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.