Sunday, May 6, 2012

Run for the Roses... or Run to the Dinner Table

I love the Kentucky Derby.
No.  Actually, I love love love LOVE the Kentucky Derby.  When I was a wee philistine, my parents had to explain to me multiple times the many, MANY reasons that we were not able to have a horse (the least of which was that our property didn't have fencing).  I imagined being a jockey and schemed to move to Kentucky.
The Husband, of course, takes great delight in taunting me over my obsession, which is somewhat at a crossroads with my normal philosophy that we must be kind to our animals.
I'm not going to say that the Derby - and horse racing in general - doesn't give me a lot to think and cringe about, but when you've been obsessed with an event since you can remember, it's almost a separate thought process.
That and I have convinced myself that if I were ever to own such a gorgeous creature as a thoroughbred, I would treat it like gold.
Since I have yet to have the means or the opportunity to make it to Churchill Downs, I have to make do here.  That means decorating my own Derby hat with HRH, something we've now done for two years and hope to continue as a Momma-daughter activity as she grows.
Last year, I went with a monochromatic fuchsia, while HRH told me which flowers to glue on.  At two, she wasn't ready to do it herself, and I may be something of a control freak, so I made sure that her hat looked "proper."

2011 Decadent Philistines Derby Hat Collection
The hat was a little big for HRH.
This year, I let that need for control go.  I let HRH pick out her own art supplies for the dollar store hats my mother-in-law picked up for her.  She had so much fun that she actually decorated two hats.  Parents - if your kid likes craft days, I can't recommend this enough.  I actually did some hat decorating with my friend's two girls this weekend as well - HRH was supposed to decorate yet a third hat (she had wanted to when we headed over there), but she threw a fit and sulked on the couch instead.  I guess the idea of three amazing Derby hats is a lot to take in.

I did help with the glue.

For all the pimps out there who read this blog, I'm sure she will be happy to whip something up for you, too, for a reasonable sum.
For my own chapeau, I wanted something sunny and bright - so when I found this picture:

I tried to find the original credit - I believe it's Associated Press.
If not, I will be happy to correct.
I knew I had to try and copy it.
Three trips to Michael's, five bunches of deconstructed daffodils, two sunflowers (one gold, one orange) and one bottle of glue later, I had it.  Or thereabouts.

Since The Husband was off at a game, I have no pics of me wearing the hat,
as I am one of those people who doesn't like to take pictures of herself.
It's just this thing I have.
HRH and delighted in wearing our hats (even though, my pick, Bodemeister, fell short in the last furlong or so, losing out to I'll Have Another), but The Husband decided that watching some EPL soccer game (the FA Cup) was more interesting, so he opted out once again.  Maybe next year I'll get him into a straw boater.
Probably not.
He did, however, completely buy in to dinner.

Our menu:
  • Buttermilk biscuits
  • Sauteed Swiss chard with green onions and red chile flakes
  • Fried green tomatoes
  • Grilled pork chops with a bourbon-peach glaze (recipe below)
  • Pecan pie (recipe linked below)
  • Champagne juleps (recipe below)
Some people will tell you to eat dessert first.  However, you should also note that most times, it's just as important to make dessert first.  Since a pecan pie has to set and cool, I knew that the second HRH and I got home from our crafting/dress-up play date (crafting for me, dress-up for her), I'd need to get started on the pie.  I had planned to make it the night before, but I gave blood and then promptly had two glasses of pinto grigio with dinner.
The only thing I made before dessert was the drink.  I looked through many many different yet similar champagne julep recipes, some of which used superfine sugar, some of which used sugar cubes (or "loaf sugar"), and some of which didn't use any sugar.  What's a girl to do?
Make up her own recipe.

Champagne Julep
  • Two large sprigs of mint (preferrably organic or plucked right out of the garden), freshly washed and dried - probably about a dozen or so leaves
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (ideally superfine, but granulated is fine - that's what I used)
  • 1/3 cup bourbon (or Jack Daniel's - see my "disclaimer" below when I discuss the pie)
  • 1/8 teaspoon water
  • Champagne (or your bubbly of choice - we used an American sparkling)
Place the mint leaves, sugar, and water in a shallow bowl and muddle.  Or, if you are a fancy pants, use your drink muddler.  Add the bourbon and crush mint further.  Cover and chill at least 4 hours.
(This is what I did before making anything else - the rest I had The Husband do right before we ate, which is when we wanted to drink the juleps)
Strain the bourbon.  Add two teaspoons or so to a champagne flute.  Fill the remainder of the flute with champagne.  Garnish with a fresh mint leaf.  Enjoy.

A fancy Derby dinner means
I break out our wedding flutes.
I am still not a lover of bourbon, so I think next time I'd prefer to use a heavily minted simple syrup with the bourbon.  But this was good.  I'm just a wuss when it comes to hard alcohol (case in point: I could hardly manage the wine the night before).

Despite the fact that I wasn't having the world's best Pie Crust Karma yesterday, I managed to whip up enough of Kirsten's No Excuses Pie Crust (with my usual sub of whole wheat pastry flour for the AP in her recipe) to roll out into my mini-pie pan (I usually use it for pot pies round these parts).  I had thought of making a full pie, but it's just The Husband and me who will eat said pie, and that means I'll eat it all week while he's gone at work.  A mini pie is my version of self (waist) preservation.

Before going into the oven
Now, my biggest concern was that The Husband wasn't going to like it.  He likes "good" pecan pie, but he has said many times that he's eaten his share of "bad" ones.
No pressure, right?
Which recipe to use? Should I put bourbon in it?
There were really too many questions swirling around my head about this pie.  Thankfully, I managed to shake them all off and make a few important decisions.
  1. I used The Pioneer Woman's pecan pie recipe - and not just because I met her and gave her a bagful of Arizona candies and goodies last weekend - I knew it would fall under the category of "good" pecan pie.
  2. To her recipe, which I cut in half save for the amount of vanilla, I added a tablespoon of bourbon.
  3. Since we didn't have any bourbon, any time you see that word in this post, just mentally sub in "Jack Daniel's."
  4. The difference between Jack Daniel's and bourbon is that JD goes through a sugar maple charcoal filtering process that bourbon doesn't.  But they are both whiskeys.
All of this information is important.
Even though I halved the recipe, I had some leftover pecans, filling, and dough, so I made itsy bitsy pies in a mini muffin tin as well.  And then I dunked pecans in the rest of the filling, salmonella risk be damned.
I like to live on the edge.

These were purely for quality control purposes.
And snacking purposes.
But mostly quality control purposes.
As the pie(s) cooled, I was able to hang out with HRH for a little bit, and I texted The Husband to ask him to bring home some red roses for a centerpiece.  I'm pretty sure he thought I was just angling for him to bring me flowers.  Whatever.  It worked.
Before he had left for the day, The Husband hand thrown some beautiful pork chops into his brine.  He was kind enough to share his recipe with me.  And you.

The Husband's Bourbon Brine
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup bourbon
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
Boil the water and add the ingredients; stir until the salt and sugar are complete dissolved.  Allow to cool completely  Place items to be brined into a large zip-top bag.  Pour in cooled brine and allow to sit, refrigerated, for at least four hours, turning as necessary.

The last part of dinner making was going to the most tricky: we had to coordinate the chops (grilled by The Husband - he wanted to be able to grunt and be manly), the biscuits, the greens, the glaze, and the tomatoes to be done at the same time.
This required my mise en place to be Perfection.

(Deep breath in.....) I, in no particular order, set out my pans and added the right oils, re-assembled Julia (my Cuisinart), chopped green onions and chard, found my red chile flakes, took the garlic out of the fridge, had TH open a very stubborn jar of peaches, chopped said peaches (ate some, too), preheated the oven, got out baking sheets, mixed my biscuit's dry ingredients in Julia, threw peaches, maple syrup, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and garlic into a pot to reduce to become the glaze, added the butter and buttermilk to the dry ingredients, sliced and salted the green tomatoes, set out shallow dishes of cornmeal and beaten egg, heated the vegetable oil, rolled out and cut the biscuits, threw biscuits in the oven, breaded the tomatoes and let sit, heated the oil and onions, added the first batch of tomatoes, took biscuits out of the oven, added the chard to the onions, flipped the tomatoes, added chile flakes to the chard, drained the first batch of tomatoes and added the second, stirred the glaze, turned off the heat on the chard, flipped the tomatoes, remembered I'd left the oven on when I took the biscuits out, asked TH to strain the bourbon and make the juleps, drained the tomatoes, and then plated.
Whew - where's that julep?
I am here to tell you that these pork chops were excellent.  The brine was fantastic at keeping them tender even with the heat of the grill, and the glaze on top went so well with the flavor of the brine (I've got the "recipe" to the glaze below).  The chard had a nice kick to it (I was liberal with the chile flakes), and the tomatoes were just fantastic. We need to make these more often.  It is amazing how much more wonderful fresh-from-the ground veggies taste - the chard and onions were from our CSA, while I picked up the tomatoes from another local farm at the Gilbert Farmers' Market; the peaches were canned by Yours Truly in May last year at the Schnepf Farms Peach Festival.

I apologize profusely for the poor quality.
The lighting in our house sucks.

My only complaint was the biscuits.  Our oven is so incredibly not accurate to temperature that it's not even funny. Knowing that, I kept a close eye on them, but they still got a little too brown (but thankfully not burned) on the bottoms, and they were thick enough that the insides were still kind of gummy.  But they still tasted good, and I'm sure I'll find a stomach-y home for them this week.
As for the pie, well, we didn't eat it first.  Or last.  We were so full that we had it instead for breakfast this morning.  It was a Good Idea.

Peach-Bourbon Glaze for Pork Chops (or other grilled tasty item)
  • Butter
  • Peaches (preferably fresh or fresh-canned)
  • Maple Syrup
  • Brown Sugar
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Bourbon
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Water, if needed (I suppose you could use a stock, too)
  • Cornstarch, if needed
I canned the peaches last year.
They still tasted fresh.
Chop the peaches into smallish pieces.  Melt butter in pot over medium-low heat and add garlic.  Stir until fragrant.  Add peaches, syrup, sugar, vinegar, bourbon, salt and pepper.  Increase heat to medium and allow to boil for a few minutes.  Reduce heat and simmer, adding water or cornstarch to either thin or thicken as needed.  Remove from heat and spoon over pork chops, loin, or whatever you've just taken off the grill.
I didn't measure anything, again, choosing instead to go by "this looks like enough" or "uh-oh, I'd better add some more."  It turned out fine.  Just how I wanted it to taste.
I should also note that when I made the glaze, I had NO idea what The Husband had put in the brine.  I guess when it comes to making amazing chops, we're just on that wavelength.

Oh, and what if you make too many fried green tomatoes?  I know - totally sounds like a rhetorical question, but It Happened To Us.  And you know how much I hate throwing things out.
No problem - lunch today was a grilled cheese with the leftover 'maters.  You will want to have leftover fried green tomatoes to have this sandwich.  In one of those "do-it-now-walk-don't-run" type of wants.  Add these to your sammy, and you'll wonder why you ever put regular red tomatoes on your grilled cheese.  It probably also would not be terrible as part of a BLT.  In fact, I think I need to test that theory next weekend - hope the farmers' market has more green tomatoes then!
Next year, I hope that I can finally throw that Derby party that I've been dreaming about for a good while.  We'll probably have a similar menu, although who knows what will sound good between now and then.  Maybe next year, too, I'll finally pick the winning horse.

Chirpy joined us for dinner as a nod to Kentucky
(the cardinal is the state bird).


  1. In addition to coming down to AZ for a WSU/ASU football game - can we add going to Churchill Downs for Derby to the list? Oh good, I knew you'd agree.

    Or I'll settle for hat making and doing Derby day like this. Wow!

    1. Yes and yes. And thanks! :)
      Also, I'd maybe be willing to go to Pullman, but I think we can both agree that in November, the weather will be much nicer here.

  2. Holy crap! You weren't messing around with your Derby Party! Next year, I'm just going to copy 80% of your menu,'kay?

    And you should totally wear that hat every chance you get--it's beautiful!

  3. Thank you - I would totally wear it every day if I could, to be honest. If I didn't think TH would lock me in the car, I'd wear it to weddings, dinner parties... everything.
    For reals. If I had an endless supply of money, the party/dinner would be Legen....wait for it... DARY.
    I almost made a chocolate chess pie, which would probably work better at your house, as there are no nuts of any kind in it. Totally Southern, so still works with the theme. But TH isn't the biggest chocolate fan, so there we go.
    Can you imagine this happening at The Compound?

  4. Everything about this post is lovely...from the hats to the fried green tomatoes to the pecan pie!