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, 2013

Libation Location: The Bungalow

It's nearing the end of the cold months for us Angelenos (sorry non-West Coasters), and we're all getting anxious for long days frolicking on the beach and warm summer nights watching the sun go down.  Well even though it's still chilly, you can catch those sunsets in a beach-chic vibe at The Bungalow in Santa Monica.
Located on the grounds of The Fairmont Miramar Hotel with stunning ocean views, Brent Bolthouse took over a Baja-style 1947 cottage and has transformed it into an expansive bar and lounge.  Every time I walk into this seamless indoor-outdoor space, I feel like I'm in someone's fabulous beach house from the 70s.  In the words of Bolthouse, if Auntie Mame had a West Coast home, this is what it would look like.  I just love the attention to detail, such as the vintage thermoses and 70s fashion and surf photography books lining the shelves, serape-upholstered furniture and fragrant candles from Venice's Le Labo.
It's easy to fall into this kind of reverie when you start walking through the lush foliage and settle into a plush couch underneath the twinkle-lit trees.  During the winter, there's a massive clear tent covering the patio so you get the warmth without sacrficing the views.  My favorite times to visit are during the day or just when the sun is beginning to set.
Sundays sometimes bring out a cook from FIG whipping up cheese burgers and quesadillas to go with the tequila and mescal cocktails.  Guests like to let loose with a friendly game of ping-pong in the front garden, or can be found shooting pool or playing a round of checkers in the game room.  Nighttime crowds on the weekends can get a little heavy, but it's still a locals' hang, and remains a top spot amongst The Lush Chef's friends.
The bar program changes slightly with the seasons and there's a strong focus on tequila and mescal.  Ingredients are sourced from the nearby Santa Monica Farmers' Market and contain house-made shrubs and syrups.  Their Bungalow Margarita is one of the best in town with Espolón Silver Tequila, fresh lime, agave nectar, a float of mescal and a pinch of fleur de sel, and their Bitchin' Sangria is truly bitchin'.

One of my current favorite cocktails there is the Kick in the Junk (sorry, guys) which contains mescal, house-made chili shrub, ginger syrup, fresh lime and pickled chiles.  For those who aren't big on the mescal and tequila train, they do make some lovely gin and vodka-based cocktails.  The Fleur Nocturne is another favorite with gin, house-made hibiscus syrup, fresh lemon, lavendar bitters, a cava float and some sugar cane.  So grab your beach cruiser and pedal on down to The Bungalow.  Just don't try to move in - I've already tried that...

Atmosphere photos by Tiffany Rose, courtesy of The Bungalow.

Feb 26, 2013

Cream of Wild Rice & Mushroom Soup

Libations used: 1/2 cup white wine...
Libations left over: Pretty much the whole bottle, so serve with dinner or pour yourself a glass while the soup is simmering...
I love that my mom and dad indulge me in this little blog endeavor.  Ever the supportive parents, they send me recipe ideas and text me pictures of what they're making.  This past weekend, they made this Cream of Wild Rice & Mushroom Soup from the Mayo Clinic that has some white wine (I used Viognier) and low-fat half & half - so it's a lighter soup.  I didn't do any cooking over the weekend because of all the awards show fun (Hollywood's Christmas, as I like to say!), so I needed something quick and easy to whip up on a Monday night to get me through a week of dinners.  I added more rice and mushrooms than the recipe originally called for.

Cream of Wild Rice & Mushroom Soup - serves 4-5
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • Half a white onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup chopped carrots
  • 2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms (I used Crimini) 
  • 1/2 cup white wine (I used Renwood Viognier)
  • 2 1/2 cups low sodium, fat free chicken broth
  • 1 cup fat free half and half
  • 2 Tbs flour
  • 1/4 tsp dried or fresh thyme
  • 1 cup wild rice
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
- In a medium pot, cook the rice according to the package instructions (should take about 30-45 minutes).
- In a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat, add the olive oil.
- Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook until tender (about 7-10 minutes).
- Add the mushrooms, white wine and chicken broth.
- Cover and turn heat down to low.
- In a small bowl, combine the half and half, flour and thyme.
- When the rice is done, add to the pot with the half and half mixture and bring the heat up to medium.
- Cook until the soup is thickened and bubbly.
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Feb 21, 2013

A Bitters Cocktail Party

Back in the spring, my friend and I hosted a whiskey tasting, where we walked our buddies through the differences amongst bourbon, whiskey and scotch, and also taught them how to make Old Fashioneds and Gold Rush cocktails.  It was a huge hit and we vowed we'd do another similar gathering.  Well, it took us nearly a year, but this past weekend, we hosted a Bitters Cocktail Party to teach our friends about the beauty of bitters.  If you frequently read this blog, you'll know my passion for bitters - they're to cocktails as finishing salts are to food.  I'm fascinated by the history and also make my own line of bitters called Bitter Revenge.

For those who aren't big cocktail enthusiasts, bitters are still a bit of a mystery and most are only familiar with the major brands like Angostura and Peychaud's.  The bitters boom really started a little after the vintage and artisanal cocktail movement happened.  As bartenders started looking through old recipe books, they discovered all of these flavors for bitters that no longer were on the shelves, or even just created new ones.  Some enterprising cocktail lovers either tracked down old recipes or bought antique bottles of bitters with a few drops left so they could reverse-engineer the recipes.  Now, when you go into a liquor store, gourmet foods market or scroll through the menu at your favorite fancy cocktail joint, you'll see all sorts of flavors: orange, lemon, grapefruit, apple, celery, cucumber, lavender, coffee, chocolate and more.  It can be a little overwhelming to figure out how to accent cocktails with different flavors, so that's what we sought to teach.  

Rather than just throwing our friends blindly into pairings, we gave everyone a little direction by providing some basic cocktail recipes that highlight bitters, the best being an Old Fashioned because of it's simplicity and ability to really highlight the bitters.  We also had recipes for each kind of base spirit, so non-whiskey drinkers could have some options as well, and we kept them fairly simple.  Nothing had more than 3 or 4 ingredients and left room for experimentation.  Writing out the recipes on little cards (laminated are even better) encourage socializing amongst your guests without you having to explain recipes each time someone wants to make a drink.  We offered up Manhattans, Sazeracs, Martinis, Rob Roy's, Pink Gin (just gin and aromatic bitters), a Horse's Neck (bourbon, bitters and ginger ale) and Champagne Cocktails (we all agreed lavender was the best).

My friend and I didn't want to break the bank on alcohol, so we told everyone to bring their favorite base spirit, which could be whiskey, bourbon, scotch, vodka, gin, rum or champagne.  We provided mixers such as lemon and lime juice, tonic and soda water, ginger ale, sweet and dry vermouth, Pernod (for the Sazeracs), oranges, lemons and limes for garnish peels, maraschino cherries, white and brown sugar cubes and a bunch of flavored simple syrups.  Because I'm the Lush Chef, I always have a bunch of simple syrups stocked in the fridge.  In addition to plain and rich simple syrups, I also provided honey syrup, ginger, lemongrass and spiced.  Also make sure you set out enough mixing glasses, shakers, jiggers/shot glasses, stirring spoons and citrus peelers for people to make drinks.  Besides regular ice, we also had some King Ice Cubes and whiskey stones on hand.

When trying the bitters, I recommend that people put a drop or two on their top of their hand to smell and taste it, so they really understand what the flavor is on its own and how it would best accent a cocktail.  Darker spirits tend to go best with the more aromatic and warmer flavors and clear spirits go best with the citrus and floral flavors, but a lot of times you can cross the line.  I've had many a good Old Fashioned with orange or lemon bitters.

We had the following bitters out for folks to try: Angostura, Peychaud's, Fee Brothers' West Indian Orange, The Bitter Truth's Jerry Thomas, Bar Keep's Lavender, my Bitter Revenge bitters in Blood Orange & Rosemary, Coffee Pecan, Meyer Lemon and Apple Cinnamon.  There's also a new company called Napa Valley Bitters, and the founder was gracious to send a dozen samples for all of us to try in unique flavors such as Cucumber, Tamarind-Lime-Chili, and Love Potion (aromatic).  I would even encourage your guests to bring their favorite bitters as well.

Here are some of my favorite brands if you're looking to stock your home bar:
Fee Brothers - One of the oldest brands out there, after Angostura and Peychaud's.  Their Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters are known for selling out as soon as they're stocked on the shelves.
The Bitter Truth - Their Jerry Thomas Own Decanter bitters are an aromatic homage to one of the most important bartenders of the 19th century.
Bittermens - They have fun names and flavors for their bitters like Xocolatl Mole, Boston Bittahs and Elemakule Tiki.
Bar Keep - They're organic and delicious.

Feb 19, 2013

White Chocolate & Blueberry Bread Pudding

Libations used: 2 Tbs Frangelico...
Libations left over: None...
Even though it's still the winter, the blueberries have been looking awesome at the grocery stores and markets.  Maybe it's the brief hot weekends we've been having, but I've been stocking up on them for a couple of weeks.  Since we're still getting these cold nights, I was absolutely craving bread pudding.  My copy of Food Porn Daily has a summer recipe for White Chocolate and Blueberry Bread Pudding, but since I live in California, I can sometimes get away with summer recipes in the winter.

I was having a small group of friends over for a bitters cocktail party this past weekend, so I figured this would be the perfect dessert to serve with all those Old Fashioneds and Manhattans.  As soon as I pulled it out of the oven, they could barely wait to start digging in.  That's why the only photo I have is a half-eaten pan!  They absolutely loved this version of bread pudding because it wasn't overly sweet and didn't have a mushy texture.  The white chocolate and Frangelico sauce gives it a little extra decadence.  I made a few modifications to the recipe by adding more blueberries and leaving out the extra sprinkling of butter on top.

White Chocolate & Blueberry Bread Pudding - serves 10-12
Ingredients for the Bread Pudding:
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips 
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 lb loaf of day-old French or Italian bread (not a baguette), cut into 1-inch cubes.  
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips (in addition to the above)
Ingredients for the Sauce:
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 oz Frangelico
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Butter or grease a 8x11.5x2 inch baking dish.
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, pour in the heavy cream and heat it until almost boiling, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't burn.
- In a large heat-safe mixing bowl, add 1 cup white chocolate chips.
- Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let it sit for about a minute to melt.
- Whisk until the chocolate is completely dissolved into the cream.
- Add the milk, sugar, eggs, salt, vanilla extract and almond extract and whisk until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
- Add the bread cubes to the mixture and toss to coat thoroughly.
- Let the bread sit in the mixture for 30-40 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Stir the bread mixture about 2 or 3 times while it's soaking.
- Stir in the blueberries and 1/2 cup white chocolate chips into the bread mixture.
- Pour the pudding into the buttered baking dish and bake for 55-65 minutes, or until the top is golden and the pudding has set.
- Let the pudding sit for about 20 minutes while you make the sauce.
- In a double boiler, or medium-sized saucepot, bring 2 inches of water to a boil.
- In the top part of the double boiler, or a saucepan that fits over your saucepot, add the egg yolk, heavy cream, sugar and salt and whisk until smooth.
- When the water is boiling, put the pan or top part of your double boiler on top and whisk the cream mixture until the sugar dissolves.
- Do not let the mixture simmer or else the egg will curdle.
- Add the white chocolate to the sauce and stir until it's melted.
- Remove from heat and add the Frangelico.
- Strain through a fine mesh sieve and pour the sauce over the bread pudding.

Feb 14, 2013

Hanky Panky

Looking for a sexy cocktail to make for Valentines' Day today?  Or are you sitting at home nursing a drink by yourself, or with your nearest and dearest friends?  Whatever the situation, this classic cocktail is the perfect libation to stir up for today.

The Hanky Panky was created in the early 1900s at the American Bar in London's Savoy Hotel by head bartender Ada "Coley" Coleman for the actor Charles Hawtrey.  I love that a woman concocted such a classic drink during a time when the profession was male-dominated (and still pretty much is).  Here's Ada's account behind the creation and inspiration of this libation:

"The late Charles Hawtrey...was one of the best judges of cocktails that I knew.  Some years ago, when he was overworking, he used to come into the bar and say, 'Coley, I am tired.  Give me something with a bit of punch in it.'  It was for him that I spent hours experimenting until I had invented a new cocktail. The next time he came in, I told him I had a new drink for him.  He sipped it, and draining the glass, he said, 'By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!'"

I've recently become obsessed with Fernet-Branca, like every bartender and rightful lush out there.  I love the small amount added, which gives this drink a saffron and herbal flavor.  It's just enough to stand out and doesn't overpower the drink.  In other words, it has a bit of a punch!

Hanky Panky 
  • 1 1/2 oz gin (I used London No. 3 dry gin)
  • 1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth 
  • 2 dashes Fernet-Branca
  • Orange peel or twist for garnish
- In a mixing glass filled with ice, add the gin, sweet vermouth and Fernet.
- Stir and strain into a chilled coupe glass.
- Garnish with the orange twist.

Feb 12, 2013

No-Bake Nutella Peanut Butter Cookies with Frangelico

Libations used: 2 Tbs Frangelico
Libations left over: None, but add a shot to your coffee when you're done whipping up these cookies...
I think the last time I had no-bake cookies was in college.  The residence I lived in had a fancy chef, but one of my favorite things he made were just simple no-bake cookies.  Well, these aren't quite the same — they're a boozed-up adult version with Frangelico.  And there's the added bonus of peanut butter and Nutella.  You really can't go wrong with pairing Frangelico and Nutella, like I did with these cupcakes that I made back in the spring.  Heaven!   Anyway, if you're looking for a quick and easy dessert to make for Valentines' Day, try this cookie recipe from TheKitchn.  They're sure to impress and satisfy your lover, your friends and your family.  Just don't try to lick the bowl clean, ok?

No-Bake Nutella Peanut Butter Cookies with Frangelico - makes almost 2 dozen
  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 Tbs cocoa powder (preferably unsweetened)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup Nutella
  • 2 Tbs Frangelico
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.
- Add the sugar, milk and cocoa powder and stir to combine.
- Stir in the peanut butter, Nutella and Frangelico until it's melted and thoroughly combined.
- Add the oats and mix thoroughly.
- Reduce heat to low.
- Using an ice cream scooper, start to shape the dough into balls.
- Place on a parchment paper-lined pan.
-  Place the pan in the fridge and let the cookies set for about 30 minutes.

Feb 7, 2013

Libation Education: Fernet

Fernet-Branca, your favorite bartender's libation of choice at the end of the night.  You've probably seen a ton of them shot this dark brown spirit back and wondered what the appeal is.  Perhaps it's the minty flavor (which actually comes from the saffron), the bracing feel ones gets after downing a shot, or the cure to a hangover, but whatever it is, Fernet-Branca has been having a huge moment over the past couple of years.  It truly became popularized a few years ago by bartenders in San Francisco when there was a huge marketing push in the area, and the obsession has since spread across the country.

This bitter amaro was created by Bernardino Branca in Milan in 1845.  He created this fake persona of a doctor named Fernet to tout it as a cure-all to all sorts of maladies, primarily indigestion.  It contains about 27 different kinds of herbs, plants and roots, which include aloe, gentian root, cinchona bark, cinnamon, galangal, chamomile, myrrh, linden flowers, elderflower, possibly wormwood, and the aforementioned saffron.  Apparently, Fratelli Branca, the company that produced the libation uses 75% of the world's saffron.  The spirit is aged for at least one year in oak barrels and has a very dark brown color.  If you're still new to the world of amari, I wouldn't recommend drinking this as a shot.  Have it mixed in a cocktail, or instead of bitters in your Old Fashioned, put a few drops of Fernet-Branca in there instead.

Feb 5, 2013

Fettuccine with Tempranillo Sauce, Beef Tenderloin & Goat Cheese

Libations used: 2 cups Tempranillo
Libations left over: Less than half the bottle, so pour a couple of glasses while the sauce is simmering, or serve with dinner...
Valentine's Day is coming up, and whether or not you're celebrating it with a special someone, you owe yourself a delicious and sexy homemade meal.  If you're not a big cook, you at least know how to cook pasta, right?  This Fettucine with Tempranillo Sauce, Beef Tenderloin and Goat Cheese from is a relatively simple dish that is perfect for a romantic evening, or heck - dinner for one (treat yourself).  This dish doesn't take that long to make, so you don't need to stress out about slaving over the stove all night.  Instead of doing a whole coin of goat cheese on top, I crumbled some large pieces so that it would mix in better with the sauce.  Roughly chop some Italian parsley and chiffonade some fresh basil to give this dish a little color and extra flavor.  Using fresh herbs will always impress.  Buy a nice bottle of Tempranillo (a full-bodied plumy red wine from Spain), so while that sauce is reducing, you can pour yourself (and your honey) a glass.

Fettucine with Tempranillo Sauce, Beef Tenderloin and Goat Cheese - serves 4-6
  • 1 cup dehydrated Portobello mushrooms or chopped fresh wild mushrooms
  • 1-2 Tbs flour
  • 1 lb of beef tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes.
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • One 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 2 cups Tempranillo
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 12 oz fettucine
  • Goat cheese for garnish
  • Italian parsley & basil for garnish

- If you're using dehydrated mushrooms, reconstitute them by covering them in hot water.
- Reserve the mushroom broth — if you find you need to loosen the sauce, you can add this or just stuff it in the freezer and use for risotto.
- Season the beef cubes in salt and freshly ground black pepper, then dredge in the flour.
- In a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pan, add the olive oil and 1 Tbs of butter over medium-high heat.
- Sear the beef cubes until browned on all sides.
- Meanwhile, bring your water to a boil to cook that pasta al dente (that's about 8 minutes, lushes).
- Remove the beef from the pot and turn the heat down to medium.
- Add the other Tbs of butter to the pot, add the onions and cook until they're soft.
- Add the mushrooms and crushed garlic, stirring for a couple of minutes until the garlic starts to caramelize.
- Add the tomato paste and stir in for about 1 minute.
- Slowly add the wine and beef stock and deglaze the bottom of the pan by scraping up browned bits.
- Bring to a boil and then let it simmer for about 15 minutes, or until it's thickened and reduced by a third.
- Add the beef back into the pan so it can heat up for at least 5 minutes.
- When your pasta is cooked, plate it and top with the sauce and beef.
- Sprinkle some goat cheese crumbles, parsley and basil on top.