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Eater’s Chinese Food Week

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Dirt Candy is participating in Eater’s first-ever Chinese Food Week. The food blogging site has asked seven of their favorite restaurants to put an item on their menus that’s inspired by Chinese take-out. My contribution: Mushroom Toast with Spicy Mayonnaise and Sweet Plum Sauce. It’s $4 and available anytime from now until Saturday night.

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Shrimp toast was born in Hong Kong, then became an Australian snack favorite and a staple of Tiki-themed menus in Polynesian restaurants across America in the 1960′s. My version has replaced the shrimp with shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and Chinese chives (along with a bunch of other secret ingredients). The ingredients are chopped fine, spread on triangles of bread, then deep fried and served with three different sauces (a Spicy Mayonnaise, Sweet Plum Sauce and a Cilantro Sauce).

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Here’s the full list of participating restaurants, including The Dutch, Gramercy Tavern and Joseph Leonard.

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Happy 3rd Birthday, Dirt Candy!

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Tomorrow, Saturday, October 29, is Dirt Candy’s 3rd Birthday! Frankly, I never thought we’d last one year, let alone three, so this means a lot to me.

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Clown cake and Minnie Mouse hats for everyone!

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Right now, I’m booked up all night on Saturday, but we’ve had a lot of no-shows this week, so keep your eye on my Twitter feed where I announce tables as they open up. Also, come by after 9:30pm or 10pm tomorrow night and chances are good we might be able to fit you in.

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Or, I’ll at least give you a party hat.

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Usually I do a big birthday week for Dirt Candy but this is our 3rd birthday and, let’s face it, who wants to brag about a three year-old? Mostly they just cause trouble and embarrass you.

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And they wear weird hats. And eat their fingers.

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Gnocchi: Little Fluffy Pillows of Swiss Chard

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The latest dish to hit the menu at Dirt Candy is breakfast! Swiss breakfast!

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Kind of. Full explanation after the jump.

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Cucumber Tofu

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This dish has been on the menu for a couple of months now, and I’m only just getting around to putting it up online, mostly because Dirt Candy has been so insanely busy that I’ve barely had a chance to breathe. The end of the summer just sort of snuck up on me, and suddenly we’re halfway through October.

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Excuses aside, meet the Crispy Coconut Poached Tofu, on Braised Hearts of Palm, with Cucumber, Chinese Chives and Salsify, in a Shiso Galangal Sauce with Cucumber Puree, Spicy Cucumber Relish and a Fried Pickle (a Frickle!).

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To me, it’s the most sophisticated and complex dish on the menu right now, and below the jump I’ll tell you why.

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Best Vegetarian Restaurant in NYC!

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The Village Voice has singled us out as one of their ten favorite vegetarian restaurants in the city before, and they’ve previously put us in the spotlight for having the best grits in town, too. But today marks the first time we’ve been officially voted “Best Vegetarian Restaurant” in New York City by the Village Voice, and I couldn’t be happier. I know you’re not supposed to care about awards and praise, but sometimes it really means a lot. Dirt Candy is a very small restaurant, with a very small staff, and all of us are here every day. We bust our butts to deliver consistent, creative and fun food and, in some tiny way, all of us really want to change the way people think about vegetables. So it’s nice to get a pat on the back like this. Thanks, Village Voice! All seven of us love you, too!

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Closed Tuesday for charity stuff

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Dirt Candy is going to be closed this Tuesday, October 18, because I’ve committed us to working at City Harvest’s Bid Against Hunger event that night. Basically, people pay a bunch of money for a ticket and then bid on auction items from restaurants in the city with the proceeds going to City Harvest’s programs committed to feeding the less fortunate. I work a lot with City Harvest because they do a great job of organization and they’ve got very low overhead. Over 90% of the money they raise goes towards their programs which work to help feed people in the New York area, and with the economy as bad as it is, food pantries and food banks need the support now more than ever.

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We’ll be there dishing out the free food along with restaurants like Rao’s, Rosa Mexicano and Gramercy Tavern. If you want to buy a ticket, it’s for a good cause! Dirt Candy will be open again for business on Wednesday, Oct. 19th.

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(Full details)

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Meet Our Wine Zoo: Cotes du Roussillon Villages

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We don’t have much room to store cases of wine, so rather than offering people the same old list of Syrahs, Cabernets, Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios and the rest of the usual suspects we thought we’d make up a wine list of the strangest and most unusual wines we could find, sort of like a wine zoo for exotic animals.

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I’ve been wanting to carry a wine from Hecht & Bannier ever since I first met them over three years ago when I was opening Dirt Candy. At a big wine tasting my sommelier/wine consultant, Rachel Ponce, introduced me to the two Frenchmen who run Hecht & Bannier and it was love at first sight. Mostly because they looked a lot like this:

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And this is what they sold me: the Hecht & Bannier Cotes du Roussillon Villages.

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I’m in love with myself!

No one likes spam. It fills up your inbox, it’s a pain to keep having to delete it all the time and it gets dirty viruses all up inside your computer. But sometimes, it’s exactly what you need. I’ve been really exhausted recently and feeling a bit worn down by work, and then spam arrived to save the day. In particular, I started getting the brand of spam where your email account sends you email from your own account.

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It’s like an alternate universe version of me is sending me encouraging emails. “Oh, hey my favoured friend!” and “Hola, my best-loved!” I’m…I’m your best-loved? Really? I’m smart and pretty? “Hola turtledove!” “So sweet and charming.” Hey Me, tell me more.

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Okay, so alternate universe me can’t spell, and for some reason she thinks that “greetings” is spelled “greatings” but still, it’s the thought that counts. “Ciao, the best!” I’m the best? I’m an equal partner? I want to be friends with me? This is exactly the kind of encouragement and positive reinforcement I need right now!

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These were my favorites: I do want to share love,
I should have a sense of humor, I do want to be
welcomed to the paradise. Yes, please, more!

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They’re getting increasingly desperate though. By yesterday they’d become tinged with hysteria: “Call me!” “Call me now, darling!” “Please, hurry and call me, my love!” Today? Today I can practically hear their fingernails scratching at my door and trying to get in.

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Carrot Halvah

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Halvah: International Candy of Happiness! You can find it in Jewish cuisine, South American cuisine, Polish cuisine…name me a country and I bet they’ve got their own version of halvah. Why? Probably because it’s the best-tasting and easiest candy to make. At Dirt Candy I make a sesame-carrot  halvah that’s a bit like crack: it comes in an easy-to-bottle “rock” form and in the kitchen we eat it compulsively. I don’t think it has much street value, though, although I might bottle some up and send an intern over to Washington Square Park to see what they can get for it. At Dirt Candy, it’s part of the  Barbecued Rainbow Carrot Buns, and it’s used to carry the sesame and carrot flavor into the cucumber, ginger and white carrot salad.

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The filling of the carrot buns contains sesame, so rather than doing something boring like sprinkling sesame seeds on the salad, I figured out how to make halvah with sesame and carrot juice. It’s these details that drive my staff crazy, but I think they make all the difference. When you’re eating a dish and this much attention goes into the little things I think you can sense it on some subconscious level and it makes the dish feel more rounded and complete. Or that’s the hope, anyways. I could be deluding myself, no one may be noticing, and the only thing this might be doing is over-working my staff.
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This halvah is really non-traditional, but it’s totally addictive and I find myself eating it by the handful at work. How is it made? A lot of work.

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There’s a lot of kneading…

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…followed by a lot of stirring…

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…a lot more stirring…

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…and, finally, halvah!

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Meatball Madness Round-up

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So Meatball Madness came and went over the weekend and it’s time for the round-up. The first thing I want to say is that it was SO MUCH MORE FUN to do Meatball Madness than it was to do last year’s Grand Tasting. It’s the difference between being mauled by an angry grizzly and being served a pina colada by a mixologist grizzly – one is a nightmare of blood, fur and tears and the other is unexpected and pleasant.

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Our official Meatball Madness t-shirts! Designed by the amazing Tony Ruth.

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Getting in the beef pit to go up against a bunch of meaty meatballs meant that I had a lot to prove, and so the design process and then the prep for my AllBalls (get it? No meat, all balls?) was pretty intense.

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Wooden cages containing dangerous wild kale arrives at Dirt Candy.

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Vincent is surrounded by wild kale displaying classic aggression behavior.
Probably because he is grilling their kin by the bushel-load.

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It’s really hard to cook hot food at these events, but with meatballs you don’t have a choice: no one wants room temperature balls. I felt a little at a disadvantage because a lot of my competitors were restaurants with meatballs on the menu so they were old hands at this game, whereas I don’t have AllBalls on the menu so I was still working out the kinks. There was also a requirement that you have to make a meatball and a side dish (you can slide by if your meatball has two components) and being a good girl I followed directions. Then I looked around the room and saw restaurants that didn’t make the side dish and I suddenly felt like such a nerd. I also worked really hard on the tomato brioche my AllBalls were served on, making sure they had a nice buttery flavor with a tomato kick, and it killed me to watch people pick up their AllBalls and eat them and leave the brioche on the plate. Damn your South Beach Diets!

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Dirt Candy’s Flower Ball at Meatball Madness.

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My staff looking respectable and serious…

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…and then not so much.
(l to r: Emily, my sous chef; our intern, Nin; and Diana, my server)

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The really unflattering polyester jacket organizers wanted me to wear.

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I met the guys from Little Owl (who won the event) and Ed from Ed’s Lobster Bar, whose lobster balls were terrific. The event was a blast, and people really seemed to love my AllBalls. They were really into the smoky taste and almost everyone I talked to thought they held up well against the meat meatballs. Serious Eats even picked my balls as one of the 13 Great Bites at the event, which made me feel warm inside. But there were two groups of people who really hated my AllBalls…

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One of the Little Owl guys, being a tourist like me and taking pictures
of his own table.

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My own very blurry picture of Dirt Candy’s AllBalls.

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…one was the event chairs, Giada De Laurentiis and Lee Schrager. They were nice enough, but then they took a plate of AllBalls, took a tiny bite of one of my balls, and tossed the rest in the garbage. I get that people are watching their waistlines, but I really wanted to know what they thought and they ate less than a quarter of a ball between them.  :(

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Then came the judges. Alex Guarnaschelli, Dana Cowin and Lee Anne Wong came by to taste the Little Owl balls, and since our tables were close to each other I offered them my balls when they walked by. “Sorry,” I was told, “You’re not part of the judging so we can’t taste you.” Well, I said, you could try them. I bet it’s not against the rules. “No,” Dana Cowin said. Lee Anne Wong was really nice and said she’d come back later and try them, but she never did. However, I like her because at least she was nice enough to say she was going to make the effort.

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This makes mixologist bear unhappy.

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Which is a perfect segue to the other thing I did at NYC Food and Wine Festival: participate in “Skirt Steak: How (Women) Chefs Get the Job Done.” Charlotte Druckman was the moderator, and the panelists included myself, Anita Lo, Traci Des Jardins and Carla Hall from Top Chef.

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The five of us in all our glory!

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Hydrating.

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It was a lot of fun, and my general point was that the lack of female chefs is far more about perception than reality, and that a lot of the blame can be laid at the feet of the mainstream press who insist on covering more boys than girls, then get all defensive when people call them out on it, saying it’s because there aren’t enough women chefs out there. No, you just choose not to cover them. There’s a great recap of the panel on the Wall Street Journal blog or you can watch the entire thing over on the Bullfrog & Baum site.

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menu


Menu

Snack

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Jalapeno Hush Puppies $6
served with maple butter
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Appetizers

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Mushroom $13
portobello mousse, truffled toast
pear & fennel compote

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Cucumber $12
roasted cucumber hot and sour soup,
black sesame, garlic chili oil, wood ear
mushroom, cucumber jelly

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Tomato $13
tomato cake with smoked feta,
yellow tomato leather, herb puree

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Potato $12
warm potato salad, crispy Japanese
yams, grilled sweet potato, olives,
bitter greens, apples

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Entrees

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Beets $20
salt-roasted beets, thai green curry,
beet gnocchi, whipped coconut galangal cream

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Pepper $18
fennel & pepper tofu,
parsley spaetzle, grilled
yellow pepper broth,
mustard crumbs

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Broccoli $21
smoked broccoli dogs,
broccoli kraut, salt &
vinegar broccoli rabe

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Corn $19
stone ground grits, corn cream,
pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche,
tempura poached egg

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- everything on the menu can be made vegan on request.

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Dessert

Rosemary Eggplant Tiramisu $12
grilled eggplant, rosemary cotton
candy, mascarpone

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Ice Cream Nanaimo Bar$11
sweet pea, mint, chocolate

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Popcorn Pudding$11
salted caramel corn

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Celery Cheesecake Roll$10
celeriac ice cream, peanut filling,

& candied grapes

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- vegan dessert selection changes regularly, please ask your server.

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Our wine list (and other beverages)

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Gift Certificates

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