Cucumber & Borage Flower G&T (and a blog birthday)

by Maja Lukic


Veggies & Gin was a year old as of July 22. Did I miss this significant event in the life of my blog because, on that particular day, I was sitting on a beach in Puerto Rico with a little F. Scott Fitz and iced drink in hand? Possibly. But we've already established that I'm a lazy dilettante of a food blogger. 

In any event, to celebrate the belated blog birthday, I made some cooling gin cocktails. This seems appropriate because the idea for starting this blog probably has its origins in a glass of gin on some slow balmy night last summer. 

On vacation last week, I enjoyed days and nights of sweltering gin weather but because rum is king in the Caribbean, I had to wait until I was back in New York to indulge in this gin and cucumber combination. And, by the way, I'm going on record now to claim that I coined the phrase "gin weather" a few years back. If you'd like to dispute that, go ahead--please use the contact form. 

The cucumbers here are of the slim, spindly Asian burpless variety (the name derives from the fact that these varieties contain little to no cucurbitacin, a compound that produces a bitter flavor in other cucumbers and impacts indigestion in some people). If you see them at the market, don't pass them up. They're sweet and fragrant with no trace of bitterness. The thin skin can be prickly but becomes smooth after a good scrub under cold running water. 

And then I was doing my usual run at the market a few weekends ago when I saw these pretty blue and lilac star-shaped Borage flowers. Predictably, I was determined to buy them long before the girls at the stand informed me that Borage flowers taste like cucumbers. They didn't lie, by the way--Borage has a clean, fresh flavor, and plays well in fresh salads or anywhere cucumbers are welcome. The color disparity is due to the age of the flowers--Borage flowers are pale pink/violet when they first open but deepen into twilight blue as they mature. I've also since learned that Borage has healing properties, though I wouldn't assume those benefits hold strong in the presence of clear spirits.

The recipe itself is dead simple and requires no elaboration. You've handled a G&T with skill and grace before and I trust you can handle this one as well. One final note: with this interplay of cucumber flavors, I recommend using Hendrick's gin. Not because it's a special favorite of mine (which it is) but because Hendrick's has those lovely cucumber tones. 

Reflecting on this past year, it's been an interesting experience. My photography has improved from bad to less bad, I've upgraded to a serious camera, and I think I've been better at following instinct and inspiration when it comes to selecting and testing recipes (maybe). I still consider this blog a privilege (my lack of diligence notwithstanding) and a tremendous outlet for creative expression. Thanks for reading and thanks for the support!

Cucumber & Borage Flower Gin & Tonic 

Makes 1 cocktail

1 1/2 oz. gin (Hendrick's)

1/3 cup sliced, unpeeled burpless cucumbers

tonic water

Borage flowers

ice cubes, lime

Muddle cucumber slices in the bottom of a glass with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon. Add ice and a handful of Borage flowers. Pour gin over top and top off the glass with tonic water. Stir and squeeze some fresh lime juice into the cocktail. 

Serve, garnished with additional Borage flowers, if you wish.

Note: Use a decent brand of tonic--anything too harsh and acerbic will overwhelm the cucumber. 


Spiced Apple Cider & Gin

by Maja Lukic


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As the temperatures continue to hover in the mid-20s at night, it's becoming harder and harder to drink ice cold gin cocktails. I made a heroic effort this past weekend, Winter Storm Electra notwithstanding. Even so, there are freezing Manhattan nights when I would much rather sip warming spirits and drinks.

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And while I've lately taken an interest in bourbon, there is absolutely no reason to call for a moratorium on gin consumption over a snowflake or two. The intelligent thing to do is to drink heated cocktails like this spiced apple cider. Plus, sipping my gin out of a mug has a certain Prohibition feel to it and reminds me of much loved cocktail bars like The Back Room on the Lower East Side. 

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The nice thing about this spiced cider is that it pairs well with both gin and bourbon but it can also stand on its own without any alcohol at all. Reducing the cider for an hour -- a brilliant move from Bon Appétit -- results in a syrupy, concentrated apple flavor. No additional sweetener is necessary but a little maple syrup accentuates the spices and rounds out the flavors nicely. It's pretty respectable on its own, actually. 

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The gin of choice here, Martin Miller's Gin, came to me sort of randomly when the lovely folks at the Reformed Spirits Company in the UK generously offered to send me a bottle to sample. As a self-described gin connoisseur, I was more than a little surprised and incredibly embarrassed to admit that a) I had never tried Martin Miller's Gin before, and b) I had never even heard of it. But I love clean, clear spirits and this is one of the better ones out there. Martin Miller's Gin combines pure Icelandic spring water with the traditional juniper, coriander, and angelica, plus an assortment of less common botanicals and citruses such as cassia, cinnamon bark, liquorice, Seville orange peel, lime rind, and cucumber. Their gin is packaged in this stunning crystalline bottle that begs to be placed on display.

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The most surprising quality about Martin Miller's Gin is how well it pairs with apple and warming spices, probably owing to the addition of cinnamon bark. It provided the inspiration for this soothing, comforting cocktail. Hope you give it a chance. 

Stay warm out there. Cheers! 

Spiced Apple Cider & Gin Cocktails (v/gf)

Technique adapted from Bon Appétit

Makes 2 drinks

4 cups apple cider (or pear cider)

1 cinnamon stick

1" by 3" inch slice orange peel (white pith removed)

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground allspice 

pinch of ground clove

1 tsp maple syrup, or more to taste (optional)

2 oz. gin (or other spirits)

optional garnish: cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, orange slices

Combine the cider, cinnamon, orange peel, nutmeg, allspice, and clove in a small pot over medium heat. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the vanilla bean to the pot. Bring the cider to a simmer over medium heat but do not let it boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, just below a simmer for about 1 hour.

Strain the cider through a fine-mesh sieve into another pot or bowl and discard the solids. Sweeten with a little maple syrup, if desired. Add gin (or other spirits). Serve in large tea or coffee mugs with additional cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, or citrus slices for garnish. 

Note: Use a thick, dark, good quality apple cider -- I like Red Jacket Orchards' plain apple cider. For a slightly different flavor, try a nice pear cider. You may also substitute other spirits, such as bourbon, or other brands of gin. When preparing the orange peel, remove as much of the bitter white pith as possible or it will leave a bitter taste in the cider. Also, feel free to substitute whole spices for the ground allspice and clove. 


Gin Gimlet w/ Homemade Raw Lime Cordial

by Maja Lukic


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Perfectly ripe strawberries and blackberries from farmers market, bright homemade raw lime syrup (no Rose's, please), and my old standby, Hendrick's, form a perfect fusion of summer flavors. For anyone who has ever wondered about the lack of gin on the blog to date, this post is for you.

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The idea for this post came about a few weeks ago when I saw a gin gimlet on a cocktail menu. For a long time, I was convinced that the gimlet was my favorite cocktail. In the last few years, I've discovered other cocktails and my tastes have changed (gin & Yellow Chartreuse is a current obsession).

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A gimlet has two components: gin and lime cordial. There are vodka gimlets out there but I do not drink them. For such a simple little cocktail, a gimlet can be a difficult thing to order. Allegedly, the classic recipe calls for equal parts Rose's lime juice and gin. Rose's lime juice essentially consists of water, high fructose corn syrup, sodium metabisulfite, lime juice concentrate, and Blue No. 1. Accordingly, it makes cocktails taste like sour lime candy dissolved in rubbing alcohol.

For this reason, some mixologists prepare gimlets with fresh lime juice and simple syrup instead of Rose's. (Always insist on lime juice and sugar/simple.). But this provokes criticism from purists who argue that without Rose's, it's technically not a true gimlet. It's some other beast.

I'll let the mixology geeks work that out. In the meantime, we can respect our ingredients and come up with something a little bit more flavorful. Enter: homemade lime cordial. Using a recipe from The New York Times as a base, I set about making my own purer version of a classic gin gimlet.

What I love about the Times recipe is that the cordial is raw. There is no need to cook the syrup for 20 minutes as most recipes suggest. As a result, the end product is bright and bursting with fresh lime flavor.

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A gimlet recipe is and always will be a mere suggestion. The cordial is truly the only part that requires some precision but you have some freedom to experiment there as well (note that the Times recipe suggests the addition of ginger - delicious). To make your gimlet, you can stick to the classic  proportions (equal parts gin and lime) but I recommend adjusting the sweetness to suit your tastes. In fact, I generally prefer a 2:1 ratio of gin to lime.

Gin Gimlet w/ Homemade Raw Lime Cordial

Adapted from The New York Times 

Makes 1 cocktail

Gimlet:

2 to 3 oz. gin

1 to 1 3/4 oz. Raw Lime Cordial (see below) lemon wedge

lime twist

Raw Lime Cordial:

6 limes

3/4 cup organic brown sugar (or other sugar)

To prepare the lime cordial: Zest and juice all six limes. In the end, depending on how juicy your limes are, you should have approximately 3/4 cups of juice or roughly equal parts lime juice and sugar. Add the sugar to the juice and stir until fully dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the zest. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Strain the cordial and return to the fridge for another 24 hours, after which it will be ready to use. You can store the cordial in the fridge.

To prepare the gimlet: There are two methods. You can either stir the gin and lime cordial together with ice and strain into a martini glass or you can simply stir them together over plenty of ice in an old-fashioned glass. Either way is fine. Adjust the sweetness to your liking. Squeeze a lemon wedge into the cocktail and serve with a fancy lime twist. 

Once I mastered the basic gin gimlet, I decided to elevate the whole thing and depart from tradition with some ripe summer berries. The sweetness of the fresh berries mellows out the tart taste of the cordial in a lovely, pleasing way, and the colors are stunning. You can use any berries here. I happened to have blackberries and strawberries on hand but blueberries and raspberries would work well, too.

To prepare a berry-flavored gimlet, simply muddle 1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh berries in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, gin, and lime cordial, as described above, stir well, and strain into a martini glass. If using blackberries, you may want to shake and then strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer.

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I definitely prefer the strawberry.

Drinking gin always makes me feel like listening to either something old and jazzy or The National. Or both: