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.

About Me

My Photo
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
View my complete profile


Powered by Blogger.
Mar 29, 2012

Libation Location: Picca

My office is in a bit of a food desert and the only restaurant that was walking distance was a meh cafe downstairs in our building.  I was saved about half a year ago by the opening of the Italian restaurant Sotto and Ricardo Zarate's Peruvian gem Picca, down the street.  They're located in the same building and connected by a back staircase.  If I feel like amari, I head downstairs and if I'm craving pisco, I head upstairs.  The food is fantastic at both places, but we're here to talk cocktails. You know when the season is changing because all the bars in town start rolling out their new cocktail menus, highlighting the ingredients of that particular period.

I hit up Picca last week for their spring cocktail preview with my power lunch, burger-sharing, cocktail-enthusiast friend Bourbon.  The first time we went there, I fell in love with this drink that had mezcal and cucumber foam.  I'm pretty sure it's on the year-round menu, so just look for something with cucumber foam.  Prolific bar man Julian Cox (Rivera, Playa, Short Order & Sotto) makes pisco the centerpiece of all "cocteles" here.  Pisco is a grape brandy that's produced in the wine-making regions of Peru, and it usually has a fresh, grassy and fruity flavor.  Bourbon and I shared three spring cocktails, plus some samples, and his favorite coctele, the Tranquilizer (it's off-menu and packs a punch, just how we like it).

The Meyer Lansky had Pisco Quebranta, meyer lemon marmalade, verjus, tangerine, cane sugar and, according to the menu, "shaken like a bootlegger from New York (during prohibition)."  It was a great cocktail to start a meal off with—light and citrusy.
Over chicharron de pollo (basically like a Peruvian chicken nugget and my fave bar food there), we imbibed the Lavender Holyfield next.  This also used Pisco Quebranta, but it was infused with lavender, and included cognac, fresh lemon juice, Royal Combier, Amaro Nonino, Angostura bitters and ras el hanout sugar rimming the glass.

I'm usually not a Piña Colada type of gal, but when I saw Julian concocting this for another barfly, I just had to try it.  It's called If You Like Piña Coladas...and my answer is usually no, but this time I said yes.  There's Pusser's Navy Rum, Mosto Verde Pisco, pineapple juice, housemade coconut cream (yum!), spring grenadine, 151 Demerara Rum, some freshly grated nutmeg over crushed ice and a mint leaf for garnish.  It tasted more like summer to me, but I've never been to Peru, so perhaps this is what spring tastes like there.

The last spring drink we tried were samples of their Untitled Cocktail.  We were given slips of paper to write down our suggestions with the chance to win a dinner for two and gratis servings of that cocktail throughout the season.  I'm pretty sure my submission of Abuela's Teatime lost, but I think I get an A for effort.  Sloe gin reminds me of grandmas!  There's also Pisco Torontel, hibiscus tea (grandma again), lemon juice, evaporated cane juice, egg white, and it's "shaken violently" with a cherry on top.

Mar 27, 2012

Cheddar Ale Soup

Libations used: 1 cup beer
Libations left over: 1/3 bottle of beer, so polish that baby off
While other parts of the country have been experiencing sunny days and warm weather, it's been cold and rainy in Los Angeles.  I felt like I had been running and running for the past couple of weeks—a visit to Austin for SXSW, birthdays, friends visiting from out of town and a bunch of dinners with local friends I hadn't seen in a while.  I finally spent a peaceful day at home, listening to the rain fall and catching up on some reading.  This Cheddar Ale Soup from Williams & Sonoma was the perfect, comforting dish to whip up on a lazy Sunday evening.  The original recipe calls for bacon, but I used up some leftover pancetta and instead of croutons, I sprinkled some honey mustard pretzel pieces on top—that's how they serve beer-laced cheddar soup back in my home state.

Cheddar Ale Soup - serves 4
  • 4 thick-cut bacon slices, cut into 3 inch strips or 1 cup diced pancetta
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled & diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup pale ale (I used Blue Moon Hefeweizen)
  • 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 1/4 lb sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Toasted croutons or honey mustard pretzel pieces for garnish
  • Olio novello for drizzling
- In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook the bacon or pancetta until crisp (about 8 minutes for the bacon & 4-5 minutes for the pancetta).
-Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
- Discard all but 2 Tbs of the fat in the pot (I only ended up getting just under a Tbs).
- Reduce heat to medium and melt the butter.
- Add the onion, carrots & celery.
- Cover and cook until the vegetables are softened (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.
- Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the flour and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the beer and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add the Worcestershire, milk and chicken stock.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-12 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender or transfer to a food processor or blender.
- Set the pot over medium-low heat and add the cheese by the handful, stirring constantly.  Do not allow the soup to boil!
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Garnish with croutons or pretzel pieces and drizzle with the olio novello.

Mar 22, 2012

Gold Rush Cocktail

When the Lush Chef has a drink meeting canceled, she makes lemonade out of lemons...err...cocktails using her home bar supplies! I was flipping through my PDT Cocktail Book for ideas, and while most of the drink recipes in there can be rather complicated, they do have some simple ones.  I've had the Gold Rush cocktail at a few bars around town and it's the perfect combination of bourbon, sweet and citrus.  It was originally made at New York's Milk & Honey back in 2003.  That place may be a members-only club, but you can add this cocktail recipe to your arsenal.  Their version calls for 12-year Elijah Craig, but I used my good-ol' standby of Bulleit.  To make the honey syrup, just heat up honey and water (1/2 oz water to every 1 oz honey) in a small saucepan over medium heat, and keep stirring until the honey dissolves (don't let it boil!).

Gold Rush Cocktail
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 1 oz honey syrup
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake and strain over a large ice cube into a chilled rocks glass.

Mar 20, 2012

Blue Moon Cupcakes

Libations used: 2/3 cup beer
Libations left over: more than half a bottle of beer, so polish it off while those cupcakes are baking...
This past weekend was an epic celebration—a friend in from Hong Kong, St. Patrick's Day and Blue Moon's 30th birthday.  Instead of whipping up some Irish-inspired cupcakes, I decided to make Blue Moon cupcakes to honor the birthday boy.  I had seen a couple of recipes floating around the food blogs, and ultimately opted for Spoon Fork Bacon's version.  The cake has a light orange, vanilla and light beer flavor, while the orange cream cheese frosting adds some decadence.  We busted these out for breakfast before our pub crawl on St. Patrick's Day, and they pair excellently with Blue Moon or any light beer.

Blue Moon Cupcakes - makes 16 cupcakes and over 24 minis
Ingredients for the cake:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Zest from 1 orange (save that orange to make juice for the frosting)
  • 2/3 cup Blue Moon beer
  • 2 Tbs whole milk
Ingredients for the frosting:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 2 Tbs freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Orange zest for garnish

To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 375 and line your muffin tins.
- In a mixing bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.
- In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter for about 1 minute.
- Add the sugar, and cream with the butter for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the eggs one at a time and scrape the batter down the sides of the bowl after each.
- Add the vanilla and orange zest and mix until just combined.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the beer and milk together.
- Add 1/3 of the beer mixture, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, alternating until done and everything's full incorporated.
- Fill muffin liners 2/3 full with the batter.
- Bake for 15-18 minutes and allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting:
- Cream the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer.
- Add the confectioners sugar 1/2 cup at a time and be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add the orange juice and mix until everything's fully incorporated.
- Pipe frosting onto cupcakes and garnish with orange zest or peel.

Mar 15, 2012

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick has blessed us this year by having his namesake holiday fall on a Saturday, so of course I'll be out celebrating.  I'm a wee bit Irish, live within walking distance to a slew of Irish pubs and call myself the Lush Chef.  How could I not?  It's also Blue Moon's birthday, so I'll be bringing some form of baked goods to the bar (it's also a quick way to make friends with bartenders and get a good seat!).  If you're looking to do the same, the Lush Chef has some yummy ideas for you to honor St. Patrick's Day.  But before we get started, let's get a little libation education out of the way so you're fully prepared for the big day.

Bailey's Irish Cream: It's creamy, it's delicious in hot and cold drinks and has a suspiciously long shelf life.

Ale vs Stout: Equally tasty, but not the same and will make a world of difference if you mix up the two in recipes.

Irish Whiskey vs American Whiskey:  Let's honor St. Patty by sticking with Irish Whiskey on this day.

Now that we got the lessons out of the way, on to the food...

Cheddar Beer Bread: Start off your morning the right way with this quick and easy beer bread.  I recommend baking with a light beer or pale ale, and use an Irish cheddar to show your proper respects.

Guinness & White Cheddar Spread: Yes, I'm keeping up with the beer and cheddar theme, because they just go so well together.  There's only a little bit of beer in this spread, so you won't get tipsy—it will probably end up helping you soak up all that alcohol you've been imbibing.  It's also ridiculously addictive, so bring a secret stash to the pub...

Beef & Guinness Short Ribs: If you're hosting a dinner party and have time to cook something low and slow, then I highly recommend making these short ribs. You can even fork off all the meat and serve them as sliders.

Chocolate & Pretzel-Covered Beer Marshmallows: You now have all this stout in your house, so what's a Lush Chef to do besides drink it?  These stout-laced marshmallows are kicked up another notch by being doused in milk chocolate and pretzel pieces.

Cupcake time!  The Lush Chef will be rolling into a pub with a box of these to pass out amongst friends and bring a little St. Patrick's Day cheer.

Bailey's Irish Cream Cupcakes: These fluffy vanilla cupcakes have a Bailey's Irish Cream buttercream frosting and pack a boozy punch.

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes: The recipe for these chocolate cupcakes calls for stout in both the cake and the frosting.  I also got a little creative last year and shot some vanilla and cinnamon whipped cream through the middle.  It's like the Irish version of a hostess cupcake.

Mar 13, 2012

Libation Location: Mixology 101

It's not often that the Lush Chef wanders over to The Grove for a drink—usually I'm frequenting downtown, Santa Monica and Venice for my libation adventures.  But with the fairly recent opening of Short Order, complete with a cocktail menu crafted by the ubiquitous Julian Cox, and now Mixology 101, which opened yesterday, there's more to do at The Grove besides shop and see a movie.

Mixology 101 (6333 W. 3rd Street, Suite 20, Los Angeles) is part of Planet Dailies, which is an offshoot from the restaurant housed at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.  This is the LA iteration and you can find it right above the Bath & Body Works and next to the Original Farmer's Market.  Cocktails have been conceived and inspired by renowned bar "Maestro" Salvatore Calabrese (someday, I must find a way to try samples from his vintage Cognac collection), along with Joseph Brooke who hailed from The Edison and has whipped up accolades of his own.

I got invited to a preview last week, and brought along my blogger friend Whitney from Get Me Out of LA, to try some of their small bites and four of their specialty cocktails.  Food covers a range of cuisines, which works well for folks strolling through The Grove—they've got something for everyone.  We tried their Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Potstickers, Tempura Shrimp, Tex-Mex Egg Rolls, Fish Tacos, Watermelon & Feta and a host of small desserts that include macarons, mini tiramisu, fruit tarts and more.  If you're going for the cocktails, you won't go hungry—the food is sure to soak up that alcohol!

Now, on to the libations.  We were treated to a fun and vibrant cocktail presentation by Salvatore—who doesn't love Italians?  He walked us through each cocktail and ingredient.  The first was a Breakfast Martini, which is a perfect, sunny libation for the ladies who lunch or brunch.  It's composed of Bombay Sapphire Gin, Cointreau, freshly squeezed lemon juice and orange marmalade.

We next moved on to the Spicy Fifty.  I'm not going to lie, I started to flinch when Salvatore mentioned using Stolichnaya Vanil Vodka because I have a huge aversion to pre-flavored vodkas, especially vanilla...Well, I was proven wrong because this oddly ended up being my favorite cocktail of the night.  Toss in some elderflower cordial, fresh lime juice, honey and chili pepper, and the vanilla was quickly balanced out.  It was slightly sweet and slightly spicy (kind of like me, I guess).

Our third cocktail was The Farmer's Martini, an ode to the location of Mixology 101, which had frozen Stoli Elit Vodka, some housemade blue curaçao, champagne and Salvatore's own lemon bitters.  We like people that make their own bitters...

The last cocktail, and the prettiest (love the stemware and the color!), was the Hollywood Bubbles made with Bénedictine, fresh raspberry purée, pomegranate juice and champagne.  This was also another favorite of mine and it went down almost too easily.

Photo courtesy of Planet Dailies

Cocktails are priced between $12-$18, the standard price that you pay at most mixology joints, and food is in the $8-$17 range.  So next time you get dragged to the Grove by visting friends and family, and you need a spot to escape, just bop on up here.  Grab a seat on the outdoor patio and enjoy a cocktail while they huddle with the shopping masses.

Mar 8, 2012

The PDT Cocktail Book

I've never been to PDT (Please Don't Tell), the tiny speakeasy joint that's connected to the hot dog destination Crif Dogs along St. Mark's Place in NYC.  But until I visit the Big Apple, I can somewhat satisfy my cocktail fantasies with Jim Meehan's beautifully crafted recipe book.  The PDT Cocktail Book has over 300 recipes that range from classic to obscure, along with small anecdotes to their origin and shout-outs to the creators.  Illustrations by Chris Gall are interspersed throughout the book and are a mash-up of whimsical and punk rock.  As the vintage cocktail culture continues to expand across the US, you can see (errr...taste) how cocktail recipes that originated in one city will quickly pop up on a bar menu across the country.  Sometimes it's a perfect replication, but often, it's a slight riff that fits the tastes and ingredients of that city.  This book is like an ode to the culture of sharing among the cocktail community.

The book also goes until full detail on how one can essentially start their own bar, with pointers on preparing drinks (always add those less expensive ingredients first!), what tools and glassware one should possess and even how to build the actual back bar and counter.  Want to know where you should put that fridge for your vermouth, wine, soda, back-up juice (freshly squeezed, of course), cream and eggs?  This book tells ya where.

For cocktail nerds like me, this book is a joy, and for those just starting to make cocktails at home, it can be rather intimidating, so take what you will from this guide.  There are really handy recipes for house-made syrups, tips on basic ingredients you should stock in your home bar, fresh ingredients organized by season, a resource guide and even some Crif's Hot Dog recipes!

Drinks range from the classic French 75 and Negroni to contemporary libations such as the Gold Rush with bourbon, honey syrup and lemon juice and the Mezcal Mule, a twist on the traditional Moscow Mule.  There are also some crazy, fun recipes created by Meehan and his cohorts such as the Bee's Sip with chamomile-infused Barsol Quebranta Pisco, Masumi "Okuden" Junmai Sake and Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur and the Wrong Aisle with Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy, Lillet Rouge and Quince Shrubb (preferably the Huilerie Beaujolaise Vinaigre de Coing brand).  Because some of these ingredients and liquors are either impossible to track down unless you live in New York or LA, or just really expensive for a home bar, think of these recipes as a jumping-off point to experiment.  That's the beauty of this book—it opens the door to the creative process and makes you think about combining ingredients in new ways.  And if you're really craving that Bee's Sip, just make sure to order it when you drop by PDT.

Mar 6, 2012

Leek & Pancetta Risotto with Fried Egg

Libations used: 1/3 cup white wine
Libations left over: pretty much the whole bottle, so pour yourself a glass while you stir that risotto...
I haven't made risotto in a while and was absolutely craving it on a Monday night.  Ah, risotto–that creamy dish that, more often than not, sends Top Chefs home.  But don't be scared off by it, you just need to monitor it, so pour yourself a glass of chardonnay while you stir to your heart's content.
This recipe was sent along through Tasting Table from Brassica in St. Helena in the Napa Valley.  I haven't eaten there, but I'll be sure to stop by the next time I venture to that region.  I love this dish because of the simplicity of its ingredients, and there's nothing more satisfying than plopping a fried egg on top—that runny yolk just adds to the delicious creaminess of the risotto. Yes, sometimes I like to have something breakfast-y for dinner.  Why not?  Anyway, this risotto is perfect to serve for brunch with friends, and you could always make it vegetarian by subbing in mushrooms and vegetable stock.

Leek & Pancetta Risotto with Fried Egg - serves 6
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 leeks, finely chopped
  • 1 cup finely chopped pancetta
  • 4 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 3 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine (I used a chardonnay)
  • 5-6 cups hot chicken stock (never make risotto with cold stock)
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 6 large eggs
- Add olive oil to a medium skillet over medium heat.
- Add the leeks and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.
- Remove the leeks to a bowl and set aside.
- In the same skillet, add the pancetta and cook until it begins to render its fast, about 3-4 minutes.  It should be soft and not dried out and crispy.
- Add the pancetta to the reserved leeks and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter.
- Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add the rice and stir until all the butter has been absorbed, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add the wine and reduce until it's dry, about 2 minutes.
- Add enough stock so that the fluid level rises just above the rice and continue to let it simmer, while stirring frequently.
- Continue adding stock as it's absorbed, so the stock just covers the top of the rice.
- Continue cooking until the rice is al dente, about 12-15 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in a bit more stock and the Parmesan.
- Remove from heat and set aside to rest while you fry the eggs.
- Stir the reserved leeks and pancetta into the rice and divide among 6 bowls.
- Place a fried egg on top of each, add freshly ground pepper and salt—I used pink Himalayan sea salt because the color complements the pancetta so nicely—and serve immediately.

Mar 1, 2012

Blood Orange, Ginger Beer & Tequila Cocktail

Winter is almost over and that means that blood oranges will soon be out of season.  While that makes me incredibly sad, I have to remind myself that each season brings something yummy and new.  I wasn't having any kind of party at the Lush Chef Chateau this week, but it was Monday night and sometimes a girl just has to make herself a fancy cocktail.  This Blood Orange, Ginger Beer & Tequila Cocktail from Food Porn Daily was just calling to me, with the wintery combination of blood orange and ginger (I actually used a non-alcoholic ginger beer, but feel free to amp it up).  And let's face it, throwing in tequila almost always makes it a fun time.

Blood Orange, Ginger Beer & Tequila Cocktail 
Garnish Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup blood orange juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Zest from 1 blood orange
  • Blood orange slices
Drink Ingredients:
  • 2 oz blood orange juice
  • 3 oz ginger beer 
  • 1 1/2 oz tequila
  • Juice from 1 lime wedge
  • Ice
To prepare the glass:
- Put the 1/4 cup blood orange juice in a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, combine the zest and sugar.
- Dip the rim of a highball glass into the orange juice and then into the zest & sugar mixture (coat it nice and even!).

To make the drink:
- In a cocktail shaker, add ice, blood orange juice, tequila and lime juice and shake.
- Pour into your pretty, garnished glass and top with ginger beer.
- Stir lightly and garnish with a blood orange slice.