Review: Dirt Candy: A Cookbook

Amanda Cohen Dirt CandyAmanda Cohen is the chef-owner of Dirt Candy, an all-vegetable restaurant located in New York City’s East Village that is recommended by the Michelin guide. Cohen, who has written about food for Saveur, Eater, Salon, and Esquire, was the first vegetarian chef invited to compete on Food Network’s Iron Chef America.  That’s where our paths first crossed.

Amanda’s approach to her all-vegetable restaurant Dirt Candy is based on her motto, “Anyone can cook a hamburger, but leave the vegetables to professionals.”  In case you haven’t figured it out yet Cohen is an individual.  She doesn’t fit into most people’s molds.  She’s an original.

Take for instance her first cookbook.  Dirt Candy: A Cookbook is more than just a cookbook.  It is also a Amanda Cohen Dirt Candygraphic novel (smart people talk for comic book) about how she built her groundbreaking New York City eatery into one of the toughest reservations in the Big Apple.

The overall feel of Cohen’s opus is cool and fun.  Telling her story in the form of a graphic novel (with the help of artist Ryan Dunlavey and her husband Grady Hendrix) is very interesting.  This would be a wonderful book to share with a child but don’t kid yourself, Cohen’s recipes are far from childish.  They are innovative and whimsical recipes like her Smoked Cauliflower and Waffles with Horseradish Cream Sauce or the Zucchini Ginger Cake with Zucchini Cream and Zucchini Candy.

Review: Vegetarian Cooking at Home w/The Culinary Institute of America

Last week I arrived home from a day at the restaurant to find a box with a very heavy book in it, Vegetarian Cooking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America.  What a pleasant surprise.

Anyone who is familiar with my writing knows that I am not a fan of veganism.  They also know that I am very respectful of vegetarianism.  The difference?  Vegetarians are thoughtful, well-informed people who’ve made a lifestyle decision based on a logical catalog of reasons.  Vegans tend to be pretentious d-bags who regurgitate the same fraudulent hokum about ethics and equality.  Plus vegetarian entrees make great side dishes for us carnivores.

Vegetarian CookingWhether for environmental, political, or health reasons, millions of Americans now follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. But giving up meat doesn’t mean having to give up delicious eating. Vegetarian Cooking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America provides 200 delicious meat-free recipes of the quality and sophistication that the CIA is known for.

You’ll find everything you need here to create incredibly flavorful vegetarian meals, including starters and sides; soups, salads, and sandwiches; breads and baked goods; grain, pasta, and noodle dishes; and main dishes featuring beans, eggs, and meat substitutes.

  • Features information on health and nutrition, seasonality, and essential ingredients and equipment in addition to 200 delicious recipes
  • Recipes throughout are accompanied by line drawings and gorgeous full-color photography
  • A new edition in the series that includes Artisan Breads at Home with The Culinary Institute of America and Italian Cooking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America

Drawing on the expertise of the CIA’s professional cooking programs, Vegetarian Cooking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America is a must for anyone who wants to learn to cook satisfying and sophisticated meat-free meals at home.

Katherine Polenz’s recipes are creative and flavorful while Ben Fink’s photography is stunning.  This book works equally well as a conversation-starting coffee table book or as a valued tome in your culinary library.

Review: The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook

As a child I remember watching evening news footage of what the media referred to as “boat people.”  In reality they were Vietnamese and Thai refugees fleeing the violence in their homelands.  Whether they were running from the Red Menace, a tyrannical government or just tired of having their rice fields carpet-bombed I do not recall.  I do have memories of people on makeshift rafts swamped by waves and Coast Guard choppers and the older generation with their whispered-apprehension about our new neighbors.

A sizable number of those refugees and subsequent generations now call the Gulf Coast home.  The trepidation felt by those older and supposedly wiser than me has since been replace by admiration.  Sure the newcomers look different and their native language is . . . well, foreign, but they have an amazing work ethic and if there is one thing folks on the Third Coast appreciate it is hard work.  Plus their food is exciting!

Though a wok cooker-er from way back, I have done very little with Asian food professionally.  Recently, I had decided to make chicken lollipops with a Thai peanut sauce for a catering job.  I tried to duplicate flavors I had experienced at some of the great Thai restaurants in the area.  It tasted right to me, the rest of the staff loved it but I was still worried.  What if an expert on Thai food were at the wedding?  Each time I do a job like this my reputation as a chef is on the line.  I had to make sure my Thai peanut sauce was right so I whipped out my laptop and shot a quick Tweet to Jaden Hair.  In less than 140 characters she let me know I had it right.

That’s Jaden for you.  That’s why she is so beloved in the food-blogging, cookbook-writing, TV-demo’ing world.  A peaceful spirit is always lurking beneath her bubbly exterior.

It isn’t often that I get to review the work of someone I consider a friend.  Consequently I always worry that I can aptly separate friendship from the task at hand.  In this case, however, I do not have to.  When great chefs like Martin Yan and Ming Tsai praise the Steamy Kitchen Cookbook then I can rest assured that the recipes are technically sound.  And when renowned food writers like the Washington Post’s Kim O’Donnel and Michael Ruhlman give it their approval then is it safe to say the prose is sound as well.

So with objectivity no longer an issue I’ll jump right to what I love about Jaden’s book.  It teaches while it entertains.  Though Jaden was born in Hong Kong, the is not a Chinese cookbook, it is an Asian cookbook featuring flavors from Korea, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and yes, China.

One lesson is that different cultures in Asia have vastly different cuisines.  Japanese is not Chinese.  Chinese isn’t Korean.  Another lesson that all Americans need to learn is that stuff on the steam table at the Red Dragon Buffet is far from being Chinese food.  It is American food.

steamy-kitchen-cookbookThe Steamy Kitchen Cookbook has 101 authentic or inspired Asian recipes.  It also boasts the most entertaining cookbook introduction I have ever read.  Damned clever, in fact.  And for you picture gawkers, Jaden is big into food porn, too.  Quite the accomplished food photographer, she has packed the 160 pages of the book with tons photos bursting with color and allure.

Jaden makes her home in the Tampa area with her husband, kids and a covey of culinary cohorts.  She can be seen working her gastronomic magic on TV shows like the nationally syndicated Daytime TV Show and NBC’s Today Show.  You can also just drop by the blog that started the whole Steamy Empire by clicking HERE.  Oh, yeah, buy the frickin’ book!

Review: Better Homes & Gardens’ Dinner in a Bowl

I was thrilled when I cut open the package sitting on the front porch when I got home from work today.  That’s because inside was my review copy of Better Homes & Gardens new cookbook Dinner in a Bowl: 160 recipes for simple, satisfying meals.  I love the concept of this book.  Check it out:

Foolproof recipes for tasty and fuss-free one-dish dinners

Dinner in a Bowl: 160 Recipes for Simple, Satisfying MealsEveryone loves a delicious home-cooked meal, especially those as satisfying as the recipes featured in Better Homes and Gardens One-Bowl Dinners. This globetrotting collection of flavorful recipes ranges from the exotic (such as Southeast Asian Curry) to the familiar (such as our best savory Beef Stew) to the downright comforting (Chicken and Dumplings). Within the selection are dozens of weeknight-worthy meals—from the ever-so-easy ramen noodle bowl to quick clever pasta tosses—and plenty of recipes to share with friends such as Beef Burgundy, Paella, and Jambalaya.

With recipes arranged by world region, you’ll find just what you’re in the mood for, whether it’s an Asian stir fry or an Italian spaghetti and meatball dinner. To round out the book, a chapter dedicated to main-dish salads offers a fresh spin on the one bowl meal.

  • Features more than 160 recipes and 100 luscious full-color photos that will fire any appetite
  • At-a-glance icons identify 30-minute meals, kid-friendly dishes, healthy recipes, and meals that are great for entertaining friends
  • Chapters include a “Make-It-Mine” recipe, letting you customize based on you and your family’s tastes, or what you have in the pantry
  • Full nutrition information with every recipe
  • Italian and Asian Noodle charts for quick identification

Like all of BH&G’s cookbooks, Dinner in a Bowl is conceived well and executed flawlessly.  It is smart and practical and the recipes are quite tempting.  I’m not a huge fan of pasta salad but I have to admit I’m thinking of running out to the store to get the ingredients for the Pasta Salad Niçoise.  This book has just flung a craving on me.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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