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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Jun 30, 2011

Rum Banana Ice Cream

Libations used: 2 Tbs dark rum
Libations left over: Isn't the rum in the ice cream enough?
I may not have an ice cream machine...yet...but that won't stop me from making ice cream.  The latest home cook rage this summer has been making banana ice cream - it's healthy, calls for no added sugar or cream, and uses just one ingredient.  It's an excellent way to use up over-ripe bananas and doesn't require firing up the oven on a hot summer day.  Being the Lush Chef that I am, I added pirate rum (aka dark rum), of course.

Rum Banana Ice Cream - serves 4
  • 4 over-ripe bananas
  • 2 Tbs dark rum
  • caramelized nuts (optional)
- Peel and slice bananas, and places slices on a cookie sheet or plate.  Freeze for about 1-2 hours.
- Use a food processor or blender to purée the bananas.
- Add the rum and keep blending until the bananas have a thick, ice cream-like texture.
- I like to pop the banana purée back in the freezer to help thicken it up and cool it down a little.
- Top with caramelized nuts.

Jun 28, 2011

Beer Can Chicken

Libations used: 1/2 can of beer
Libations left over: 1/2 can of beer
I had never heard of beer can chicken until I went to a good friend's BBQ last summer.  This Aussie swears by this method of grilling chicken on the barbie, and once you've tried it, there's no turning back.  Drink half a can of beer, stuff it inside a chicken and grill - this recipe is fool-proof.  You don't need to get any fancy beer can holder for the grill either.  The steam rising from the beer makes the chicken insanely moist (mine was just completely falling off the bone), and the yeast in the beer helps make the skin all nice and crispy.  My Aussie friend recommends using Guinness or a stout beer.  As far as seasoning goes, this is where you can play around - use your favorite spice rub, or keep it simple with some olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary.  And I have to be honest...the picture you're seeing is not mine.  Why?  Because after smelling roast chicken in my apartment for 2 hours, I realized I had forgotten to take a picture just as I had finished picking the meat off the carcass...and stuffing my face.  Shameless, no.  Delicious, yes.

Beer Can Chicken - serves 6-10 (depending on the size of the chicken)
  • 4-5 lb chicken
  • olive oil
  • a few large sprigs a fresh rosemary
  • freshly ground black pepper & sea salt
  • 1/2 can of room temperature beer with extra holes punched on top
- Mix salt, pepper and herbs.
- Remove innards from whole chicken and pat dry.
- Rub inside with olive oil and then spice mixture.  Do the same with the outside.
- Place chicken over 1/2 can of beer - position the legs in front of it so it can balance nicely.
- Here are some instructions for making this recipe on the grill.
- If you're making this in the oven, be sure to put the chicken in a roasting pan to catch all the drippings. Set your oven to 350, place chicken on the lowest rack and roast for about 2 hours.
- Let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes before carving into it.

Jun 23, 2011

Scotch Pronunciation Guide with Brian Cox

Macallan and Glenlivet are easy enough to say, but have you ever tried ordering a Bruichladdich or a Caol Ila at the bar?  You might have shied away from venturing on the wild side so you wouldn't sound like a clueless idiot to the bartender.  Well, fear not.  Thanks to Esquire, Scottish actor Brian Cox will walk you through the pronunciation of 40 scotch brand names.  Here's the link to hear all of them.  And if you ever run into the dear man, order him a Lagavulin — it's his favorite.

Jun 21, 2011

Mushroom & Bacon Spaghetti with Basil, White Wine and Cream Sauce

Libations used: 1/4 cup white wine
Libations left over: pretty much the whole bottle, so serve with the pasta
I've been growing various herbs in some large pots outside my apartment and they're growing like crazy.  The basil needed some serious harvesting and I was craving pasta, so this dish from the beautiful Australian food blog What Katie Ate looked like the perfect thing to whip up on a Sunday night.  Grab some spring onions from the market, use up that leftover uncooked bacon from brunch, crack open your favorite bottle of dry white wine and you're sure to have a crowd-pleasing dish in no time.

Mushroom & Bacon Spaghetti with Basil, White and Cream Sauce - serves 4-6
  • 6-8 slabs of bacon, chopped with excess fat removed
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • 3 large spring onions, sliced (use both white and green parts)
  • 2 cups of quartered mushrooms
  • 1/4 tsp lemon zest
  • Large handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup light cream
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
  • 1 package spaghetti
  • Freshly grated parmesan
- Cook spaghetti, according to package instructions.
- Meanwhile, in a non-stick frying pan, pour 1 Tbs olive oil and heat gently.
- Add the bacon and cook until lightly crispy.
- Add the spring onions and cook for another 5 minutes until soft.
- Add the mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes.
- Add about 1 Tbs butter and toss the ingredients to coat.  Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or until mushrooms are cooked through, but still al-dente.
- Add the lemon zest to the bacon & mushroom mixture and stir well.
- Add the basil and stir well.
- Pour in the cream and wine and stir well.  Cook on a low simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add 1-2 Tbs of parmesan and keep warm until noodles are done.
- Add noodles to the sauce and mix until they're full coated.  Top with freshly grated parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.

Jun 16, 2011

Cocktail and a Movie at LA Film Fest

For the next 10 days, the Lush Chef will not be doing any cooking or baking!  Instead, I'll be running the PR for the 2011 LA Film Fest, June 16-26 in downtown Los Angeles.  One of my favorite places to cocktail is downtown, so in the spirit of the Festival, I bring you some suggestions for a libation and a movie.

What to see: Unfinished Spaces (Documentary Competition) - Directed by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray, this documentary explores the heady first days of the Cuban Revolution in 1961 when Castro asked 3 architects to build the Cuban National Arts Schools.  Before the construction was finished, the Revolution became Sovietized and the project was denounced as bourgeoisie and counter-revolutionary. These beautiful buildings were left in ruin and the film captures interviews with the architects who are now in their 80s and who have a second chance at revitalizing the project.

Where to drink: Caña Rum Bar is walking distance from the Regal Theaters at L.A. LIVE and offers an extensive line of rums from Latin America and all the isles.  Relax with a Guavacita cocktail (or a punch bowl if you're with a group), while smartly discussing Cuban architecture during the Revolution.

What to see: The Dynamiter (Narrative Competition) - This touching directorial debut from director Matthew Gordon follows Robbie, a troubled 14-year-old boy in the south who is forced to become the "man of the house" and care for his younger half-brother and elderly grandmother. Robbie struggles to balance work, caring for his family and avoiding the fate of his trouble-making older brother.

Where to drink: Villains Tavern - You'll have to drive to this place (I wouldn't recommend hitchhiking like Robbie in the film), but this hidden bar is like the characters in the film - diamonds in the rough.  Try one of their beer and shot pairings, or sip on a Bella Donna cocktail from a mason jar.  They offer live music (blue grass, folk, honky-tonk - bust out your banjo and harmonica) on most nights to keep you in that southern mood.

What to see: Entrance - This indie thriller from Dallas Hallam and Patrick Horvath follows the real-life Silverlake barista Suziey Block.  In a deft blending of genres, this character study meets horror flick starts off when Suziey mysteriously loses her beloved dog.  A creeping anxiety sets in and she decides to leave LA, but on the night of her going-away party, she find outs that leaving may not be so easy...

Where to drink: The Varnish - This tiny bar tucked away behind an unmarked door in Cole's French Dip will get you in the mood for this dark film.  The mixologists here are some of the best in the country, so don't even bother looking at the menu — just tell them your favorite libation and they'll whip you up something extra special.

What to see: Mamitas (Narrative Competition) - This sweet film from first-time writer/director Nicholas Ozeki follows Jordin, a cocky but charming Latino firebrand and Felipa, a bookish, no-nonsense New York girl who sees past his swaggering façade.  Their unlikely friendship and eventual romanace enables Jordin to find out who he really is.  The film is shot in Echo Park and downtown, and boasts strong performances from young actors EJ Bonilla and Veronica Diaz-Carranza.

Where to drink: Las Perlas, located right across from The Varnish (how convenient...), this bar specializes in tequila and mezcal with amazing cocktails dreamed up by Julian Cox (Rivera, Playa, Sotto).  Kick back with a michelada or a Poblano Escobar on the patio after the film.  Or do some shots of tequila or mezcal!

What to see: Sawdust City (Narrative Competition) - Writer/director David Nordstrom takes us on a bar crawl through his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin in this feature debut. Pete and Bob, two brothers who haven't seen each for years, search the town's bars for their estranged father on Thanksgiving.  Over the course of the day, the two walk and talk their way through a succession of watering holes, and the complicated history that is revealed cuts far deeper than simple sibling rivalry.

Where to drink: Seven Grand - Camp here for the night or start your pub crawl at this upstairs whiskey bar.  There's plaid wallpaper and dark wood everywhere, mounted deer heads and a hunting tableaux when you walk up the stairs (reminds the Lush Chef of the midwest).  Don't sit at the bar sipping a shot of Angostura bitters like the characters in the film (the bartenders will probably kick you out for a transgression like that).  Have them make you an old-fashioned, one of the best in the city, and hit the pool tables instead.

Jun 14, 2011

Pink Champagne Cake

Libations used: 2 1/2 cups champagne
Libations left over: 2 glasses
One of my good friends was recently celebrating her birthday and we held a wine and cheese party for just the girls at my place.  I wanted to make something light, pretty and girly and this Pink Champagne Cake from Booze Cakes looked like just the thing.  The consistency of the cake is between a regular white cake and Angel Food cake, and the champagne gives it this slight strawberry flavoring.  I had picked up some white and red raspberries at the farmer's market that morning and ended up decorating the cake with it.  It's the perfect dessert to make for your mom, your best girl friend, lush lady or future bride.

Pink Champagne Cake - serves 12

Cake Ingredients:
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 egg whites
  • 2 cups champagne
  • A few drops red food coloring
Frosting Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1-2 Tbs champagne (start with 1 and add more as needed)
  • 1-2 Tbs whole milk (start with 1 and add more as needed)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla extract
  • A few drops red food coloring

To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350, and grease two 9-inch round cake pans.
- In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and set aside.
- In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar for 3-5 minutes or until fluffy.
- Add vanilla and beat in egg whites one at a time.
- Mix in food coloring (optional).
- Beat in flour mixture and champagne in 3 alternating additions so the mixture doesn't curdle.
- Pour batter into 2 pans and bake for 35 minutes.

To make the frosting:
- Beat the butter in a mixing bowl for about 1 minute.
- Add the confectioners sugar and champagne in alternating additions.
- Mix in milk, vanilla and food coloring.
- When cake has completely cooled, put one piece on a cake plate and spread a nice, thick layer of frosting on top.
- Add the second cake layer and cover entirely with frosting.
- Garnish with raspberries or strawberries.

Jun 9, 2011

King Ice Cubes

Any good mixologist or bar with a serious cocktail program out there does not use your standard ice cube.  You may have seen your favorite mixologist chipping away large hunks from a giant piece of ice behind the bar, or plopping a a perfect sphere or cube of ice in your glass.  Visitors to the Lush Chef's little abode or frequent readers of this blog may have also noticed that I'm a fan of using large, square ice cubes. This is not just to look pretty in your glass or impress your guests (and they will).  The large ice does serve an important purpose, and that's to keep your drink cooler longer and to not water it down so fast.  The symmetrical cubes or spheres melt nice and evenly too.  I'm a fan of the King Ice Cube trays from Sur La Table.  While they don't make perfectly shaped, clear cubes, they're inexpensive trays and the small size makes it easy to store in the freezer.  I like to fill a container with about 20 of these so I'm always ready for impromptu cocktail parties.

Jun 7, 2011

Tres Leches Cake

Libations used: over 1 cup of cachaça or rum
Libations left over: no need to do any shots with the left over rum because you'll be getting plenty just eating this cake...
Months ago, I was wandering through an Urban Outfitters and this Booze Cakes cookbook was just calling to me.  It's like this book was especially written for the Lush Chef!

I was going to a Memorial Day BBQ with the Lush Chef Taste Testers, so I knew I had to make something especially boozy and this Tres Leches cake had a big smiley face by it.  For those not familiar with this delightful Latin American confection, it uses 3 kinds of milk (thus, the name) and is served chilled– it's refreshing and delightfully rich  For the alcoholic version, the whole cake is soaked through cachaça or white rum.  This is the perfect adult cake to bring to picnics, dinner parties and BBQ's because of easy transport in the cake pan.

Tres Leches Cake - serves 15-20
Cake Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Tres Leches Ingredients:
  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 7 oz evaporated milk
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup cachaça or white rum
Whipped Cream Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups cold whipping cream
  • 2 1/2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 Tbs cachaça or white rum
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350, and grease and flour a 9x13 inch cake pan.
- In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar for 3-5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
- Beat in egg yolks and vanilla.
- Add flour and baking powder.
- In a separate mixing bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
- Gently fold the egg whites into the batter (do not just mix these in, or else you're going to break the airiness you've created and your cake won't be light and fluffy).
- Bake 25 minutes.

To make the tres leches:
- When the cake has cooled slightly, pierce it all over with a fork.
- Combine the sweetened condensed, evaporated and regular milk.
- Slowly pour the milk mixture all over the cake.
- When all the milk has completely absorbed, add the cachaça or rum.

To make the whipped cream:
- In a mixing bowl, beat cream and sugar until it forms stiff peaks.  Gently fold in liquor and vanilla bean paste.
- When the rum has completely soaked into the cake, cover with whipped cream.
- Chill the cake for at least 2 hours.
- When serving, top with sliced strawberries.

Jun 6, 2011

A Change in Schedule

Since I've started this blog, I've been perfect about posting three times a week and bringing all of you tasty recipes to try, cocktails to shake and musings to ponder.  But let's face it - the Lush Chef is a bit exhausted. This blog is something I like to do the side.  Between a full-time job and spending time with friends, I can't always be holed up in the kitchen all weekend baking, cooking and blogging.  But fear not, lushes!  I'll still be whipping up boozy dishes to satisfy your stomachs.  Instead of the current Monday, Wednesday, Friday posting schedule, I'm now cutting my blogging down to Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Postings continue to be scheduled at 1pm (lunchtime!).  And don't forget to follow me on Twitter @thelushchef, and I'm always taking recipe suggestions at

Jun 3, 2011

The Perfect Cheese Plate

There aren't many things I love more than a generous cheese plate - it's the perfect thing to pair with a gaggle of friends and multiple bottles of wine.  It doesn't take long to put together and is an appetizer (or meal) that everyone can contribute to.  It's always a success, as evidenced by the picture on the left - our plate has been half devoured.  It's something you can linger over for hours and keep adding to.  Another friend swings by?  Still hungry?  Add more cheese!

At pretty much every Lush Chef family dinner or impromptu cocktail party, I always like to put out a cheese plate.  I tend to get most of my items at my local Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, and if I'm feeling fancy, Andrew's Cheese Shop in Santa Monica.  Here's how I like to build my cheese plates:

- The "plate" - When I moved into my first apartment in Santa Monica, I found a giant leftover piece of cutting board underneath the sink.  Score!  This giant hunk of wood has now become my favorite cheese plate.  If you weren't fortunate enough to have forgetful repairmen, then just use the biggest cutting board you have or buy a lovely slate cheese board from Williams & Sonoma for under $40.  The key is having a surface big enough for plenty of cheese and accoutrements.

- The knives - If you tend to do a lot of cheese plates like I do, then why not invest in some pretty knives?  It's good to have a variety of knives to cut through different textures of cheese and also have blades that aren't too sharp to cut your guests.  I'm absolutely in love with the red Laguiole set I got at Sur La Table a while back, and I use them ALL the time.  Anthropologie has a nice set you can buy for about $30.

- Have a minimum of three cheeses - one soft, one hard and one in between.  It's also nice to get a mixture of cow, goat and sheep cheeses.

- Have at least one basic kind of cheese for those whose palates aren't too adventurous.  A favorite amongst our friends is the Kerrygold Dubliner White Cheddar.  You can get this cheese almost anywhere now, and it's become our go-to selection.  We discovered it at the liquor store around the corner where they had only cheese sticks...and this cheddar.

- Surprise your guests and select a cheese that no one has tried before or has a fun ingredient added, like a pecorino or sottocenere with truffle or a white stilton with blueberries.

- Tired of brie?  Try an Époisses de Bourgogne - it's a really runny French cheese with a slightly salty and pungent flavor.  For those who don't have an affinity for stinky cheeses, this is a good one for them to start out on.

- Crackers & bread - I like to have a selection of crackers consisting of plain water crackers and some crumblier wheat crackers.  I'm a fan of Trader Joe's Organic Cracker Assortment (6 kinds).  It's also nice to have some rounds of crusty french bread or small wedges of fruit & nut bread.

- Spreads - Having a small selection of jams and spreads takes a cheese plate up another notch.  My girlfriends and I always have a jar of Dalmatia's Adriatic Fig Spread in the cabinet, and we bring it to each other's parties and picnics all the time - it's truly heavenly.  Other favorite spreads include olive tapenade, red pepper & eggplant spread, strawberry or raspberry jam, orange marmalade and honey.  Put out a couple of these and you're sure to impress your guests, or spoil them like I have.

- Fruit - Whether it's fresh fruit or dried, it's good to break up the cheese abundance with something else to munch on.  I'm a big berry fan for spring/summer cheese plates and for the fall/winter, I stick to sliced apples and dried apricots.

- Nuts - For some crunch and protein, toss a couple kinds of nuts on the platter.  Have at least one plain nut like Marcona Almonds, and one flavored nut such as chocolate covered almonds, candied walnuts or spiced pecans.

- Meat - If this is going to be more of a meal for your guests rather than an appetizer, then toss some meats in there as well.  You can't go wrong with some prosciutto and salami.  I also like to find at least one cured meat that has a little surprise ingredient, such as finocchiona (fennel seeds) or the chianti and pinot grigio artisan salamis from Trader Joe's.

At the end of the day, I'm not one for being snooty about pairing the right kinds of cheeses with the right kinds of wines.  The most important thing is that you get what you and your guests will like eating, and to have some fun and experiment.

Jun 1, 2011

Sugar Steak with Bourbon

It officially feels like grilling season now that Memorial Day has passed - although the Lush Chef's dad grills all year round.  Snow does not stop this man...

I don't have a grill at home, so I had been waiting for an opportunity to try this recipe from Food 52.  You can broil this in the oven, but it's just not the same to me.  Luckily, "Malbec's" aunt and uncle were having a BBQ in Topanga Canyon this past weekend.  I had also sent this recipe to my dad a few months ago to test out, and it was a success.  The sugar and the bourbon create a lovely caramelization, and the red pepper flakes give it a nice, light kick.  This recipe is now officially Lush Chef family-approved, as well as Lush Chef taste tester-approved.

Sugar Steak with Bourbon - serves 3-4
  • Steak!  The original recipe calls for flank, but I had some tri-tip on hand.  Just use whatever you want.
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- Mix the sugar, bourbon and red pepper flakes in a bowl.
- Add the steak and coat all sides, rubbing in the sugar and pepper flakes.
- Place steak in a 1 gallon plastic bag and pour in the remaining sugar mixture.
- Let the steak marinate in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes, or up to 3 hours.
- When you're ready to grill, season with some salt and fire it up.  For broiling instructions, check out the original recipe.