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

 

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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.

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:

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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

Sour Cherries Offer A Sweet Dessert

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I recently made this fantastic Sour Cherry Crisp. At least I think it is fantastic, considering I didn’t eat it. No, no, not because I lack a sweet tooth (by now we all know that is a complete and total falsehood), but because I am gluten-free and was out of almond flour and was therefore very SAD. Sad, I tell you.

But every single person in my house devoured it, so I have proof that it was delicious.

The great thing about this recipe is that it’s simple; all of the ingredients (besides the cherries) are in most kitchens. The other great thing about this recipe is that I actually have a cherry tree in my backyard, so I sent my four little minis out to pick lots and lots of cherries. This kept them busy for hours. Then how SAD was I? Not sad at all, I tell you.

Once the cherries were picked, we washed them and then pitted them, which offers a lot of opportunities for smashing, smushing, and comparing cherries to various body parts. The boys took the lead on this, because in this one instance, boys are better than girls.

Fresh Sour Cherry Crisp

Serves: 10

Prep Time: Depends on if you, too, have a cherry tree in your backyard and in-home child labor – if cherries are store bought, approximately 20 minutes

Bake Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 4 cups pitted sour cherries
  • 5 cups white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour (if you are gluten-free like I am, and smart enough to have almond-flour in your pantry, not like I am, feel free to use it!)
  • 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • In a large bowl combine cherries, white sugar and 4 tablespoons of flour
  • Pour into a 9X13 greased baking dish
  • In a medium bowl (let’s be honest here, folks, I used the same bowl – less dishes) combine 1.5 cups of all-purpose flour, oats and brown sugar
  • Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly and sprinkle over cherries
  • Bake in preheated oven until for 45 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbly
  • Serve with vanilla ice cream or greek yogurt

 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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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.