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 27, 2013

BluePrint Margarita

I just finished doing a BluePrint Juice cleanse the other day, but in preparation for it, I picked up a couple of their juices at Whole Foods and had one last drink before I succumbed to a no-alcohol policy for a few days.  Yes, the Lush Chef occasionally doesn't drink!  Louis Anderman from Miracle Mile Bitters and I have always joked about how these juices would taste even better in cocktail form, with bitters, of course.  Well, I finally took a crack at making one with their Lime Ginger Lemon Agave flavor.  I decided to make a margarita, although Louis said next time something with Flor De Caña 7 Year Old Grand Reserve Rum and some of his Yuzu bitters would be pretty amazing.  I couldn't agree more.  Because the juice I was using has such a light flavor, I found I needed to double up on the amount of juice and also put in an extra squeeze of lime.  After tasting it, I thought it needed something I added in a few dashes of Napa Valley Bitters' Tamarind Lime Chili flavor.
BluePrint Cleanse Margarita 
  • 2 oz tequila (I used Patrón Silver)
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 2 oz BluePrint Lime Ginger Lemon Agave Juice
  • Juice from half a lime
  • 3 dashes of citrus bitters (I used Napa Valley's Tamarind Lime Chili)
  • Salt to garnish
  • Lime wheel to garnish
- Run a lime wedge round the rim of a glass and dip into a plate of coarse salt.
- In a mixing glass filled with ice, add the tequila, Cointreau, BluePrint juice, lime juice and bitters and shake.
- Strain into your ice-filled glass.
- Garnish with a lime wheel

Jun 25, 2013

Mojito Watermelon Salad

Libations used: 2 oz white rum...
Libations left over: Make yourself a Kew Garden Cocktail to celebrate how frickin easy that just was...the cocktail will be more complicated...
It was the first weekend of summer, and one of the activities that defines the season for me is catching an outdoor screening through Cinespia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  It was one of the first things I did when I moved out to LA, and there isn't one summer that has gone by where I haven't made it out at least once.  Everyone brings a lot of wine, a lot of cheese, and way too much hummus (I mean, it's LA, right?).  This past weekend, I wanted to make something refreshing and simple.  I was getting ready for a BluePrint Juice cleanse, so I was supposed to be eating a lot of green veggies and other healthy things.  This Watermelon Salad with Mint and Lime from Food & Wine was my dessert.  I added more lime juice and a little more cayenne than the recipe called for, and picked up a nice handful of my favorite mint from Maggie's Farms to top the salad.  And to make it Lush Chef-worthy, I splashed a couple ounces of white rum in it.  This salad is like eating a watermelon mojito!  It's perfect for whipping up on hot, summer days for all those pool parties and BBQs that I'm sure you'll be attending.  It can also be made the night before, but be sure to wait before serving to garnish with the mint leaves so they don't wilt.
Mojito Watermelon Salad - serves 8-10
  • 1 six pound watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups worth)
  • 3 oz lime juice
  • 2 oz rum
  • A pinch or two of cayenne pepper, to taste
  • A couple pinches of salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup of mint leaves, torn
- In a large bowl, add the watermelon and toss with the lime juice, rum, salt and cayenne.
- Fold in the mint leaves before serving.

Jun 20, 2013

Gin & Tonic - Italiano Style

Last Saturday was World Gin Day, so apologies, dear readers for not posting this recipe sooner.  I actually tested it out a couple of weeks ago, but never had the chance to post it.  This is what happens when you blog on the side and have a busy, full-time job!  Anyway, it's better late than never, right?  I tend to crave gin in the spring and summer because of its herbal and fresh taste.  Witness my post from a couple weeks ago using Fever Tree Bitter Lemon Tonic for G&T's - my go-to summer libation now.  Since my return from Italy in early May, I've also been finding ways to incorporate amari in my cocktails in any way possible.  The Kitchn posted a great recipe idea during Valentine's Day for His and Her's Gin and Tonics.  Well, what if I want the dude's version?  It uses Averna, which is one of the sweeter amari, and is a fantastic way to end a meal.  It's what I would envision an Italian doing to his or her's standard gin and tonic.  So salute!

Gin & Tonic - Italiano Style 
  • 1 1/2 oz gin - I used Tanqueray
  • 1 oz Averna
  • Orange slice or peel
  • 1 1/2 oz or more of tonic water
- In a glass with ice, add the gin and Averna, and stir until chilled.
- Squeeze the orange slice or peel and drop into the glass.
- Top with tonic water and stir gently.

Jun 18, 2013

Parsley Walnut Pesto Chicken Salad

Libations used: 1/4 cup white wine...
Libations left over: Pretty much the whole bottle, so serve with dinner...
I love making chicken salad, and it's one of my go-to's during the week for lunch.  Usually, I cheat and just make it with canned chicken, some celery and chopped nuts.  If I'm feeling adventurous, I'll throw in some pickled red onions, pickled blueberries or curry with raisins.  I knew I had a busy week coming up with plenty of dinners out, which ultimately meant I'd be eating lunch at my desk to save money, so I wanted something somewhat healthy and hearty.  The Kitchn had posted a recipe a while back for a Creamy Chicken Salad with a Parsley Walnut Pesto.  It's a relatively quick dish to make, and yes, I recommend cooking the chicken and not cheating with the canned stuff.  Because why waste good pesto on canned chicken?  The recipe calls for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but I picked up some nicer looking free-range chicken breasts that still had all the rib bones and skin on.  The chicken is poached in a white wine braising liquid and takes only about 15-20 minutes.  I bought plenty of fresh, flat-leaf parsley from Maggie's Farms at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market to use for the pesto.  Yes, it's a lot of green on the plate, but I also used Maggie's arugula to serve with the chicken for some extra flavor and texture.  Top it with some pretty cherry tomatoes, chopped walnuts and a little shaved Parmesan, and you have yourself a simple and gourmet, summer meal.  The leftovers will also make a killer sandwich...

Parsley Walnut Pesto Chicken Salad - serves 6-8
Ingredients for the chicken: 
  • 2 1/2-3 lbs chicken breasts, with skin removed (about 4-6 breasts)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (I used Flo Chardonnay)
  • Handful of flat-leaf parsley (both leaves and stems)
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Ingredients for the pesto:
  • 2 cups packed flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts (Umm, I skipped the toasting part and they were all in halves too)
  • 1/4 cup and 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3 Tbs mayonnaise
  • 2 heaping Tbs of chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • Fresh-squeezed lemon juice, to taste (I used about a teaspoon)
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
To garnish:
  • Toasted, chopped walnuts
  • Sliced cherry tomatoes
  • Grated Parmesan
To make the chicken:
- In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, add the chicken, garlic, shallots, wine and parsley.
- Season with salt and pepper and top with enough water to cover the chicken by about an inch.
- Bring the water to a boil.
- Immediately remove from heat and cover.
- Let the chicken stand for about 15-20 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 160.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and tent it with foil to finish cooking.
- When it's cool enough to handle, slice into bite-sized pieces.

- To make the pesto:
- In a food processor or blender, add the parsley, garlic, walnuts and oil and process until smooth.
- Add the Parmesan and pulse until incorporated.
- Transfer to a large mixing bowl, add the mayonnaise, sun-dried tomatoes and some lemon juice, to taste.
- Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Add the chicken to the bowl and gently toss to combine.  
- Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight so all the flavors have a chance to marry.
- Serve over a bed of arugula and top with chopped walnuts, tomatoes and Parmesan.

Jun 11, 2013

Beer Bread with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Olives

Libations used: 1 bottle of beer...
Libations left over: Crack open another bottle while the bread bakes...
I went wine tasting this past weekend with friends, and where there's tons of wine flowing, there's a need for plenty of carbs to soak up all that alcohol.  I absolutely love making beer bread because it's one of the cheapest, quickest and most flavorful breads you can make.  In the past, I've made this heavenly buttery and cheesy Cheddar Beer Bread, but I wanted to include some slightly healthier ingredients this time.  I also knew we'd be eating plenty of cheese and crackers, so there was no need for extra dairy.  This recipe for Beer Bread with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Olives from Epicurious was equally fast and uses a little oil from jarred, sun-dried tomatoes to add extra flavor.  I went heavy on the tomatoes and olives, and be sure to use a light beer or pale ale when making this — I used Blue Moon Hefeweizen.  I ended up sharing this bread at a couple of wineries with our lovely tasting room pourers and fellow visitors.  It's a great way to get hefty pours or special tastings...needless to say, we made lots of friends.

Beer Bread with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Olives: makes 1 loaf
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 large egg, beaten lightly
  • One 12 oz bottle of light beer (I used Blue Moon)
  • Scant 3/4 cup of chopped, drained sun-dried tomatoes 
  • 1 Tbs of sun-dried tomato oil
  • Scant 1/2 cup of chopped pimiento-stuffed olives
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Grease and flour a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.
- In a large bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.
- Add the egg, beer, tomatoes, reserved oil and olives and stir until the batter is just combined.
- Pour the batter in the pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until it's baked through (mine took about 50 minutes).
- Turn the bread out onto a rack and let cool before slicing.

Jun 6, 2013

Fever Tree Tonics & Sodas

I'm always on the lookout for new products to include in my baking and shaking endeavors, so when the pretty packaging of Fever Tree caught my eye at BevMo, I just had to try.  I picked up the Bitter Lemon tonic and poured it in with some Grey Goose vodka and a lemon twist on a Monday night.  Yeah, it's going to be hard to go back to regular tonic water now...The flavor had just the right amount of bitter, a slight hint of sweetness and citrus that will kick up your G&Ts and V&Ts several notches.  The best part is, they're all natural.

Fever Tree hails from the UK and was founded in early 2005 by one of the guys who ran Plymouth Gin.  Their philosophy is that if 3/4 of your drink is tonic or soda water, then it better be darn good. I couldn't agree more.  The name stems from the colloquial for the Cinchona Tree, where quinine, a primary ingredient in tonic water, is found in the extract of the bark.  The bark is also a common ingredient found in most bitters, so it's known for its healing properties.  It's a perfect way to make the medicine go down, right?  The particular bark they use descends from a high-yielding quinine varietal first cultivated by a British explorer named Charles Ledger, and which is still grown along the Rwanda-Congo border.  I'm looking forward to trying their other tonics and sodas — such as their award-winning Mediterranean Tonic Water and Ginger Beer.

Jun 4, 2013

Old Fashioned Cupcakes

Libations used: About 3/4 cup whiskey or bourbon and 7-9 dashes of Angostura bitters...
Libations left over: Make yourself an Old Fashioned while those cupcakes are baking...
This past weekend, my friend celebrated her 30th birthday in Ojai with some wine tasting and grilling (yes, that's the second weekend in a row for me!).  I wanted to bring a Lush Chef treat after our wine tasting/party bus extravaganza, and a booze-laced cupcake was the perfect way to keep the festivities going.  One of her favorite cocktails is an Old Fashioned, one of the many reasons I count her a friend, so this recipe on Serious Eats was perfect for her.  There's so much alcohol in these cupcakes that it's like having an actual drink.  And yes, I used 101 proof Wild Turkey bourbon, so take that!  The flavors just nail an Old Fashioned with the bourbon-soaked vanilla and orange cake and the Angostura bitters, bourbon and orange zest frosting.  I made some tweaks to the "orange sawdust" by doubling the amount of fresh zest to up the orange flavor — it took on this delightful crunchy sugar texture.  I used 1 tsp of bourbon to soak through the cupcakes, which was plenty, and start on the low end with the bitters — I love them, but if you're not used to them, it can be an overpowering flavor.  My friends gobbled these cupcakes down in under 10 minutes, and were absolutely blown away.  Luckily, I have a lot of friends who love Old Fashioneds, so I have a feeling I'll be making these again!

Old Fashioned Cupcakes - makes 12-16
Ingredients for the cake:
  • 1 1/2 cups and 2 Tbs cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup and 2 Tbs fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 Tbs orange zest
  • 1/4 tsp orange extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sour cream (don't use low or non-fat)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup whiskey or bourbon (I used Wild Turkey) for soaking the cupcakes
Ingredients for the frosting:
  • 12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup and 2 Tbs whiskey or bourbon
  • 7-9 dashes of Angostura bitters, to taste 
  • 3/4 tsp orange extract
  • 1/2 tsp orange zest
Ingredients for the "orange sawdust":
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp orange zest

To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
- In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.
- In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the eggs and beat until well-combined.
- Add the orange juice, orange zest, orange extract, vanilla extract and combine on low speed.
- Add the flour mixture in intervals on low speed, until all the dry ingredients are thoroughly combined.
- Add the sour cream and beat again until combined.
- Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full.
- Bake for 24 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
- Wait until the cupcakes have cooled a bit and poke about 12 holes on the top of each cupcake with a fork.
- Pour 1 tsp of whiskey or bourbon (I did less than the original recipe suggested) on top of each cupcake to soak through.
- Make sure cupcakes are completely cooled before frosting.

To make the frosting:
- In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.
- Reduce the speed to low and add half of the confectioners' sugar, and all of the whiskey, Angostura bitters, orange extract and orange zest, beating until fully combined.
- Add the rest of the confectioners' sugar and beat on medium-high speed for about 2-3 minutes, or until completely mixed.

To make the "orange sawdust":
- In a small bowl, thoroughly combine the sugar and orange zest.
- Sprinkle on top of the cupcakes, immediately after frosting.