Hot Chocolate Bar: Where Dreams Come True and Reindeer Fly

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“Self-serve” does not just apply to gas stations, you know. Parties that include a self-service component (all or some) make a lot of sense because 1: guests are more comfortable when they can eat and drink what they want, when they want, and 2: because your hostess hands are not bogged down in the kitchen; you can hold a glass of champagne and a cupcake which is much easier than if you try to balance both with one hand (I have tried this, sadly, more than once. It doesn’t end well. And people judge.)

Epicurean Group started doing stationed-catering waaayy before Pinterest was born. We practically invented DIY food and beverage stations. Sadly, we did not invent Pinterest. If we did, we would be sitting on a private beach and someone would feeding us grapes, which is the opposite of self-serve.

We have done lot of stations in our years in Denver. Yes, it’s true the 80s were all about The Pasta Bar, but we’ve grown. Oh how we’ve grown.

If I were asked to rate our station celebrations, I would put the mashed potato one at the top. But I was not asked to rate them. I was just asked to write. But it is hard to write when I am practically starving and mashed potatoes sound pretty good right now. Just saying.

Guests seem to delight in an area that is set for one distinct purpose. This, among other reasons, is why bars are still in business. You, too, can create your own holiday eats and drinks stations for friends and family. This year, we thought we’d treat you to a few station ideas on the topic of stations. (We were going to write one lovely little blog on these ideas, but there’s just too much to tackle. And sample.) So, first up: The Hot Chocolate Bar:

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The Hot Chocolate Station – Where Dreams Comes True and Reindeers Fly 

Ingredients :

  • Hot Cocoa Mix (you can make your own like we do at Epi, but c’mon, don’t get crazy at home)
  • Toppers for All*
  • Mix-Ins for Some
  • Mugs or Paper Cups
  • Stir Sticks and Straws
  • Napkins
  • Hot Milk or Hot Water
  • Extras

*Topper Ideas (notice the word ‘ideas’ here – add or subtract what ever floats your marshmallow):

  • White Chocolate Chips
  • Peppermint Sticks
  • Butterscotch Chips
  • Marshmallows (or those darling snowman peeps!)
  • Chocolate Sprinkles
  • Whipped Topping

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For the adult crowd only:

  • Rum
  • Kahlua
  • Peppermint Schnapps
  • Baileys
  • Flavored Vodkas (Smirnoff’s Marshmallow or Whipped Vodka work well with hot cocoa. Or ice. Or straight out of the bottle if you are dealing with small children or out-of-town guests. Or out-of-town guests who have small children.)

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Directions:

  • Place hot chocolate or hot water in an insulated carafe
  • Place mix-ins and toppings in clear glass containers, white paper bags or any other small containers that hiding in the recesses of your pantry. Or head to IKEA or the dollar store and invest in a few inexpensive stemless wine glasses – they come in handy for this idea and others. Like wine.
  • Add stir sticks, straws, mugs and liquors
  • Print out some labels or write some of your own (I use paint sample cards and a hole puncher)
  • Enjoy

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Tune in next week for our next station blog!

 

 

 submitted by Stephanie Blackford

 

Putting It All On The Table: Delicious Decorating Ideas

 

Cinnamon sticks smell so good...nobody will notice you burned Christmas goose...

Cinnamon sticks smell so good…nobody will notice you burned Christmas goose…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Isn’t that how the song goes? We should know, considering the Christmas music starts earlier and earlier. I, for one, love all things holiday, except the wine stains on the carpet and the required weight gain (I am a certified expert at both – we all have our special talents).

After spending many years in the catering and event planning business, combined with my many years of overcommitting to social engagements that seem to always be at my house, I can set a table in my sleep. Well, not sleep per se, but bleary-eyed zombie-like state from too little rest and too many quality checks of the margaritas during the party prep. I never learn. Does tequila really go with stuffing prep or potato peeling? I say yes. Martha Stewart would be appalled, but Martha had three fewer children than I, and she has a driver, so I am right.

If anyone can pull together a beautiful table, it’s Epicurean. Why? Because Larry DiPasquale is a perfectionist and was born with incomparable taste.

Not that we have to set a gorgeous table, because once Epicurean’s food arrives and the wine is poured, we could be serving our fare on cafeteria trays and everyone would still be happy. It’s that good. I’ve told you about the risotto, right?

Anyway, table settings need not be fancy or frilly, but they do need to be pretty and functional. Here’s a sneak peek to some stunning but simple tablescapes that won’t have you reaching for the tequila.

Fresh rosemary adds just enough green to a simple tablescape.

Fresh rosemary adds just enough green to a simple tablescape.

 

Use a painter's dropcloth as a tablecloth - so inexpensive you won't feel guilty throwing it out at the end of dinner.

Don’t want a bare table? Use a painter’s dropcloth as a tablecloth or cut them into napkins – it’s so inexpensive you won’t feel guilty throwing everything out at the end of dinner.

 

Feeling bold? Break out of the green and red tradition and go for a more modern palette.

Feeling bold? Break out of the green and red tradition and go for a more modern palette.

 

 

...or deck out your table in creamy white.

…or deck out your table in creamy white.

 

Vintage decor is always in style. This DIY centerpiece would be a fun take-away for guests.

Vintage decor is always in style. This DIY centerpiece would be a fun take-away for guests. I just noticed similar ornaments at West Elm – so cute!

 

This menorah makes a Hanukah table even more special.

This sweet menorah makes a Hanukah table even more special.

 

Cleaned-up tin cans covered with blue paper celebrate the Hanukah season.

Cleaned-up tin cans covered with blue paper celebrate the Hanukah season.

Old song sheets makes forks more festive!

Old song sheets makes forks more festive!

Greenery isn't just for mistletoe.

Greenery isn’t just for mistletoe.

Gold accents paired with chalkboard paint keep this look from being too frilly.

Gold accents paired with earthy add-ons keep this look from being too frilly.

Dig out an old Scarbble game and use the pieces for a cheeky design.

Dig out an old Scarbble game and use the pieces for a cheeky design.

This plaid screams cozy holiday. A tartan throw used for nights by the fire turns a table into something special.

This plaid screams cozy holiday. A tartan throw used for nights by the fire turns a table into something special.

Family photographs ups the aaawww factor.

Family photographs ups the aaawww factor.

Holiday books get an elevated status when built into a funky Christmas tree.

Holiday books get elevated status when built into a funky Christmas tree.

Add a spring of something green (and not poisonous) to your stemware. This quick decoration adds some personality to the table and a new spin on cocktails. Try lavender or a small skewer of cranberries.

Add a spring of something green (and not poisonous) to your stemware. This photo is clearly for decoration only, but by using something edible, you can add some personality to the table and a new spin on cocktails. Try lavender or a small skewer of cranberries.

Weddings: It’s Personal

Personalized weddings? We'll drink to that. Then again, we'll drink to anything.

Personalized weddings? We’ll drink to that. Then again, we’ll drink to anything.

 

If weddings should be anything, they should be personal, right? After all, it’s the one day you are pronounced husband and wife. The only other times you are pronounced something it involves words like ‘guilty’ or ‘dead’  – and that’s not nearly as much fun.

With sites like Etsy and tools like Pinterest (what would life be without you, Pinterest?) and caterers like Epicurean, each and every wedding can – and should – be unique. If you are going to celebrate becoming part of a couple, you might as well splash your new coupled name over everything. This is your one shot to be the center of attention (besides the guilty and dead days mentioned earlier, of course).

I love monograms and nameplates and initial jewelry and business cards and Sharpies that leave a permanent mark on pretty much anything. It may be because my mother called me ‘Amy’ for the first three weeks of life, though my birth certificate and every subsequent document since clearly states ‘Stephanie.’ True story.

There are fancy ways to personalize a wedding, and there are simple ways. So if you can’t swing a skywriter, try these tricks instead:

 

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A personalized send off.

Table numbers with personalized photos.

Table numbers with personalized photos.

Stir sticks from the newly married.

Stir sticks from the newly married.

A new twist on the guest book.

A new twist on the guest book.

Fun place cards!

Fun place cards!

Custom wine labels are savvy (and a sneaky way to serve less expensive wines).

Custom wine labels are savvy (and a sneaky way to serve less expensive wines).

Table runners with the couple's monogram is simple and sweet.

Table runners with the couple’s monogram is simple and sweet.

The traditional matchbook with a non-traditional look makes this keepsake more modern.

The traditional matchbook with a non-traditional look makes this keepsake more modern.

 

Peaches vs. Lima Beans – What’s In Your Margarita?

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Peaches are my favorite fruit. I even named one of my children Georgia. Granted, sometimes she is not all together peachy, but … anyway.

The sad thing about peaches is that they are only in season for a short time, so I spend these few weeks making memories with my beloved peaches. Peach pancakes, peach smoothies, peach cobbler, and peach margaritas, to name a few. The memories after the peach margaritas are a smidge fuzzy, but…anyway.

I am making this recipe tonight, if I can keep my crew of four (and their friends) away from the gorgeous peaches on my counter. Epicurean, as usual, is cooking and creating with seasonal items and our kitchens are chock full of this glorious fruit. The peach tarts I eyed the other day  could have been on the cover of a magazine. That’s the other great thing about peaches – they are pretty! Unlike lima beans which are – um – not. And lima bean margaritas just don’t have the same appeal, do they?

Speaking of magazines, this recipe comes from Real Simple. Enjoy.

Chicken with Grilled Peaches and Arugula 

Serves 4| Hands-On Time: 20m| Total Time: 20m
Ingredients

  • 4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 medium red onions, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
  • 3 peaches, cut into wedges
  • 1 bunch arugula, thick stems removed (about 4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 ounces blue cheese, broken into pieces

Directions

  • Heat grill to medium-high.
  • Brush the chicken with 1 teaspoon of the oil and season with ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper.
  • In a bowl, toss the onions, peaches, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper.
  • Grill the chicken and onions until the chicken is cooked through and the onions are tender, 5 to 6 minutes per side.
  • Grill the peaches until charred, 2 minutes per side.
  • Toss the arugula with the onions, peaches, vinegar, and remaining oil.
  • Top with the cheese.
  • Serve with the chicken.

 

Out Of Africa: Wine Tasting

Image (view from Delaire Graff – aka – heaven)

I recently returned from a trip to Botswana. As in Africa. I was so inspired by the menus, the decor, the wine, the people, and the animals that I came back with loads of blog topics to share with you, our faithful foodie readers.

This is not one of those blogs.

I started on several blogs that were read-worthy – full of wonderful ideas and beautiful photos and lots of pithy humor and more.  But I am finding myself wallowing in despair because I miss Africa in a way that I can’t describe. So I won’t try.

As you well know, I turn to food or drink when times get tough. And we are out of jelly beans so I am focusing on drink. Wine, to be exact.

After our many days and nights on safari, we landed in Cape Town and embarked on a fantastic winelands tour, stopping off at Rustenberg Winery for a tasting before heading to Delaire Graff for lunch. I imagine the view from heaven is the same as the view from the deck of Delaire Graff, which is good to know because based on some of my past behavior, who knows where I’ll end up in the end. And at least I got to spend a buzzy afternoon in the promised land.

But – back to wine. We were introduced to the Riedel tasting glass at Rustenberg and were immediately smitten. This little glass has an empty stem, allowing for the perfect pour when tasting a wine. We were mesmerized; you can roll the glass around on the table without spilling a drop! SUCH a fun party trick and a great gift idea.

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(Kathleen, Rebecca, and Andy at Rustenberg – look closely and you can see the tipped glass!)

The glass was designed to emphasize the aromas and evaluate different wines in a small period of time. Apparently some people don’t open the wine and start gulping it down right away. These are the same people who don’t have four children and can do the New York Times crossword in pen. These are the same people who don’t know the sheer pleasure of pouring a mid-priced chardonney into a thermos prior to attending yet another showing of Frozen. 

I searched the web for a video of Riedel’s tasting glass, but I had very little luck because Riedel’s videos were a bit stuffy. So – thank you James The Wine Guy, for being sort of human.  And may I suggest something light and crisp for your thermos?Image (Delaire Graff’s delicious wine – I’m in the background gulping sipping in a ladylike fashion)

Food Addiction – The Real Thing?

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I joke about food addiction all the time, but it is a real thing. I didn’t realize how real until I read the latest issue of Experience Life Magazine, a publication put out by Lifetime Fitness, the gym where I donate $162 each month.

Anyway.

Dr. Mark Hyman’s article, “Beating Food Addiction” simplifies what can be a mystifying problem for many people. Food addiction must affect many, considering 70 percent of Americans are overweight. Why else do so many of us “eat foods that we know aren’t good for us, that aggravate chronic symptoms, and that make us feel sick, bloated, and guilty?”

The answer is tricky, but we are biologically programmed to eat sugar- and fat-laden foods and store the extra calories (as fat) to carry us through the times when food is scarce. But the food we are storing on the inside is never used, because we live in the 21st century and not in a cave. I do know some people that should live in a cave, but that’s not what this is about.

According to Dr. Hyman, it’s biology that’s getting the best of us. “What saved us as hunter-gatherers is killing us now,” he writes. Well-said, and pretty sad.

So how do you know if you have a food addiction and not just an unhealthy love of potato chips? You can take a look at Dr. Kelly Brownell’s nine points below – the more intensely or more frequently you experience these feelings and behaviors, the more addicted you are. (FYI: I am in some major trouble here.)

  1. You consume certain foods even if you are not hungry because of cravings.
  2. You worry about cutting down on certain foods.
  3. You feel sluggish or fatigued from overeating.
  4. You have health or social problems (affecting school or work) because of food
issues and yet keep eating the way you do despite negative consequences.
  5. You have spent time dealing with negative feelings from overeating certain foods instead of spending time in important activities with family, friends, work, or recreation.
  6. You have had withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and anxiety when you cut down on certain foods (not including caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, and energy drinks).
  7. Your behavior with respect to food and eating causes you significant distress.
  8. Issues related to food and eating decrease your ability to function effectively in your daily routine, at your job or school, and in social or family activities.
  9. You need more and more of the foods you crave to either experience any pleasure and/or reduce negative emotions.

So now what? Dr. Hyman recommends a comprehensive detox, not just eliminating a few trigger foods. A 10-day, cold turkey detox that eschews gluten, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar and celebrates lean protein, nuts, fruits, vegetables and water.

This is nothing new. We all know this and we don’t all do this and why? Because we’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid – literally – for years. We have been ingesting a drug in the form of something as innocent-looking as a vitamin water. It’s not our fault necessarily, but it is our problem.

Dr. Hyman’s book and supporting articles offer a bit of hope by simplifying the reason behind food issues, eliminating the guilt associated with them, and offering steps towards success.

Heidi Wachter tried Dr. Hyman’s detox and shared her daily insights. Reading about her experience was inspiring, until the part when she mentioned she’s been trying to “put on weight.” So then I hated her. But just for a second.

I originally wrote this post with a plan to post one of Dr. Hyman’s recipes, but if you are serious about attempting his plan, one little recipe is not going to help. So check out some of the resources he offers and fill us in on your success.

Epicurean has and always will offer a variety of foods and we never label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for our guests since we are all different cavemen and cavewomen. But – writing this blog reminded me of the importance of enjoying good food in any situation, while also being true to yourself and your needs. That’s why we encourage our guests to speak up when they need or want something different on their plate or at their table. And we won’t send you back to your cave just for asking.

Now It’s Turmeric? How Much Trend Can We Take?

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I recently read Linda Yellin’s piece “When Did Kale Get A Publicist?” in More Magazine and laughed out loud. Well, first I sort of whimpered because More Magazine just started appearing in my mailbox and I couldn’t figure out why until someone told me, not so gently, that it was because I hit the age of 40. They should just call it Forty – just like they call it Seventeen. It’s mean to tease old people.

After overcoming my surprise and stretching my arms reaallllyyy far in front of my face in order to actually read the article, I wanted to be Yellin’s friend, or at least shop and dine with her. She, too, had a childhood that included weekly meatloaf and a mother who didn’t once ask what I’d like for dinner. I had that mother. I am that mother now. Call me vintage, but with four children, you don’t get a vote on dinner. You just get a designated seat and a plate of food and sometimes a dessert. You’re welcome.

As Yellin points out, trendy foods don’t slowly make their way into our lives, they take over:

“These hot items from the food world don’t just show up on the grocery shelf; they explode into our lives. Suddenly, it’s kale in your face 24/7. Good-bye, olive oil. Hello, coconut oil. Me? I’m still mourning orange roughy. There was a time you couldn’t open a menu without an orange roughy special. But somewhere along the way, wild salmon kicked its ass.” Well said, Yellin, well said.

I recently read in WSJ Magazine that turmeric is today’s hot and trendy spice. “Tumeric is the new kale,” said Sunitha Ramaiah. Oh. Tumeric you say? Alrighty.

Coincidentally, Ramaiah recently launched Manjoor Estates juices to “enlighten Western palates about the curative benefits and complex flavors of spices from her family farm.” This explains why she is not touting the benefits of pineapple I guess.  I always feel a little bit enlightened after my third glass of sangria, but apparently turmeric will enlighten me even more. Wonder which one I’ll like more?

All digs aside, turmeric is actually extremely beneficial. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, the spice may delay liver damage (from the sangria?), reduce carcinogenic compounds formed in meats that are fried, broiled or barbequed, can inhibit the growth of skin cancer and slow the spread of breast cancer to the lungs, and stave off Alzheimer’s disease.

I heard Halle Berry makes a paste of turmeric and water and exfoliates her face every few days. And Halle Barry is, well, Halle Berry need I say more?

Still, keeping tabs on all of the benefits of all the foods and all the spices and all plants in the world is impossible, so why try? Eating good, healthy, minimally processed food and getting some sort of exercise on a regular basis is really the simplest recipe for success. In the meantime, here’s another simple recipe that includes that trendy new spice turmeric (that’s been around for centuries). Cheers to turmeric! And if all else fails, may I suggest some sangria?

Golden Elixer (courtesy of Whole Living Magazine)

Prep time: 1 minutes | Cook time: 1 minute | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • Cayenne
  • Honey

Directions:

  1. In a mug, stir together water, lemon juice, turmeric, ginger, cayenne and honey (to taste) until combined.
  2. Drink.