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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Aug 30, 2011

Bourbon Glazed Peaches on the Grill

Libations used: 1/4 cup bourbon
Libations left over: None
The stone fruit is ridiculously amazing right now in Southern California, and I'm pretty much spending all of my cash at the market on peaches, nectarines and pluots.  Malbec was having one of her pool parties again and we were going to be firing up the grill.  Usually my crew never thinks of dessert, so I knew that part would be left up to me.  I had planned on making a peach cobbler (I'll get to that eventually), but just didn't have the energy to bake on a beautiful summer morning.  What to do with these 8 gorgeous peaches?

It's not often I invoke the name of Paula Deen, as she's the arch-nemesis of my culinary crush Anthony Bourdain, but this recipe of hers for Grilled Stone Fruit incorporated plenty of bourbon I even need to say what the other ingredient is?  The glaze created for this dish could have certainly coated a lot more than 8 peaches (probably twice the amount), so it's a perfect dessert to serve at a big BBQ.  The recipe tells you to just toss the peaches on the grill, but Whiskey (my grill master) and I decided we wanted the glaze to get all hot and caramelized while the peaches cooked.  We created an aluminum foil boat and let the peach halves just stew in that bourbon buttery goodness.

Bourbon Glazed Peaches on the Grill - serves 16 (or 8 greedy friends)
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 8 ripe peaches (you can also use nectarines, plums, pluots), cut in half
- In a saucepan, bring the bourbon to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 1 minute to burn off the alcohol.
- Add the butter, brown sugar, lemon juice and water, and bring to a boil, whisking until the sugar is dissolved.
- Simmer for about 5 minutes and then let it cool to thicken.
- Toss the fruit with the glaze.  Because we weren't eating for a while, I let the peaches just sit in a container with the glaze for a few hours.
- Set your grill for low heat and then place peach halves in an aluminum foil boat.  Drizzle some of the glaze over the peaches and let them cook for about 5 minutes.  Turn to the other side, drizzle on some more glaze and let them cook for another 5 minutes.
- You can serve with ice cream or just devour these plain like we did.

Aug 25, 2011

Strawberry & St. Germain Macarons

Libations used: 1 Tbs St. Germain
Libations left over: None
Le Macaron - why is it that you're the prettiest cookie ever and yet the most difficult to make?  It must be a French thing, so thank goodness I'm a quarter French, because I honestly think that's how I got through this.  It took 3 attempts, with the last 2 involving me tossing out about a quarter of each batch.  But the ones that made it through, turned out delicious–pretty feet, slight crisp on the outside, and chewy happiness on the inside.  After making these, I thought for sure I wouldn't attempt them again.  It was just so much work and the thought of hopping over to 'Lette or Bottega Louie and just buying a dozen seemed easier.  When I brought these in to work and also shared them with friends and neighbors, their ecstatic compliments and groans of pleasure changed my mind.  Fine...I'll make these again, but only because you all insist!

The recipe comes from the fabulous Hadley at the Gourmandise School of Sweets & Savories in Santa Monica.  I credit Hadley's macaron demo for getting me through attempts 2 and 3 (you don't want to know what 1 looked like).  The cookie is a basic vanilla and you can do flavor variations with infused sugars (lavender, orange, lemon, etc) and color them using gels (do not use food coloring).  The buttercream is a basic French vanilla buttercream and you can get creative with flavors, like I did with the St. Germain and strawberries.  I don't have a scale, but if you do, then 1) you're more awesome than the Lush Chef and 2) I included grams for you.

Strawberry & St. Germain Macarons 
Macaron Indredients:
  • 4 egg whites (140 grams)
  • 1/2 tsp egg white powder (3 grams)
  • 2/3 cup vanilla sugar (80 grams) - you can make this by scraping 1 vanilla bean and adding it to 2 cups of sugar
  • Scant 2 cups almond flour (180 grams)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (240 grams)
  • A pinch of salt (2 grams)
French Buttercream Ingredients:
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbs St. Germain
  • 1/2 bag Trader Joe's freeze-dried strawberries - do not use fresh strawberries because this will make your buttercream watery
To make the macarons:
- Pulse the almond flour, salt and powdered sugar in the food processor until it's completely mixed.
- In the bowl of a stand mier, beat the egg whites and egg white powder until soft peak stage (they'll still be a little foamy, slightly yellow and the peaks will fall).
- Slowly add the vanilla sugar and continue beating until just before stiff peak stage (no longer foamy, bright white and the peaks will be kind of stiff)
- Fold the dry ingredients 1/3 at a time into the egg whites.  Keep folding until the batter can form ribbons when you lift up your spatula.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Pipe onto parchment paper and let them set for half an hour.
- Place cookies in oven and lower the temperature to 300.  Bake for 15 minutes and don't remove cookies from parchment until they've cooled for at least 10 minutes.

To make the buttercream:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the eggs until they triple in volume.
- While the eggs are whipping, place the sugar, water and cream of tartar in a sauce pot and bring to a heavy boil (about 240 degrees).
- With the mixer on medium speed, pour the sugar syrup over the eggs in a slow and steady stream.
- Continue beating for 10-15 minutes, or until the bowl cools to room temperature.
- Add the butter, one pat a time, until the mixture thickens.
- Turn the mixer to high speed for 2 minutes and add the vanilla, St. Germain and strawberries.

Aug 23, 2011

Libation Education: St. Germain

One of my favorite spring/summer liqueurs is St. Germain, a golden-colored French libation made from elderflower blossoms.  Aww, heck—who are we kidding?  I drink this stuff with my girl friends all year-round, as evidenced by the nearly empty (and very pretty) bottle above.  Yeah...that's my second bottle of the year.  What I love about St. Germain is how incredibly subtle it is, which lends to its versatility.  The flavor is slightly floral with hints of peach, pear, grapefruit and grape.  I like to add this to champagne on special occasions, or jazz up the usual gin & tonic/vodka soda.  You may have also seen this liqueur mentioned when I made the Kew Garden Cocktail earlier this spring.

St. Germain is made by a company that's been around since 1884, and the elderflowers are harvested fresh in a small 4-6 week blossoming period.  They're incredibly delicate and lose their flavor within a couple days, so the maceration process begins immediately.  If you look at the label, you'll find a little man riding a bicycle right above the "S."  You may think, "Oh!  How very French!"

Well, there are indeed old (or maybe young), darling French men peddling through the countryside on bikes laden with fresh elderflower blossoms to make the very bottle of St. Germain you will soon be holding.  Hmm...perhaps this is the perfect retirement gig for the Lush Chef's bike-loving father?  He can provide his dear daughter with an unlimited supply of hand-crafted St. Germain.  Now if that isn't love, I don't know what is...

Aug 18, 2011


The Lush Chef is continuing the tomato cocktail goodness this week (check out the Build Your Own Bloody Mary Bar posting from Tuesday).  The Lush Chef Taste Testers and I have become obsessed with Micheladas this summer.  Not only is it fun to say, but these cocktails are cheap and spicy—I don't know what that says about us...

Micheladas are like a Mexican version of a Bloody Mary, and they're oh-so-addictive.  We go back and forth with making these with a cheap, light Mexican beer like Tecate and a more expensive, dark Negra Modelo.  I like to mix them up by the pitcher, because each person will want at least 2 or 3.  For the Lush Chef Taste Tasters, I make these extra spicy, but the below recipe from Imbibe Magazine only has minimal heat.  It's easier to add the spice, then subtract it. 

Michelada - serves 4  
  • 12 oz tomato juice
  • Juice from 6 limes
  • 8 dashes of hot sauce (I use Tapatío)
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Half a small onion, chopped in medium-sized pieces
  • 2 Tbs plus 1/2 tsp chile powder
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 4 bottles of Mexican beer (I use Tecate or Negra Modelo)
- Place the tomato juice, lime juice, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, onion, 1/2 tsp chile powder and 1/2 tsp salt into a blender, and process until smooth.
- Rim a glass with lime juice and run through the chile powder/sea salt mixture.
- Add ice and fill the glass 1/4 full with the Michelada mix.
- Top with the beer and garnish with a lime wedge.

Aug 16, 2011

Bloody Mary Bar

It's tomato cocktail time for the Lush Chef this week!  Not only am I stuffing my face with heirloom tomatoes every day, but I'm having them in my cocktails too.  One of my dear friends, and fellow blogger for Get Me Out of LA, was having her birthday brunch a couple of weekends ago at her new sun-drenched house in Venice, and one of the last things you want to do as the birthday girl is make drinks for your guests all afternoon.  That's why she and her boyfriend put together this fabulous build your own Bloody Mary bar.  It's so easy to prep and it gives your guests the opportunity to get creative with their concoctions.  She already had a pitcher of fresh Bloody Mary mix sitting on the bar, and a giant bottle of vodka nearby with a shot glass so that our drinks would be foolproof (not everyone is a natural home bartender).  Now putting together this kind of set-up for a party may save you time, but let's also not be lazy lushes here.  I'm not talking about tossing some plain olives and celery sticks in a bowl and calling it a day.  Here's what my friend set out for her bar, besides the requisite celery:

- Jalapeño-stuffed olives
- Garlic-stuffed olives (there's also feta, blue cheese, almond, orange/lime zest stuffed olives you can buy)
- Pearl cocktail onions
- Cornichons
- Pickled green beans
- Celery salt
- Limes
- Green Habañero Sauce
- Tapatío
- Horseradish & Worcestershire Sauce - even though these were already in the Bloody Mary mix, it's nice to have extra for those who want an extra kick
- Black Pepper & Sea Salt
- Wood skewers - buy a pack of these so your guests can load up on all the goodies

If you've never made a Bloody Mary before, here's the recipe.  Feel free to adjust the amounts of Worcestershire, horseradish and hot sauce to complement your palate.  For serving multiple guests, I recommend not making it too spicy—they can always kick the heat up a level when they're building their drink.  Just multiply this recipe enough times to fill a pitcher, and you're set!

Bloody Mary - serves 1
  • 2 oz tomato juice
  • 1 1/2 oz vodka (or 2, if you're a lush like me)
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 tsp horseradish
  • 3 dashes of hot pepper sauce (I'm a Tapatío fan)
  • A pinch of salt & a dash of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp lemon juice 
- Combine tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire, horseradish, hot sauce, salt & pepper in a mixing glass and stir to your heart's content.
- In an ice-filled glass, pour the mixture over it and stir, stir, stir.
- Sprinkle the lemon juice on top and then go crazy with the garnishes.

Aug 11, 2011

The French 75

A Los Angeles summer tradition of mine is to gather a group of friends with a huge picnic spread and head out to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for Cinespia's screenings.  There's usually enough wine for everyone to have their own bottle and enough beer for everyone to have their own six-pack.  This time, I decided to class it up and make some cocktails.  We were watching Breakfast at Tiffany's (best cocktail party scene ever—I aspire to throw a party like that)and even though they don't drink French 75s in the film, it just felt so Holly Golightly to me.

This cocktail was first made in 1915 at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, and the combination was said to have such a kick, that it felt like being shelled with a French 75mm howitzer artillery piece.  Lovely what a champagne cocktail can do to a grown man—and you guys thought champagne was girly...

Because of the picnic setting, I combined all the ingredients in a water bottle at home so it would just involve spreading amongst glasses and topping with champagne later on.  I'm ambitious, but not enough to start squeezing lemons on the cemetery lawn.  In honor of the film, I used rosé champagne.  My friend had brought raspberries and we tossed some in as an afterthought.  Classy, delicious and simple.

French 75 - serves 1
  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 5 oz champagne
- Combine gin, lemon juice, sugar and ice in a shaker and shake well to make sure all that sugar is dissolved.
- Strain into a collins glass (or in our case, a plastic cup) and top with champagne.

Aug 9, 2011

Strawberry Campari Tart

Libations used: 3 Tbs Campari
Libations left over: If you really need a drink while you're prepping, make yourself a Negroni (a Lush Chef favorite)
There's something about a birthday brunch that calls for a tart instead of a cake.  It's thinner and guests are more inclined to add a slice of tart on their plate alongside their eggs and croissants, rather than a giant wedge of cake.  Plus, tarts are way faster to prepare on a Sunday morning when you're recovering from a lush night before...

The birthday girl was going to have a Build Your Own Bloody Mary Bar at the brunch (more on that next week), and this Strawberry Campari Tart from Serious Eats seemed like the perfect accompaniment.
I pair Campari all the time with citrus fruits, but I had never tried it with strawberries before — winner!  Those who have trouble with Campari's bitter taste, you won't even notice it in this tart.  The sugar, strawberries and mascarpone offset a lot of that bitterness, and instead you get a nice, light citrusy flavor.  The crust is a mixture of toasted oats, buckwheat flour and poppy seeds, which gives it a nice crunchy and crumbly texture.  Needless to say, the whole tart was completely devoured by the end of brunch...

Strawberry Campari Tart - serves 10-12
Crust Ingredients:
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbs poppy seeds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 10 Tbs unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
Filling Ingredients:
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temp
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbs Campari
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
Topping Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 lbs (about 4 1/2 cups) strawberries, sliced
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbs Campari
For the crust:
- Preheat oven to 350.  Toast oats on a baking sheet for 5 minutes, or until they're lightly golden.  Leave oven on.  I actually bought toasted oats, so I skipped this step (uh, but do turn the oven on).
- Add oats, both flours, sugar, poppy seeds and salt to a food processor.  Pulse until oats are mostly chopped.
- Sprinkle the butter cubes on top of the mixture, and pulse until the mixture comes together (it should look like big, falling-apart clumps).
- Press mixture into an ungreased 11-inch tart pan.  Make sure you get mixture nicely pressed up along the sides, and use the bottom of a measuring cup to help you even out the bottom.
- Bake crust for 25-30 minutes, or until it's dry and firm.  Set aside to cool.

For the filling:
- Beat the mascarpone cheese, sugar, Campari and vanilla in a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Put the mascarpone mixture in another bowl and clean out mixer.
- Attach the whisk and whip the heavy cream for about 2 minutes, or until stiff peaks form.
- Gently fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture and combine.  Fold in remaining whipped cream, 1/3 at a time.
- Spread into the cooled tart shell.

For the topping:
- Toss the strawberries with sugar and Campari in a medium bowl.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved.
- Pile evenly onto the tart and serve.  If you're not going to serve it right away, then keep the strawberries refrigerated separately.

Aug 4, 2011

Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pasta with White Wine

Libations used: 3/4 cup white wine
Libations left over: pretty much the whole bottle
I had just gotten back from a weekend jaunt to Palm Springs, had very little food in the fridge and had missed my weekly farmer's market.  But I did have plenty of tomatoes that had been given to me from a co-worker and a neighbor (sending you both some Lush Chef love), a huge basket of onions, and basil growing outside my window.  This Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pasta from the very cheeky Bite Me Cookbook just required a few more inexpensive ingredients, and voilà a dish that could tide me over for the week.  The flavors are so simple and rich, and your mama will be proud that you managed to squeeze in some spinach.  The recipe calls for a dry white wine, and I picked up a bottle of Marqués de Cáceres Spanish Rioja ($5.99 at Traders Joe's, thank you very much). 

Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pasta with White Wine - serves 6
Caramelized Onion Ingredients:
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 2 medium white or sweet onions, halved & thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Pasta Ingredients:
  • 3/4 lb penne pasta
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 5 plum or pearl tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach, stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbs finely diced sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
To make the caramelized onions:
- In a large pan, melt the butter and oil over medium heat.
- Stir in the onions, sugar and salt and sauté for 15 minutes, or until onions are a dark golden brown.
- Stir in balsamic vinegar and cook until the liquid has evaporated (about 1 1/2 minutes).
- Remove from heat and set aside.

To make the pasta:
- While the onions are sauteing, make the pasta, drain well and set aside.
- In a large skillet or dutch oven (I make a mess and need something BIG to mix everything up in), heat olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds.
- Turn the heat to high and stir in white wine and reduce for about 3 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium and add the pasta, caramelized onions, tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, basil, salt and pepper and stir it all together so it cooks nicely for a couple of minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.
- Serve immediately, topped with goat cheese.

Aug 2, 2011

Keweenaw Brewing Company

Even when the Lush Chef is in the remote copper country region of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, she still finds a way to seek out good libations.

 It's become a bit of tradition when visiting this area for family reunions to hit up the Keweenaw Brewing Company in Houghton, Michigan.  There may not be copper mining happening in the area anymore, but they do know how to make a good pasty and a good brew.

I love the vibe of their tasting room on the main strip in Houghton—exposed brick walls, wood cabin-like furniture, a fireplace, beautiful views of the river, an outdoor deck, and the local color hanging around the bar at 3pm nursing their $2.50 pints.  Yes, I said $2.50.  Everything is insanely cheap in this area.  A 5 beer tasting at the "KBC" goes for $4 and you get to pick from about 10 or so brews (they rotate them based on the season).

The Lush Chef's dad and brother split a tasting with me and we sampled the following:
Solstice Hefe - Usual citrusy pale ale, but with a more sour flavor than most Hefeweizens. 
Pick Axe Blonde Ale - Their lightest ale and my favorite.  They distribute this year-round and it's one of their top ales.
Red Jacket Amber Ale - Medium bodied and another favorite of mine.  Also a top seller. 
"Yippie KI."P.A. - I'm not an IPA fan, but I had to try it.  Bitter and hoppy.
Rockland Lager - Bitter and delicious, but I couldn't drink a lot of this.

As of now, you can only find their beers in Michigan and Wisconsin, but if you ever happen to be in this area, I highly recommend making a stop.  Or if you're looking for a local brew when you're in the Midwest, take a 6-pack of this home!