Viewers are flocking to the worlds of The Hobbit and Downton Abbey. • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson's prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, broke December opening-weekend box office records, and Downton Abbey, PBS's hit show, drew 5.4 million viewers for its Season 2 finale. • What's the appeal? • Some say it's the acclaimed directors or the award-winning cinematography. I say it's the food. Whether it's the comforting meals of Middle-earth or the glamorous Grantham dinner parties, we can't help wanting just a taste. • Now's your chance to pretend you live in a cozy hobbit hole or a glamorous British mansion (your choice) by having a themed meal party with fellow fans.
In theaters now
To re-create Bilbo's hobbit hole, just remember what made it so welcoming — the food, of course.
In Chapter 1, Bilbo prepares a meal for Gandalf and the dwarves that is similar to high tea, a meal the British working classes might have at the end of the day. Invite some fellow Anglophiles to share this comfort food, and you'll feel like you're in Middle-earth in no time. Plus, it's easy to decorate for the occasion. Just hang this sign on your front door (every dwarf will know what it means): "Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward." Don't worry about what your neighbors think. (Bilbo had trouble with his, too.)
Start by offering your guests a cup of hot English breakfast tea or a cold beer. Serve some sliced, cold roasted chicken from your local grocery store. (Or roast one yourself if you're so inclined.) It's one of Gandalf's requested foods, and everybody knows that if you create a spread fit for wizards, one is bound to show up. Next, toss a mixed salad with sliced hard-boiled eggs and season with oil and vinegar dressing. It's a healthy addition to an otherwise sweet meal.
That brings me to Bilbo's favorite portion of the tea: seed cakes, which he liked to save for an after-supper treat. You can serve guests your own twist on his recipe by baking a lemon poppy seed cake. Unlike Bilbo, you won't have to worry about running out of cakes, because you'll have plenty of baked goods for your guests to sample. It's just not high tea without some buttered scones. If you want to make the dwarves happy (they'll show up whether you invite them or not), offer raspberry jam on the side. Finally, a warm apple tart with sliced cheddar cheese will complete the meal. If you really want authenticity, offer your guests some pipes and practice blowing smoke rings before a roaring fire. Who needs Middle-earth when you can enjoy all of its treats, without worrying about dragons?
Returns Sunday on PBS
Downton Abbey enthusiasts, the wait is almost over. While fans overseas have already devoured Season 3, we've endured yet another four months without even a glimpse of our favorite British family. Now that Downton is about to reach American shores on Sunday, it's time to celebrate with a high-class dinner party that would make even the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) nod in approval.
Although a traditional dinner party at Downton would call for up to 22 courses, we've streamlined the menu to a more manageable size. After all, not everybody has a Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) to cook for them. To echo the lavish feel of the show — half its appeal comes from its gorgeous costumes and sets — ask guests to dress in elegant evening wear. You can pretend that Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is there to help you put on your red silk chiffon dress. Let's face it, we all wish we had a lady's maid like her, to help us do our hair and hide the occasional dead body. Fine china and flickering candlelight will help transport your guests into the early 20th century, when people like the Dowager Countess still feared the dangerous vapors of electricity.
You will begin your elegant dinner with a first course of leek and parsnip soup with caviar and black-pepper cream, which can be prepared up to a week before your party and refrigerated (a big advantage when you don't have a Downton-sized kitchen staff). For the meat and vegetable courses, serve a balsamic-glazed London broil and oven-roasted asparagus. These dishes are so easy to make, even kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McShera) couldn't mess them up. (Despite her growing talent in the kitchen, I'm still not ready to overlook the episode where she confused household poison with a chopped egg garnish. Had the poison made it upstairs, there may never have been a second season!) Toast with a glass of cabernet sauvignon. After dinner, treat your guests to a chocolate ginger cake with bourbon sauce. If any dessert can capture the decadence of the Grantham lifestyle, this would be it.
As you prepare for your dinner, just remember, confidence is key. You are the mistress of the house. As the Dowager Countess would say, "Don't be defeatist, dear. It's so middle class."
Chocolate Ginger Cake With Bourbon Sauce
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
½ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
½ cup molasses
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
¼ cup whole milk
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the bourbon sauce:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 large egg yolks
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup good-quality bourbon
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch Bundt pan. Dust with cocoa powder and tap out excess; set aside. Put butter, molasses, light brown sugar and ¼ cup water in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until butter has melted. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Let cool 5 minutes.
Add eggs, milk and grated ginger to the molasses mixture; whisk to combine. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, ground ginger and ground cinnamon into a medium bowl.
Gently fold the flour mixture into the molasses mixture until just combined. (There should be lumps remaining.) Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cake cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
Invert cake and unmold onto a cake stand or a large serving platter. Make the bourbon sauce by putting butter, egg yolks, dark brown sugar, vanilla and bourbon in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes.
Using a spoon, drizzle the warm bourbon sauce over the cake in a back-and-forth motion. Serve immediately.
Serves 8 to 10.
Leek and Parsnip Soup With Caviar and Black-Pepper Cream
Whitefish caviar, the soup's holiday garnish, is a relatively inexpensive variety (about $10 or less for
2 ounces). Look for it at Whole Foods or specialty-food markets.
For the soup:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ¾ pounds leeks (white and pale-green parts only), rinsed well and cut into ¼-inch-thick half-moons
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut ¼ inch thick
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut ¼ inch thick
3 cups chicken stock
2 dried bay leaves
½ cup whole milk
For the black-pepper cream:
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1 jar (2 ounces) whitefish or other caviar, for garnish
To make the soup, cut a round of parchment to fit inside a large pot. Melt butter in pot over medium heat. Add leeks and a pinch of salt and cover with parchment round (this will help keep moisture in). Cook, lifting parchment to stir occasionally, until leeks are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir in parsnips, potatoes, chicken stock, 2 ½ cups water, bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer gently, partially covered with lid, until parsnips are soft, about 20 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Let cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
Working in batches, puree vegetable mixture in a blender, being sure to hold lid down.
Return soup to pot and stir in milk. Reheat soup over medium heat (do not boil).
To make the black-pepper cream, stir ¼ teaspoon pepper into creme fraiche.
Ladle soup into 8 small bowls and top each with a dollop of black-pepper cream and ½ teaspoon caviar.
Soup can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months. Stir in milk and rewarm over medium heat just before serving. Black-pepper cream can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 ⅛ cups white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons lemon zest
4 ½ tablespoons poppy seeds
1 ⅓ cups unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour one 9- by
5-inch loaf pan.
Sift together the flour, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons white sugar and salt. Mix in the lemon zest, poppy seeds and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
In a saucepan over low heat, cook ¾ cup white sugar and the lemon juice, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Let cool to just warm or to room temperature.
Remove the cake from the oven and place the pan on a wire rack (place a cookie sheet underneath the rack). Prick the top of the cake several times with a toothpick. Brush the top of the cake with the warm or room temperature syrup, allowing lots of it to run down and soak into the sides and bottom of the cake. Cool slightly in the pan before removing the cake to the wire rack to cool completely. When completely cooled, wrap the cake in foil or plastic freezer wrap and let rest at least one day before serving to your guests.
Rustic Apple Tart
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 ½ cups sliced, peeled golden delicious apples (about 1 ½ pounds)
4 ½ cups sliced, peeled Granny Smith apples (about 1 ½ pounds)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ (15-ounce) package refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury)
1 teaspoon ice water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon apricot preserves
1 teaspoon water
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar and granulated sugar; cook 2 minutes or until sugars dissolve. Stir in apples and next 3 ingredients (through nutmeg). Cover, reduce heat and cook 20 minutes or until apples are tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set oven rack to lowest third of oven.
Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper. Roll dough into a 14-inch circle. Place dough and parchment paper on a baking sheet. Arrange cooled apples in center of dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold the edges of dough toward center, pressing gently to seal (dough will only partially cover the apple mixture). Brush dough with 1 teaspoon ice water and sprinkle evenly with 1 teaspoon granulated sugar. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.
Place the preserves and 1 teaspoon water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds or until bubbly. Brush the mixture over the warm tart. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.
Source: Cooking Light