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Derby Party

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If you’re not making the pilgrimage to Churchill Downs to watch the 139th Kentucky Derby this year, why not turn sofa-side viewing into a real party? Here are a few easy suggestions to get Derby Day off to great start:

We think it might be illegal, or at least in poor taste, to forgo serving mint juleps. While most mint juleps (inexplicably super-sweet and watered down) seem more of an annual obligation or novelty than a drink that people are excited to imbibe, they can be delicious. To keep yours from becoming cloying, go easy on the sugar and heavy on the good-quality bourbon, fresh mint, and finely crushed or shaved ice.

Here’s a recipe that we like. The addition of lemon juice, while perhaps a tad unorthodox, yields a refreshingly brisk and balanced julep:

2 tablespoons superfine sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

24 mint leaves, plus 4 sprigs, for garnish

2 cups finely crushed ice

1 cup bourbon

Combine sugar, lemon juice, and mint leaves in a pitcher. Crush well with a wooden spoon. Add ice and bourbon and mix well. Pour into glasses and garnish with mint springs.

For added authenticity, serve in silver tumblers. The one above, from Williams-Sonoma, is a nice version (silver tumblers make beautiful vases or pencil holders during the “off-season”).

Benedictine spread, a cream-cheese-and-cucumber concoction that reminds us of a cross between tzatziki and pimento-cheese dip, is the perfect accompaniment to a frosty mint julep. Traditionally spread between slices of crustless bread to make tea sandwiches, Benedictine spread is pretty much delicious on anything that delivers it to your mouth in short order—cucumber rounds, sliced baguette, crackers, chips, crudités…  The spread, so the story goes, was invented by Louisville caterer Jennie Benedict in the early 1900s and has been a staple at Derby parties and warm-weather gatherings ever since. As with pimento-cheese dip, every family seems to have a slightly different recipe. Here’s a version of Benedictine spread that we like, from the official Kentucky Derby website:

1 large cucumber, peeled and grated (squeeze out extra water)

2 tablespoons grated onion

12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Pinch of cayenne pepper or dash of tobacco

Drop or two of green food coloring (optional)

Combine ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth.

Other takes on the spread add a dash of Worcestershire sauce or chopped fresh dill. It can be thinned with a little sour cream if you want to create more of dip consistency than a spread.

No Derby Party is complete with out some nod to the race’s official flower: the rose. Traditionally, roses were presented to all the women attending a certain fashionable Louisville Derby party. In 1904, the rose became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby, and the winner was given a huge bouquet of roses. In 1925, the association between the flower and the race was sealed when New York sports columnist Bill Corum dubbed the Kentucky Derby the “Run for the Roses.” Winners now receive a garland of more than 400 red roses. If you can’t rustle up a couple hundred roses, try sending guests home with a rose piped cupcake.

For more Derby-inspired recipes and party ideas, click here.

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