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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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.