Hey, y’all! It’s Derby Day! So pull out your Jack Roger’s and Lilly’s, get that hair shiny and big, and let’s gamble! And drink! When James was growing up, we always had such a good time at our own Kentucky Derby party. A couple of hours before the race, we’d start mixing our drinks. Jimmy and I would have juleps and James would have Sprite with a couple of cherries. Jimmy would measure from my grandfather’s silver jigger. Drinks just tasted so much better out of that thing! And the mint, without fail, came from the garden. I had juleps for the longest time until the year Jimmy made them with confectioners sugar instead of granulated sugar. No simple syrup, just powdered sugar. No muddling, just powdered sugar. Lordy! After that I thought, “Why ruin perfectly good bourbon by adding anything to it other than ice??” And y’all know, I LOOOVE my bourbon! While I prepared a little pick-up food, James and Jimmy would be cutting out of the newspaper all the names of the horses in the running. James would then fold them into teeny-tiny bits and into a pretty little bowl they would go. The pre-race highlights would always be on early and whenever one of us would walk by the television set we’d stop and catch some pretty filly prancing about, tossing her mane, sometimes of the four-legged variety, sometimes of the two. We’d each carve out our little space in the study and get down to business. Serious business.
Picking our horses. Jimmy and I would graciously let James choose first. After all, he is our child. He should be awarded first pick in the gambling game! Round and round we would go until the little bowl was empty and we had our prospective winners before us. We’d each settle back, leisurely going over each horse, the odds, and it’s stats. The beauty of our competition was that after randomly picking the horses, you didn’t have to pick the winner, you didn’t have to commit. All you had to do was hold the name of the winning horse! As the race would grow closer and closer, I would bring whatever I had prepared, just a little something pretty to nibble on with your drink, something civilized, to the study. We so enjoyed ourselves! Then, all of a sudden, we’d hear the first strains of “My Old Kentucky Home”. Just to mess with James I would insist we ALL stand up while the song played. I’m mean that way. The last few years we got together on Derby Day, James just flat out refused to stand up! “Sorry, Mama. Just ain’t happenin’”. It was alright because, by then, I had had a couple of cocktails and the song would just about move me to tears! It is just the saddest! I mean really! “…then my old Kentucky Home, good night!” I’m not alluding to other parts of the song, I recognize they’re controversial, only that it’s a really sad anthem. However, I am fickle and childlike, so after a few more sips and maybe a bite or two, I was back to my wicked, happy self! And then came the race!!! All three of us would start out leaning forward, calling out to our best performers, “C’mon, Easy Grades!” “Awright, Proud Citizen!” “Do it, War Emblem! Woo hoo!” Actually, I was the only one that yelled “Woo hoo!”. The race was over and to the winner went the spoils! All $27.00! (Or whatever Jimmy had in his pocket that day!) If Jimmy won, he’d just put the money back in his wallet and I’d just steal it the following day for groceries!! If either James or I won, we’d squirrel it away in some top-secret hiding place. And since we had good food and drink, there were never hurt feelings when the race was over. Who says gambling isn’t a wholesome family activity?
Cheese straws are one of the many classic Southern foods served at get togethers, big and small. They are served at parties, luncheons, weddings, funerals, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year and they are served with cocktails. So, you won’t see too many of them at a church’s Sunday dinner! They’re easy on the eye, uncomplicated and effortless. Many, and I’m one of them, maintain rolls of cheese straw dough in their refrigerator, especially during holiday times. It’s as simple as pulling a portioned roll out of the freezer, as it softens, slice and bake! I’m sure more than a few of you have looked at the photo above and thought, “pecans?”. Well, I make my cheese straws a little differently thus ratcheting up the flavor just a little bit more. The pecan takes first place in the South and I am a HUGE fan. I place the finished dough on a sheet of plastic wrap, fold the plastic over and form the dough into logs. Tightly wrapped, they chill in the refrigerator to rest and firm up. When I’m ready to bake I take them out, cut the logs into 1/4″ thick rounds and brush lightly with just a touch of egg white. To that is crowned a gorgeous, sweet, mahogany pecan half. Heaven! Put a pretty glass packed with ice and some really smooth bourbon next to a cunning little plate of these cheese straws… and well, it’s better than cookies and crack!!!
yield: approx. 50 (but remember you can portion the dough and freeze it for up to 3 months)
- 1/2 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated and at room temperature
- 1 stick soft butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, you can cut back if you like, we like ours with a little kick
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Whole pecan halves, you’ll need one for each round of dough
- 1 egg white
Preheat oven to 325°.
- Mix all dry ingredients together then add the moist, mixing well. mix into a dough that is somewhat soft and pliable.
- Tear sheets of plastic wrap to your desired lengths and drop dough onto plastic wrap. Fold to cover, shape into logs, wrap well and chill in refrigerator until hard and stiff.
- Line a baking pan with parchment paper or tin foil.
- Cut dough into rounds no more than 1/4″ thick.
- Place rounds on prepared baking sheet, they can be close but leave a quarter-inch between them.
- With a brush or your finger, dab a little egg white into the middle of each round and gently but firmly press a pecan half into dough.
- Bake 15 to 20 minutes.