Hummingbirds and The Hummingbird Cocktail


Lemongrass is a crazy fast growing weed. I have two bushes and they need to be constantly trimmed down to ensure they don’t get too unruly. A while ago the weather was nice (as in not sauna hot) and I spent a couple hours trimming and cleaning the lemon grass. It smells great as you chop it. At least it has that going for it.



Various types of birds visit our backyard as well. I usually have a bird feeder that attracts all manner of birds (and the pesky squirrels too). None are more fascinating than the hummingbirds that are attracted to whatever that plant with red flowers is called (Firebush I think). They zoom from one bush to the next like little flying emeralds. I have tried to photograph them before and was never fast enough. They come and go and fly around. I could not keep up with them.



This time I literally had a lot of time on my hands and I set my camera to the “fast shutter speed” setting and took over 50 pictures as I worked and they sipped flower nectar. Several of those came out pretty damn nice! It was a good day. I hate to waste anything and it made perfect sense to make a syrup with the lemongrass trimmings and use that for a cocktail.

lemongrass Syrup

The name of the cocktail was pretty much coined before I even made it and required no thinking. This is the “Hummingbird Cocktail”, a sort of variation on a sour using Gin, Cachaca, egg white and lime juice plus of course the lemongrass syrup. The syrup is a basic simple syrup with equal parts water and sugar by weight. When it comes to a simmer and the sugar dissolved I added a boatload of chopped lemongrass and turned the heat off. When it cools I strained it into a jar.

Hummingbird Cocktail
The Hummingbird Cocktail

  • 1.5 oz Gin (I used Beefeater)
  • 0.5 oz Cachaca (a light rum would be good too)
  • 1 oz Lime Juice
  • 1 oz Lemongrass syrup
  • 1 Egg white
  • Pinch salt

Shake all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker without any ice (dry shake) for about 20 seconds. The dry shake make for a much frothier drink. Add a cup full of ice and shake again for 20 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass over one large ice cube or several regular cubes.

Aviary Cocktail: Another Caucasian, Gary


The Dude might not recognize this lovely complex drink as his favorite indulgence but the folks at Aviary, the Chicago and NYC cocktail bar, created this in his honor. It is a refined take on the White Russian and named after one of thousands of memorable Dude quotes from the Coens’ The Big Lebowski.

Milk Ice2

The classic white Russian cocktail is vodka, coffee flavored liqueur (like Kahlua), and cream or milk. The Aviary cocktail book is a beautiful piece of work that gives us a look into what it means to take modern cocktails to the next level. Have I mentioned that it is an absolutely beautiful book? It really is and the story of how it was put together is really fascinating too. The Aviary, from the same team as the three star Alinea restaurant, treats drinks as complex dishes. The recipes employ all kinds of techniques, hydrocolloids, equipment and service pieces.


While time consuming, this is not a difficult recipe and requires no specialized tools or ingredients (unless you consider a large ice cube mold specialized in which case you can probably use smaller ice cube molds). The four major components in the “Another Caucasian, Gary” – I do love saying that- are: large milk ice cubes, chicory syrup, rum and Galliano L’Autentico. 


Obviously, I did not have to do much to the booze beyond buy it. I got a bottle of Appleton Estate rum, one that I am fond of actually and is usually in my bar. The Galliano on the other hand is new to me. It’s in a class of Italian liqueurs that are considered Aperitifs or Amaros. Typically one of a kind recipes whose exact ingredients are very well-guarded and ranging in alcohol content all across the board from slightly more than wine’s ABV to stronger proofs. Galliano L’Autentico is around 30% ABV and has dominant notes of vanilla and anise. It makes a lovely Old Fashioned cocktail as well used instead of the sugar in that recipe.


Milk ice cubes make up the dairy portion of the cocktail. Why not? They look cool, dissolve slowly and change the flavor, texture and dilution of the drink making it enjoyable till the last sip. So, just pour some whole milk into large ice cube molds and freeze. That’s all.

Chicory, for those here in the US and especially in the states close to Louisiana, might best know it as an additive to the famed New Orleans coffee. It’s a root that is bitter with notes of coffee, cocoa and some funk. It is usually sold dried and coarsely ground. To make the syrup it is first toasted and mixed with sugar and water, vacuum packed and “cooked” sous vide at 90 C for an hour. I then strained it and reserved the liquid in the fridge.

Chicory Syrup

Chicory Syrup2

With the syrup done and the milk ice ready, the cocktail can be easily put together. The syrup, rum and Galliano are shaken with ice and poured over the milk ice cube. It makes for a complex drink that initially is bracing and has a lot of bitter boozy tones. As the ice melts we start getting more floral and herbal flavors from the liqueur, the dairy and coffee meld more and the drink starts to echo a White Russian. I doubt The Dude would love this version, but i sure did. It’s a much better cocktail than his beloved “Caucasian”.


Atelier Crenn: Kir Breton


A Kir Breton is a simple cocktail made from apple cider with creme de cassis. Another “Kir” that is popular is the Kir Royal wich uses Champagne instead of apple cider. The Kir Breton as the name suggests is a specialty of Brittany, the French region famous for great seafood, salted butter and apples.

That’s where chef Dominique Crenn comes from. She is a proud Breton and chooses to serve all her diners this one bite “cocktail” as soon as they settle for dinner at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. The recipe is from her book, Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste and like dinner at her restaurant it is the first recipe in the book.


I chose it as part of a three course dinner I prepared for Diana and I. It’s neat looking, delicious and really not terribly difficult.  The orbs are filled with liquid hard apple cider, encased in a thin shell of cocoa butter and topped with a gel of creme de cassis (black currant liqueur). Sounds daunting? It does, but really it is not difficult to make and requires mostly time in the freezer.



First step is to prepare frozen spheres of the base liquid – the apple cider in this case. I cooked the hard cider down a bit to remove some of the alcohol or it will never freeze. I froze them in half-sphere molds. When totally solid I removed them and “glued” them together by gently melting the flat sides and attaching them to each other. Now I had frozen apple cider orbs. For the cassis part, I blended creme de cassis with Ultratex-3. This very quickly gives us a thick gel that is not heated at all so it retains the delicious taste and all the alcohol.


A few hours before service, I made the shell mixture. This is mostly comprised of melted cocoa butter and very little white chocolate. The cocoa butter is relatively tasteless and not sweet. It also hardens very fast if anything cold touches it. So, I used a toothpick to pick up the frozen cider spheres and dip them in the melted cocoa butter. This instantly created a shell around them. With some practice I got some nice smooth ones. I let those rest in the fridge until service. This allows the cider to melt creating the liquid in the shell. To serve it I put the cider filled spheres on spoons and piped a good dollop of the cassis gel on top.


Carbonated Mojito Spheres

What do I do after weeding my garden and ending up with a crap load of mint? Mojitos of course! Initially I was going to make a few regular Mojitos that would use a fraction of the mint I had. However, I had so much mint that even after drying half of it for the pantry I still had more than enough to make the carbonated Mojito spheres from Modernist Cuisine. Actually the original recipe is credited to chef Jose Anders, the wiz elBulli desciple at Minibar in Washington, DC.

The recipe relies on reverse spherification, just like the basil in the crab recipe here and the yogurt in the recent short rib post here. The sphere mix is made just like a typical Mojito with sugar, water, lots of mint, lime and rum. Into that  mixture I blended in Calcium Lactate and Xanthan gum. The Calcium Lactate will react with the Sodium Alginate in the water bath later and form the skin on the outside of the sphere. The Xanthan is there to give it some body and substance. Without the Xanthan the mixture will be too liquidy. It will not “sink” into the Alginate bath and the mouth-feel will be too watery. Chris over at has a very good pictorial of how to successfully “drop” the mixture into the Alginate bath to make the spheres. It is not too difficult, but it helps to see it.

To carbonate the Mojito spheres, they go into an iSi canister. After getting two charges of CO2, it sits in the fridge for a few hours. Now, to serve it, at Minibar they just put it on a spoon I believe. In Modernist Cuisine, it is pictured in a cocktail glass filled with soda water. For both taste, texture and aesthetic, I opted to serve it in a large porcelain spoon on top of a “Mojito” granita. Right, I still had a good bit of mint which I used along with lime, sugar and water to make a base (no rum). That went in the freezer in a shallow container and got scraped and fluffed every thirty minutes or so to make a nice granita. The end result overall was delicious and the texture was perfect, although I am not sure if the carbonation was worth it for me. Many of the spheres got popped during the transfer to and from the iSi canister. The ones I did serve did not seem like they where carbonated enough to justify the effort and loss. So, I am not sure I will do that part again, but sphere cocktails are very cool especially if you have guests who have never experienced this before. I would love to make maybe a Mai Tai next on a base of coconut or pineapple granita.

Banana Rum and Agar Clarification

I enjoy playing with my food a lot, so why not spend some time playing around with drinks. It’s really a pleasure to come home from work and take five minutes or so to make a proper cocktail at home. My regular indulgences include classics like the Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Negroni and a gin Martini (with 3 olives please). This Bananas Justino is a bit more involved than those drinks. The idea for the drink comes from Dave Arnold at Cooking Issues, a fantastic blog and podcast for those curious about food and cooking.

Dave uses a centrifuge to spin a blended mixture of banana, rum, vanilla beans and Pectinex SP-L. The Pectinex is an enzyme that breaks down cell walls…I think. You know those neatly “peeled” orange segments you get in a cup from the supermarket? All their peels are removed using a similar enzyme. Cooking Issues  has much more information about that here. Once the mixture is spun in a centrifuge everything gets separated by density. So you end up with a sludgy sediment of all the solids and a crystal clear liquid with all the flavor (and booze) in it. That’s a very neat trick.

Well, I have no centrifuge and have no plans of spending a paycheck or several on one of those. So, I decided to use another one of Dave’s tricks to attain a similar result. I also did not use the Pectinex. I used simple Agar clarification. In short here is what this process entails:

For 750 gr of liquid, boil 250 gr of the liquid with 1.5 gr (0.2% of total liquid weight) agar. Mix that with the remaining 500 gr of the liquid and allow it to set. Then gently whisk  the gel to break it up and dump it into a cheesecloth. Gently massage the mixture to get the clear flavored liquid out and leave the solids in the cloth. Take care not to squeeze too hard or the agar will start to seep into the clear liquid through the cloth. Since I was clarifying an alcoholic beverage, I did not want to boil it. So I used a full bottle of rum (Colombian “Ron Caldas”) and boiled the agar in about 2/3 cup of water. Obviously this is one downside to using this process as opposed to the centrifuge, but the rum was not significantly diluted as far as I can tell and tasted delicious. Another benefit to using the centrifuge is high yield (probably over 95%). My yield was less than that but still very good. I ended up with a full 750ml bottle of rum. It’s pretty cool to see how a viscous sludgy banana-rum mixture can be clarified into the clear booze in the pictures below:

The final clear rum smelled of bananas and vanilla  and tasted just as good. I used it to make two drinks so far. The first was Bananas Justino (the picture opening this post) with lime juice, coconut water ice cubes and star anise. The other (pictured above) was a classic daiquiri with lime juice and simple syrup. Both were wonderful and I still have enough booze for a lot more of them.

Blood Orange Negroni, a Bitter-Bitter Elixir

Blood Orange Negroni

How best to describe the taste of a Negroni? Let me see. Bitter comes to mind first, as well as “herby” and a bit spicy. Certainly there is no sweetness here. Sounds like an acquired taste? It sure does. Actually your first sip might send you to the nearest sink to spit that “vile” drink out. Sounds like a repulsive drink, doesn’t it?

Wait though and take another sip, then another. getting better, huh? Before you know it you will be hooked on this delicious Italian concoction and wanting to mix another. Be careful, this stuff is strong. After first learning about it from the man himself, the ambassador of all foods and drinks Italian, Mr. Mario Batali who claims this is his favorite cocktail, it’s been one of the few cocktails that I make at home on a regular basis. The recipe here is not the traditional Negroni, but rather a very tasty variation I came up with to use some blood oranges I have. Figured the taste of tart semi-sweet blood orange juice will work great with the rest of the stuff as well as make it look very sexy and attractive. I was right on both counts. For a traditional Negroni, just omit the blood orange juice.

Blood-Orange Negroni

  • 1.75 oz Gin (I like Broker’s)
  • 0.75 oz Campari
  • 0.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 0.75 oz Fresh Blood Orange Juice

Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice and stir while counting to 40. Strain into an ice filled chilled glass and garnish with a blood orange twist (regular orange twist is the traditional garnish for a Negroni BTW). Sip and enjoy slowly.