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Bring Out the Bourbon For these Breeders' Cup Party Ideas

Salad and MeatballsWhen an event happens only once a year and offers nearly $25-million over the course of two days, it deserves a party. That party, in keeping with the status of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, should step up from standard fare.

Sure, anyone can throw together some dips and chips and keep their guests happy, but this post will give you a themed menu that will impress without costing you too much time or money.

With the Breeders’ Cup returning to Kentucky for the first time since 2011 and coming to Keeneland Race Course for the first time ever, a local theme seemed appropriate. Horses and bourbon spring to mind when you think of Kentucky, and bourbon is the focal point of the menu.

Feel free to deviate from these if you have a favorite substitute and I will offer a few tweaks to the recipes below. My general approach was to find some recipes that weren’t overly sweet (except for dessert) since nearly everyone includes, to my palate, too much sugar when cooking with bourbon.

I avoided two classics, chicken wings and ham. Chicken wings with bourbon sauce are very sticky and messy and some people may avoid them because of it. Paper napkins get shredded by wing sauce, and you don’t want to put out finger bowls, do you? Ham with bourbon can be fantastic but the main ingredient is often greeted with the same enthusiasm as chicken at wedding receptions.

Here we go ...

Warm Bourbon Spinach Salad Recipe with Bacon & Avocado: I love a warm spinach salad. Although this recipe references Mardi Gras (I guess because bourbon = Bourbon St.?), it will a perfect start to your Breeders’ Cup festivities. Most of the work can be done in advance so you can focus on other things, like handicapping races. You can still find good avocados if you plan ahead. Also, go the extra mile and roast those peppers yourself. It’s easy and much better than the oil-laden versions you’ll find in stores. Salads aren’t finger foods but, contrary to the famous scene from “The Simpsons,” you can win friends with salad ... especially if it’s this one.

The next two dishes can be available throughout the party and can be prepped in advance.

Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprout Skewers: That tongue-twisting, alliterative title features a classic fall vegetable, and while people sometimes wrinkle their noses at them, they may not once bacon becomes involved. There is no requirement to include the bacon, this recipe will work well without it but will be less interesting. You can have back-up skewers ready to go and can do these in the oven if needed. One tip I will share is that when you cook Brussels sprouts, after trimming them, take a sharp knife and score the base (where the stem used to be) with a shallow ‘x.’ It seems to allow more water to get into the core of the sprout and you end up with more tender sprouts in the same amount time.

Bourbon & Cider Glazed Turkey Meatballs: Everyone loves meatballs, and most of us have a specific preference for a style or recipe. This one caught my eye because of the simple sauce and I include the recipe only as a reference and tip of the cap to the website that brought it to my attention. I did use turkey, but opted for oregano and rosemary (both dried) and added breading rather than leaving it gluten free. Miss Wright once used crumbled pretzels instead of breadcrumbs to make meatballs and I loved them. Feel free to add some if you like, I did. I also used diced onions instead of onion flakes.

Now for the sauce: I chose this for the simplicity and lack of sugar. No fresh cider was readily available, so I settled for Martinelli’s apple cider and it worked fine. The aroma was amazing! Only cider and bourbon was used, spice it additionally as you wish. The sauce reduced but did not thicken much, it was really more of a broth. Delicious as it was, it didn’t offer enough consistency. After a few experimental mixtures, I recommend adding about one part barbecue sauce (pick your favorite) to five parts recipe sauce. Anything more than that and I thought the amazing purity of the bourbon and cider got overwhelmed. Your favorite barbecue sauce may require a different blend but start with a little and add to taste. Feel free to go rogue and ignore the recipe entirely and make a bourbon barbecue sauce on your own, I’m just making suggestions here to get your menu the way you want it.

Hanger Steak Sandwich with Bourbon Creamed Spinach: Jeff Mauro, “Sandwich King,” came up with this different and delicious dish. The spinach on its own needed more bourbon, or a dash toward the end of cooking, but the bourbon on the steak is more intense. Feel free to substitute cheese if you like but gouda was a good choice. For a healthier dish, sub olive oil for some, or all, of the butter. Use whatever bun appeals to you (sliders would be great for a party!) but be sure to toast them in a pan, much tastier and a bit sturdier. One last item, I squeezed the spinach before cooking it and this kept the liquid down to almost nothing, important if you’re using it as a topping.

Last but not least, make bourbon balls if you like, but I would make a chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Getting the pie shell from the grocery makes this pretty easy.

As far as beverages go, you decide, but I would recommend a bourbon cocktail to maintain the theme, at least to start the party. Some medium-weight red wine or a crisp white works for balance and might keep people from bourbon fatigue (someone told me there is such a thing). Or go with beer, I’ll have some thoughts about that next week.

- edited from www.americasbestracing (by Geoff Worden)

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