Kentucky Derby Sips

Kentucky Love Child

Like a cross between a Moscow mule and a mojito, but made with real Kentucky bourbon.

1.5 oz. Kentucky bourbon
0.5 oz mint simple syrup (recipe below)
Juice of half a lime
Reed’s extra spicy ginger beer

Combine bourbon, syrup and lime in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake like crazy for 20 seconds. Strain into a “mule” mug half filled with crushed ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with fresh lime.

Sassy Comeback

A Southern spin on NYC’s “witty comeback”—and doesn’t it sound like a champion?

1.5 oz. Bulleit rye (bourbon works, too)
0.5 oz. Aperol (see notes)
0.75 oz. lemon ginger simple syrup (recipe below)
Seltzer or sparkling water (optional)

Combine rye, Aperol and syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add ice cubes and shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled “Nick and Nora” glass (or small champagne glass). Enjoy as is, or top with seltzer. Garnish with a twist of thinly stripped lemon peel.

Sparkly Britches Lemonade

Because not everyone loves bourbon (yet).

1.5 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. cucumber simple syrup (recipe below)
Juice of half a lemon
Seltzer or sparkling water (optional)

Combine gin, syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice cubes and shake vigorously for 20 seconds, then strain into a chilled champagne flute. Enjoy as is, or make it really sparkle with a splash of seltzer.


What is Aperol?

It’s an Italian-made liqueur, considered to be an aperitif (fancy speak for “pre-dinner drink”), and it has a citrusy, herbal, slightly bitter flavor and a shockingly bright orange color. If you’ve ever tasted Campari (another Italian liqueur), it’s kind of similar, but less bitter and less potent. On the nose, Aperol is kind of a cross between grapefruit, rhubarb and orange lifesavers. In a cocktail, it brings a world of complexity, and is especially refreshing in the warm weather months.

What is a Nick and Nora glass?

It’s a smallish cocktail glass, sort of a cross between a champagne flute and a coupe martini glass. I found these little 4 ounce beauties online, and created the Sassy Comeback specifically for the glass! As I mentioned the glasses to various friends, it seemed nobody knew what they were, so I did a little research to find out why the glass is so named. I like this explanation best:

“It’s named for the boozy, quick-talking couple in Dashiel Hamett’s 1934 novel The Thin Man. They’re the couple we all want to be, always dressed for a night out, always with a quip at the ready, and always—always—with a drink in hand. Their namesake glass appropriately honors their art deco–era swag.”

Adam Rapoport, Bon Appetit

The novel eventually became a series of films, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, which remained popular well into the 1940s. In this clip, you’ll see the same dainty glasses used for their martinis. At the end of the scene, “Nora” embodies the sassy comeback. She’s my kinda gal!

The Simple Syrups

Simple syrups are very easy to make. A regular simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water, simmered until sugar is dissolved, then cooled and chilled. Each of the syrups below has a flavor infusion, and they offer a unique “somethin’ special” to the above mentioned cocktails. Have fun!

Mint Syrup

Simmer 1 cup sugar and 1 cup filtered water, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm enough to steam. Remove from heat and add a 1 oz. package of fresh organic mint leaves (wash them first and trim the heavy stems), and allow the mint to steep in the syrup until completely cool. Strain out the mint (discard it) and pour the syrup into a covered jar. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Cucumber Syrup

Simmer 1 cup sugar and 1 cup filtered water, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm enough to steam. Peel 4 Persian cucumbers, and cut them into slices. Remove syrup from the heat, add the cucumber pieces and steep until the mixture is cooled. Discard the cucumber pieces and strain syrup through a mesh strainer to remove any bits or seeds. Pour syrup into a covered jar. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Lemon-Ginger Syrup

Bring 1 cup water to a light boil, then turn off heat. Steep 4 lemon ginger* herbal tea bags in the hot water for about 2 minutes, then remove and squeeze the tea bags (discard them). Add 1 cup sugar to the hot tea blend, and stir until dissolved (return to heat a few minutes, if necessary). Cool completely, then pour into a covered jar. It will keep in the fridge a couple of weeks.

*For this syrup, I used Bigelow brand Lemon Ginger herbal tea. The label lists these ingredients; lemongrass, lemon peel, cinnamon, lemon verbena, rose hips, ginger and licorice root. This is a fantastic way to get a lot of complex flavor into a syrup, and these flavors play very nicely with the rye and Aperol in my Sassy Comeback!

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Kentucky Hot Brown Benedict

The most traditional food associated with the Kentucky Derby is a “hot brown sandwich,” classically prepared on toasted brioche, with roasted turkey, tomatoes, bacon and an elegant Mornay sauce. Like every recipe, there are thousands of versions out there. Mine is a little bit of a twist, in that I’ve transformed it into one of my favorite brunch options—a Benedict.

Here’s something else I want to share: last week, my aunt offered to send me some of the Depression glass and vintage dishes that my grandmother owned before she passed away last summer. The dishes arrived just in time for my Kentucky Derby preview party, and that makes this all the more special to me.

Let’s Get Cooking!

Straight up, I’ll admit this is kind of a fussy recipe, not for the faint of heart in the kitchen. But if you love the journey of delivering up a photo-worthy dish, I hope you’ll pour some champagne (or a Sparkly Britches Cucumber Lemonade) and give it a try. My egg poaching skills aren’t top-notch, but I’m going to teach you an easy way to “cheat” through it for an end result that’s every bit as pretty. And don’t let the “Mornay” scare you—honestly, it’s just a fancy way to say “cheese sauce,” and it’s very easy to make. Read through the instructions before you begin. This recipe makes two individual Benedicts.

Ingredients – The Mornay

1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. flour
½ cup milk
2 oz. grated or shredded Gruyere cheese (or substitute Swiss)
Kosher or sea salt to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg (or about 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg)

Ingredients – The Benedict

1 English muffin, fork split*
2 slices bacon, cut in half
1 Roma tomato, cut crosswise into 6 slices (about 1/4” thick)
2 Tbsp. chopped sweet onion
2 oz. very thinly sliced deli turkey—about 1/3 cup packed, cut into shredded pieces
2 large free-range eggs
Snipped fresh chives for garnish
Mornay sauce

*not a fan of English muffins? Throw caution to the wind and serve this on a fluffy Southern biscuit!

Tools

Small saucepan
Small whisk
Microplane (optional, for grating nutmeg)
Cheese grater (or use microplane)
Skillet for cooking bacon
Additional skillet (optional)
Spatula or turner
2 custard cups (or small teacups) for separating eggs
Small mesh strainer (optional)
Tea kettle
Small (7”) non-stick skillet with tight (preferably glass) lid
Additional small lid for keeping eggs warm

Instructions – The Mornay

In a small saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp. salted butter until melted and bubbly at edges. Add 1 Tbsp. flour and whisk to combine. Cook until mixture changes appearance and bubbles throughout. Add milk and whisk until fully blended. Keep over medium heat until bubbling and thickened. Grate fresh nutmeg into the sauce, then add grated gruyere cheese and a pinch of salt, whisking until smooth. Turn heat to warm setting while you prepare the other items.

Instructions – The Benedict

Cook the bacon strips to desired doneness and set aside on paper towels. Load your English muffin halves into the toaster so it’s ready to go at plating time.

Pour off bacon grease and wipe skillet clean to use for the next step. Or, heat a second cast-iron pan or griddle over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add about 1 Tbsp. olive oil and add onions, tossing to caramelize. Pile the onions into the middle of the skillet, and place the tomato slices around the outside. Cook the tomatoes until both sides show signs of caramelization (those gorgeous little charred spots is what you’re going for here).

I grilled the Roma tomato slices just long enough to warm and caramelize them. My husband snapped the pictures, and caught me here in mid-flip. Nice camera work, Babe!

Move the tomatoes to a plate or cutting board to avoid burning them. Add the chopped deli turkey to the onions and toss to warm and caramelize the edges. Turn off the heat and set aside for plating. It’s about to get fussy in here.

If you already have a preferred way to cook poached eggs—well, you’re my new hero! Although I completely love poached eggs on any restaurant brunch menu, making them at home wears my patience pretty thin. I’m going to show you my “cheat” method of steam-poaching eggs, and it works great for me. Do what works for you.

First, turn on the heat under your tea kettle, or run some very hot tap water into a measuring cup with a pour spout. You’re going to need hot water for this process.

Crack one egg into a custard cup. Place a small mesh strainer over a second cup and gently roll the egg into the strainer, allowing some of the egg white to drain through to the extra cup. An egg white actually has two distinct parts—the firm white, which is the pretty part, and the loose and runny white, which leaves unappealing shaggy edges on a poached or fried egg. We’re getting rid of the runny white part so the egg steams more cleanly. If you don’t have a mesh strainer, or if you’re not a stickler for a pretty plate, you can skip this step. But this is a fancy-schmancy brunch dish we’re making, so I’m doing it. Besides, I can burn more calories later if I have a sink full of dirty dishes.

Discard the runny white, then do the same with the second egg, keeping each egg in its own cup.

Drop the English muffin to toast it. Whisk the Mornay. Sip champagne. Breathe.

Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute. Carefully pour about 1/4 cup hot water directly into the empty skillet. It will sputter and perhaps even seem to boil, and this is good! Gently slip the first egg onto the boiling water and immediately cover with a tight fitting lid. Allow the egg to cook for about 1 minute, and watch for a light film to form over the yolk. With a rubber spatula or wide spoon, gently remove the egg to a plate lined with a paper towel. Cover with another lid to keep it warm while you prepare the second egg.

Plating:

Place a small spoonful of the Mornay in the center of each serving plate, to help keep the muffins from sliding around. Next, smear about 1 Tbsp. of sauce over the top of each toasted muffin half, then top each with the turkey-onion mixture, the tomato slices, a generous drape of Mornay sauce and a poached egg. Sprinkle with snipped chives and top with the cooked bacon slices, placing them cross-wise for optimal image to impress your guest.

This Benedict looks fit for a millionaire! If you listen closely, you might be able to hear Gram say, “Well, isn’t that elegant?”

Perfect.

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Kentucky Hot Brown Dip

Not everyone has the time (or the patience) to make a fussy Kentucky Hot Brown Benedict, or the traditional open-faced brioche sandwich that served as inspiration for it. Here’s a super simple way to enjoy all the same flavors, but in a make-ahead dip version. You’ll notice that my recipe does not mention adding salt—this is not accidental. I’ve used deli sliced turkey to keep it simple. Between that and the bacon, the recipe doesn’t need more salt.

Ingredients

4 slices thin uncured bacon, cut into 1/2” pieces

About 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup sweet onion

3 oz. thinly sliced deli turkey, chopped into smaller pieces—about 1/2 cup packed

1 pkg. (8 oz.) Neufchatel cream cheese

1/4 cup light mayo

1/4 cup light sour cream

Small handful fresh Italian parsley, cleaned and chopped

1 small (10 oz.) can Rotel tomatoes (mild version), drained completely

3/4 cup Swiss-Gruyere cheese blend from Trader Joe’s

2 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese (and extra to sprinkle on top)

Freshly ground black pepper

Tools

Cast-iron skillet
Stand mixer or electric hand mixer
Rubber spatula
Cutting board and knife
Small non-stick skillet
Oven-safe baking dish (volume about 4 cups)*

Instructions

Place cast iron skillet over medium heat and cook bacon pieces until crispy. Set aside on paper towels to drain; when cool, chop the crispy pieces into smaller, basically uniform bits.

Place small skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. When it begins to shimmer, add chopped onions and sauté until caramelized. Add chopped turkey to the pan and continue to sauté until turkey pieces have browned edges. Set aside to cool.

In mixer bowl, whip cream cheese until smooth. Add mayonnaise and sour cream and whip again until blended, stopping once to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add Swiss-Gruyere blend, parmesan, parsley and tomatoes and mix gently until blended (don’t whip too much or tomatoes will lose their shape and turn the cream cheese pink). Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a silicone spatula to gently fold the turkey and onions, plus half of the crispy bacon, into the cream cheese mixture. Transfer the dip mixture to an oven-safe baking dish*, and top with remaining crispy bacon and another sprinkle of parmesan.

* We are still doing physical distancing (which is really bumming me out, but still necessary), so I’ve divided the dip mixture into separate ramekins to share with friends and neighbors for their own private Virtual Kentucky Derby gatherings (of two). These adorable dishes were handed down from my grandma, and I just love them! Each holds about 1 1/4 cups of dip mixture.

Proceed with baking, or cover and store in the fridge up to 3 days, until ready to serve.

Baking and Serving

Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake, loosely covered with foil, for about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes longer, or until hot and bubbly.

Serve piping hot, spread on crackers, baguette slices or these dainty little brioche toasts I found at Trader Joe’s.

These seem appropriate, in keeping with the traditional “Hot Brown” open face sandwich on brioche.

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Hearts of Palm Citrus “Ceviche”

In case you haven’t tried them (or maybe even heard of them), hearts of palm are exactly as the name implies—the inner core of a palm plant. For whatever reason, you don’t often see them on restaurant menus, unless you’re in a swanky place with chandeliers and linen napkins and one of those servers who is compulsively whisking the crumbs off your table. I first learned of them during my tenure as a part-time catering kitchen helper, and though I didn’t mind hearts of palm, I have largely ignored them.

Until now.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about hearts of palm on their own—they’re neither strong in flavor nor impressive to look at. They’re just slender, creamy white-colored stalks which you might occasionally find playing a background role in a salad. But ever since I spotted a faux crab cake recipe on Pinterest, where hearts of palm stood in for crab, I’ve had it in my mind to give them a starring role in a vegan version of ceviche, and you know what? It works!

Ceviche is traditionally a tropical appetizer type of dish, centered on raw fish cured with citrus juices, and it is usually flavored up with some combination of onions, hot peppers, cilantro and avocado. But this is a Kentucky Derby party, so we are putting a classy twist on those ingredients, serving it up salad style, and swapping out the tropical notes for fresh spring flavors—cucumber and mint. Along the way, I’ll show you some of the easy tricks I learned from my catering mentors for making a dish prettier—which, obviously, also makes it tastier. Enjoy!

Ingredients

1/2 large pink or ruby red grapefruit, cut into sections, reserve juice
Juice of 1 fresh lime, divided
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. sugar* (see catering tips)
1/4 cup (4 Tbsp.) extra virgin olive oil (mild flavor)
2 Persian cucumbers, peeled* and cut lengthwise, then sliced into half moons
1 can (14 oz.) hearts of palm, chilled in fridge
2 Tbsp. finely chopped red onion
1/2 small, firm avocado
Mixed baby greens or leaf lettuce
Chopped parsley and mint leaves for garnish

Instructions

Section your grapefruit by cutting in half crosswise, then running a knife first around the outside edge of one half, then up close to each side of the section membranes. Spoon out the sections into a medium bowl and strain the remaining grapefruit peel over a measuring cup to save all the juice. Wrap the remaining grapefruit half and save it for another use.

Juice 1/2 of the lime, and add about 1 Tbsp. of the reserved grapefruit juice. Whisk in Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Add olive oil in a stream, whisking constantly, until dressing is thick and emulsified. If your olive oil is very robust, substitute something neutral—avocado or canola oil would be good.

Cut the avocado in half, carefully split the halves apart and use a paring knife to cut a crosshatch design into the flesh, then spoon around the edges to release the avocado pieces into the bowl with the grapefruit pieces. Immediately squeeze the remaining half of lime over the avocado to prevent browning. Squeeze any remaining lime juice into the dressing.

Drain hearts of palm. Blot dry on paper towels, cut lengthwise into quarters, then slice into 1/2” pieces and empty into a medium bowl with red onions, grapefruit sections, cucumbers and avocado pieces.

Pour dressing over hearts of palm mixture and gently fold with a rubber spatula to coat the salad with the dressing. Don’t stir the mixture, lest you reduce the avocado and hearts of palm to a mushy mess. Refrigerate up to an hour before serving a generous spoonful of “ceviche” atop a mound of mixed greens, and garnish with the chopped parsley and mint. If you happen to have some of my grandmother’s beautiful Depression glass fruit bowls, use those!

On a bed of baby greens and spinach, this is so pretty.

*Catering Tips

If you’re making the cucumber or mint simple syrups for the Kentucky Derby Sips recipes, substitute a couple teaspoons of that for the sugar here. When you repeat a flavor across different elements of your meal, it’s called “echoing,” and it helps tie things together in your senses. You don’t want to go overboard, of course, or everything will taste the same. But here, it will be cool and refreshing, a contrast to the rich hot browns, and in harmony with your Sparkly Britches or Kentucky Love Child (you can’t imagine how goofy it feels to write that sentence).

This weird looking little thing is one of my favorite tools for creating a prettier presentation. You should get one of these.

A garnish zester can be used in a couple of ways—a quick scrape of a lemon with the five tiny holes produces tiny shreds of zest, and in this recipe, I’ve used the channel blade to strip away part (but not all) of the cucumber peel. It’s also fine to peel the whole thing, but I think this elevates the look of the pieces. In hindsight, I could have also prepped some of the grapefruit zest for the top of the salad. Next time!

The bed of baby greens is edible of course (everything you put on a plate should be, including flowers), but it also serves two other purposes—visually, it’s prettier than the salad in a bowl by itself, and the lettuce also allows excess dressing to run underneath, which keeps your salad from getting mushy.

If you’re serving a salad for a crowd (Have hope—one day we will meet again this way!), consider a platter rather than a bowl. Line it with greens, as suggested for single serving on this recipe, and spoon the mixture over the leaves. It’s an easy way to really show off the pretty dish you’ve made and gives the impression of a larger dish. (Don’t forget to use a clean damp towel to tidy up the platter!)

A professional would never leave drips on the plate. Be a professional.

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Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Balls

Think of these as very grown-up candies! During the mixing step, it will seem a little bit like you’re making mortar—it’s sooo thick and gooey. But once you have shaped and chilled them, they’ll be wonderful. What I like about this recipe is that it doesn’t involve making ganache, which is an extra step of melting chocolate in heavy cream in a double boiler. Using pantry ingredients keeps it simple, but make no mistake—these itty bitty bites are still impressive. Unlike the ganache-style truffles, these have some texture to them, thanks to the graham crumbs and pecans.

This recipe makes about 24 bourbon truffles. They pack a pretty boozy punch so don’t serve them to children or non-drinkers.

Ingredients

1 cup dry toasted, unsalted pecan pieces

3/4 cup Kentucky bourbon, divided

2 sleeves graham crackers

1/2 cup dark cocoa powder, divided

1/2 cup powdered sugar, divided 1/4 cup Karo corn syrup (light or dark is fine)

Instructions

In a small bowl, pour about half the bourbon over the pecan pieces and let them relax (in a drunken stupor) for about 3 hours.

Break the graham crackers into pieces, pulse in a food processor or blender until they are fine crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a large mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 325° F. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pecans from the bourbon and transfer them to a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Reserve the soaking bourbon. Bake the pecans until they’re dry and lightly toasted, about 12 minutes or up to 15 minutes (be careful not to burn). Cool, then chop finely or pulse in a food processor, but not to the point of powder. They should have a texture similar to panko crumbs.

Combine 1/4 cup each of the cocoa and powdered sugar in a small bowl or zip-top bag, and set aside for dusting the finished truffles.

Add the chopped pecans, all remaining bourbon (including the soaking portion), corn syrup, and the remaining cocoa and powdered sugar to the bowl of graham cracker crumbs. Prepare to get messy. Stir these ingredients together until no dry pockets remain. It will be sticky and gooey, but keep going. When the mixture is fully blended, rub your hands with a little dab of butter and roll a heaping tablespoon at a time into a ball. Place the bourbon balls on a parchment-lined tray, cover with plastic and chill for about 2 hours.

When balls are chilled and firm, gently roll them around in the reserved cocoa-sugar mixture until they’re well coated. Cover and chill again until ready to serve. If desired, give them another roll in the cocoa-sugar when you’re ready to present them. I think they’re cute in these little mini-muffin papers, and your guests will be able to pick them up without tongs.

Boozy truffle, anyone?

Elevate your happy, Comfort du Jour style!

I decided to make these Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Truffles even more impressive by rolling them in different types of coatings. Try doing a third of them in the cocoa-powdered sugar blend, a third in super-fine (caster) sugar and a third in finely chopped pecans. One recipe, but three treatments, gives the impression of variety but with very minimal extra effort.

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Southern Belle Lemon Bars

It was an innocent enough text, sent to me by my BFF: “Do you make lemon bars?”

And that began our annual tradition of me making lemon bars as Ruthanne’s special homemade birthday treat. The first batch was a simple Martha Stewart recipe I found online, but as I’ve already noted in another post, I cannot leave well enough alone. No disrespect to Martha, but Ruthanne is usually doing one or another version of low-carb eating, so for her, I’ve scaled back some of the flour in favor of almond flour. And I’ve cut back on the sugar as well, which really allows the fresh-squeezed lemon to take (nearly) full credit for the deliciousness these squares bring to spring.

But it isn’t the almond in the crust or the skimping on sugar that really makes these different. My secret weapon is a little known ingredient called Fiori di Sicilia.

This ingredient adds a memorable touch to baked goods. Look for it in specialty stores or online from King Arthur Flour.

You may think you’ve never heard of it, but I’ll bet you’d recognize the flavor. It’s an Italian specialty extract, and tastes like Meyer lemon, oranges and vanilla. Kind of like a creamsicle, one of my favorite ice cream treats of childhood. Fiori di Sicilia is the special flavor that makes panettone tastes like panettone. And today, it will bring a unique twist to these lemon bars for our Kentucky Derby Preview.

So there you have it. My secret lemon bar ingredient is out. I considered naming this dessert “Ruthanne’s Favorite Lemon Bars,” but this secret is pretty delicious. And if this post were to go viral—well, I’m not sure she’s ready for that kind of attention.

Ingredients

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1/2 cup all-purpose flour (measure by fluffing, sprinkling and leveling)

1/2 cup very fine almond flour

4 large egg yolks

1 can sweetened condensed milk

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 good size lemons)

Zest of one lemon (organic is best)

A few drops Fiori di Sicilia* (a little goes a long way)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line bottom with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides, and butter the paper for easy release when the bars are done.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Add flour and almond flour, and mix on low just until combined. Scrape down bowl a couple of times to ensure even mixing. Press dough into the bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of prepared pan. This might be tricky because the almond flour isn’t as stiff as all-purpose flour—if your fingers stick, either sprinkle a bit of flour over the mixture to act as a buffer, or put the whole pan in the fridge 20 minutes and try again. Prick all over the surface with a fork. Bake until lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together yolks, condensed milk and lemon juice until smooth. Whisk in Fiori di Sicilia. Allow crust to cool about 5 minutes, then gently pour lemon filling over crust in pan, return to oven and bake until filling is set, about 25 to 30 minutes. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.

Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until filling is firm, at least 2 hours. Using paper overhang, lift cake onto a work surface; cut into 9 or 16 squares, and dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

I trimmed the slightly overdone edges. No harm, no foul!

*Catering tip:

Cutting the lemon bars neatly can be a fussy task. Do what the pros do—use a very sharp knife, run it under warm water before you begin, and wipe blade clean with a damp kitchen towel before you begin and between cuts. The filling won’t accumulate on the blade, so it won’t transfer back onto the lemon bars.

Unless you have the special sugar that baking professionals use, it’s likely that your dusting of powdered sugar will melt into the lemon bars. For prettiest presentation, dust them just before serving.

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Mint Julep Sorbet

The quintessential cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep, is a mashup of bourbon, mint and sugar. A typical recipe for making one begins “muddle the mint leaves and sugar in the bottom of the glass,” but then the muddled mess never leaves the drink. I like the flavor of mint, but not the idea of mint shards floating around in my cup. And if it should get stuck on my teeth? No thanks!

We are ending our Kentucky Derby party (preview though it is) with the taste of mint julep on our lips, with an ultra-refreshing sorbet, made of nothing more than mint, thin simple syrup (sugar and water) and bourbon. Yep, just four simple ingredients, and you can make this as much as a week ahead and enjoy it on your schedule.

Note that the simple syrup is a 2:1 ratio, different from the syrup we used in the cocktails. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, don’t despair—I’ve included an alternate method that requires only a freezer-safe container and a fork.

This “dessert” is really more of a palate cleanser, just a small sweet bit of lightly boozy refreshment after the rich foods of the day. Recipe will yield about 6 servings. Enjoy!

Ingredients

Handful of organic fresh mint (about 1 oz.)
2 cups filtered water
1 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup bourbon
Up to 1 cup unflavored seltzer water (or a subtle flavor such as lemon)*
Additional fresh mint for garnish

Gently rinse the fresh mint in cool water, remove heavy stems and set aside on paper towel.

Instructions

Place a small saucepan over medium heat and add the bourbon. As you know, alcohol doesn’t freeze completely, so we are going to evaporate some of the alcohol out of the bourbon, thereby concentrating its flavor. Allow it to come to a very slight boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until it’s reduced by half. You can check this by pouring the reduced bourbon into a glass measuring cup—you should end with 1/4 cup or slightly less. Pour into a large glass jar and cool completely, then put it into the fridge.

Rinse the saucepan and combine water and sugar over medium heat. Bring it to a light boil, then turn off the heat. Add the mint leaves and steep for a couple of hours until completely cooled. Strain and discard mint, add syrup to the jar of reduced bourbon and refrigerate.

To freeze the sorbet in an ice cream machine, combine syrup and seltzer, then add the mixture all at once and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions, which is probably about 20 minutes. Transfer to a freezer-safe covered container and freeze several hours or overnight. It will still be pretty soft when you finish the blending, but the deep freeze will firm it up a bit more.

No ice cream machine? No problem—combine the syrup and seltzer in a freezer-safe container (something wide and shallow works best), cover and freeze about 2 hours. Use a fork to scrape through it and “fluff” it up, then freeze another 2 hours (repeat again as needed until it’s as slushy as you like. Or, wait until it’s fully frozen, scoop mixture into a blender or processor and blend until smooth, then re-freeze until ready to serve. This will allow you to incorporate some air into the sorbet.

*This is a very sweet sorbet recipe. If you prefer a lighter essence, combine frozen sorbet with up to a cup of very cold seltzer water in a food processor and return to the freezer. The bubbles in the seltzer will help incorporate air into the sorbet for even freezing.

To serve, scoop sorbet into a small glass dish or shallow cocktail glass, and garnish with a fresh sprig of mint. This refreshing treat is best enjoyed whilst wearing a fancy hat.

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The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports

Here’s my big confession about the Kentucky Derby: I’ve never been, and until a few years ago, I honestly never even paid attention to it. But a dear friend had written to me about his incredible experience of attending the Derby for a buddy’s bachelor party, and I was mesmerized (and forever changed) by his retelling of that event. By sheer luck, he ended up with some kind of VIP passes, and wristbands marked “Millionaire’s Row”—which is, of course, the place to be if you want to hobnob at Churchill Downs. Here’s an excerpt of what he wrote:

“So much buzz in the air, the fashion was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Beautiful women with giant, crazy hats and bright dresses, and guys with perfectly tailored suits, fedoras and shiny leather shoes. It felt like a Great Gatsby party…”

Okay, he had me at “hello.” Like most women I know, I love any excuse for getting dressed up and I frequently lament that we rarely have a chance to do so in our modern culture. My friend continued, describing the glorious atmosphere inside the ballroom:

“There were people sitting at fancy tables everywhere…champagne on ice…the mint juleps and bourbon were free and so was the food. They had a gorgeous buffet with chefs at the carving station, and the betting window was just steps away…”

And that, right there, did me in. I could literally hear the glasses clinking, and the people talking and laughing. Such excitement! And WOW, what a race!

That was 2015, the year that American Pharaoh went on to win the first Triple Crown since 1978, and from that time forward, I’ve been a fan of the Kentucky Derby. Not only for the race itself, which is only about two minutes anyway. But for absolutely everything else—the fashion, the food, the cocktails—it’s all just so darn fancy!

This year, the Derby is postponed for only the second time in its history (the first was in 1945, when World War II prompted a temporary ban on horse racing, and the race was delayed by a couple of months), but just last weekend, organizers announced that this year, a “virtual” race will be televised to appease everyone who has eagerly anticipated this first-Saturday-in-May event. It’s a computer-simulated version of the race, tied to a COVID-19 fundraiser (you can read more about that here) and though I can’t quite imagine how it will unfold, I’m thrilled to have a reason to get a little glamorous—now, and again on the rescheduled date, Sept 5.

My preview party is designed to celebrate all the Kentucky Derby pomp in three key categories: the Sips (cocktails), the Nibbles (food) and the Sweet Photo Finishes (desserts). Go ahead—have a sneak peek if you’d like. I’ve even created a simple tutorial to help you dress up a hat so you can get your fancy on. And get ready. Tomorrow, I’ll be flooding your inbox with all these recipes!

Friends, this kind of stuff is exactly what Comfort du Jour is all about.