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From VIP entrances in Versace to service entrances in my apron

  • Julie Anne Rhodes

Upstairs Friends, Downstairs Cooks

Facebook strikes again, I’ve been reconnected with my friend Debbie Arnold who I hadn’t seen in (gasp) several decades! When we first met, Debbie was on the British show Now Who Do You Do? It was eerie how she could channel the legend Marilyn Monroe , so I’d barely kissed her hello before pleading with her to do Marilyn for old time sake – she obliged without missing a beat.

Debbie Arnold, Julie Anne Rhodes, Angies Best, and Nick Rhodes

Then and now with Debbie Arnold

Back in the day, Nick and I persuaded Debbie to record the message on our answering machine. Unfortunately, our architect got such a thrill out of hearing Marilyn Monroe answer our phone, he would deliberately ring first thing every morning (knowing full well Nick and I were not “morning people”) just so he could “wake to Marilyn’s voice”. It woke us too. As you might imagine, this became quite tiresome, so sleep deprivation eventually forced us to erase Marilyn.

Leslie Nicol, Julie Anne Rhodes, and Debbie Arnold

Lunch at Il Pastaio

Debbie brought along Lesley Nicol and her divine husband Da’aboth to lunch. What a thrill for an actress turned cook to meet the actress who plays the cook on Downton Abbey! Mrs. Patmore could probably rival Gordon Ramsey’s television fame these days, since Downton Abbey has won 10 Emmy’s, 2 Golden Globes, and enjoys a wildly successful international audience including 8.2 million loyal viewers in the United States alone.

Leslie Nicol as Mrs. Patmore

Mrs. Patmore – her television fame could rival Gordon Ramsey’s

So, you could imagine my astonishment when Lesley shared that she doesn’t cook! She does a damn good job of fooling everyone – I’ve been watching all of the reruns of seasons 2 and 3 gearing up for Sunday night’s season 4 premiere (yes, we are 3 months behind all you Brits – I’ve been extremely disciplined not to cheat), and this cook is convinced. Lesley deftly captures the the pressure beneath Mrs. Patmore’s gruffly reprimanding behavior while exposing just enough softness in the center to endear her to us all. She is “solely responsible for the food in that house. If you go to dinner at Downton, it’s got to be the best you’ve ever had. Sometimes people are harsh because they need things to be right.” I can certainly relate!

Cooking for Mrs. Patmore

Cooking for Mrs. Patmore

I always feel I must go all out, or not entertain at all. Still in holiday mode, I decided to invite my new friends for dinner last weekend, but what does one serve to television’s most famous cook? I decided upon one last decadent blow-out before getting back on track in the New Year.


Grape Truffles

Roasted Butternut Squash & Pear Soup

Apricot Lamb Chops Potatoes Anna Roast Asparagus

Chocolate Peppermint Stick Ice Cream Pie

I have a confession to make – I’m such an enormous Downton Abbey fan that I switched television providers last year just for that one show. My daughter’s boyfriend found that so amusing he bought me the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook last Christmas, so of course I took advantage of the opportunity to ask Lesley to sign my copy at the dinner party.

Official friends and an unofficial cookbook

Official friends and an unofficial cookbook

I’m told there will be an official Downton Abbey cookbook coming out soon. We shared giggles over the fact the non-cooking actress was asked to contribute a recipe. Too bad we didn’t know each other sooner, because I would have been more than happy to contribute the festive pork roast recipe below. Do you think it is worthy of Mrs. Patmore and the Grantham family?

Apricot-Pecan Stuffed Pork Roast with Apricot Glaze

Apricot-Pecan Stuffed Pork Roast with Apricot Glaze

Since pecans are indigenous to North America as opposed to Great Britain, perhaps Mrs. Levinson brought the family some as a gift on one of her visits from America? Well, anything is possible! The sweet and savory stuffing with just a hint of crunchy texture dresses up this relatively inexpensive cut of meat quite elegantly for any special occasion. Once sliced, it makes a beautiful presentation as well.

Servings: 4


3 tablespoons olive oil, divided 1 large shallot, minced 3 rashers bacon, finely chopped 2/3 cup dried apricots, chopped 1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1 teaspoon rubbed sage 2 cups day old white bread, cubed 1 egg, beaten 2 tablespoons butter Salt and pepper to taste 3 tablespoons Brandy (optional) 1/2 – 1 cup chicken broth, plus more if needed 1 (3 pound) pork loin roast, roll cut (see note) ½ cup apricot preserves 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1 clove garlic, minced 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce


1). Preheat oven to 375° F.

2). In a large skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and bacon, cook until shallot softens, 5-6 minutes. Add apricots, pecans, thyme and sage. Cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the bread, egg, butter and salt and pepper. Add the Brandy and chicken broth gradually until everything is moistened. Allow stuffing to cool completely.

3). Fat side down on the table (meat side up) spoon the stuffing down the center of the pork, horizontally, and spread evenly until 1/2 inch from edges all the way around. Roll the pork over the stuffing, jelly roll style, ending with the seam down and fat side up. Lightly score the fat with a sharp knife, in a diamond pattern. Tightly tie the pork roast up with butcher’s twine, season it with more salt and pepper.

4). Heat remaining oil in a large (oven proof) skillet over medium heat on the stovetop. Sear the meat to seal in juices and get some color on the roast. Transfer pan with roast to the preheated oven for about 90 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center reads 160° F. Remove from oven (using pot holders – handle will be hot) to a carving board, and let rest 15-20 minutes tented loosely with foil to keep heat in.

5). Meanwhile, while meat is roasting whisk together the apricot preserves, Dijon, garlic, soy and Worcestershire sauces in a small bowl; set aside.

6). Once meat is transferred to the carving board, add the preserve mixture to the hot pan, scrapping up any brown gooey bits from the bottom of the pan.

7). Carefully slice the loin, widthwise, into 1/2 inch thick slices.

Serving Suggestions:

Serve pork hot, drizzled with Apricot Glaze, (with extra on the side) accompanied by Maple Glazed Brussels Sprout & Pancetta Hash and Smashed Carrots Tinged with Orange & Herbs.


Ask your butcher to roll cut the pork loin for you. Otherwise, click on this link to see how to do it yourself.

PS: Here’s a sneak peak at the “kitchen nightmares” in store for Mrs. Patmore as she grapples with modern day inventions for the kitchen and frets over how they might one day replace her… don’t forget to tune into PBS at 9PM EST on Sunday!

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