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. 


Chocolate Gin Truffles

by Maja Lukic


This post should surprise exactly no one.  That I would, inevitably, combine gin and dark chocolate at some point was in the cards as soon as I started this blog and set aside a special place to experiment with gin bottles and food. That these ingredients would actually come together in such a delicious way is a bit of a revelation, though. 

Brooklyn Gin is a recent discovery, by the way. I first tried it at a cocktail bar over the summer and it has quickly become a favorite sipping gin. It also happens to have one of the most stunningly beautiful bottles I've ever seen. But feel free to use any gin or any other spirit you like -- a good bourbon or brandy would be a respectable second choice. For the less decadent and dissolute among you, leave out the alcohol and substitute fresh citrus juice, nut milk, or water.  

Sure I believe in healthy, clean eating. But I also firmly believe in treating yourself to occasional indulgences -- a balanced lifestyle is a lot easier to sustain over the long run than an overly restrictive one. Treat yourself kindly is my philosophy. 

 And to be fair, aside from the (optional) chocolate coating and the inclusion of gin, these truffles are full of excellent, healthy ingredients as they primarily consist of dried fruit, nuts, and cacao powder.

Prunes are a bit of an unsung hero, in my opinion, and I am determined to rehabilitate them with these chocolates. Dates are universally revered for their sweetness -- and rightfully so -- but prunes are almost unequivocally disliked. Their unpopularity resulted in an official (and utterly ridiculous) name change -- to "dried plums."  It's more than a little unfair. Prunes have this awesome sweet and sour flavor; they're sweet and chewy but not cloyingly so. And they balance the alcohol and gin here far better than dates alone. More importantly, they're awesome from a nutritional standpoint: extremely high in antioxidants, a great source of vitamins A and K, and packed with dietary fiber (which you probably already know). Basically, what I'm saying is, prunes deserve some love, too.  

One final note before I set you free: these truffles are technically gluten free. The National Institutes of Health’s Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign has characterized distilled alcohol as safe for individuals on a gluten-free diet even though it may be derived from gluten-containing ingredients (the distillation process removes the gluten proteins). However, if you're extremely gluten intolerant, use your judgment. 

That's it. Now go treat yourselves.  

Chocolate Gin Truffles

Makes approx. 32 truffles

8-9 organic Medjool dates, pitted (approx 1. cup) 

1 cup organic prunes (dried plums)

1/3 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut

1/2 cup whole raw organic almonds

1/4 cup organic cacao powder

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp organic maple syrup

1 1/2 oz. gin (see Note) 

1 tbsp water

sea salt

For rolling: melted vegan dark chocolate or cacao powder

Toast the almonds by spreading them out on a sheet pan and roasting at 350 F for about 10 minutes. Or, toast the almonds in a large skillet over medium height until fragrant and lightly browned. Set them aside to cool for about 10 minutes.

Toast the coconut in a skillet over low heat and watch it carefully. The fine coconut shreds can go from a beautiful golden brown to burnt in a matter of seconds.  

Add dates, prunes, almonds, and coconut to your food processor and pulse 10-15 times to break up the ingredients. Add in the cacao powder, vanilla extract, maple syrup, and pinch of sea salt, and process until the dough starts to come together. With the motor running, drizzle in 1 oz of gin and 1 tbsp water. Continue to process the mixture until the dough easily sticks together. (If it seems too crumbly, add in more water, a teaspoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency). 

Move the mixture to a bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set. Roll teaspoon-sized chunks of dough into little balls. Dip them into melted chocolate, set them on wax paper, and then place in the fridge for about an hour while the chocolate hardens. Alternatively, roll them in cacao powder. (They're also very delicious plain). 

Note: Again, I used Brooklyn Gin but you may substitute any other alcohol. For an alcohol-free truffle, use water, fresh orange juice, almond milk, coconut milk or coconut water. You can totally skip the roasting process above if you prefer to consume nuts/seeds in their raw state. 

*Recipe quantities edited March 16, 2014.