This is my mom’s recipe, and there is no appetizer on this earth that is easier to make or that I like better.
Soften two sticks of unsalted butter by letting them sit at room temperature for a few minutes (please don’t use your microwave-- it will make them too soft, and it will be horribly gross to work with, and I think it traumatizes the butter). Add two cups of sharp shredded cheddar cheese, 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract, and 1 cup of chopped pecans. Use your hands to mix all of that together and shape it into a ball. Roll the ball in a few more chopped pecans (I like to use much bigger pieces of pecan and a few whole pecans on the outside-- your cheese ball should look fabulous). Wrap your cheddar butter ball in plastic and keep it chilled until 30 minutes before your guests arrive. Let it hang out at room temperature for those 30 minutes so that it’s soft enough to cut into. Serve it with any kind of cracker or bread.
Bourbon Caramel Corn
I basically added some bourbon to my favorite recipe for caramel corn and was pretty excited about the result.
Make two to three bags of microwave popcorn according to the instructions (you want to use natural popcorn, not buttered or movie or kettle or whatever-- just popcorn, you’re going to add the magic). Set your popcorn aside in a large pot, and preheat your oven to 200 degrees. In a saucepan, melt 1 cup (two sticks-- I know!) of unsalted butter with 2 cups of packed brown sugar (I know!), 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup of corn syrup (I know! I know!). I also add a tablespoon of Kosher salt. Bring your caramel concoction to a boil, and let it boil for 5 minutes (and give it some love-- stir it frequently). After it comes to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of baking soda.
Let me say that again: ADD 1 TEASPOON OF BAKING SODA. Don’t forget to do this, or your popcorn is going to be a sticky mess that will probably require years of dental work to deal with. Your teeth will never forgive you. Put in the baking soda.
After you stir in the baking soda and get a foamy mixture happening, add 1 cup of Maker’s Mark and stir it in. Pour this deliciousness over the popcorn and stir. Put it in the oven for 1 hour, but (and PLEASE don’t skip this step, either-- your popcorn needs your attention) stir it every fifteen minutes. Spread it out on wax paper to dry, and then enjoy it. (Caution: I don’t make this to just have around our house because I will eat every single crumb of it.)
The Main Events
Bourbon and Coke Ham
If you’ve eaten at my house, you’ve probably had my Mom’s coca-cola ham. It’s just delicious and too easy not to roll out at every opportunity. You’ve got to have some low maintenance dishes on your menu, and this one never disappoints.
So, here’s the deal. You need to go to the grocery store and buy yourself a ham. Any kind of ham that is already cooked. You can get it sliced or not. It can have a bone in it or not (but if it does, I’d take all of the meat off the bone). You’ve got your ham? Good. Now go get your crockpot off the shelf and drop your ham in there. Pour coca-cola on it (If you are, like me, from a place where every soda or soft drink or carbonated beverage of any type is called “coke,” then I need to tell you that you should be using coke that comes in a red can or bottle, and you should not under any circumstances no matter what is going on your life or mind use diet or zero or whatever. Loaded Coke only). Now, how much do you want to taste bourbon? For me, the answer is, “not much.” So I added 1/2 cup of bourbon. You add however much you want.
Set your crockpot on low. Let your ham and coke and bourbon simmer for 4 to 6 hours. That’s it. Serve it. You’re done. How easy was that?
Chicken that Whispers “Bourbon”
Not everyone likes ham, right? So I bought some chicken drumsticks-- 18 of them, but I suggest that you not buy that many unless you have a lot of people coming over. I generously put salt and pepper on both sides of them, spread them on a cookie sheet, and put them in the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes (just watch them-- they need to cook all the way through, that’s all).
I tossed them in a mixture of the following: 1 whole big cup of bourbon, 1 cup of ketchup, 3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon of ground mustard, 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon paprika. I liked the flavor, but I should have doubled the recipe for the massive amount of chicken I was making. Hopefully you aren’t cooking for a small country and will enjoy some big bold flavor on your 4 to 6 drumsticks.
Place a bag of baby carrots in a saucepan with: 1 cup of water, 1/4 cup bourbon, 1/4 cup of maple syrup, some dots of butter (I used probably 3 tablespoons). Simmer for about an hour, or until the carrots are as soft as you like them.
I know that you want to add brown sugar, and if you need to do that, you go right ahead. Brown sugar is going to give you more of a glaze. I like to leave it out so that the carrots have sweetness without the thickness of a glaze. Do whatever you like. It’s your kitchen. No one is the boss of you.
Are you tired of bourbon yet? Me, too. So let’s do another easy, but non-bourboned side.
Cook a box of elbow noodles in salty boiling water. Mix them with 1 cup of cottage cheese, 1/4 cup buttermilk, 2 beaten eggs, and 2 cups of sharp shredded cheddar cheese. Mix all of that together, dot it with a little tiny bit of butter, and bake it at 350 for 40 minutes.
I also made a sweet potato casserole and corn muffins. I’m sorry, but those recipes are just between me and my Mom. My friend who hosted the party made a spinach salad that was delicious and lightened up all of this richness. We had an option for dessert-- chocolate cake, or amaretto peaches with vanilla ice cream (if you want to make these peaches, peel and slice 6 peaches, and put them in a bowl with about two tablespoons of sugar. Let them get married to the sugar while you eat dinner. Then place them in a saucepan with a pinch of nutmeg and a splash of amaretto. Simmer them until they are warm and soft, then pour them over ice cream).