I was the little girl who would run down the hallway in a long petticoat to hear the rustle, as much as I liked to run and climb trees, I was thrilled to put on a fancy dress. I was raised on PBS series like Mystery & Masterpiece along with classic films like Laura, still my favorite movie to this day. I was raised with manners and a knowledge of etiquette most people have forgotten or snigger at these days. With all that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I am a devotee of Downton Abbey.
At first I watched alone, curled up on my couch, wine in hand. Later, my friend and fellow fan of the show, Dave (Batman from my Batgirl Instructable), started joining for Downton viewing night. I am always a bit of a hostess, people cannot come over to visit without me jumping into the kitchen to offer a beverage or whip up some food. It’s just my nature. With my friend Dave coming over on Sunday evenings to watch Downton it only seemed right to have him come over a bit earlier and have dinner. That was how Downton Dinners began.
I am not a chef; I am a fair cook with aspirations of being a better cook. (There are those who would interject here with viewpoints that estimate my abilities much higher than fair. I am my own worst critic, take that for what you will.) I began cooking when I was about 10, latchkey kid and all, I wanted to try to help my mom by making dinners. The first thing I ever made on my own was roasted chicken breast and I forgot to remove the cling wrap when I put it in the oven. Thus we had pizza that night. I don’t think I ever got all the melted plastic off the side of that casserole dish. Although my first foray into cooking was a spectacular failure, it did not deter me from trying again and succeeding. Trial and error was my cooking school. My great grandmother was an amazing cook and baker (she even supplied pies to a restaurant in their home town of Hamilton, Ohio) as well as an incredible seamstress. Somehow those amazing abilities were not handed down and I think that is a terrible loss.(but I digress)
Downton Dinners began simply, a meal among friends, casual and easy. But, as is always my way, simple and easy became boring. I began looking for a challenge, finding new recipes and new ingredients to use; new techniques to try (I do not say master; my knife skills are still pathetic despite having actual chefs show me the proper way to do it). Much as I do with my costuming, when cooking these dinners I tend to stress myself out a bit and curse a lot, but I still derive satisfaction and joy from the final product. I enjoy the happy faces or, in Dave’s case, the wide-eyed surprise look followed by an exclamation of joy over the meal.
With Downton Abbey drawing to a close I thought the only proper thing to do would be to have a farewell dinner party.
Step 1: "All Life Is a Series of Problems, Which We Must Try and Solve"
After 6 seasons and countless dinners, I knew the farewell dinner had to be an all-out feast, not just the food but the atmosphere too. I began by taking inventory of what I already had.
China: I have two entertaining sets.
- A service for 4 with a double ring rim in gold, a gift from my mother the Christmas after we moved into our first place.
- A service for 12 with a single ring rim in gold, thanks to a clearance sale some years back.
- I also had a few serving platters/bowls in plain white or that matched the gold rimmed sets.
- Thanks to our wedding registry, I have a set of 12 water glasses
- Basic wine glasses; I have 3 sets (4-6 each), they vary in size, some are vintage from my grandparents and the others are just whatever I found on sale.
- Champagne glasses, again thanks to our wedding, I still have about 30 basic champagne flutes from Ikea (it was cheaper than renting at the time and they have come in handy)
I have one set of nice silverware; it is a simple matte silver, not the usual fancy filigree work one would think of for a Downton theme party. But it is what I have so it would have to do. Later, the hubby told me we had a fancy gold set somewhere in the garage but we could not locate it. (Blast!)
- Still wrapped up in paper and in that particular blue box with the white ribbon, were a set of crystal candle sticks we received as a wedding present. These were absolutely coming out for this party. (Finally!)
- In addition, I had another set of smaller, art deco style crystal candle sticks that I also pulled out to use.
- A silver candelabra, also a wedding present, and in need of a good cleaning.
- 12 blown glass bud vases with arms for holding placecards. These were part of a holiday table setting from years ago and have been in my storage area ever since.
Again, I turned to a wedding present . . . uh oh, those lovely white “hotel linens” were for the old dinner table dimensions (smaller and square). As lovely as they were the linens I had were not going to work for our newer drop leaf table. Okay, first thing on my shopping list then was to be table linens.
I went and measured my table (with the leaf in it) and added allowances for how much I wished to fall over the sides of the table. Our dining nook, seriously it’s a nook it is so small, doesn’t allow for much movement. I have to angle the table to jut into the living room space when the leaf is in so we can get everyone to sit around it. With that in mind, I chose to keep the drape of the table cloth high so there wouldn’t be a danger of sitting on and/or pulling it too much. *
*This is not at all in keeping with appropriate table etiquette but, in this instance, my finishing school personality was trumped by my practicality. Traditionally, a table cloth should hang ¾ of way to the floor.
I sourced vintage linens online (say it with me now, Yay for Ebay!) and lucked into a vintage tablecloth, in white, with a chrysanthemum border. I also got a lot of vintage napkins of varying designs, white on white like the table cloth, and I was able to mix and match making a very nice table set up. I also scored Downton Abbey cocktail napkins; they were white on white too and had the letter only DA logo I like so much on them.
With linens purchased, on a whim I did a quick search on ebay & etsy for vintage coupe champagne glasses, these are the wider bowl style glasses rather than flutes we all know so well. Did I need them? No, did I want them, yes, but only if I could find them at a good price. Ebay once again came through and I picked up a set of 6 opalescent champagne coupe glasses from the 1930’s for $20. Woo hoo! Now I had to come up with cocktails to fill the glasses.
Step 2: "I Should Hate to Be Predictable"
I didn’t want this dinner to be like any other I had hosted, I was determined to make it as colorful and special as possible. I started off by going online and doing as much research as I could. Many other people had hosted Downton Dinners, teas, and parties, I had a lot of inspiration to pull from. Some even shared their menus. However, I did not find one that was quite to my liking so, I decided I would create my own. I did find some great themed drinks for the characters, some I modified to work with what I had or could get as some items are really easy to find in the UK but not so much in the US.
The Lady Sybil
- 1 oz gin
- 3/4 oz St. Germain Elderflower liqueur*
- Brut champagne, chilled
- Combine the gin and St. Germain over ice in a shaker.
- Shake and strain into a champagne glass.
- Top with champagne.
*If you cannot find or afford (it usually $39 a bottle) St. Germain, Ikea sells an elderflower concentrate, it’s not alcoholic, but it will give you the flavor you are looking for in this drink.
- 1.5 oz Lillet Blanc*
- .75 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 4-5 basil leaves
- Brut champagne, chilled
- Add the basil and lemon juice to your shaker and muddle.
- Add Lillet and ice and then shake and strain into a glass.
- Top with champagne.
* Lillet Blanc (found it at BevMo) is a French aperitif wine. It is a blend of Bordeaux region wines and citrus liqueurs. It is strong stuff. I only use it in mixed drinks but I do not have a sweet pallet so that may just be me.
This Lady Mary was, by far, my favorite drink of the night.
- 1 1/2 ounce Lingonberry Juice*
- 1/2 ounce Gin*
- Brut champagne, chilled*
- Add the juice and Gin to a glass.
- Top with champagne.
- Stir and serve.
*Original recipe called for fresh ruby red grapefruit juice, which was out of season.
Sloe Gin, which was impossible to find in any BevMo or liquor store I went to.
And Sweet roseé champagne, I have mentioned I don’t have a sweet pallet so I chose to stick with the Brut I was using in the other two drinks.
Bacon-Wrapped Apricots With Sage
- 24 small fresh sage leaves
- 24 large dried apricots
- 8 slices bacon, cut crosswise into thirds
- Pure maple syrup
- Heat oven to 375º F.
- Place a sage leaf on each apricot, wrap with a piece of bacon*, and place seam-side down on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper.
- Bake until the bacon is beginning to crisp, 6 to 8 minutes per side.
- Remove from oven and brush with the maple syrup.
- Serve with toothpicks.
*The bacon piece may seem too large but remember bacon shrinks as it cooks, I forgot this on a few when I first started making these.
Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade
- 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, dry, not packed in oil, sliced (I used a combo of regular & smoked)
- 1 tbsp. good olive oil or Grapseed oil
- 1 pkg. Trader Joe's Marinated Olive Duo with Lemon and Herbs (you will need to pit these)
- 1/4 tsp. dried oregano (not ground powder)
- 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed (I like to use Dorot crushed garlic cubes. 1 cube=1 clove)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Place tomatoes in a bowl and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Soak until soft, about 15 minutes; drain,
- Add them to the bowl of food processor* with oil, olives, oregano, zest, juice, garlic, salt and pepper and puree until smooth.
- Set aside in fridge to let flavors blend, at least 1 hour.
*I was too lazy to break out my Big Mouth food processor so; I cursed my way through this recipe using a blender. It was beyond dumb, don’t do it.
I served this with a baguette that I sliced, brushed on both sides with grape seed oil and toasted in the oven on the top rack. Watch your bread it will burn so fast. I also had water crackers, basic and black pepper, in case the bread went too fast. TJ’s sells these in an assortment package for about $4, they are all very tasty. Additionally, I cut up some Dubliner cheese and served that alongside these two offerings.
- 8 medium leeks (3 pound), trimmed, leaving white and pale green parts only, and chopped (retain the dark green parts for flavoring the stock)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 large carrot (white or yellow if you can find them), chopped
- 1 medium Parsnip (optional, but I love them)
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Olive Oil or Grape seed oil
- 1 russet potato, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth (you can also use veggie broth)
- 3 cups water
- 1 large bay leaf
- 2-3 sprigs thyme or 2-3 tsp dried thyme
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced or crushed (I used 3 Dorot crushed garlic cubes, I like garlic)
- 1 1/2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, rough chop
- Bring leek greens, broth and water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 min.
- Pour the broth thru a strainer into a bowl, pressing on the greens to extract as much liquid as possible, and set aside.
- Cook leeks, onion, carrot, celery, salt, and pepper in oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes.
- Peel potato and cut into 1/2-inch cubes, then add to onion mixture along with wine, stock, water, garlic, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in parsley and simmer soup, uncovered, 5 minutes.
- Discard bay leaf and keep soup at a bare simmer for another 10 minutes. Then turn off heat and let cool.
- When the soup has cooled, use an immersion blender to process the soup until completely smooth. You can also do this in a regular blender in batches.
- Reheat if necessary, and then season with salt and pepper to taste.
This soup is best when made 1 to 3 days ahead (it allows flavors to develop). Chill soup, uncovered, until completely cooled and then cover to store in fridge. Reheat; thinning with water or broth if necessary, I always prefer to use unsalted broth to thin my soups.
White Fish en Papillote (white fish wrapped in paper)
- 1 zucchini, julienned
- 1 large carrot, julienned
- 1 clove garlic, minced (I used Dorot crushed garlic cube)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or grape seed oil
- 4 fillets of white fish (I used Talapia)
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
- 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/4 cup White wine (I use Sauvignon Blanc, I like dry wine)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup Brianna’s French vinaigrette
- 1/3 cup Low Sodium Chicken Broth
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Cut 4 heart shaped pieces of parchment paper*. The size should be large enough for your fillet & veggies to fit in when the paper is folded in half, and make allowances for when you have to fold the edges over to seal it. (I stared out with 4 12x12 pieces of parchment paper, folded each in half and cut away only the bits needed to create a half heart so both sides would match.)
- I like to marinate my fish for at least an hour. I combine the French Vinaigrette, chicken broth and white wine with the fillets in a bag and set aside in the fridge.**
- In a bowl, mix together the onion, zucchini, carrot and garlic. Add the oil, season with salt and pepper, to taste, and toss to combine. Let sit for 15 minutes.
- Arrange the vegetables on the parchment paper, dividing evenly.
- Remove the fish from the marinade, discarding the bag. Place each fillet on top of the veggies and season each with salt and pepper to taste.
- Top the fillet with 2 lemon slices, 2 sprigs thyme and 1 tablespoon white wine (or a touch more if you like, I eyeball this really).
- Fold the parchment paper around the edges tightly to create a half moon shape. Make sure you press as you crimp and fold to seal the packets well, otherwise the steam will escape.
- Arrange the packets on a baking sheet. Bake until the fish is cooked through, about 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
- To serve, cut open the packets and serve directly in the parchment on a plate or remove the fish to the plate using a spatula, being sure you don't leave the juices behind.
* You can also use foil in place of paper, but I don’t think it’s as pretty a presentation.
** The use of chicken broth is something I learned from one of my favorite restaurants. . It helps build a base for the fish to create a flavorful broth when it cooks. It also helps remove any “fishiness” from prepackaged fish. Yes, I used frozen fish, sue me.
Roasted Duck (6 Breasts)
- ½ cup Fresh Rosemary, chopped
- ½ cup Fresh Thyme, chopped
- 6 cloves Garlic, minced
- 4 Shallots, minced
- ½ cup Brandy (you can use this as part of the herb rub/marinade or add it to the broth in the oven)
- 1 cup chicken broth
- Score the fat side of the duck breast, creating a cross hatch design.
- Rub the breast with the rosemary, thyme, garlic and shallot.
- Wrap up in a bag and let set in the fridge overnight.
- Warm the oven to 275 degrees
- Sear the duck breast in a hot pan with grape seed oil, cast iron is best, about 7 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the breast. Flip the breast and sear the other side for 5 to 7 minutes then set aside in a baking dish.
- When all the breasts are seared off and in the baking dish, add a little chicken broth, cover with foil and put in the oven to finish cooking for 30-45 minutes, depending on your preference for rare, medium, well. Duck is best served rare but I prefer medium personally.
- Remove from oven to a clean cutting board to rest and tent with foil.
- Slice when ready to serve.
Brandied Apricot Sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (or butter)
- 2 tablespoons shallots, minced
- 1/3 cup brandy
- 1 cup orange juice
- 2/3 cup apricot preserves
- 1 cup beef or chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (preferably white balsamic)
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
- Pinch of salt
- Pepper to taste
- In a small saucepan on medium-high heat, add the oil (or butter) and heat until melted and sizzling. Add the shallot and cook until tender and slightly colored.
- Taking the pan away from the heat, add the brandy, orange juice, apricot preserves, stock and vinegar.
- Return to the heat and let the sauce reduce on medium low heat for several minutes. Add the thyme and continue to reduce until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
- Keep warm until needed. If the sauce thickens too much, just add a small amount of water or stock to loosen it up again.
- 10 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch-thick slices
- 1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup fresh chopped parsley (optional but I love it)
- In large pot combine parsnips with enough cold water to cover. Place over moderately high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Continue boiling until tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. Drain.
- Pureé* parsnips, garlic and chicken stock until smooth. Working in batches if needed.
- Transfer to large bowl, stir in parsley, salt and pepper, serve immediately.
*I used a hand potato masher to start then used my immersion blender to make it a smooth puree.
- 1 pre-made pie crust (you can also make your own, but I was busy enough)
- 1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, cored, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices (if you have a mandolin this is so much easier, I don’t, I did it by hand)
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1 lemon, juiced.
- A bowl of water
- 1/4 cup apricot preserves, add hot water to thin slightly so as to be brush able
- ¼ cup dried cranberries, re-hydrated in orange juice or Muscat wine
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Added lemon juice to water in the bowl.
- Slice the apples thinly, and add them to the bowl of lemon water to keep them from browning.
- On a piece of parchment paper roll out the pre-made crust.
- Arrange apple slices in concentric circle, overlapping slightly. Be sure to leave enough of an edge to fold the crust over slight to bake. Depending on how large your apples were, sometimes you can do more than one circle.
- Add the re-hydrated cranberries to the center of the apple circle.
- Fold up the edges of the crust, pinching slight to help the folds stay in place.
- Brush crust and apples with thinned preserves and Sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake galette 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F and continue baking until crust is golden, about 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven.
- Slide long thin knife between parchment and galette to loosen. Let stand at least 10 minutes.
- Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.
With the Menu items chosen I got to work on sourcing the necessary ingredients.
Step 3: "Don’t Be a Defeatist Dear, It’s So Middle Class"
I have never cooked duck in my life. I have ordered it at restaurants in a number of ways from flambé to confit, (yummmmm), but that is the limit of my experience. I had set myself a challenge to, not only make multiple items I had never made before, but I also set myself the task of needing to source Duck. I live outside Los Angeles, like way outside in the dry desert part, what the heck made me think finding duck was going to be easy.
I thought hard about my usual line up of stores I go to for my shopping and not one of them carried duck. I asked a few chef friends and they gave me a couple ideas but I cannot afford to go to the grove (for those not in the area, The Grove is a posh outdoor shopping area for the rich and, in some cases, snooty) and spend that kind of $$ on overpriced bird. Whole Foods sometimes carry it but they were not at the time of my search. I found that CostCo actually has it available to order online, 6 Duck Breasts & 6 Duck Confit Legs for $140 (These are from D’Artagnan and you can also order direct from them and get the same package, they list it at $90 plus shipping).
*In hindsight I TOTALLY should have ordered that, grrrr, I hate hindsight.
Then I remembered there was a real butcher shop around the corner from my home, been there for years, and in one phone call I found out that they did carry Duck. I ordered 6 Duck Breasts and was told they would be ready for pick up in a week.
Here are my mistakes.
- Didn’t ask if they were fresh or frozen. (They were frozen, which is fine but, really wanted fresh)
- Wasn’t clear that I wanted half breasts not full breasts. (I was thinking it would be like chicken, separated breasts)
- What type of duck of breast* [Magret (deep red meat and larger breast) or Pekin (pink meat, less fat)]
- Didn’t get a firm quote on pricing for both breast options (not that I knew I needed to)
*Marget Breasts are much bigger and come from the Moulard duck, In the French Style this means they are specifically ones that have been raised to supply Foie Gras. In the US none of the info I found mentioned the Magret breasts were from force fed Moulards. D’Artagnan specifically says they are raised free range without antibiotics . . .
(This is a hot bed of a topic and I make no comments on this either way, it is for you to decide which type you want to eat.)
When I went to pick up my duck I found it was 6 full breasts (that’s 12 half breasts) for $200!
Oh boy was the hubby not pleased about that, good thing I had just gotten some birthday money because it all went to the duck. Now you understand why I said I totally should have ordered the deal on the Costco site. Less money and 6 legs of confit would have been a bonus! Lessons learned. So, I took my mega duck load home, and separated the 6 breasts I needed (1 per guest) and put the rest in the freezer.
The rest of the items were much easier to come by at any local grocery store. I did, however, end up going to 4 of them. Sprouts was for some fresh herbs and usually my parsnip go to but they were stupidly overpriced ($3 and I don’t mean by the bag or the pound, that was each!) so I went on to Trader Joe’s, picked up some of the previously designated items and scored on parsnips (less than $2 a bag), some flowers, nice brandy & wine (Sauvignon de Seguin Bordeaux, $7 and so tasty). I finished off by hitting two places on the way home, Ralphs & Stater Bros. for the rest of the things I needed.
There are Downton Abbey wines, Downton Abbey Blanc and Downton Abbey Claret most recently. I have had the DA Bordeaux’s before and they were very good. I usually find them at CostPlus World Market, they run $12-$16 a bottle, and since I had used up my $$ on duck, I did not end up purchasing DA wines for the party. Mores the pity, I think they would have been great compliments to the dinner or even better, festive parting gifts for guests.
Step 4: "The Business of Life Is the Acquisition of Memories"
With the Menu locked I got to work on the design aspect, I pulled artwork and sample menus from the web and began building my own. Thankfully I have been taking Photoshop classes at work so, this went much easier than all the things I designed for my wedding years ago using PAINT.
The only problem I have when it comes to designing themed items is I keep thinking of new things to do! I went from menus, to place cards, to bunting (lots of bunting), to character cards for the tablescape. It was a good two to three weeks of design work to get it all done.
Bunting is usually made of fabric, think garlands with fabric triangle flags hanging from them, I used paper for mine.
The Bunting was probably the biggest task I set for myself when it came to designing, I had this idea to have silhouettes of the Downton Characters and then overlay those with quotes from said character. I started with my favorite, the Dowager Countess played by Maggie Smith. I ended up with 25 quotes alone just for her so I thought I would make bunting strands in different designs.
I made one design just for the Dowager quotes, simple black and white with the Downton Abbey logo, Dowager silhouette and some scroll work in each corner. I also made a spacer flag that would go between the quotes with an old art drawing I found online of Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey) and the DA letter only logo on the bottom.
That DA logo was a bit hard to source, I only saw it on t-shirts (one of which I had) and other fabric items. In the end I took a picture of the logo from my shirt and using Photoshop, cut out all extraneous information from the design until just the letters were left. I then painted in and used different filters to sharpen, lighten, etc. until I had the logo the way I wanted it. It was actually very time consuming, I think I spent a week total working on this one design. I only have Photoshop at work so I was really only working on it for an hour when I first got in, prior to normal work hours, and an hour at the end of the day. Once I had the template for the Dowager layout set up I simply dropped in my text from my quotes collection doc and altered it as needed to fit. I then saved the final as a JPG and moved on to the next.
When I had the Dowager designs completed I decided I need a different design for the bunting flags of the other characters, I chose to go more art deco with that design. I sourced different art deco designs online until I found one I really liked and then set about making that fit in with the image in my head. I tried a number of background colors, since my Dowager designs were Black & White I wanted these deco ones to have more color. In the end I settled on a kind of aqua blue, it just really made everything in the design pop.
With the base image created I set out to find images of all the characters. I looked specifically for a pose that you could tell it was that character even if it were just a silhouette. Some of the characters I did in profile others I did in standing poses and a few others I did straight on, highlighting details in their costumes to help identify the character. Like Bates with his cane or Mrs. Patmore’s apron and Tom’s drivers coat. With Images collected I cut away backgrounds and began filling in or shading the person as needed to create the silhouettes. For this set of bunting décor I decided I would only have 3 quotes per character so, I sourced quotes online until I had 3 for each that I really liked. I also decided, much like the Dowager design, I would need a spacer design. I used the black and white mirror image silhouette logo of Downton Abbey for that, I thought it balanced the other images nicely.
As a bit of fun I also made some standalone flag designs, one in the deco theme with the Free Bates image that was popular on T-shirts (from season 4) and I did 3 designs of the Dowager & Mrs.Crawley, using some of their best zingers to each other.
The next design aspect was for the tablescape, I created cameo style images of the characters but I wanted them to look more like portrait sketches. I made a base template for the cameo frame and when that was done I set about sourcing Downton Abbey fan art on the web. DeviantArt had some extraordinary pieces; really I was blown away by some of the stuff that is out there. In in some cases, I used publicity photos when I couldn’t find anything artistic that fit with the look I was trying to achieve. I altered those publicly photos in Photoshop to look like sketches. It was varying designs but I think they all worked well in black & white. I printed them out on photo paper an cut them out to fit in the bud vases/card holders I had pulled out to use at home.
Thus, all my designs created, I set to work printing them out and cutting all the flags out. I then laid out everything on my living room floor and began arranging the quotes in groups so they seemed to flow into each other. I then used some simple string to create the hanging garlands. In the end I created 4 different garlands and I hung them all over my condo.
Step 5: "If You're Tired of Style, You're Tired of Life"
Finally, I had to choose what to wear, it was a party after all, and I couldn’t just wear jeans and T-shirt. (While cooking, I totally wore my Downton Abbey t-shirt.)
Downton Abbey is set between 1912 and 1925, I was not going to try to create an Edwardian themed outfit with less than two weeks before the party. So I went to my closet and pulled out a dress I had worn before, It was a bright blue dress I got on clearance from ASOS years before. It is sleeveless with a drop waist and tea length skirt, semi sheer on top so I added a vintage navy slip I already had in my collection and it totally worked for an early 20’s dress. I wore it on Halloween one year at work and was labeled Lady Melly by my friends.
I was all set to wear the blue dress again when I happened upon a Unique Vintage sale and saw a flapper dress in dusty purple with silver bead-work . . . Purple is one of my favorite colors . . . it was like UV knew I was planning a party and let me know they had the dress for it. I simply could not resist and when the price was slashed again, I made it mine! When it arrived I was giddy, it was so lovely and I had a silver metal headband that went perfectly with it as well as Amethyst drop earrings (what good Aquarius doesn’t?). I didn’t have the right T-strap shoes so I pulled out a pair of kitten heel, silver glitter shoes, Coach ones I scored on ebay for $20 months earlier (seriously they are super comfy I have no idea why no one else wanted them!) And with that my party outfit was done.
I let all the invitees know that the dress was code was cocktail attire or as fancy as they felt they could muster. People are busy, I totally get that, and not everyone is silly like me having a dress for any occasion (and multiple time periods) in their closet to use at a moment’s notice. No pressure was put on the "must dress" portion of the invite.
In between cooking portions of the meal(s) I hung my bunting on the living room curtains, that my loving husband had so kindly hung up for me earlier that day. And across the buffet area off the kitchen, My husband used some chalkboards I had picked up in the dollar section at Target and listed the 3 theme drink options, we hung them from the bar-ware racks over the buffet. I used extra bunting to theme up the hall bath room too. Taping some flags to the mirror and hanging bunting across the shower curtain. It was silly but I figured, why not!
I then set about working on my table; I had cleaned the silver candelabra the day before and purchased a box of white taper candles from Target. I laid out the table cloth and placed the candelabra in the middle, flanking it on each side by the Tiffany crystal candle sticks. I trimmed down the flowers I had purchased from Trader Joe’s (an assortment of purple roses and other flowers, you can’t beat that for $6) to fit in each of the 12 bud vases/card holders and placed them around the base of the candelabra. I added the character cameo images I had designed to the card holder arms on each vase. Then I created the individual place settings. Traditionally, there would have been even more silverware with very specific purposes, like a desert spoon and fork, coffee spoon, etc. My silverware set didn’t have all of the items needed so I improvised and altered my setting to accommodate.
Traditional Formal Setting:
- On the left side of the plate, working from outside inward toward the plate: Fish fork, Dinner Fork, Salad Fork (This is because salad was not served early in the meal; it is actually much later, between the entrée and dessert.)
- In between your silverware should be a place plate or charger for a formal setting, on which would sit the dinner plate, salad plate (sometimes a soup bowl too), the napkin, folded, and a place card. Menu cards should be above the place setting. You can also put the pace card above the setting and the menu card on top of the napkin.
- On the right side of the plate, working from outside inward toward the plate: cocktail fork, soup spoon, fish knife, dinner knife and salad knife.
- Above the plate: horizontally placed, should be a dessert fork and dessert spoon, the handle of the dessert fork should be toward the left and the handle of the dessert spoon should be to the right.
- On the left, above the forks, should be a bread plate with a butter knife. Next to that should be individual salt & pepper shakers and next to those an individual butter dish.
- To the right, above the knives are the glasses, working from outside inward toward the plate: Sherry glass, white wine glass, red wine glass (these two wine glasses are usually off set from each other with the white in front and red behind slightly), Champagne glass and water glass. A coffee cup and saucer would be to the far right, next to the cocktail fork
Obviously, my service was much altered from the above.
- On the left side of my plate, working from the outside in: soup spoon and dinner fork.
- The plates were set: Dinner plate first, Salad plate (which was being used for the fish course as I was not serving a salad) on top, the napkin on top of the salad plate and bowl on top of that. The menu was then placed over the bowl. The bread plate was above with the place card set on it.
- On the right side of my plate, working from the outside in: teaspoon spoon, dinner knife.
- Above the dinner plate is the fish fork.
- To the right above the knife & teaspoon were a Wine Glass (one of my all-purpose ones good for white or red) and a water glass.
I arranged this setting to create more visual balance to the set up.
In my picture you can see the vintage coupe champagne glasses on the one side of the table, I don’t have much room in the kitchen for a cocktail bar set up so the hubby mixed in the kitchen and then retrieved a glass as needed from the set on the side of the table to serve the cocktails. Not proper but functional.
I also set the Hors d'oeuvres out on our coffee table/ottoman, and served it on a blue metal tray I picked up at Ikea for $12. The blue of the tray matched the blue in the bunting I had made as décor, how could I pass that up?
The invitation (done on Facebook as a closed event) stated I had an open door policy starting at 6:30pm with dinner to be served at 7:30pm and the final episode of Downton Abbey would air at 9pm.
Although I timed out how long everything would take to prep & cook and I did what I could beforehand, I still was running late. This is totally normal for me, no matter how much I plan and even pad the time; something always takes much longer than expected. However, it worked in my favor because everyone else was late too.
Unfortunately, in the end it was just us 3 to enjoy the party. Some of the other invitees were not able to come due to family commitments, military commitments, illness or hadn’t caught up enough yet on the series to be up to date. It was fine. Downton Dinners began with me, Dave & Trevor (the hubby) it was kind of sweet that they should end with us too.
With all my cooking basically complete I had 10 minutes to do a quick change into my new purple flapper dress, throw a headband into my sadly un-styled hair (I pulled it back into a twisted ponytail) and I was dressed. By this time I noticed I was starting to lose my voice and I felt a scratch in my throat, it was the first signs of what would later be bronchitis with laryngitis. (YAY me!) Still, I was not going to let it ruin this night I had worked so hard on. My hubby is not one to dress up; he did put on a dress shirt, tie and vest for the dinner party and acted as bartender. He was a great bartender!
My friend Dave showed up at 7:00p, just in time for cocktails, and wore a tuxedo (with tails). He had scored the tail coat at a thrift shop (or was it goodwill) some years before for a Groucho Marx costume, paired it with black pants a white dress shirt and white bow-tie (Dave loves bow ties). He also drew on a mustache, which was very funny. We were quite a dapper bunch. We enjoyed our cocktails and the hors d'oeuvres. I pushed dinner service to 8:00pm so we could enjoy everything and since it was only the three of us, I was less rushed on the service.
Step 6: “Anyone With Use of Their Limbs Can Make a Salmon Mousse”
During the cocktail hour I stepped away at times to handle a few things in the kitchen; the fish was the last thing to cook, as it takes so little time. I put that in the oven at 7:15 and when it was done pulled it out and lowered the temp in the oven to warm (less than 200 degrees). Once the oven temp had leveled off I put the duck and the fish back in to stay warm until service.
I used my glass cake platter to display the apple gallette on the buffet area. (This is Dave’s favorite dessert I make; I introduced him it to it a few years back at another Downton night and it is by far the thing he has requested most often since then.) I flanked the platter with the art deco crystal candle sticks along with a number of other candles. I wanted dessert to be set up ready for us when the show began.
With the cocktail hour up it was time to enjoy the meal, and enjoy we did. The leek soup was garnished with a few fresh parsley leaves (I meant to crisp up some bacon too but timing . . .) in the center and served warm. It was thick and smooth and had a wonderful light flavor of onion for something mostly consisting of leeks. Next course, fish, my husband is not a fan of fish normally but he enjoyed the fish en papillote. I served it in the paper and cut an X in the top so you could peel back the paper easily. The fish was light and flaky and veggies were steamed perfectly. Then it was entrée time, I sliced the duck breast on an angle, served it atop the parsnip puree and drizzled the brandy sauce over it. A little sprinkle of fresh parsley and it was ready to eat. It was delicious, and made all the work that had gone into finding it so worthwhile. I served the Sauvignon de Seguin Bordeaux with dinner; the acidity was perfect for cutting the richer textures and flavors of the courses without being too harsh.
Once we had consumed all there was, I quickly cleared the table, I had been smart and cleaned everything as I had cooked (it’s my way, I have to do it or I go a little mad at all the dirty dishes)so there were no dishes I had to deal with. I simply stacked the dishes up in prep for the dishwasher after the show. Then I began to brew some coffee and went to see if anyone needed another cocktail before the show began.
We ate our dessert by candle light about mid-way through the episode; it was all very easy and enjoyable. As the episode came to an end we raised a glass to toast the night and the show which had given us so many enjoyable dinners.
Step 7: “I Take That As a Compliment.” “I Must Have Said It Wrong.”
All in all I believe it was a very successful night. I am sorry I did not have pictures of all the food I prepared; I was so focused on cooking it all I forgot to take pictures. I had not thought of making an instructable about this night but after reviewing all I did I thought why not! I am including the PDF's of items I made, use them if you like. Just because the series is over doesn’t mean people have to stop throwing Downton Parties. I hope you all enjoyed the process, maybe even want to try your hand at some of the recipes for your own party or just a nice dinner. I know I enjoyed it, even when I stressed myself out cooking everything.