Sunday, 29 November 2009

Christmas is coming...

...and we have a Christmas tree! This is the first Christmas tree we've had since we got married (you may all say "awww" now) so we really splashed out and bought the decorations from Walmart. Seriously though, it is a responsibility. I'm pretty sure many of my parents' Christmas decorations date from the early days of their marriage; it was a humbling feeling to be sizing up baubles with the knowledge that we might well be digging those very same baubles out of their dusty box in the attic in 30 years time. Nothing does longevity like a Christmas ornament.

In which case, of course, we also need some dusty photos to dig out along with the decorations, to show the very first time they were used. Thus we have Graham decorating the tree, and Martha decorating the mantelpiece. The ones of Graham with baubles dangling from his ears and Martha wrapped in tinsel will not be appearing on this blog. Some things should not be shown to future generations (or present ones for that matter).




I hope you agree that the finished product is pretty sweet.


It's a little early to say Merry Christmas, but today is the first Sunday in Advent. So a blessed Advent to you all.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Boozy chocolate cakes

Over the last few years I have been involved in testing the idea that you can put virtually anything in a chocolate cake. Prunes, cinnamon, ginger, even mashed potato. (The mashed potato one is really good, actually, but involves about six separate bowls. Definitely a special-occasion recipe.)

Thus far, however, I had never entered the realm of alcoholic chocolate cakes. A recipe in Food & Wine magazine and a half-bottle of leftover wine in the fridge changed all that. I present to you Chocolate-Red Wine Cake, with apologies to my UK readers for the American measures. 1 cup is 8 fluid ounces. Use a measuring jug.

Chocolate-Red Wine Cake2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups dry red wine

Preheat oven to 350F / 180C. Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan (I used a 9" springform tin with a ring insert).
Beat the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and beat until incorporated. Ad vanilla and mix for 2 minutes longer.
Sieve together the flour, cocoa powder, soda and salt. Alternately fold in the dry ingredients and the wine, until just incorporated.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake 45 min until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 min, then turn out onto wire rack.
When cool, dust with icing (confectioner's) sugar and serve with whipped cream.

I don't, unfortunately, have a photo, but this is good. It has a decided reddish tinge and winey flavour. Rent a rom-com and invite some girlfriends over.


For a more masculine cake, it's gotta be Guinness. I'd been meaning to try out Nigella's chocolate Guinness cake for a while, and was kicked into action by discovering a chocolate stout pudding recipe on another blog. So, two good reasons to buy some Guinness.

The Nigella recipe is here, and here is the finished product (without icing as Graham isn't a fan of creamy stuff).



It wasn't quite as "resonantly ferrous" as promised by the author, but having finished the remains of the can, I can tell you that the drink tasted somewhat watered down compared to a pint in an Irish bar. If you have a pub round the corner that will pull you half a pint, go there for your raw ingredient. It's a very easy cake to make, although I would mention that where Nigella says "whisk", obey her instructions. I used a wooden spoon, and this is why my cake has small white bits of unmixed flour in.


Happy cake-making!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Texas times

The calf shot from the starting gate, with the horse and its rider in close pursuit. Before it had covered more than a few yards, it was brought up short by a loop of the lasso falling around its neck. Already the cowboy was off his horse and running along the taut line. Moments later the calf was on the ground with a rope wrapped tightly around fore and hind legs. The clock on the wall read just 5 and 13 hundredths of a second as the rider mounted his horse and two men ran out to untie the helpless bovine.


It was a Friday night and we were at the rodeo in Fort Worth Stockyards. John and Kristal, my brother and his new wife, were in town, and we were determined to give them the true Texas experience. Which is not complete until you've seen a bunch of cowboys wrestling with cattle. As well as the calf-roping competition, there were a surprising number of guys willing to take their life in their hands and try and stay on the back of a bucking bronco. Six seconds was a pretty good time for that endeavour, and a lot of them came away limping. I guess it's a macho thing.


You can't claim to be a true Texan until you've tried to consume about twice your body weight in meat and fried food in one sitting. In pursuit of this objective, and on the recommendation of some friends who obviously thought we needed feeding up, we visited the Loco Coyote Grill in Glen Rose. You can't get much more western than this: a low wooden building with a porch out front, sawdust on the floor and a menu of burgers, barbecue and fried catfish. A sign on the door advised us to leave bad attitudes outside. We took its advice, ordered a beer, added our names to the thousands scrawled on walls, window frames and furniture, and waited in relaxed anticipation for a mountain of food to appear before us. We were not disappointed. Even after eating so much we didn't want to stand up, there was enough for another meal in our polystyrene take-out boxes.






Lest you think us complete gluttons, I must add that we fitted a good amount of outdoor activity into our three days. From spotting buffalo and prairie dogs at the Fort Worth Nature Reserve to fording rivers at Dinosaur Valley State Park, and from giggling at gibbons in the zoo to pacing peacefully through the botanic gardens, we made the most of the near-perfect fall weather. And, I think, of our time together.