Comfort Food and Easy Entertaining

As a private chef, caterer and cooking instructor I am often asked "What do you enjoy cooking when you're at home on a weeknight or entertaining guests at your table?" I started this blog to answer that question. Here I will share with all of you the recipes that I find delicious and comforting. Many of the recipes are my own versions of classic dishes, some are contemporary twists on old ideas, and some are discoveries I made while perusing my grandmother’s vast collection of cookbooks dating back to the early 1900’s. Please enjoy these videos. I have also included links to some of the published articles I have written recently. Please feel free to comment here or email me directly with any questions, comments or general thoughts. My email address and information on my catering, private chef and private cooking classes can be found on my website:

The Perfect ... Gift for the Host or Hostess by Scott Hargrove

Whether you’re heading over to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving Dinner or a friend’s apartment for the holidays, a thoughtful gift is a must. A gift for the host or hostess is a well-balanced combination of several variables. The gift should be something well suited for the recipient, tasteful, yet not extravagant but also nice enough that it will not end up in the recycle or “re-gifting” bin.

A Bottle of Vino

So, to start, I thought I would give you all some tips on the old stand-by hostess gift: a bottle of wine. A bottle of wine makes the perfect gift. It’s easy to carry, doesn’t require really any wrapping and you can pick up a nice bottle for usually less than $20. However, there are a few tips that will ensure you arrive at your host’s home with a bottle they will enjoy. The most important is to buy your wines at a reputable wine shop or liquor store that does a high volume of sales. This will ensure that you are paying the fairest price for your bottle, but more importantly, the employees at these types of stores tend to be more knowledgeable and focused on customer service and will be able to direct you to a bottle of wine to best fit your needs. The two stores I use most frequently for my wine purchases in Denver are Argonaut Liquors and Bonnie Brae Wines. But I encourage you to try out a few wine shops in your neighborhood and find one where you feel the most comfortable.

One varietal (a wine made from a single named grape variety) that I often recommend as an excellent gift is Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is probably the food-friendliest of all wines, meaning that it can be paired with red meats, heartier fish dishes, and poultry. When shopping for a Pinot Noir look for one made in Oregon State (they make the best Pinots) and know that your bottle does not have to be old to be good. You’ll find a lot of great ones in the $12-$20 range.

Also coming from the Pacific Northwest are some great Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons made in Washington State. Look for a little more age on these bottles, but you’ll find some really delicious ones from 1999, 2000, and 2001 for under $20.

As for some good white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc look for ones from New Zealand and Napa Valley in the $15-$25 range, you’ll love them. And for those Chardonnay lovers try a bottle from the Sonoma County area.

“Chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot are safe choices for the holidays. But zinfandel is the classic choice for Thanksgiving. It’s the only wine that Americans like to call their own,” says John Roesch, wine director of, a Manhattan-based wine shop on the Web, who explains zinfandel may have its roots in California. The “inherently spicy variety” also easily mixes with all the different flavors on the Thanksgiving table, he adds. He also encourages consumers to experiment with riesling and syrah, which are both quite trendy these days.

Food Related Gifts

Not all hosts or hostesses drink wine but many — if not all — have an interest in food. A great housewarming gift for the first-time turkey chef or the sophisticated foodie is a product called FoodSmarts. Nope, it’s not a book about the latest diet craze. It is, however, filled with flavorful food facts minus the calories. It’s a game that contains 100 multiple choice or true-false questions and answers, which test players’ knowledge of the culinary world. Any diehard hostess or FoodNetwork junkie would love this game. I recently found them online at for about $25.

Unique items for the hostess’s pantry are great gifts as well. Specialty sea salts (they come in all different colors from all different parts of the world with different and distinct flavors), olive oils, vinegars, jams, or an interesting mustard picked up on your last trip to Europe all make super gifts.

Soaps and Lotions

If you’re looking for something a little more personal, but still for the home, some nice soaps, lotions and creams designed for use in the kitchen make great thank-you gifts. Cucina products available at Anthropologie and Nordstrom are fantastic and always receive raves from their recipients. You’ll also find many of the unique soaps, lotions, and room sprays at L’occitane, Williams-Sonoma, and at many online retailers make great gifts.

If all else fails…

If for some reason you cannot seem to find that “perfect” gift for your host you can always take them something handcrafted. People love to receive something made personally for them, be it a small set of handmade candles, homemade jams and jellies, or even some fresh squeezed orange juice in an antique decanter paired with a box of pastry for your host to enjoy “the morning after” would all be very thoughtful. Whatever you decide, make your gift a heartfelt and personal thank you for your host’s hospitality and you will surely continue to receive invitations to their gatherings in the future.

Scott Hargrove is a transplant to Denver from Seattle. Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, Scott’s passion for gracious living and entertaining led him into event planning for non-profit organizations, corporations and individuals. He is an event planner, private cooking instructor, caterer and consultant and can be reached through this publication or at

The Perfect... Progressive Dinner Party

To start, I have to say thank you to all of the readers who have been wonderful about emailing me with questions and comments about some of my previous articles. It is such a pleasure to have the chance to help you make creative and appropriate choices for your birthday celebrations, anniversaries, pool parties, and romantic dinners. However, the most asked question I have gotten over the summer has been how to entertain a group of people in a casual, fun, inexpensive, and different way. My answer: A Progressive Dinner Party.

Organizations such as church groups, women’s clubs, and veteran’s organizations have been using the progressive dinner as a way to introduce new members to a group in a more intimate setting for years. I have even helped Arts organizations, such as the Seattle Opera, organize a progressive dinner to introduce their upcoming season to their most generous donors where each home’s decorations and menu was designed around the theme of the opera it was announcing.

The progressive dinner party works especially well for those of you in neighborhoods, apartment buildings and condo complexes. This allows everyone the chance to walk from home to home without worrying about organizing cars and designated drivers. It also facilitates digesting between courses!

When planning your dinner, you should schedule no more than 3-4 courses. Beyond that the logistics become too complicated with too much time wasted on traveling. And be sure to plan on at least a three hour evening, in order to allow for 45 minutes to an hour at each stop.

Some groups hold monthly Progressive Dinners with a different theme each month. The course responsibilities can be rotated among participants, or everyone can always be responsible for their favorite course. You can pick holiday themes, seasonal themes or different cuisines for each dinner. Tie-in your decorations with the recipes, asking each host home to use decorations representing the nationality of the course they are serving, or picking up on your seasonal theme. Whatever you decide… be creative and have fun.
You can handle beverages several ways. With small groups you could ask each host to provide the beverage that best suits their course. With larger groups you could make it BYOB for alcoholic beverages and just ask the hosts to provide soft drinks and coffee.
One delicious beverage is this Sangria that can be made in advance and served to your guests as they arrive. You have to try it. It’s delicious!

White Zinfandel Sangria

1 750-ml bottle of chilled White Zinfandel 1/2 cup peach schnapps 2 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange liqueur 2 tablespoons sugar 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half 1 lemon, sliced 1 orange, sliced 1 peach, sliced into wedges 1 10-ounce bottle of chilled club soda Ice cubes

Mix first 8 ingredients in tall pitcher. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Mix in club soda. Fill 6 wineglasses with ice cubes. Pour sangria over ice and serve. Serves 6.

For appetizers try a selection of marinated olives, peppers, and Bocconcini served with some toasted artisan bread. These Spinach Parmesan Balls would be a nice addition to any cocktail course, and are so easy to prepare.

Spinach Parmesan Balls

1 pound package frozen chopped spinach, thawed 5 eggs 1 large onion, minced 10 tablespoons margarine, melted 1 cup shredded Parmesan 2 garlic cloves, minced 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves 1/2 teaspoon cayenne 1 3/4 cups Italian-style bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Squeeze the excess water from the spinach and put it in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well by hand. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls, either by hand or with a small ice cream scoop. Place the balls closely together on a baking sheet. Cook in the top half of the oven until firm to the touch, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes, and then transfer to a platter and serve immediately. Makes about 30-40 portions

Another delicious, fast and easy recipe would be this Roasted Red Pepper soup. It can be made the afternoon of the party, cooled and reheated just prior to serving.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Orange Cream

1 Tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup sliced shallots (about 4)
1 15oz jar roasted red peppers packed in water
1 tsp sugar
2 cups (or more) chicken broth
½ cup orange juice
2 Tbsp whipping cream
¾ tsp grated orange zest
Thinly sliced fresh basil leaves for garnish

Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and sauté 5 minutes. Add red peppers with their liquid. Stir in sugar; sauté 2 minutes. Add 2 cups broth and simmer 5 minutes. Cool soup slightly. Working in batches, puree soup in blender. (If preparing this recipe in advance, stop here and continue with the rest just prior to serving.) Return soup to pan. Bring to a simmer; stir in orange juice. Thin soup with additional broth, if desired. Season with salt and pepper.

Whisk cream and orange peel in small bowl until slightly thickened. Drizzle over soup as garnish.

So, to Mark in Stapleton, Gary in Lowry and that group of gals in LoDo, thanks for your emails and I hope this answers your question. As you can see, getting together with friends in a casual, inexpensive and different way is an easy thing to do when you divide the work and cost among a few others.

Scott Hargrove is a transplant to Denver from Seattle. Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, Scott’s passion for gracious living and entertaining led him into event planning for non-profit organizations, corporations and individuals. He is an event planner, private cooking instructor, caterer and consultant and can be reached through this publication or at

The Perfect... Business Lunch by Scott Hargrove

The business lunch may be a time to eat, but it’s also the time to make the right impression, to close a deal, and to build relationships with customers.
The business lunch is one of the most frequently used forms of business entertaining. It is the perfect medium to develop rapport and understanding with clients and customers.
Knowing how to play host and also be a proper guest is very important as this reflects on yourself and your company.

The Invitation

It is a general rule of thumb to issue invitations for lunch about a week before the event. However, when you invite someone with a busy schedule, consider making the invitation earlier (up to 3 weeks in some cases) and have two or three alternative times available on your schedule. Another hint here is to check if your guest needs to leave by a certain time for another appointment. Gathering this extra information will only make it easier on you and will give you a very clear timeframe in which you must accomplish your necessary business. While making the invitation also ask your guest if they have any special dietary restrictions or preferences so that you can guarantee they will have several menu choices to fit their needs.

The Location

Now here’s a tip that I hope you’ll all heed and probably one of the most important steps in hosting the perfect business lunch: pick the best restaurant for the occasion. Your first lunch out with a new client isn’t the best time to visit that restaurant you’ve been dying to try but haven’t had the time to check out yet. It is also not the best time to drop in on that national chain establishment where all of the friendly wait staff show off their personalities with those tiny little buttons with such phrases as “Smile” or “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. You want your guest to feel like you’ve put at least some time into picking the location that you choose to do business. So go with what you know. Most of those fantastic restaurants you visit for dinner when you’re out with family or friends also serve wonderful lunch menus. If you need suggestions, get yourself a good restaurant review book, such as “The Gabby Gourmet”, which will give you the price range of the menu, the demeanor of the wait staff and the noise level of the dining room. And trust me, the noise level is something to pay close attention to. There’s nothing more irritating than trying to hear your client or boss describe their needs for a project or assignment and not being able to hear them over Celine Dion belting out “All By Myself” over the dining room’s stereo system. Instead, take the time to find a place that is quiet enough for a conversation (but not too quiet), employs a good wait staff and serves food that will fit your budget and tastes.

On the Day

One step that I feel is so important is confirming the appointment with your guest either via email, phone or through their assistant. I feel like this sentence could be included in the introductory paragraph, but I guess maybe your point is the confirmation should be done on the day of the meeting, in which case I guess it makes the most sense here.

Meet and Greet

A good host will arrive at least 10 minutes before the appointed time to check with the host or hostess about your reserved table and attend to any issues that need your attention. Most hosts wait at the reception area for the guests to arrive. But alternatively, you could allow yourself to be shown to the table and inform the waiter that you are expecting other guests. The host should rise to welcome the guests as they approach. This is also the time when business cards are exchanged. As for late arrivals, it is inconsiderate to keep others waiting – this applies to both host and guests. If you are running late always call your host and inform them of your delayed arrival.

Food and Drink

If you have dined at the restaurant before, you may want to recommend to your guests the specialties of that restaurant. Alternatively, if you are uncertain of what to order after studying the menu, it would be a good idea to ask the waiter for recommendations. If you are dining in a restaurant where the food is to be shared by all, be sure to ask your guests if they have a preference before assuming the responsibility of ordering for the table. Do not spend too much time over the menu and placing orders. If you choose not to drink alcohol, always decline politely and avoid any lengthy explanations.

Talking Shop

The period before ordering the food should be reserved for establishing rapport. It is appropriate to begin talking business once the orders have been placed. If you begin before this, the hovering of waiters around the table could undermine your effectiveness. You would, I’m sure, have prepared yourself for the issues that you wish to raise. Be sure to summarize your understanding at the end of the discussion to ensure that there is a meeting of minds. Reiterate the actions that need to be taken to ensure that what you have said has been understood. Consequently, a memo or minutes of the lunch meeting should be prepared and sent to each guest for their information and follow-up. This will show your attentiveness and also professionalism in concluding the meeting.

Bill, Please

Ask for the bill when everyone has finished the meal. When it arrives, check it discreetly to verify its accuracy. If there is a simple discrepancy, you may enquire politely. If you expect further difficulties, excuse yourself and settle at the cashier’s desk. It is an indication that the meal has ended when the host rises. The host should accompany the guests to the door, shake their hands and thank them for coming to the lunch. Where appropriate, accompany the guests to the elevator lobby and wait with them until the elevator arrives.

Scott Hargrove is a recent transplant to Denver from Seattle. Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, Scott’s passion for gracious living and entertaining led him into event planning for non-profit organizations, corporations and individuals. Most recently Scott has assisted Project Angel Heart with several of their larger fundraising events. He is an event planner, caterer and consultant and can be reached through this publication or at

The Perfect… Thank You Note by Scott Hargrove

January 2007

So, you’ve survived yet another holiday season, managed to keep the casualties to a bare minimum, and have taken down the decorations and lights (unless you’re the owner of that house on Washington that has decided that unplugging the lights is essentially that same thing as taking them down).

Well, before you move on to planning that ever so festive Mardi Gras Party, there is just one more thing to be done: writing thank-you notes. Yes, somewhere in between your mom making you sit down with your Star Wars® notepad and pencil to write a note to Grandma for the fuzzy pajamas and firing off an email to your manager for her gift of the very functional desk calendar, you have completely lost touch with the concept of simple thank-you notes. Now that you’re an adult, an email just won’t do and more is expected of you than scratching out, ‘Thanks for the present, you rock!’ And let’s face it, the giver took the time to either endure the crowds at their nearest Target® store or re-wrap a present they received last year. Whatever the case, a gift deserves a brief note of thanks.

Grandma might not say anything to you, but trust me; she and her friends are probably at this very moment sighing over how young people today just don’t have manners.

As extra motivation, I will also tell you the hidden secret of thank-you notes--they improve the frequency and quality of the gifts you receive. People like being appreciated, and if they feel you actually notice the nice things they do for you, they’re more likely to give an encore performance. However, do not use this as a strategy to avoid writing thank-yous to those who regularly give gifts you do not like. Every gift deserves a thank-you note, even the ‘Best of Clay Aiken’ CD you received from your crazy Aunt Barb.

I assure you, writing thank-yous is easier than you remember.

First off, go out and get yourself some stationery, plain note cards or a selection of attractive postcards, and the proper postage. Avoid the pre-inscribed ‘Thank You!’ cards in loopy script, as there are times you’ll want to write notes where the aesthetic feels all wrong (and let’s face it, they’re tacky). Also, you may want to use these same cards for writing a thank-you after that ever-so-important job interview. Some very fine stationery can be found at Crane and Co. and Papyrus in Cherry Creek Shopping Center.

Secondly, make yourself this special cocktail that I find delicious and makes this task all the more enjoyable.

Dixie Belle
1 ½ oz vodka
1 ½ oz PAMA pomegranate liqueur
½ oz fresh orange juice
¼ oz fresh lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass.
Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Now, with cocktail in hand we can move on to this very simple six-point formula to the proper thank-you. Please remember, though, that thank-yous should be hand-written. Do not type them, no matter how poor your handwriting may be. No excuses.

Greet the Giver: Dear Anna,

That was easy, right?

Express Your Gratitude: Thank you so much for the hand-painted wine glasses.

This first sentence seems like it would be the easiest, but is actually the most complicated. Beware the just writing trap. Don’t write ‘I am just writing to say’; that’s stating the obvious. If the giver is reading, clearly you have already written… write as if whatever you say is happening in the moment.

If you’re writing to thank someone for an intangible (such as them putting you up at their place while you were visiting for the holidays or for a dinner party you attended), define what the intangible is in a mature and gracious manner. In other words, don’t say, ‘Thanks for letting us crash at your place.’ Instead say, ‘Thank you for your hospitality.’ Don’t worry if it sounds too simple; the point of writing the note is to create a simple expression of a heartfelt sentiment.

Discuss Use: They are so unique and will surely get lots of use.

Say something nice about the item and how you will use it. You may have to stretch the truth (even to a little white lie) on some occasions. However, there is always some truth that can be extracted. Let’s say you hate the gift (as I did with the wine glasses, which will certainly never see the light of day in my house). How to say thanks? Just find one thing that is nice about the item and mention it – but don’t get carried away.

Mention the Past, Allude to the Future: It was great to see you at our Christmas Eve celebration, my thoughts are with you and your family and I hope you are well.

Some questions to consider here would be: Why did they give the gift? What does it mean to your relationship with the giver? Let the giver know how they fit into your life. If it is someone you see infrequently or some errant family member you have little or no contact with, say whatever you know, but keep it brief.

Grace: Thanks again for your thoughtfulness.

It’s not overkill to say thanks again.

Regards: Best wishes,

Simply wrap it up. Use whatever works for you: Love, Yours truly, With love. Then sign your name and you’re done.

What’s Not There:

Any news about your life. This isn’t the time to brag about your new job, your new boyfriend or girlfriend, or what’s been going on in your life the last six months. Save all of the other information for the next time that you run into one another at a social function or for next year’s annual Christmas letter.


One other thing to remember is the timing on writing a thank you note is important and should usually be done within a week of receiving the gift. However, do not let that deter you from writing a thank you note now for a present you received in December. Please remember, it is always better to be a little late with a thank you note than not to send one at all.

Scott Hargrove is a recent transplant to Denver from Seattle. Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, Scott’s passion for gracious living and entertaining led him into event planning for non-profit organizations, corporations and individuals. Most recently Scott has assisted Project Angel Heart with several of their larger fundraising events. He is an event planner, caterer and consultant and can be reached through this publication or at