Plates and Places

Talk Derby to me

By Jennifer Ruple

It has been dubbed the most exciting two minutes in sports, and it happens every year on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The Kentucky Derby is horseracing’s most beloved event and is steeped in 142 years of tradition. Handsome horses, colorful silks, fancy hats, bourbon, roses and mouthwatering southern food – all create the Derby experience. But you don’t have to make the trip to Louisville to enjoy the race. Celebrate the occasion at home in true Derby style with these essentials:

A “Run for the Roses” centerpiece in a silver trophy bowl.
A “Run for the Roses” centerpiece in a
silver trophy bowl.

The Hat – is the pièce de résistance to your party attire, and the bigger it is the better. Create your own from a simple beach bonnet. Adorn with a big, colorful ribbon and attach large silk flowers with a hot glue gun. The Décor – take your cue from the Derby’s moniker, Run for the Roses. Arrange red roses in silver trophy or julep cups.

The Race – so you think you’ve got what it takes to pick the winner, visit to place your bet from home.

The Beverage – the Mint Julep is the iconic drink of the Kentucky Derby, consisting of bourbon and a simple mint syrup served over ice. For those who are not bourbon drinkers, try my fruity, vodka-based Mint Rulep below.

The Fare – think Southern-inspired foods like country ham and biscuits, beef brisket, Kentucky Hot Browns and bourbon-chocolate pecan pie. Here are a few of my favorite recipes for Derby day

Derby glasses are ready to be filled with cocktails.
Derby glasses are ready to be filled with cocktails.

The Mint Rulep
Mix up a pitcher or two an hour or so ahead of time, chill and you’ll be ready to pour when guests arrive.

1 cup vodka
1 ½ cups pomegranate juice
1 ½ cups ruby red grapefruit juice
3 cups cranberry juice
Fresh mint sprigs for garnish

In a large pitcher, combine vodka and juices. Serve in individual glasses over ice. Garnish with mint sprigs.

Chocolate-Bourbon Pecan Cookie Bars are a decadent dessert.
Chocolate-Bourbon Pecan Cookie Bars
are a decadent dessert.

Chocolate-Bourbon Pecan Cookie Bars
The quintessential dessert of the Kentucky Derby is Derby-Pie®. Here’s a twist on tradition – these cookie bars have the same principle ingredients as the pie– bourbon, chocolate, nuts and brown sugar, only they’re easier to eat while juggling your tip sheet and Mint Julep.

For the cookie base:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

For the topping:
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
3 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup semi-sweet morsels

Heat oven to 350 F. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper, and butter the paper and sides of pan.
Cream together butter and sugar until mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Stir in egg yolk and vanilla. Sift together flour and salt and stir into butter mixture. Press dough into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cookie base is lightly golden. Let cool for 10 minutes before topping.
Whisk together eggs, brown sugar and bourbon. Whisk in flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in pecans and semi-sweet morsels. Spread topping evenly over the cookie base.
Bake for 20 minutes, until topping is deep golden brown. Cool before cutting into bars.

Derby glasses are ready to be filled with cocktails.
Equestrian-themed wine adds to the Derby ambiance.

Hot Browns Hors d’oeuvres
The classic Hot Brown sandwich, originally created by the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Ky., is an open-faced sandwich topped with a cheesy sauce. Here’s a quick and easy appetizer version of it.

1 cup roasted turkey breast, diced
1 Roma tomato, seeded and diced
24 mini phyllo tart shells
2 pieces crispy cooked bacon, crumbled
Gruyere cheese, shredded
Parsley for garnish

Heat oven to 350 F. In each tart shell, layer turkey, tomatoes, cheese and bacon, sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is slightly browned and tart is crispy. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Jennifer Ruple is the author of the blog