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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Jul 28, 2011

Kentucky Bubble Bath

In my earlier posting about Cynar, I had mentioned this cocktail from The Roosevelt Hotel's Library Bar as being one of my favorites that contains this Italian artichoke-based bitter.  Well, I've done a little experimenting, and while it doesn't taste as perfect or look as pretty as Matt Biancaniello's, it's still pretty darn tasty.  You'll need some lavender simple syrup for this cocktail, so you can either make it or try hunting for it in some specialty gourmet store.  I recommend the former, because it's less expensive and far more impressive to your guests.  I recently whipped up a bunch of these at a cocktail party and the guys went nuts—they were looking for a bourbon cocktail that was slightly sweet and light to start the evening off, and this fit the bill.

Kentucky Bubble Bath - serves 1
  • 2 oz bourbon - Matt uses Bulleit and I do too!
  • 1/2 oz Cynar
  • 1/3 oz lavender simple syrup - can add more if you like it sweeter
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Lavender sprig for garnish
- Add all ingredients into a shaker glass, and shake away.  Strain over ice.
- Garnish with a lavender sprig.

Jul 26, 2011

Libation Education: Cynar

You may have seen a giant bottle of this bitter apéritif with an artichoke on it at the bar and immediately recoiled.  A liqueur made with artichokes?  I'll get my vegetable fix another way!  But give Cynar (pronounced CHEE-nar) a chance.  It's popping up on cocktail menus everywhere, so get used to it.  It's a trend that's only going to get stronger.  If you're a fan of Campari and looking for something new to try, sub this libation into your Negronis.

Besides being made with artichokes, this bitter/amaro is drummed up from about 13 different herbs and plants, has a dark brown color, and is considered a digestive (yeah, it's good for you!).  It's also a part of the Gruppo Campari family, which makes Campari, Aperol, and other yummy Italian apéritifs.  And no, it tastes NOTHING like an artichoke.  That took me a good amount of convincing to some poor Bev-Mo employee when I bought a bottle.  I also think I finally convinced him to give it a try...

This rich, herbal liqueur can be drunk on the rocks, subbed in for your Campari cocktails, or can add a nice balance to a sweet cocktail.  I tend to see it mixed in with a lot of bourbon cocktails, like Matt Biancaniello's Kentucky Bubble Bath at The Roosevelt Hotel's Library Bar in Hollywood, or sometimes with a ton of other bitters like Eeyore's Requiem (Can someone please create a whole bar menu named after Winnie the Pooh characters?) at The Violet Hour in Chicago.  So next time you bop into your favorite mixology den, impress your friend by 1) pronouncing Cynar right and 2) picking a cocktail that contains it.  I think your mind will be changed about the libation in that funny looking bottle.

Jul 21, 2011

White Wine Sangria with Peaches

Libations used: 1 bottle white wine, 4 oz brandy
Libations left over: None
It's time to hit the pool or the beach.  The Lush Chef has once again picked up an over-abundance of peaches from the farmers market that she will not be able to eat fast enough.  What's a girl to do?  Make sangria, of course.  Living in Southern California, I actually drink sangria all year-round with the Lush Chef Taste Testers, and it's almost always the red kind.  That summer crop of peaches, however, calls for white wine sangria.  Your mother will be proud that you're getting your daily fruit intake too.

There's no real science to making sangria - wine, fruit, some other libation like vodka, gin, brandy, cognac, tequila (whatever you've got!), let it stew for a few hours and you're done.  So this recipe is really just a starting point.  Feel free to experiment, add your favorite fruits, use whatever cheap wine you can find and finish with any libation you desire.  I like to also add fresh herbs to my sangria for added color, so I tossed in some basil.

White Wine Sangria with Peaches - serves 4-6
  • 1 bottle white wine - something light, crisp and fruity like a pinot grigio, riesling, sauvignon blanc.  I actually used a moscato I had on hand because I wanted something already sweet and not bother with adding extra sugar.
  • 2 yellow peaches, chopped
  • 1 medium sized orange,  sliced into small wedges
  • 1 small lemon, sliced into small wedges
  • 4 oz brandy
  • 1/2 cup club soda
  • 6-8 large basil leaves - chiffonade
- Combine above ingredients in a pitcher and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
- Serve in a glass over ice.

Jul 19, 2011

Margarita Cupcakes

Libations used: 2 Tbs tequila
Libations left over: Shots! But just one...
Margaritas mean summer to me—well, actually they're lovely anytime of year—but they're best during the summer!  So why not combine that lush deliciousness with a cupcake?  I love this particular recipe from the food blog Tracey's Culinary Adventures because of the oh-so-lightness of the cake (thank god for buttermilk) and the subtle amount of tequila in the buttercream.  Usually, I really like to booze up my cakes and confections, but sometimes I have light lush days.  Plus, I took these to share with my girl friends for Shakespeare in the Park...and there were children around...and I wouldn't want them to get their little hands on something that would knock them out...

Margarita Cupcakes - serves 12-14
Cake ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 limes, zested and juiced
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbs tequila 
Frosting ingredients:
  • 1 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 2 3/4 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbs freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 Tbs tequila
  • Pinch of salt

To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 325 and line those muffin tins.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
- In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a hand or stand mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at time, beating well after each addition.
- Mix in the lime zest, juice and vanilla.
- With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately (in 3 additions) with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.  Beat until just incorporated.
- Fill the muffin tins about 3/4 full and bake for 20-22 minutes.
- When they're done baking, lightly brush the tops with tequila.
- Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting:
- Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth.
- With the mixer on low, slowly add 2 3/4 cups confectioners sugar until fully incorporated and frosting is smooth.
- Add the lime juice, 1 Tbs tequila and salt, and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.
- If you want your frosting boozier, add more tequila.  If you need to thicken it up, add more confectioners sugar.
- After frosting the cupcakes, garnish with lime zest or wedges.

Jul 14, 2011

Dirty Martini Cheese Spread

Libations used: 1 Tbs dry vermouth
Libations left over: Make yourself a dirty martini

The dip fun continues!  Usually when I do a cheese spread, I resort to these wine cheese balls, but I didn't feel like cracking open a whole bottle of wine if I was going to be making everyone cocktails.  I had tons of green olives and some leftover cream cheese in the fridge, so I decided to make something dirty martini inspired.  I recommend serving this with toast points or toasted bread slices — something not too salty because blue cheese can already be on the salty side.  Everyone devoured this dip, so mark this one in the books as a Lush Chef favorite (and original) recipe.

Dirty Martini Cheese Spread 
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 4 oz blue cheese crumbles
  • 1/2 cup minced green olives
  • 1 Tbs dry vermouth
  • 1/2 Tbs dried oregano
- Combine all ingredients thoroughly.  Done.
- Serve with toast points or crackers.

Jul 12, 2011

Hefeweizen Hummus

Libations used: 3 Tbs Hefeweizen
Libations left over: pretty much the whole bottle, so bottoms up!

It's dip week at The Lush Chef!  I had a cocktail party this past weekend and made a ton of refreshing lavender lemonades and mojitos with lavender simple syrup. I didn't want to spend a lot of time cooking or baking anything for this party, so I did a couple of dips that can be whipped up in no time.  This homemade hummus from Kegerators has a touch of Hefeweizen — the liquid helps give it that smoother and creamier texture.  Here's to Blue Moon!

Hefeweizen Hummus - makes over 1 cup
  • 1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon zest
  • 1 Tbs olive oil + enough to drizzle
  • 3-4 Tbs Hefeweizen
  • Salt to taste
  • Dash of paprika
- Put chickpeas, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, 1/2 tsp of the lemon zest, olive oil and beer into a food processor or blender and purée until nice and creamy.
- Add more beer if it's too thick and chunky, and salt to taste.
- Serve in a bowl and drizzle olive oil over it and sprinkle with paprika and remaining lemon zest.

Jul 7, 2011

Brandied Cocktail Cherries

For the past month, the Lush Chef has been traveling and working like a mad woman, so it has left little time for slaving in the kitchen.  Now that the heat is setting in, all I want is a relaxing evening/afternoon with friends and a delicious cocktail in hand.  With all the beautiful produce overflowing at the markets, I've been whipping up tons of garden-inspired cocktail garnishes and mixers.  I've become rather spoiled by the Luxardo maraschino cherries at some of my favorite cocktail haunts, but I'm not always ready to spring $16 for a jar when cherries are in season.

Thank goodness for local chef Akasha Richmond and her simple recipe for cocktail cherries to fill my need.  Once you've had these, you'll never go back to the cheap-o, bright red jarred version.  These brandied and spiced cherries will give a wow factor to that Manhattan or a jolt to your tired gin and tonic.  There's more than enough syrup to flavor your own sodas — we're getting crazy here!  The cherries also taste like heaven over vanilla ice cream or can even be served plain in little bowls for your guests.  I could easily polish off half a jar if I'm not careful...

Brandied Cocktail Cherries - makes 1 big jar of cherries & an extra bottle of syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup agave, honey or maple syrup (make sure it's the real stuff - no Mrs. Butterworth's here) 
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 fresh vanilla bean
  • 2 cardamon pods
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 2 lbs washed cherries - I took the stems off and pitted them.  If you don't have a cherry pitter, check out this awesome Martha Stewart technique (how MacGyver of her).
  • 1/2 cup brandy
- In a heavy medium sauce pan, bring sugar, water, agave/honey/maple syrup, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, cardamon pods and star anise to a boil.  
- Reduce to a simmer and let it simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Add the cherries and bring it back to a simmer.  Let the cherries cook for about 1 minute.
- Add the brandy and let cool to room temperature.  
- Store the cherries and syrup in air-tight jars or bottles in the fridge.  They keep for 1 month.

Jul 5, 2011

Lavender for Lushes

Go into any LA bar right now and you’ll find cocktails that are like a garden in a glass.  Take a sip, and you just might think you’re laying in a field of summer flowers with the sun shining on you.   A friend of mine had brought me a few bunches of lavender, and because I was leaving soon for a quick trip, I didn’t want to let it all go to waste.   While I do wear lavender oil in my hair (a Lush Chef beauty tip), I wasn’t about to start pressing oil and whipping up a hair product on a Wednesday night.  But prepping ingredients for lavender-infused cocktails...well, that I know how to do!

Lavender sugar is a fancy way to dress up and give an elegant decor and flavor to cookies and cakes.  It also makes a sweet finish to rim a cocktail glass with.  Scented sugars also make fantastic and inexpensive little gifts.  The Lush Chef likes to put them in little mason jars with pretty ribbons. 

Lavender Sugar – makes 1-1 ½ cups
  • 1-1 ½ cups sugar
  • 8-10 lavender blossoms 
- Fill a glass jar with the sugar and layer in the lavender blossoms.
- Be sure to use lavender meant for culinary use.  I recommend buying the organic stuff straight from the farmers market.
- Shake the jar every few days, and by the end of 2 weeks, you'll have beautifully scented & flavored lavender sugar.
- Be sure to run the sugar through a sieve to get all of the blossoms out before using.

For some subtly sweet and herbal cocktails, I love using lavender simple syrup.  It's a surprising addition for champagne cocktails, makes an excellent boozy lavender lemonade, or gives a French twist to a mojito.  This also makes an excellent Lush Chef gift. 

Lavender Simple Syrup – makes 2 cups
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 Tbs fresh or dried lavender blossoms
  • 2 cups sugar
- Heat water and lavender blossoms to a boil.
- Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
- Remove from heat, and refrigerate for 3 days so the lavender really gets a chance to infuse the syrup.
- Strain the syrup to remove the blossoms and bottle it up!