Just like in past years, Katherine Mueller’s annual Derby Day party will be a fun, festive morning affair, but of course, thanks to Covid-19, it won’t be the same as it has been.
For years, Mueller has had a Derby morning breakfast in her backyard to celebrate the Kentucky tradition. This year will be no different, even though it will be on a much smaller scale and be much more aware of social distancing. There will be masks, but there will still be Kentucky food and plenty of adult beverages.
In typical years, she said, there would be nearly a hundred or so people moving in and out of her house Derby morning – enjoying mimosas, eating hot browns and getting into the spirit of the fastest two minutes in sports.
This year, she said, she’ll scale things back a bit — fewer people, to be sure, and most things happening outside in her backyard.
“I don’t want to be snobby or anything, but I’m going to scale it back for sure,” she said. “One year, we had probably 200 people coming in and out that morning … just for safety reasons, I can’t have that many people right now.”
But for those that do come, they will be in for her usual treats — modified hot browns, a grits buffet, country ham biscuits, a Bloody Mary bar, mimosas and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Mueller said she’ll get some champagne and lots of orange juice to make the mimosas, as well as vodka and Bloody Mary mix to make the Bloody Marys. For her guests though, the fun comes in bringing a few things to garnish their Bloody Marys with.
“It’s gotten completely out of hand with the stuff that people bring,” she said. “I mean, people show up with these really fancy pickles, and pickled okra… One time, someone even brought candied bacon.”
The grits bar, featuring Weisenberger Mill grits, made in Woodford County, and all sorts of different toppings is a big hit too, she said. From cheddar cheese to jalapenos to country ham to chopped up bacon, people are free to add whatever they like to their grits,… as long as it isn’t sweet.
“I don’t allow that kind of behavior in my house,” she joked about sugar, syrup or honey on grits. “We’re decent people and we don’t do that kind of thing … that’s just an abomination.”
Mueller said she does have her own modifications to a Kentucky classic. Not a fan of regular hot browns, Mueller modifies her recipe to serve them on English muffins instead of toast points. The result, she said, is a hot brown that’s lighter, and can be served as an individual portion, instead of a huge artery-clogging entrée.
For dessert, there’ll be lemon bars from Midway Bakery, one of Ouita Michaels restaurants in Woodford County, and strawberry puff tarts from her mom.
It’s important to her, she said, to be as Kentucky-centric as possible to not only celebrate the day, but to support local businesses.
Over the years, the party has evolved. A couple of years she tried adding scrambled eggs to the menu, but found it to be too labor intensive for a morning party.
And one year, she decided to scrap the country ham biscuits — a mistake she said she’ll never make again.
“I left the country ham biscuits off the menu one year, and people were almost ugly about it,” she said. “They were saying ‘Listen lady, I came here for the bottomless mimosas and country ham biscuits, this just isn’t right!’ I felt really bad.”
But over all the years she’s been hosting the party, one thing has always been missing — pictures.
“Hardly anybody ever takes any pictures at this party,” she said. “I think there’s a number of reasons for that — number one, it’s just really a lot of fun and people are just enjoying themselves, and two… it is pretty early in the morning to be drinking mimosas and Bloody Marys, so I think maybe no one wants to out themselves.”
She finds the lack of pictures to be a compliment though.
“I don’t have a lot of photos and sometimes that makes me sad cause I’m like ‘I wish I could remember this that way’,” she said. “But I kind of take it as a compliment, because I think everybody wants to keep it secret. It’s like they’re really enjoying themselves and they don’t feel like they need to have their phones out.”
While this year may be different — a different time of year, a different set of rules — Mueller said it was still important to her to keep the tradition alive and celebrate Kentucky’s unique food and horse race.
The original Kentucky Hot Brown
This recipe originally came from the Brown Hotel in Louisville.
(Recipe courtesy www.allrecipes.com)
½ cup Butter, with salt
½ cup wheat flour, white, all-purpose, enriched, bleached
3 cups milk, reduced fat, fluid, 2% milkfat, with added vitamin A
6 tablespoons cheese, parmesan, grated
1 egg, whole, raw, fresh
2 tablespoons cream, fluid, heavy whipping
1 pinch salt, table
2 pounds turkey, all classes, meat only, cooked, roasted
1 tomatoes, red, ripe, raw
8 English muffin halves
¼ cup cheese, parmesan, grated
8 slices pork, cured, bacon, cooked, broiled, pan-fried or roasted
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour with a whisk or fork, and continue to cook and stir until it begins to brown slightly. Gradually whisk in the milk so that no lumps form, then bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Mix in 6 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and then stir in the beaten egg to thicken. Do not allow the sauce to boil once the egg has been mixed in. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream.
Preheat the oven’s broiler. For each hot brown, place an English muffin half an individual sized casserole dish. Cover with a liberal amount of roasted turkey and tomato slices. Spoon sauce over the top of each one and sprinkle with some of the remaining parmesan cheese.
Place the dishes under the broiler and cook until the top is speckled brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the broiler and arrange two slices of bacon in a cross shape on top of each sandwich. Serve immediately.