For many people, it s easy to forget that the first Saturday in May is always Derby Day. This year, that s May 6, just a day after Cinco de Mayo.
For those who can t decide which to celebrate, plan menus for both. Start with a Cinco de Mayo dinner for family on Friday night, then host a Kentucky Derby party on Saturday evening.
For Friday, think about a Mexican feast by adding flavors of Mexico to everyday meals. Cinco de Mayo, Spanish for May 5, commemorates an important Mexican victory over French troops in 1862.
Your family celebration can be as simple as serving tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole or making enchiladas.
Or substitute dried or fresh cilantro for parsley in any dish.
Mix a little dried or fresh cilantro and lime juice with sour cream for a cool dip for spicy shrimp.
Salsa adds freshness and flavor to any dish from grilled chicken to salad. Make a simple salsa with three chopped Roma tomatoes, a dash of dried garlic, half a tomatillo (chopped), teaspoon cumin, teaspoon salt, a fresh lime squeezed, and a cup chopped fresh cilantro.
Grill your own fajitas or make taco salad or tacos.
To accompany your Mexican feast, fix a margarita. Buy ready-to-drink margarita mixes such as those from Jose Cuervo or pick a recipe from 101 Margaritas by Kim Haasarud (Wiley, $15.95). The Classic Margarita is a blend of tequila, simple syrup, Cointreau, and lime and lemon juices.
Simple syrup is equal parts water and sugar (heat one cup water and one cup sugar until dissolved), and may be made ahead and refrigerated. It s also used in mojitos made with rum.
Ms. Haasarud uses two ounces simple syrup in most of the book s margarita variations, such as frozen Strawberry Margarita, Low Carb Marg, and Cosmo Rita. Sake Margarita and firey Sweet Ginger Margarita sound sophisticated. Even the nonalcoholic Shirley Temple Rita is made with simple syrup.
On Saturday, the Kentucky Derby is is scheduled to be run at 6 p.m. in Louisville. Derby Day a time to sip mint juleps and eat Kentucky Burgoo a thick stew full of meats and vegetables chicken wings, country ham on beaten biscuits, benedictine a spread of cream cheese, cucumbers, and dill tinted with green food coloring on mini rye bread or crackers and cheese grits, a Southern classic. For dessert, you have to have that chocolate nut pie named for the Derby, but trademarked by Kern s Kitchen. You can make your own version from scratch.
(Recently, I was tickled to hear some people say that they were outsourcing a menu, meaning that they were not cooking themselves, but opting to buy prepared food at a supermarket or via mail-order or caterer.)
Back to the Derby. Several weeks ago, I was asked how to make an authentic mint julep. I have a classic recipe from Louisville that calls for one teaspoon simple syrup there s that ingredient again per two ounces bourbon, but I have used one tablespoon simple syrup, which makes the mint julep a little sweeter. Of course, you have to have fresh mint from your backyard, if that is possible (see recipe on Page 2).
Spend as little or as much as you want on these simple celebrations.