Saturday, May 03, 2014

Celebrating Mother's Day early - Derby style

A couple of weeks ago or so, I received an advertisement magazine from Kroeger that included some cute entertaining ideas, including a Cinco de Mayo party theme. I thought it would be fun to have a Cinco de Mayo party as a way to celebrate Mother's Day early, as my parents will be out of town next weekend. Cinco de Mayo parties are pretty ubiquitous in southern California, and it is pretty common to find displays similar to this in grocery stores this time of year

One of the appealing things about the Cinco de Mayo party in the magazine was a recipe for cupcakes that had slices of lime and little pieces of straws jauntily inserted in the top so they looked like margaritas. The decor was simple and, again, since Hispanic food is so common here and we have had Mexican themed dinners/parties in the past, it would have taken minimal effort or cost to throw a party along these lines.

Well, for some reason this year more than any other year I can recall, I had been seeing lots of blog posts and articles about the Kentucky Derby, and more specifically hosting a Kentucky Derby party. I started looking into it more, and used this article as a platform for planning the party. Seeing these mint julep themed cupcakes, in line with the margarita ones described above, sealed the deal, and I started planning a Kentucky Derby themed party instead of the Cinco de Mayo one to celebrate my mom.

I admittedly don't know much about Kentucky, but I could tell from reviewing the Kentucky Derby's own website about hosting a party celebrating the "fastest two minutes in sports" that Kentucky southern cuisine is different than what a native California girl who has not visited the South would think of as southern food. There are common elements to be sure, but southern themed restaurants around here are pretty standard in terms of offering a selection of barbequed meats - rarely indicating what type of BBQ sauce/style is used - potatoes, greens, grits, and cornbread. Here is an example of a menu from the most popular southern food restaurant in our area, for an example as to how southern Californians view southern food.

I am probably way over-thinking things, but I have been trying to make a parallel between how southern California folks view Mexican food, and how southern states, I would imagine, view southern cuisine. Here you come to know where to go if you are craving street tacos or tortas, Baja style versus Oaxacan style (moles, etc.) There are restaurants that are pretty generic, and some that have the basics, but also emphasize a certain Mexican state, and/or highlight regional distinctions that may not be made at a Mexican restaurant in, say, the Midwest -- which I do have some familiarity with. There is low end (everybody has their favorite parking lot tamale lady), and high end. Anyway, I would imagine southern cuisine in a state like Kentucky is the same -- some broadly defined southern restaurants, but you can also find ones emphasizing Kentucky's own style, or ones with an influence from other southern States. I would gather you always know if you are ordering your ribs Memphis style versus Kansas City style versus Texas style.

In any case, I find myself suddenly obsessed with Kentucky, and I want to go there to check out its regionally influenced southern food and local grocery stores. Do they have grocery store displays this time of year like the one above for hosting a Kentucky Derby party? God, I hope so!

My Kentucky Derby party probably seems rather naive -- there are recipes I found that indicated they were Derby party standards, but perhaps they are not. Even calling it a Derby party -- is that ok, or is there some other lingo?? I so want to find out more. In any case, there were four food items that seemed to be standards - Hot Browns, Benedictine spread, Derby pie, and mint juleps. Of the four, mint juleps were the only item I had ever even heard of. I realized I had never had a mint julep before -- other than the sugar bomb non-alcoholic version at Disneyland, lol. An excerpt from our conversation about mint juleps:

BT: So what's the ratio of mint syrup (which I made -- a simple syrup with mint leaves added to soak overnight) to booze (bourbon -- likely did not pick a good one)?

Me: 1/2 an ounce of the syrup, and 2 ounces of the bourbon

BT: (mixes drink and tries it) Wow -- are you sure? You might as well just drink straight whisky

Me: Let me look (Googles mint julep). Ahh -- this one says to use 1/2 ounce of the syrup and two and a half ounces of the bourbon...

BT: OK -- well all those rich bastards are standing around betting on horses sloshed all day then.

I have no frame of reference to know if our Hot Browns (I made this mini version here),

Benedictine spread,

or Chocolate pecan pie (apparently the true Derby pie is heavily guarded recipe?)

were anything like they were supposed to be. The Benedictine spread could have been kicked up a few notches -- either with more Tabasco, or we were thinking the sour cream recommended to make it more of a dip would have been good just for some bite. The Hot Browns were excellent --  I would likely make them again, likely using leftover Thanksgiving turkey. We also made a fruit salad recipe we found on the Kentucky Derby site,

served some homemade bread and butter pickles I made recently,

baked sweet potatoes,

ribs (just store bought -- no clue as to what type of BBQ sauce used), and the mint julep cupcakes (added mint flavoring to mix)

I used the silver wrappers to look like mint julep cups!
For decor, I didn't want to spend too much, but again didn't have too much on hand to use. I found a beautiful silver plated bowl at the thrift store, which was used to make a centerpiece of red roses. I added a picture of a horse, and a crappily last minute made horseshoe aluminum foil covered. I had the sheet of moss on hand, as I had envisioned touching up the letters from the wedding we helped decorate to sell. I have spent more in the moss to fix them up than I would hope to recoup, so I need to just come to terms and get rid of them. I ordered a bag full of horse ribbons online, which clipped nicely onto our dining room light. I asked my co-worker who likes to prepare for parties as well if she had any hats.

I told her about the party theme, and she was very excited, as she had been seeing a lot of things about the Kentucky Derby as well. She brought me two great hats, and a bunch of red dishes to use. One more side note -- I do know of a local store that sells hats like this (church hats). Are they common, though, in the South -- like you can buy them at any department store? I have so many questions!

One thing I forgot was a card to choose the winning horse. Likely we would have been prone to choosing the winning horse, California Chrome, anyway based on name alone. So here was a California girl's best take at a Kentucky Derby party -- maybe I will have to go check out the real thing some time!

1 comment:

April, Jennifer, Carol said...

i love the decor! i think i may have to steal some ideas... do i have to wait until the next kentucky
derby??? methinks i will not! and i am with your man... that is like straight bourbon. but i do have mint in the garden that is calling out juleps! good post. -jennifer