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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Easy, Now. (Or Later? Why Soup is Good For the Busy Soul)

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You can find recipes for the perfect turkey everywhere. And anyone can build a great day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich (hint: it’s all about the mayo), but when you are staring back at that gigantic leftover … uh…carcass, you might be tempted to toss it out and just cut yourself an oversized slice of apple pie.

Don’t. I mean don’t throw out the turkey. Go ahead with the pie. But that leftover turkey makes some of the best soup of the year; and even if you are turkeyed-out, you can pop this easy soup into the freezer for a weeknight dinner that’s both hearty and healthy. Plus, this recipe can easily be modified for the gluten free crowd out there – simply swap out the pasta for rice, and the white flour for almond flour.

Epicurean’s Now Or Later Turkey Soup

Prep time: 25 minutes | Cook time: approximately 1.5 hours | Servings: 10-12

Ingredients:

  • Large turkey carcass (it’s such an unappetizing word but…)
  • 5 quarts cold water
  • 1 cup celery cleaned and chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6-7 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 4 cups fine egg noodles
  • 1/4 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1/4 cup flour

Directions:

  • Place turkey carcass, water, celery, onion, bouillon cubes, salt and pepper in a large stock pot
  • Heat to boiling; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour
  • Remove the turkey, place on a platter and let cool
  • Add the parsley, peas, carrots and pasta
  • Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes
  • Meanwhile, pull meat from bones and return meat to soup pot
  • Add liquid if needed (either water or chicken stock, taste to check seasoning)
  • Heat to boiling; cook uncovered for 10 minutes
  • Melt butter in a small frying pan; stir in flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the flour browns
  • Slowly stir the flour mixture into the boiling soup
  • When the soup returns to a boil reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes

I keep a couple of boxes of cornbread mix in my pantry at all times so that if I am desperate and the cupboards are bare, I have an entire meal at the ready – soup in the freezer and cornbread from a box makes me almost as happy as apple pie.

 

 

 

 

 

submitted by Stephanie Blackford

Keeping Score at Sports Authority Field at Mile High

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Obviously Peyton Manning and the Broncos team garners LOTS of attention on game day; and we wouldn’t have it any other way. But what happens before, during and after the game for our own Epicurean/Broncos team is something to brag about. If we were the type to brag, that is.

We’ve been the exclusive premier concessionaire at SAF for over 20 years. That’s a lot of football. It’s also a lot of work. And a LOT of fun. What does it take to make game day a winner (at least off the field – we can only do SO much!)? Well, the numbers don’t lie:

  • 1800 pounds of prime rib, tenderloin, strip loin, turkeys and rotisserie chickens (all leftovers are donated to We Don’t Waste) to feed guests in –
  • 133 suites during each game which leads to the clean up of over –
  • 600 hotel pans and –
  • 1000 sheet pans which are par for the course for our –
  • 150 employees on site each game day; they can often be found in our  –
  • 1450 square feet of walk in refrigerator storage – the envy of every chef that’s every seen it. We use every single inch during the busy season which includes –
  • 220 special events including corporate parties and weddings. To get geared up we spend –
  • 3 weeks of traveling nationally and internationally during the off season, allowing our chefs and leadership team to research new trends. And by ‘research; we mean eat and drink our way across the globe. Not a bad gig. By sampling foods in different regions of the country, we can customize game day menus to reflect the opposing team. Think fish tacos when we play the San Diego Chargers; fried ravioli for the St. Louis Rams. Tackling all of this takes –
  • Unlimited amounts of energy and stamina to tackle the 1.7 million square feet of space at the stadium which seats over 76,000 fans, not including us – the biggest fans you’ll find.

Mirror Mirror On the Wall – Who’s the Cheapest of Them All?

Madonna_Money_by_Madonna1250 (this might be all you get from the Material Girl)

I know the story about President Obama’s choice for Attorney General is way, way more important than  “Hollywood’s Best and Worst Tippers” on the MSN homepage, but….

I couldn’t help myself. There’s something so addictive about finding out just how generous (or not) the rich and famous can be. I won’t ruin it for you, but if Rachel Ray or Madonna or Bill Cosby walk into your section, don’t start planning that fancy beach vacay.

Parker Presley, our favorite pooch-about-town, wrote a blog on this very subject a few years ago. I dug it up to share with you because the weekend is here – go forth and eat and drink!  Happy Friday!

submitted by Stephanie Blackford

Creepy Cocktail Is So Easy It’s Scary

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Halloween happens on a Friday night this year – all the more reason to add a spooky cocktail to the menu which, for me, usually includes an appetizer of candy corns followed by a main course of sixteen fun-sized Snickers.

Obviously it would be nice to have something festive to wash it all down.

This recipe comes from Your Southern Peach (a fabulous site I happened upon in my hardcore research). The original recipe works for kids, but I’ve added vodka to make it, um, way better.

Ask your pharmacist for a stash of syringes and feel free to use any glassware you like – these would be chic in a martini glass. So easy it’s scary. Happy Halloween.

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Bloody Shirley Temple (Grown Up Version)

Ingredients:

  • Sprite
  • Grenadine
  • Vodka
  • Ice
  • Syringes

Directions:

  • Pour sprite and vodka over ice and garnish with a bloody (grenadine) syringe.

submitted by Stephanie Blackford

Leftover Oatmeal? Try this!

Muffins like to be surrounded by their friends : butter and hot cocoa.

Muffins like to be surrounded by their friends known as Butter and Hot Cocoa…

Oatmeal is on the breakfast menu every week at our house. Not that there is a menu, per se. There is simply an eat your breakfast situation – similar to that of lunchbox finds and dinner delicacies. You get what you get. You’re welcome.

You’d think I’d learn not to make so much oatmeal, but I was never good at math – so I always end up with more than needed. And I find it hard to sell oatmeal as an after-school snack.

You know what I can sell as an after-school snack? Muffins. Especially right out of the oven. Especially paired with a cup of hot chocolate. Especially on a blustery fall day.

Georgia is a muffin master...

Georgia is a muffin master…

So yesterday I asked our Epi kitchen pros if I could make muffins out of leftover oatmeal. The kitchen team totally loves it when I go to them in the middle of a busy work day and ask them questions like this. They act like they are super duper busy prepping for a huge event, but I know, deep down, that they would be disappointed if they didn’t have the chance to stop everything and discuss oatmeal muffins.

I realize that many of you out there don’t have access to a full kitchen of professional chefs so I am sharing this recipe with you. It’s fast, it’s healthy, and it’s delicious. And it leaves more room in your fridge for the important things. Like vegetables. And Chardonnay. Speaking of, these muffins pair well with Chardonnay.

There's simply no room for oatmeal...

There’s simply no room for oatmeal…

Epicurean’s Play It Again Oatmeal Muffins

Prep time: 10 minutes | Bake time: 25 minutes | Servings: 12 muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk)
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter or oil, melted (I used coconut oil)
  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal (my leftover oatmeal already included raisins and brown sugar – feel free to add these items or others such as blueberries, chocolate chips, etc. – creativity, like chocolate chips, is encouraged in the Epicurean kitchens!)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Butter or spray or line muffin pans.
  • Combine dry ingredients together in small bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, stir the egg, milk, and butter into the oatmeal.
  • Stir until well blended.
  • Combine the two mixtures and mix well.
  • Spoon each muffin cup 2/3 full of batter.mes out dry when inserted into the center.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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