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... Thank You Note

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

The Perfect... Superbowl Party

With the start of a new year comes one of America’s biggest and best traditions - the Super Bowl. Yes, the one night of the year you can throw caution to the wind and ignore that very strict New Year’s resolution to lose a few pounds and chow down on chips, dips, and all of those other game night favorites that everyone loves so much. Even if you have no idea which teams are playing, this can be an event that is fun for both the football fanatics in your group of friends and for those of us who know the true entertainment for the evening is in the commercials and half-time show.

However, if you are anything like me, you had no idea the Super Bowl was right around the corner (February 5th to be exact), but have been looking for an opportunity to get your friends together in a very casual way. And let’s face it… a Super Bowl Party is about the most unassuming, least finicky party you can host all year. So let it all hang out… Splurge and serve some of those delicious, finger-licking snacks that everyone loves so much, but this time take them to a higher level.

Let me just say here, I know Super Bowl parties bring to mind a table full of greasy foods and the quintessential tub of store brand onion dip served straight from its container alongside a bag of ruffled potato chips containing more bits and pieces than whole chips. So this year, take the lead and break that terrible mold. Call your friends now; invite them over for the perfect Super Bowl party and serve some of these delicious game night favorites.


You’ll want a nice selection of beers. I usually provide a light beer (such as Amstel Light), a well-rounded beer (such as Red Stripe) and a selection of local beers. A nice way to put a twist on your typical beer is with the following recipe for a Bloody Bull.

Bloody Bull mix:
1 quart tomato juice
1 scallion, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno (with seeds), stemmed
2 tablespoons grated fresh horseradish, or to taste
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 dash Tabasco
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon Celery salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine tomato juice, scallion, jalapeno, horseradish, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper in a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour in a pitcher and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, rim a pilsner glass with Williams-Sonoma’s Bloody Mary glass rimmer, fill the glass to ¾ full with beer and top off with the Bloody Bull mix. Stir and serve.

Use the same mix for a Bloody Bull cocktail. Simply add 1 ½ oz. of chilled vodka to a rimmed highball glass with ice, top with the Bloody Bull mix and garnish with a celery stick or pickled green bean.


This type of party isn’t the best time to bring out your best china or glassware. Instead, have fun. The party supply stores have some amusing football themed plates, cups, napkins and decorations that add to the festive feeling of the event.

The following recipes are a great place to start when planning your fete. Other items such as an assortment of artisan breads and dipping oils, a cheese platter and fresh veggies make wonderful additions.

Potato Chips:
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 large Idaho potatoes (about 2 lbs), peeled
Canola Oil for deep-frying

Using a mandoline, slice potatoes lengthwise into very thin, even slices. Preheat oil to 375°. Add a few chips to the hot oil at a time. Fry until golden brown. Remove to a baking sheet lined with paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Onion Dip:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cup diced onions
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups sour cream
¾ cup mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

In a sauté pan over medium heat add oil, heat and add onions and salt. Cook the onions until they are caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Mix the rest of the ingredients, and then add the cooled onions. Refrigerate and still again before serving. This can be made a few days in advance and kept in a covered container until ready to serve.

Buffalo Chicken Wings:

2 ½ lbs. chicken wing pieces
½ cup hot sauce (I use Tabasco or Frank’s Redhot)
1/3 cup melted butter

Bake wings 1 hour at 425° or deep-fry 12 minutes at 400°.
Remove to a large bowl
Combine hot sauce and butter and cover wings with mixture. Toss well to coat.
Transfer to a serving dish and serve with celery sticks and Blue cheese or Ranch dressing.


Make sure your guests have an assortment of snacks at their fingertips while they are massed in front of your television. Marinated olives, a cheese ball with crackers and this recipe for spicy mixed nuts make great finger foods.

Spicy Nuts:
2 cups assorted unsalted nuts, such as pistachios, cashews and pecans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

Place a large dry skillet over medium heat, add the nuts and toast for 5 minutes until fragrant and lightly golden, shaking the pan often to prevent scorching. Add the butter and continue to stir until melted and the nuts are well coated. Sprinkle in cinnamon, cumin and cayenne and toss for another minute. Spread the nuts out on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt and sugar; allow to cool. These can be made and stored in an airtight container up to 5 days.

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

Green Chile - A Southwestern Favorite