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How to Plan the Perfect Kentucky Derby Party

Kentucky Derby Party mint julep recipeBy James Briscione
Author of Just Married and Cooking

When Brooke and I got married we vowed to make our own traditions. Of course we’d still celebrate Valentine’s Day and Christmas, but we wanted creative ways to keep our marriage fun and fresh throughout the year—and not just on the big holidays.

That’s why our book, Just Married and Cooking, is full of recipes and entertaining ideas for couples who want to keep things exciting (and romantic) in the kitchen.

Kentucky Derby Celebration
We use the Kentucky Derby as a reason to throw a party, reconnect with old friends, and pull out our seersucker and fancy hats! These new traditions—the impromptu, off-the-beaten-path celebrations—have become part of the fabric of our marriage.

Bourbon Bourbon Bourbon… Did We Mention Bourbon?
The heart of any good Derby party is the bourbon—and a great party gets the bourbon out from behind the bar and into the kitchen. Bourbon is a natural match for food and is often a go-to ingredient for many Southern chefs when a dish needs a certain something extra.

Cooking a traditional Southern dish of Bourbon-Cured Trout for your Derby Day bash is a cinch. Just follow our recipe for a bourbon brine, then throw in your fish—trout is great, but mahi, swordfish, walleye or perch work well, too. Grill your marinated fish until it’s just cooked through. For a little extra kick I splash a bit of fresh bourbon on the fish after it comes off the grill. I think of it as good luck for my horse!

Don’t Forget the Mint Julep!
Make the food for your party as fancy or as simple as you want, but when it comes to the mint julep, there’s no room for compromise. If you’re not certain you’re making a proper julep then chances are, you’re not.

For starters, your straw is probably too long. Did you know you’re supposed to enjoy the julep from a short straw so the big sprig of mint garnish tickles your nose, forcing you to inhale the mint as you sip your bourbon? Your julep should have no more than four ingredients: sugar, ice, mint, and bourbon. Get the party started right with our recipe for The Perfect Mint Julep.

Now for Dessert
Yes, dessert. This is a Southern celebration! Make our recipe for Chocolate Bourbon Truffles, and your guests will go home happy—whether they bet on the right horse or not!

For more entertaining ideas, check out the official site for Just Married and Cooking.

James Briscione worked in the kitchens at Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Ala., and later with chef Daniel Boulud in New York City. He was the first two-time winner of the Food Network’s competition Chopped and together with his wife, food writer Brooke Parkhurst, James teaches couples cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education and The Culinary Cooperative in New York. Brooke and James’ first cookbook, Just Married and Cooking: 200 Recipes for Living, Eating, and Entertaining Together, was released in May.


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