Dirt Candy: A Cookbook

dcFrom an unusual (but delicious) restaurant, Dirt Candy, comes an unusual (but innovative) cookbook. This graphic novel (aka cookbook) tells the story of a girl and her restaurant, and all the messy, tell-all details that have made it what it is today – one of the most celebrated vegetarian eateries in NYC. Restaurateur Amanda Cohen, artist Ryan Dunlavey and journalist Grady Hendrix bring it all to life in one of the most imaginative cookbooks I’ve ever seen – “Dirt Candy, flavor-forward food from the upstart New York City vegetarian restaurant.”

The Story

It starts with the obvious – Amanda Cohen runs a successful vegetarian restaurant in New York with many awards, complimentary press and a full house every night – life is good and easy, right? Wrong. That story line ends by page two and the truth comes pouring out. She details the insanity of finding a space and building out her own restaurant. She introduces you to the quirky personalities of her staff, which are impossible to overlook in a kitchen the size of a bread box. She dishes about running a kitchen efficiently, and it looks like she has figured it out. Michael Natkin of the vegetarian blog, Herbivoracious, interned at Dirt Candy and shared his experience of the magic that happens in the little kitchen on 9th Street in Manhattan:

I’m standing in an area that is maybe 2 feet by 1, between her station, the bathroom door, and the reservation computer. Except it is a spot that the servers constantly need, so I dance towards the station one way, then back to the wall. She’s giving me small portions of almost everything on the menu, which is amazing. Somehow, she’s managing to expedite the service, make all of the cold dishes, finish the hot plates, answer the constantly ringing phone, manage the servers, run food, chat with customers, handle walk-ins, show me how to make some of the plates, and talk shop, all simultaneously and calmly.

Amanda’s story goes on to rant about customer complaints (from Yelp “This chef girl is a stupid cow!”), her time on Iron Chef (they lost), why a salad costs $14, immigration issues and the many preconceived notions about vegetarian food (expensive, bland, healthy …. because healthy is a bad thing?).

The Recipes

This fabulously self-deprecating story winds its way around some of the most interesting vegetable recipes and  cooking techniques, from basics like blanching and shocking, to pickling, deep frying and smoking. This juicy graphic novel entertains while it educates. Amanda’s recipes are vegetarian and can be made vegan – the “dairy-free cow” will show you the way with tips for vegan variations – just like at her restaurant where the entire menu can be made vegan on request.

The recipes in the cookbook replicate the interesting and complicated-looking dishes that are served in her restaurant – Fennel Salad with candied grapefruit pops and grilled cheese croutons, Carrot Risotto with carrot dumplings and carrot ribbons, Zucchini Ginger Cake with zucchini cream and zucchini candy. Delicious, yes! But can I make that? Chef Amanda breaks down the multi-layered process so that we can give it a try.

For example, Smoked Cauliflower and Waffles with horseradish cream sauce has six recipes to complete the dish as she imagines it. If you are feeling adventurous and have the time,  you will create smoked cauliflower + waffles + horseradish cream sauce. And if you are feeling extra creative in the kitchen you can finish it off with the optional items – maple arugula salad, cauliflower bits and pickled cauliflower. Wow, that would impress your guests for sure!

If you are not feeling up to tackle one of these many layered meals, you could pick and choose singular recipes. Or dine at her restaurant. But the cookbook is worth the read if you enjoy cookbooks; I’m sure you haven’t seen many like this one.

Have you ever dreamed of opening a restaurant? Are you an adventurous cook? Do you devour graphic novels? Are you intrigued by talking monkeys, pandas and vegetables? It’s all in one place for your enjoyment in Dirt Candy, A Cookbook.


Our Virtual Picnic: An Ecocentric Labor Day Recipe Roundup and Twitter Chat

I contributed to the most recent group blog post over at Ecocentric Blog (my work blog) – Our Virtual Picnic: An Ecocentric Labor Day Recipe Roundup and Twitter Chat. Check it out – there are great recipe ideas for Labor Day weekend from some great cooks.

Mine are oldies, but goodies from my appearance on Jayni’s Kitchen:

Dawn’s Corn and Pepper Frittata with Salsa Verde

The beauty of this frittata recipe is that it can be made ahead and is as versatile and delicious cold, or still warm from the oven. I actually prefer it at room temperature, placed between two slices of bread with some salsa and summer tomatoes! While this recipe calls for corn and peppers, you could easily replace them with other seasonal vegetables, whatever looks best at the farmers’ market. “Corn milk” makes this frittata recipe special, adding a little extra sweetness to balance out the spice from the peppers. Enjoy!

Corn and Pepper Frittata


6 local, pasture-raised eggs 1 small white onion, chopped 1 medium poblano pepper, chopped ½ jalapeño, or other hot green pepper, chopped 2 ears sweet corn 1 cup sharp white cheddar (local, if possible), grated 3 scallions, sliced 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper, to taste

Salsa verde (see recipe below)


In a medium saucepan, saute the onion and poblano and jalapeño peppers in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with a pinch of salt over low heat for about 7 minutes, or until onions and peppers have softened. Meanwhile, cut the kernels from 1 ear of corn and reserve. Grate the other ear on a cheese grater over a medium bowl to create corn “milk.” Crack all the eggs directly into the bowl with the “milk” and vigorously whisk them together — this will help make the eggs fluffy. Add some salt and pepper to the eggs to taste and set aside the egg mixture. Add the corn kernels to the onion and pepper mixture and saute for about 1 minute.

If necessary, add the last tablespoon of oil to the pan (if the pan looks dry) and swirl the oil around the pan. Increase the heat to medium and add the egg mixture to the pan. Add the cheddar and stir all of the ingredients around – spreading them evenly throughout the egg mixture. Place the scallions on top and gently pat down into the egg. Cover and let cook for about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Transfer the pan (uncovered) to the broiler and let it cook until the top gets a little brown and the eggs are cooked through. If you feel the eggs might need to cook a little longer, but the top is already browned, put the cover back on the pan and let it sit on the stove top (with no burners on); the heat will continue to cook the eggs. For the rest of the directions, click through:

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Thrive Foods – For the Planet and Your Health

While we have had our bad eating habits explained to us before, vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier brings a new perspective to the topic and breaks the elements down into measurable chunks in his new book, Thrive Foods, which lends real weight to his theory that a plant-based diet is better for the planet and our personal health. Thrive Foods starts off on a depressing note with a detailed description of the toll industrial food production takes on our planet and the toll our current eating habits are taking on our health, but finishes off with a delicious plant-based cookbook to help us counteract the first three chapters.

This isn’t Brazier’s first book about foods that help us to thrive. His interest in food to fuel his body for its maximum output started early on when he was training for his passion – running, swimming and biking in the form of triathlons. As he experimented with foods to help him recoup after workouts, he discovered that the more nutrient dense foods he ate, the better his body performed, advice  he shared in his first two books – Thrive Fitness and Thrive. But what came out of that research (and into this book) was more than a diet, but an appreciation and deep understanding of how much our food choices as individuals impact the world around us, mostly in a very negative way.

Since nutrition has been Brazier’s main topic for many years, it makes sense that he begins his new book, Thrive Foods, by explaining where our nutritional deficits are coming from: stress, lack of sleep and nutritionally deficient food. He takes an extra step in this book by incorporating nutritional information with environmental issues in what he calls the “nutrient-to-resource ratio.” A simple way to see where you can get the healthiest foods while taking into consideration the drain their production has on arable land, fresh water, fossil fuels and air quality.

While part of the book reads like those old train math questions – for any science or math geek or for anyone who wants serious proof that changing your diet can help to improve climate change, it does the job.

A Brazier math problem:

By weight, 232 times more kale than cattle can be produced on the same amount of land (38,400 pounds of kale per acre compared with 165 pounds of beef). And since beef has a nutrient density of 20 and kale registers at 1000, which is 50 times greater, for every calorie you get from kale, you’d have to eat 50 from beef to match the micronutrient level. Since beef has about four times the amount of calories per pound as kale, to gain the equivalent in micronutrients from beef as from kale would require 2900 times more arable land.

To help drive it all home, the last two chapters before the recipe section explain the key components of good nutrition and which foods are the most nutrient dense and why. Then the last ⅔ of the book is made up of 200 plant-based recipes for peak health. Brazier has tapped into North America’s best vegan/vegetarian chefs and restaurants to gather the tastiest recipes – from a very simple Mexican Salad Bowl to a more involved Raw Zucchini and Carrot Lasagna with Almond “Ricotta.” The recipes are simple enough that anyone could follow along, and interesting and tasty enough that they could also entertain the most seasoned cook.

Brendan has cast a wide net of appeal with this book. Interested in nutrition? He’s got it covered. Sustainable agriculture your thing? Check. Love to cook? Recipes galore. Want to geek out on facts? Done. Want to be inspired to make changes to your diet? Keep reading. Are you a meat eater and don’t think the book is for you? Try again; these principals can even be applied one meal a week. If you are undecided, I say pick it up and give it a try, you will learn something and maybe even change your eating habits (and help the planet!) in the process.

It’s Spring! Eggs And Asparagus

Spring is a time for new growth, fertility and change; a time to get up and start moving after a long (long!) winter. Even this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll has the theme “Get up and Go!” promoting health and wellness through Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity.

So why not freshen up the traditional Easter dishes too? The first entree that comes to mind when thinking about Easter is ham. Then lamb. In the spirit of health and wellness, how about some interesting vegetarian plates to celebrate the arrival of spring and the welcome dose of freshness and variety it brings along with it?

The egg, a symbol of new life, is a perfect food for celebrating the changing season. And asparagus, proof that the season is changing, is another delightful addition to your Easter menu. Here are some tasty takes on eggs and asparagus from Herbivoracious, a blog full of delicious vegetarian options worth a try.

Panko-crusted Egg with Cherry Smoked Asparagus, Smoked Paprika, And Sherry Gastrique
The crunchy panko makes a really cool counterpoint to a correctly cooked, soft and smooth hardboiled egg. Eggs and asparagus have a natural affinity, and smoking the asparagus doubles up the flavor of the smoked paprika (pimenton dulce). The sherry gastrique adds complex sweet/sour/caramelized notes.

Polenta With Asparagus And Olives
This is a quick and easy meal you can throw together in 20 minutes if you have the ingredients in your pantry. The key is to use a polenta that is quick-cooking but not instant. The instant stuff has been parboiled and doesn’t taste too great. My favorite is an organic Argentinian polenta from de la Estancia.

Asparagus With Nori Butter
The garnishes for this dish are nori strips, sesame seeds, Maldon salt, miso-lemon sauce, finely diced lemon zest, and chive tips. Don’t feel obligated to make it this complicated at home! You could just as easily toss the asparagus with the nori butter and salt and have a delicious side dish.

Visit our Eat Well Guide to find a store or farmers’ market near you selling sustainably-produced eggs and asparagus (and, if you’re looking for ham or lamb, you can find those, too).