Dirt Candy Cookbook: Flavor-Forward Food from the Upstart New York City Vegetarian Restaurant, by Amanda Cohen & Ryan Dunlavey (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2012)
I’ve always wanted to go to New York City’s provocatively named restaurant “Dirt Candy” (I mean who wouldn’t?) but have yet to do so. Instead, I am experiencing the darling, Michelin-recommended vegetarian dining destination in a more vicarious way… with chef-owner Amanda Cohen’s new book. It is a deliriously ebullient graphic novel-style trade paperback and it landed on my kitchen table just this week. Generally, I take cookbooks immediately to bed, but this one I decided to read in front of my refrigerator, just in case I got the urge to try a recipe on-the-spot. Sometimes I get urges like that.
Amanda Cohen, who is one smart gluten-free cookie, has written, with super-cool artist Ryan Dunlavey, what appears to be the first graphic novel cookbook. With its comic-strip line drawings and bubble thoughts, it is not necessarily a form meant to compete with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It might, however, get a new generation of young acolytes cooking. But do not misconstrue: The recipes are totally savvy and mouthwatering. Cohen’s advice, including the realities and vicissitudes of opening your own place, is professional and instructive, and sometimes very funny.
I love what Ms. Cohen, the first vegetarian cook to be invited to compete on Iron Chef America, has to say about her approach to flavor-forward food. “Anyone can cook a hamburger,” she declares,” but leave the vegetables to the professionals!” Brilliant. Her compelling recipe line-up includes Fennel Salad with Candied Grapefruit Pops & Grilled Cheese Croutons; Smoked Sweet Potato Nicoise Salad with Fried Olives & Chickpea Dressing; Asparagus Paella with Grilled Vegetables & Yellow Tomato Saffron Broth; Stone-Ground Grits with Pickled Shiitakes and Tempura-Poached Egg, and Red Pepper Velvet Cake with Peanut Brittle and Peanut Ice Cream. She even makes dehydrating look easy. The recipe for her $10,000 prize-winning Portobello Mousse alone makes the book worthwhile.
With the sustainable food movement going strong, and farmers and compost becoming new symbols of virility and virtue, the associations of “dirt” with all good things is an interesting one. Check out “Chocolate Dirt: Is It Art or Is It Dinner?” and just the other day at a friend’s glamorous birthday party, catered by Great Performances, we were served freshly dug radishes in a pot of pumpernickel crumb “dirt.”
I understand it takes up to three months to snag a reservation at Dirt Candy: The Restaurant, located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (9th Street.) Now with Dirt Candy: The Cookbook, maybe you don’t need to try. But I mean, who wouldn’t want to go? (Dirt Candy, 430 East 9th Street Manhattan, NY 10009, www.dirtcandynyc.com)
Welcome to Claire’s: 35 Years of Recipes & Reflections from the Landmark Vegetarian Restaurant, by Claire Criscuolo, (Lyons Press, 2012)
Claire Criscuolo is the much-beloved “Maven of New Haven.” Iconic and eponymous, Claire’s Corner Copia has been feeding foodies just outside the gates of Yale as well as servicing an entire community of vegetarians for decades. Her fourth cookbook, Welcome to Claire’s: 35 Years of Recipes and Reflections from the Landmark Vegetarian Restaurant is flying off shelves as fast as her Lithuanian Coffee Cake is flying off the brightly polished counter at her bustling café. Claire, a certified culinary professional and registered nurse fulfills a promise and a dream. Her recipes are healthy and healthful, vegan and kosher! She provides a home-away-from-home for almost anyone who lives to eat. I was one of those lucky ones this summer — as we visited our daughter who was in a teen program at the university and ran to Claire’s as often as we could for her classic Tomato-Barley Soup, fabulous oatmeal-blueberry-pecan-buttermilk pancakes, and great coffee. The book, chock-a-bloc with 350 recipes, each marked with helpful symbols — GF (gluten-free) and V (vegan) has a vast array of offerings. Artichoke, Basket Cheese, and Parmesan Risotto caught my eye as did her Quesadilla with Caramelized Onions, Quince Preserves and Cheddar with Horseradish. Anyone looking for themes and inspirations for preparing tofu and tempeh, will also be smitten.
All roads lead to Claire: Her commitment to local and organic sourcing grows exponentially (including growing her own vegetables are herbs in her backyard) as does her outreach to the community. And it all began 35 years ago when she used her engagement ring as collateral for the loan to open her restaurant with her husband Frank. (Sadly, Frank passed away this year.)
Tonight, I will make her organic Arugula Salad with Lemon, Honey and Goat Cheese, and in the Fall I look forward to making her aptly named Fall Renewal Soup — made with split peas, garlic, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, basil and flax oil). You can taste the love. (Claire’s Corner Copia, 1000 Chapel Street, New Haven CT 06510, www.clairescornercopia.com)