Lush Life

To be a lush chef, does not mean to drink in excess - this can result in scary fires and bad dishes. A lush chef is one who enjoys gourmet cooking/baking, often with fresh ingredients and the smart use of one's home bar. If there happens to be half a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or a sip of brandy left over...well, one cannot be wasteful. I give you permission to imbibe.

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The Lush Chef
Twitter: @thelushchef Provenance: Santa Monica Dish: Coq au Vin Spirit: Whiskey Wine: Malbec Beer: Hefeweizen Farmer's Market: Santa Monica on Main Street
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Dec 29, 2011

Mexican Hot Chocolate

The Lush Chef was home in Michigan for the holidays, and the colder weather definitely makes one crave a warm cocktail.  While heading out to church on Christmas Eve, I did a quick poll in the car and this is what the family requested.  This recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate from has a slight heat from the cayenne and incorporates some holiday spices like cinnamon and allspice.  I may never want hot chocolate any other way now...

Mexican Hot Chocolate - serves 3
  • 6 Tbs cocoa powder
  • 3 Tbs sugar
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 pinches allspice
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 oz water
  • 16 oz whole milk
  • 6 oz tequila
- In a small saucepan, stir together the cocoa powder, sugar, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and water until it forms a thick paste.
- Over medium heat, stir in the milk and whisk constantly until the mixture is hot, but not boiling.
- Remove from heat and stir in tequila.

Dec 27, 2011

Parsnip & Chestnut Bisque with Marsala

Libations used: 1/4 cup sweet Marsala wine
Libations left over: the whole bottle, so stow it in the cupboard
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...okay, so maybe not over an open fire, but I was definitely roasting some chestnuts in the oven.  I found this Parsnip and Chestnut Bisque recipe on Tasting Table from the vegan Philadelphia restaurant Vedge.  I had never eaten parsnips until last year and I love them—they're in season now, so snatch a few next time you're at the farmers market.  They look like giant white carrots and have a slightly sweet and gingery taste, which goes nicely with the allspice, cloves and nutmeg in the bisque.  This soup is a perfect post-holiday meal alternative to offset all the heavy eating you've been doing during those Christmas parties (and a little Marsala doesn't hurt!).  I opted for the non-vegan version by using regular cream cheese, but feel free to experiment.  

Parsnip & Chestnut Bisque with Marsala - serves 6-8
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 lb parsnips, peeled and chopped in medium pieces
  • 1/4 cup sweet Marsala wine
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 cups roasted and peeled chestnuts
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or cream cheese (the recipe calls for tofu sour cream or cream cheese if you want to go vegan)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

- To roast the chestnuts, heat the oven to 400 and cut little x's with a sharp knife (be careful!) on the flat side of each nut.
- Place on a baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes.
- When the chestnuts have cooled, peel them
- In a dutch oven or medium stockpot over medium heat, add olive oil.
- Once it's heated, add the onion, garlic and parsnips and sauté until the parsnips begin to brown (about 5-6 minutes).
- Add the Marsala and cook until it's reduced by half (about 2 minutes).
- Add the chestnuts, sour cream/cream cheese and stir in the vegetable stock and spices.
- Bring to a simmer and cook the parsnips until they're tender (about 8-10 minutes).
- Remove from heat and set aside to let the mixture cool slightly.
- Add to blender or food processor and purée.
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Dec 22, 2011

Spiced Bitter Bar Nuts

Bitters are truly amazing.  I really only thought of them as being in cocktails until I bought Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All.  This recipe for flavored, toasted nuts comes from that book and they are truly addictive.  I made these for my holiday brunch/cocktail party and I had to keep filling up little bowls of them.  They're the right amount of sweet, spicy and salty, and are even more amazing when served warm (although they'll last up to a few days if you toss them into some tupperware).  My friends tend to have a spicier palate so the full teaspoon of cayenne was just fine, but feel free to adjust for taste.  I used Angostura bitters because the flavor always reminds me of Christmas.  I'm excited to try these with some other spices and herbs, and vary up the bitters with Peychauds or my Buzzkill Coffee Pecan bitters.  These are sure to become a Lush Chef cocktail party staple.

Spiced Bitter Bar Nuts - makes 4 cups
  • 4 cups unsalted and raw nuts - I used a mix of cashews, pecans, almonds and walnuts
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (for folks who can't handle as much spice, use half the amount)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs honey
  • 1 Tbs Angostura bitters
  • 1 Tbs coarse sea salt (I used a nice flaky finishing salt)
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes (shake the nuts around on the pan at the 5 min mark).
- Combine the brown sugar, butter, rosemary, cayenne, cinnamon, honey and bitters in a large bowl.
- Add the nuts to the bowl and mix thoroughly so they're nicely coated.
- Add the salt and mix again.

Dec 20, 2011

Wassail Punch

Wassail, wassail!  Not like I have an apple orchard to go wassailing in, but the Lush Chef was having a holiday brunch/cocktail party and I'm a strong believer in punches when entertaining large crowds.  As much as I love mixing up cocktails for my friends, sometimes the last thing you want to do is play bartender during your own shindig.  I first made this Wassail Punch last year after a visit out to a Christmas tree farm with some friends.  It's hot, spicy and comforting, and makes your home smell like holiday heaven.  Make sure you give yourself a couple of hours so the spices get infused in the punch and it's piping hot when served.  Because I was tripling this recipe, I used a cheaper bourbon (Wild Turkey bourbon left over from making my bitters).  So raise a mug and sing...or just raise a mug.

Wassail Punch - serves 6
  • 6 cups apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • Juice of 1 lemon 
  • 1 cup bourbon or whiskey (I used Wild Turkey)
  • 8-10 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 6-8 whole star anise
  • 1 Tbs sugar
- In a large stock pot or dutch oven, bring all ingredients to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for at least 2 hours.
- Garnish each drink with a cinnamon stick and/or star anise.

Dec 15, 2011

My Bitter Revenge

I normally don't get personal on this blog, but my journey in making cocktail bitters ended up being a rather personal one...and now that I look back upon it, somewhat positive and funny, in that it pushed me to really take this project on.

I had purchased Brad Thomas Parson's beautiful book on Bitters a couple of months ago and was so excited to start making my own batch.  Some people make jam and pickles, but I decided I was going to take a different route on the DIY highway.  I started leafing through all of the resources listed in Brad's book in obtaining obscure ingredients such as gentian root, cassia chips, schizandra berries and devil's club root.  In olden times, would I have been considered a witch?  I realized that if I was going to throw myself whole-heartedly into this endeavor, I was going to have to find a local purveyor.  The spices weren't a problem, as I'm a frequent customer of Silver Lake's Spice Station.  But these darn roots and barks...was I going to have to go foraging through the forest or have them consistently shipped from Tenzing Momo in Seattle?  I knew there just had to be a place in Los Angeles where I could source this stuff, so I tweeted the author and he was kind enough to put me in touch with Louis from LA-based bitter company Miracle Mile.  Louis pointed me towards Herbs of Mexico, an herbal shop in East LA, that had everything I would need, including some inexpensive amber dropper bottles.

Bitters take about a month to make—there are 2 weeks where you have all of your roots, barks, fruit peels, herbs and spices fermenting in 100 proof bourbon or vodka, then some straining and separating, another week of fermenting, and then 3 days where a sugar syrup settles into your mixture.  I knew I had to start early if I wanted to give a bottle of orange bitters to American Trilogy—they were a crucial ingredient in his favorite cocktail, and what better Christmas gift than a basket of everything he needed to make that libation?  I was just stepping out of yoga and getting my coffee before embarking on my Saturday morning Eastside adventure when I got the call...things were ending with American Trilogy (but not my love affair with the actual cocktail).  It felt like a scene out of a bad romantic comedy—the rain, my hair a mess from yoga, copious tears streaming down my face.  It was a rather unceremonious way of being dumped and it came totally out of left field.  I look back and I still don't see any real signs that would have indicated what was coming.  Was I in a cocktail haze and food coma for 3 months? 

After an epic cry over the phone with my parents, I was determined I wasn't going to let this get in the way of my bitter making.  I hopped in the car with a box of tissues and proceeded to drive around LA for about 6 or 7 hours making the various stops in East LA, Silver Lake, Century City and Santa Monica.  Where's Ryan Gosling when you need him?  I grabbed various supplies (cheese cloths, mason jars, high-proof bourbon, funnels) in between texting friends at every stop and crying over the phone.  I walked into Herbs of Mexico teary-eyed and red-faced (quite the unusual sight amongst the locals of this area), where a kind saleslady helped me gather all the ingredients I would need.  Strangely enough, they didn't have two essential ingredients for making orange bitters.  Frick.  Well, I didn't want to make orange first anyway!  I already had a bottle of Fees sitting happily on my shelf.  What I really wanted to make was coffee pecan, and now that I was doing this for me, I took it as a sign...

I'm a strong believer in everything happening for a reason.  When things aren't so hot in the Lush Chef world, I throw myself into projects and activities to keep me busy and take my mind off of things.  It's partly why baking and cooking is so therapeutic for me.  You're turning that negative energy into something positive—a tasty treat or dish for yourself or someone you care about.  When I had first purchased Brad's book, the only thing on my mind was to make a couple batches of bitters and say that I at least tried it.  But this horrible experience with American Trilogy made me think of it as more of a catalyst for something bigger.  Perhaps this was meant to happen so that I'd be inspired and pushed to try something new?  Perhaps I could eventually create my own cocktail bitters line?  It may still end up being just a home project, but maybe these little bottles of love/anger could end up in bars or boutique stores across the country.  I'll just follow this road and see where it takes me...

So here's the debut of Bitter Revenge with the first flavor—Buzzkill.  That's right.  I'm literally bottling up my anger and frustration, letting it ferment, and creating something slightly bitter, but delicious out of it.
Here are the crazy ingredients that it contains:
  • toasted pecans
  • whole coffee beans, lightly crushed
  • cocoa nibs
  • minced dried orange peel
  • black peppercorns
  • cassia chips
  • wild cherry bark
  • high-proof bourbon (I used Wild Turkey)
  • sorghum molasses
Here's the mason jar that I took my aggression out on every day. It's the end of the fermentation process so all the solid pieces have been strained out.

And voilà!  Aren't these bottles of Bitter Revenge pretty?

In the recipe description, Brad says that The Patterson House (my fave bar in Nashville), uses their coffee-pecan bitters to make a Bacon Old-Fashioned with bacon-infused bourbon and maple syrup.  A future Lush Chef post, perhaps?  I'll also welcome any cocktail recipe suggestions in the comments below, so put those thinking caps on.  I'm also already plotting my next flavor.  And if Bitter Revenge becomes a success?  I'll raise an American Trilogy (the cocktail, not him) to all the fabulous friends, family, colleagues and readers who have shown their support.  To sweet revenge...

Dec 13, 2011

Rum Balls

Libations used: 1/2 cup dark rum
Libations left over: Save the shots for later because you'll get plenty eating the cookies!
A few years ago I had to make a 50's-inspired dessert for a "Mad Men" party, and rum balls kept popping up in my research.  There's nothing like a rum shot in cookie form to really get that holiday office party going.  Having a few of these might induce some tipsiness, so be sure to warn people before they start popping them like candy.  I love this Emeril Lagasse recipe that includes cocoa and allspice to give it that Christmasy kick.  I actually add more confectioners sugar to the mixture so it isn't so sticky and gooey when you're rolling it into balls.  They don't take long to make, so they're perfect for toting to all your holiday parties and will last in your fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Rum Balls - makes about 3-4 dozen, depending on how big you make them 
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar + 1/2 cup for dusting
  • 2 Tbs cocoa powder 
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 2 Tbs light corn syrup
  • 2 1/2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers
  • 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts

- In a large bowl, sift together 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, cocoa powder and allspice.
- Stir in the rum and corn syrup.
- Stir in wafers and walnuts and mix well.
- Place in fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up - the mixture will be a little dry and crumbly.
- Place 1/2 cup confectioners sugar in a small bowl.
- Make 1 inch balls (you'll have to really work the mixture together) and roll in sugar.
- Place in 1 layer in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.

Dec 8, 2011

Libation Location: Bar Keeper

It's not often that I make my way over to Silver Lake, but when I do, I make a point to stop over at Bar Keeper along Sunset Junction (3910 W. Sunset Blvd).  The shop itself may be small, but I'm always impressed by how well-curated the libations are that Joe the Bar Keeper has in stock.  If I'm buying my usual liquors, I just hit up a Bev-Mo, but if I'm looking to find something new or hard-to-find, then I know I can't go wrong at Bar Keeper.  Everyone that works there is extremely friendly and knowledgeable.  You're not going to get a blank stare like you do at Bev-Mo when you walk in and ask for Cynar, and those Bev-Mo employees pronounce it wrong anyway...

They have an especially well-curated cart of bitters in the middle of the room with the usual Angostura, Peychauds, Fees and Regans lines, along with the rarer Bitter Truth or the local Miracle Mile brands (check out that lovely pic from Tasting Table).  Other mixers such as orgeat, falernum (hmm, a libation education on those in the future?), pickle brine and rosewater can also be found here and get the Lush Chef all excited about experimenting.  I recently stocked up on some pretty amber glass bottles for the bitters I'm making.  More on that next week.  They also have a nice selection of practical and fun barware and glassware that ranges from classic to whimsical.  I couldn't help purchasing a set of sturdy coupe glasses for $6 a piece.  The Lush Chef is "so over" pouring 3 oz cocktails into a giant martini glass reminiscent of those "Sex and the City" days.

When the holidays roll around, Joe starts contacting local mixologists to put together cocktail gift boxes, which include all the tools and ingredients needed to make a particular drink.  Choices include Matthew Biancaniello's (Library Bar) Kentucky Bubble Bath, Eric Alperin's (The Varnish) Colonial Ties, David Kupchinsky's (The Tar Pit) Oaxacan Angel, as well as some more classic cocktails like a Manhattan or a Sazerac.  Look out for that chemistry-inspired sign along Sunset and you're sure to go all mad cocktail scientist when walking out the door with your purchases. 

Dec 6, 2011

Provençal Chicken Stew

Libations used: 1/2 cup red wine
Libations left over: pretty much the whole bottle, so pour yourself a glass while this stew simmers.
The Santa Anas have been blowing through Southern California, chilling me to the bone and tempting a cold.  Instead of just regular chicken soup or stew, of course I had to find a way to make it gourmet and lush.  This Provençal Chicken Stew from Gourmet's Fresh is in the fall section, but our seasons are weird and blend in over here, so I didn't pay attention to that.  Plus, the bright green and reds from the zucchini, red peppers and olives gives it a holiday look, right?  Mom would be proud because I got plenty of fresh veggies, and make sure you cook them so they still have some nice color and slight firmness.  Since it's a French stew, there will undoubtedly be wine...and butter.  Embrace it, because the veggies offset all of that, right?  Gourmet recommends serving this with some Lemon & Thyme Couscous—just toss in about  1 Tbs of fresh chopped thyme and 1 tsp of freshly grated lemon zest.  I'll be eating this all week, because "baby, it's cold outside."

Provençal Chicken Stew - serves 6-8
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • 4 medium zucchini
  • 1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes
  • 12 chicken pieces 
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine - I used cabernet sauvignon
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 Tbs all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup Niçoise olives - I had a mixture of olives so just used whatever I had left
  • Fresh lemon juice, salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

- Chop onion and finely chop garlic.
- Cut bell peppers into 1/2 inch pieces.
- Cut zucchini into 1 inch slices and then cut in half.
- Drain canned tomatoes and chop.
- Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.
- In a dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking.
- Brown chicken in batches and transfer them to a large bowl.
- Pour off all but 1 Tbs of fat from dutch oven.
- In remaining fat, cook the onion and garlic over medium heat, stirring until softened.
- Add wine and deglaze dutch oven by scraping up any brown bits from the chicken.
- Stir in water, broth, tomatoes and chicken.
- Simmer mixture, covered, until any chicken breasts are just cooked through (about 18 min).
- Transfer the breast halves to a large bowl.
- Continue letting the mixture simmer, covered, until thighs, wings and drumsticks are cooked through (about 10-12 min).
- Transfer the rest of the chicken to your large bowl.
- Add peppers and zucchini to sauce and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until veggies are tender (about 8-10 min).
- With a slotted spoon, transfer all the veggies to another large bowl.
- Boil the sauce until it's reduced to about 4 cups.
- While sauce is boiling, combine butter and flour in a small bowl using your fingertips.
- Whisk butter mixture into the sauce a little at a time into the reduced sauce.
- Simmer and whisk until the sauce slightly thickens (about 2 min).
- Add chicken back into the dutch oven and stir in olives, veggies, lemon juice, salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.
- Serve chicken stew over couscous.

Dec 1, 2011

Little Italy Cocktail

In the past couple of months, I've been spending A LOT of time at LACMA because of a new, ongoing film series that my company is working on with them.  Once or twice a week, I find myself at Stark Bar for a snack and cocktail before the Q&A.  The last time I was there, I asked for Bartender's Choice and he made me a Little Italy. He knew I liked amari and Cynar happens to be one of my favorites.  This is like a funky twist on a Manhattan and I turned it up a notch by adding one of my Brandied Cocktail Cherries.

Little Italy Cocktail - makes 1
  • 2 oz rye whiskey
  • 1/2 oz Cynar
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
  • maraschino or brandied cherry for garnish
- Fill a mixing glass with ice and add the rye whiskey, Cynar and sweet vermouth.
- Stir, stir to your heart's content and strain into a chilled coupe glass.
- Garnish with the cherry.

Nov 29, 2011

Roasted Acorn Squash with Amaretto

Thanksgiving may be over, but I'll be eating squash all fall and winter long.  I'm always collecting recipes for various dishes to try for this blog and (gasp!) recipes without libations, but when it comes to squash, I just don't even bother searching.  This Italian-inspired Roasted Acorn Squash recipe from Tyler Florence just blows all other squash recipes out of the water.  The Lush Chef's family has been making this every Thanksgiving for a few years now and it's a dish I look forward to each time.  The combination of butter, brown sugar, amaretto and crushed cookies all baking in the hollow of the squash, provides just enough sweetness to mix in when you start spooning the gourds apart.  These are sure to cause some family squabbles when you're trying to grab for leftovers the next day...

Roasted Acorn Squash with Amaretto - serves 4-8 (depending on how big the squash are)
  • 2 acorn squash (about 1 lb each)
  • salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 Tbs amaretto
  • 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/2 lb crushed vanilla wafers, almond biscotti or pignoli cookies
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Split the squash in half lengthwise and scrape out all the seeds.
- Set the squash halves, cut sides up, on a baking pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- In a small bowl, cream the butter, sugar and amaretto.
- With a pastry brush or spoon, coat the sides of each squash half with the butter mixture.
- Put 2 sage leaves on top of each and sprinkle the hollowed parts with the crushed cookies.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until tender, basting with the butter mixture every 15 minutes.

Nov 24, 2011

Honey Crunch Pecan Pie...with Bourbon

Libations used: 1 Tbs bourbon
Libations left over: Pour yourself a glass of bourbon while that pie is baking
I've never been a pumpkin pie fan at Thanksgiving and the Lush Chef's mother is the same.  I've just never liked the texture, even though I love other pumpkin-flavored dishes and desserts.  The pie that I really crave during Thanksgiving is my mom's Honey Crunch Pecan Pie, which include a little bit of bourbon in the filling.  I love having a slice that's heated up in the oven for a bit—that filling just tastes like warm bourbon, pecan, honey happiness.  It's ridiculously rich, so I can only handle a small piece, but I always make sure to save room in my tummy for it.

This Oklahoma recipe won a national pie contest and comes from some little Crisco pamphlet that mom picked up at the grocery store years ago.  The woman who developed the recipe picked her own pecans off her tree and sourced honey from her beehive.  If you can do that, I applaud you, and you're a way cooler person than I am (can I come over and pick pecans with you?).

Honey Crunch Pecan Pie...with Bourbon - serves 8-10
Crust Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour or pastry flour (note- when using pastry flour, use slightly less shortening)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3-4 Tbs ice cold water
Filling Ingredients:
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 Tbs salted butter, melted
  • 1 Tbs bourbon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
Topping Ingredients:
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 Tbs salted butter, melted
  • 3 Tbs honey
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan halves
Heat oven to 350.

To make the 10 inch crust:
- Cut small pieces of shortening into the flour and salt, and use a fork or food processor to combine until mixture resembles small peas.
- Sprinkle in water 1 Tbs at a time and and continue combining with the mixture until all the flour is moistened and the pastry almost cleans the side of the bowl.
- Gather the pastry into a ball.
- Shape into a flattened round with a lightly floured, cloth-covered rolling pin.
- Roll out 2 inches beyond your inverted pie plate.
- Fold the pastry into fourths, place into pie plate and unfold.
- Make sure to press the pastry firmly into the bottom and sides, and shape the edges.

To make the filling:
- Combine eggs, brown sugar, sugar, salt, corn syrup, butter, bourbon, vanilla and chopped pecans.
- Mix well and spoon into your unbaked pie shell.

To make the topping:
- Combine brown sugar, butter and honey in a medium saucepan.
- Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the pecans and stir until they're coated.
- Spoon evenly over the pie.
- Cover the edge of the crust with foil or a pie crust cover.
- Bake 10-20 minutes or until topping is bubbly and golden brown.
- Let pie cool and garnish with whipped cream, if desired.

Nov 22, 2011

Red Wine & Brandy Tomato Soup

Libations used: 1/4 cup brandy, 1/2 cup red wine
Libations left over: Hmm, well you could make a cocktail with brandy or have a glass of red while those tomatoes are stewing.
Thanksgiving is imminent and the Lush Chef will be heading home to cook with her family, but in the days leading up to my trip, I needed something quick and hearty to get me through the next few days.  I had just spent the previous day wine tasting up in Santa Ynez along my favorite trail and didn't have the energy to make anything complicated or source a lot of ingredients.  Plus, aren't we all going to be cooking up a storm on Thursday?  The Lush Chef's dad sent her this recipe from a while ago and I had been craving tomato soup.  It's not a creamy tomato soup—it has more of a gazpacho-like texture, so it's healthier and packs plenty of flavor with all the herbs.  Their recipe recommends using cherry brandy, but I just used the regular brandy I had on hand and then a fruity Grenache Shiraz.

Red Wine & Brandy Tomato Soup - serves 8
  • 8 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs dried oregano
  • 1 Tbs dried thyme
  • 1 Tbs dried basil
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • salt & pepper to taste

- In a dutch oven or large sauce pot over medium heat, add the olive oil and sauté the red onion and garlic for about 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, herbs, brandy and wine and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Make yourself a cocktail or drink a glass of wine.
- Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.
- Put the mixture in a blender or food processor and pour through a strainer to get rid of some of those tomato peels.
- If you are craving a little richness, top with a dollop of crème fraiche.

Nov 17, 2011

Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All

An Old Fashioned isn't an Old Fashioned unless you add one key ingredient— bitters, and namely Angostura.  That distinctive bottle with the oversize label and the yellow cap happens to be one of the oldest remaining bitters around. Peychaud's, a key ingredient for the famous Sazerac, and Fee Brothers have also been making bitters since the early days.

I'm fascinated by America's cocktail history, so when I heard that a new book was coming out in November that traced the just the history of bitters...well...I geeked out and placed my advance order.  Brad Thomas Parsons' Bitters - A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All neatly (is that a cocktail joke? nah) traces the history of this potent libation, its death after Prohibition and its resurgence with the vintage cocktail movement.  It's humorous, informative and a quick read.  Go buy it NOW.  In addition, Brad lists reputable both large and small-batch companies that are making bitters today (Bitter Truth, Miracle Mile Bitters, Bittermens) and where to find them, as well as various stores/websites to purchase the ingredients to start making your own.  There are about a dozen basic recipes to follow that are tested and true, and which lay the foundation for future experimentation.  A whole list of both classic and modern cocktails which showcase the beauty of bitters are also included.  And best of all, there are recipes for cooking and baking with bitters— my little Lush Chef heart just skipped a beat.

So what are bitters, exactly?  It's basically high-proof alcohol (think 100 or 101 proof vodka or bourbon) that is infused with herbs, spices, roots and barks.  The roots and barks are what impart a somewhat bitter flavor, but when balanced with various spices (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom), dried fruit peels (oranges, lemons, apples, pears) and herbs, the result is wonderfully aromatic and tasty.  Just a few dashes or drops can transform a drink or add that certain something that's missing from a cocktail.  It can take a drink from ordinary to extraordinary. 

Bitters were extremely popular in pre-Prohibition days because of their medicinal properties to soothe upset stomachs, fevers, headaches and palpitations.  While the claims that bitters were a "cure-all" are truly outrageous, they do perform some of their medicinal duties.  They're perfect as a digestif— just put a few dashes in some soda water after a big dinner or take a tsp of it if you're really desperate.  Because bitters were billed as medicine, they managed to escape Prohibition regulations for a little bit, but the Feds wised up when America's fine citizens kept getting drunk off of their high-proof "medicine."

With the resurgence of anything vintage cocktail-related, came the return of bitters.  Mixologists were scouring old cocktail recipe books and kept running across obscure bitter flavors that were no longer available on the market.  Some enterprising bartenders and libation enthusiasts either tracked down old bitters recipes or would purchase ancient bottles of bitters that had a few drops left so they could reverse-engineer the recipe.  And thus, the bitters boom began.  I'm incredibly fortunate to live in a city that has a strong cocktail culture that geeks out over its history and also places value on the artisanal food/cocktail movement, so I've been able to sample unusual flavors that go beyond the typical orange and Angostura-like notes, such as celery, rhubarb, chocolate & chili and more.

I find it fascinating that so much flavor can be packed into just one little drop of alcohol.  I've already started making my first batch (coffee-pecan) and I can't wait to share my bitters-making adventure with all of my readers.  And I already have a ton of little dropper bottles ready for filling so I can share with my Lush Chef Taste Testers and mixologist friends.  So the journey begins...

Nov 15, 2011

Spiced Pear Muffins with Brandy

When the Lush Chef is feeling down, she doesn't drink— she bakes.  Yes, that's right.  Drinking in the morning or early afternoon by yourself is not a healthy way to make yourself feel better, kids.  If you're doing that, you may need some therapy or AA.  But baking and sharing your culinary results can put a smile on someone's face or fill your own tummy, and that's a good thing.

So I baked muffins this past weekend so I could share them with my co-workers on a brisk fall morning.  I had tons of over-ripe pears that I needed to use up and this recipe for Spiced Pear Muffins from The Kitchn had been calling me for a couple of weeks.

Being the Lush Chef that I am, of course I found a way to incorporate some libations.  One of my favorite muffins that my mom made for me as a child were "Surprise Muffins," which were just a basic muffin but filled with different jams in the middle.  I did a twist on the surprise by mashing up some pears with a little sugar and brandy to make a chunky pair sauce and layered that in.  While you can't see it very well because of the color of the muffins and baked pears, you do get a an extra burst of pear when you bite into them.  I topped the muffins with a little turbinado sugar and cinnamon, but feel free to experiment with candied ginger, chopped walnuts or extra dashes of nutmeg on top.  And man, smelling these bake in the oven quickly put a smile on my face— so comforting and reminded me of home.

Spiced Pear Muffins with Brandy - serves 12
Ingredients for the muffins:
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 medium-sized pears, unpeeled and diced small
  • cinnamon & turbinado sugar for topping
Ingredients for the pear brandy sauce:
  • 2 small pears, peeled and diced small
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp brandy

To make the muffins:
- Heat your oven to 425 and place muffin cups in wells of pan.
- Using a mixer on high speed, cream the white and brown sugars and butter for about 1 minute, or until it resembles fluffy frosting.
- Mix in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.
- Mix in the vanilla extract.
- In a separate bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, spices and salt.
- With the mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/3 of the milk.
- Continue alternating between the flour mixture and milk, mixing until the flour is fully incorporated.  Don't over mix!
- Scrape any remaining flour from the sides of the bowl and stir gently to incorporate.
- Add the pears and fold into the mixture.

To make the pear sauce:
- Add the diced pears, sugar and brandy to a small bowl and mash those suckers with a potato masher until it resembles a slightly chunky applesauce.  It's a great way to release any kind of aggression you may be feeling that day, and you're done!

- Fill the muffin cups about halfway with batter.
- Spoon about a tsp of pear sauce on top of the batter.
- Use the remaining batter to top off and make sure the pear sauce is completely covered.
- Sprinkle some turbinado sugar and cinnamon on top.
- Place the muffin pan in the oven and turn the heat down to 400.
- Bake for 10 minutes and then rotate the pan.
- Bake for another 10-15 minutes until muffins are done— that toothpick should come out clean, and the top will look cracked and toasted.

Nov 10, 2011

Apple Toddy

As one who calls herself the Lush Chef, you may not be surprised to find out that I turn to libations to help ease my colds and sore throats.  I've never had a good reaction to medicine as it leaves me with something worse than a hangover in the morning.  So I stick with something I trust, like whiskey or bourbon—I know exactly how I'll feel the next day and how much I can handle.  I relied on Hot Toddies to get me through many a film festival.  When you're required to network with filmmakers and press in Sundance or Toronto and you're on your last legs, a Hot Toddy will at least get you through the next few hours.

I could feel a sore throat coming on this past week, so instead of going out on Friday night, I stayed in and made myself this Apple Toddy.  Instead of baking an apple (because who feels like baking apples when they're sick?), I used some spiced applesauce that I had made last week.  This cocktail is so comforting, soothes the throat and helps you get to sleep at night.  The best part is getting to the bottom of this drink and scooping out Applejack-laced applesauce.  And guess what?  No sore throat the next morning. 

Apple Toddy - serves 1
  • Half a baked apple (Macintosh, Braeburn, Granny Smith) or enough scoops of applesauce to equal that.
  • A big tsp of sugar, but only if you're baking the apple.
  • 2 oz boiling water
  • 2 oz Applejack
  • Nutmeg to finish
- If you're going to bake the apple, core, peel and slice in half.  Place it in wet parchment paper and bake it at 350 for 30-45 minutes, or until completely soft.
- Rinse a mug with boiling water so it's nice and hot when you pour your liquids in.
- Put in half a baked apple and the sugar and muddle quickly together.  Or, just toss in my awesome applesauce (recipe below).
- Add 1 oz boiling water and stir.
- Add the Applejack and stir.
- Add 1 oz boiling water and stir (by staggering the additions, you keep the drink hotter).
- Sprinkle some nutmeg on top and nurse that cold away. 

The Lush Chef's Apple Sauce - serves 8-10 and doesn't have any libations in it
  • 9 medium cooking apples (see above) peeled, quartered & cored
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- In a dutch oven or large saucepot, combine the apples, water, sugar and cinnamon.
- Bring to boiling and then reduce heat.
- Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until apples are tender.
- Remove from heat and mash with a potato masher to desired texture.  You'll notice a lot of liquid at first, but once you start mashing it will combine nicely.

Nov 8, 2011

Brie & Mushroom Mac & Cheese with White Wine

Libations used: 1/2 cup white wine
Libations left over: pretty much the whole bottle, so serve with dinner
It was raining most of the weekend here in Los Angeles, and when that happens I crave comfort food.  My ultimate comfort?  Mac and cheese.  It brings back memories of childhood and I freakin' love cheese.  I had been eating big dinners all week, so as much as I love making my Beer-Baked Mac 'n Cheese, my stomach couldn't handle the richness.  This recipe for Brie-Style Mac and Cheese with Mushrooms from The Kitchn ended up being a nice, lighter alternative.  They recommend using Crave Brothers Petite Frère Cheese, but I just used the cheapest Brie I could find at Trader Joe's.  I did have a really nice cave-aged Gruyère, so I got at least one fancy cheese in there.  Ultimately, use what you've got and or grab your favorite Brie and Gruyère at the store.  This recipe tells you to make your own bread crumbs, which I highly recommend.  It doesn't take long and the results are so much better.  I used an inexpensive Chardonnay that I had on hand to mix in with the mushrooms and garlic, and then poured myself a glass to enjoy with dinner and some "Boardwalk Empire."  A truly lush night in. 

Brie & Mushroom Mac & Cheese with White Wine - serves 6
  • 1 lb package of shell pasta
  • 2 slices whole wheat sandwich bread - I had Ezekiel bread on hand, so managed to slip in something healthy!
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 8-10 oz Brie - rind removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb mushrooms, sliced
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine - I used Chardonnay
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 oz (1/2 cup) grated Gruyère

- Preheat oven to 350.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
- Add the bread slices to a food processor and grind into crumbs.
- Add the nuts and pulse until well combined.
- In a skillet over medium heat, melt 1 Tbs of butter.
- Add the breadcrumb mixture, stir frequently and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture begins to brown.  Remove from heat and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and 1 Tbs butter over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute.
- Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, or until mushrooms begin to release their juices.
- Add the wine and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside.
- With the remaining liquid and garlic, whisk in the flour and cook for about a minute.
- Add the milk and whisk the mixture until the flour has dissolved and it begins to thicken.
- Remove from heat and add your cheeses, stirring until melted.
- Add the cooked pasta and mushrooms and stir until well combined.
- Add to a casserole dish and top with the breadcrumb mixture.
- Put in oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Nov 3, 2011

Spiced Apple Cider Manhattan

This time of year, the Lush Chef always has a big jug of cider in the fridge.  I drink it cold with breakfast, hot at night while I'm watching TV or added to my cocktails.  Ever since I got a nice big bottle of Bols Barrel Aged Genever, I've been playing around with different recipes.  I decided to do a fall twist on their Manhattan by adding some of Trader Joe's Spiced Apple Cider.  You can obviously use regular cider, but I wanted this cocktail to have a spiced kick and it went perfectly with the sweet and herbal Genever.

Spiced Apple Cider Manhattan - makes 1
  • 2 oz Bols Barrel Aged Genever
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 1/2 oz spiced apple cider
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 cocktail cherry (I used one of my yummy Brandied Cocktail Cherries)
  • 1/2 or whole piece of star anise

- Add the genever, vermouth, apple cider and bitters in a mixing glass with ice.
- Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass that has your cherry in the bottom.
- Garnish with the star anise.

Nov 1, 2011

Bolognese-Smothered Parmesan Polenta

Libations used: 1/2 cup red wine
Libations left over: pretty much the whole bottle
Fall is always a busy time for publicists in the entertainment industry, and the madness began for the Lush Chef about two weeks ago.  I didn't have much time to cook over the weekend, so this fairly quick Bolognese-Smothered Parmesan Polenta from the gals at Bite Me seemed like the perfect dish to whip up on a Sunday evening.  And that also meant I could crack open a bottle of red wine and have a glass while I stirred the polenta...and waited for the sauce to simmer.  Since I really only had time to eat lunch during the week, this hearty and hot dish got me through the cold days and left me satisfied until my events were over.

Bolognese-Smothered Parmesan Polenta - serves 6-8
Polenta Ingredients:
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Bolognese Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3 1/2 cups chopped mushrooms (I used a variety of cremini and shiitake)
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (I used a Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 2-3 inch piece of Parmesan rind
  • 1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

To make the polenta:
- Coat an 11x7 inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- In a large pot, add the water and salt and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low and slowly add the cornmeal, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes.  The polenta should be thick and smooth.  Your wine glass should be full.
- Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.
- Spoon into your prepared baking dish and set aside.

To make the Bolognese Sauce:
- In a large pan or skillet, sauté the ground beef over medium-high heat and break it up as it cooks, for about 5 minutes or until no longer pink.
- Drain the beef in a colander and return the beef to the skillet.
- Add milk and cook the beef over medium-heat for about 3 minutes, until the milk is absorbed.
- Add the mushrooms, carrot, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, cooking over medium-low heat for 8 minutes or until the onion is softened.
- Add the tomato sauce, wine and Parmesan rind to the meat mixture.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.
- Continue sipping your glass of red wine, or maybe have another glass.
- Remove from heat and discard the rind.
- Slice the polenta into 6-8 servings and spoon the sauce over each portion.
- You can finish with freshly grated Parmesan, if you desire.

Oct 27, 2011

Libation Education: Bols Barrel Aged Genever

Since I've started blogging about cooking and cocktails, it's been amazing how much I've learned in the past 6 months or so.  This endeavor began as a way for me to expand my creative boundaries and gain some knowledge in the process.  So when I got a beautiful bottle of Bols Barrel Aged Genever in the mail from their lovely publicist, I couldn't wait to try it and share the knowledge and results with my readers.

You may have seen Bols Genever on cocktail menus, and wondered what the heck it is.  Jenever or Genever is a juniper-flavored liquor made primarily from malt wine, and is actually the libation that gin originated from.  Hailing from Holland, it's a distillate made from rye, wheat and corn and is triple distilled in copper pot stills.  The unique spiced flavor comes from a blend of hops, cloves, anise, licorice, ginger and of course, juniper. Back in the olden days (Bols Genever goes all the way back to 1575), the distilling process resulted in rather unpalatable concoctions, so the herbs were added to mask the taste.  Because of the medicinal properties of juniper berries, Bols Genever was first sold as a medicine in the late 16th century.  In 2007, it was awarded AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controllée) status, so Genever can only be produced in Holland and some select neighboring areas.  

The barrel aged version I received was aged for 18 months in oak barrels form the French Limousin region.  The maturing results in a slightly sweet taste and maintains some of those young wood flavors.  I also love the way it's packaged—in grey clay jugs.  Basically, if you're looking for a twist on a whiskey cocktail, you can substitute this.  It's yummy in Manhattans and Mint Juleps, or you can sip it straight or as an aperitif.  It's a great starter liquor for those who aren't big fans of brown libations—the sweetness factor helps one ease in.

Oct 25, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Pull-Apart Bread with Butter Rum Glaze

Libations used: 1/4 tsp dark rum
Libations left over: None.  Lay off the sauce for a while, won't ya?
Every time I walk up to my door, the pumpkin I picked a couple of weekends ago sits there in silence and reminds me I need to make something with him.  Well, I want him to sit there and look pretty a little longer, but there's always store-bought purée.  This Pumpkin Spice Pull-Apart Bread from Willow Bird Baking has been tempting me for weeks, and a quiet Sunday afternoon finally afforded me the time to make it.

Making bread is a rather lengthy process because of all the rising and resting, blah, blah, blah.  But I love making it, and my co-workers love eating it even more.  The pull-apart nature of this bread makes it easy and fun to share, and who doesn't love sugar and spice coated bread with tons of rum glaze (arrr!)?  The top of this bread gets all crispy and caramelized, so definitely share this because you could very well eat the whole one sitting...

Pumpkin Spice Pull-Apart Bread with Butter Rum Glaze - serves 8-10

Bread Ingredients:
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp (1 envelope) active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin purée 
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
Filling Ingredients:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
Butter Rum Glaze Ingredients:
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs + 1 1/2 tsp milk
  • 1/4 tsp rum

To make the bread:
- Grease and flour a medium loaf pan and set aside.
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, brown the butter.  Let it bubble and foam and when you see it start to brown, stir so it browns evenly.
- When it looks like some dark pirate rum, remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl to cool.
- In the same saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the milk until it bubbles.
- Remove from heat and pour into the large mixing bowl.
- Let the mixture cool to about 100-110.
- Stir in the sugar and yeast and let the mixture sit for a few minutes.
- Stir in the pumpkin, salt and 1 cup flour.
- If you're using a stand mixer with a dough hook, attach that or knead the dough by hand.  Add the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring between each addition.
- When the dough is combined, knead for about 4-5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover it with a damp cloth.  Let it rise in a warm place for an hour or until it doubles in size.  If you do this the night before, put in the fridge overnight and then let it sit out for 30 minutes before rolling it out.

To make the filling:
- While the dough is rising, mix the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a small bowl.
- When the dough is almost done rising, melt the 2 Tbs of butter in the small saucepan over medium-high heat and brown it like before.  Let it cool before you use it as indicated below.

To shape the bread:
- Knead about 1 Tbs of flour into the dough to deflate it.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes.
- Flour your work surface and turn the rested dough onto it.
- Roll it out to a 20x12 inch rectangle.  You may have to lift the corners and tug to shape.  If the dough is  snapping back, cover it with the damp towel and let it rise for about 5 minutes before continuing.  I definitely had to do this a couple of times.
- Spread the browned butter over the surface of the dough with a pastry brush.
- Sprinkle the sugar mixture onto the dough and pat it down so it mostly sticks.
- With the long edge of the rectangle facing you, cut it into 6 strips.
- Stack the strips on top of each other and then cut again into 6 portions.
- Place these little strips one at a time into your loaf pan.  The strips should have the short end on the top and bottom.  I also ran some of them through the extra sugar mixture so they're coated evenly.
- Cover the pan with the damp cloth and let it rise in a warm place for 30-45 minutes, or until it's about doubled in size.
- While the dough rises, preheat the oven to 350.
- When the dough has risen, place the loaf pan on top of a cookie sheet to catch those cinnamon/sugar drippings and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until it's a dark golden brown on top.
- Let the bread cool for 20-30 minutes before dousing it in glaze.

To make the glaze:
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the butter, milk and brown sugar to a boil.
- Remove from heat, add the powdered sugar and rum and whisk until smooth.
- Drizzle the glaze over top, or you can remove from the pan and drizzle warm glaze over individual portions.