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... 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

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