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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Jan 31, 2012

Pasta Puttanesca with Red Wine

The middle of January proved to be quite a busy one for the Lush Chef—awards season, evening events and Sundance.  I had a couple of hours one night to make dinner and was really craving pasta, but I didn't want something too heavy.  This Pasta Puttanesca from the Bite Me cookbook proved to be a quick recipe with plenty of healthy ingredients that packed a lot of flavor–capers, olives and tomatoes, with red pepper flakes, oregano and parsley for an added kick.  I had a bottle of pinot noir still open from my Golden Globes party, so I used the rest of that.  Thankfully, there was enough to pour myself a glass while that sauce simmered... If you don't cook a lot, or are scared to, this is a great dish to try.  Toss away that jar of spaghetti sauce and stick to this recipe.  You're sure to impress yourself and your friends.  And according to my cookbook, this Neapolitan pasta is also known as "whore's spaghetti."  I'm just throwing that out there.

Pasta Puttanesca - serves 6
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup black olives, pitted & halved
  • 1 Tbs capers, drained
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (if you like more of a kick, add 1/4 tsp instead)
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 3/4 lb fettuccine pasta
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs finely chopped fresh parsley
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat.
- Meanwhile, for the sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat.
- Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened.
- Add the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute.
- Add the olives, capers, oregano, salt, red pepper flakes and sauté for 2 minutes.
- Add the diced tomatoes and red wine, bringing to a boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add pasta to your large pot of boiling water and cook until tender.
- Drain the pasta and return to the large pot.
- When the sauce is done, add it to the large pot with the pasta and toss until evenly coated.
- Top each serving with the parmesan cheese and parsley.

Jan 26, 2012

Libation Location: High West Distillery

When I was at the Sundance Film Festival last year, my co-workers and I wanted to find someplace close for bar bites and an early evening drink before attacking the crazy screening and party scene...and the cold.  Two doors down from our condo, we found High West Distillery, and it has since become one of my "happy places." High West has been making small-batch whiskey in Park City, Utah in 2007, the first since 1870 in Utah, and is the world's only ski-in gastro-distillery.  That's right.  You can ski-in for your Hot Toddy or spiked Apple Cider, and it's all located in a state known for their stringent liquor laws.

I ended up buying a small bottle of their signature Rendezvous Rye that year, a very smooth blend of a 16-year and 6-year rye whiskey.  I made that bottle last and only broke it out for special occasions and whiskey afficionados.  When I would see a bottle of High West whiskey at a Los Angeles bar, I'd always ask for it.  This usually resulted in a surprised look and sharing a free shot with the bartender.  It was like their little secret and they were always shocked if someone else knew about High West other than them.

When I went back for the Festival this year, of course I had to stop by multiple times during the week to warm up and relax.  High West has a great rustic and Western theme, with great hospitality and an atmosphere that lends itself to lounging for a long time.  To the right is the larger saloon, formerly a livery, with high ceilings that make you feel as if you stepped into an Old Western.  In the middle sits the distillery, which I'll eventually get around to touring on a future visit.

The smaller bar is housed to the left in a two-story, yellow Victorian home, with plenty of cozy couches and big leather chairs to settle into. The food is reasonably priced and darn good—it'll satisfy any city girl or cowboy.  I highly recommend the High West Popped Corn with bacon, bourbon, cashews and caramel and their Spiced Marcona Almonds with peat smoked salt, brown sugar and paprika if you're looking some light munchies with your cocktails.  Their small plates of Utah Ballard Farms Pulled Pork is slow-roasted for 18 hours and comes with fried golden tomatoes and a barbeque drizzle.  The Whiskey Cider Braised Short Rib with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and fried shallot rings is also another winner and is sure to fill you up before you venture back out into the cold.

There's a small shop in the front where you can purchase any of their whiskeys.  If you're not sure where to start, then try their High West whiskey flight for $17.  I found myself with a couple of hours to kill and knew that I was going to be buying a couple of bottles before I went home, so I did the flight.  I started off with their Western Oat Silver Whiskey (yes, it' clear!), which is an un-aged whiskey with primarily oat bran and a little bit of barley.  If you're a tequila fan, you'll love this stuff.  It's very similar to a blanco tequila and is a good starting point if you're not a big whiskey drinker.  I then moved on to their Double Rye, which became my new favorite.  It's a combination of a 2-year and 16-year rye, with spicy notes of cinnamon and anise.  I can't wait to make an Old-Fashioned out of this with my Bitter Revenge Buzzkill Bitters.  Next up, was their 21 Year Old Rocky Mountain Rye, which is aged in used oak barrels (unusual for American ryes) and has a sweet, caramel flavor, similar to a bourbon.  Lastly, was the Bourye (boo-rye), which is their famous combination of bourbon and rye whiskey.

I ended up buying a large bottle of Double Rye and Rendezvous Rye for myself, a smaller Double as a gift for a friend.  I think I'll be set for a Lush Chef whiskey tasting party pretty soon...

Jan 24, 2012

My Flask

Every lush out there should own a flask, and I didn't have one until recently.  I had hit up the Unique LA holiday shopping extravaganza back in early December with a couple of girl friends and found these colorful and whimsical hip flasks from Whimsy & Ink, based out of Anaheim.  My friend and I were going to be heading to Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, and there's just something about cold mountain weather that warrants carrying a flask around.  Plus, those crazy Utah liquor laws means weaker drinks and we can't have that now, can we?  It's my last day at the Festival, and it has certainly proven its use at packed parties with long bar lines.  Not only was it a great conversation starter, but I was able to spend more of my time mixing and mingling.  Now that's how a Lush Chef rolls...

I opted for a cerulean mustache design:

While my friend chose this vintage Moby Dick version:

Jan 19, 2012

Apricot Bourbon Fizz

I'm a big fan of having one or two specialty drinks when throwing a cocktail party.  It limits the amount of ingredients you need and expediting drinks a lot faster.  Of course, I'll take special requests (that's just the kind of host I am), but it's a fun way to get your guests to try something new and make your job as host a little easier.  For my Golden Globes party, I did two drinks—one bourbon based and the other with vodka or gin (that recipe will be posted next month).  Not everyone likes bourbon or whiskey like I do, so it's good to try and offer your friends options when it comes to the base spirit.

This Apricot Bourbon Fizz or Kentucky Breakfast Cocktail was created by Jeffrey Morgenthaler at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon.  It ended up being the favorite of the night, and probably my new go-to for a light bourbon cocktail.  Also, just because there's the word breakfast in it, doesn't mean you can't have it any time of day!  The ingredients also lend itself to a good, year-round drink.  Now a note about egg whites in drinks.  Don't be weirded out by them—they're there to give cocktails a nice foamy texture and some body.  It makes this drink, so don't try and leave it out!  Since I was making a lot of these, I used half a dozen eggs and took an electric mixer to get them initially beaten up and combined.  The egg whites will settle, but they'll foam back up again when you're adding them to a cocktail.

Apricot Bourbon Fizz - serves 1
  • 2 oz bourbon (I used Bulleit)
  • 1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 1/2 oz beaten egg white
  • 1 tsp apricot preserves
- Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake and strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Jan 17, 2012

Stuffed Mushrooms with White Wine

Libations used: 1/2 cup white wine
Libations left over: Pretty much the whole bottle so serve to your guests!
The Lush Chef decided to host a little Golden Globes viewing party, and in addition to the loads of wine and cheese, I wanted to have a hot appetizer.  These Stuffed Mushrooms from Michigan Wines looked like a quick appetizer to whip up, and you can't go wrong with bread, cheese and wine stuffed in some veggies (they disappeared fast).  I found some huge portobello mushrooms for stuffing at Trader Joe's, but next time I make these, I'm going to get some that are a little smaller so they can heat through a little better.  For the wine, I used some leftover chardonnay I had.

Stuffed Mushrooms with White Wine - makes 16
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs (I used Contadina's Italian flavor)
  • 1/2 cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 16 medium-large mushrooms, with stems removed (portobello are best)
- In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat.
- When the butter is melted and foaming up, add the garlic and sauté for about a minute.
- Add the bread crumbs, cheese and wine and mix thoroughly.
- Remove from heat and spoon into mushrooms.
- Place the mushrooms in the broiler for 5-7 minutes, or until browned on top.

Jan 12, 2012

Ending the year in Napa and Sonoma

There's no better way to end the year and recover from an epic French Laundry dinner than to wander through wineries in Napa and Sonoma.  We awoke late the next morning, almost fully recovered from our food coma, and were greeted to a gorgeous, crisp and sunshine-filled day.  There was no way we were going to start wine tasting until we had some coffee and carbs in our belly.  We hit up Basque Cafe & Boulangerie in the adorable town center of Sonoma and filled up on European style espresso and an assortment of fresh brioche, danish and rolls.  Sit out on the patio with the locals and take in the pleasant view of the park across the street.
We then headed out to Deerfield Ranch Winery in Sonoma.  Not only are they known for their delicious wines, but you can do the tastings in their wine cave!

Be sure to wear a coat or sweater if you happen to visit the cave in the winter months.  That wine needs to be kept cool and you don't want to freeze while you taste your wine.

You'll walk past tons of barrels through a long hallway and emerge into a central room with a vaulted ceiling and plenty of leather chairs and coffee and dining tables to gather around.

We did a flight of 5 wines, one of which was the Cellar Rat Chardonnay, an ode to the workers in the cellar.

Next, we were off to Provenance Vineyards in St. Helena.  We took a long twisting route through canyons, past small farm houses and finally emerged on the other side of a hill to the open grape vineyards.  The tasting room is housed in a large red building that's reminiscent of a barn.  One of the wines on our tasting menu happened to be a Sauvignon Blanc that's going to be the wedding wine for 2 of the people I was with (and it was delicious!).

Our last wine tasting for the day was at Duckhorn Vineyards, which was also in St. Helena.  It was the late afternoon and the light just looked stunning along the fields.
The tasting room is housed in this beautiful Craftsman-style home.  Can I please live here?
Folks were sitting outside on the wrap-around patio in the crisp air, sipping their wine.
There's also plenty of space to do tastings inside their main room, which boasts a soaring ceiling and windows on every side.

Be sure to check out the wall of duck cartoons by the bathrooms.

My friend's dad happened to be a VIP wine club member at Duckhorn, so we were ushered to a private tasting room in another building out back.  They had tons of delicious cheese, crackers and dried fruit for us to munch on while they poured us a special selection of their top wines.  Again, I must live here.

Afterwards, we realized the cheese had kickstarted a bit of an appetite and since we were going to be doing snacks and champagne for New Year's Eve, we needed a quick meal.  Heading out of St. Helena, there's a renowned burger and hotdog spot called Gott's Roadside that I'd been wanting to try.  During the lunch hour, the lines are crazy long, but we hit this place at just the right time.

I got a Let's Be Frank hot dog with grilled onions, pickles and ketchup.  I'm totally coming back for a burger...
Our last stop was the local Dean & Deluca for some goose liver pate, more cheese and crackers and other snacks.  We had already sprung for the duck foie gras last night, so none today.

Too bad I spent all my money last night or else I would have bought some white truffle...or not.  $4800 a pound, mom.  Now that's luxurious.
We almost thought about buying some Sir Francis Bacon chocolate, but decided against it because we had so much chocolate and sweets still back at the hotel.
And while these chocolate truffles are pretty, I doubt they were as delicious as the ones we had at French Laundry!  I'm so spoiled now...

Jan 10, 2012

Punch Bowl Chocolate Cake with Amaretto

It was Malbec's birthday over the weekend and she was making her famous baked ziti for a chill dinner celebration.  Of course I had to bake her a cake, and wanted something to go well with Italian food and the numerous bottles of red wine that we'd be popping open.  My Aunt Donna makes this amazing Punch Bowl Chocolate Cake with Amaretto (an Italian almond-flavored liquer).  I hadn't eaten it in so long and I knew I could make it in a jiffy.  Check it out lushes, I'm making a dessert with a box cake recipe, box pudding and Cool Whip.  I'm taking some big short cuts here and I like it.  This doesn't happen often, but I need to stay true to Aunt Donna's recipe, and let's face it, we all need a time-saver once in a while.

Punch Bowl Chocolate Cake with Amaretto - serves 10-15
  • 1 box of Duncan Hines Devil's Food Cake Mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable/canola oil
  • 2 3oz boxes of instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup Amaretto (I use Disaronno)
  • 6 Heath chocolate bars, crushed
  • 16 oz Cool Whip 
- Bake cake according to the directions on the box and put batter in a 9x13" pan.
- While the cake is cooling, beat the milk, amaretto and chocolate pudding mix together.
- Crumble the cake into medium-sized pieces after it has cooled.
- In a punch bowl (I don't have one, so I used a leftover glass container from an old flower arrangement), layer in 1/3 of the crumbled cake, 1/3 of the pudding mixture, 1/3 of the crushed Heath bars and 1/3 of the cool whip.
- Repeat that 2 more times (my container was small, so I just did it twice and saved the leftovers).
- I used some of the remaining Heath bar crumbles to sprinkle on top.

Jan 5, 2012

Dining in Heaven at The French Laundry

The French Laundry—it's on every foodie's bucket list.  Tucked away in a quaint two-story building in Yountville, California, that used to house a saloon, brothel and then a French laundry, is Thomas Keller's pantheon to fine American and French dining.  You open that signature blue door and are immediately made to feel welcome.  You'll be spending the next four hours here in culinary bliss.  You won't want to leave, but every great meal must come to an end.  The memories, however, will not.  You'll be recounting each course you had with the friends you shared that dinner with.  You wonder if you'll ever be able to appreciate a good meal again, because somehow, every bite of food you partake may not live up to that dinner.   The next day you come down from your high a little bit and realize that yes, you can eat again, and revel in the simplicity of a great hunk of freshly baked bread or some fragrant roast chicken.  But dinner at The French Laundry will always be tugging at the back of your mind, and you'll share a secret smile with your friends over that next meal, knowing that you've had the joy of experiencing one of the best meals of your life...together.

I had the divine privilege of having a nine-course meal there on December 30, 2011 with five of my friends.  They had spent over an hour calling The French Laundry repeatedly, 2 months beforehand.  One of my friends lost count on her iPhone when the repeat dials numbered over 100, but persistance pays off.  I normally don't unload over $300 on dinner, but I had a rough end of the year and what better way to close 2011 than with a truly memorable dinner?  It was worth every penny.  We all dressed up in our finest and spent four hours tucked away on the top floor in the corner savoring each course.  The service was the best I've ever experienced.  Us ladies were getting a little chilled so they turned down the air conditioning and brought us all black pashmina shawls.

You're presented with two prix-fixe menus at The French Laundry—the Chef's Tasting Menu, which consists of more meat courses, and a Tasting of Vegetables, which isn't completely vegetarian.  Of course, we all went for the more meaty menu.  Also, when the menu lists nine course, it isn't really nine.  There are sorts of little surprises, so pace yourself.  I herewith present you all with a culinary photographic journey of our dinner:

First amuse-bouche: Salmon Cornets

Second amuse-bouche: Gruyère-filled Gougères

First course: "Oysters and Pearls" - "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar.  They also presented us with fresh-baked mini brioche with unsalted and salted butter.

Second course: We had an option of a beautiful salad or foie gras for an extra $30.  Well, when you're already dropping this amount of money for dinner, you might as well go all out!  Moulard Duck "Foie Gras en Terrine" - Celery Branch, Pecans, Honey-Poached Cranberries and Black Winter Truffles.  They served this with large slices of warm, toasted bread and three types of finishing salts (we all loved the Jurassic salt, which was the most potent and used sparingly).  As we were lapping this course up, they brought out more toast, which we all tried to wave away until they insisted that this dish is best served with hot, toasted bread.  Five-minute cold bread would not suffice.  I entered another level of heaven.

Third Course: Nantucket Bay Scallops - Country Bread Croutons, Cauliflower, Sultana Raisins, Spanish Capers and Brown Butter "Gastrique."  We had a glass of 2006 Karthäuserhof Riesling served with the seafood courses.

One of the great parts about dining with a large group is that you can share dishes.  One of my friends and I selected opposite dishes for certain courses so that we'd be able to try one of every thing.  For the third course she ordered the Sautéed Fillet of Atlantic Striped Bass - Razor Clams, Potato, Pickled Red Onions, Broccoli and Hen Egg "Mousseline."  This was probably the best piece of fish I've ever had in my life.  The top was so perfectly seared and crisped...

Fourth Course: Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Tail - Arrowleaf Spinach, Parsnip and Saffron-Vanilla Emulsion.

Fifth Course: Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit Sirloin - Confit Grapefruit, French Laundry Garden Fennel (yes, they have a garden across the street), Baby Red Beets and Piedmont Hazelnuts.  I had a glass of the 2001 La Rioja Alta, "Viña Ardanza," Rioja, Riserva Especial for the meat courses.  At this point, they also brought out a selection of various freshly baked rolls from Bouchon Bakery.  I had some bites from my friend's fifth course (sorry, no pic because we devoured it) of Salmon Creek Farm Pork Belly - Brussels Sprouts, Salsify, Pomegranate and Butternut Squash "Porridge."

Sixth Course: Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Rib-Eye - Falafel, Jingle Bell Peppers (how Christmas-inspired!), Eggplant, Cilantro Shoots and "Raita."  Now, I'm not much of a lamb fan.  It's something I wouldn't select off a menu, but this ended up being one of my favorite courses of the night.

Seventh Course: "Point Reyes Blue" - Serrano Ham, Belgian Endive, Mâche, Black Truffle and Port Wine Reduction.  This was like the texture of quiche.  After this course, we got a special treat—a private tour of the kitchen!  I had to force back a girly squeal of delight.

We walked downstairs and through the hallway to the kitchen.  It was perfectly neat and strangely quiet.  I'd never experienced such a zen-like atmosphere in a commercial kitchen before.  All the chefs were incredibly focused as they seared, poached and tweezed bits of mâche onto plates.  I was in awe.  And then Chef Keller himself appeared from his little office.  He greeted each of us, shaking our hands, asking our names and if we were enjoying ourselves.  I'm around celebrities all the time and they don't faze me. I was truly geeking out around Chef Keller though.

We headed back upstairs for our Eighth Course: Sour Cherry Sorbet - Coconut "Petit Beurre" and Vanilla "Soda."

Ninth Course: Alpaco "Mousse Au Chocolat" - Spice Pudding, "Panna Cotta" Fuyu Persimmon and Marcona Almond "Glacée.

My friend had the "Pommes Anna" as her last course - Funnel Cake, "Pruneaux d'Agen," Rum "Anglaise" and Salted Caramel Ice Cream.

Dinner wasn't over though.  We were then presented with three different Mignardises.  The first was The French Laundry's twist on Coffee and Donuts.  We had this tiny mug of a coffee-flavored light mousse and we dunked these warm, sugar-covered donut holes in it.

Next, we had these little chocolates in various flavors like Peanut Butter and Jelly (our favorite), Dark and Stormy, Salted Caramel, Pumpkin Pie, Toasted Hazelnut and more.  They also placed little bowls of the best chocolate-covered hazelnuts we've ever tasted.

We're done, right?  Uh, no.  We were finally presented with these little packages of shortbread cookies to take home, and Chef Keller graciously signed a few copies of the menu for us.  The Lush Chef plans on framing hers with the napkin clothespin.  Too bad I couldn't frame all the food!