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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Apr 30, 2013

Catalan Spinach

Libations used: 1 Tbs dry sherry
Libations left over: Make this after-dinner cocktail, because it's what classy people do...
About every Sunday, my girl friends and I get together for dinner and cook for each other.  We typically rotate amongst our apartments and contribute dishes.  My friend was making salmon with a yogurt sauce and wanted me to bring something green, citrusy and on the light side.  I found this recipe on Tasting Table for Catalan Spinach that hails from Cúrate in Asheville, NC.  It's a popular tapas bar (that I haven't been to...yet) that's headed up by Chef Katie Button who worked at Spain's legendary and now closed El Bulli.  The lightly wilted spinach gets a boost with the addition of cooked apples, lemon zest, pine nuts and raisins, and of course, sherry.  I used golden raisins in this recipe to give it some added spring color.

Catalan Spinach - serves 4-6
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 of a medium Granny Smith apple, diced
  • 1 Tbs finely chopped shallot
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (set your oven to 325 and toast on a baking sheet for 10 minutes, shaking after 5 minutes)
  • 1 Tbs dry sherry
  • 1 lb baby spinach
  • Salt
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • Finely grated zest from 1 medium lemon
- In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil.
- Turn off the heat and add the raisins to plump them up, for about 5 minutes.
- Strain the raisins and let them dry on some paper towels.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil.
- Add the apples and cook them gently until they're a little soft (about 3 minutes).
- Add the raisins, shallot and pine nuts and cook until the shallot is translucent (about 2-3 minutes).
- Add the sherry and spinach and toss to coat.
- Season with some salt and the lemon juice.
- Immediately remove the skillet from the heat so the spinach doesn't completely wilt.
- Using tongs, remove the spinach from the skillet into a serving dish.
- Top with the lemon zest and serve immediately.

Apr 25, 2013

Limoncello, Gin & Thyme Cocktail

Here's another brunch-worthy cocktail that also harkens the fresh flavors of spring.  This Limoncello, Gin & Thyme Cocktail from is also potent enough to carry over into dinner.  I didn't grill the thyme like the recipe originally called for, as I sadly don't have a grill, but this citrusy libation tastes just as good.  The limoncello is also getting me in the Italian mood, as I'll be traveling to that fair country shortly with my family.  So stay tuned lushes, as I'm sure to bring back from food and drink ideas from my jaunts through Rome, Florence and Tuscany.  For now, you can just make this cocktail until I return...

Limoncello, Gin & Thyme Cocktail
  • 3 large sprigs of thyme
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz limoncello (I used Pallini Limoncello)
  • 1 1/2 oz gin (No. 3 London Dry Gin)
- In a shaker glass filled with ice, add 2 of the thyme sprigs, lime juice and the limoncello and muddle.
- Add the gin and ice and shake.
- Strain into a glass filled with ice and garnish with the other thyme sprig.

Apr 23, 2013

Grand Marnier-Glazed Almond Scones

Libations used: 2 Tbs Grand Marnier...
Libations left over: The glaze is boozy enough...
I realized earlier this week that it's probably been months since I've baked.  With social engagements and a busy period at work, I just haven't had the time.  To continue the brunch recipes from last week, I decided to make these Grand Marnier-Glazed Almond Scones from The Kitchn.  They called it a Valentine's Day recipe, but I say it's perfect for any time of year.  I still cut them out in heart shapes though and gave them to my awesome neighbors.  The Grand Marnier, an orange-flavored liqueur, packs plenty of a punch and pairs nicely with the almonds.  If you're looking for a healthier version, I would say these scones are perfect with just some orange marmelade spread on them.

Grand Marnier-Glazed Almond Scones - makes about a dozen
Ingredients for the scones:
  • 2 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
Ingredients for the glaze:
  • 2 Tbs Grand Marnier
  • Zest of a small orange
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 tsp orange juice
To make the scones:
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Cut the coconut oil into the dry ingredients and work it in with a pastry cutter or wooden spoon. There will still be some small pieces of coconut oil throughout.
- Make a well in the center of the bowl and set aside.
- In a small bowl, add the yogurt, egg and sliced almonds and whisk to thoroughly combine.
- Add the wet ingredients into the well of the bowl of dry ingredients and combine thoroughly until all the flour is absorbed.
- Roll the dough into a 1/2 think rectangle and wrap in plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut out circle or heart shapes.
- Place them about an inch apart on the baking sheet and bake for 18 minutes, or until lightly browned.

To make the glaze:
- In a small mixing bowl, pour the Grand Marnier over the orange zest and let it sit for about 15 minutes.
- Add the confectioner's sugar and orange juice and stir to combine.
- Dip the scones or frost them in the glaze.

Apr 18, 2013

Grapefruit Sparkler

Continuing with the brunch theme this week, I offer one of my new favorite cocktails to serve.  About a month ago, I was having brunch with my girl friends at Milo & Olive in Santa Monica.  I'm a fan of any restaurant with Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb involved.  Since we had waited a while for a table in this tiny, neighborhood spot, we all decided we needed a drink by the time we sat down.  We each ended up ordering a round of their Grapefruit Sparklers.  It was just a simple drink with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, prosecco and a fruity red wine float, but I was truly impressed.  The flavors were bright and clean and a red wine float always looks impressive.  Here's my version of that cocktail.  Use a fruity red wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel.

Grapefruit Sparkler
  • Chilled prosecco (I used LaMarca)
  • 3 oz fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice
  • Fruity red wine (I used Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon)
- Fill a glass halfway with prosecco and top with the grapefruit juice.
- Hold the back of a spoon over your glass and slowly pour a little bit of the red wine over the back of a spoon.  I poured just enough to create about 1/2 inch of the float.

Apr 16, 2013

Crispy Polenta with Poached Eggs, Roasted Tomatoes & Herbed Mushrooms

Libations left over: 1/4 cup dry vermouth...
Libations left over: Well, you could make yourself a martini, but before 3pm might be a little early... 
I haven't posted any breakfast recipes in a while, and now that the weather is getting warmer by the beach, I plan on hosting more brunches.  So don't worry, lushes!  In the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting some brunch-worthy recipes and cocktails to start your day off right.  If you're feeling ambitious and serving a small crowd, this Crispy Polenta with Poached Eggs, Roasted Tomatoes and Herbed Mushrooms from The Kitchn is not only fancy looking, but incredibly comforting.

I used Martini & Rossi dry vermouth to sauté the mushrooms in and didn't need to cook them as long at The Kitchn suggested.  Just make sure the majority of the liquid burns off.  Also, instead of making their tomato jam, I just used some roasted cherry tomatoes I had on hand.  I always keep little bags of slow roasted tomatoes in my freezer, so I can pull them out to top on bruschetta, chicken, fish or pasta.  If you plan on going that route, make the tomatoes a couple hours in advance.  If you've never poached eggs before and are running away in fear from this recipe, hold your horses.  It's time you learned, and trust me, you won't regret it.  I included instructions below, compliments of Smitten Kitchen.  To make this dish a little more significant, I used three rounds of polenta and two poached eggs per serving, but feel free to cut down if you plan on making a few other dishes for brunch.

Crispy Polenta with Poached Eggs, Roasted Tomatoes & Herbed Mushrooms - serves 2-4
Ingredients for Roasted Tomatoes:
  • 1-2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Ingredients for Herbed Mushrooms:
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Leaves from 3 long stalks of fresh thyme
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth (I used Martini & Rossi)
Ingredients for Polenta:
  • 18 oz roll of cooked polenta
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
Ingredients for Poached Eggs:
  • 4-8 fresh eggs
  • 1 Tbs white vinegar
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Ingredients for garnish:
  • Plain yogurt
  • Sour cream
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese
To make the Roasted Tomatoes:
- Preheat oven to 225.
- Spread out the tomatoes on a baking sheet.
- Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Roast for two hours, rotating the pan and stirring up the tomatoes about every 30 minutes.

To make the Herbed Mushrooms:
- In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter.
- Add the mushrooms and cook without flipping or stirring them for about 5 minutes.  They should get nicely browned and toasty.
- Stir and let them cook for about another 5 minutes and add the thyme, salt and pepper.
- When the mushrooms have browned on both sides, add the vermouth and turn the heat down to low.
- Simmer the mushrooms and stir frequently, or until the mushrooms are tender. The original recipe called for 10 minutes, but mine softened up much quicker.
- Set the mushrooms aside and warm up until just before serving.

To make the Polenta:
- Slice the polenta into 1/2 inch thick slices and pat each one dry.
- In a medium to large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil.
When the oil is hot, carefully add the polenta slices a few at a time, so as not to crowd the skillet.
- Cook the slices for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until they're crispy.
- Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.

To make the Poached Eggs:
- In a small pot filled 3/4 full with water and 1 Tbs of white vinegar, bring the water to the point just before it simmers.
- Turn the temperature down just a bit so it doesn't bubble.
- Crack an egg into a small bowl or cup.
- Make a whirlpool in the water with a spatula or spoon and drop the egg into that whirlpool.
- The egg white should immediately start coagulating, and you can help shape it if needed by gently pushing in some of the sides with your spatula.
- Let the egg cook for about 3-4 minutes.
- Remove and set on a paper towel-lined plate.
- If you're poaching eggs for a bunch of guests, you can always reheat the eggs a little in hot water.

To assemble:
- Place 2-3 rounds of the crispy polenta on a plate.
- Top with warmed-up herbed mushrooms and then the roasted tomatoes.
- Top with 1-2 poached eggs and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Feel free to garnish with a little plain yogurt, sour cream or shaved Parmesan cheese.

Apr 11, 2013

The Bee's Knees

I'm finally starting to feel the warmth of spring in LA, which for some reason makes me set aside the bourbon and pop open the gin bottles.  During Easter dinner a couple of weeks ago, I was whipping up gin fizzes with mint and fresh eggs from my friend's chickens.  So after a long six days in Las Vegas for a business trip, I was craving a simple and refreshing gin cocktail for a nightcap.  The Bee's Knees is like the gin equivalent to The Gold Rush.  This classic Prohibition cocktail garnered its name from the popular phrase at the time of "the bee's knees" when lavishing praise upon someone or something.

The creator of this lovely little libation is kind of unclear though.  Some trace it back to the Ritz Paris' head bartender Frank Meier, who published the recipe in his 1936 edition of The Artistry of Mixing Drinks.  Either way, it definitely stemmed from the Prohibition days, as that honey and lemon must have done wonders to mask the gasoline taste of bathtub gin.  To make the honey syrup, add 1/2 oz of water to every 1 oz of honey to a small saucepan over medium heat, and keep stirring until the honey dissolves.  Just don't let it boil.

The Bee's Knees
  • 2 oz gin (I used No. 3 London Dry Gin)
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz honey syrup
- In a shaker filled with ice, add the gin, lemon juice and honey syrup.
- Shake and strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Apr 9, 2013

Whitefish with Fennel & Onion Sofrito

Libations used: 1/2 cup white wine...
Libations left over: Pretty much the whole bottle, so serve with dinner...
For those of you who freak out about the idea of cooking fish, sometimes cooking it in the oven is a more foolproof way for unpracticed cooks.  This Mackerel recipe from Food 52 was a Community Winner and is topped by a flavorful fennel and onion-based sofrito, which is basically a sauce of chopped-up veggies and tomato.  If you can't find Mackerel, which isn't in these parts, any whitefish is fine.  I opted for an inexpensive, but tasty Tilapia from Santa Monica Seafood.  I also cut the recipe in half, as I was only cooking for myself.  Feel free to follow Food 52's version to make enough for four.  I kept the same amount of tomato and olives and left out the currants to give it a more savory flavor.  Serve with some fresh green beans or snow peas.

Whitefish with Fennel & Onion Sofrito - serves 2
  • 2 six oz whitefish filets (I used Tilapia)
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, julienned
  • 1 large yellow onion, julienned
  • 1 Tbs garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
  • 3/4 cup fresh tomato pulp (run a tomato across a box grater)
  • 1/3 cup green olives, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs pine nuts, toasted
  • Pinch of fennel seeds, for garnish
- Season the fish on both sides with a generous amount of sea salt and let the filets chill in the fridge for about an hour.
- In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom in a thin layer.
- Add the fennel, onion and garlic and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Cook the vegetables until they're soft and caramelized, about 10-15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with foil and drizzle some olive oil on top.
- Season both sides of the fish filets with black or white pepper and place on the baking sheet.
- Place the lower rack in your oven, about 4-6 inches from the bottom of your oven and turn the broiler on.
- Depending on the size of the fish, you'll need anywhere from 4-12 minutes.  I needed 12 as it took a bit for my oven to heat up.  Just cut through the thickest part to check for doneness - the fish should be flakey and white.
- Add the white wine to the sofrito and reduce the liquid to a couple of tablespoons.
- Add the tomato pulp and cook until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed.
- When the fish is done, spoon some of the sofrito on top and garnish with a pinch of fennel seeds.

Apr 4, 2013


If a Manhattan and a Negroni had a love child, it would be the Boulevardier.  Both cocktails contain sweet vermouth, while the Manhattan counts bourbon or whiskey as its base and a Negroni centers around Campari.  This classic cocktail came about during Prohibition when barman Harry McElhone decamped to Europe, and eventually settled in France where he opened the now legendary Harry's New York Bar in Paris.  One of his patrons, Erskine Gwynne, was a wealthy American expat and editor of a monthly literary magazine called The Boulevardier, and this was his signature drink.  Harry published a version of the recipe in Barflies and Cocktails, his 1927 bar guide.  It's a beautiful cocktail that is ripe for various interpretations, so feel free to experiment with different amounts and kinds of whiskey, sweet vermouth or amari.  The New York Times' T Magazine published a few fun suggestions here.

  • 2 oz bourbon (I used Four Roses)
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • Orange peel, for garnish
- In a mixing glass filled with ice, add the bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth and stir, stir.
- Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with the orange peel.

Apr 2, 2013

Chicken & Artichokes in Wine Sauce

Libations used: 2 cups white wine...
Libations left over: Almost the whole bottle, so serve with dinner or enjoy a class while you the sauce thickens...
Sometimes I don't have all day to slave over the stove.  My friends and I all lead busy lives so it can be hard to take the time to cook a decent meal.  This recipe for Chicken & Artichokes in Wine Sauce from the Kitchn I found to be surprisingly quick and easy.  There are few ingredients, but the white wine sauce (without cream!) packs enough of a rich flavor that you could fool anyone, and the chicken is so tender.  This dish could easily pass as a fast weeknight dinner for one (with leftovers of course!) or a simple, yet classy meal for a small dinner party.  I cut down on the amount of flour used to coat the chicken because I had so much left over.  I used Toasted Head Chardonnay (one of my fave inexpensive wines at Trader Joe's to cook with and drink) and served atop rigatoni.  Besides garnishing with fresh Italian parsley, I also shaved some fresh Parmesan on top.
Chicken & Artichokes in Wine Sauce - serves 4
  • 2 cups artichoke hearts, canned or frozen (be sure to drain thoroughly) and cut lengthwise
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/3 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups dry white wine (I used a Chardonnay)
  • 1/2 lemon
  • Fresh Italian parsley & Parmesan cheese, for garnish
- In a small bowl, add the flour, salt and a generous amount of black pepper and combine.
- Toss the chicken pieces in the flour, remove and set aside.
- In a large skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat, add 1 Tbs of butter and 1 Tbs of olive oil.
- Add the artichokes and cook for 5 minutes, or until they're lightly browned.
- Remove the artichokes from the skillet and transfer to a bowl or plate.
- Melt the remaining butter and olive oil in the same pan.
- Arrange the chicken pieces in the skillet and saute for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until they're well-browned on both sites.
- Add the artichokes back into the skillet.
- Pour the white wine into the skillet and stir, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom.
- Bring to a simmer and let that sauce develop for about 8 to 10 minutes over medium heat.
- Stir a couple of times to make sure everything is coated with the wine sauce, and squeeze in a few juices of lemon.
- When the chicken and artichokes are done, pour each serving over a helping of rigatoni and garnish with parsley and Parmesan cheese.