Category: Books (Page 2 of 3)

Life Below Stairs Answered Many Of My Questions About Downton Abbey

I haven’t seen very many episodes of Downton Abbey, but the episodes that I did watch left me curious about life during the Edwardian era. When a topic peaks my curiosity, I obsessively search for information and learn as much as I can. I spent many an hour Googling questions such as, “How accurate is Downton Abbey” and “What was life really like for Edwardian servants.” When I found the little book Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants at our libraryI eagerly checked it out.

This book truly is little. Online reviews critique it for not being very thorough, not going into enough detail, and lacking photos. While I can’t really argue with these criticisms, I found this a quick and interesting read. I knew absolutely nothing about life during the Victorian, Edwardian, and post-Edwardian eras and enjoyed reading an overview of the basics. It’s continued to pique my curiosity on the subject, though. I just requested Margaret Powell’s memoir Below Stairs detailing her experiences as a kitchen maid and cook.

Here are some of the most interesting things I learned from reading Life Below Stairs:

Young women who wanted to enter maid service spent years saving for their first uniforms. A “print dress, a black dress and several white aprons” could cost two years’ wage (p. 61). Sometimes families bought their staff fabric each year for a new uniform, but the servant had to either sew an outfit on their own time or pay someone else from their meager wages (p. 67).

Servants in the Victorian period typically worked 16-hour days, yet received one afternoon off a week to attend church. By the 1900’s, households also gave their servants an afternoon and evening off each month. However, this free time coincided with completing their duties after lunch and having to return by dinner or a nine p.m. curfew. Some people saved up for years to return home for a day. In the early 20th century, it was normal to receive a week-long paid holiday, and two weeks after WWI. Because this rare time-off was so precious, taking it away from employees was a common punishment (p. 85).

Lady’s Maids were like fashion consultants and skilled hair dressers. They prided themselves in their signature recipes for hair washes, pomades, boot polish, and face cream. Valets offered their signature boot polishes (p. 30).

The Butler got the least amount of sleep. He held the highest position on the Edwardian servant tree, ranking above the female housekeeper. Sure, he got paid a higher salary than the other staff and a more generous beer allowance. He got to sample the family’s food and received occasional tips (p. 31), but had the worst schedule. The book outlines the schedule of a real man who served as a butler in 1893: His day started before 7: a.m. and he literally had to make himself available until his master decided to go to bed. Dinner started at seven p.m. followed by evening tea at 9:30 p.m. He locked up the house and put out the fire at 1 a.m.

Laundry was a seven-day process, beginning with soaking the clothes on Monday, scrubbing them on Tuesday, hanging them on Wednesday, starching and ironing on Thursday and Friday, and folding on Saturday (p. 100-101).

Dinner parties consisted of up to ten courses and occurred once-twice per week (p. 112). The really wealthy households offered guests three choices for some of the courses and wine pairings.

Land Stewards lived in their own houses on the property and often had families (p. 26). For many female servants, though, marriage was the only social acceptable exit.

More affluent households employed two different types of cooks: A Professed Cook who prepared fine dining meals and Plain Cooks who prepared day-to-day meals and those for staff (p. 36).

Fancy dinner parties were a big ordeal. Often times, the staff was instructed to prepare so much food that leftovers still got thrown away, even when given to the staff (p. 112). It was the role of the footman to greet guests at dinner parties. He would announce each guest’s arrival to the host and hostess who waited in a separate drawing room (p. 117).

In the early 1900’s, a woman named Rosa Lewis rose from a servant to a successful caterer and hotel owner with the help of her cooking skills (p. 127). The book lists a recipe for her Quail and Beef Pudding. All you need is 12 quail breasts, “game sauce” and some beef suet pastry.

I’ve recently set a goal to read more and spend less time online. So far, I’ve accomplished the “read more” part. It seems like many of you share my enthusiasm for food-related literature. I love talking books. This might make me seem like a dinosaur, but I still haven’t taken the e-reader plunge. I like holding paper books and flipping through them, even though they’re a pain to move. It’s not that I don’t want to purchase books, but the truth is that I read so quickly that we don’t have the budget or the space to purchase everything I read.

Do you have any recommendations for books that might thrill a Downton Abbey enthusiast? How do you feel about e-readers? 

Wini Moranville’s Pork Meatballs With Dijon Cream Sauce Are Too Good

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Wini Moranville & was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wini’s Pork Meatballs With Dijon Cream Sauce are too good, it’s true.

Jake and I know we’ve hit the dinner jackpot when we battle over leftovers. In this case, Jake won.

Wini is a writer, Des Moines Register columnist, and blogger who wrote French Cookbook La Chez Bonne Femme and The Braiser Cookbook. Last fall, I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Iowa Food & Lifestyle Blogger gathering in Iowa City. When she generously offered to let us enjoy her newest cookbook and choose a recipe to share, I jumped at the opportunity.

Braiser Cookbook Cover

The Braiser Cookbook is an e-book available on Amazon and it’s a steal at $2.99 (as of 10/18/14). I appreciate how all of the recipes are both elegant and approachable for the home cook. There really isn’t a recipe in this book that I’m too intimidated to try in my own kitchen. And guess what? I don’t even own a braiser. All of these recipes can be prepared at home without a braiser, and Wini provides advice for adapting them accordingly.

Jake and I have experienced a busier than any other in recent memory. We’re out-of-town more weekends than we’re home and crave warm, homecooked food after work. I gravitated towards Wini’s meat balls recipe because they were simple to prepare on a weeknight. The Baked Cabbage With Bacon and Apples she suggested as a side dish was also a breeze to prepare, but you’ll have to get her book for that recipe. I can’t be giving away all of Wini’s secrets.

The meatballs are actually made without any breading or filler. I was surprised by how moist and tender they tasted, since I’ve never prepared a ground meat dish without bread crumbs or oatmeal. They are delicate so Wini recommends flipping them gently with a large tablespoon. The sauce is rich with cream, but not overly so, as it is reduced with white wine and tangy mustard. Plus, the full cup of parsley adds a bright note. I bought ground pork at my favorite butcher shop Louie’s Custom Meats in Clear Lake, Iowa. It’s worth the drive from Mason City.

I only took one photo of these meatballs after we had filled our plates. We enjoyed our dinner so much that there was just no time to pause for photos. “I’ll take more tomorrow, when the lighting’s better,” I swore. But alas, when I came home from work they were gone. I could hardly blame Jake, though, because if I had beaten him home from work, I would have eaten them too. The lesson we learned from this dish is that if you really love something don’t ever let it go.

For more photos, check out In The Kitchen With Jenny’s post.

Pork Meat Balls With Dijon Cream Sauce
This recipe is a collaboration between Wini Moranville & Chef David Baruthio of Baru 66 in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Wini's Pork Meatballs text

1-1/2 pounds ground pork
1 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 egg
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1-1/2 cups heavy cream


  1. In a bowl, mix together the pork, parsley, egg, garlic, salt & pepper. Go easy on the salt because the mustard is salty and tangy. I added about 1/2 teaspoon. Shape into about 12 meatballs.
  2. Heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a 3 1/2 quart braiser until the oil shimmers. I used a large saucepan with deep sides and a lid.
  3. Add the meatballs to the hot oil and cook until lightly browned. Flip and cook the other side of the meatballs until they are also lightly browned. This should take about six minutes total.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook the meatballs, turning occasionally until they are browned on each side.
  5. Remove meatballs from pan and drain off all of the oil except for a sheen.
  6. Increase temperature to medium
  7. Cook onions until tender but not brown.
  8. Add the wine and cook, stirring up the loose bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce wine to about 1/4 cup which should take about three minutes.
  9. Whisk in the mustard. Add heavy cream and cook, stirring until the sauce is reduced to about one cup.
  10. Return meatballs to pan and simmer until they are cooked through (160℉).
  11. Per Wini’s recommendation, I served the meatballs with her Baked Cabbage With Bacon & Apples. It’s also easy to whip together. Let the cabbage bake while you cook the meatballs. I like to add splashes of red wine vinegar for some tang.

Connect With Wini:
Facebook for DSM Food Lovers: All Things Food DSM – Wini Moranville
Facebook for France Lovers: Chez Bonne Femme
Twitter: @winimoranville

Becoming The Grown-Up Assistant With Knife: Fish Sticks!

Earlier this summer I reunited with my first, three cookbooks.


It took me some time and internet research to figure out their titles before I could locate them on Amazon.

I remember pouring over these books as a child. Most especially, the spiral-bound Kids Cooking: A Slightly Messy Manual that came with a plastic set of measuring spoons in primary colors. The books’ recipes aren’t anything mind-blowing for an adult who cooks a lot, but they are priceless for the memories.

Growing-up, my parents weren’t too keen on me experimenting in the kitchen, aside from baking projects. However, I do remember trying a few recipes from Kids Cooking such as the Alphabetter Soup and Frosted Chocolate Conecakes. I made mental checklists of recipes that I wanted to try someday when I had my own kitchen and, now, here I am!

One of these recipes was Home-Baked Fish Sticks from Kids Cooking.


The legend goes that my mom choked on a fish bone when she was a child which led to her lifelong disdain of all things fish. Therefore, we never ever ate fish at home because the smell would make her feel ill. I grew up thinking I hated fish, too, even though I was fascinated by seafood. It was like a little hate crush.

Someone else’s family vacation snapped me out of my aversion to fish. I traveled with my friend’s family to Livingston, Montana in grade school and tried all kinds of new foods on our epic road trip west. I can still taste my first bone-in pork chop, chicken-fried steak, jumbo prawns sizzled in fondue oil, and crispy, fried shrimp nearly twenty years later.

After tasting that first bite of fried shrimp, I remember realizing, “Well, I guess I do like seafood,” and then I never turned back.

My first childhood cookbook meal was a smash.

Fish Meal Salad

I prepared cucumber-tomato-onion salad with “Snappy Dressing” from Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake! to accompany my Home-Baked Fish Sticks and tartar sauce. Of course, I fiddled with the recipes.

For example, I added a step by dredging the fish in seasoned flour before dipping it in eggwash and bread crumbs. I may have added some garlic to Encyclopedia Brown’s snappy balsamic vinaigrette and chopped onion to the tartar sauce. Afterall, I am my own grown-up with a sharp knife now.

Kids Cooking Collage

Someday when Jake and I have children, I hope we can enjoy these cookbooks together. We’ll be ready to accept our new roles as their grown-up kitchen assistants.

My Take On Oven-Baked Fish Sticks
Kids Cooking’s method of drizzling melted butter over the panko-breaded fish sticks before baking produces a crispy, satisfying coating. While this is not fried fish, it definitely scratched my itch. 

1 lb of white fish such as cod, halibut or tilapia
1/2 cup flour (or enough to lightly dredge the fish) seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder
2 eggs, beaten into eggwash
1 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (add more if you run low or they become too mushy with eggwash)
1/4 cup butter, melted
Finishing salt


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400℉.
  2. Set up breading station by placing the seasoned flour, eggwash and panko in their own wide, shallow dishes.
  3. Cut fish fillets into manageable strips. I cut the tilapia fillets in half.
  4. Lightly dredge the fish in seasoned flour, shaking off the excess.
  5. Dip the dredged fish into the eggwash. Allow the excess to drip off.
  6. Coat the fish in bread crumbs. Turn and press the fillets until they are completely breaded.
  7. Place breaded fish in a single layer on a baking sheet that is lightly greased or covered in parchment paper.
  8. Drizzle each fillet with as much melted butter as you’d like.
  9. Optional: Sprinkle each fillet with a little sweet or smoked paprika for extra color and flavor.
  10. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown and cooked-through.
  11. Sprinkle with sea salt immediately after removing from oven.
  12. Serve with tartar sauce and fresh lemon wedges. I made my tartar sauce by mixing mayonnaise with lemon juice, minced dill pickle, minced onion, pickle juice, salt and sugar, to taste.

Three Recipes I Like & My Childhood Cookbooks

Summer is making me want to cook and bake everything.

I love the sunshine and even the thunderstorms. I like opening my windows in the morning and look forward to going to our little farmers market each week. All of these things feel make me feel energized about trying new recipes. Here are several I’ve tried recently that turned out well.

Pulled Pork in the Crock-Pot
I’m sheepish to admit that I’ve never made pulled pork. Growing up, my mom slow-cooked boneless country pork ribs with barbecue sauce. I think we ate it so often that I haven’t wanted to make it as an adult.

Three things inspired my pulled pork endeavor: Eating a fantastic pulled pork meal from Pimento Jamaican Kitchen located in the food court of the Burnsville Mall, reading Beth’s Slightly Savory Saturday post about pulled pork, and winning an Iowan pork prize pack from Cristen’s blog Food & Swine.

I followed Christine Gallary’s recipe for Easy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork from it turned out perfectly.

Pulled Pork Collage.jpg

Pull-apart tender, moist and flavorful. Plus, you are left with wonderful au jus after you de-fat and strain the juices. We enjoyed our pork with this homemade coleslaw on either buns or steamed rice.

Taste of Beirut’s Recipe for Lebanese Meat Pies (Sfeeha)
I love Lebanese food and miss the little triangle pies I bought at Emily’s Lebanese Deli in NE Minneapolis. These beef pies aren’t as pretty as Joumana’s but they taste so good.

Meat Pies

I followed her recipe as written, except that I substituted balsamic vinegar for pomegranate molasses and minced red jalapeno for red pepper paste. You could always substitute slivered almonds for pine nuts and don’t forget to buy lean meat, otherwise, the fat will turn into molten lava while they bake and drip.

We like dipping our pies in greek-style yogurt.

Rhubarb Custard Meringue Dessert
I’m kind of obsessed with Rhubarb. I tried bake Aunt Emma’s Rhubarb Custard Dessert (from the Land O’Lakes website) in my tart and pie pans.

rhubarb tart
The crust stuck to the pans and one of meringues started weeping, but the dessert tasted fantastic. If I were to make this again, I’d bake it in a regular baking dish lined with parchment paper or blind-bake homemade pie crust for the tart and pie pans.

Jake’s never tried a variation of this dessert before and declared it one of his favorites, weepy meringue and crumbled crust and all.

My First Three Cookbooks
Do you remember your first cookbooks? Mine were Enclyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake, Alpha-Bakery by General Mills & Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual.

My original books were long since misplaced, so I ordered my own copies again. The recipes aren’t the most exotic, but many of my friends consider dishes like Alpha Bakery’s banana bread and Kids’ Cooking’s Disgustingly Rich Brownies classic favorites. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, right? Someday, I’ll share them with my kids.

As I’ve alluded to earlier, my parents were hesitant to let me experiment in the kitchen, so I didn’t prepare many of these recipes. It’s time for some cooking catharsis.

Cookbook Collage.jpg

Catharsis never tasted so chocolatey.

Have you tried any great recipes lately? What were your first cookbooks? 

My Favorite Food Moments in Children’s Literature

It’s no secret that I love books.

Books, writing and food are my first loves. The books that I got lost in as a child have always stuck with me as an adult. I especially remember the books that involved food imagery. They fed my imagination and made me incredibly curious about foods such as salt pork and bread fruit.

Here are some of my favorite food moments from some of my favorite childhood books:

Pippi Goes on Board
Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Longstocking lives in a dilapidated home by herself. Neighborhood children befriend Pippi and attempt to teach her how to be a “proper” young lady.

In this book, her distant, wealthy pirate father leaves her copious amounts of gold that she uses to buy 72 pounds of candy including chocolate cigarettes and licorice boats.

Then, in Pippi in the South Seas, the children roast breadfruit. I was stunned to learn this is a real fruit and have yet to try it.

Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Maude Heart Lovelace
I treasured these books, re-reading them countless times. When Betsy, Tacy and Tib’s parents leave them home alone, they make everything pudding with cocoa, vinegar, oil, lard, onion, citron, rice, etc. My childhood friend and I once had a similar adventure in which we tried to make an everything bread. We cracked whole eggs, eggshell and all, into our batter and tried to eat it. Of course, it was terrible and we learned why nobody eats eggshell.

We also spent a morning making everything pancakes and emptied the contents of my mom’s spice cabinet into our batter including dried mustard, sugar, and curry. Our attempts were as nauseating as Betsy, Tacy, and Tib’s everything pudding.

The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
In this book, Edmund betrays his siblings for the White Witch’s Turkish Delight.

This is a real sweet and I bought my first box of Turkish Delight at Holy Land Deli in Minneapolis. I’ll admit that I was disappointed in my first taste. It’s not that I thought this confection tasted bad, but I didn’t like it so much that I’d consider betraying an allegorical Christ figure to get some.

Little House of the Prairie series, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I loved Wilder’s descriptions of pioneer salt pork and maple syrup that solidified into candy when dripped onto fresh snow. Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate featured Bragg Family Farm in East Montpelier, VT where they serve “sugar on snow” with boiled-condensed maple syrup. You can also make your own.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Beverly Cleary

I remember sympathizing with Ramona, when her mother sneaks tongue onto the dinner table. Ramona and Beezus are disgusted when they scrape the gravy off of their meat slices and notice taste buds described as “yucky, little, small and tiny bumps.”  As punishment, their parents assign them to cook dinner. Ramona and Beezus cook chicken thighs and cornbread, improvising with banana yogurt and chili powder.

The Phantom Tollbooth
, Norton Juster

Imagine my surprise when I found out this book was not just a fairy tale, but a tool to teach children wordplay and mathematical concepts. I love when Milo goes to the market’s and munches on letters from the “DO IT YOURSELF” letter vendor. A is “quite sweet and delicious.”  Z is “dry and sawdusty.”  C is crip and I is “icy and refreshing.”

Sideways Stories From Wayside School, Louis Sachar
I have so many favorite food descriptions from this book. Joy steals classmate’s lovelier bagged lunches. Mrs. Jewels creates Maurecia-flavored ice cream. Miss Mush serves potato salad and mushroom surprise.

Ozma of Oz, L. Frank Baum
Did you know that there is an entire series devoted to the land of Oz? In this book, Dorothy finds a lunch-box tree. Baum describes the lunch boxes as “nicely wrapped in white papers was a ham sandwich, a piece of sponge-cake, a pickle, a slice of new cheese and an apple.”

Who wouldn’t love to grow a lunch box tree?

Magical Melons: More Stories About Caddie Woodlawn
Carolyn Ryrie Brink

Despite the title, Magical Melons don’t refer to anything smutty. They refer to the watermelons Caddie’s father buried in the hay loft for storage. Caddie and her cousins find the watermelons and eat them all, imagining they were left there by magical means.

I also remember enjoying the chapter in which Caddie and her sister spend an evening at Mrs. Nightengale’s house and eat cold chicken and ham for dinner. Caddie is a girl after my own heart.  If someone offers you two food options, you try a little of both.

Do you have any favorite food moments from your favorite childhood books? 

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2024 Jeni Eats

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Visit Us
Follow Me