This Saturday is a double header in our home. Not only is it Cinco de Mayo (look for Mexican foods on Friday’s post), but it is also the annual Run for the Roses, otherwise known as The Kentucky Derby. Always held on the first Saturday in May, it is steeped in tradition and history. The Derby is America’s favorite horse race, “the greatest two minutes in sports,” and a family tradition for me.
I grew up hearing stories of the Derby and every year my mother and I would watch it together. Like most little girls, I was crazy about horses and prayed that I would get a pony for my birthday. I read everything I could find on Man o’ War, considered one of the greatest thoroughbred racehorses of all time. Willie Shoemaker was my hero. I cheered for Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. Each May I am glued to the television, watching the pageantry and elegance that is Derby Day. I guess it’s safe to say that I am still horse crazy.
On Derby Day, as the sun rises over the twin steeples of Churchill Downs, the horses are being fed, exercised, and groomed for the racing. The gates open and people stream in, ready for a full day of revelry. The ladies dress in their finest, most donning elaborate hats that have become a highly publicized tradition. The gentlemen are equally dapper and it is a day for gentility and honoring the grace of the Old South.
Jockeys, trainers, breeders, and owners all anxiously await the moment that could change their lives forever. The excitement grows as the day progresses and the wagering is brisk. With the opening strains of “My Old Kentucky Home,” a hush falls over the crowd and the entire audience rises to sing as the band plays the wonderful Stephen Foster song. The horses are led from the paddock and head for the track. Soon we will hear the trumpet herald the “Call to the Post.” The race is only minutes away and the crowd roars as the horses break from the starting gate.
Along with the famous millinery fashions, The Derby is renowned for good food and potent drinks. For nearly a century, the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs is the Mint Julep. It is an interesting cocktail made with bourbon, sugar, mint, and ice, sort of a Kentucky version of a Mojito. It’s traditionally served in a silver or pewter “julep” cup that develops a characteristic frost on the outside as the drink is stirred. But don’t rush out and buy julep cups just for one day of the year, any 10-oz highball will work perfectly.
A favorite since 1926, the Hot Brown sandwich, created by Chef Schmidt at the Brown hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, is a classic on Derby Day. The open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich is ladled with a creamy Parmesan sauce and heated under the broiler until golden brown and bubbling. Then it is topped with slices of bacon and served piping hot. I could eat these every day, but my waistline would grow exponentially!
Far and away the most popular dish of the day is Kentucky Burgoo, a hearty stew big enough to feed a crowd. The name Burgoo comes from the bulgur wheat that was originally used to thicken it. Burgoo was created by sailors in the 1600s and it is often cooked outdoors over a wood fire in a huge iron pot. Full of whatever meats and vegetables you have available, it commonly has some combination of corn, bell peppers, carrots, celery, lima beans, and green beans. You can use any type of meat; beef, pork and lamb are the favorites. In the early days, depending on your hunting prowess, it might have venison, rabbit, squirrel, or even opossum in it!
Burgoo needs something to help sop up the delicious broth and biscuits are the pride of every good Southern cook – a natural match if there ever was one. These Angel Biscuits are from Nathalie Dupree, one of the finest bakers, authors, and instructors in America. Nathalie’s latest cookbook, Southern Biscuits, co-written with Cynthia Graubart, has everything you ever wanted or needed to know to make your own melt-in-your-mouth biscuits every time. If you love baking, you need this book!
And you just cannot have a Derby party without a fantastic dessert. I found one that is absolutely perfect from Alexandra of the delightful blog Alexandra’s Kitchen. She created a bundt cake that takes advantage of all the flavors found in a mint julep. The cake itself is fairly standard, but when you poke it full of holes and drizzle it with Bourbon-sugar syrup and glaze it with a minty frosting made with crème de menthe, it becomes something to dream about. O-M-G it is divine inspiration in every bite!
With all the delicious foods to nibble on, mint juleps flowing, celebrities and locals mingling in the crowd and the excitement of the races, it is no wonder everyone has a fabulous time at the Derby. I hope you have fun this weekend and watch the Derby. You might just get caught up in the excitement and festivities the same way I do.
I dream of attending the race one day, but in the meantime, I will sip my juleps and watch at home. So, get dressed in your finery, slap on a fun hat, sip some juleps, and get in the spirit of Kentucky.
And They’re Off!
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- Sprigs of fresh mint
- Crushed ice
- High-quality Kentucky whiskey
- Silver Julep Cups
- Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time. Each julep is made with.
- 1 julep cup filled with crushed ice
- 1 tbsp mint simple syrup
- 2 oz Kentucky whiskey
- Fill the julep cup with ice. Pour in the mint syrup and whiskey. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Tuck a mint sprig into the top of the cup and insert short straw for stirring and sipping.
- Yield: a whole mess of fun!
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 tbsp warm water (110°F. to 115 °F.)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 cups white soft wheat all purpose flour or cake flour
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- 2 cups buttermilk
- Additional flour
- Dissolve the yeast and a pinch of the sugar in the warm water.
- Sift the baking soda, baking powder, salt, and the remainder of the sugar with the flour. Cut the shortening into the dry ingredients with 2 forks, a pastry cutter, or your fingers until the size of garden peas. Add the yeast mixture to the buttermilk and stir into the flour mixture until all of the flour is barely moistened to make a sticky dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to a week before using.
- When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
- Sprinkle about 1-cup additional flour on the work surface. Place the sticky dough on top of the flour and sprinkle with more flour. Pat out into a round 1/3 inch thick and then fold over to a height of 2/3 inch. Using a 2-1/2 inch biscuit cutter, cut out the biscuits. Move the biscuits to the greased baking sheet, sides touching on the sheet.
- Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly tinged with brown.
- Yield: 20 to 25 Biscuits
- 1 whole, skinless chicken breast (about 1 lb), split in half
- 2 skinless chicken thighs (about 1/2 lb), all visible fat trimmed
- 4 cups fat-free, reduced sodium chicken broth
- 1 medium carrot, sliced
- 1 celery rib, sliced
- 1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 cup fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup frozen baby lima beans or fava beans
- 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- Hot pepper sauce, to taste
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Place the chicken and broth in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring liquid almost to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to a gentle simmer, and cook until the chicken is white in the center at the thickest part, about 25 minutes.
- Transfer the chicken to a plate, reserving the broth in the saucepan. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones and tear it into bite-size pieces. There should be about 2 cups.
- Meanwhile, add the carrots, celery, green pepper, green beans, lima beans, corn, and tomato paste to the broth. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Add the chicken and warm through. Season the stew to taste with hot sauce, salt and pepper.
- Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Reheat gently when ready to serve.
- Parmesan Cream Sauce
- 6 tbsp butter
- 6 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk
- 1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 egg, at room temperature and beaten
- 1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Hot Brown Sandwiches
- 8 slices toasted white bread, crust trimmed off
- 1 lb cooked turkey breast, thinly sliced
- Grated Parmesan cheese, for topping
- 1 (2 oz) jar pimientos or roasted red bell peppers, drained and diced
- 8 bacon slices, fried crisp
- Make Parmesan Cream Sauce: In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Gradually add flour, whisking constantly, until smooth and free from lumps. Gradually stir in milk until sauce comes to a gentle boil, stirring constantly; remove from heat. Add Parmesan cheese and stir until melted and well blended.
- In a small bowl, beat egg. Gradually add 1 cup of hot sauce, 1/3 cup at a time, to the egg, stirring constantly. Gradually add egg mixture back to remaining sauce, stirring constantly until well blended. Fold in whipped cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Assemble Sandwiches: For each sandwich, place two slices of toasted bread on a metal (or flameproof) dish. Cover the toast with a liberal amount of turkey. Pour a generous amount of sauce over the turkey. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese. Place entire dish under a broiler, approximately 4 to 5 minutes or until the sauce is speckled brown and bubbly. Remove from broiler, sprinkle with diced pimientos, cross two pieces of bacon over the top, and serve immediately.
- Yields: 4 servings of two open-faced sandwiches each.
- 3 cups cake flour
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 cup butter, room temperature
- 4 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 cup good-quality Kentucky bourbon
- 1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp white crème de menthe liqueur
- Fresh mint sprigs
- Preheat oven to 325ºF. Coat a 10-inch bundt pan with cooking spray.
- Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
- Sprinkle half the flour mixture over the butter mixture and stir until just combined. Add half the buttermilk, stir. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk. Pour into prepared pan and smooth the batter, evenly distributing it in the pan.
- Bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Leaving the cake in its bundt pan, place cake pan on cooling rack, with the cake side up; do not invert it.
- While cake is baking, combine the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and heat until butter is melted. Stir until smooth and keep warm over low heat.
- Using a skewer, poke holes into bottom of baked cake. Pour sauce evenly over the cake, allowing it to be absorbed. Let cool to room temperature in the pan before removing. This lets the glaze work its way all through the cake.
- Meanwhile whisk confectioners’ sugar, milk and crème de menthe until smooth. Add more milk or liqueur to reach desired consistency. Invert cake onto a serving platter and drizzle glaze over the top.
- Cut into slices, garnish with a mint sprig and serve.
- Yield: 12 to 18 servings
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