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This could be you

Hey, DA fans! Want to pretend to be Lady Mary or Matthew for a day? Women’s World magazine is holding a drawing that will allow two lucky winners to wing their way to the UK and visit Highclere Castle, the lovely locale that plays Downton in the series.

The Prize: a trip for two to England, including round-trip airfare from New York to London, admission to Highclere Castle, hotel, a signed copy of While We Were Watching Downton by Wendy Wax and a copy of Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by the castle’s current chatelaine, the Coutness of Carnarvon.

To Enter: Click here and enter your e-mail address before 27 May. Yes, it is seriously that easy. For the full official rules, click here.

Good luck!

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Lady Mary in Downton Abbey Season 4, photo by Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECEOf course Downton’s coming back for another season–not even Matthew can kill of this juggernaut. And now we get to watch Mary grieve, doesn’t that sound fun? As for whether Robert will wake up and become an actual human being again, or Edith will go through with becoming her editor’s mistress we can only speculate. Here’s what we know to expect:

Hotness. This guy and this guy have been cast as aristocrats visiting the house. And this guy’s playing a valet. I think Thomas will be pleased. The first man is Tom Cullen, recently seen in World Without End, here playing Lord Gillingham, an old family friend who shows up for a house party. Guy number two is Julian Ovenden, playing Charles Blake, an aristocrat. Nigel Harman plays Green, a valet, presumably serving one of these visiting gentlemen.

Lots more aristocrats. In addition to Lord G, we’ll have some friends of the Dowager’s stopping by: The Duchess of Yeovil, played by Joanne David (aka, Lizzy’s nice aunt from Pride and Prejudice) and Lady Shackleton, played by Dame Harriet Walter, whom I rather love, so that brings me joy.

Music. New Zealand-born soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will play a guest who sings in the house.

Diversity. Allegedly, a casting call has gone out for a black musician to join the cast. Does this mean that Edith will be venturing back into some of London’s jazz clubs, perhaps accompanied by Rose?

Shirley MacLaine. Yes, apparently she’ll be back for the season finale, and I think we can assume it won’t be for any milestone event in poor Edith’s life.

What I Hope to See

More Edith. You know I love her, and frankly, the idea of watching sad Mary all season bores me to tears. Let’s let Edith loose in 1920’s London and see what happens. She actually has a somewhat compelling character arc here, so why not use that?

A believable story for Branson. Speaking of character arcs–let’s get Branson one that makes sense. Although his handling of Sybil’s tragic death last season was interesting, his story went all over the place, seeing him ricochet between upstairs and downstairs (in not terribly believable ways), flirt with a disposable housemaid, and take over the running of the estate. He also ditched his republican ‘I hate the aristocracy’ principles mighty quickly and settled in rather well in the big house. Can we give him something to do that really makes sense, please? He’s a good actor–he can handle it.

Better writing. Dear God there’s been some awful writing on this show. Just AWFUL. It’s clear that Julian Fellowes can handle a story that takes place within a constrained period of time (like, say a weekend, a la Gosford Park), but he has no idea how to properly draw a story out so the pacing and character development make sense. Get this man some help so we don’t have to listen to likes like: ‘I feel like I just swallowed a box of fireworks.’ Ugh.

What do you think, readers? Are you excited about the upcoming developments? What are your hopes for season 4 (or have you given up on the show altogether)?

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05015_054_scottish shortbread_3139.jpg.470x466_q85_crop-smartThe gang’s heading to Scotland (which made perfect sense in an episode that ran as a Christmas special in the UK)! I could direct you to a traditional haggis, neeps, and tatties, but I’m pretty sure I’d lose about half my viewership if I did. Instead, let’s go back to dessert—delicious, delicious shortbread, all crumbly and buttery. Want to take it up a notch? Add a bit of jam. Soooo good. My decision to run shortbread here will probably make sense outright; the jam, well, that’ll probably make a bit more sense towards the end of the episode. It’ll almost certainly make more sense if you read my recap of it. For now, let’s just say that these two things go really well together and leave it at that.

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sea bass in champagne sauce by Jim FrancoThere’s a lot going on at Downton these days, but one of the more intriguing plotlines is the slow-motion trainwreck that is Thomas’s crush on Jimmy. I never thought I’d say this, but oh, Thomas, you poor man. O’Brien has you in her sights and she’s going to squash you like a bug. And honestly, did the whole Oscar Wilde trial (which would have all gone down within your lifetime) teach you nothing?

It’s impossible (for me, at least) to watch this without thinking of the great wit and writer, so this week’s recipe is inspired by him. Unsurprisingly, his favourite tipple was champagne—he drank it constantly, but I’ve already done champagne cocktail, so let’s go a different route, shall we? Champagne is more than just a delicious drink; the Edwardians loved using it in sauces, like this one. It’s also said to be an aphrodisiac, so it’s perfect for Valentine’s Day! Surprise your sweetie with this delicious, sophisticated dish.

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Image: PublixApparently, in Isobel’s mind, the best way to distract a mother from the grief of losing a child is to have her over for lunch. And, oddly, she turns out to be right, but mostly because Robert shows up to make a scene and look like a intolerant jerk and a buffoon yet again. Though he’s enraged by the idea of his wife, daughters, and mother being served luncheon by a (gasp!) former prostitute, the ladies all take one look at the pudding and decide to stay. I’ve never had a Charlotte Rousse, but if the picture’s anything to go by, I don’t blame them one bit.

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Brownies-Image from cocomaleLook, Sybil’s having her baby. It’s tense; you’re gonna want some chocolate, just trust me on this one. And these are possibly the greatest chocolate brownies I’ve ever encountered in my entire life. Rich, fudgy, so, so good. Bake up a plate and have it on hand.

Best Damn Brownies

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients

1 stick (8 T) butter

4 oz bittersweet chocolate

2 eggs

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 c dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 c flour

1/4 c chopped walnuts, pecans, or chocolate chips (optional)

Procedure

Butter an 8″ x 8″ baking pan and line with buttered parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the bittersweet chocolate together with the butter. Let cool slightly. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl, and whisk in teh salt, sugars, and vanilla.

Whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Fold in flour until just combined. Stir in nuts or chocolate chips if using. Pour batter into the prepared ban and bake 35-40 minutes, until shiny and beginning to crack. Cool in pan on a rack, slice and serve.

1 tsp vanilla

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Image: http://www.planetanya.comThis recipe will probably make a bit more sense after you’ve seen the episode, but even beforehand, it’s delish, and perfect for snacking on during a cold day (which it certainly is here in Edinburgh!). Perfect for getting your strength back after you’ve been forced to flee your home and ideal for covering up the toast your newfangled electric toaster just burned.

Rarebit, unsurprisingly, was originally known as Welsh Rabbit, and the first recorded use of the term dates back to 1725. The origin of the name is unclear–it may well have been a way of mocking the Welsh, who were, by and large, fairly poor back then and relied more on cheese than on meat for their protein. By the end of the century, the term had been corrupted to the now more commonly used rarebit.

As is the case with most former peasant food, rarebit’s been considerably tarted up in recent years, with some chefs adding fish, meats, and poached eggs to the classic cheese on toast. Feel free to go nuts with this–it does lend itself well to being played with. I’d recommend a bit of ham or bacon to make this a sort of croque madame, but let your imagination run wild!

Welsh Rarebit

Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe

Ingredients

300ml whole milk
75g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
200ml beer (good traditional ale, not cheap lager)
1 good tsp wholegrain mustard
75g medium-strong cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large slices wholemeal bread

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat, stir in the flour to make a roux and cook gently for two to three minutes. Meanwhile, gently heat the milk. ­Gradually add the milk to the roux, followed by the beer, stirring all the time. Don’t worry if it fizzes up; the bubbles soon disappear. When the sauce is thick and smooth, let it cook for a minute or two longer, then add the mustard, ­cheddar and plenty of black pepper. Taste, add salt, if you think it needs it.

Toast the bread. Spread the cheesy mixture on top and place under a hot grill until bubbling and golden. Serve straight away.

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