Our busy week included the world’s best cupcakes and a shotgun trip to San Francisco. With a little luck, your busy week may include a free Zuni Café cookbook. Leave a comment for a chance to win Umami Girl’s first-ever contest.
A week ago today was my 33rd birthday. I’m writing that down because already I can hardly remember. The day was relaxed and lovely. Lunch with an old friend, a little self-centered shopping, a whole lot of dinner. (Yup, I’ve tried hard to set my birthday excitement quotient at a level I can sustain until I’m 103.)
Dinner started with a flute of bubbly, sipped between bites of Taleggio and prosciutto on thin slices of baguette. It meandered through a truly unsustainable amount of sushi on its way to the world’s best cupcakes. These cupcakes come all the way from Norway and are made of solid gold. Okay, no, those are lies. But the recipe has shepherded our family through an average of three birthday parties a year for the past 28 years, which is more cupcakes than I’d care to count. It uses an unusual mixing method—creaming the butter with the flour for five minutes to get things started—which is everything you’ve ever heard about what not to do with cake. But the results are so spectacular that I’ve never been able to understand why anyone would bother to make any other kind of cake ever, except that maybe they don’t have this recipe. Well, now you do. And with that sort of urgency at stake, it’s about time I’ve gotten around to sharing it.
So I think that in view of the food if nothing else, you’ll believe me when I say that I am trying to remember my birthday. It’s just that a lot has happened since then. A 36-hour trip to California, a fifth birthday and a lesson in the importance of sticking your neck out, to name a few highlights before I pass out for three weeks.
To the left down there is my gorgeous sister Allison, of Parisian coffee and poultry confusion fame. She up and joined me on my whirlwind trip to San Francisco this weekend, because she’s the kind of person who would do that for me. Probably for you, too. Also, she’s always wanted to fly to California just for dinner. The trip got off to an auspicious start from a culinary perspective when the airport security personnel asked the guy in line in front of us whether he had any electronics in his baggage.
“I have a sandwich,” he answered.
“A sandwich?” said the agent, in his best what-kind-of-terrorist-are-you voice. “Sandwiches are not electronic.”
Still, Allison reminded me upon takeoff to please stow my tray-table and turn off my sandwich.
Dinner is always kind of a big deal for us, but since this one had a whole plane fare riding on it, we turned it into a really big deal with reservations at the storied Zuni Café. Though Zuni has been around almost as long as I have and even longer than Allison, this was our first meal there—and we could’ve done a lot worse for our last meals on earth. Which gave us a certain sense of peace in the grittier moments of the walk back to our hotel late at night. (Unfortunately it didn’t help in our encounter with the equally storied Bushman. Neither encounter, in Allison’s case.)
We really ate it up at Zuni, from the Bloody Mary with Spicy Onion Gremolata through to the meringata with berries. Since we ordered at least half of the menu and I’m not really in the business of reviewing restaurants, I won’t subject you to a full rehashing. I’m still sort of reeling and speechless, anyway, from the sheer near-perfection of it all. Just go there if you can. Please.
I couldn’t help buying the Zuni Café Cookbook. Who could resist this gorgeous specimen? I bought two copies, actually, since I thought you might like to have one. If you’d like to have a chance to win one of them, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post about why you’d like to win by Sunday, October 4 at 11:59 p.m. EST. On Monday I’ll randomly select a winner from among the timely entrants. I’ll notify the winner and post the results here next Tuesday. Good luck!
As you can see, we tend to get a little preoccupied with dinner from time to time, but technically that’s letting food distract me from food, since we went to California so I could attend the BlogHer Food conference on Saturday. The conference brought together more than 300 people for a grand-scale exchange of ideas about food blogs and best practices for the people who create them. It was a lot of fun, too, especially meeting in person many people that I’ve known only through our blogs and Twitter. Although I’m by no means a conference junkie (if anything, I tend to run screaming for fresh air and quiet every few hours), it was nice to be conferencing about work I truly love doing. It was a refreshing counterpoint to every single conference I’ve attended in any former professional capacity.
It was also a useful reminder (especially to me, since I need to hear this message a little more frequently than average) that even if your job is to hole up behind your computer all day and live inside your head, good things come from stepping into the world and sticking your neck out from time to time. Even if it’s easier not to. And even if it only works sometimes.
But that would be all the time I had for introspection. Back east, a very demanding client would be turning five momentarily, and we needed to hop the redeye so we could get partying. I’d say the second event was as successful as the first. But truth be told, I’m still a little annoyed at my client. All that work, and she didn’t even spring for business class.
Norwegian Gold Cake
–Makes one cake or about 20 cupcakes–
Preheat the oven to 325° F for cake or 375° F for cupcakes. Grease the bottom of a 10-inch tube or bundt pan, or line two cupcake pans with paper liners. Have all ingredients at room temperature.
Beat together for five minutes:
1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup butter
5 eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. almond extract
Beat for two minutes.
For a cake, bake for about one hour, checking after fifty minutes. For cupcakes, bake for 20-25 minutes.
Sour Cream Ganache Frosting
10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
Then stir in:
1 cup sour cream
A pinch of salt
Spread onto completely cooled cake.