This past Saturday was the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby. As a lifelong equestrian, and owner of a retired racehorse, this is one of my favorite days. Nothing says tradition like the Kentucky Derby. For those of you unfamiliar with horse racing, this is the first leg in what is known as the Triple Crown. The next two races are the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, and the Belmont Stakes in New York. If a horse wins all three races, then he is a Triple Crown winner. No easy feat. Since the running of the Triple Crown began, only 12 horses have won all three races. The first was Sir Barton in 1919, the most recent was last year with American Pharoah after a 37 year gap with no Triple Crown winners.
The race is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky and is always on the first Saturday in May. People flock to the racetrack for this historic race day. Traditional hats for the ladies are worn, some are incredibly outrageous. And there is the traditional cocktail of the Derby–the Mint Julep.
Since I love this day, I started my own ritual of hosting a Kentucky Derby Party at my house about 4 years ago. The menu follows a Derby tradition consisting of:
Bourbon Pulled Pork Sliders
Bourbon Baked Beans
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie ( of course!)
Great food, great fun, but the best thing is the people. Nothing brings me greater happiness than to gather people from all walks of life.
When you host a party, you become catalyst for others. They meet and experience people that they would not have met otherwise. Old friends get to catch up, new friendships are forged. And you, as the host, are the creator of all of these new connections. And then your ritual becomes a ritual for others.
This is really why I host my Kentucky Derby Party every year. I want to be that catalyst. I want to create a tradition and ritual for my old friends, and include new friends each and every year. I want to hear about the latest job, graduation, loss and gain. I want to laugh until my sides ache from all of the funny tales. But most of all, I just want to watch my friends sharing a good time in a ritual that has become a part of all of their lives. Their laughter, their presence in my home, is their gift to me.
All the Lovely Derby ladies!
Thanks to all who attended this year. It was my great pleasure to have you all in my home. See you next year on the first Saturday in May!
Derby Party Recipes
Here are the recipes that I always have at my Kentucky Derby party. Enjoy!
The key to a successful mint julep is really good bourbon. Get the good stuff, do not skimp here. My favorite is Buffalo Trace or Woodford Reserve. A julep calls for fresh mint to be muddled in each glass, but I have found that to be time-consuming, plus I end up with pieces of mint in my teeth! My solution is to infuse mint into the simple syrup.
To make the simple syrup, you will need equal parts water and sugar. I did 3 cups of each, and that is enough to serve 30 people multiple drinks. Boil the water and sugar mixture until the sugar has dissolved. Take at least 10 stems of mint, more if you like, and bruise in a mortar and pestle. Take the sugar mixture off of the heat, and toss the mint in the hot mix. Allow the mint to steep until the desired mint flavor is achieved, at least 15 minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove the mint pieces. Refrigerate until it is cocktail time.
Mint Julep Recipe
- 1 1/2 jiggers of bourbon
- 1 jigger mint simple syrup
- crushed ice
Put two heaping tablespoons of crushed ice in a cup. Add the bourbon and simple syrup and stir. A splash of club soda is optional.
Bourbon Slow Cooked Pulled Pork –recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson
- 2 lb pork shoulder
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 3/4 cup bourbon (you can use the cheaper stuff to cook with)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 large onion, sliced
- Season the pork with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides and place in a slow cooker.
- Scatter the onions around the pork.
- In a large bowl, mix the brown sugar, bourbon, soy sauce, mustard and ketchup. Pour over the pork.
- Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours.
- At then end of 8 hours, remove the pork and let it rest for 15 minutes.
- Using an immersion blender or regular blender, blend the onions and sauce to a smooth mixture.
- Shred the pork with two forks and mix some of the sauce with the pork. Serve with the extra sauce.
I used 10 pounds of pork for 30 people, adjust the quantities as you need. I cooked the pork the day before, then returned it to the slow cooker and heated it up for the party. Easy!
Cheese & Garlic Grits –-Chef Mark Williams
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup ground corn grits-regular or quick cook
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, diced
- 3 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
- 1/3 lb grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup minced garlic (prepared minced garlic is what I use)
- cayenne pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Add salt to water and bring to a boil.
- Slowly stir in the grits.
- Simmer, stirring frequently until grits are soft, less time for the quick cook grits. Add the butter and remove from the heat.
- Add the cheese, garlic and yolks of the eggs.
- Allow to cool before adding stiffly beaten egg whites.
- Lightly fold in the egg whites and pour mixture into a buttered souffle dish or high sided casserole dish.
- Bake until golden brown and firm in the center, about 30 minutes.
- Serve warm.
These are a little bit of work, but so worth it. They come out light and fluffy, like a souffle. I tripled the recipe for 30 people, and used two casseroles. I also only used 1/2 a cup of garlic for the tripled amount. Personally, I think that 1/2 cup of garlic for the single recipe is overpowering, but add to your taste.