May Parties:  Kentucky Derby Day appetizers and drinks

May is full of opportunities to shine as a “Queen of Entertaining”.  There is Cinco de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby just to start the month of entertaining off in the right light – and on the same Saturday. If you have cooking and hosting abilities that leans towards a Latin flair, try your hand at a Cinco De Mayo Al fresco Brunch.  If you enjoy the southern cuisine of the US, then try a Kentucky Derby Party centered on the TV for viewing of the race. However, every good cook and host knows that anything you can make ahead of time is a fantastic way to start the planning process. Stack your party day menu with lots of “make-ahead” appetizers and taste treats.  

I love a good Kentucky Derby party!  I attend an annual Kentucky Derby party at the local Veteran’s post that starts my May off with a bang.  There are TVs in every corner so we can see the pre and post-race excitement as well as the race.  Everyone brings an appetizer, side dish or dessert to share.  The post supplies great pulled pork for sandwiches.  One of the two bartenders on duty always makes a great mint julep.  Although, I still prefer my Jameson’s and ginger ale.

However, every good cook and host knows that anything you can make ahead of time is a fantastic way to start the planning process. Stack your party day menu with lots of “make-ahead” appetizers and taste treats.   Also, do not forget to make the party fun with a Derby Hat contest.

Although, this Whipped Feta with cucumbers (courtesy of Food and Wine magazine and Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr.), has a Mediterranean flair it is a tasty treat just right for a Kentucky Derby party.  Add a great tasting drink such as a traditional Mint Julep to the menu and you are off to the races.  

Whipped Feta with Cucumbers

The taste of the Mediterranean shines through in the airy feta spread that is served with olive oil–marinated cucumbers.

1-pound feta cheese, cut into 2 pieces, at room temperature

1/4 pound cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 cucumbers (1 1/2 pounds)—halved, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 tablespoon chopped oregano

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Toasted pita or baguette slices, for serving

  1. In a large bowl, cover the feta with water and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to temper the saltiness. Drain and coarsely crumble the feta. Transfer to a food processor and puree. Add the cream cheese, heavy cream, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and process until smooth and airy. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the cucumbers with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Add the oregano and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 2 days.
  3. Serve the whipped feta lightly chilled or at room temperature with the cucumbers and toasts.

Mint Julep

Eight mint leaves, plus mint sprigs for garnish

1/2 ounce Simple Syrup

2 ounces bourbon

Crushed ice

In a chilled julep cup or fizz glass, muddle the mint leaves and Simple Syrup. Add the bourbon and crushed ice. Set a swizzle stick or bar spoon in the cup and spin between your hands to mix. Top with additional crushed ice and garnish with the mint sprigs.

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