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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Jun 28, 2012

Summer Cocktails

July will be here next week and we've already experienced a few hot, beach days.  With 4th of July celebrations and numerous BBQ's peppering your summer, you're going to need some cocktail ideas to whip out when you're manning the grill, by the pool or the beach or soaking in the sun over a boozy brunch.

Micheladas are great throughout the year, but I associate them with Summer Happy Hours with friends at Lula Cocina Mexicana in Santa Monica.  I also like to make a whole pitcher of these to have on hand during pool parties.  It's like a Mexican version of a Bloody Mary and the ingredients are inexpensive. Malbec and I really like ours spicy and load them up with plenty of Tapatío.

I'm not sure why I associate Mexican cocktails with summer, but I do.  The flavors and heat just scream sunshine and beach days for me.  On a particularly lazy Sunday, I decided to play around with making a fruity and spicy margarita.  I had bought a ton of strawberries at the Farmers' Market that day and had some leftover jalapeño-infused tequila, so I created this Spicy Strawberry Basil Margarita.  The addition of basil not only made these cocktails look cool, but gave them a unique, herbal taste.  I snuck a pitcher onto the beach and Malbec, Blue Moon and I polished the whole thing off in no time.

Continuing with our Mexican theme, I bring you a nice, citrusy alternative to the Margarita with the equally classic Paloma.  I like to use fresh grapefruit juice in mine, but you can also use grapefruit soda.  These are also great cocktails to make by the pitcher, so if you're having to host a BBQ, set a few of these out and let guests rim their own glasses with salt.  

Ok, enough with the Mexican "coctels."  Let's switch over to Italian.  On hot summer evenings after work, one of my favorite drinks to make is the classic Negroni.  I love the bitterness of the Campari, and it's extra boozy with the addition of gin and sweet vermouth.  If you can't handle all the liquor in this cocktail, try making an Americano instead.  It's a slight variation that substitutes soda water for the gin.  Both of these are simple, go-to cocktails that everyone should have in their bartending arsenal. Plus, you just feel sophisticated and very Euro drinking them.

The beer cocktail has been having a recent Renaissance.  Last summer, I had a lot of Stella Artois left over from the LA Film Festival and a few baskets of raspberries.  This Raspberry Beer Cocktail reminds me of a Lambic (a Belgian fruit beer), but it amps the booze factor with the addition of vodka.  Good times!

All of these cocktails have used rather minimal ingredients and don't take long to shake or mix up for a party, but if you're looking for something a little more complicated, then this Summer Rye Cocktail is up your alley.  Bust out the champers, add some St. Germain, multiple fruit juices, rye whiskey and you have yourself a fresh-tasting libation that goes down rather quickly.  So shake up your summer and enjoy!

Jun 21, 2012

Elder Fashioned

I love my Old Fashioneds and they're still my favorite cocktail.  There are so many tiny variations that you can make to always keep this libation fun and fresh.  I had made some lemon bitters and was itching to use them in an Old Fashioned.  The slightly sweet, floral flavor of St. Germain pairs nicely with the lemon and is a perfect way to update this drink for the summer.

Elder Fashioned
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 1/2 oz St. Germain
  • 4 dashes lemon bitters
  • Lemon peel or twist
- In a glass, add 1 large ice cube and pour in the bourbon and St. Germain.
- Add the lemon bitters and stir, stir, stir.
- Garnish with a lemon peel or twist.

Jun 19, 2012

Limoncello Shrimp

Libations used: 1/2 cup limoncello
Libations left over: Serve as an aperitivo with dinner...
After visiting Santa Monica Seafood the other week to make this Seared Scallop and Coconut Mussel Stew, I had to visit the shop again for some more fresh seafood.  I needed to make something quick because of a particularly busy weekend, so I picked up a pound of fresh Mexican white shrimp and used some of the limoncello I had left over from making this Rosemary Limoncello Cake.  This Limoncello Shrimp recipe from Food 52 has a sweet cream sauce poured over lemon, garlic and herbed shrimp.  I served them with fresh, crusty bread and sautéed arugula to balance out the sweetness.

Limoncello Shrimp - serves 4
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp herbs de Provence
  • 1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup limoncello 
  • 2 tsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbs heavy cream
- In a pan over medium-high heat, add the oil, garlic, lemon zest and herbs and cook for less than a minute, stirring until the mixture becomes aromatic.
- Add the shrimp and toss to coat in the mixture, cooking for about 3-4 minutes or until they become pink.
- Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside.
- Carefully wipe out the pan and return to the stovetop.
- Add the limoncello and cook over medium-high heat until it is reduced by half.
- Remove from heat and whisk in the butter and cream.
- Pour over the shrimp.

Jun 14, 2012

There's Duck in My Gin!

The Doomsday Clock is ticking in California as the ban on foie gras will take effect on July 1.  It will be a sad day for chefs, eaters (yes, I said eaters and not foodies because everyone should be able to enjoy foie) and those who were raising ducks and geese for carrying out this centuries' old tradition.  All over California, chefs are uniting to throw foie-tastic dinners so folks can get their fill before it's illegal to produce, sell and serve this versatile delicacy.  Last weekend, I attended a six-course foie gras dinner at Wilshire Restaurant in Santa Monica, where a portion of the proceeds benefitted C.H.E.F.S., a coalition of hundreds of chefs in California that are fighting to overturn the ban.  This bill was voted on about 7 years ago, and I honestly believe it's because people weren't well-informed (and still aren't) about what gavage is, how it affects ducks and geese (BTW, they don't have gag reflexes like we do), and how well these animals on treated on the farms.  

During the cocktail hour, we were served a libation called The Parisian Standard, which had Duck Fat-Washed No. 3 London Dry Gin, Pear Brandy, and a Salted Duck Fat Pear Brulée.  I thought the duck fat would be overpowering, but it was incredibly subtle and the pear really stood out.  I could have eaten the pear brulée as dessert!

After scarfing down some foie gras tartlets, ouef de poule and duck confit croquettes, we headed to the beautiful outdoor patio for the dinner.  Wilshire's Nyesha Arrington made some Twice Cooked Foie Gras Butter Bread, and I could have eaten a few pieces but had to save room for the rich feast.  Mezze's Micah Wexler made a generous Foie Gras Terrine with Cherries, Pistachio Dukkah and Yogurt and Fig's Ray Garcia served a Foie Gras Monte Cristo with Pickled Plum, Sorrel and Lardo that I wish I could have every week for freakin' brunch.  Chef Mark Peel at Campanile ladled up a Foie Gras, Mussel and Celery Root Ragout, Chef Kris Morningstar at Ray's and Stark Bar cooked up Foie Gras inserted in a Scallop with Spinach and a Brown Butter Reduction.  Public Kitchen and Bar's Vartan Abgaryan made some decadent Rabbit with a Foie Gras Crepinette, Bacon, Mustard and Huckleberries.  

We ended the meal with Nyesha's dessert of Foie Gras Ice Cream, Foie Gras Carrot Cake and Nasturtium.  I pretty much had to waddle out of the restaurant like the many ducks that I ate, and was still insanely full the next day, but it was worth it.  Now, who knows of some underground dinners starting in July?  By then, I'll be needing my next foie fix...

Jun 12, 2012

Seared Scallops with Coconut Mussel Stew

Libations used: 1 cup white wine
Libations left over: Almost the whole bottle, so serve with dinner...
Even though it's nearly summer, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy a tasty seafood stew.  I was scrolling through my files and came upon this Tasting Table recipe for Seared Scallops with Coconut Mussel Stew by Recette's Jesse Schenker.  The coconut milk and fresh herbs (thank you Maggie's Farms!) lightened it up for the season, and I couldn't resist the purple heirloom carrots at the market.  The recipe called for large sea scallops, but I ended up buying the smaller bay scallops so it would be easier to eat in a stew.  Santa Monica Seafood has this amazing Ultimate Seafood Stock that I always use when making stews, and I usually freeze whatever I have left.  Pop open a bottle of dry white wine, such as a cheap chardonnay and save for dinner.  This stew comes together pretty fast, so hop to it!

Seared Scallops with Coconut Mussel Stew - serves 6
  • 1 lb mussels, cleaned
  • 1 cup dry white wine 
  • 1 large white onion, diced and divided
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 5 Tbs grapeseed oil, divided
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 celery root, peeled and diced
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 2 cups lobster or fish stock
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 Tbs chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tbs chopped basil, with extra for garnish
  • Salt
  • 1 lb sea scallops, cleaned and patted dry
  • 1 Tbs olive oil

- In a large skillet, combine the mussels, white wine, 1 cup of onion and thyme.
- Cover and cook over medium heat until the mussels open (about 3 minutes) and discard any mussels that don't.
- Set aside and remove mussels from their shells when cool enough to handle, discarding shells.
- Strain the broth and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, heat 1 Tbs of the grapeseed oil over medium-high heat.
- Add the carrot, celery, celery root and the remaining onion and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until veggies are lightly browned.
- Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1-2 minutes more.
- Add the reserved mussel broth and fish stock, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom.
- Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until slightly reduced (about 8-10 minutes).
- Add the saffron, coconut milk, cilantro and basil and simmer gently for 8-10 minutes more.
- Season to taste with salt and keep the stew warm over very low heat.
- Heat the remaining 4 Tbs of grapeseed oil in a large skillet until almost smoking.
- Season the scallops with salt and place in the pan in batches so they don't overcrowd.
- Cook over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes or until golden-brown.
- Flip the scallops over and cook for about 2 more minutes.
- Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining scallops.
- Just before serving, stir the reserved mussels into the stew until warm.
- Divide the stew among 6 bowls and top with scallops.
- Sprinkle with some basil and drizzle a little olive oil on top.

Jun 5, 2012

Rosemary Limoncello Cake

Libations used: 6 Tbs limoncello
Libations left over: Pour yourself a little glass and sip while the cake bakes...
A friend of mine had a birthday party last week and everyone was tasked with bringing dessert.  Yay!  My specialty.  I'd been waiting for spring to hit so I could try this Rosemary Limoncello Cake recipe from Booze Cakes.  Limoncello is a sweet, Italian lemon liqueur, and is traditionally served as a digestivo.  Fittingly, the birthday boy is also Italian...

There's plenty of booze packed into this recipe—both the batter and the icing each have 3 Tbs—and the icing just beautifully soaks right into the cake.  I had to make sure the kiddies had a tiny slice at the party!  Even though this dessert is fitting any time of year, the colors and flavors just remind me of spring.  I used regular lemons, as Meyer are out of season, and I picked some fresh rosemary from my little herb garden.  Make sure you slice those lemons thin, so they soften up properly and your guests aren't trying to cut through tough lemons.  And if they are, well just serve them a little extra limoncello on the side.  Salute!

Rosemary Limoncello Cake - serves 8-12
Ingredients for the cake:
  • 3/4 cup ground pine nuts, divided
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp baking power
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 tsp lemon peel, finely grated
  • 3 Tbs limoncello
Ingredients for the glaze:
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 3 Tbs limoncello
Ingredients for the garnishes:
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups Meyer lemons, sliced thin
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Grease a 9-inch cake pan and dust with 1/4 cup ground pine nuts.
- In a mixing bowl, beat the butter for about 30 seconds.
- Add the sugar, vanilla and lemon juice and mix for 3-5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
- Beat in eggs one at a time.
- Add the flour, rosemary, remaining 1/2 cup pine nuts, baking powder, salt and milk and beat to combine.
- Stir in the lemon peel and limoncello.
- Pour batter into the cake plan and bake for 45 minutes.

To make the icing:
- Stir the confectioners sugar and limoncello together until consistency is spreadable (add more sugar, if it needs to be thicker).

To make the candied lemon slices:
- In a saucepan, combine the sugar with 2 cups of water.
- Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Add the lemon slices and simmer for another 5 minutes. Make sure the fruit is soft, and not falling apart.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the lemon slices and let them cool on waxed paper.

To decorate the cake:
- Remove the cake from the pan and make sure it's cool before pouring glaze over the top.
- Decorate with lemon slices and a few sprigs of rosemary.