In-Depth: Gin + Hibiscus Aperitif

One of the things that I'm most excited about in doing this blog is really learning about building recipes and how they work. And to do that, you have to know your ingredients first. That's what my "In-Depth" posts are going to be about: focusing on an ingredient or technique in detail so that we all understand it a little better. 

Today we're starting with a fun one: gin. You know from my very first post that I love gin cocktails, and why not? Gin, with its infinite possibilities for mixing botanicals and flavors, was made to pair with other ingredients and create delicious, harmonious drinks. Though you should be able to drink a good gin straight, I don't think that's where the magic comes from, unlike with spirits such as bourbon. The real pleasure of gin is in seeing how it responds to other flavors. 

gin botanicals

You probably think of gin as a British thing, and it's true that they're more or less obsessed with the spirit. It was actually the Dutch, though, that first began distilling malt liquor with juniper and other ingredients like caraway and coriander. Genever/Jenever, which is what the Dutch style is called today, is still available, though not widely in the US. It's unlikely that you've ever had it unless you sought it out specifically. Genever has a much maltier taste, and is more similar in flavor profiles to whiskey than what we think of as gin. 

It was the advent of new distilling processes in the 19th century that made possible the "London dry" style of gin that we know today. Many well-known gins, like Bombay and Tanquaray, are London dry-style gins, which have no added sugar and add all their botanicals pre-distillation. However, gins like Hendrick's are not, because they add cucumber essence after distillation. 

Compound gins, in which all the botanicals are added to an already-distilled neutral base spirit, such as vodka, are looked down upon by some people. Those people might want to stop reading now, because I made a compound gin with hibiscus, lemongrass, and pink peppercorn, and it's awesome. 

hibiscus gin botanicals

Unless you're some sort of master mixologist (in which case, how on earth did you end up on my blog?), there's no reason to go through the process of building a still to make your own gin. I'd much rather let the vodka people do the work for me, and then swoop in at the end with some pretty botanicals and make the whole thing taste good. 

Since it's (ostensibly) summer, I wanted to make something floral and light, that would blend well with other summer flavors. I chose hibiscus (which had the added benefit of making my gin a striking shade of magenta), lemongrass, and pink peppercorn as my more "unusual" notes to give the spirit complexity and bite, but still keep it bright. And there you have it: DIY gin with hibiscus and lemongrass. 

When I was searching for the perfect home for my hibiscus gin, my mind immediately went to Lillet, which I recently tried for the first time. It's a traditional French aperitif that blends especially nicely with floral and citrus flavors: perfect. The drink is refreshing and sweet, with just enough tartness to keep it interesting, and studded with dried hibiscus flowers just because they're pretty. It is summer, after all. 

gin hibiscus aperitif cocktail

Hibiscus Aperitif

  • 2 oz. Lillet Rouge
  • 1 oz. gin with hibiscus and lemongrass (recipe below)
  • Grapefruit soda (I like San Pellegrino)
  • Lemon peel
  • Hibiscus flowers for garnish

In a large rocks glass, pour the Lillet and gin over ice. Top with grapefruit soda. Express a lemon peel over the surface to release the oil, and garnish with hibiscus petals. 

 

hibiscus gin

Gin With Hibiscus, Lemongrass, and Pink Peppercorn

  • An empty quart-sized jar with lid
  • A neutral base spirit, such as vodka (Apparently this should be over 100-proof, but I’ve never actually checked the ones I use…)
  • 2 tbsp. juniper berries
  • 4-5 cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 two-inch pieces of orange peel with as little pith as possible
  • 1 4-inch stalk lemongrass
  • 1/2 tsp. pink peppercorns
  • 4-5 dried hibiscus petals

Combine all the ingredients in the jar and infuse for 36-48 hours, shaking occasionally. Strain out the botanicals. 

Roasted Garlic And Honey Hot Sauce

There are very, very few foods that I wouldn't put hot sauce on. Breakfast? Obviously. What would a pile of scrambled eggs and avocado and crispy homefries be without some spice? I drown my burritos in Cholula, and I don't think I've ever voluntarily eaten macaroni and cheese without some sort of added heat. Watermelon with salt and hot sauce? Absolutely. And while I might not use hot sauce, per se, on dessert, I do love chocolate and chili together. 

roasted garlic and honey hot sauce

For a long time, my sauce of choice was sriracha. (This was before it took over the internet.) But something has changed. I find it too sweet now. There's not enough vinegar, not enough bite. At the risk of having the Sriracha Mafia come after me, I've moved on. 

Even though I still love Tabasco to brighten up a dull Bloody Mary or bland chili, there's not much to it other than spice. Tabasco is just peppers, vinegar, and salt. It doesn't have a complex, layered flavor, nor is it meant to. It's heat, pure and simple. But I wanted something more than that. I wanted a hot, peppery sauce that still had depth. The heat shouldn't overwhelm the other flavors. I wanted a sauce that would contribute more than spice–I wanted it to contribute taste

roasted peppers

This sauce does all of that in spades. It's hot. Like, make-a-dragon-wanna-retire hot. When I first tasted it, straight off the stove, I thought it might actually be too hot, but as the sauce sat and cooled, the flavors blended together and mellowed. It retained its fire, but now it tastes fuller, more interesting. There's an underlying sweetness from the honey, and a smooth, round flavor from the roasted garlic. It's exactly what I was looking for. 

Eat it on eggs. Eat it on pizza. Eat it on vegetables. It doesn't really matter. But just do it. Trust me. 

roasted garlic and honey hot sauce

Roasted Garlic and Honey Hot Sauce

  • 15 assorted chili peppers*, stems removed (I forgot to remove the stems before I roasted the chilis, and nearly burned my fingers off while trimming them later.) 
  • 7-8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp honey (Vegan modification: 3 tbsp brown sugar)
  • 2 tsp salt

*I used a mixture of mini sweet peppers, red finger chilis, and jalapeños. You can tailor your blend to your desired heat level.

Preheat oven to 425. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, drizzle peppers and garlic with olive oil and shake to coat evenly. Roast the peppers for 15-20 minutes, until blistered and partially collapsed. 

While the peppers roast, combine the remaining ingredients in a pot on the stove and simmer until the onions are soft. Add the roasted peppers and garlic and simmer for several minutes more. Remove from heat and blend until smooth. 

Spicy Soy Roasted Chickpeas

A lot of the things I make don't really seem recipe-worthy. Like the chickpea tacos I made the other night—tasted great, but brown chickpeas, brown tortilla, pale cheese...dull. And I didn't have anything on hand to brighten them up. No one wants to see those.

spicy soy roasted chickpeas

These were only supposed to be a garnish for the beautiful fresh pea soup I was making. Except the soup turned out terribly. The roasted chickpeas, though, turned out rather well. I make roasted chickpeas as a snack pretty often, and these were better than usual. They were crispier and didn't burn, which I attribute to using grape seed oil, which has a higher smoke point than olive oil, like I'd been using before.

spicy roasted chickpeas

As disheartening as it was to throw out an entire pot of soup (it really was that bad), at least something good came out of it. The soy sauce and sesame oil carmelized beautifully, giving the chickpeas a deep, rich brown color, and I added garlic and chili oil to give them some kick. I love them best right out of the oven, when you're right on the edge of burning your fingers and tongue by grabbing them straight off the pan. The longer you store them for, the less crispy they become, though they're still delicious. So eat them fast, and then make more. 

spicy roasted chickpeas

Spicy Soy Roasted Chickpeas

  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon grape seed oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Chili oil to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Drain and rinse the chickpeas. In a separate bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients. Combine with the chickpeas, making sure to thoroughly coat. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spread the chickpeas out in a single layer and bake for 35-45 minutes. Shake the baking sheet every 10 minutes or so to ensure that the bottoms don't burn. 

 

Thyme-Infused Bee's Knees

I used to write about food. 

Back in college, I wrote a food blog. I had a crappy point-and-shoot camera, a kitchen that was actually a converted closet, and had no idea what I was going to be doing after I graduated. Now, six years later, I have a full-time job in advertising, a real oven, and a phone that takes better photos than my old camera did. But I miss writing about food. 

On a whim, I pitched a cocktail series to Bustle, and they bought it. This recipe was the first one I developed for them. It's a spin on a classic Prohibition-era drink (which is the best way to start out—doing twists on classic recipes), and it was, according to me and my faithful taste-tester Jill, a success. 

And now here we are. I foresee cocktails, some travel photos, and lots of posts about what I make for lunch, because that's why I do most of my cooking right now. I'm glad you're here. 

Thyme-Infused Bee's Knees

  • 1 1/2 oz. gin
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. thyme-honey syrup (recipe below)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a thyme sprig or lemon twist. 

thyme honey syrup

Thyme-Honey Syrup

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3-4 sprigs thyme

Heat thyme and honey in a small saucepan until the consistency is liquid and simmer for several minutes. Remove from heat. For a lighter thyme flavor, strain the honey into a jar. For a more pronounced flavor, pour honey and thyme into a jar and allow to sit overnight. 

To make the syrup, combine equal parts thyme-honey and warm water. 

Note: This recipe will make more syrup than you need for a single cocktail. You'll just have to make a batch.