flow


Good design doesn’t come cheap. Most product designers have to cut corners and keep costs low to provide retailers with a large profit margin. By going against the flow and choosing a subscription model Del Ponte and the Soma team could cut out the middle man freeing up funds to spend on the product. Instead of having to use a petroleum based plastic Soma was able to order glass vessels blown to exacting standards in Germany. Most competitive pitchers have a dinky LCD gauge that shows how much utility the filter has left. Soma didn’t have to worry about addressing this requirement and the attached costs since they send out new filter on a regular basis. “Selling direct to consumer gives us the freedom we require to put aesthetics, health, and sustainability at the top of our criteria list when making decisions,” says Del Ponte.


True to Its Roots


Before starting Soma, Del Ponte was considering becoming a priest and while he possesses a keen style the CEO was a fish out of water when it came to carbon filtration and consumer product marketing. In order to make Soma a success, he needed to fill out the team with a well-tested crew.




Del Ponte recruited a world class “water designer” who had previously worked for Starbucks and Keurig to develop the core filter technology. He also convinced uber-hip executives from companies like Warby Parker, Birchbox, Method, Incase, Vitaminwater, Coca-Cola, Google, and Seventh Generation to help steer the company as advisors and investors. Despite all that star power, feedback from the 2,316 people who crowdfunded the project originally still guides the company in important ways.


“Our Kickstarter community provides helpful feedback on a daily basis,” says Del Ponte. “For example, we’re entering the long and expensive process of certifying all of the health benefits Soma provides. There are many and we need to prioritize them, so we asked our backers what is most important to them. They want to hear first how Soma reduces chlorine and lead, then other contaminants like arsenic and chromium, so we’ll go through the certification process in that order.”



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