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, 2013

Safe Kicker Cocktail

The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and if you're looking to serve something besides beer, up your game by offering this Safe Kicker Cocktail.  Not only is the name appropriate for the big day, but it's a whiskey drink that will appeal to both gals and guys.  It has a slight sweetness and tang, and has an incredibly smooth and balanced taste.  This recipe from calls for Cara Cara orange juice, but feel free to use any kind of fresh squeezed orange juice.  If you don't have the Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters, use any kind of aromatic bitters you have (Angostura, Peychaud's, etc).  I opted for The Bitter Truth's Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter Bitters.  A little bit of egg white gives it a nice froth and texture.  You can improve that texture by dry-shaking the cocktail for about 15 seconds, which means shaking it without ice.  After you dry-shake, add in the ice, shake and strain.  You may not be a football pro, but you'll look like a cocktail pro.

Safe Kicker Cocktail
  • 2 oz whiskey (I used Bulleit Rye Whiskey)
  • 1 tsp apricot preserves
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz orange juice
  • 1/2 oz dry sherry
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters (I used Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter Bitters by The Bitter Truth)
  • 1 dash egg white
  • Orange twist and maraschino cherries (I used Luxardo) for garnish.
- Add all the ingredients in a shaker without ice, and dry-shake for about 15 seconds.
- Add ice and shake again.
- Double strain into an Old Fashioned Glass.
- On a toothpick, spear 3 cherries and the orange peel and add as a garnish.

Jan 29, 2013

A Lush Chef Super Bowl

I won't be throwing a Super Bowl party this year because I'll actually be in New Orleans working at some parties, but that doesn't mean all of you can't get a Lush Chef treat on game day.  Here are some my favorite snacks and desserts to make, and they're Super Bowl party-approved.

This Bacon Bourbon Caramel Popcorn recipe comes from Villain's Tavern in downtown LA, and is sure to impress your guests.  I highly recommend making two batches because they will devour this fast.  I mean, who doesn't love bourbon and bacon?
Guinness & White Cheddar Spread - When I made this cheese spread last year, my friends couldn't get enough of it.  It's simply addictive and tastes amazing with pretzels or mini rye crackers.  There may be quite a few ingredients in it, but just toss everything in a food processor and you're good to go.  If you're planning a party, it's the perfect thing to make the night before and have ready on the big day.
For more cheddar goodness, this Cheddar Beer Bread is insanely easy to make, uses very few ingredients and bakes fast.  I would recommend making this right before your guests come, so you can serve it warm.  I really love cutting it up into small squares and serving with a spinach artichoke dip.

You can't watch a football game without having some nuts to munch on.  One of my favorite ways to prepare them is using this Spiced Bitter Bar Nuts recipe, which includes cayenne, cinnamon, honey, brown sugar, bitters and fresh rosemary.  I use a combination of walnuts, almonds, cashews and pecans.  Use a nice flakey or coarse salt to finish these off.

To throw in something healthy, make this Hefeweizen Hummus and serve with raw veggies or pita chips.  I love the fresh lemon juice and zest in this recipe, because it just brightens up the flavor and makes it look more festive.

While everyone is downing those beers, serve this Honey Spice Beer Cake topped with mixed nuts for dessert.  The saltiness, sweetness and spice hit all the fun flavor notes you want while watching football.  SInce it's a sheet cake, it's also easy to transport if you're looking to bring something to a friend's house.
Speaking of easy desserts to transport, here's another tried-and-true favorite amongst the Lush Chef's friends.  These Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies with a marshmallow and spiced chocolate frosting are rich, ooey-gooey and pack some heat.  If you can't handle spicy desserts, then just cut the amount of chili powder and cayenne in half.  Be sure to give these brownies time to cool, or else they'll be pretty messy getting out of the pan.

Jan 24, 2013

A Bittersweet After-Dinner Cocktail

A couple of weeks ago, I did a Libation Education on Averna, a bittersweet Italian liqueur in the amaro family.  It's perfect as an aperitivo on its own, but mix it with some sherry and orange bitters, and you've got yourself an insanely simple after-dinner cocktail.  I got the idea from The Kitchn for their Downton Abbey-themed cocktails and they named this one after the mysterious and yet lovable valet Mr. Bates.  The flavors kind of perfectly embody his character - bitter, sweet, old-school and classy.  They used Amaro Nonino, an amaro aged in French Oak which pairs nicely with sherry, but you can get creative and use whatever amaro you have on hand.  The Kitchn also recommended Pedro Ximenez Sherry, but again, use whatever is in your home bar and experiment.  You can't always run out to the liquor store to get specific brands every time you want to make a cocktail.  Just be smart about what you're pairing.

 Because I feel like Averna is on the sweet side of the amaro family, I paired it with a dry sherry instead of a sweet one, so there would be a nicer balance.  I also used my homemade Bitter Revenge Blood Orange Bitters because there's more of a tart flavor profile, as opposed to the more floral Fee Brothers' West Indian Orange Bitters.  I would imagine this libation would take a delightful twist with some lemon or grapefruit bitters as well.  Your guests will be impressed and I think even the Dowager Countess would approve.  It's not like one of those other cocktails that "look too exciting for this early in the evening."

Bittersweet After-Dinner Cocktail
  • 1 oz Averna
  • 1 oz dry sherry
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • Orange peel, for garnish
- In a small glass, filled with cracked ice, add the Averna, sherry, bitters and stir.
- Twist an orange peel (peel-side down) over the drink and drop in as a garnish.

Jan 22, 2013

Soft Pretzels & Spicy Mustard

Libations used: 1/3 cup white wine
Libations left over: Pretty much the whole bottle, so celebrate your craftiness of making your own mustard by polishing it off with friends...
When I was home for the holidays, our family went into a baking frenzy, which I loved.  One of the things we made were these homemade soft pretzels and spicy mustard.  At least once a year, the Lush Chef's parents get together with friends and make soft pretzels.  I grew up in a German tourist town in Michigan, so this is a rather normal occurrence.  At these parties, they make the pretzels with lye, but frankly, we were all kind of terrified to deal with the stuff.  Who wants to deal with burns and covering every kitchen surface with garbage bags?  Yes, it gives your pretzels that beautiful golden-brown and glossy look, but we found that using baking soda still did the trick.  I mean, these look pretty golden-brown to me...

After making soft pretzels, I can see why they're perfect for parties!  The ingredients are incredibly inexpensive and once the dough has risen, it's so easy to just cut up some strips, lay them out for guests and let them start forming the pretzels.  Don't be skimpy on the salt because it tends to absorb after you've dipped the dough in boiling water and baking soda.  The pretzels only take about 8 minutes to bake and taste best when they're fresh out of the oven.  Serve them with some German beer and various mustards, such as this spicy mustard from Emeril Lagasse.  You'll need to start the mustard a day in advance and once you realize how simple it is, you may stop buying it from the store!  If you want it less spicy, then cut down on the brown mustard seeds and add more yellow.

Soft Pretzels - makes 10-12
  • 2 packets active dry yeast (about 4 Tbs)
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (100-115 degrees)
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt 
- In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tsp of the sugar in warm water.
- Let it stand for 8-10 minutes, or until the mixture begins to foam.
- In a large bowl, mix the flour, 1/2 cup of the sugar and salt.
- Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture and vegetable oil.
- Mix and knead the dough until it's smooth (about 7-9 minutes).  The texture should be slightly tacky.  If it feels too dry, then add 2 Tbs or more of water.
- Form into a ball and place into a large bowl lightly coated with vegetable oil.
- Turn and coat the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
- Let the dough rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until it's double in size.
- When you're ready to make the pretzels, pre-heat the oven to 450.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large saucepan, bring 5 cups of water to a boil and dissolve the baking soda.
- Keep a lid on the saucepan and reduce the heat to a simmer.
- In the meantime, turn dough onto a lightly oiled surface and divide it into 10-12 equal pieces.
- Roll each piece of dough into a long, 1/2 inch rope and form into a pretzel shape.
- Using a large, flat spatula, dip each pretzel into the boiling water for a few seconds and place onto the baking sheet.
- Sprinkle generously with kosher salt and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until they're golden brown.

Spicy Mustard - makes 3/4 cup
  • 3 Tbs yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 1/2 Tbs brown mustard seeds
  • 1/3 cup white wine (we used an already open bottle of Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
- In a non-reactive bowl, add all the ingredients, cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Transfer the mustard mixture to a blender and process until you have the desired texture and thickness.  Ours was pretty chunky, which we preferred.
- Store in an airtight container and this stuff will last up to 2 weeks.

Jan 17, 2013

Hot Toddy

There is nothing better than a simple hot toddy when it's cold outside, or you're feeling a little under the weather.  This cocktail has gotten me through so many film festivals (Sundance, Toronto) when I've been battling a cold and still expected to socialize and imbibe.  It's the perfect medicine, really — that sore throat I had last week?  Gone, thanks to a couple hot toddies!  I've done apple toddies before, but it's time to get back to basics.  The formula is really quite simple and you can play around with it to get the desired taste.  Use your favorite bourbon, whiskey or scotch, some lemon juice and then honey or a flavored simple syrup.  When making a hot cocktail, always fill your mug with hot water first to get it all warmed up.  This prevents your drink from cooling off too fast.  I then dump that water out, mix the cocktail and then add fresh hot water on top.  Since I'll be leaving for Sundance in a couple of days (and today is the first day), here's an ode to my favorite whiskey distillery — High West in Park City.  I used their Rendezvous Rye with their spiced syrup, which contains cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and vanilla.  If you've made my Spiced Pear Margaritas, there's a great recipe for a similar spiced syrup, or try honey syrup, ginger, or even lemon verbena.

Hot Toddy 
  • 2 oz bourbon, whiskey or scotch
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice (feel free to add more or less)
  • 1 oz honey or flavored simple syrup
  • 4-5 oz hot water
- Add the bourbon, lemon juice and honey/syrup into a warmed mug.
- Stir and then top with the hot water.

Jan 15, 2013

Winter Citrus Salad

Libations used: 1/4 cup Grand Marnier, 3 Tbs of orange bitters
Libations left over: None, but gosh, there's a lot of booze in this salad already...
Right now it's prime citrus time at the markets, and for those living in cool clime, it's probably the only kind of decent fruit you can get.  This recipe from The Kitchn for a Winter Citrus Salad has a slightly sweet and slightly bitter dressing with honey, Grand Marnier (an orange flavored liqueur) and fruit bitters.  Feel free to get creative with the types of citrus you use and play around with the sweet, sour and bitter notes.  The Kitchn suggests combinations of oranges, clementines, tangerines, kumquats, satsumas, pumelos, tangelos and grapefuit, and then orange, Meyer lemon or Buddha's Hand zest.  I opted for orange zest and juice with Minneola tangerines for their sweetness, pink grapefruit to add a little bitter flavor and kumquats for texture.  For the bitters, you can use lemon, orange or grapefruit.  I went heavy on the bitters with 3 tsps of Fee Brothers' West Indian Orange Bitters because it has a rather light and floral flavor.  To really make this salad pop and look pretty on the table, try to cut the fruit in different ways.  I peeled and separated the tangerines into segments, cut the grapefruit into supremes and then cut again in half, and the kumquats were sliced in half.  This dish is perfect to make for a boozy brunch, or to clear your fridge of all the citrus lying around.

Winter Citrus Salad - serves 6 to 8
  • 2 tsps finely grated orange zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup light, floral honey (I used clover honey)
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier
  • 3 tsps Fee Brothers' West Indian Orange Bitters
  • 6 cups fresh citrus fruit pieces - I used 3 Minneola tangerines, 3 pink grapefruit and about 20 kumquats
- In a large bowl, add the orange zest, orange juice, honey, Grand Marnier and bitters and whisk.  If you're not big on bitters, try adding it 1 tsp at a time to gauge the taste.  Each brand of bitters is going to have a different flavor profile.
- Add the fruit and toss gently to coat.
- Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to 12 hours for the dressing to seep in.
- Let the salad sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.

Jan 10, 2013

Libation Education: Averna

It's a new year, and it's been ages since I've done a Libation Education, so time to learn something new, lushes!  Amari, or Italian bitter liqueurs are having a huge love fest in the US right now.  They can either be mixed in cocktails or sipped as a digestivo (either neat or on the rocks) after dinner.  There are a ton of different kinds of amari out there and I could easily do post after post on all the various kinds.  Campari is one of the more recognizable ones, but Averna is starting to catch up in terms of name recognition and popping up in a lot of cocktails.  Cynar is also another amaro that I've talked about on this site and that I simply adore.

It's unclear when this exact recipe was created, as various Cistercian and Cluniac friars were producing it as a therapeutic tonic throughout Europe.  Salvatore Averna, after whom this amaro is named, was a benefactor of the Convent of St. Spirito's Abbey in Sicily, and as a form of thanks, the friars bequeathed him with the recipe in 1859.  In 1868, he started producing it for his household guests (lucky guests).  His son Francesco really started promoting the liqueur at fairs around Italy, and it became pretty well-known around the country and was receiving royal awards by 1895.  In 1912, Vittorio Emanuele III bestowed it with the royal coat of arms and it became the official supplier of the Royal Household.

Averna is a combination of bitter roots, herbs and citrus rinds that is infused in alcohol, with caramel added afterwards.  Of course the recipe is a secret, but it does have a distinctive flavor when you stack it up against Campari and Cynar.  It's the sweetest out of the three, so if this is your first time hopping on the amaro bandwagon, this is a good one to start with.  If you're looking for a fairly simple cocktail to start making, try my twist on The Last Word by substituting Averna for the maraschino liqueur.  I call it the Italian's Last Word and it's perfect for any time of year.

Jan 8, 2013

Stuffed Mushrooms Take 2

Libations used: Generous splash of white wine...
Libations left over: Pour yourself a glass after you get those mushrooms in the oven...
About a year ago, I had a cocktail party and served these Stuffed Mushrooms with White Wine.  Like most stuffed mushroom recipes, it contained bread crumbs and some cheese.  When I was home this past Christmas, my dad showed me this cheesier version from All Recipes.  There are no bread crumbs in it, and you reserved the stems to chop up in a cheese mixture.  Instead of cream cheese, we substituted Laughing Cow's creamy Swiss cheese.  We also Lush Chef'd it up by throwing in a generous splash of Sauvignon Blanc.  I mean, I learned from the best — never waste some good wine.  Based on the size of the mushrooms you select, you can easily stuff more than twelve, but I guarantee that each person will want more than one!

Stuffed Mushrooms - serves 12-18
  • 12-18 Crimini mushrooms
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbs minced garlic
  • Generous splash of white wine (we used Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 8 oz Laughing Cow Light Swiss Cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Carefully clean the mushrooms and save the stems.
- Finely chop the stems and set aside.
- Add the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.
- Add the garlic, mushroom stems and white wine.
- Fry up until any moisture has disappeared.
- When the mushroom mixture has cooled down, stir in the Swiss and Parmesan cheeses, black pepper, onion powder and cayenne pepper.
- Generously fill each mushroom cap with the filling and arrange them on your lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 20 minutes.

Jan 3, 2013

Jolly Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

Libations used: 2 Tbs dry sherry
Libations left over: None, but serve this dish with a nice chardonnay...
The Lush Chef's parents visit the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsula areas in Michigan about once a month to go wine tasting, and the Jolly Pumpkin is one of their favorite restaurants to visit after a day of sipping libations.  Not only do they serve tasty comfort food, but they're a brewery and distillery.  During the Christmas holidays, I tried some of their Sour Mash Whiskey, which is an incredibly light and slightly sweet whiskey.  An amazing starter whiskey for those who are just starting to get into the brown spirits.  Next time I go back, I need to buy a bottle and do a tasting of all their beers and spirits (vodka, gin, rum and white whiskey).

Anyway, on to the recipe.  Back in 2011, the Old Mission Peninsula area held a Mac and Cheese bake-off (sounds like heaven to me) amongst several of the wineries and the Jolly Pumpkin was one of the top recipes.  We made this a couple of days before Christmas and the Lush Chef's father proclaimed it the best Mac and Cheese he's ever had.  I had to agree.  It's definitely one of the top ones I've had, in addition to my Beer Baked Mac & Cheese.  We made a few adaptations by adding in more white cheddar and significantly cutting down on the truffle oil.  You'll still get that rich flavor without it being overpowering.  I can't wait to make this for a Lush Chef dinner a double batch, of course.

Jolly Pumpkin Mac & Cheese - serves 6-8
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 4 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 4 Tbs flour
  • 3 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese 
  • 3/4 cup white cheddar, grated
  • 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese 
  • 1 Tbs + 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ground white pepper
  • Dash hot sauce or a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbs dry sherry
  • 3 cups mushrooms (we used a blend of shiitake and crimini)
  • 1 Tbs ground dried morels
  • 1 Tbs truffle oil
  • 1 lb macaroni or cavatappi pasta 
  • Scant 1/2 cup Reggiano or Grana Padano Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup or more of Panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 350.
- In a large pot, cook the pasta.
- Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, sauté the mushrooms until cooked through.
- In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, sweat the shallots in the butter for about 2 minutes.
- Add the flour and stir constantly to make a roux.
- Lower the heat and add the milk, whisking for about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the cream cheese, white cheddar and mascarpone until smooth.
- Add the salt, white pepper, cayenne pepper, sherry, mushrooms, morels and truffle oil (if you're finding the cheese sauce isn't thick enough, add in a little more flour).
- In a large casserole dish, add the cooked pasta.
- Pour in the cheese sauce and stir to coat all the pasta evenly.
- Sprinkle the parmesan and breadcrumbs over the pasta mixture.
- Bake for 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Jan 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

Here's to a new year full of more libations and boozy dishes!  I wanted to thank everyone for your continued support.  It still warms my heart when I hear from friends, family and strangers about how much they enjoy reading this blog and trying the recipes.  It's all of you that continue to inspire me and keep me writing.  I hope everyone is relaxing today and recovering from champagne headaches.  There's nothing like a hair of the dog to keep you going.  I'll be posting recipes again starting this Thursday, and if you ever have any recommendations, pass them my way!  Happy New Year Lushes!