It's a sure bet at Keeneland Race Course that bread pudding, corned beef and burgoo will be on the menu during the spring racing meet. These dishes are standards.
But when it comes to feeding race fans, the chefs at Turf Catering are adding new items, taking off a few, and experimenting with others, to keep the menus fresh and appealing each season.
Turf Catering handles the food served at the race track and clubhouse, and for all events at Keene Place, the historic Keene family home; and the Keene Barn where weddings, fundraising events, and corporate seminars are held year round.
Turf general manager Ed Boutilier and his staff follow the latest food trends, as well as sticking with the "old country club" favorites.
"We have to keep changing all the time, because we have so many people returning," he said.
Sometimes new ideas come from their clients, such as the hosts for a recent Garden & Gun event.
"They suggested a biscuit buffet; we put it on the menu and it's just taken off," Boutilier said.
A biscuit bar set up at Keene Place recently can easily be created at home for a brunch before heading to Keeneland or the Derby.
Peck baskets are stacked with small biscuits that are the base for fillings that can range from butter and honey to pimento cheese and smoked chicken. Fresh fruit, thinly sliced country ham, sausages, chutney and charred brie and figs, are a few of the options. Sometimes a soup or egg dish is added to the table.
"Anything goes with biscuits," Boutilier said.
In keeping with the humble biscuit theme, fresh flowers are arranged in old-fashioned milk glass containers. Candy dishes are ideal for holding flavored honeys, and a vintage hob nail glass dish is an excellent choice for holding seared and smoked sliced chicken.
Biscuits come in a variety of sizes in the supermarket freezer case, or even in a pop-open can. But a homemade biscuit is more than just a bread to hold jam.
Belinda Ellis, in her new book Biscuits, a Savor the South cookbook (The University of North Carolina Press, $18), said: "The old-school bread in the South is trendy across the country."
Ellis has traveled the country for the White Lily flour company, teaching people to make biscuits.
"The memories of biscuits live on; they're the stuff of immortality, a remembrance of simple times. The art of making them was once passed down through the family right along with the cast-iron skillets and handmade quilts," she wrote.
The South adopted biscuits for several reasons, Ellis said. The ingredients were readily available because the wheat that makes the best flour for biscuits grows in Southern climates, and lard from easy-to-raise hogs, and buttermilk left over from churning butter, were easy to come by.
The best flour for making biscuits is 100 percent soft wheat flour, no matter what the brand, Ellis said. The flakiness and flavor are dependant on the choice of fat. Lard, shortening or butter? You can decide. The buttermilk should be whole, and if you don't use it often, you can make acidified milk by adding 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar to 1 cup milk and letting it stand for 10 minutes.
Here's a recipe from Biscuits: a Savor the South cookbook by Belinda Ellis.
I- can't-believe-biscuits-can-be-this-easy cream biscuits
2 cups soft wheat self-rising flour
1 to 3 teaspoons sugar, optional
1 cup heavy whipping cream, plus more for brushing the tops
All-purpose flour, for dusting
Melted butter, for brushing the tops
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Use a nonstick cake pan or baking sheet. Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl and whisk in the sugar, if desired. Make a well in the center and pour in the cream. Starting at the sides of the bowl, use a spatula or wooden spoon to toss the flour over the cream. Continue to work in the flour from the sides of the bowl, just until the dough comes together.
If the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl and sticks to your fingers, you have the right amount of cream. If there are dry spots and the dough isn't sticky when you touch it, add more cream.
Dust a surface with all-purpose flour and turn the dough out onto the surface. Flour your hands, then cuddle the dough by pressing your hands around the outer edges. Pat and press the top of the dough with your floured hands. Fold the dough in half, pat it, and fold it again. Repeat this two or three times until the outside of the dough feels less sticky and becomes smooth.
Use a rolling pin or pat the dough to flatten it to the desired thickness: 1/2-inch for traditional biscuits or up to 1 inch for very tall biscuits. Cut the biscuits using a 2-inch biscuit cutter without twisting the cutter. Place the biscuits in the cake pan or baking sheet so they touch if you like soft sides or about 1/2-inch apart for crisper sides.
Combine the leftover pieces of dough and cuddle them with your hands, handling the dough as little as possible. Cut more biscuits. Form the remaining scraps into a snake and place it around the biscuits. This will make the biscuits rise more evenly. (And the snake makes a crispy extra for the cook.) Brush the tops with a bit of cream.
Bake the biscuits in the center of the oven until they're light golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Brush the tops with melted butter.