Innovation Chef, Jenna Johansen Shares a Family Favorite for National Applesauce Cake Day

(Photo courtesy of AllRecipes.com )

(Photo courtesy of AllRecipes.com )

In honor of National Applesauce Cake Day on June 6th, Innovation Chef, Jenna Johansen shares one of her all-time favorite family recipes with us.

One of my absolute favorite summertime sweets to make is chocolate applesauce cake. I love our handed-down family recipe; moist and delicious, and I usually always have the ingredients on hand. This version needs no frosting, so it travels easily and sits on a picnic bench perfectly, which is just what a hot summer day calls for.

I have fond memories of my mother making it often as a kid and we never had leftovers for long because everyone loves it! This version came from my Great Grandma Pearl, handed-down over generations. Today, she is 106 years old, living in Fargo, North Dakota. Maybe applesauce cake has more benefits to it than just good taste!

I like to pick the chocolate chips off the top. As I was growing up and doing a lot of the baking, I would use WAY more than the specified 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and you may want to, too!

Applesauce first came into vogue during World War I and the Great Depression when many rations were scarce. Now, I think of applesauce as being the perfect use for the fallen apples from our tree. I just peel, cook and puree to have my own homemade applesauce, so easy and simple.

P.S. This recipe pairs perfectly with corn on the cob, deviled eggs, cold beer, potato salad and anything that’s cooked on the grill!

My Mom’s Chocolate Applesauce Cake

Ingredients:
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbs cocoa {I love the baking cocoas from Savory Spice}
1 can of applesauce
2 unbeaten eggs
2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Topping:
2 Tbs sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chocolate chips {my mom uses semi-sweet but I like to use milk chocolate}

Directions:
Mix all cake ingredients well.
Pour into a greased 9″x13″ cake pan.
Sprinkle the top with topping ingredients {I always add more chocolate chips}.
Bake 350 F for 30-40 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Champagne Bar: Two of the Loveliest Words in the English Language

Come warm yourself by our champagne fireplace.

Ain’t that the truth?

Earlier this month we shared some ideas for a Hot Chocolate Bar; after doing extensive research on DIY stations, including ignoring my children and eating an entire bag of butterscotch chips, I couldn’t resist creating a mini-series on this idea of DIY stations for guests.

Today’s Treat: Champagne

Service with a smile.

Service with a smile at Union Station.

Just writing it makes me happy.

Nothing says ‘celebrate’ quite like champagne. My friends, family, and that one know-it-all guy at Corridor 44 who thought I should eat something before having another glass of the nectar of the gods can attest that champagne is, by far, my own personal favorite drink. But you can’t drink it all the time. Because those other mothers at preschool would be jealous concerned.

I don’t need to add anything to my champagne – like dinner – but this is not about me. It’s about you AND me – and anyone else who appreciates a glass of bubbly. Like all of us at Epicurean Group. Parties are our game. And our job. Put those in whatever order you wish.

Let's pray some of my co-workers were drinking prior to the second photo.

Let’s pray some of my co-workers were drinking prior to the second photo.

The holidays are a perfect time to create a self-serve station for your guests. It allows for more socializing and less stressing. Always a good thing.

Labels are helpful. Especially, um, later...

Labels are helpful. Especially, um, later…

Today is New Year’s Eve so if you are hosting a soiree or simply want to do something special on New Year’s Day, may we introduce you to the MmmmMimosa Station? Simple elegance, with an emphasis on simple.

Yum.

Yum.

Why bother with glasses? Tie a straw to mini bottles of bubbly!

Why bother with glasses? Tie a straw to mini bottles of bubbly!

MmmmMimosa Station

Ingredients and Accouterments:

  • Ice buckets or other large bin filled with with ice
  • Four containers for fruit (try IKEA or the dollar store if you don’t have any on hand – or use the coffee cups from your wedding china set because, let’s face it, you’re not drinking coffee when champagne is available)
  • Four glass bottles for juice
  • Labels (for labeling juice and for guests to tag their glasses – I use paint sample cards – free! And any color you want. And did I mention free! )
  • Glasses (one per guest)
  • DIY labels
  • Sharpie Pen
  • Champagne or prosecco
  • Sparkling cider
  • Orange juice
  • Grapefruit juice
  • Raspberry lemonade concentrate
  • Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, pineapple (feel free to improvise)
  • Sugar cubes
How sweet are these sugar cubes?

How sweet are these sugar cubes?

Paint samples make great labels.

Paint samples make great labels.

Directions:

  • Chill champagne, prosseco, juice and cider overnight or in an ice bath
  • Pour juice in glass containers, write or print out labels and tie to the bottle
  • Place champagne in an ice bucket on the table
  • Place glasses, fruit, napkins, juice, labels, sugar cubes, and marker on the table

Pour yourself a glass and say hello to 2015 (and maybe a tiny-but-worth-it-headache)!

 

 

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.

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

chicken-noodle-soup

 

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

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

Celebrity Weddings – Even The Rich and Famous Keep It Sweet and Simple

Lauren Conrad celebrates her husband's infamous name by adding red, ripe apples to her centerpieces. Easy and inexpensive!

Lauren Conrad celebrates her husband’s infamous name by adding red, ripe apples to her centerpieces. Use another favorite fruit to highlight the ‘Perfect Pair.’

A recent issue of Us Magazine features celebrity Lauren Conrad’s wedding photos. As hard as this is for me to admit, I don’t really know who Lauren Conrad is or why she is famous. I am over 40, you see. Barely over, but over. The only reason I saw the magazine was because I was getting a manicure; a manicure that included polish in a nice, subtle, tasteful shade of pale pink. The teen-woman next to me was getting blue glitter on every other nail. Betcha she knows all about Lauren Conrad.

Still, the piece on Conrad’s wedding caught my attention because it highlighted her small, sweet, personalized wedding. I’m a sucker for personalized anything. I take after my grandfather who, for reasons unknown but appreciated nonetheless, wrote his name (Norman Babor) on everything, including his (corded) phone.

Conrad was lucky because she married a man named William Tell; so personalizing with apples and arrows was obvious. (According to folklore, the original William Tell was a peasant who defied Austrian authority and was forced to shoot an apple from his son’s head in order to avoid being killed.) But even if you don’t marry William Tell – and you shouldn’t, because he’s taken – you can put your stamp on your own wedding or special event or telephone. Conrad made a freezer-full of apple pies for her wedding day. Over the (many) years, Epicurean has re-created signature dishes for brides and grooms; most recently a hand-tossed fig pizza as part of the cocktail hour eats. You know Larry DiPasquale must really believe in love if he is game for using another man’s pizza recipe.

Here is some celebrity inspiration that will make you shine like a star:

Lauren Conrad and William Tell sealing it with a kiss.

Lauren Conrad and William Tell sealing it with a kiss.

Amal Alamuddin had cufflinks custom made for husband-to-be George Clooney. His name was engraved in Arabic to reflect her her heritage.

Amal Alamuddin had cufflinks custom made for husband-to-be George Clooney. His name was engraved in Arabic to reflect her her heritage.

When Dawn O'Porter and Chris Dowd married in 2012, they put their names in lights. DIYers could pull this off in a weekend.

When Dawn O’Porter and Chris Dowd married in 2012, they put their names in lights. DIYers could pull this off in a weekend.

Katie Couric and John Molner’s  skipped the traditional white concoction for their favorite Lemon-Strawberry Cake

Katie Couric and John Molner skipped the traditional white concoction for their favorite Lemon-Strawberry Cake.

When Angelina married Brad, she had their children's artwork embroidered into her dress. Too colorful? Have children's artwork screen printed on a handkerchiefs for the bride, groom, and other special guests like grandparents. Sweet and sentimental.

When Angelina married Brad, she had their children’s artwork embroidered into her dress. Too colorful? Have children’s artwork screen printed on handkerchiefs for the bride, groom, and other special guests. Sweet and sentimental.

Speaking of dresses, Beyonce's mother made hers.

Speaking of dresses, Beyonce’s mother made hers. This is a big ask. This could make your mother into your “something blue” depending on her sewing skills…

Miranda Lambert wore her mother's wedding dress when she said 'I Do' to Blake Shelton.

Miranda Lambert wore her mother’s wedding dress when she said ‘I Do’ to Blake Shelton. She also shot the deer that was served at dinner. At Epicurean, we’ve done a lot of custom menus…but…wow.

Reese Witherspoon and Jim Toth included a s'mores station at the reception. This Epicurean specialty continues to be on the menu for many of 'our' couples.

Reese Witherspoon and Jim Toth included a s’mores station at the reception. This Epicurean specialty continues to be on the menu for many of ‘our’ couples.

Princess Diana's famous sapphire and diamond engagement ring was the same one Will used to propose to Kate.

Princess Diana’s famous sapphire and diamond engagement ring was the same one Will used to propose to Kate.

 

 

submitted by Stephanie Blackford

Feel The Beet

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According to historians, beets have been around since 800 BC (who decides to research this stuff is beyond us, but who are we to judge?). Turns out these interesting vegetables were found in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon which, by the way, are one of the Seven Wonders of the World. So does that make beets extra special? Are they a hanger-on to The Hanging Gardens’ claim to fame?

Who knows, but beets are enjoying their plate popularity these days; and finding their way into all kinds of recipes from salads to soups to smoothies.

Beets do boast loads of nutritional hutzpah, including lowering blood pressure, boosting stamina, and fighting cancer. And they add a great texture and bold color to any dish. They are pretty AND smart.

Epicurean recently served a version of this delicious beet salad at a fundraiser and the live auction went gangbusters! See – that boosting stamina thing is real.

Epicurean’s Feel the Beets Salad

Serves: 4| Prep: 10 mins| Cook: 30 mins

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium beets cleaned and halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 (10 ounce) package baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 avocadoes, chopped

Directions:

  • Place beets into a saucepan, and fill with enough water to cover
  • Bring to a boil and cook until tender (approx. 30 minutes)
  • Drain and cool, then cut into cubes
  • While the beets are cooking, place the walnuts in a skillet over medium-low heat
  • Heat until warm and starting to toast, then stir in the maple syrup.
  • Cook and stir until evenly coated
  • Remove from the heat and set aside to cool
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice concentrate, balsamic vinegar and olive oil
  • Place a small amount of dressing on each plate (this is a good trick, adds flavor at the bottom and keeps greens from sliding off the plate!)
  • Place a large helping of spinach onto each of four salad plates,
  • Divide the candied walnuts equally and sprinkle over the greens.
  • Place equal amounts of beets over the greens, and top with dabs of goat cheese and avocado
  • Drizzle each plate with some dressing
  • Enjoy

 submitted by Stephanie Blackford