Notes From Swan's Nest

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Downton Abbey Season Finale Watching Party: A Menu To Do Mrs. Pattmore And Mr. Carson Proudly!

Downton Abbey's season four finale will be broadcast this Sunday, February 23rd, and millions will tune in to their local PBS stations to watch the drama unfold. This highly anticipated episode of the historic drama beloved by a record-setting modern-day television audience culminates the season with Cousin Rose's debutante ball. Stunning elegance and noble tradition are in store - with elaborate period gowns, flowers, food, and dancing - as all of the Crawley family's and household's endearing members navigate their various experiences in love and life.

Will Lady Mary leave both suitors with broken hearts? Will Lady Edith quietly leave for Switzerland with her Aunt Rosamund to await the birth of her love child? What exciting elements of surprise await as the American members of the family come to visit?

One thing is certain: a portion of the Crawley family's interaction will take place around a beautifully-appointed dining table, just as it does each week.

Photo credit: ITV, Carnival Films

To heighten the enjoyment as devoted viewers gather for this weekend's season finale, Downton Abbey fans can surround themselves in early-20th-Century elegance by hosting a Downton Abbey Watching Party Dinner. Here’s a little inspiration for a sumptuous and historically-accurate menu to make this Sunday evening's Downton Abbey watching even more flavorful and in-the-moment, plus ideas for creating a special early-20th table setting to completely infuse the gathering with the artistic and design details of this elegant era. Mrs. Pattmore the cook and Mr. Carson the butler would certainly be proud of this Downton Abbey Watching Party!

Downton Abbey Season Four Watching Party Menu

Photo credit: jedecouvrelafrance.com

Gougères - Light and airy, savory Gruyere cheese puffs make the perfect appetizer or accompaniment to a soup course. The cheese is stirred into classic choux pastry just before the pastry is piped onto parchment paper and baked.

Note: Gougères are the light and airy French cheese puffs that Downton Abbey character Alfred baked as he prepared for his entry to culinary school in London.

English Trifle - For ease of serving and maximum visual impact, serve this very-British dessert in graceful champagne coupes. Cubes of sponge cake or lady fingers, usually splashed with sherry or Grand Marnier, are layered in the coupes with fresh berries, vanilla custard, and whipped cream; then garnished just before serving with a swirl of whipped cream and grated dark chocolate.

 

Beef Tenderloin - from my latest book Celebrating Home

Few entrées compare, much less surpass the opulence of a fillet of beef tenderloin. Its melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, flavor, and elegance on the plate can transform any gathering into a signature event.

Ingredients:

1 3-pound fillet of beef tenderloin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked sea salt flakes
  Freshly ground pepper mélange
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Tie the roast with string so it roasts evenly. Place it in a roasting pan, brush with olive oil, and season the meat with smoked sea salt, pepper mélange, and kosher salt. Sprinkle the top of the meat with minced garlic and roast it in the oven 40 minutes or until a meat thermometer shows 140 degrees for rare and 160 degrees for medium rare.

Remove the meat from the oven, cover it lightly with foil, and set it aside 10 minutes to rest. Carve the meat and serve with pan juices.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

The Essence of Elegance at the Downton Abbey Table


An exquisite presentation of an early 20th-Century table setting with Downton Abbey style:

  • Late-19th century and early-20th century china and silver.

  • My mother's delicate, etched wedding crystal from 1949, reminiscent of the Victorian era.

  • My grandmother's floral china, Haviland 25th Anniversary cream soup cup and saucer, and silver from the 1880s to 1920s found in antique stores.

  • Antique damask napkin, contemporary cutwork tablecloth reminiscent of the Downton Abbey era.

 

Here’s to Downton Abbey and another opportunity to gather around the table!

-Christy

Valentine's Day: Pretty-In-Pink

The sweetest day of the year is Friday, February 14th – Valentine's Day. This year, I'm "going pink", from my table setting to a heart-shaped cake frosted in soft-pink, cream cheese buttercream with white accents. This simple, yellow two-layer cake is the perfect finale to a romantic dinner for two, a family Valentine celebration, or an intimate gathering of friends.

This year’s tablescape is based on “treasures” I’ve found in antique stores and house sales, and heirlooms passed down through our family. The table setting started with a length of inexpensive pink cotton fabric purchased several years ago, then draped with a very sheer, white-on-white tablecloth that adds caché to the table and allows the pink to show through. Large, white beaded placemats from a Breckenridge estate sale anchor each place setting, and oversized, square, embossed ironstone plates I discovered in Fredericksburg, Texas substitute beautifully for chargers. On the chargers, I layered gold-rimmed, white china dinner plates given to me by my mother, and antique, gold-rimmed Limoges salad plates that I found in one of my favorite Denver antique stores, featuring a delicate pink floral pattern and an exquisite scalloped edge.

Elegant, Waterford crystal champagne flutes in royal amethyst, my birthstone – a gift from a dear friend – look especially glamorous on this pink table when paired with simple wine glasses and delicate, etched Fostoria crystal sherry glasses that had been part of my mother’s wedding crystal.

A mixture of intricate, antique silverplate flatware from the 1880’s and 1890’s beautifully complements my grandmother’s silver salad forks. Since my husband Randy and I purchased Swan’s Nest, our Breckenridge, Colorado home built in 1898, I’m always on the hunt for silver flatware from the late- 19th and early-20th century – pieces that very well could have been used during the many elaborate gatherings hosted in our home by the gold baron who built Swan’s Nest as a wedding gift for his bride. How romantic is that!

Whether you’re dining a deux in front of the hearth, or celebrating Valentine’s Day family-style, selecting a color theme and thoughtfully creating a table setting with your own found treasures adds enjoyment and significance to this very special day. For added sweetness, serve my Pretty-In-Pink Valentine Cake.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

-Christy

Pretty-In-Pink Valentine Cake

At high altitude, add 1 extra teaspoon of vanilla and bake the cake on the middle rack. The addition of a small amount of all-purpose flour will help stabilize the cake batter as it bakes.

Cake:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 milk
2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Add egg yolks, beat well, and stir in the vanilla.

In a large bowl, stir together cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually beat the flour mixture, alternately with the milk, into the creamed mixture to create a thick batter.

In a medium bowl, whip the egg white with an electric mixer until it foams, add the cream of tartar, and whip until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg white into the cake batter until it is well blended.

Grease two 9-inch heart-shaped cake pans and line them with parchment paper. Spoon the batter into the pans and bake 22 – 25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the middle. Cool the cakes on a wire rack 20 minutes, remove them from the pans, and cool them completely. Frost with pink Cream Cheese Buttercream.

Frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 drops pink food coloring

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and cream cheese. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, alternately with the milk, beating until the frosting is thick and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla. Reserve 1 cup frosting for garnish, and stir pink food coloring into the remaining frosting. Frost the cake in pink and decorate with the reserved white frosting.

To make the Valentine in the center of the cake, lightly press a heart-shaped cookie cutter into the center, pipe tiny stars around the edge of the imprint, then fill in with additional stars. Using a piping bag fitted with a small, plain tip, top each tiny star with a dab of pink frosting.