When Hazel Bellamy, bride of the handsome but petulant James Bellamy, has the family cook, Mrs. Bridges, prepare cottage pie for upstairs lunch, James reacts like a spoiled child. To eat such a humble dish is beneath his station. He storms from the table.
I'm speaking, of course, about the classic BBC drama "Upstairs Downstairs," which aired in the 1970s. It has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the wake of the surprising popularity of "Downton Abbey." As fans waited a year for Season 3 — it finally began on Sunday — many have watched or re-watched "Upstairs Downstairs," noting parallels, comparing fashions, choosing favorite characters and basically delighting in the era. Edwardian cocktail party, anyone?
That cottage pie is downstairs food, like the shepherd's pie shared by the "Downton Abbey" staff in Season 2. Both are rustic, humble and thrifty, frequently made with leftovers. (For recipes for traditional and contemporary cottage pie and shepherd's pie from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.)
Upstairs food is refined, with more expensive cuts of meat, elaborate sauces, elegant soups and ingredients — caviar, oysters, crab and saddle of lamb, for example — that would never be served below stairs. When it comes to casual fare upstairs, think sandwiches, like the platterful Mrs. Padmore, the abbey's cook, sends up to Matthew during a late-night visit with Lady Mary.
I'm taking inspiration from those sandwiches, which seem the perfect food to serve during this Sunday's episode. And although we don't dress for dinner these days, I'm dressing for "Downton Abbey." And my silver goblets are already polished.
This recipe is extremely flexible. If you don't have or don't like crab, use chopped bay shrimp. Replace the cream cheese with creme fraiche, use radishes instead of cucumbers, and shredded radish greens if you don't have watercress.
Some Simple Evening Sandwiches
Serves 2 to 3, easily doubled