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Biscuit and Country Ham sandwiches

All Photos: Ramona King

Biscuit and Country Ham sandwiches

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10 party-perfect recipes (and serving suggestions) for a best-ever Kentucky Derby

Set your watches now: The most exciting two minutes in sports are less than two weeks away. And, sure, while it would be fine to tune in to the Kentucky Derby from your living room, throwing a Derby-themed party is far better. We'll have plenty of guides and suggestions for hosting your own event up soon, but while you're patiently waiting, you may as well start planning your shopping list now.

We've gathered 10 recipes that are straight from the Bluegrass State (or at least inspired by it). They'll all sit pretty on a party-perfect buffet and will be perfectly suited for an afternoon affair, before, after and during the race. Don't forget the hats and bowties!

Country Ham and Biscuit Sandwiches
What better centerpiece for any party than a giant country ham? Slice some ahead of time for guests to slip into flaky buttermilk biscuits, along with jams and jellies for them to choose. (We love both apple cider-bourbon jelly and mixed berry jam.) Leave the remaining ham on the center of the buffet, for eye candy.
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Hot Brown Dip
For a party-ready twist on the classic Hot Brown, we made the turkey-bacon-tomato sandwich into an easy-to-share dip. Mix diced roast turkey (you can totally just buy deli meat) in with the cheesy mornay sauce before topping it with crisp bacon and roasted tomatoes. Pop the whole thing under the broiler just before guests arrive — and if you prepare it all in a cast iron skillet, it'll stay warm and gooey for plenty of time.
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Benedictine Tea Sandwiches
Another Kentucky classic, cucumber- and dill-filled benedictine is traditionally served as a dip. We gave the recipe a bit of an upgrade by taking inspiration from tea sandwiches. Make the dip in advance (really, all it requires is a small amount of chopping and stirring) and then spread it between good ol' white bread. Remove the crusts and slice into triangles to serve.
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Deviled Eggs
They may not be specifically Kentuckian, but deviled eggs are, at least in our opinion, a must-have at just about any Southern gathering. To make things easy, make a classic deviled egg filling for every serving. Mix in three (or more) different toppings, such as scallions, bacon or paprika, to add variety and interest to your display platter.
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Pimento Cheese Horse and Crudite
Channel your inner racehorse by molding pimento cheese into the shape of this year's winner. You can use any pimento cheese recipe you'd like, but make sure to lightly puree the mixture in a food processor to make it into a moldable texture. Use raw veggies to build a scene around the horse, as you'd like. Pile extra crudite and crackers into various serving dishes — because you can never have enough crudite.
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Bourbon Balls
A staple of distillery tours throughout Kentucky, these bourbon balls are one of the easiest dessert recipes we know. And you can stack them tall and proud on a dessert display to keep them in easy reach all party long. Since it’s being mixed with sugar, pecans and cookie crumbs, don’t waste your best bourbon in this recipe, where its nuances will be masked. This is one of those instances where budget-friendly bourbons are welcome.
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Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie Baklava
Turn hard-to-serve pie into bite-sized treats with this phyllo-filled twist on classic Kentucky pie. Not just a fun gimmick, this preparation allows you to not only make dessert entirely in advance (in fact, it's better for it), it also corrals each serving into its own cute little wrapper. Feel free to modify the filling as you'd like; we prefer mini chocolate chips and pecans, but you can add in a splash of bourbon and switch out the nuts as you'd like.
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Mint Julep
No Derby party would be complete without the quintessential Kentucky cocktail, the mint julep. To make it easy on yourself, make a big batch of mint-infused simple syrup and serve it alongside a big bucket of crushed ice, a bottle of your favorite bourbon and plenty of fresh mint. Guests can make them as strong and as sweet as they'd like.
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Oaks Lily Cocktail
The unsung cocktail hero of Churchill Downs, the Oaks Lily cocktail is perfect for those who may not be in the mood for a mint julep. The cocktail is a slightly sweeter riff on a cosmopolitan; however, the sweetness is tempered by the tartness of the cranberry juice. To make it easy to serve, you can mix the orange liqueur, lemon juice, simple syrup and cranberry juice in a big batch and have your guests mix it with ice and vodka to taste. 
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Moonshine Mule
An even easier non-bourbon cocktail option is this simple but tasty riff on a Moscow Mule. We've replaced the vodka with good ol' Southern moonshine, a.k.a. unaged white whiskey, and served it alongside ginger ale and lime wedges. Feel free to have your guests make their own drinks as they'd like 'em. Copper mugs are the most traditional serving glass, but you can always substitute Collins glasses or Mason jars instead.
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Author image

Kate Williams is the editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She is also an on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She has been working in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.

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