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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May 31, 2012

Summer Rye Cocktail

Memorial Day weekend was finally bringing out multiple sunny, warm days (about time, LA!) and a friend of mine invited me for drinks on a Sunday night.  He and I were experiencing a little bit of Cannes envy after seeing all of our friends' Facebook posts about awesome films and Instagram shots from the south of France.  Le sigh.  So our mission on this warm almost-summer evening was to concoct some French cocktails.  We're both huge fans of bourbon and whiskey, so French 75's were out of the question (although we did make French 95's - thank you Hatfield's).  It was time to get creative and bust out the champagne and St. Germain and see what we could mix up.  I ran across this recipe for a Summer Rye cocktail on St. Germain website and yes, it looked perfect for summer what with all the fruit juices and champers thrown in.  Mom will be so proud that you're getting your fruit for the day.  These drinks go down smooth, so watch yourself...ooh, la, la!

Summer Rye Cocktail
  • 1 1/2 oz rye whiskey
  • 3/4 oz St. Germain
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz apple juice (make sure it's the fresh pressed, cloudy kind)
  • 3/4 oz champagne
  • Cubed apples for garnish
- Add the whiskey, St. Germain, simple syrup, lemon and apple juices in a mixing glass with ice and shake.
- Strain into a chilled glass.
- Top with champagne and garnish with 2 or 3 cubes of apple.

May 29, 2012

Pasta with Spicy Tomato-Beer Sauce

Libations used: 1 bottle of beer
Libations left: None, but crack open another bottle of beer while the sauce simmers.
It may have been Memorial Day weekend, but I wasn't doing any BBQ'ing myself.  I was totally craving pasta after a week of eating tons of kale and salads—I needed the carbs.  Plus, a bunch of my neighbors were around and were HUNGRY, so I needed something easy to make and serve.  Whenever the Lush Chef starts cooking in her building, everyone comes out into the courtyard and starts sniffing around.  What can I say?

I had pinned this recipe for Pasta with Spicy Tomato-Beer Sauce from Saveur a while back, and I happened to have one lonely bottle of Bock beer in the fridge.  It was like kismet.  It's a puttanesca style pasta, and I loved how it included all sorts of yummy things like pickles, capers, anchovies and sun-dried tomatoes. I held back on the spice because not everyone can handle the heat.  For some reason I couldn't track down any red Fresno chiles, so I used an orange Fresno pepper—hey, they both have Fresno in their name.  Yes, the sauce takes almost 2 hours to make, but it's worth it.  The smells are amazing and once you make homemade sauce, there's just no going back to the canned stuff.

Pasta with Spicy Tomato-Beer Sauce - serves 4-6

  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 8 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 6 oil-packed anchovy filets, chopped
  • 4 red Fresno chiles, seeded and chopped (I used 1 Fresno pepper)
  • 4 gherkins, chopped
  • 2 red onions, chopped
  • 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
  • 12 oz Bock beer (German, Italian, use whatever you find)
  • 3/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb linguini or scialatielli pasta
  • 8 caper berries for garnish
  • 2 Tbs finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

- Heat oil in a 4 quart saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Add capers, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, chiles, gherkins and onions.
- Stir occasionally, until ingredients are browned, for about 20 minutes.
- Add canned tomatoes and beer and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, for about 1 1/2 hours.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente.
- Purée sauce in a blender and then return sauce to the pan over low heat.
- Stir in olives and season with salt and pepper.
- Drain the pasta, reserving some of the pasta water (to loosen the sauce, if needed).
- Transfer the pasta to the sauce and toss to combine.
- Serve pasta garnished with caper berries and parsley.

May 24, 2012

Campari & Grapefruit Cocktail

There's something about the warmer days that makes me crave Campari.  Whether's I'm sitting outside in the sun with friends having a cocktail, or coming home after a long day of work needing a nightcap.  My co-worker had given me another one of the delicious grapefruits that grow on his tree in Palm Springs, so I juiced that right up and got to work making this cocktail.  The bitter and slight sweetness of the grapefruit pairs so well with Campari and is a good alternative to those who can't handle something like a Negroni.  It also makes a killer sorbet, which I've made before for this blog.  I know what I'll be making when more grapefruit comes my way...

Campari & Grapefruit Cocktail
  • 2 oz Campari
  • 3 oz fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1-2 oz soda water
  • Orange peel for garnish
- Fill a glass with ice and add the Campari and grapefruit juice.
- Stir, stir to chill everything up.
- Top with soda water, to taste, and garnish with an orange peel.

May 22, 2012

Nutella Cupcakes with Frangelico

Libations used: 2 Tbs Frangelico
Libations left over: None, but make yourself a cocktail if you need to imbibe while baking...
A friend of mine was celebrating her graduation from grad school last week and I wanted to bring something to her party.  I knew there would be some little kids at this shindig, so I didn't want to make cupcakes that were going to get folks tipsy, and I wanted a flavor profile that would appeal to everyone.  Who doesn't love chocolate-Nutella-goodness and strawberries?  This recipe for Nutella Cupcakes that I found on Baked-In uses Frangelico, an Italian hazelnut liqueur in the batter so the alcohol will burn off (yay, no drunk kiddies!), and has a Nutella filling and Nutella buttercream frosting.

Make sure that you use fresh eggs when you're making the frosting so those whites whip up nicely.  I was lucky to get a dozen eggs from a friend who raises chickens at Maggie's Farms, and boy, do those eggs make amazing frosting!  I had also bought a huge box of strawberries that morning and decided these all-brown cupcakes needed a little color and fruity flair (I had to restrain myself from dunking too many strawberries in the Nutella jar after I was done baking).  I brought almost all the cupcakes to the party and they pretty much disappeared in under 5 minutes.  I think that's a pretty good sign that I need to make them again...

Nutella Cupcakes with Frangelico - makes 24-26
Ingredients for the cake:
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbs Frangelico
  • 1 cup buttermilk
Ingredients for the frosting:
  • 4 large egg whites (make sure the eggs are fresh)
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 and line your cupcake pans.
- Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl.
- In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 10 minutes until they're thick and pale.
- Turn off the mixer and add the vegetable oil, Frangelico and buttermilk.
- Beat on medium speed for 1 minute.
- Add the flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until it's fully incorporated, for about 2 minutes.  
- Add the batter to the cupcake tins, filling the cups about 2/3 full.
- Bake for 17-20 minutes, and make sure they're completely cool before frosting.

To make the frosting:
- Add the egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high speed for about 8 minutes.  The egg whites should be in stiff, white peaks when you remove the whisk attachment.
- Fit your mixer with the paddle attachment and add the butter 2 Tbs at a time.
- Beat for about 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy and smooth.  It will go through a period where it curdles a little bit, but keep beating through that and it will come back together into an even fluffier texture.
- Add the Nutella and beat until it's fully incorporated.

To decorate the cupcakes:
- Use a small paring knife or a cupcake holer to take out a small piece of the middle.  
- Fill each cupcake with 1/2 to 1 tsp of Nutella.
- Frost and garnish with a strawberry slice.

May 17, 2012

Paloma Cocktail

I was still in a Mexican mood the other night after visiting Guelaguetza with some friends.  My co-worker had brought in more of his tasty grapefruit from his tree in Palm Springs, so naturally I thought to make a Paloma.  Don't even think about cheating with grapefruit soda or freakin' Squirt.  We don't do that here.  Haul yourself to the store and at least by a grapefruit and juice it, ok?  If you're looking for a simple tequila-based cocktail and getting tired of Margaritas, then this could be your best amigo this spring and summer.  If you're having a party, whip up a pitcher of these and I guarantee you'll find yourself whipping up a second one in no time.

Paloma Cocktail
  • 3/4 oz grapefruit juice
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 2 oz tequila
  • Soda water
  • Ice
  • Salt
  • Grapefruit peel or wedge for garnish
- Wet the rim of the glass with grapefruit juice and dip into a plate or bowl of salt.
- Fill glass with ice and add the grapefruit and lime juices and tequila.
- Stir, then top with 1-2 oz soda water.
- Garnish with a grapefruit peel or wedge.

May 15, 2012

Wild Rice Stuffed Fish

Libations used: 2 Tbs sherry
Libations left over: Swig some sherry while that fish is cooking, or serve some with dinner.
There are so many beautiful spring peas on display at the market and I had bought a huge amount of fresh English peas.  I was craving fish on a Sunday night and needed something healthy and fairly simple, so I thumbed through an old Better Homes & Gardens cookbook my Aunt had given me years ago.  While this recipe for Wild Rice Stuffed Fish calls for a whole fish (I'll try that next time), I couldn't find one at Trader Joe's and really didn't feel like going to another grocery store, so I made do with some tilapia filets.  The wild rice gave it a nice texture, and I served everything on the side with some asparagus.  

Wild Rice Stuffed Fish - serves 4-5
  • 1 2 to 2/12 pound fresh whitefish (I used tilapia filets from Trader Joe's)
  • 2/3 cup wild rice
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 Tbs dry sherry
  • 1 cup peas
  • 2 Tbs chopped pimiento (1 Tbs serrano chile)
  • 1/4 tsp finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1-2 Tbs olive oil
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Rince the rice and drain.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the butter and cook the mushrooms, onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes, or until mushrooms are softened and onions are a little translucent.
- Add the broth, sherry and rice.
- Stir, then cover and simmer for 45-50 minutes, or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.
- Add the peas, pimiento and lemon peel.
- Place the fish in a well-greased shallow baking pan.
- Sprinkle the cavity lightly with salt.
- Spoon half of the stuffing into the cavity and press lightly to flatten.  Since I only had filets, I just spooned some on top of one filet and plunked the other piece of fish on top, ghetto-style.
- Brush the top of the fish with some olive oil and cover loosely with foil.
- Place remaining stuffing in a 1 quart casserole dish and cover.
- Bake fish and stuffing in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork (mine only took 20 minutes).

May 10, 2012

Gin Fizz

I'm not sure why I associate gin drinks with springtime.  Perhaps it's that fresh, herbal flavor of the gin that fits so well with cool spring nights and 70 degree afternoons by the beach.  Everyone should have a gin fizz recipe in their arsenal, and the ingredients are ones you always have around the house.  If egg whites weird you out, then nix it, but just know you're missing out on a truly amazing and classic cocktail if you do so.  According to the Lush Chef, eggs make everything better.

Gin Fizz
  • 2 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sugar (I used two white sugar cubes)
  • 1 fresh egg white
  • 2 oz cold club soda
- Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a cocktail shaker and muddle to dissolve the sugar.
- Add the gin and egg white.
- Fill the shaker with ice and shake to your heart's content.
- Pour into a highball glass and top with the club soda.

May 8, 2012

Gingered Grapefruit Sorbet with Bitters

One of my co-workers has a couple of grapefruit trees in his backyard in Palm Springs, so around this time of year, we're blessed with the bounty.  He'll come around and drop a massive grapefruit on everyone's desk.  I ended up collecting about four of them and decided to make some sorbet with my new stand mixer ice cream attachment.  I had a ton of ginger left over from making Braveheart cocktails (a recipe I think I still need to perfect, so stay tuned) and wanted to use it up.  I found this Gingered Grapefruit Sorbet recipe from Gourmet, and joy—it uses bitters!  Totally up my alley, right?

Gingered Grapefruit Sorbet with Bitters - makes a quart
  • 3 cups strained fresh grapefruit juice (I used 4 grapefruits)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
  • 2 or 3 drops Angostura bitters
- In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of grapefruit juice, sugar and ginger and boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool completely.
- Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl.
- Stir in the remaining grapefruit juice and bitters.
- Chill the mixture, covered, until it's cold (I pour the mixture in a big Ziploc bag and plunge in a bowl of ice water for 30 minutes).
- Freeze the mixture in your ice cream make according to instructions.

May 3, 2012

Mint Juleps & Margaritas

There is so much for the Lush Chef to celebrate this coming weekend.  There are two, count 'em two, festive events happening that involve imbibing on Saturday—the Kentucky Derby and Cinco de Mayo.

Last year, I co-hosted a now legendary Derby party with some girl friends of mine at the Downtown Independent.  Everyone dressed up in their finest—the boys were wearing their fedoras and suspenders and the ladies had on vintage dresses and decorated hats.

LA mixologist Joel Black made us mint juleps, Elijah Wood DJ'd and I baked 100 mini mint julep cupcakes.  The drinks were flowing and people were dancing.  If you want to throw your own Kentucky Derby soirée, here are some recipes you'll need to get started.

Mint Julep Cocktail - stock up on plenty of crushed ice, fresh mint and bourbon.  These things can go down fast.

Mint Julep Cupcakes - Yes, there's bourbon in the cake and the frosting.  These are some boozy little confections and still one of my favorites that I've made.  You'll need more of that fresh mint to garnish the tops.

This Saturday, I'll be hitting up Get Me Out of LA's Cinco de Mayo fiesta in Venice.  She's hired someone to come and make tacos and there will be plenty of Mexican beer flowing, so the Lush Chef doesn't plan on lifting a finger (except to open my beer).  But if you do plan on hosting and need some cocktail ideas, here are two very different margaritas to get people salsa-ing, and a treat to wash it all down.

Spicy Strawberry Basil Margaritas - I came up with this cocktail idea last summer after I had made a bunch of jalapeño-infused tequila and had a bunch of fresh strawberries from the market.  The basil adds a nice herbal flavor and color.

Children of the Sun Cocktail - This is a twist on a cocktail originally made with Mezcal at Las Perlas in downtown LA.  I used smoked salt along the rim, so when combined with tequila, the flavor is reminiscent of Mezcal.  The jalapeño-infused tequila gives it another kick in the pants.  We downed pitchers of these at Coachella last year while lounging by the pool.

Margarita Cupcakes - This is another favorite cupcake of mine.  They're not quite as boozy as the Mint Julep Cupcakes, but there's still tequila in the batter and frosting.

May 1, 2012

Chicken & Swiss Chard Pasta Bake

Libations used: A generous splash of white wine 
Libations left over: Well, you only used a splash so finish up that bottle with dinner...
I made a Sake-Steamed Chicken the other week and had a lot of chicken to use up.  Plus, seeing all the pretty Swiss chard at the market reminded me of this recipe for a pasta bake I found on The Kitchn.  For recipes that call for a very small amount of wine, I always have some wine ice cubes stashed away in the fridge.  Sometimes I don't always want to pop open a new bottle if I'm using just a small amount and I'm only cooking for myself.  You can use regular penne pasta, but I opted for The Kitchn's suggestion of using whole wheat to make it healthier.  Ricotta is also a pretty light cheese and the top is dusted with panko bread crumbs and Parmesan.  I ended up sprinkling a mix of Parmesan and Asiago (thank you Trader Joe's for this handy package of cheesy goodness) and added more than the recipe called for, because I just love my cheese too much.

Chicken & Swiss Chard Pasta Bake - serves 6-8

  • 1/2 lb whole wheat penne
  • 3 bunches Swiss chard
  • 3 Tbs, olive oil, divided
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • Splash of dry white wine (I used one of my chardonnay ice cubes)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I added more and used a mix with Asiago)
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

- Preheat oven to 375.
- Cook the pasta according to directions, and strain and set aside.
- Rinse the Swiss chard and pull the leaves off the thick stalks, discarding the stems.
- Tear the leaves into large chunks and set aside.
- Heat 2 Tbs of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or big stock pot over medium heat.
- Cook the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and saute for another 30 seconds.
- Add the chard and season generously with salt and pepper.
- Stir a few times to wilt the greens , cover and reduce the heat to medium-low.
- Cook until the greens are tender, about 10 minutes.
- Add the cooked noodles, chicken, ricotta and the wine to the greens, seasoning with more salt and pepper.
- Transfer to a medium-sized baking dish.
- Combine the Parmesan, bread crumbs and 1 Tbs of olive oil.
- Sprinkle the mixture over the pasta and bake, uncovered for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.