Creating a Sense of Community in Northeast Tennessee & Southwest Virginia

A Taste of the Kentucky Derby

We’re off to the races! It’s Derby Day! Put on your fancy hat and gather around the table to celebrate this southern event with family and friends as you witness the “most exciting two minutes in sports” a Run for the Roses …the Kentucky Derby!

Hold your horses, you don’t have to live in Kentucky to celebrate this festive southern tradition that takes place at Churchill Downs the first weekend in May. At the Derby, spectators line the infield inside the track to enjoy finger foods and Mint Juleps at individual small parties and receptions. Celebrate in style in your own infield-backyard with an easy but elegant table spread that your guests will enjoy.

At the starting line of this food event, silver makes a real statement as serving pieces. It wouldn’t be the Derby without silver platters, plates and cups. Don’t have silver or silver plated pieces? Classic white dinnerware can be used or intermingled with a few silver pieces.

The nickname Run for Roses is another name for the Kentucky Derby; for a blanket of red roses are draped over the winning horse. To mimic the winning blanket, red roses and white carnations are arranged in Mint Julep cups and supports the overall table decor color scheme. For an added accessory, an elaborate navy hat with pearls, lace and tulle reflects the lavish style that well-connected and famous women wear during this event.

For this party, stay on track with southern traditional fare like Mini Hot Brown’s, Kentucky Derby Bars and the infamous Mint Juleps. This food fare will be gone in a split second so make sure you provide several appetizers and other southern favorites like pimento cheese sandwiches and fried chicken strips with dipping sauce.

The Mini Hot Brown’s are served with small rounds of crusty bread toasted with butter and stacked with melted cheddar cheese, cooked peppered bacon, and smoked turkey breast. As a garnish for this appetizer, a thin sliced Roma tomato with parley appeals to the eye. These can be served warm or cold depending on your preference.

The Kentucky Derby Bars have a solid filling with toasted pecans and mini chocolate chips making this graham cracker crust dessert sweet and rich. While mingling and munching on these delicious bites, sip on the frosty Cucumber Mint Julep. A twist on the traditional bourbon filled julep is the Cucumber Mint flavor. Seedless English cucumbers are mixed with mint simple syrup and pure vanilla extract. Lemon lime soda or Perrier is added and poured over frozen mint ice cubes making this julep refreshing on a hot day. In true Derby style, serve Mint Juleps in a silver cup with a skewered ruffled English Cucumber slice. Pretty and Delicious!

Have you noticed how skittish horse’s are as trainers attempt to load the horse at the starting gates? Some trainers will use goats as companion animals to help calm their horses. Don’t be surprised if you see a goat around the barns or at the track of the Derby. The common phrase, “don’t let them get your goat“ was coined in the 1700’s pre-Derby and meant your horse was suddenly upset, agitated or difficult to handle. With that in mind don’t let this shindig “get your goat” hosting a Derby party is a lot of fun! Your guests will remember this Blue-grass party. Go for the Triple Crown and host the party three years in a row to represent three consecutive wins for the victorious Thoroughbred.

As a jockey straddles the saddle and barely touches the horse, he flies out of the starting gate like lightening, the race is on! So grab your fancy hat, make some Mint Juleps, and then go for the Triple Crown! All bets are on! Your party will be the winning ticket.

Cucumber Mint Julep Spritzer

3 English cucumbers-divided
1 cup Mint Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
8 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups lemon-lime soda or lemon Perrier
Crushed ice- mint cubes

Mint leaves
Cucumber ribbons

(Make one day ahead)
1- cup sugar
1- cup water
24 large mint leaves, rinsed & divided

(Make one day ahead)
2 cups water
10 mint leaves
2 ice cube trays

To make Mint ice cubes: In small microwave bowl, microwave 2 cups water and 10 mint leaves. Brew 5-6 minutes. Discard mint and pour minted water into ice cube tray. Freeze until solid.

Line a medium bowl with cheesecloth allow excess cloth to extend over the bowl. Finely grate 2 cucumbers over cheesecloth, Bring edges of cheesecloth together to enclose cucumber and squeeze cheesecloth over the bowl to extract juice. (Makes one cup) In a large pitcher, add mint simple syrup to cucumber juice. Add vanilla and soda. Stir to combine. Pour over crushed mint ice cubes. Garnish with sprig of mint.

To make Mint Simple Syrup: In small saucepan combine sugar and water, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add 10 mint leaves. Brew 5-6 minutes. Remove and discard mint leaves. Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours.

Garnish with mint leaves and cucumber ribbons. Use mandolin to make ribbon lengths of cucumber. Accordion pleat cucumbers on a small wooden skewer.

Mini Hot Browns

6 slices white bread with crust removed and both sides toasted
4 tablespoons butter, melted
6 slices cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/4 pound deli smoked turkey, thin sliced, cut into bite sized pieces
12 sliced Roma tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons smoked paprika, salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400. Brush both sides of white bread with butter, remove crusts, and cut in 4- triangles on baking sheet. Bake 4-6 minutes or until lightly browned. Cut cheddar cheese into 4-triangles. Place cheese triangle and bacon bits on toast; layer 2 turkey pieces and one cut tomato slice on each toast point. Sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper, garnish with chopped parsley and finely grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Kentucky Derby Bars

3 1/4 cups crushed graham crackers
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg white

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups chopped pecans
1 (12 ounce) package mini semi-sweet chocolate chips


Prepare Crust: Preheat oven to 350. Line 10 x 14 or 9 x 13 inch pan with aluminum foil, spray foil with cooking spray. In medium bowl, combine crackers, sugar, butter and egg white. Using a fork stir to blend. Press crumb mixture into the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes, set aside to cool. Prepare Filling: In large mixing bowl, add brown sugar, syrups, butter, eggs, vanilla, salt and flour, stir to blend. Add pecans and chocolate chips. Pour into prepared crust. Bake 35-40 minutes or until the center is firm. Cover baking dish with foil the last 15 minutes to prevent overbrowning.

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Liz Bushong is an expert in the three-dimensional art of entertaining. She transforms simple dining occasions into beautiful and memorable moments by adding a touch of her own “sassy” style. For the past several years Liz been entrusted to decorate the White House for several Holidays. She is a featured monthly guest chef/designer on Daytime Tri-cities, Daytime Blue Ridge and other television shows. Liz is the author of the Just Desserts and Sweets & Savories cookbook as well as a contributing writer for VIPSEEN and Bella Magazine. For more information about Liz go to or