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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Feb 28, 2012

Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies

Libations used: 1 1/2 Tbs Kahlua
Libations left over: Add some to your morning coffee...
First of all, let me congratulate myself, because my blog is one year old!  I had started this endeavor right after last year's Spirit Awards (which were awesome this year, by the way) and after my Granny had passed away.  I was looking for something creative to do, separate from my job, and I have absolutely fallen in love with blogging.  I've had such a blast cooking and baking for my buddies, and the feedback I've gotten from family, friends and foodies has meant so much to me.  Thank you, everyone!  I hope to get even better and better at this, and continue bringing you all the tasty libations and boozy concoctions that you crave.

Now, on to this week!  Even though I was really tired after working this awards season, I still wanted to bake something for my friends' Oscar party.  I had found a recipe about a year ago (and now can't remember where) for marshmallow brownies that became a hit amongst the Lush Chef Taste Testers.  They're rich, gooey and something in them lends itself to hangover cures.  Because my friends love anything spicy, I kicked the brownies up a notch by adding cayenne, chili powder and cinnamon into the frosting for a Mexican twist.  Now that I'm always finding a way to slip alcohol into my baked goods, I added Kahlua to the frosting this time.  Let's just say these brownies were a winner on Oscar night...

Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies - makes 24
Ingredients for the brownies:
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
Ingredients for the frosting:
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/8 tsp chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1-2 Tbs milk
  • 1 1/2 Tbs Kahlua
To make the brownies:
- Preheat the oven to 375.
- Add butter, sugar and cocoa into a stand mixer and mix.
- Add the eggs, vanilla and salt and mix.
- Add the flour and mix.
- Bake in a greased 9x13 pan for 25 minutes, or until done.
- Immediately top with the marshmallows and bake for another 2 minutes.
- Dip a knife in cold water to spread the marshmallows evenly (you'll have to re-wet that knife a few times to accomplish this).
- Cool completely before you frost.

To make the frosting:
- Combine the butter, powdered sugar, cocoa, chili, cayenne and cinnamon.
- Add the Kahlua and 1-2 Tbs of milk, until desired consistency.

Feb 23, 2012

The DeMille Cocktail

Awards season is finally coming to an end, with the Spirit Awards and Oscars this weekend.  Hosting a party and trying to figure out which cocktail to make?  I made this DeMille Cocktail, along with an Apricot  Bourbon Fizz, for a Golden Globes viewing party and both were a hit.  The recipe comes from Andrew Smith at Downtown LA's The Edison, a beautiful bar in the former Edison power building that harkens back to the early 1900's.  A fitting environment for a cocktail named after the famous film director Cecil B. Demille.  You can use gin or vodka for this libation, but I'm more partial to gin—the juniper flavor goes well the rosemary.

The DeMille Cocktail
  • 2 oz gin or vodka
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 2-3 blackberries
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
- Add gin, lemon juice and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake and strain into an ice-filled old fashioned glass.
- Garnish with the blackberries and rosemary.

Feb 21, 2012

New England Clam Chowder

Libations used: 1/2 cup white wine
Libations left over: pretty much the whole bottle, so serve with dinner or have a glass while the chowder simmers...
There's still a chill in the air by the beach, and I just love cooking up soups on Sunday nights to beat away the cold, nighttime ocean breezes.  The Film Independent Spirit Awards are coming up for me, so this week is going to be crazy, and the Lush Chef needed a hearty dish that could quickly be heated up for dinners at the office.  A few weeks ago, Gilt Taste had posted two clam chowder recipes—the tomato-based Manhattan version and the creamy New England kind.  The New England Chowder won my heart this week.  I made a trip to Santa Monica Seafood to pick up some Littleneck clams and their Ultimate Seafood Stock (just add 3 cups of water for each container and freeze any leftovers).  I have tons of bottles of La Crema chardonnay lying around, so I popped one of those open.  I'm not much of a chardonnay drinker, but I always have plenty of it around because it lends itself well to cooking.

New England Clam Chowder - serves 6-8
  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 sticks celery, diced
  • 2 Idaho potatoes, diced and unpeeled
  • 1 sweet potato, diced and unpeeled
  • 2 leeks, green part removed and diced
  • 1 Tbs salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup white wine (I used a chardonnay)
  • 5 cups seafood stock (or vegetable)
  • 12 Littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • Fresh chopped parsley
  • 3-4 slices crisp, diced bacon
- In a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter.
- Add the onion, celery, potatoes, leeks, salt and pepper and cover the pot.
- Let it cook on low heat, covered, and stir every few minutes for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables start to soften around the edges and glisten.
- Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables.
- Stir and continue to cook on low heat for about 5 minutes.  A golden crust will start to build up on the bottom of the pot.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high and when you can hear the vegetables sizzling, pour all the wine in.
- Use a wooden spoon to deglaze the bottom of the pot by getting those caramelized, crusty bits off the bottom.
- When all the wine has nearly evaporated, add the seafood stock and thyme.
- Bring it up to a boil and let the chowder simmer for 20 minutes.
- Add the clams and cream to the chowder, cover the pot and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
- Garnish each bowl with the parsley and bacon, and serve with some crusty and toasted sourdough bread.

Feb 16, 2012

Vanilla Bean Old Fashioned

An Old Fashioned should be a part of everyone's cocktail arsenal, along with Negronis, Manhattans, and your standard vodka sodas/tonics, gin & tonics, margaritas, mint juleps, etc.  If you have a home bar, you must learn how to make this the right way.  Plus, if the Lush Chef ever comes over to your place, she'll ask you to make her one, because it's her favorite cocktail.  There are some differing opinions on what qualifies as an Old Fashioned.  Some people put a crapload of muddled cherries and oranges in there, but I'm more of a purist, like Ryan Gosling here.  I prefer the old, Old Fashioned—a true cocktail that contains just bourbon, some water, a sugar cube, bitters and maybe a citrus twist.  The first Old Fashioned was supposedly served in the 1880's at a gentleman's only club (thank goodness I'm alive now) in Louisville, Kentucky called the Pendennis Club.  It was then popularized by a club member who introduced it to the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

Now I mentioned above that I'm a bit of a purist, but I make occasional exceptions.  This Vanilla Bean Old Fashioned from Tasting Table doesn't throw in an abhorrence of fruit, and it substitutes a white sugar cube with vanilla sugar and Angostura bitters with orange bitters.  If you're looking for a fun winter variation on the standard Old Fashioned, I highly recommend this.  If you're lucky to be my friend, then you may get to experience this drink with my Bitter Revenge Buzzkill bitters—the coffee pecan flavor just warms up the vanilla even more.

Vanilla Bean Old Fashioned - serves 1
  • 1 tsp vanilla sugar*
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • Orange peel
  • 1 tsp/splash cold water
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 1 large ice cube (I recommend these King Ice Cube trays)
  • Whole vanilla bean
- In a glass, combine the sugar, bitters, orange peel and water.
- Muddle until the sugar is dissolved.
- Add the ice cube and pour the bourbon over top.
- Stir for about 15 seconds, then garnish with the vanilla bean.

*To make vanilla sugar, slice a vanilla bean in half lengthwise.  Add to 1-2 cups white, granulated sugar and let it sit in a covered container for 2 weeks.

Feb 14, 2012

Guinness & White Cheddar Spread

Libations used: 1/3 cup Guinness 
Libations left over: 3/4 of the bottle, so polish that off while you're making the dip
In addition to my Bacon Bourbon Caramel Popcorn, I also brought this Guinness & White Cheddar Spread to a Super Bowl party over a week ago.  I had run across this recipe on The Galley Gourmet a long time ago and was waiting for the right time to make it.  Of course you have to have beer when watching football, so it seemed fitting that I finally whipped it up.  Don't be scared off by all the ingredients.  You just throw everything into a food processor and it's done.  It can also be made a few days in advance—just make sure you bring it to room temperature before serving. The original recipe recommends serving it with rye toasts, but I thought pretzels would be more fun—they're easier to dip and they go so well with beer and cheese!  There were a few of us at the party (me included) who huddled together and wouldn't let anyone move this spread away from us.  It was so freakin' addictive that I very well could have tackled someone if they took it away from me.

Guinness & White Cheddar Spread - makes 2 cups
  • 10 oz sharp white cheddar cheese (I used the Dubliner brand - looove that stuff), grated
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 Tbs cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup Guinness Stout
  • 1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tsp whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste (I used a couple pinches)
- In a food processor, combine the cheddar, cream cheese, butter, Guinness and mustards and purée until smooth.
- Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then add the onion, Worcestershire, black pepper, parsley and cayenne and pulse until nice and smooth.

Feb 9, 2012

Libation Education: Ice Wine

When I moved to California from chilly Michigan, I found out that many of my friends had never tasted, or even heard of ice wine.  While one can certainly buy it out here, California obviously doesn't make it.  Most ice wine is made in Germany (you may have seen it labeled "eiswein"), Canada (primarily Ontario), Michigan and some areas in New York.  What is ice wine and how is it different from other wines?  It's a sweet dessert wine and it's freakin' good, that's what.

The grapes are harvested when they've been iced up and frozen on the vine, which allows a more concentrated and sweet grape juice when pressed.  Only the water freezes in the grapes and not the sugars and dissolved solids, so they're still healthy when harvested.  They really don't experience what's called "noble rot" or "Botrytis" where the grapes go through a minor rot and drying when they're ripe.  Those Botrytized grapes are used for other kinds of dessert wines like Sauternes.

Because such a small amount of concentrated grape juice is pressed from these frozen grapes, ice wines tend to be on the pricey side.  If a winter has light snow and minor freezing, this can drastically affect a region's ice wine harvest.  Michigan is actually experiencing this right now, so expect those 2012 ice wine bottles to be expensive...

Because the Lush Chef's parents hit up a lot of Michigan and Canadian wineries (this little grape doesn't fall far from the vine), they always have a nice selection of ice wines on hand.  The wines in the first picture are from from Reif Estates and Kittling Ridge in Ontario.  Yes, there's such thing as Ice Wine & Brandy and it packs a punch—it's also one of my favorite dessert wines ever.  The last one is a Fenn Valley Ice Wine near Grand Rapids, Michigan.  We cracked open this bottle of Fenn Valley Vidal Blanc Ice Wine during the holidays and it was a perfect end for a post-Christmas dinner.

Feb 7, 2012

Bacon Bourbon Caramel Popcorn

Libations used: 2 Tbs bourbon
Libations left over: make yourself an Old Fashioned while you wait for that popcorn to dry
When you put bacon, bourbon and caramel all into a snack food, you're bound to impress.  I made this last year for the Super Bowl and blew some minds...and got some marriage proposals.  What guy wouldn't love this stuff, and love you for making it?  I wish I could claim the recipe as my own, but it's adapted from Villain's Tavern, one of my favorite watering holes in downtown LA.  I made 2 batches of it again for this year's big game, and there was barely any left by halftime.  I think next time I make this, I may even add some cayenne or chile powder to give it a spicy kick.

Bacon Bourbon Caramel Popcorn - makes 1 bag
  • 3 strips of applewood smoked bacon
  • 1 bag of plain popcorn
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 Tbs bourbon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
- Heat oven to 250.
- Fry the bacon and set aside.
- Pop the popcorn and lay out on a baking sheet to cool.
- Crumble the bacon and spread over the popcorn.
- In a medium sauce pot, add the butter, brown sugar and maple syrup and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and add the bourbon, vanilla extract, salt and baking soda and stir until thoroughly mixed.
- Pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and stir to coat.
- Put in the oven for 1 hour and stir up the popcorn every 15 minutes.

Feb 2, 2012

High West Lemonade

Readers are now aware of the Lush Chef's obsession with High West Distillery in Park City, Utah.  When I visited the place last year, I had one of their signature cocktails—the High West Lemonade.  It can be served hot like a toddy or cold, but I'm a fan of the iced version, made with one of my favorite ryes.  They sell the High West Spiced Syrup that goes in this cocktail at the Distillery, or I'm sure you could call them and beg them to send you a bottle.   The simple syrup is made with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla and gives this summer-inspired cocktail a bit of a winter kick in the butt.  I made some slight modifications to their recipe (located on the bottle) because we don't have any Utah liquor laws to worry about in the Lush Chef's abode.

High West Lemonade - serves 1
  • 3/4 oz High West Spiced Syrup
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz water
  • 2 oz High West Rendezvous Rye
  • 1 mint sprig
- Combine the syrup, lemon juice, water and rye whiskey in a mixing glass with ice and stir to your heart's content.
- Pour into a glass and garnish with the mint sprig.