Friday, May 3, 2013

Derby Day Menu Ideas

It's Derby time and here's a great list of suggestions from Deep South Dish to serve at your own Derby party.

Derby Day Menu Ideas

You don't have to be from Kentucky to love the Derby. We watch all of the build up to the fastest and most exciting two minutes in sports at my house every year, and even though we're from Mississippi, we still sing along with "My Old Kentucky Home," a tradition that actually started in 1924. Us Southerners tend to connect commonly to things like that.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
The Cajun and I aren't gamblers at all, so we truly just watch for the beauty of the horses and the excitement of the race. Neither of us know much of anything about the horses, or the owners or jockeys, though we are somewhat obligated to root for Calvin Borel, seeing as he's from our part of the world down here. It doesn't hurt that he has won 3 Derby races since 2007 and a whole lot of other races in his career - more than 5,000 all told I believe.

At the request of one reader on the Best Southern Recipes Facebook sharing site, I asked everybody for some Derby Day party food suggestions. Melanie S. suggested Pimento Cheese Sandwiches, my recipe (thanks Melanie!) and Nelson called out for Cheese Straws, Derby Pie and Potato Salad.

Judy T, who lived in Kentucky for some time, is serving Mint Juleps, Hot Browns, Baked Cheese Grits and a green salad for her Derby party and Wendy M. suggested Derby Shrimp Dip, Mint Juleps, Bourbon Balls and a Run For The Roses Red Velvet Cake.

So here's my compilation of Deep South Dish recipes, based on those suggestions and with a few of my own ideas tossed in. Sounds like a mighty fine spread to me!

For Derby Day, mint juleps are definitely on the menu, with more than 120,000 of the minty sweet, bourbon drinks served over the two days at Churchill Downs - though Louisville locals will tell you that it's really a tourist thing. Doesn't matter. Like the big, brimmed hats that have found their way into tradition, so has the drink, and while Georgia claims to be the originator of the Mint Julep, Kentucky lays claim to its popularity thanks to the Derby.

If you're not a fan of straight up liquor, which essentially is the makeup of a mint julep, this apple julep sangria is a little bit tamer. If you've ever been to the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge area of Tennessee, chances are you've had their signature Applewood Julep, and it's what I patterned my sangria after. The restaurant, a renovated farmhouse, serves good ole country cooking and is so homey that it even has a great sittin' porch - if you're so inclined. You may also omit the alcohol in this to make this an alcohol-free Apple Julep alternative for your guests.

Boiled or sauteed shrimp, layered with paper thin strips of lemon, red onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, and garlic, whole bay leaves and dressed with a vinaigrette. My Spicy Marinated Shrimp and a great choice too. Both are nice served with some sturdy chips, melba toast or toasted bread.

In Kentucky, you'll often find these sandwiches referred to as Benedictine Sandwiches, apparently named so after a caterer many years back, and traditional fare at Kentucky Derby parties. Most often served on thin, white bread, crusts removed, and cut into rounds or sliced into quarters, and quite honestly, a bit addictive. Some folks like to do a separate cream cheese spread and then layer ultra thinly sliced cucumbers on top, others chop the cucumber. I prefer the cucumber grated and mixed in and a tiny bit of dill. This mixture is easily transformed into a dip by using the cucumber juices and a little mayonnaise.

A basic pimento cheese spread that subs in roasted red peppers for a different and dazzling flavor boost. It's a perfect filling for little party sandwiches. Be sure to grate your own cheddar though - there are fillers in the pre-shredded stuff - and freshly grated just makes for a much creamier spread. If you rather the more classic version, you can find that one right here.

Far as I know, cheese straws are a traditionally Southern thing. I don't know if they're a staple with the Derby crowd but they sure seem like they belong. They certainly are an excellent finger snack for parties too. You are fairly warned though right here and now ... they are literally addictive. For a party, you'll want to do two batches of this recipe. I have never been able to retain that pretty shaped "straw" look of the commercial ones though - mine always flatten out. Doesn't matter though, because they still taste great!

A great Shrimp Dip made from a blend of cream cheese and sour cream, seasoned with a packet of dry Italian dressing mix, and mixed with shrimp. Add in a jar of picante sauce, salsa or chili sauce and garnish with a few shrimp. The cream cheese mixture may also be molded into a bowl with plastic wrap and the shrimp mixture poured on top. Great for crackers, chips and toast points.

A classic for Derby Day, chances are if you've traveled to The Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky you probably have tasted the original, from which I patterned my version. For a party, make them into individual open-faced Hot Brown Melts by using English muffins. Judy likes to use ciabatta rolls for hers.

Judy also told me that Baked Cheese Grits are a common addition for Derby Day to serve alongside those Hot Browns. We Southerners love our grits, and we seem to be pretty fond of a grits casserole, loaded with garlic and cheese, especially when you pair that up with some spicy breakfast sausage. You may omit the sausage if you prefer. Or not.

I have several versions of potato salad, but my Mama's basic potato salad seems the most fitting here I think. Unassuming, but beloved, it's really the most basic version for most of us Southerners, although some folks do like it much heavier in yellow mustard than me. Next to that, I think my second choice would be the creamy version, what I call Gumbo Potato Salad.

Judy also tells me that something green in the form of a salad of some kind is appropriate, and I think that it's a great excuse to make this one. Oh my goodness is this a good salad. I love this salad. It's sort of a hybrid of two salads we love in the South - Ramen Noodle Salad and Broccoli Salad tossed with a mix of lettuces, and with a few extra twists thrown in. Please don't skip the topping. You will love it.

Old school but well loved, I know these fit right into Derby Day. Cake balls and cookie truffles may be all the rage these days, but to me these are the original title holder. Mama used to make these pretty strong, but adjust the liquor to your own tastes. One-quarter cup of bourbon (or rum) is plenty strong for me, though some would disagree.

This is not the fabulous Kentucky Derby Race Day pie, though I think it's close enough to get away with having it for Derby Day. Chocolate chips are layered into the bottom of a pie shell and topped with a pecan pie filling. How could you possibly go wrong with that?

This is my Mama's Classic Red Velvet Cake. It is tradtional for Christmas, which explains the photo styling here, but I do like the idea of a 'Run for Roses Red Velvet Cake' for Derby Day too. Mama always made the butter icing, though many folks today prefer cream cheese.

Posted by on May 3, 2013

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  1. many of those looked so good....but the bourbon balls! Yummers!

  2. All these dishes sound so good. I think I'll go with potato salad and a green salad and some kind of shrimp dish and dessert. We will be coming to your part of the country in a few weeks. Taking a trip on the Mississippi Queen from Memphis to New Orleans. Can't wait!!

    1. Oh WOW! I've always wanted to do that trip - what fun!! You'll have such a great time & what wonderful memories you'll create on that trip. You must be so excited!!

  3. Heading to Louisville shortly for the big weekend. A great list of recipes here, some I have already tried. Look forward to trying some of the others. Thanks!

    The Hot Brown is awesome! Do you have a burgoo recipe?

    1. What fun Rick!! Was a pretty muddy race, but I was surprised to see that so many didn't let all that rain bother then in the least bit!!

      Not yet on the burgoo! With so many meats in it, I'm trying to figure out how to downsize it for a family without changing the balance too much. It is on my development list though. No turtle, squirrel or rabbit or anything like that in mine though! :)

  4. Born and raised in Kentucky but serving as a Southern Expat in the Pacific Northwest now. They think the first Saturday in May is the opening day of boating season - go figure.... Anyway I would add to your menu choices Fried Chicken, Pulled Pork BBQ and Burgoo.

  5. I didn't watch the Derby, but I could get into several of your recipes.

  6. Great recipes Mary! You did us proud in Ky. On cold/ rainy Derby days, Burgoo is a common comfort.

    1. Thanks - I was hoping that I would!! I have to work up that Burgoo recipe where it doesn't make quite so much, but it is on the list!

  7. No Derby is complete without Burgoo. Here is my favorite Burgoo recipe:

    Kentucky Burgoo Recipe

    Prep time: 15 minutes
    Cook time: 3 hours, 10 minutes

    This recipe makes a lot! Feel free to halve. Otherwise, it makes great leftovers.

    Add to shopping list

    3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    3-4 pounds pork shoulder or country ribs, cut into large pieces (3 to 4 inches wide)
    2-3 pounds chuck roast, stew meat, or other inexpensive cut of beef, cut into large pieces (3 to 4 inches wide)
    3-5 chicken legs or thighs (bone-in)
    1 green pepper, chopped
    1 large onion, chopped
    2 carrots, chopped
    2 celery ribs, chopped
    5 garlic cloves, chopped
    1 quart chicken stock or broth
    1 quart beef stock or broth
    1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
    2 large potatoes (we used russets)
    1 bag of frozen corn (about a pound)
    1 bag of frozen lima beans (about 14 ounces)
    Salt and pepper
    4-8 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    Tabasco or other hot sauce on the side


    1 Heat vegetable oil on medium-high heat in a large soup pot (at least 8 quart size). Salt the meats well on all sides. When the oil is shimmering hot, working in batches brown all the meats. Do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam and not brown well. Do not move the meat while browning a side. Let the meat pieces get well seared. Remove the browned meats to a bowl.

    2 Add the onions, carrots, celery and green pepper to the pot and brown them. If necessary, add a little more oil to the pot. After a few minutes of cooking, sprinkle salt over the vegetables.

    3 When the vegetables are well browned, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, until fragrant. Add back the meats, and the chicken and beef broths and the tomatoes, stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 2 hours.

    4 Uncover and remove the meat pieces. Strip the chicken off the bone and discard skin if you want. Break the larger pieces of meat into smaller, more manageable pieces. The reason you did not do this at first is because the meats stay juicier when they cook in larger pieces. Return all the meat pieces to the pot and bring it up to a strong simmer.

    5 Peel and cut the potatoes into chunks about the same size as the meat pieces (if using new potatoes, you can skip the peeling, but russets you'll want to peel). Add them to the stew and cook them until they are done, about 45 minutes. When the potatoes are done, add the Worcestershire sauce, mix well and taste for salt. Add more Worcestershire sauce to taste if needed.

    6 Add the corn and lima beans. Mix well and cook for at least 10 minutes, or longer if you’d like. Here is the point where you decide whether you want a burgoo that’s been hammered into a thick mass or a stew with bright colors in it. It’s your call.

    To serve, taste one more time for salt, and add either Worcestershire or salt if you want. Serve with crusty bread or cornbread and a bottle of hot sauce on the side.

    1. Thanks so much Charles! It's been on my list but I was trying to figure out how to downsize it, but still retain its uniqueness! This recipe looks very reasonable & I truly appreciate you taking the time to share that with me and the readers here. Thank you!!

  8. Pretty dang close to how i make mine, same exact ingredients except i bake my potato's the night before and then put in the fridge until the next day when i make it, easier to dice. And i'll also add celery seed to mine just because i love it., You can tell we're all from the south by the way we make potato salad!!


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