Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dinner for Dirt Candy

**Updated - see below!

One of my favorite restaurants in this city - or anywhere, for that matter - is the brilliant and exceptional Dirt Candy. In the nearly two years since it's been open, it has garnered high praise, and I'm definitely in agreement. Although I'm a lifelong vegetarian, most vegetarian restaurants leave me cold - I'm generally not interested in eating fake versions of meat nor do I want to eat something that's cold, raw, or devoid of fat and other flavors. Dirt Candy, however, eschews all those stereotypes and delivers food that celebrates vegetables and also doesn't attempt to be healthy. I could go on about how much I love this place, but that's not the point of this post.

Yes, I am aware of the fact that the top part of the logo is supposed to
be a starlight mint, but I was going for a post-modern interpretation. 
That, or my fondant skills are low and I was in a rush (note the mangled 
spoon on the left sepal!) so I decided to play it safe.

Amanda Cohen, the woman behind Dirt Candy, is not only a clever and talented chef, but also a clever and amusing writer. I've taken to following the Dirt Candy blog, and one day a few weeks ago, I ran across this post. To summarize, her sous chef's birthday wish was to not have to cook family meal (the meal for restaurant staff before the night's service starts) for the month of July, which meant that she would have to do so - which is why she asked people for ideas of what to make and even invited people to bring them food, be it takeout or home cooked. The only stipulations were that anyone taking them up on this offer needed to do so before July 23, that there needed to be one vegan option and one wheat-free option, and that we had to bring any food to the restaurant at 4 pm (fairly common time for family meal).  Being the nut I am, I decided that cooking for Amanda and her staff would be the coolest culinary experience ever (when does one get the opportunity to cook for one of their favorite chefs?!?!) so I emailed her about 3 seconds after I finished reading her plea and, oh my god, she wrote back in about a half hour and was totally down with my offer. I was all signed up to make a mostly-vegan, mostly wheat-free Thai feast for Amanda and her staff on Saturday, July 17. Since I've been on a huge Thai food kick lately and because it's so vegetarian and vegan friendly, I decided to go with the following menu of things that I've made before (and made well), and yes, it's heavy on desserts, because that's what I do:
  • Tofu, long bean, and cucumber salad - inspired by this recipe at my favorite vegetarian recipe blog, Herbivoracious (this was both vegan and wheat-free)
  • Green curry with Thai eggplant, long beans, snow peas, and edamame (also vegan and wheat-free)
  • Black and basmati rice (vegan and wheat-free)
  • Drunken noodles with seitan (vegan but not wheat-free)
  • Coconut milk mini cupcakes with kaffir lime cream cheese frosting (definitely not vegan or wheat-free)
  • Thai chocolate chili-lime coconut ice cream (vegan and wheat-free) - this was based on my chocolate ice cream that won the Brooklyn Chocolate Experiment, but I made it entirely with coconut milk and omitted the eggs so that the vegan could partake in dessert (since the other items were definitely not vegan)
  • Mango lassi cake - cardamom-yogurt cake with cardamom meringue buttercream and Alphonso mango curd.  It's not Thai but it's one of my signature flavors.  I love making tiny cakes for small groups, so I decided that this cake would be a 4.5" round topped off with the Dirt Candy logo.  Of course, I didn't give myself enough time to work with the fondant or cut out the logo, so it ended up being a little ramshackle...whatever, it was close enough to get the point across.  I have to say that I wasn't in love with the sort of spongy texture of the yogurt cake (it was a new recipe) but it was still good.  Next time I'll just stick with my regular cake recipe.
Try your best to ignore the large silver serving spoons and the towel behind the cupcakes. 
I was too nervous and spastic to attempt any food styling. 
Back row: tofu, long bean, and cucumber salad; black and basmati rice
Middle row: drunken noodles; green curry
Bottom row: coconut milk cupcakes; mango lassi cake with modified Dirt Candy logo

I woke up earlyish on Saturday morning to start my prep, but, because I have terrible time management skills, I ended up rushing the assembly of the mango lassi cake and it was not as stable as it should have been nor was the logo on top perfect (see above). Note to self: do not start to assemble a cake 15 minutes before you need to leave the house and do not decorate a cake 5 minutes after you were supposed to have left the house.  Yeah.  Aside from that, though, everything turned out just as I had wanted it to and I felt great about sharing this food with Amanda and her staff (although about 2 seconds before I walked in the door of the restaurant I wondered what the hell I was thinking getting myself into such a situation and pictured everyone shoving my unsatisfactory food around their plates and pretending to like it, which would have been totally awesome, or actually, the complete opposite of that).

Slice of unstable mango lassi cake and a quenelle of chocolate chili-lime coconut ice cream

Thankfully, that did not happen, and I think I can safely say that everything I made went over really well (unless they were lying to me, which I'm pretty sure they weren't).  Although they were all busy getting ready for dinner service that night, Amanda was kind enough to sit down with me and Matt for a good 45 minutes and chat with us while her staff was buzzing around and making sure everything was ready before the restaurant opened for service.

**Check out the post on the Dirt Candy blog for Amanda's take on my meal.  As expected, it's hilarious, sweet, and a bit nutty, or should I say blingee.

So, I'm not really sure what the point of this story is except that I just had an amazing culinary experience this past weekend and that you should go eat at Dirt Candy because in addition to the fact that the food is phenomenal, Amanda is also rad and just really nice. And she's Canadian, although she doesn't seem to have that funny accent.
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