Hummingbird Cake! 🐦🎂

Plus: A Virgo Birthday Dinner, Fried Vegetable Couscous, and Bari with Ben.

Hey there,

I cooked up a storm this weekend because three of my friends (Ryan, Harry, and J) had birthdays and I promised them all a birthday dinner (I’m the nicest). Of course, when making a birthday dinner, you’ve got to make a birthday cake, and for this celebration I settled on a hummingbird cake.

What’s a hummingbird cake? No, it doesn’t have hummingbirds in it (at least this one doesn’t). Traditionally, it’s a cake made with pineapple, bananas, and pecans that gets topped with a decadent cream cheese icing. But as Vallery Lomas points out with her NYT recipe (which is the one I used; click here), the cake originated in Jamaica, where it was called a Doctor Bird Cake. (Either because it attracted birds or because a banana looks like a bird’s beak.)

This cake is like the love child of banana bread and carrot cake, minus the carrots. It’s got the wholesomeness of the fruit and nuts, but don’t be tricked: there’s also two sticks of butter and two packets of cream cheese in the frosting.

It was a real pleasure to make; probably because I took my time making it. The biggest mistake you can make when making a cake like this is not giving yourself enough time to allow the layers to cool before making the icing. As you can see, the Virgo birthday boys were very happy with their dessert (happy birthday Ryan, J., and Harry!).

What else did I make for the big birthday dinner? Well, I went back to my old standby: spicy spatchcocked chicken with couscous, only this time, I played a lot with the couscous.

Basically, I cooked up three plain boxes (which takes no time: just boil the appropriate amount of water with some salt and olive oil, add the couscous, turn off the heat, put the lid on). And then I fried a bunch of vegetables that I had leftover from my last shopping trip: zucchini, Jimmy Nardello peppers, and an onion. (I fried them all separately in olive oil so they all got color.)

I stirred all of that in, but then, to make things extra special, I took out the preserved lemons that I made recently using a recipe from Nicole Rucker’s book.

I chopped two of them up and added them to the proceedings, along with some toasted and chopped almonds.

Twas a delightful couscous salad indeed and a good base for the chicken and the salsa verde that I whipped up in the food processor with garlic, anchovies, lots and lots of parsley, Dijon, lemon juice, and olive oil.

As for the chickens, the night before the dinner, I bought three, cut out the backbones, flattened them, and then seasoned with lots of salt, then toasted and ground fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and black peppercorns. I left them on a wire rack on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator so that the skin would dry out and the salt and seasonings would penetrate into the meat.

To cook them, I just squirted on a little olive oil and baked in a 425 oven (leaving two on one rack, and lifting the 3rd one on to a separate one). They only took about 50 - 55 minutes and then I let ‘em rest and chopped ‘em all up. Look at this fine spread.

What else is cooking?

Well, earlier last week I went with my friend Ben Mandelker — you may remember him from his episode of Lunch Therapy — to a new restaurant called Bari and instead of writing up a review, I decided to do a Bonus episode of the podcast where we talked about our meal, what we liked and didn’t like, and then, of course, the conversation veered off in a million directions.

CLICK HERE to listen. (And be on the lookout for future bonus episodes….)

And speaking of Lunch Therapy, my patient this week is 25 year-old stand-up comedian, Zach Schiffman.

Find out how this Get Z-er and his generation like to eat, how he dealt with roommates during the pandemic (they could eat his food, but not his unopened food!), his late night-themed Bar Mitzvah, and how he works up the courage to do stand-up comedy at his age.


Now for some food links that caught my attention recently:

That’s all for this week!

In case you missed it, I wrote about dinner at L.A.’s hottest new restaurant, Bicyclette, in Thursday’s paid subscribers only newsletter.

If you’d like to read that post — and see our multi-colored cocktails, hear about our onion tart tatin (above), steak au Poivre, and marvel at the crispy French fries — you can become a paid subscriber. Here’s a discount code just for you:

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Until next time!

Your friend,