Whether you’re inviting one guest or a dozen, planning a menu for your at-home Kentucky Derby party can be a headache. Food is more expensive, and you may be out of practice from hosting during the pandemic.
Instead of worrying about new recipes, you can spruce up your usual party offerings easily by folding in the trendiest flavors of the year as accents. Supermarket News analysts say 92% of US families plan to continue eating together at home at least as often as they do now, and cooking fatigue is a real thing.
If you want to get excited in the kitchen again, a great way to do it is by trying something new, whether that’s adding a dash of spice, a new flavor, or switching things up completely to a plant-based dish.
Here are some national food trends perfect for spring, the Kentucky Derby and all the celebration the season brings.
Add hibiscus to your Kentucky Derby cocktails
Hibiscus has a long history infused in teas, but now it’s spreading to everything from fruit spreads to yogurts and, of course, cocktails. Hibiscus even has health benefits like being high in antioxidants and good for lowering blood pressure.
Heather Wibbels, the author of “Cocktail Contessa” and managing director for Bourbon Women, said hibiscus syrups can be used to turn cocktails a brilliant fuchsia color, which is particularly lovely for cocktails in glasses.
“If you use it as a simple syrup, you get a little bit of tartness but also some floral and fruity flavor,” she said. “For a mint julep, you can use a hibiscus simple syrup instead of a regular one which will turn it a really pretty color. It’s a perfect match for the mint flavors. You can even add some fresh flowers with your mint for a beautiful julep .”
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A hibiscus seltzer can also be added to an Oaks Lily drink (use 1.5 ounces of cranberry syrup and 1.5 ounces of hibiscus seltzer) to make it lighter and give it a bit of effervescence. A hibiscus ginger beer can be added to a Kentucky Mule for a pink color.
A Woodford Spire, traditionally made with bourbon lemonade and cranberry juice, can be updated by using hibiscus lemonade instead.
“You can do mocktails with citrus and seltzer, too,” she said. “I would do an ounce of lemon juice, an ounce of hibiscus syrup, and top it with something fun. Or you could do a flavored seltzer without color as a base. If you use ginger beer, which has a slight yellow tint, it ‘ll turn yellow at the top and transition to a pink and brilliant fuchsia.”
Make a plant-based dish for your Kentucky Derby party
Mushrooms are it this year. Mushroom foraging became huge on TikTok, and fungi have become more and more popular for their ability to mimic meat, said Indian vegan chef and Food Network champion Priyanka Naik. The New York Times called mushrooms the ingredient of the year and said the number of small urban farms growing mushrooms is expected to bloom.
Locally, mushrooms from Frondosa Farms have begun appearing on menus all over Louisville at places like The Fat Lamb, 2011 Grinstead Dr., andEveryday Kitchen, 552 E. Market St.
Chef Mike Wajda at Everyday Kitchen said his side dish of fire-roasted mushrooms tossed with mojo Rojo vinaigrette is quite popular.
“Traditionally, this kind of Spanish vinaigrette would be used to baste grilled meats and have a bit of extra garlic,” Wajda said. “It goes great with the meaty taste of the mushroom and we sell out quite regularly. And it’s vegetarian and vegan, so people who want a meat substitute can opt-in but still get that roasty meatiness without consuming animal products.”
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The key with plant-based dishes, he said, is keeping them heavily spice-forward with powerful spices like zaatar or Korean hot pepper paste.
“On our menu, we like to use a lot of spices in cooking and I think that’s going to be a trend,” he said. “And I’m talking about spices that are fresh, not ones that have been in your cupboard for years. You can pack a lot of flavor into these dishes, especially if you’re doing things like Derby dips.”
Use edible spoons, bowls or tableware for your Kentucky Derby party
If you’re going to be serving food anyway, why not serve it with edible tableware? According to the New York Times, the quality of edible plates, bowls and cups is going up and the price is going down. They may still be difficult to find in stores, but it’s worth looking for them up online.
Or, you could simply make your own.
Chef Nick Bean at Phantom Cafe, 1813 Frankfort Ave., serves many dishes in bread bowls that have become so popular he’s expanding that section of his menu.
“The bread bowls are my main seller,” Bean said. “I take mine a step further and crust it with garlic, fresh herbs, and parmesan when I bake it so it’s like having a fresh garlic loaf with pasta inside. I even do a dessert with edible spun sugar bowls. We definitely have a trend with the edible bowls.”
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Bean said he has ambitions to become a Michelin-star ranked chef, but customers in Kentucky are a little behind the curve of trends in places like New York. He said it’s possible to elevate a Southern staple dish you might be serving with a “big city flair.”
Grab a loaf of locally-made bread to enhance into a bread bowl, he said. You could turn a Tuscan grilled cheese into a Benedictine sandwich. You could even turn something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich into something unexpected.
“I did a Derby grilled cheese once with a tomato bisque shot,” Bean said. “You can make it pimento cheese too, and dress it up with your seasoning, your take. The sky’s the limit.”
Features reporter Dahlia Ghabour covers food, dining trends and restaurants in the Louisville area. Send tips on new places or story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @dghabour.
Pimento ‘grilled cheese’ with tomato bisque shooters
Serves 8-10 people. Courtesy of Chef Nick Bean
- storebought mini croissant
- pimento cheese
- 1 tablespoon garlic
- 1/2 cup herbed goat cheese
- 1 cup Tellamook sharp cheddar
- 16-ounces thick-cut bacon
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 8-10 disposable food pipettes
For the herb butter
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 tbsp parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp basil
For the soup
- I can Campbell’s or favorite tomato bisque
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 2 Tablespoon parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon mint garlic
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Directions: Begin by candying the bacon. Cook bacon on medium heat until the fat renders off. Drain the fat, then add sugar. Turn the bacon as needed as it starts to caramelize. Place on a metal pan to cool. Do NOT use paper towels as it will stick.
Mix herb butter and brush on top of croissants. Toast at 350 degrees F in the oven until golden brown. Add garlic, goat cheese, sharp cheddar to pimento cheese, and mix.
Remove croissants from the oven, cut, and add cheese spread and bacon. Brush the top of the croissant again with herb butter. Return to oven, for 5 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees or until you can see golden brown cheese melting.
Heat the soup in a saucepan and combine with oregano, parmesan cheese, red wine vinegar, and mint garlic. Bring to a boil and simmer until warm. Fill miniature syringes or small bowls. Serve with sandwiches.
Courtesy of Chef Nick Bean
- a loaf of round bread
- oil or butter
- Selected seasonings such as rosemary, thyme, or garlic
Directions:Melt butter and mix in seasonings. Coat loaf of bread with spread. Heat oven to 350 degrees F and toast until golden brown. When cooled, cut a thin slice off the top of the bread. Hollow out the inside, leaving a 1/2 inch shell. Fill with your desired dish. Serve.
Mojo rojo vinaigrette
Courtesy of Chef Mike Wadjda
- 2 garlic cloves, microplaned
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 75 ml red wine vinegar
- 1dried chipotle pepper
- 1 dried guajillo pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Directions: Mix all ingredients together except red wine vinegar and olive oil. Heat olive oil to 150 degrees F. Pour heated olive oil over the mixed ingredients. Add red wine vinegar to the mixed ingredients
If using mushrooms: Clean and trim your mushrooms. In a medium bowl, thoroughly lacquer the desired amount of mushrooms for your party. Using a preheated hot grill, char the mushrooms until cooked through with a good amount of color. In a medium bowl, coat with additional Mojo Rojo. Garnish with chefs or favorite herbs.
If using chicken: Marinate your favorite farmer’s chicken in one cup of the mojo Rojo for four hours. Using a smoker smoke at 225 degrees F for two and a half hours or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F. If using a convection oven cook at 350 degrees F for one hour or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F. Using the residual Mojo Rojo, lacquer the bird throughout the cooking process and use additional for sauce when serving.
Hibiscus Ginger Highball
Courtesy of Heather Wibbels
- 2 ounces Rittenhouse Rye (or any 100 proof or over rye)
- 1/2 ounce hibiscus ginger simple syrup**
- 8 drop Meyer Lemon bitters
- 2 dashes Hella ginger bitters
- 2-4 ounces Hibiscus Lemongrass sparkling beverage (Trader Joe’s)
- Garnish: candied ginger and dried hibiscus flowers (Trader Joe’s)
Directions: Combine rye, simple syrup, and bitters at the bottom of a highball glass. Add bitters and stir. Add ice to the glass, top with a sparkling beverage, and give one last swirl. Garnish with candied ginger and dried hibiscus flower.
**Hibiscus ginger simple syrup: Heat 1 cup of water to a boil and add 1/2 tablespoon of dried hibiscus flowers. Step for 8 minutes. Strain, and add to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of sugar and 1.5 inches of minced, peeled ginger root. (If you don’t have fresh ginger, add 5 pieces of dried ginger root and 1/2 tsp powdered ginger. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let steep for 30. Strain and refrigerate. Store in the fridge for two to 4 weeks.
Courtesy of Heather Wibbels
- 2 ounces Uncle Nearest 1856 bourbon
- 1 ounce lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce cinnamon syrup*
- 1/2 ounce hibiscus syrup
- 3 dashes 1821 aromatic bitters
- 1 egg white
- Garnish: lemon peel studded with clove
Directions: Combine whiskey, lemon juice, cinnamon syrup, hibiscus syrup bitters and egg white in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and shake for 20 seconds. Strain out the ice and re-shake, this time for 30 seconds. Alternative: instead of re-shaking with ice, you can use a hand-held latte whisk for 30 seconds to build a great head of foam. Garnish with clove-studded lemon peel.
*Cinnamon syrup: Heat 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water on the stove to a low simmer. Add 4-5 cracked cinnamon sticks and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the sticks steep in the syrup until completely cool. Strain into a clean glass jar.