mrs. patmore’s rosemary oat crackers

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I wanted to start this post with a way to immediately transition into talking about Downton Abbey, so I thought it would be relevant to mention the fact that my 23rd great grandfather was King Henry III. But then I decided that may be a bit haughty. And then I thought I could transition with telling you all that my 16th great grandmother was Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Consort of England or that my 12th great aunt was Catherine Howard (yeah, yeah, another queen). But then I thought, “…eh, boring.” And then I thought I would mention that most of my ancestors belonged to the Plantagenets and Arundels or that Elijah Robosson, Colonel in the American Revolution, was my fifth great grandfather. But I know you guys don’t want to hear about my (awesome) family. Besides, I’m no closer to living in Buckingham Palace than any other Joe Blow walkin’ down the street. Let’s talk a little Downton Abbey.

“What’s Downton Abbey?”

Screechy record sounds.

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I’m sorry…what? What? It’s only the best, most tenaciously addicting show, a socially acceptable way to watch a soap opera, disguised with elaborate turn-of-the-20th-century fashion and extreme character development and a set design that is perfected by it being set, well, in a real castle. It’s a fascinating story of high society and working class people and, almost surprisingly, you, as the viewer, end up pulling for both sides to win in their separate and sometimes intertwining stories. I’m like an old soul when Sunday nights roll around. I’m glued to PBS, turning up the volume and sitting silently in case I miss some tiny detail that can change the whole meaning of the season’s story. I, undoubtedly, highly recommend it.

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I remember watching the wedding episode (Mary and Matthew, of course) and feeling slightly restless when the kitchen was shown. Just imagine it. It’s the biggest wedding to-do anywhere around. VIPs, and I mean V-I-Ps, are arriving to celebrate. History is throwin’ itself down. And you’re the cook. The cook. And you are asked to make, not just a pan of BBQ or hamburgers kept warm with a dirty Sterno, but platters of luxuriously decorated roasted game and perfectly whipped sugared meringues and piping hot silky soup in the purest white and gold china available. Phew. And as much as I love making wedding cakes, I still stress with that one simple task. Props to Mrs. Patmore and her staff. Lots of props.

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These crackers would have been made by Mrs. Patmore for guests and/or tea time. They’re not as crackerish as, say, a water cracker, but are a little more hearty, almost like a savory cookie. If you can remember back to when I was cooking a lot of Harry Potter recipes last year, you may remember the book The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. This recipe for Mrs. Patmore’s crackers is from The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, having the same publisher as the Harry Potter book, and is written by Emily Ansara Baines. It’s totally cool and gives you recipes for each course for a typical dinner, plus a few recipes that the downstairs staff may have eaten. It’s awesome. Exercise that library card, kids.

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mrs. patmore’s rosemary oat crackers
yield: 50-60 crackers
from Emily Ansara Baines’ The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook

ingredients
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp rosemary leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chopped
1/4 cup whole milk

create
Preheat the oven to 350º. Pulse oats in a food processor until chopped and fine. Add salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic powder, 1/4 cup flour, baking powder, and butter. Pulse until mixture turns into coarse bread crumbs. Pour in milk and pulse until the ingredients combine to form a dough, approximately 45 seconds.
With a rolling pin, roll dough until it’s 1/8-inch-thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut about 50-60 squares (or rounds). Place squares on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until crackers are lightly browned on the bottom. Transfer crackers to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before serving.
Note: My final product made a cracker that was hearty, but still a little fragile. I think these may be better for eating plain rather than using them to serve other items on, such as chicken salad or a heavy spread.

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And now a shoutout to my twin who did a ton of family history research to find out that (switch to rich person voice) our family is royalty. (Switch out of rich person voice) Just kidding, y’all. But ancestral history is so neat and allows you to see how you got where you are now, whether your family is English or from Germany or even if your ancestry stops at a dirt road in the middle of South Carolina. Whoops, I just turned into an old soul again. It actually happens a lot. I’m okay with that.

field pea soup

Y’all, today’s high is 73. Seventy-three. I think people around the world are saying, “Argh, curse you South Carolina!” as they put on their coats and go to work in the nine degree weather. I have to say that I envy you a little. I’m a wintery, bundle-up, build a fire girl at heart. There’s something about winter’s silence that is beautiful to me, snow gently placing itself on the trees, forcing you to bundle up and make one pot meals that you can eat while your hands and arms are still wrapped in a fleece blanket. Man! That sounds so glorious. That’s it. I’m making some soup.

The last time I was at the farmers’ market I bought a bag of dried peas from a lovely family who does their own organic farming. They were really sweet, knew everything about each veggie and how to prepare it. I even had to go back because I thought I had lost my phone (my goodness, you’d think it were a child) and they helped me follow my tracks around the market. Anyway, they were just good faces to put with the food I’d be bringing home with me. Nice people stories!

They recommended boiling the peas with a ham hock, but I’m a lame southerner and didn’t have one, so for my recipe I used, you guessed it, bacon. This hearty soup is also filled with potatoes, carrots, and, most importantly, those pretty little peas.

field pea soup
ingredients
3 strips minimally processed bacon
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a sprinkle of cayenne
3 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups dried field peas, soaked overnight, rinsed, and drained
2 yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into cubes
touch of cream

create
Soak the peas in a bowl of water overnight (this creates a shorter cooking time) and rinse well. Set aside.
In a large Dutch oven on medium heat, add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove bacon and allow to dry on paper towels. Chop into small pieces when cool enough to handle.
To the Dutch oven (which still holds the bacon grease) add the butter and melt. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and cook until onions are translucent and vegetables are soft. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne and cook for a minute longer. Sprinkle the flour in and stir constantly for a minute longer or until the flour is cooked, turning a blonde color. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the peas and cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 and 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Add the potatoes and reserved chopped bacon and simmer for 30 minutes longer until the potatoes are tender. You may need to cook longer (or shorter) depending on how soft you like your peas. Just before serving, stir in the cream. I think I used about 1/8 of a cup, just to make it a little richer.


Just so you know, I’m not complaining about our strange, unpredictable, “I’ll do what I want” weather. If God wants it like that, well, He is certainly better than I am. And I really do consider it a blessing to be raised in the good ol’ sunny south. Butttt…if we can fool that 73 into thinking he’s seven below because this soup is just so doggone cold-weather, wintry picturesque, well…then that’s just the bee’s knees.

mommy’s ranch dressing


I’m writing this post in the passenger seat of a vehicle that’s in a caravan on the way to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains for a celebration of Christmas. That has nothing to do with this post, really. Just wanted to let y’all know.

But aren’t y’all excited about Christmas? Geez. I am. I’m still a child, though. I guess I should finally admit to the world that I still watch cartoons and jump up and down when I’m excited and absolutely adore musicals, sing-a-longs, and anything else that has a singing character in it. The other night my dog slept on my side of the bed while I slept under the Christmas tree because it was too beautiful to leave. Charlie Brown makes me cry. The Grinch warms my heart. And y’all know baby Jesus was the cutest baby ever.

This recipe isn’t really a Christmas recipe by tradition, but you know what people serve at parties? Crudités (I can picture people jumping up from their chairs, “Crew dytes?” It’s really just a fancy French word for raw veggies and dip, pronounced crew-deh-tay). And you know what holiday hosts lots of parties? Christmas. So, there ya go.

I kind of grew up with my mom making this ranch dressing and every time she did I remember being so impressed. I guess when I was seven I thought there were trees that had ranch dressing siphoned out of them like maple trees. Who knows. But this stuff is delicious. She used to make this, like, 16 layer salad with tons of random things in it and it was topped with her ranch dressing. It was the bomb. Mother, if you are reading, make this salad? Hmm?

And, man, y’all know I love making stuff that’s chemical free for our little ol’ bodies.

mommy’s ranch dressing
ingredients
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
~1 cup mayonnaise
~1/2 cup sour cream
pinch of salt
pinch of white pepper
pinch of onion powder
buttermilk, to desired consistency

create
Mince the garlic clove and sprinkle a little salt over the top. Mash the garlic and salt together with a fork until well combined. Put in a bowl with the chopped parsley and chives.
Add the mayonnaise, sour cream, pepper, and a little more salt. Mix together.
Add as much buttermilk as you’d like. If you like your dressing thicker, just add a little. If you like it thin, add a little more. Keep tasting it along the way and adjust the flavors based on what you think it needs. Keep in the fridge in a jar (and remember that spices will get stronger as they sit).

That’s it! You’re done! The thing about this dressing is that everything in it is crazy adjustable to personal taste. Don’t like as much mayo? Psh, add less. Want more garlic? Add it. I almost listed the ingredients as “some of this” or “some of that.” You can even get crazy, people. Add hot sauce, or other spices, or whatever your heart fancies. And then, dadgummit, get some raw veggies and crudité it up!

Update on the trip: we’re currently driving up a mountain near Asheville, my husband’s ears are popping, my brother-in-law and his fiancé are sleeping, and we’re listening to the glorious sounds of a very She & Him Christmas. Really, was there ever a more beautiful place than the mountains? I’m in love with them. Thank you, Jesus, for a beautiful earth.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

no recipe post

Hello, friends. Heh…heh. I’m walking away slowly as I picture you all chasing me with flaming brooms and red-hot pokers and small boulders.

Where have I been?

Heh, well, you see, I’ve, well…it’s this way. AGAIN. My sister got married! Whoop whoop. And, y’all, I made seven cakes for the event. Yep! She wanted lots of different kinds. It took several days and, actually, not a lot of stress, but very little sleep. It was REALLY fun, baking for hours and hours and rushing the cakes around to random refrigerators in Columbia, and having my husband carry me around in the back of his parents’ SUV while I pretended to be Duff, carefully carrying cakes for someone more important than the president, listening to Christmas music and getting arm cramps. No, seriously, it WAS SUPER fun. I’ll have to post recipes and pictures later after I upload them all.

In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of my husband and me making Saturday morning breakfast.

beef pie with sweet potato topping

I will not start this post by blabbing on about my obsession with Gordon Ramsay. But…it may happen somewhere in the middle. Warning. Hehh. Eh.

This recipe of Gordon’s is one of my husband’s favorites. Every time I ask him what he wants for dinner, he says, “Sweet potato pie.”, which, to most people, means something sweet, a dessert, a pumpkin pie alternative. But I know him well enough to decode his husband language to mean Beef Pie with Sweet Potato Topping. Actually, to be honest, I made a few changes to Gordon’s recipe. Oh my gosh! No! Please put the knives down. I promise it’s not blasphemy. Let me explain. Some of the things in his recipe I simply just don’t have available right around me. Gordon’s dish is called Venison Pie with Sweet Potato topping from his book Healthy Appetite. Now, I’ve known some people from down here in the South who have had fathers and uncles and cousins (who are technically only friends) who hunt and freeze 20 freezers full of meat and they eat it all year long and try to give it away to their friends as party favors (“Ya want sum meat?”), but my family doesn’t really…hunt. So, for me, Gordon’s venison pie is easier as beef pie.

I’m going to list the recipe here in the post with my small little adaptations that I made. I have Gordon’s exact recipe, so if you’d like to see it or use it, I will gladly tell ya all about it. Oh? Is this where my blab about my Gordon Ramsay obsession comes in? Okay. Okay. I’ll be brief. Basically, Gordon is the king of kitchens. It’s not that he can simply cook (and if that’s all he did, it’d be enough), but he knows management, sanitation, every culinary skill or rule ever invented, and when something is slightly off or even slightly on. That’s all I will say, but because I said this, just know that you can trust any recipe he gives to the world.

Oh, and sweet potatoes are totally in season right now.

beef pie with sweet potato topping
beef pie:
ingredients
1 1/3 lb all natural beef for stew
sea salt and black pepper
3 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
3 to 4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 rosemary sprig, leaves only
2/3 cup red wine
2 3/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 lb red potatoes

sweet potato topping:
ingredients
1 lb sweet potatoes
2/3 lb red potatoes
3 tbsp butter
1/3 cup white cheddar cheese
2 egg yolks

create
Season the flour with salt and pepper and use to coat the beef. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large Dutch oven and brown the meat in batches until evenly browned, about 2 minutes each side. Transfer to a bowl.
Add the onions and carrots to the pot with a little more oil and stir over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes until colored. Add the rosemary and cook for a minute. Pour in the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze. Bubble until reduced right down.
Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Return the beef, with any juices released, to the pot. Partially cover with a lid and gently braise for 40 to 50 minutes until the beef is tender, giving the mixture a stir every once in a while.
About 15 minutes before the beef will be ready, slice the 1/2 lb of red potatoes into 1/2-inch thick circles (I peeled my potatoes, but you can certainly leave the skins on if you’d like). Season with salt and pepper and cook in a little olive oil in a wide, nonstick skillet until golden brown on both sides. Add to the beef pot to finish cooking. Once the potatoes and beef are tender, remove the pot from the heat and let cool slightly.

For the topping, peel all the potatoes and cut into 2-inch chunks. Cook in a pan of salted water for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and return to the pan. Mash potatoes with a potato masher. While still hot, add the butter, cheese, and salt and pepper. Mix well to combine. Cool slightly, then mix in the egg yolks.

Time out: Gordon’s recipe calls for double Gloucester cheese. The reason Gloucester cheese is Gloucester cheese is because it’s made with milk from cows who live in Gloucestershire, England. As you may assume, it’s not exactly around these parts very often. Double Gloucester typically has a stronger flavor than single and is usually larger. Have you ever seen those crazies chasin’ that huge roll of cheese down that hill? Yeah, that’s double Gloucester. Yeah, I’d chase that cheese too if I lived there. Check it out. (Y’all. They’re never gonna catch that cheese. Just sayin’.)

Heat the oven to 425º. Tip the beef mixture into a large pie dish or shallow cast-iron pan and top with the mash. Rough up the surface with a fork. Bake for 20 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the sides. Grind over some pepper and serve.

This is like shepherd’s pie to the max. The wine gives it a crazy, deep taste and everything else is like the comforting ingredients you already know in beef stew. So, enjoy the brilliantness of it, the autumness of it, and the curl-up-date-night-movie-night-warmingness of it.
I keep walking into the kitchen and picking the potatoes out of the casserole dish, looking over my shoulders to see if anyone is watching me. Pretty soon it’s going to be beef pie with no sort of topping. Y’all know where my heart lies.

dried cranberries

Autumn in South Carolina is a little bit of a tease. And also a bit humorous. As soon as the temperature drops below 70 degrees, people find it necessary to pull out the coats and big socks. Hey, I’m not doggin’ ya. I’m just as guilty. Last night, the husband and I slept with five blankets and a puppy. With the radiator on. And fleece pants. And wool socks. And I love it. Even if SC is teasing us with little spurts of cold, I’m okay with that. I can be patient. And I’ll continue wearing my scarves and boots in 65 degree weather.

So! Since it’s getting cooler (eh, here and there), I like to think of foods that remind me of this glorious time of year. Heck, I think of those foods all year long. My friends make fun of me because I have Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” on my running playlist. It’s a good song, people.

Off topic.

I really like cranberries. No, not the kind shaped like a can. I like their tartness, the tiny bit of sweetness you have to search for, and their beautiful color. And they fall perfectly into this time of cooler weather and holiday menu planning! Dried cranberries are great because you can throw them into lots of recipes for a little pucker and raisin-like chewiness. Now, please don’t hate me. The process of drying cranberries (without a dehydrator) is a little time consuming. It requires very little hands-on work, but drying fruits takes time. It’s worth it. You know your result is fresh and you know what ingredients are in it. No guessing!

dried cranberries
ingredients
12 oz fresh cranberries
2 quarts boiling water
1 tbsp natural cane sugar (optional)

create
Preheat oven to 170º. Gently rinse the cranberries and place in a heat-proof bowl or saucepan (this bowl is not over heat). Pour the boiling water over the cranberries. Let the cranberries sit until their skins pop. Some of my cranberry skins popped instantly, but some took a little longer. It should altogether only take a few minutes. You can see that the skins almost look split down the middle.

Drain the water and toss with the sugar. You can certainly leave the sugar out if you’d like. Lay the cranberries in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the oven and leave them there for at least 8 hours.

I’m going to be honest. I dried my cranberries in shifts. If you’re brave enough to leave your oven on all night, an overnight drying should do the trick. I tried to dry mine on my day off so I could be awake and available (not that you have to do anything to them while they’re in the oven, but, you know, safety and junk). Of course, I realized there were things I had to do, so I ended up drying mine at random times of the day and and at different intervals each time. Not the best method, but it worked. You can store them frozen to last longer and they don’t need to be thawed before baking or cooking with them.

Mmm.

I love you, Autumn.

And I love you, SC. Thank you for busting your pride a little bit and bending over to the cool nights and having to see your natives carve pumpkins and wear sweatshirts with palmetto trees on them. I’m sure you’ll get us back next summer.