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

 

How to Justify A Pan of Chocolate Chip Bars (totally doable!)

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I am (supposed) to be following an anti-inflammatory eating plan that (in theory) does not include things like flour, sugar, alcohol and M&Ms. This is what Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid looks like:

Anti-InflammatoryDiet

Hmmm. Pass.

There is a great site called Tasty Yummies that I’ve been perusing on and off hoping to generate some more ideas for the anti-inflammatory lifestyle. While I am not in love with the name of the site, considering it sounds like something a mother who dresses herself and her child in identical homemade outfits would use, the recipes are great. Today’s highlighted recipe was this fabulous Roasted Curry Cauliflower with Feta and Cilantro dish.

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Hmm. Pass.

So instead, I did a little more digging for you, dear readers, and found this delish surprise. And then I made it. And then I ate it. For you. You are so welcome.

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Grain-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars – Gluten-Free + Dairy-Free (courtesy of Tasty Yummies)

Prep time: 25 minutes | Bake time: approximately 25 minutes | Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour (I use Honeyville)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 
1/3 cup honey
  • 2 extra-large local farm fresh brown eggs
  • 
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted, plus extra to grease the pan
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 
1 tablespoon unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • 3/4 cup dairy-free gluten-free semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350º F and lightly grease the bottom and sides of an 8″ square baking pan with coconut oil.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients.
  • In a smaller bowl, add all of the wet ingredients.
  • Mix well with a hand mixer or a whisk.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix very well with a hand mixer.
  • Fold in the chocolate chips you didn’t eat along the way with a spatula.
  • Pour all of the batter into the greased pan and spread evenly with a spatula or your hands and gently press.
  • Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the top is nice and golden brown and the center is no longer doughy.
  • Allow to cool 10-15 minutes before cutting into bars (or they could fall apart.

*These keep best in an air-tight container in the fridge. They can be warmed in the microwave for a few seconds when serving to take the chill off.

 

 

submitted by Stephanie Blackford

No Bake Fourth of July Desserts – Let Freedom (From the Kitchen) Ring!

As you may know, I am a fan of desserts. Like, if I were a teenager, I would have posters of cakes on my wall. It’s that bad.

But I am also a fan of feeding my crew healthy, non-food dyed, non-creepy-chemical eats. And that core belief is part of the Epicurean Group Bill of Rights created by our forefather. Real food for real people. God Bless America.

There are several holiday desserts that fit the – um – bill. Or at least almost fit the bill, with a  little modification. And these treats are simple enough to do quickly, don’t require an oven, and won’t cause that post-dessert guilt. I spend my life feeling guilty about the desserts. But those who can not do, teach. Here we go:

Love this portable dessert!

Directions:

  • Puree strawberries in a  blender with a little bit of agave
  • Place strawberries, organic vanilla or lemon yogurt, and blueberries in a mason jar or drinking glass
  • Chill
  • Serve

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If you want to steer clear of the fake stuff, use 100% real chocolate, organic pretzel rods, and  an all-natural food dye to create red, white, and blue pretzel sticks – and skip the sprinkles (they are a mess anyway).Warm chocolate on the stove, dip pretzel rods, and place rods on wax paper in the refrigerator for an hour.

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Alternate bananas, strawberries and blueberries to create this edible flag! This is a great project for little tykes – keeps them busy for a good 8 minutes!

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These are made with Rice Krispie treats, but you can swap out pineapple for the stars – making this a great breakfast, snack or dessert.

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You Can’t Hurry Love (Or Cheesecake)

 

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It is almost Valentine’s Day. I know, I know – you have yet to implement your New Year’s Resolutions and here we are zeroing in on mid-February. Well, no need to do today what you can put off until tomorrow – so skip the gym just one more time and, instead, bake someone special (this can and should include you) this amazing cheesecake. If you didn’t believe in true love, you will now.

This cheesecake recipe is courtesy of my Aunt Joy. My cheesecake never taste like hers, even though I call her every single time when I am making it. Still, even my amateur efforts pay off big.

Be forewarned, this cheesecake needs time to bake and set, but surprisingly little time to eat. Odd.

I’ve made it twice and both times it was during the early weeks of having a newborn at home, which was a blessing in disguise because I was already wearing a lot of sweat pants and I had a baby that would wake up in the middle of the night demanding to be fed. Again. So I would bake it in the evening and let it sit in the oven until that dreaded 2AM feeding. It’s called multi-tasking, for all you men out there.

Make this and top it with anything you like – melted chocolate, fresh berries, a picture of yourself wearing your best sweatpants. I suggested to my Aunt Joy that we top the cheesecake with another whole entire cheesecake! She just sighed, but I think it was because she didn’t think of it herself. Some of us are just more creative than others, you know?

Cheesecake 

Prep time: 25 minutes | Bake time: approximately 2 hours | Total time: 4 hours

Crust Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1.5 sticks butter

Crust Directions:

  • In a medium bowl, combine flour and sugar
  • Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly
  • Add 2 slightly beaten egg yolks
  • Add vanilla
  • Mix lightly with a fork just until pastry holds together and leaves sides of bowl
  • Chill

Cheese Mixture Ingredients:

  • Five (5) 8oz packages of cream cheese
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 Tbl vanilla
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 pint sour cream

Directions: 

  • Pat 1/3 chilled cookie crust evenly over the bottom of 10″ spring form pan
  • Bake in a 400 degree preheated oven for 8 minutes or until lightly browned
  • Pat remaining dough evenly onto sides of pan
  • Chill
  • Beat cream cheese, sugar, flour and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth and fluffy
  • Beat in eggs and yolks one at a time
  • Stir in sour cream
  • Pour into spring pan with baked bottom crust and unbaked shell
  • Bake at 450 degrees for 12 minutes
  • Lower oven to 250 degrees and bake for 1.5 hours
  • Turn off oven and let cake remain in the oven for 1 hour
  • Remove from oven and and cool
  • Take out of pan before refrigerating
  • Love the one you’re with – and if you are alone, more cheesecake for you!

Warning: You Might Crack Up … But It’s Worth It.

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Allow me to apologize for giving you this recipe. I am sorry. There – I’ve said it. When you find yourself pretending to make this for others and end up eating the entire pan by yourself, followed by a sugar-high-fueled trip to the grocery at 10PM to re-buy the ingredients to make yet another batch, you can remind yourself that I sort of warned you. And I apologized.

And when you wake up in the morning and your fingers are swollen like sausages and the scale screams in horror because you inhaled the aforementioned concoction of salt and sugar, please remember that I made this pitiful attempt at cautioning you.

So.

This make-believe toffee is a favorite of anyone who has ever had the good fortune of tasting it. I make it every year during the holidays. I would make it more often, but I like to fit into my clothes the other 11 months. Call me crazy.

Salty and Sweet Toffee

Prep time: 15 minutes | Bake time: 5 minutes 

Ingredients:

  • 1.5      sleeves of saltine crackers
  • 1      stick (4 oz) butter
  • 1      cup packed brown sugar
  • 2      cups chocolate chips (white chocolate chips are my choice, but any flavor works)

Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
  • Arrange the crackers in a single layer on the baking sheet so that there are no empty spaces in between them, salty side up.
  • Crush any remaining crackers into small crumbs and set aside.
  • Place the butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.
  • Stir while the butter melts, and bring the mixture to a rolling boil.
  • Once boiling, carefully pour the sugar-butter mixture over the crackers on the baking sheet in an even layer, trying to cover most of the crackers. If you miss some spots, don’t worry as the toffee will spread in the oven.
  • Bake the toffee crackers at 350 degrees for five minutes, until the toffee is bubbling all over.
  • Carefully remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for five minutes.
  • Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the hot toffee, and allow them to sit for one minute to soften and melt.
  • Once softened, use a knife to spread the melted chocolate over the entire surface of the toffee in an even layer.
  • While the chocolate is still sticky, sprinkle the top with the reserved crushed crackers or candy cane pieces or sprinkles or nuts or all four – I mean – why not, right?
  • Refrigerate the pan to set the toffee and chocolate for about an hour.
  • Once set, break into small uneven pieces by hand, and enjoy!
  • Store uneaten saltine toffee in an airtight container for up to a week (there will never be leftovers, but…).

Next Week Might Be The Best Week EVER.

 

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So next week may be the best week ever.  I’m not sure why Christmas gets all the attention, because December 16th marks National Chocolate Covered Anything Day and December 17th is National Maple Syrup Day. I haven’t been this excited about a Monday in – well – ever.

In light of this overindulgent, under-recognized week, I am happy to provide a recipe that combines both chocolate and maple syrup. You’re welcome.

Chocolate Maple Bars

Prep time: 15 minutes | Bake time: 25 minutes | Makes approximately 36 bars

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • ½ cup flaked coconut

Icing ingredients:

  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ½ cup baking cocoa
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
Directions:
  • In a large bowl, cream the butter, syrup and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the eggs, milk and vanilla.
  • In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture and mix well.
  • Remove half of the batter to another bowl.
  • Add melted to chocolate to one bowl of batter and mix well.
  • Pour chocolate mixture into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan.
  • Add coconut to remaining batter.
  • Spread coconut batter carefully over chocolate batter.
  • Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
  • Cool completely on a wire rack.

Icing:

  • In a small bowl, beat butter until smooth.
  • Gradually add the powdered sugar and cocoa.
  • Gradually add syrup, beating until smooth.
  • Fold in marshmallows.
  • Frost bars.
  • Eat as many as you can before someone catches you.

Nuts for Coconut Oil – Yes, It’s That Good.

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I just bought a tub of coconut oil and my obsession with it can only be compared with purchasing a golden Labrador puppy. I wake up thinking about the coconut oil. I manage to work the coconut oil into most conversations. I ooh and ahh over the coconut oil. I am smitten, to say the least.

I am learning that coconut oil can be used for basically everything. I think it might even get the government shut-down reversed. If I really did have a puppy, I’d put coconut oil in his food. I’ve considered getting one of those old-school fanny packs to keep my newfound love close by, considering running up and down the stairs every time I need it is exhausting, but really good for the quads. But don’t worry about me; I can use coconut oil for sore muscles!!! It’s a miracle. I just learned that you can use coconut oil to condition guitar strings??!! I am so getting a guitar.

The thing is, I work for Epicurean Culinary Group and this is a catering blog and my passion (besides coconut oil) is food. Alas, I do not have a puppy. And I am not a personal trainer. So while you can use this lovely oil for pets and pecs, I am sharing some simple uses for coconut oil in the kitchen. Here goes:

Eat It:

Need a boost of energy?  Down a couple of spoonfuls of coconut oil and voila. Plus, it satisfies a sweet tooth. Not as much a Snickers Bar, but … still.

Bake It:                

Use coconut oil instead of butter. It’s that simple.

Sauté It:

Coconut oil performs well under pressure. Really. Coconut oil handles high temperatures well, making it ideal for sautéing fish, meats, vegetables and eggs.

Dress It:

Use coconut oil instead of other oils. Just make sure your dressing is kept above 76 F degrees so that the oil does not solidify.

Spread It:

Spread coconut oil on toast, add a sprinkle of cinnamon and enjoy. This makes a great after-school snack for the short set. I have proof.

Blend It:

Add coconut oil to smoothies and shakes. Sweet and healthy. Here’s a favorite recipe:

Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie

Prep time: 5 minutes | Serves: 1

  • 1 cup chocolate milk (we use chocolate-flavored almond milk)
  • 2 Tb natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 of a medium avocado
  • 1 Tb honey or agave
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • Blend all ingredients with a handful of ice and enjoy

Let us know how you incorporated coconut oil into your life by posting on Facebook. I am currently admiring my mega-moisturized hands while typing this blog. This is what love at first sight feels like.

I’m off to recondition my outdoor teak table with…well, you know.