And I'm still hungry...

Aviation (by Styggiti)

If you've ever had an Aviation cocktail, chances are you've had the version described by Harry Craddock of the Savoy Hotel in London in his 1930 "The Savoy Cocktail Book". His recipe, and virtually every one described since then goes something like this:

  • 1 1/2 - 2 oz Gin
  • 1/2 - 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp - 1/2 oz Maraschino liqueur

From what I've seen in my research, many people seem to prefer Gary Regan's version from "The Joy of Mixology":

  • 2 oz Gin
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Maraschino Liqueur

In all cases, you combine with ice in a shaker, shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

If this describes your experience with the Aviation, then you might be interested to know that there's a version of the cocktail that predates Craddock's version and includes an ingredient not often seen in American bars: Crème de violette. In fact, the first published version of the Aviation is found in Hugo Ensslin's 1916 "Recipes for Mixed Drinks." The only difference between it and the "modern" versions is the inclusion of Crème de violette.

On my last trip to France, I picked up a bottle of Pagè's Crème de violette (it's sold everywhere over there) because I really wanted to try a proper Aviation and I couldn't find any here in Arizona. I know there's at least one brand sold in the US, but I couldn't find it.

I've tried several different variations of Ensslin's original recipe with the Crème de violette. I've settle on the following ratio of ingredients which I find allows aspects of all of the ingredients to come through without any one overpowering the drink:

  • 2 oz Gin
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Crème de violette
  • 1/4 oz Maraschino Liqueur

After combining all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice and shaking, I strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry. I tend to agree with those who claim the name originates from the blueish color the Crème de violette imparts on the drink. It's hard to look of it and not think of the wild blue yonder.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might recall two reviews over the past year (1,2) of La Vigne French Bistro & Wine Bar. Both Pere and I really wanted to like the place but just couldn't do it. The issues and negative experiences with the restaurant seemed to grow over time.

Well, it looks like all of their problems finally caught up with them as the restaurant has finally closed. While I hate to see locally owned and operated restaurants go I don't feel that way about La Vigne. We're better off without them.

Magnetic Fridge Chalkboard

I've gotten so many comments on our magnetic refrigerator chalkboard, that I thought I would share how to make one for yourself.

First off, I'll admit that the idea of a chalkboard on the fridge is not my creation. There are several people out there who have blogged about spray-painting the entire appliance with chalkboard paint, and there is even a company who will custom fit chalkboard panels to your refrigerator. Neither of those options was attractive to me. Spray-painting the surface directly is permanent. Plus our fridge does not have a smooth surface, so writing would be messy. The custom panels were several hundred dollars – a little more than we were willing to spend for a magnetic chalkboard.

This project is incredibly easy and inexpensive. I purchased all the supplies at www.dickblick.com, for a whopping total of $33.53, including shipping. To do it yourself, here's what you'll need:

The first thing you'll need to do is measure the surface area of your fridge that you would like to cover with the chalkboard. The magnetic sheet comes 24" wide, so you're stuck with that for one dimension. The other dimension is flexible. You'll simply order the number of feet you need, cut from that 24" roll. It's better if you have a chalkboard that's a little smaller than your fridge panel, rather than having excess to trim later.

Next you'll need chalkboard paint. It is available most places where spray paint is sold, but I just ordered it alongside my magnetic sheeting. It's available only in black or green, so consider your fridge color when choosing. In addition, the magnetic sheeting comes in both black and green, so order the matching color of that, too.

When you've got all your supplies, find a place to unroll the magnetic sheeting on a dropcloth and start spraying. I did multiple light coats, allowing them to dry in between.

After the last coat has dried, attach the chalkboard to your fridge, centered horizontally and vertically.

Using the broad side of a piece of chalk, "prime" the chalkboard with a light coating of chalk. I think this makes it easier to write on and wipe off chalk later.

Immediately wipe the entire chalkboard clean with a damp sponge.

Viola! Start writing. How about, "I will not pull Pere's pigtails in class again." One hundred times should do it.

Given the limited selection of French restaurants in the area, a follow-up visit to La Vigne seemed a fitting choice for lunch with friends on Bastille Day. Unfortunately, my impression of La Vigne has not changed much since our initial visit last summer. In fact, the experience was so similar – flubs with service, disappointing food, and lots of empty tables – that to detail my experience at lunch would sound like plagiarism of Rob's review.

Instead I'd like to point out my own pet peeve with La Vigne, which Rob touched on briefly in his review, which is the lack of authentic ambience and culture. As a once-fluent French speaker and an interior designer, these facets of a dining experience for me weigh equally with the quality of food and service. In addition, the French are fiercely protective of their language and culture, so it's particularly disappointing that this French restaurant fails to capture either.

The decor of southern France does sometimes include heavy stone walls and iron gates, but these adornments to La Vigne's generic strip-mall location could be improved upon with some truly French touches. May I suggest some traditional Provençal fabrics? Or some rustic turned-wood chairs, instead of that corporate lobby-looking furniture? Maybe a couple of live lavender plants?

Perhaps the staff could have a brief training on the French language, or at least on the few words which are relevant in this case. One of the hostesses consistently mispronounces the name of the restaurant. I know the "gne" combo can be difficult to pronounce, so I'd love to suggest that using the last name of a certain pop star, Avril, might be closer, or maybe the name of the town on the southwestern outskirts of Phoenix. When asked what the vin du jour (wine of the day) would be, as advertised in French on the specials leaflet, our server corrected me, "You mean the vin?," which he pronounced like "bin." Sure. Whatever gets me a glass of fermented grape juice.

La Vigne is celebrating their one-year anniversary. I had hoped after our visit last year that it would improved over time, but unfortunately it's more like plus de la même chose – more of the same thing.

For the past three years, the Foo(d) Bar Blog has pretty much been a solo effort. Due to a variety of factors (day job, social life, etc.), my posting has been sporadic at best. I always intended the blog to be a place where I could write about food that I was thinking about, eating at restaurants, and cooking at home. A good bit of the eating at restaurants and cooking at home is done with my wife. We both approach food from different perspectives, and I've always thought that she would have a lot to offer should she ever want to start writing about food.

So, I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce all of my readers to the newest voice on the Foo(d) Bar Blog, Persephone (she goes by Pere for short). Pere's an interior designer by trade, an avid baker, and a Francophile like me (only she happens to speak fluent French). She also makes mean champagne cocktails, folds napkins with origami skills and can beat phyllo dough into submission. From time to time, you'll see Pere weighing in with her thoughts on local restaurants and hopefully posting about some of the things she's cooking and baking.

I've recently been lamenting the closing of our neighborhood water ice shop. It might not sound like a big deal, but I live in Arizona where water ice (Italian Ice) is a rarity. Everywhere I go it's either shaved ice, snow cones, or gelato, but I digress.

I'd been reading on NPR's website about how easy it is to make granita lately, which is pretty much the water ice that I'm used to (although water ice tends to be finer grained, but that's a matter of technique, not ingredients), so I decided that it was finally time to give it a try.

I was originally just going to try one of the recipes from the website, but while I was out in my yard, I noticed that our mint plant was looking like it could use a trim, so it dawned on me that I could probably take what I had learned from the article and concoct a Mojito granita, so that's what I set off to do.

Here's the basic recipe I came up with:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Bacardi White Rum
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (3-4 limes)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 3 sprigs mint
  • Additional mint for garnishing

Start by combining the sugar and water in a sauce pan and bringing to a rolling boil. Continue to boil 5 minutes while stirring the syrup.

Making Simple Syrup

Remove the simple syrup from the stove and add the three mint sprigs. Allow to steep for about 5 minutes, then discard the mint sprigs and continue to allow to cool.

Steeping Some Mint While Syrup Cools

In the meantime, measure out 1/2 cup of rum.

Bacardi White Rum

Add 1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice and set aside.

Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice and Rum

Next, chop the fresh mint until you have about 2 tbsp. A little extra never hurt anyone.

Fresh Chopped Mint from my Garden

Once the simple syrup has completely cooled, pour it in a metal (preferred) or glass 13x9 inch baking dish/pan. Add the lime juice, rum, and chopped mint. Stir to combine.

Combined Ingredients in a 13x9

Place the 13x9 pan in the freezer. Set a timer for 40 minutes. When it goes off, whisk (or stir with a fork).

Mojito Granita Mix Into The Freezer

You'll need to repeat this every 40 minutes or so for several hours until the pan is full of loose, well defined crystals.

First Stir After 40 Minutes

This will take anywhere from 4-8 hours.

2nd Stir After Another 40 Minutes

Here's the granita after a few hours. Notice how much thicker it is and that there are definite crystals forming.

Switching to a Fork for Stirring

When the granita is completely done freezing, it should be comprised of loose crystals and looks something like this:

Finished Mojito Granita

Serve the granita in chilled glasses. All I had handy were some double old-fashioned glasses, but they worked fine.

Mojito Granita

You should note that this recipe has alcohol in it, which lowers the freezing point of the mix. If you omit the alcohol, add an equivalent about of water and change the stir time to every 30 minutes to keep large clumps from forming.

The consistency of my final product was almost snow like. I probably could have packed it tightly and put it back in the freezer to get it closer to the water ice consistency I'm used to. I also heard that using a large metal spoon to scrape the ice as it freezes instead of stirring helps to produce smaller crystals. I may try that next time. Regardless, the granita turned out to be really great. It was light, refreshing, and tasted just like its namesake cocktail.

Mexican Coke

Have a look here at what we found at Costco this week - Mexican Coke. What's so special about Mexican Coke you ask? Well, anyone old enough to remember what Coca-Cola tasted like when it was made with real sugar and not the sickeningly sweet high fructose corn syrup will appreciate this. Mexican Coke is still made with sugar, and you can definitely tell the difference between it and what passes for Coke these days.

Pere picked up a case this week, and we've been enjoying them ice-cold, straight from the 12oz bottle. They also make a nice rum and coke when mixed with Cruzan's Single Barrel Estate Rum. I don't know how long Costco will continue to carry them in Arizona, but as long as they do, I plan on keeping a case of them around. It beats buying them by the single bottle at the various gas stations around town that carry them.

For now, you can find them at the Chandler Costco:

595 S Galleria Way
Chandler, Arizona 85226
(480) 375-2051

I'm currently in Seoul, South Korea for the third time this year. On my way into our factory this morning, my coworker and friend Moody mentioned how cool it would be if there were a Din Tai Fung in Seoul. I turned him on to Din Tai Fung a few months ago when he had a short trip out to LA, and now he's hooked.

When we got into work, Moody did a quick Google search for Din Tain Fung, and as it turns out, there are now two branches in Seoul! I know where we're heading for dinner tonight, and I can't wait.

Epicurious has just added an interactive seasonal ingredient map to their website (built using Adobe Flex if you are interested).

The map does a good job of showing you what's seasonably available on a State by State basis. Sadly, there's nothing listed for Arizona for June. Technically, you can grow peppers now as well as lots of different herbs. Check it out!

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