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You can bet on bourbon as Derby nears

LEXINGTON, Ky. — As many good Kentuckians know, fine bourbon has a number of aromas and flavors associated with it, making it suitable for drinking and cooking — especially during Derby season.

(This year’s Kentucky Derby takes place May 3.)

Each of the vanilla, caramel, honey, fruit, floral and spice flavors found in bourbon can enhance almost any dish a cook chooses to create, Woodford Reserve master distiller Chris Morris said.

In “A Journey With Bourbon: The Woodford Reserve Culinary Cocktail Tour,” one of the featured chefs, Craig Thompson, said wine adds dimension to a dish but bourbon is even better.

“Good bourbon has more character than even the best wines,” Thompson said. “The flavor is fuller, rounder, and it holds up better in cooking. With wine, you inevitably lose aromatics when cooking. With bourbon, the opposite happens. The subtle flavors become more emphasized as the alcohol cooks down.”

Chef Newman Miller, who grew up in the Bardstown, Ky., area, where there are several distilleries, said he likes cooking with bourbon for several reasons.

“I personally love the smell of sour mash, and the smell of cooking bourbon reminds me of recess at school in Bardstown,” said Miller, who now works for a research and product-development consulting company in Chicago.

“When cooking pork with bourbon, I like to sometimes leave the alcohol and not flash it off, so that it acts not only as a flavoring but also as a tenderizing element. For a dish like white beans, I like to use it to pull all the flavor from the caramelizing bits on the bottom of my pan and slowly reduce, making the smoky, sweet flavors more complex.

Sandra Davis of Springfield, Ky., author of “That Special Touch,” said her mother and grandmother always cooked with bourbon as a flavoring.

“I had a collection of all their recipes, and I specifically wanted to put together recipes that went far beyond desserts,” she said.

Davis, who lives near Maker’s Mark, wanted to include the distillery in her book, and the book become the official history of Maker’s Mark. She prefers Maker’s Mark for flavoring all kinds of dishes.

“Other bourbons are a little strong, in my opinion,” Davis said.

“In That Special Touch,” Davis put bourbon in everything from chutney to cheese balls.

“Just a little bourbon can add your own special touch to any recipe,” she said.

CHEESE BALL, STARRING BOURBON

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained

2 cups chopped pecans

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

3 tablespoons chopped onion

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

2 tablespoons cranberry chutney (recipe follows)

1 1/2 tablespoons Maker’s Mark bourbon

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese slightly; gradually stir in all the other ingredients, reserving 1 cup pecans to roll ball in. Chill well.

Shape into ball and roll in remaining 1 cup pecans. Chill until serving time. Serve with assorted crackers.

From: “That Special Touch,” by Sandra Davis

BOURBON-LACED ONION SOUP

5 cups thinly sliced red onions

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup Maker’s Mark bourbon

2 quarts beef bouillon or broth

1/2 teaspoon basil, or to taste

1 slice toasted French or Italian bread, per person

1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese

In a Dutch oven (or heavy pan), saute sliced onions in butter until soft. Stir in flour to form a paste; pour in bourbon, stirring until smooth. Gradually stir in bouillon; season with basil, and simmer 30 to 40 minutes. Drop a slice of toasted bread into bottom of each soup bowl, fill bowl with onion soup, and sprinkle with cheese. Broil until cheese is golden and bubbly. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

From: “That Special Touch,” by Sandra Davis

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