Midwest Nest Magazine

Midwest Nest Magazine

Culture, Entertaining, Home Design, Fargo, Interior Design, DIY

Category: Cuisine

Mezzaluna: After Hours [Taylor & Valerie Snelling]

Story by Tracy NicholsonPhotography by M. Schleif Photography If you’re in the fine-dining industry like Taylor Snelling, the end of the holidays marks a time to celebrate survival. To see…

Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M. Schleif Photography

If you’re in the fine-dining industry like Taylor Snelling, the end of the holidays marks a time to celebrate survival. To see how Mezzaluna dines after-hours, we joined Taylor and his wife, Valerie at their Brandt Crossing home in South Fargo. This time, instead of pampering the guests, their hardworking team took a seat and toasted to another successful year; in the kitchen, and behind the bar. We started with the main course of maple-glazed duck, paired it with a side of white sweet potato and apple risotto, then chased it with a hibiscus punch that’ll make you forget all about your new year’s resolutions.

Curious to see how their upscale team does casual Sunday, we’re happy to report that we had a blast taste-testing and sipping with the Snellings, executive chef and co-owner, Joe Brunner, mixologist, Max Parker, and Mezzaluna’s manager, Matthew Bengston. Even outside of Mezzaluna’s historic walls, it’s easy to see that their lively conversation is based on comradery, friendship, and a shared passion for the industry. Between sipping, talking and tasting, we admired the floral from Prairie Petals; and like all good guests… we asked for seconds.

New Year…New Dreams
For Taylor and Valerie Snelling, this past year was a non-stop adventure that started with their wedding and ended with a smooth transition into co-ownership of Mezzaluna, with Executive Chef, Joe Brunner. Working with the previous owners, Sarah and Eric Watson, the two would get six months of running the Downtown Fargo restaurant on their own, before officially taking over ownership in April 2018. 

“Eric and Sarah have been wonderful. When April came around, we felt like we understood all of the important aspects of how to run the restaurant and the day-to-day tasks,” said Taylor Snelling. “The Watsons are great mentors of mine and I still keep up with them. They gave me an opportunity to do something, this early in my life, that I wasn’t expecting for another 15 to 20 years. Every day that Joe and I walk into Mezzaluna, we make sure that we don’t take it for granted. It’s such a blessing to be able to make our passion our lifestyle.”


“Punch is kind of the original, American cocktail.  traditional Jamaican punch that they usually serve around the holiday time – it’s also called ‘Hibiscus Sorelle’ punch. We use Appleton Jamaican Rum and Oleo Saccharum. To create the Oleo Saccharum, just take a bunch of lime peel, put it in sugar, and it macerates overnight; then you dilute it. Normally, with a cocktail in the bar, you would shake it and it would incorporate your dilution and air. With this punch, instead of diluting it with water, we use hibiscus tea. We use lots of ginger, some cinnamon clove and allspice. It’s a three-step process that’s not super hard to do, it’s just a bit time-consuming. Once it’s done, it’s very easy, communal, and you can store it for a long time.”
Mezzaluna Mixologist – Max Parker

Mezzaluna Mixologist Max Parker’s

25 oz. of sugar by weight

Zest of 12 limes

25 oz. of lime juice

75 oz. of Jamaican rum (Appleton V/X preferably)

6 quarts water 

1 lb. dried hibiscus flowers

2 tablespoons whole allspice

10 whole cloves

10 whole cinnamon stix

And 8 oz. fresh peeled and chopped ginger

To start, take the peeled limes and put them with the sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cover and let macerate overnight.
Take the water, hibiscus, spices, and ginger and put in a large pot; bring to boil and let simmer for ten minutes. Remove from heat and let steep until the tea is very tart and full flavored but not tannic and the spices come through. Strain into a separate container and measure 3-quarts of tea and incorporate into sugar until it dissolves. 
Add rum and lime juice. Put the entire punch in fridge to chill overnight. It will be ready to serve. Add ice, lime wheels and grate fresh nutmeg over top. If you want it to be bubbly pour some champagne over top and enjoy!

Max’s Tip for Cleaner Cocktails
To make the over-sized ice cubes, Parker uses one-directional freezing and a technique using nearly boiling water, frozen into containers. This directs the impurities to the bottom of the block, which then gets discarded. The ultra-clean top gets sliced off and cut into larger cubes to help keep the drink colder, longer and preserve the integrity of the cocktail.

As a self-taught mixologist, Parker has read over 33 books on mixology and never misses an opportunity to hone his skills. To create his signature cocktails, he often looks to the flavor profiles of desserts and pastries, for inspiration. His theory is that if it works in desserts, with a few sweet adjustments, it can work in a cocktail.

MezzalunaExecutive Chef: Joe Brunner’s 
White Sweet Potato and Apple Risotto with Bacon and Brussel Sprouts
Serves: 8                                                                                     

8 Strips of thick bacon (diced)

2 Shallots (minced)

5 cloves of garlic (minced)

4 Cups of arborio rice

½ Cup of white wine

¾ Gallon of chicken stock

1 Tablespoon of allspice

1 Tablespoon of cardamom

Salt and pepper to taste

12 Brussel sprouts, shaved

2 Tablespoons of butter

½ Cup of shredded parmesan

8 oz of toasted and crushed hazelnut

 Directions:-Start off by rendering the bacon on a large pot, big enough to fit all of the rice and liquid.-Remove the bacon once rendered, but keep the fat in the pan. On medium-high heat, sweat shallots and garlic until aromatic. Then toss in the Arborio rice and toast until the grains give off a nutty aroma.-Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Add your allspice, cardamom, then salt and pepper. -Slowly add chicken stock – 2 cups at a time, while continually stirring. The key to creamy risotto is the constant stirring to draw all of the starch out of the rice. -Once all of your stock is added, and the rice is al dente. Toss in your Brussel sprouts, cheese, and butter and mix until incorporated.-Finish by placing into whatever serving vessel you choose and garnish with the bacon and hazelnuts.

Rules of Risotto:
“Every holiday, I try to make risotto; I just want to bring a little bit of skill to the table, rather than the usual mash potatoes and stuffing. If you have a risotto recipe, my advice is to follow it. There are no shortcuts – the whole idea of stirring it the entire time is to draw the starch out of the rice and then make it creamy,” said Brunner. “Keep tasting it until it’s al dente, but not too crunchy or soft; then I always finish it with a small amount of parmesan cheese. I also think it’s important to toast the rice at the start, to extract the nutty flavor.”

“With roasting duck, there’s a lot of fat, so you first have to figure out a way to get rid of all the fat so you can achieve a crisp skin. Yesterday, we poached it in water for 10-minutes, trying to release some of that fat, so it can roast faster,” said Brunner. “My theory for roasting anything – duck, turkey, or chicken, is to do it fast and at a high temp, otherwise I think it gets too dry. Duck can also be eaten a little undercooked, but it’s not advised to eat the legs undercooked – it’s essentially like cooking a turkey.”

MezzalunaExecutive Chef: Joe Brunner’s Maple Roasted Duck
1 – 5 to 6 lb. whole duck, giblets removed2 – sprigs of rosemary2 – Sprigs of thyme1 – OrangeSalt & pepperButcher’s twineMaple syrup

Directions:NOTE: The day before you plan on roasting and serving the duck, make sure that you blanch the duck in simmering water to render some of the fat before roasting. Let air dry in your fridge so the skin is tacky and roasts easier.

1. First, stuff and truss the bird with butchers twine. Put the thyme, rosemary, and orange inside the cavity of the duck.

2. Next is trussing; this involves tying the two legs together and pulling the two strings around the bird and tying at the top. Trussing allows the duck to cook all at the same time instead of certain parts cooking before the others.

3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (roasting the duck at a higher temperature will ensure that the meat will stay moist as well as cook it a lot faster).

NOTE: Make sure the duck is sitting on top of a cooling rack, on top of a sheet pan because there will be a lot of fat rendering off, and it needs a place to collect the fat.

4. Insert the duck into the oven and set a timer for 45 minutes. Careful not to open the oven too many times to check because the mixture of fat and juices coming out of the duck will make your kitchen quite smoky.

5. After the first 45 minutes, open the oven and rotate the pan 180 degrees. Close the door and set another timer for 45 minutes. By this time the duck should be done. Remove from the oven and insert a digital thermometer into the inner thigh area and make sure it reaches at least 165 degrees.

6. Let rest for 15 minutes. Once rested. Pour the maple syrup over the top to make a glaze on the duck. Carve and enjoy!

Chef Joe Brunner is co-owner of Mezzaluna and graduated from NDSCS’s Culinary School in Wahpeton, N.D. in 2016. While he has been the head chef for nearly two years, he began his career as an intern for both Mezzaluna and Rustica, while attending college. _____________________________________________

Seasonal Inspiration
Our focus is to change our menu as the season changes; using the ingredients that are earth is providing to us, and featuring items that speak to our Midwestern culture,” said Taylor Snelling. “We love to source from our local purveyors and want to be as sustainable as possible.”

“During the fall and winter months, we bring in more savory items and comfort food. We also incorporate a lot of warmer flavors with seasonings like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cardamon,” said Brunner.

Get to Know: Mezzaluna’s Taylor Snelling
Snelling grew up in Litchfield, Minnesota and moved to the Fargo/Moorhead area in 2010. He was first introduced to the restaurant industry as a student at Minnesota State University, Moorhead, where he discovered a front-of-house passion for creating the ultimate guest experience. Snelling’s enthusiasm led him to a career behind the infamous horseshoe bar at Mezzaluna, in Downtown Fargo. He quickly transitioned from a host to a server, and ultimately, a bartender. While perfecting his craft, Snelling was promoted to Bar Manager, then later took on the role of General Manager. Today, he is Mezzaluna’s co-owner with Brunner, and thrives on setting a superior standard of service in one of Fargo’s most celebrated restaurants.

Gather with Grace 
“We’re having a great time and we just want to always be a business that takes care of our people. Our saying is, ‘If we take care of our people, then they’ll take care of the guests.’ Our team knows that the six-hours of each day that we’re open, is the most important part of the day,” said Taylor Snelling.

“We all have very strong feelings related to time around the dinner table,” said Taylor Snelling. Some of my best memories, either with family or friends, has been spent around the dinner table. Even though Mezzaluna is considered fine dining, we want to be able to always provide a high level of service, but in a humble and comfortable environment that guests will want to come back to, and bring their friends and family.”
For more information or reservations, contact:
Taylor Snelling / Owner
Joe Brunner / Owner & Executive Chef
309 Roberts Street North, Fargo


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Girl Meets Farm [ Season #2 meets Baby #1 ]

Story by Tracy Nicholson & Molly Yeh Photography courtesy of Molly Yeh With holiday excitement in the air and a bun in the oven (due in March), Molly Yeh debuted…

Story by Tracy Nicholson & Molly Yeh
Photography courtesy of Molly Yeh

With holiday excitement in the air and a bun in the oven (due in March), Molly Yeh debuted the big news last month, during the premiere of her second season of Food Network’s show, Girl Meets Farm. Filmed in the home she shares with her husband Nick Hagen, a fifth-generation farmer in East Grand Forks, this local food blogger has been stirring up the food scene since 2009. Since her number one fans are right here in the Midwest, we reached out to Yeh to help us kick off our holiday baking with a fresh take on an old favorite, brown sugar cookies.

Meet Molly Yeh!

Years before I became hip to Levain or Birdbath (my two favorite cookie spots in New York), or Carol’s Cookies (my favorite in Chicago), or the salty bittersweet chocolate chip cookie at the town bakery, my older sister invented a cookie that is so jarring in principle, it’ll make you either scoot fast in the opposite direction, or stick around just to see if the world explodes; chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips.

No, it’s not just a sugar cookie, homogeneous throughout and frosted with glee. It’s a chewy, gooey, crackly puck that doesn’t have a name to ride on or a trust fund under its butt. It’s not decorated or fancy. All it has to offer is that it’s a quality cookie.

These will show you that with all of the research put out into the world by Jacques Torres and J. Kenji López-Alt, one can achieve a beyond-terrific cookie, sans the hook of them containing chocolate. Because a great chocolate chip cookie isn’t great because it has chocolate, a great chocolate chip cookie is great because it has a foundation of gold; something we don’t give enough credit to. Is this getting preachy? The point is, I appreciate the spaces filled between the chocolate chips, and just like I prefer my challah without raisins, I often prefer my cookies without any chocolate to disrupt the perfect blend of butter and sugar.

“I appreciate the spaces filled between the chocolate chips, and just like I prefer my challah without raisins, I often prefer my cookies without any chocolate to disrupt the perfect blend of butter and sugar.”
Molly Yeh



Molly Yeh’s
Brown Sugar Cookies

[Makes about 8 large cookies]

3 – c. flour

1 – tsp. kosher salt

1 – tsp. baking powder

¼ – tsp. baking soda

1 – c. unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ – c. sugar

1 – c. packed dark brown sugar

2 – large eggs

1 – tbs. vanilla bean paste or extract

Flaky sea salt, for topping

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each, then add the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients. Increase the speed to medium and mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop out hockey-puck-size mounds of dough (about two ice cream scoops of dough, balled up and flattened slightly) and place them on the baking sheet. It’s okay for them to sit snugly up against each other for this step. Sprinkle the tops with a pinch of flaky salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 72. (In a pinch, you can bake these after just 1 hour of refrigerating, but curing the dough for 24 hours will yield the best results.) Feel free to bake these in batches or freeze some to bake at a later date (frozen cookies can be baked right out of the freezer, but they’ll need more time in the oven).

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the cookies three inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake until the bottoms are lightly browned, but the centers are still soft. Begin checking for doneness at 20 minutes. Cool on the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove to the rack to cool completely.


Find this recipe in Yeh’s cookbook, Molly on the Range:
Recipes and Stories from An Unlikely Life on a Farm © 2016 by Molly Yeh. Reprinted with permission from Rodale Books.Follow Molly Yeh!

  • Catch episodes from her TV series, Girl Meets Farm on Food Network, Sundays at 11:00 a.m.
  • Watch video exclusives with Molly Yeh and get how-to’s on cake decorating and making your favorite childhood snacks at FoodNetwork.com/GirlMeetsFarm.
  • Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #GirlMeetsFarm.
  • Follow Yeh on Facebook and Instagram @mynameisyeh.


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Style & Stage Through New Year’s Day [Trever Hill Design]

Story by Trever Hill with Tracy Nicholson Photography by Dan Francis Photography With holiday and new year parties nearing, I decided to stage and style a photo shoot using locally-sourced…

Story by Trever Hill with Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography
With holiday and new year parties nearing, I decided to stage and style a photo shoot using locally-sourced finds, with the idea that it can then be recreated in your own home. The White House Co.’s downtown warehouse provided the perfect backdrop with a bonus – my pick from hundreds of vintage furnishings in a rainbow of rich colors and textures. This setting will show you a fun fusion of local art as well as vintage and modern decor that you can rent or buy to host your holidays. Since furnishing trends tend to emulate fashion trends, I made sure to include a few model friends to show off some bold party looks from my friends at Downtown Fargo’s Others and Proper & Prim.

Borrowing Beauty
In the midst of planning a party but don’t think your furnishings are festive enough? Most people don’t realize that if they want to spruce up their space, it’s as easy as hiring a local designer for a consult or renting a couple of items for a day or weekend. You can really make a huge impact by adding in just a few fun pieces in interesting colors or textures.

Lovely Lounging
Our festive lounge scene is focused on the velvet settee from The White House Co. along with a coordinating large-scale art piece from my friend, Jessica Wachter. To add a vintage-mod dimension, I included a vintage area rug over the sisal rug, modern coffee table and fun, velvet side chairs. The majority of these items can be rented or purchased in Fargo-Moorhead with the exception of the sisal rug – this was an online find.

Embrace your Inner Bookworm
Vintage, hardcover books are not just for reading. They also make great decor when you coordinate the colors in rows or stacks on shelves, side tables or tablescapes. The White House Co. sells these and often accents the colorful rows with rustic items like deer antlers. For this shoot, I added in a reflective disco ball which can carry the design from Christmas to New Year’s Eve.

Dine in Style
To create the dining area, I first found the dining table and tree at Eco Chic Home, then added some color with rustic wood chairs from O’Day Cache. On the tabletop, I strayed away from traditional holiday colors, yet still kept the look festive with floral from Love Always Floral and gorgeous place settings from McNeal & Friends.

Entertaining but Indecisive?
Sometimes you need a fresh pair of eyes, so whether you’re working with a designer like myself or a place that rents furnishings, make sure to keep an open mind. Bring a picture and The White House Co. can quickly help you choose from hundreds of rental options and colors. A consult with a designer in your home can help you to see outside of the traditional ideas of holiday decor and seamlessly fuse it with your existing style and furnishings.

Dress to Impress

Once I’d set the stage, our models had to be equally adorned, courtesy of two fantastic boutiques in Downtown Fargo. To dress the ladies, Myranda Ingram, Sydney Fritz and Cassandra Colling, we visited my friend Teresa O’Day at Proper & Prim and they were quickly outfitted in glitz, glam and fun materials that played into our vintage-mod vibe. Our lone male model, Atati Mita was dressed in clothing from Others.

Shop the Look

Sequined romper – $88, Proper & Prim

Black sequin dress – $84, Proper & Prim

Maroon glimmer dress – $60, Proper & Prim

Men’s dress shirt – $48, Others

Find the Finishes

Art – $2,200, Jessica Wachter

Dining table – $915, Eco Chic Home

Tree – $299, Eco Chic Home

Dining chairs – $65, O’Day Cache

Sofa rental – $100 daily, The White House Co.

Books – $3 each, The White House Co.

Place setting & stemware – $562, McNeal & Friends

Pillows – $29, The White House Co.

Sisal Rug – $279, Wayfair
Blue side chairs – $258 at Target/ Also available for rent at The White House Co.

Floral – $149, Love Always Floral

Roses grown/sourced from – Alexandra Farms
(Find them at Alexandrafarms.com & on Instagram at alexandrafarms)
Fun fact: Alexandra Farms specializes in boutique roses and grow over 60 different types!


Gift the Host
During the holidays, parties are plentiful, so make sure you’re prepared to pamper the host. Here are two fun gift ideas that will spark conversation and spice up the festivities.

Hot Ruby
Hot Ruby was created in 1950 in the kitchen of Ruby Faye in Mabelle, Texas. Faye’s cranberry cider recipe, infused with cinnamon and clove, was famous among friends and family and always served up simmering hot. For family-friendly functions, try it with sparkling water, ginger ale or club soda. If you prefer spicy and spiked, there are endless ways to serve it up cold with champagne, tequila or ginger beer or make it hot the way Faye intended with vodka, spiced whiskey or bourbon.

Get the full story and list of recipes at DrinkHotRuby.com.

Where to Buy in Fargo-Moorhead:
Shotwell Floral & Greenhouses
4000 40th Street South, Fargo

BĒT Vodka 

In 2016, BĒT (pronounced ‘beet’) VODKA came to life in Minneapolis. From generations of Midwest family farmers to the cooperative where the harvest is gathered, BĒT distills the bounty of sugar beets from the Red River Valley, down to its simplest and purest essence. The result is a sophisticated premium-pour meant be sipped and savored — unlike traditional vodka. Similar to Midwestern culture, BĒT is served best alongside good company. BĒT Vodka comes in mini bottles and 750 ml. bottles.

Check out their full story at betvodka.com.

Where to Buy in Fargo-Moorhead: 

Royal Liquors | Happy Harry’s Bottle Shop | Bottle Barn

Crown Liquors | 99 Bottles

For more information, contact:
Trever Hill Design

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Chocolate Coffee Cake with Whipped Mascarpone Frosting

Story by Katie Sullivan, Pretty Domesticated Photography by Micah J. Zimmerman16 I don’t know about you, but when the holiday’s roll around, I survive on two things to get me…

Story by Katie Sullivan, Pretty Domesticated
Photography by Micah J. Zimmerman16

I don’t know about you, but when the holiday’s roll around, I survive on two things to get me through decking the halls, wrapping gifts and hosting my family; it’s coffee and sugar. But, I’m a mom and that means I’m all about efficiency. Enter my holiday cake, where I’ve combined my two great loves (other than my family, of course). This cake is sure to impress your guests. One: everyone makes holiday cookies, but does everyone make a holiday cake? I think not. Two: it sounds fancy. Throw in words like mascarpone, espresso and naked cake, and people might even think you went to culinary school, when really, you’re whipping up a pretty basic chocolate cake. You may even impress your mother-in-law, but let’s not get carried away. I’m not a miracle worker, I just know a good cake when I taste one.

Chocolate Coffee Cake

3 c. all-purpose flour

3 c. granulated sugar

1 ½ c. unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbs. baking soda

1 ¾ tsp. baking powder

1 ½ tsp. kosher salt

4 large eggs

1 ½ c. buttermilk

½ c. canola oil

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ c. hot coffee

Whipped Mascarpone Frosting

2 c. heavy cream, cold

2 c. confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

16 oz. mascarpone cheese, chilled (two 8 oz. containers)

Sugared Cranberries

½ c. water

¾ c. granulated sugar, divided

1 c. cranberries

(save room for one missing pic – side table full of ingredients)


To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 °. Grease and line the bottom of three 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper.

In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt on a low speed until well combined. Add eggs, buttermilk, canola oil, vanilla and hot coffee, and beat on a medium speed until smooth.

Divide batter evenly among the three pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 15 minutes, and then turn cakes onto a cooling rack.

To make the frosting: In a large bowl, combine heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until the cream holds a soft peak. Add the mascarpone cheese and whip until blended.

To make the cranberries: In a small pot, whisk water and ½ c. of sugar to combine. Bring to a simmer and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in cranberries until they are well coated. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cranberries to a baking sheet and let dry for at least 1 hour. Roll cranberries in remaining sugar until well coated. Let dry for a least 1 hour.

To assemble: Once cakes are fully cooled, level them and stack with a generous amount of frosting between each layer. Lightly frost the entire cake. Decorate with cranberries as desired.

This cake and hot cocoa are a match made in holiday heaven. I like to dress up store bought cocoa with a drop of peppermint oil and some homemade whip cream. To make whip cream, use an electric mixer to beat 1 c. heavy cream, 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract and 2 tbs. granulated sugar until fluffy. 

environmental pics to use: #2, 7, 9, 17,  18(#1 – photo caption of family)
Katie Sullivan resides in West Fargo, N.D., with her husband Daren and their two children, Eva and Kristian.


Florals – Love Always Floral

Holiday & select kitchen decor – Eco Chic Home

Art – The Atelier Collection


Keep up with Katie and her family at prettydomesticated.com

Instagram: @PrettyDomesticated

Facebook: Pretty Domesticated

Pinterest: KtMSullivan

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Cookies & Cocktails [Chef Judd Eskildsen, Proof Artisan Distillers]

Story by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Micah J. Zimmerman Meet Chef Judd Eskildsen of Downtown Fargo’s Proof Artisan Distillers. Just beyond his kitchen, you’ll find an array of nationally-awarded vodka,…

Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Micah J. Zimmerman

Meet Chef Judd Eskildsen of Downtown Fargo’s Proof Artisan Distillers. Just beyond his kitchen, you’ll find an array of nationally-awarded vodka, gin and whiskey; proudly-produced from North Dakota agricultural products, and distilled daily. Those who visit Proof – The Tasting Room, would be remiss to overlook his spirited pairings. With a wide range of seasonal flavors, gracing fresh seafood, beef, pork and chicken, Eskildsen knows how to spin native ingredients with extraordinary flavors. This is a hands-on, foodie experience with spiked seasonings, distilled from scratch – only a few feet from the kitchen.

Pairing Cookies + Cocktails
Asking this master of meat to bake a holiday treat may have seemed like a stretch, but we promise, you’ll love his bacon, chocolate and peanut butter cup cookies. If that’s not enough, he served up one of his specialty entrees and taught us how to concoct a tasty Tipsy Mocha. This is one holiday menu that will bring the Christmas cheer, one perfectly-aged barrel at a time.

From the Chef: Judd Eskildsen
“I absolutely love cookies, but they have to be soft. Since I was asked to share a family cookie recipe or one of my favorites, I mixed it up a bit. I love chocolate chip cookies, but there are a million recipes for them. I also really love my Grandma Arlos’ molasses cookies, but I’m a chef, so I went ahead and created an over the top, one of a kind cookie – because it’s not every day that you get your picture taken for a magazine!”

Chocolate, Bacon & Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
1 – lb. bacon (chopped) – cooked until done, but not extra crispy
2 – c. flour
3⁄4 – c. cocoa powder
1⁄2 – tsp. baking soda
1⁄2 – c. softened butter
1 – c. brown sugar
1⁄4 – c. white sugar
3 – eggs
1 – tsp vanilla
14 oz. package mini peanut butter cups
1⁄2 – c. semisweet chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder and baking soda.
-Add butter, brown sugar and white sugar to a stand mixer, and mix with wire whip.
-Add eggs and vanilla to mixer and mix until smooth.
-Slowly add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl, and mix until a dough is formed.
-Switch to the paddle attachment, and slowly add peanut butter cups and bacon.
– Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes -Scoop dough and place on a greased cookie sheet, using a 1.25 oz scoop (#40).
Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately.
Note: Cookies will not appear to be fully done, but they will continue cooking during the cool-down.

The Tipsy Mocha1⁄2 oz. 2 Docks Vodka
1⁄2 oz. 2 Docks Cream Liqueur
1 oz. 2 Docks Coffee Liqueur
6 oz. hot Cocoa or Warm Chocolate Milk

Add all ingredients to a coffee mug, top with whipped cream and garnish as needed. I used crushed, chocolate mint-covered pretzels from Costco.


The Tasting Room Menu
Eskildsen’s seasonally-changing menu is an eclectic mix of comfort food, elevated bar food and fine dining. His emphasis features fan favorites; from smoked and braised briskets to Southwest, steaks, sliders, authentic Italian pasta sauces and artisan burgers. Throw in his Chicken Wings Confit from the Shareables menu, ask him to pair it with the perfect cocktail, and you’ll likely knock out every possible craving.Chef Judd Eskildsen creates a bi-weekly Chef’s Feature dish that gives him the opportunity to get creative. A recent Chef’s Feature, the Manhattan Filet with Langostino Lobster, Vermouth Sauce, Aged Gouda Potato Rosti with Sautéed Asparagus, was paired with The Chef’s Shifter.“I like the idea of ‘elevated bar food’ when it comes to appetizers,” said Eskildsen. “We all love a great dish like the Steak with Langostino Lobster and Vermouth Sauce, but who doesn’t like chicken wings? You really can’t beat a damn good sandwich either, and if you don’t like tacos, we probably shouldn’t be friends anymore. I’m usually very humble about my food, but I have a hard time believing that there is a better chicken wing than mine. There may be better sauces out there, but not a better wing. I haven’t found a decent way to dip a wing, so that led to the creation of Buffalo & Bleu…why not mix it in right away, and skip the dipping part?”

Local Favorites in the Tasting Room

BBQ Beef Burnt Ends – Hickory smoked brisket with crispy onion and honey mustard aioli
Chicken Wings Confit – BBQ, Buffalo & Bleu, or Sambal Chili
Tacos – Braised beef, Mojo pork, Salsa verde chicken, BBQ pork

“I’m very confident in my BBQ abilities because of the amount of time I’ve spent working on them. Any time you see my name and BBQ, I highly urge you to be a part of it.”
Chef Judd (Justin) Eskildsen, Proof Artisan Distillers

Chef’s Shifter

1⁄2 oz. Glen Fargo American Malt Whiskey 1⁄2 oz Minions Old Tom Gin
1⁄2 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1⁄4 oz. Grand Marnier
1⁄4 oz. Maraschino Liqueur

Stir over ice for 30 seconds and strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube and an orange peel garnish._______________________________________

Crooked Stocking Stuffers

Gift the host, stuff the stocking or brighten up your holiday party with Proof’s newest spirit, Crooked Furrow Bourbon Whiskey. Swing by their downtown distillery and create your own two or three-pack gift box with their hand-crafted collection including: 2DOCKS Vodka, 2DOCKS FirebyProof Cinnamon Whiskey, 2DOCKS Coffee and 2DOCKS Cream Liqueur, MINIONS Gin, MINIONS BARRELED RESERVE Gin, MINIONS OLD TOM Gin, MINIONS Vän Skap Aquavit, Glen Fargo – American Malt Whiskey or CROOKED FURROW Bourbon, and Harvest Blend-Blended Bourbon. You can also find their products at nearly 600 liquor stores, bars and restaurants throughout North Dakota and Minnesota.

Proof’s new Crooked Furrow Bourbon Whiskey was distilled and barreled three years ago. It has finally reached the age they’d been patiently waiting for. “The one thing about whiskey is, whiskey is not good until it is good, and there’s really no in between,” said Joel Kath, Proof’s founder and distiller. “Our initial limited release will expand to bar and liquor store shelves by January. However, we are not releasing all of the barrels at three-years; otherwise, we would never get any six, 10 or 15-year-old whiskey.”

One Batch at a Time

Kath takes pride in using locally sourced ingredients; North Dakota-grown corn and barley as well as oak barrels from Minnesota. “Our whiskey production is “one batch, one barrel” – and we patiently monitor it until it’s ready,” said Kath. “We’ve won over 20 national awards across our entire line of spirits and just made the cover of the premier trade journal for North America Distillers. One of four selected this year, out of 1,800 craft distilleries – right here in Fargo. We are all about the passion of the spirit; crafting quality spirits from local products. You can find our products at your favorite bar, restaurant and liquor store.”

Interested in a tour of the distillery? Kath suggests stopping in during happy hour on Wednesdays and Thursdays or calling ahead to schedule a group tour. If you’re interested in attending a seminar or special pairing dinner, follow them on social media for upcoming dates.


Meet the Chef: Judd (Justin) Eskildsen
Eskildsen was born and raised in Moorhead, Minn., and has been the Executive Chef at Proof Artisan Distillers since 2015. Although he has no formal training, he started young in his mom’s kitchen and has worked in restaurants since he was 15-years-old. Once having plans to go to culinary school, he instead took on an eight-year career as a welder. With nights and weekend off, Eskildsen used his spare time to pursue his long-time passion, eventually purchasing a smoker which dove him deeper into the art of BBQ.Realizing he needed to pursue his true passion further, Eskildsen headed back to the kitchen, working in some of the best restaurants in Fargo-Moorhead. In the summer of 2015, he was asked to create a cocktail party-style dinner featuring Proof’s products. His debut, as a chef who could master pairings, would become the catalyst for a new career in the kitchen of Proof’s Fargo distillery. Many would agree that Eskildsen’s culinary career has been aged to perfection.

For more information, contact:
Proof Artisan Distillers, LLC
Judd Eskildsen, Executive Chef

315 North 5th Street #100, Fargo


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The More the Merrier

Story by Tracy Nicholson Photography by M. Schleif Photography Famous for their holiday soirees, we consider Monte Jones and Jerry Erbstoesser, entertaining elites. After moving from their Downtown Moorhead condo…

Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M. Schleif Photography

Famous for their holiday soirees, we consider Monte Jones and Jerry Erbstoesser, entertaining elites. After moving from their Downtown Moorhead condo last year, the two happily settled into the suburbs of West Fargo. While this summer we took you inside their first garden party fundraiser – nearly one year ago, we crashed their Christmas. See inside the couple’s festive, annual gathering, uniting their beloved, old and new neighborhoods with holiday cheer.

“Everybody, don’t be shy; if there’s a flat surface, park it,” laughed host, Monte Jones. A bit of advice when attending one of Jones and Erbstoesser’s gatherings – leave your formality at the door and get ready to mingle with the friendliest folks around. Don’t let the elaborate decor and Jone’s glittery attire confuse you; what appears to most as an exclusive soiree of who’s who in Fargo-Moorhead, is actually an inclusive celebration of neighbors and friends, old and new. Jones and Erbstoesser are born entertainers with a contagious enthusiasm for gathering in the name of friendship. If we had to guess their party-planning motto, we can only assume it would be, “The more, the merrier.”

Jones and Erbstoesser set the bar high when it comes to cuisine and cocktails. Both work in fine dining and catering with Delta Hotels by Marriot and Urban 42, so naturally, they recruited James Labonte, the hotel’s banquet chef to create an exquisite mix of cold and hot appetizers with an array of delectable desserts.

Guests happily grazed on antipasto platters, shrimp ceviche, crackers with brie, spiced walnuts and balsamic reduction, along with Southwest skewers and avocado cream, flank steak sliders and spinach and artichoke paninis.

“Our friends make us happy and that’s what makes this party – it’s all of our friends. It’s simple; we like all of our friends, so we assume that all of our friends will like each other. That’s what brings us joy,” said Jones.

For more information on Jones and Erbstoesser’s catering, contact:
Delta Hotel | Marriot
1635 42nd Street South, Fargo

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Giving & Gathering

Story by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Dan Francis Photography Recently, Midwest Nest donated an educational evening in the kitchen to the Pray for Gray benefit which took place this fall….

Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography

Recently, Midwest Nest donated an educational evening in the kitchen to the Pray for Gray benefit which took place this fall. Four guests were promised a behind-the-scenes seat at the table and auctioned off to the highest bidder – board member, Tom Shirek. Shirek had placed a handsome bid with the intent to send his wife, Sally Shirek, a Pray for Gray committee member, on a fabulous girl’s night out. To give the group an unforgettable experience, we called on four of the most talented at-home chefs we knew and two of the most giving hosts, Jim and Vonda Leiner. All graciously gathered and donated their time to display their skills in the Leiner’s beautiful kitchen. You’re invited to see inside their autumn-inspired evening, with four delectable courses – served up in style.

Be our Guest:
Thrilled with her husband’s gift, Sally Shirek wasted no time gathering her three friends,
Shannon Aannerud, Janessa Morrow and Allison Faller, to join in the food shoot fun. This VIP gathering began their foodie adventure in Leiner’s picturesque backyard, then headed inside for a behind-the-scenes tasting of four fall-inspired courses.

The Chefs
You might recognize our featured chefs, they grace our pages many times a year. Each at-home chef offers our readers an in-depth, but down-to-earth education in family favorites, comfort food, cocktails, desserts and specialty dishes they’ve recreated from their worldly travels. Our sincere thanks to hosts and chefs, Jim and Vonda Leiner, food blogger and at-home chef, Shayla Knutson of Sweetly Simple Life, our resident cheesemonger/”Culinary Masterson” (Jesse Masterson), and last but never least, our favorite family of world travelers and cuisine contributors, Laneil Skaff, along with her daughter Julie Stoe and daughter-in-law Christine Skaff.

Savoring the Season
This is the third time we’ve shot at the Leiner home and there’s no question we’d beg them to host again. In fact, the Leiners have become known for their gracious hosting, regularly entertaining on behalf of many different fundraising dinners. This is one couple who we consider experts in creating and capturing the perfect seasonal ambiance. Guests at each dinner enjoy a backyard riverside oasis, inviting ambiance and impressive tablescapes.21
One of the coziest features in the home is their authentic woodfire pizza oven from Italy. Jim Leiner is a long-time cabinet builder for Wood Specialists in Fargo. He installed the woodfire oven, crafted their beautiful cabinetry and created the stone surround. With the oven’s interior temps reaching around 800 degrees, fall is the perfect time to fire it up.

“It is all of the wonderful people we know and have gotten to know, gathering for causes and celebrations that are filled with so many stories and wonderful memories; that is what makes our house a home,” said Vonda Leiner. “Of course, it’s always fun to design and come up with new ideas to create an environment that makes people feel special, warm and cozy.”

Course #1: Jim & Vonda Leiner

Woodfire-Roasted Fennel with Prosciutto Pizza
Brush pizza dough with olive oil.
Top with fontina cheese, roasted fennel slices, prosciutto and red pepper flakes.
After baking, sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds, sea salt and balsamic vinegar glaze.

Woodfire-Roasted Harvest Butternut Squash Pizza
Spread chipotle oil on pizza dough.
Top with caramelized onion, butternut squash, mozzarella cheese, thin apple slices, chopped bacon and a sprinkle of blue cheese.
Garnish with sage and walnuts.

Tips: The Leiners use a basic dough recipe, but you can purchase dough or make your own. If you don’t have access to a woodfire pizza oven, you can also use a pizza stone in the oven at 450-500 degrees.“Jim and I have been blessed by the support of our community, as well as family and friends when dealing with our own health challenges. We love having the opportunity to help and give back when we can, by opening our home for others to enjoy.”
Vonda Leiner, Homeowner & Midwest Nest Cuisine Contributor

Course #2: Jesse Masterson
Kale & Brussel Sprout Salad + Fig Balsamic DressingIngredients:2 – Tbs. of olive oil

1 – Bundle of Kale, chopped

2 – C. of Brussel Sprouts, shredded

1 – Apple (sliced or balled – using a melon baller)

1 – Carrot, shredded

2 – Slices of bread

1 – C. walnuts



White cheddar cheese, sliced or shredded

Brie cheese, sliced

Fig Balsamic Dressing:

1/3 – C. of olive oil

1/4 – C. balsamic vinegar

3 – Tbs. of fig preserves

Preheat oven to 425°

1. In a large salad bowl massage kale with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. This helps make the kale not so bitter. Toss Brussel sprouts in with kale.

2. Toss walnuts in one tablespoon of olive oil and add a dash of paprika, cinnamon and cumin. Using a cookie sheet, bake the walnuts in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

3. Prepare the fig balsamic dressing. Whisk ingredients together.

4. Prepare the Brie and white cheddar grilled cheese. Once done, cut the grilled cheese into small cubes. Don’t cut them too small or they’ll fall apart.

5. Top the kale and sprouts with carrots, apple, walnuts, grilled cheese croutons and salad dressing.25, 26, 19
“I was able to find most of the ingredients at the Red River Market in Downtown Fargo. On the weekends from July through October, this is a great place to find fresh and local produce, floral, handmade goods and dishes from locally-owned restaurants. Make sure to check out their upcoming schedule of events at www.redriver.market.com.”
Jesse Masterson, Midwest Nest Cuisine Contributor

Course #3: Laneil Skaff, Julie Stoe, Christine Skaff
Pepita Chicken + Oven-Roasted Fall Squash with Brown Sugar Glaze
Chicken in Pumpkin Seed Tomatillo Sauce


Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
½ – Pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and halved (Cashwise, 4907 Timber Pkwy S, Fargo)

½ – Medium white onion, roughly chopped

3 – Tablespoons avocado or vegetable oil, divided

1 ½ – Pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and halved

2 – tsp. ground cumin, divided

2 – tsp. Mexican oregano, divided

1/3 – C. green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1 – Large garlic clove, peeled and chopped

2 – C. Low sodium chicken broth

1/3 – C. Crema Mexicana or sour cream w/a splash of milk or cream

1 – C. Loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish lime wedges, for serving

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

1. Roast tomatillos and onions: In a medium bowl, combine tomatillos and onion and toss with oil to coat. Transfer to a baking sheet and lightly season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes or until tomatillos and onions are dark and crispy on the edges.

2. Season chicken generously with salt, pepper, and one teaspoon each of cumin and oregano; set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add one Tablespoon of oil. Toast the pumpkin seeds in the hot oil, stirring continuously, until they have expanded and begin to pop; 1-2 minutes. Carefully remove one Tablespoon of the toasted pumpkin seeds, lightly season with salt and set aside for garnish.

4. Add garlic and jalapeno to the pan and sauté until aromatic, about one minute. Add remaining teaspoons of cumin and oregano, roasted tomatillos, onion, ½ teaspoon of salt, and chicken broth; bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.
5. Remove saucepan from heat, add cilantro, then pour into a blender and puree until smooth. Tip: Take the center knob out of the blender and place a paper towel over the hole – otherwise, you will have a hot explosion on your hands!
6. Once pureed smooth, pour back in pan, add cream (or sour cream) and reheat over medium-low heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

To pan roast the chicken: With a large heavy skillet, over medium-high heat – add remaining oil. When oil is simmering, place thighs (or your preference) presentation side down in the pan. DO NOT move them around. Cook until evenly browned, about five minutes. Carefully turn thighs over and finish cooking; by either placing cover on and turning heat down to medium-low or finish in oven. Roast until the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees, or about eight minutes.

To serve:  Spoon ¼-inch of sauce into warmed shallow serving dish. Arrange pieces of roasted chicken on top of the sauce. Drizzle sauce over chicken until well coated and garnish with pumpkin seeds and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and extra sauce on the side.

I learned how to make this at a cooking school; it’s easy to make, but it has really interesting, warm flavors that mix a bit of Mexican with a bit of fall. The tomatillos grow in a husk and have a denser texture with a little bite to it. The pepitas (green pumpkin seeds) give the dish a hint of fall without screaming pumpkin. It’s great served with plain rice, jasmine rice or a simple risotto. I prefer to use chicken thighs because they’re so moist and flavorful. You can even double the chicken and still only make one recipe of sauce. The sauce can be made up to two days ahead of time. If you have leftover sauce, try it on cheese quesadillas, steak, fajitas or fish tacos.”  Laneil Skaff, Midwest Nest Cuisine Contributor


Brown Sugar Glazed Fall Squash


Variety of fall squash – Laneil used acorn and buttercup


Salt and pepper

2- Tbs. Honey

1 – Tbs. Butter

2 – Tbs. Brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees


1. Wash squash and slice in half – top to bottom. Dig out middle seeds, then slice  ¼ to ½-inch slices. Place on foil-covered sheet pan.

2. Melt butter, using a pastry brush, brush each piece generously with butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Place in oven and bake for five minutes.
4. While squash is baking, make glaze. In a saucepan over medium heat, place honey, butter and brown sugar in pan and cook until brown sugar is melted.

5. Take squash out of oven and brush with glaze. Return to oven and bake for five to seven more minutes or until tender and glaze has caramelized.
(Time will vary depending on thickness of squash.)

Dessert Course: Shayla Knutson of Sweetly Simple Life
Pumpkin Crème Brûlée
4 – C. Heavy cream
8 – Egg yolks
1 – C. Sugar
1 – C. Pumpkin
1 – tsp. Vanilla
1 – tsp. Cinnamon
½ – tsp. Ginger
¼ – tsp. Cloves
¼ – tsp. Nutmeg (freshly ground)
6 – Mini pumpkins or six, 4-ounce ramekins

Preheat oven to 300 degrees
1. In a small saucepan, heat whipping cream and spices over medium heat, just until bubbly. Remove from heat; set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, pumpkin and salt. Beat with a whisk or mixer just until combined. Slowly whisk the hot whipping cream into the egg mixture.
3. Use a small serrated knife to cut off the top half-inch of the baby pumpkins. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Place the pumpkins in a roasting pan.
4. Divide custard mixture evenly among the pumpkins or ramekins. Place roasting pan on oven rack. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of the pumpkins or ramekins. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until center appears nearly set when gently shaken.
5. Carefully remove pan from oven. Remove pumpkins or ramekins from water; cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill for at least two hours or up to 24 hours. Before serving, let custards stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
6. Pour a thin, even layer of sugar over the refrigerated custards, ignite the torch, and use slow, sweeping motions. The sugar will melt slowly at first and then caramelize.

“This is a normal creme brulee, but I added pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices for a seasonal touch. Expect your creme brulee to be less firm than usual. You can use regular ramekins, but I thought the presentation would be more festive to serve it in carved-out, mini pumpkins. I would suggest preparing this recipe a day ahead of time. Also, cook time will vary with pumpkins versus ramekins; due to the moisture, plan for a longer bake time with pumpkins.”
Shayla Knutson, Sweetly Simple Life & Midwest Nest Cuisine Contributor
Follow on Facebook or Instagram @sweetlysimplelife

“Thank you to all the local chef’s involved for the wonderful meal, and especially Jim and Vonda for hosting the beautiful evening and delicious food. Thank you to Midwest Nest for the donation of the food shoot package for the Pray for Gray Gala and all of the generosities in this community. My friends and I had a great time and will forever cherish the memories together!” Sally Shirek


About Pray for Gray
Pray for Gray was founded by Julie Fletcher and is currently the only North Dakota 501(c)3 nonprofit brain tumor organization. The organization’s goal is to educate and raise awareness of brain tumors, to help meet the needs of other brain tumor patients and their families. Through their annual events, they strive to raise funds for new research and patient survival. Pray for Gray proceeds go to help area brain tumor survivors and their families, as well as brain tumor research programs.For more information regarding Pray for Gray, contact:
Pray for Gray Foundation
PO Box 446
Fargo, ND 58107



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Vintage + Velvet

Story by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Glasser Images Setting the stage at The White House Co.’s warehouse near Downtown Fargo, the perfect collaboration was born. This stylized shoot was dreamed…

Story by Tracy Nicholson

Photography by Glasser Images

Setting the stage at The White House Co.’s warehouse near Downtown Fargo, the perfect collaboration was born. This stylized shoot was dreamed up by three groups of creatives, with their hearts set on pushing the boundaries of beautiful. Together, Megan Lewis of Milk Made and Amanda Rydell, Samantha Klinkhammer and Katie Schiltz of The White House Co., worked closely with Glasser Images to document and create vintage inspiration, with an edge.

Creative Collaboration

The White House Co. and Milk Made were already in the midst of planning their stylized shoot when Glasser Images contacted them about staging and styling their own photography project. Since the two were planned for the same day, they decided to combine their creativity and collaborate. Inside The White House Co. warehouse, they had their pick of hundreds of vintage furniture pieces, arches, table settings and everything in between.

With The White House Co.’s setting, two gorgeous couples to model, and Glasser Images to document – Megan Lewis of Milk Made had the perfect opportunity to showcase her passion for high-design charcuterie and cheese creations. Lewis started Milk Made Catering in May of 2017 and works out of Square One Kitchens in Downtown Fargo. Utilizing her extensive education in cheese, she has become well-known for her artfully catered designs; combining exotic fruits, nuts, vegetables, meats and cheeses in an eye-catching and edible display.

“The idea behind this shoot was to take the inspirations behind what we view as a typical ‘North Dakota Wedding’ and put a fresh, modern twist on the rustic feel so many couples in our area look for. We really wanted to use the opportunity to team up with some of our favorite local vendors in the Fargo area to create something wonderful.”

Liz Tomek, Glasser Images

Sitting Pretty   

Using the warehouse’s brick walls as the backdrop, The White House Co. set the tone with rich velvet textures, a tablescape mixing modern and minimal, a pampas grass-adorned arch and rustic fireplace setting. Rather than designing a more traditional head table, Rydell, Klinkhammer and Schiltz created a vintage bar setup with a stylized sweetheart table.

“We knew we wanted the shoot to be fall-inspired, so we took a play on those colors and added some unexpected brighter tones; playing with them in a unique way,” said Schiltz. “We can work with brides to bring in furniture and help stage the venue; we deliver, setup and tear down. We don’t do full-on wedding planning, but we can help collaborate their decor with ours and provide things like soft seating, cake plates, vintage dishware, tables and arches. We collaborate a lot with Love Always Floral and have people we can contact for custom things like signage and calligraphy.”

Aside from their retail store at 14 Roberts Street in Downtown Fargo, their Main Avenue warehouse holds the inventory that The White House Co. rents out for staging weddings and events. They have recently added on more storage space, allowing them to extend their offerings and create their own vintage venue to host more intimate events or classes.

Real-Life Love 

To document their stylized shoot, Glasser Images brought in two real-life couples to model attire, jewelry, hair and makeup. “Our models, Steff and Travis, and Beth and Noah could not have been more perfect for the vibe and aesthetic,” said Liz Tomek of Glasser Images. “While I coordinated the team, our creative team, Jenna, Connor and Nick, each brought their personalities and energy to the shoot. Their talent and creativity are what made the imagery unique and spectacular.”

Collaborating with local talent, the team relied on Love Always Floral for the couples’ bridal bouquets, cake topper, pampas grasses for the ceremony arch and custom dog collars. A modern menu card and invite were designed by Kailey Louise Designs, while Lettering by Samantha created the custom calligraphy detailing. Serenading the models was a local musician, Wyatt Dronan.

Cheese[wheel] Cake

At the center of their scene, a three-tiered cheese wheel cake nearly stole the show. This rustic, fall-inspired masterpiece was created by Milk Made. For an unlikely, but perfect pairing for the (cheese) cake, Lewis incorporated a mushroom cake topper she handpicked at Prairie Roots Co-op, hailing from Doubting Thomas Farms. Combined with stunning flowers from Love Always Floral, this was a centerpiece worth savoring.

Lewis special orders her cheese wheels primarily from local and American-made cheese and charcuterie makers, allowing roughly 30% to be imported. She uses the cheese wheel’s wooden box lids as a sustainable base for her designs. Clients can choose from a menu of savory or sweet options including antipasto, fruit and crudites or cheese and charcuterie. In her cheese creations, Lewis often includes Fargo-made finds like honey butter from Butter Creations by Ann and Three Bears Honey.

Lewis’ cake is designed with three tiers of cheese wheels; the top tier is a French Regal de Bourgogne Moutarde or soft cow’s milk cheese, wrapped in whole-grain mustard seeds. The middle tier is Coppinger, a washed rind cheese, and the bottom is an aged Vella Dry Jack with a cocoa rub.

“When I’m doing a cheese wheel cake or platter, I really love the process. I have a storyboard of the colors that the client wants, so I’ll spend well over an hour in the store, just thinking about what types of unique cheeses and vegetables I want to use,” said Lewis. “I usually have around 20 different fruits and vegetables and I consider the surroundings and colors before I piece it together. Everything that I do is ‘cheesemongers choice’, and I do that purposefully, so it really allows me to pair and curate things. It helps to broaden people’s horizons.”


“With every image, you can feel the dedication and the energy each person put into their creations. You can tell that every aspect of this shoot was done with a great amount of passion,” said Tomek. “The end result truly was an incredibly beautiful, collaborative experience.”


Seasonal Serving & Staging Tips

[with The White House Co. & Milk Made]

1. Embrace seasonal produce and offerings. When building your own cheese tray, Lewis suggests choosing one or two more approachable cheese options, then keep your eye out for the seasonal cheeses that come out right before Thanksgiving and Christmas.

2. Get creative with your tablescape. As Schiltz noted, swapping out your glassware, flatware and dishes is as simple as a trip to the thrift store. Don’t be afraid to mix and match patterns, textures and metals for a fun, vintage appeal.

3. Don’t forget to focus on floral. According to Klinkhammer, a floral centerpiece can allow you to play with the color palette and give your tablescape a simple pop of color or instant elegance.

4. If floral is your foe…Lewis suggests trying an edible design by laying down a clear saran wrap or butcher paper runner and creating a grazing centerpiece of cheeses, nuts, fruits or meats. If you use butcher paper, grab a permanent marker and draw arrows labeling each cheese. If it seems like more than you can tackle, let Milk Made create a curated, edible centerpiece for your holiday gathering. If you love to create your own cheese boards, check out Luna in Fargo for their cut-to-order cheese counter where you can try before you buy. You can also check out the selection at Pinch & Pour and Prairie Food Co-op in Downtown Fargo.

5. Go green. Try foraging for seasonal greenery, wheat or grasses in your own backyard. If you’re interested in boxwood or spreading out seeded eucalyptus or ruscus, contact your florist about two to three days in advance, just in case it needs to be ordered in. Don’t be afraid to get creative with what you have; smaller houseplants, moss and succulents can also do the trick.

6. Get the glow. Once you’ve created your tablescape with dishware and floral or greens, give it a glow with dramatic candelabras or simplistic tea candles.

7. Layer it on. Make sure your tablescape has dimension by layering floral, wood, vintage books or tiered candles in the center. Also, try using more than one layer of placemats in contrasting sizes underneath your dishware or layer your napkin atop your place setting with a mini pop of greenery.

8. When in doubt, add pink. According to Rydell, a pop of pink with unexpected hues like oranges and yellows can make for a striking combo that suits any occasion. If you don’t like the idea of pastels, Klinkhammer suggests opting for richer, jewel-toned palettes.


Style Library

Setting & styling – The White House Co. Warehouse

Staged vintage decor – The White House Co.

Cheese wheel cake – Megan Lewis, Milk Made

Mushroom cake topper – Doubting Thomas Farms/Prairie Roots Co-op, styled by Milk Made

Floral – Love Always Floral

Calligraphy – Lettering by Samantha

Hair – ADAE Salon

Makeup – Chloe Danielle

Jewelry – Schumacher Diamond

Attire – a&bé Bridal

Custom menu card & invite design – Kailey Louise Designs


Photography – Glasser Images

Musician – Wyatt Dronan

Videographer – Nick Biewer


Couple #1: Beth Vetter, Noah Kilsdonk

Couple #2: Steff Johnston, Travis Mack

Meet Glasser Images

Founded in Bismarck N.D., their business follows creatives and clients all around the country. They currently have a team of photographers and videographers in Bismarck, Fargo, Minot, Rapid City, S.D., Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., as well as Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, Colo.


For more information, contact: 

The White House Co. & Vintage Rentals

14 Roberts Street North, Fargo



Instagram: @whitehouse.co

Glasser Images




Instagram: @glasserimages

Milk Made Catering

Megan Lewis



Instagram: @milkmadecatering

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Plains Art Museum: Progressive Architecture Dinner [Pelican Lake, Minnesota]

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Dan Francis Photography Imagine touring four spectacular homes on Pelican Lake, visiting with the architects and owners, then being offered an array of drinks…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography

Imagine touring four spectacular homes on Pelican Lake, visiting with the architects and owners, then being offered an array of drinks and a spectacular catered course at every stop. This is your look inside Plains Art Museum’s Progressive Architecture Dinner. Join Midwest Nest as we recap their September 8th event which introduced us to an entirely new approach to lake home living, architecture, art and cuisine.

Art + Architecture

A concept dreamed up by Sandy Thompson of Plains Art Museum, this four-home tour is custom designed to introduce the idea of art plus architecture. Along the way, 50 guests were invited to dine on locally prepared fare and admire the space, art and stunning lake views. Although the original plan was to tour via a five-pontoon armada, the day’s wind and whitecaps kept the tour traveling by dry land. Every home’s tour lasted one hour and ended with a conversation between the homeowner and the architect, with an open forum for guests to intervene and inquire. All proceeds from the tour sustain PlainsArt4All, the Museum’s free general admission initiative.


Tour Stop #1: The Dawsons
To kick off the tour, guests arrived at noon to the spectacular home of Georgia and Tom Dawson where the first course of Hors-d’oeuvres and cocktails were served by Chef Jeff Reitz of Urban Foods. Guests were allowed to tour every inch of the home while the architect, Terry Stroh of T.L. Stroh Architects, offered input regarding the home’s timeless and coastal design.

About the Dawson Home:
Tom Dawson’s grandfather purchased the site in 1958, which is where Dawson was raised. For 17 years, Tom and Georgia Dawson spent their summers in a 900 square-foot cottage near the property, before opting to design their year-round lake home. Nine years ago, they reached out to longtime friends, Terry Stroh of T.L. Stroh Architects and contractor John Gunkelman, to make their coastal vision a reality. In their first meeting, Georgia Dawson had the entire first floor drawn out on a yellow legal pad, leaving the remainder of the design to Stroh. Taking into account the early drawings, the design needed to include equally beautiful spaces for their growing family.

When in town, the Dawsons reside in a 90-year-old home with dark wood, historic elements. So, for their lakeside retreat, the Dawsons requested the opposite; bright and airy with spacious windows to capture the view. Between their gorgeous regional art collection, pine ceilings, white-washed elements and metal fabrication by P2 Industries, every angle of the Dawson’s home is perfectly molded to embrace life on the water.

Upstairs, the Dawsons display an oversized photo book by the celebrated photographer, Annie Leibovitz. The book contains a collection of photos once featured in Vanity Fair.

From the Architect, Terry Stroh:
“Working with Tom and Georgia was always fun. Their design was more about capturing the outside than anything; they wanted something that had a little more of a Floridian vibe to it. The floor plan was centered around family and creating the spaces that they wanted, not what I wanted for them – that’s really what it’s all about.””We have two houses on the tour, the Dawsons and Schlossman’s and they happen to be best friends. I think any architect would say this; you don’t come out with a great house unless you have a great client – they’re all people with great taste and also kindness.”


“When we first started talking about doing this Progressive Architecture Dinner, something that I had done in California – I sat down with Chris Hawley and asked him if he thought we could do that here. We’d talked about different venues and places that might be interesting, but it was Chris who said, “We have to do the lake. We could do five years of these events just on Pelican Lake.” This is the second year now, and it’s been a joy to put together.”
Sandy Thompson, Plains Art Museum

“I really love the connection that this event creates with architects. Architecture has
a strong relationship with the arts and this gives the architects a chance to really talk about their work in a fun and comfortable setting while building appreciation for their designs. These homes really push people’s sensibilities when it comes to design and many of them have well-curated art collections that we love featuring.”
Andy Maus, Plains Art Museum

Tour Stop #2: The Hansons

The second stop on the tour led us through a home built on the idea of sparking creativity, expanding the view and redefining traditional lake home standards. Welcome to the year-round lake home of Pam and Dave Hanson with the architect, Craig Helenske of Helenske Design Group. This is a creative and cozy home, almost completely devoid of right angles…read on and we’ll explain. At this location, guests were treated to a fall-inspired salad course presented by VIP Chef, Anthony Bachman.

About the Hanson Home:
The Hansons purchased a small cottage on the property in 1987 for a mere $42,500. Hoping to salvage the existing cabin, they explored expansion and renovation options; eventually deciding it was a better investment to start from the ground up. The couple’s year-round lake home was completed four years ago with architect Craig Helenske of Helenske Design Group and contractor, Jon Anderson of Dreambuilder. There were only two prerequisites given to Helenske by Dave Hanson; it was to have a modern cabin feel with no square corners – he just simply doesn’t like them.

For the exterior, Helenske and Hanson opted for a green-black siding to give the home a robust contrast to the environment. They purposefully drifted away from the stereotypical, white and bright lake home. Their version is a simplified farmhouse style with a unique bow element on the front that expands the view from being a narrow 50-foot, to a panoramic view that’s nearly three times the lot’s width. In creating those angles, it allowed the two to shape several interesting environments within the home, like a quiet space for reflection and a separate space for socializing.

As president and CEO of H2M, an advertising agency in Downtown Fargo, Dave Hanson is a creative guru during the workweek and after hours. Throughout the home, guests enjoyed a collection of his own photographic art displayed on the walls. In the back guest quarters, Hanson, who’s also a musician and past sound technician, has his own recording studio located in the upper loft.

From the Architect, Craig Helenske:
“This was very much a collaborative experience between two stubborn creatives. Dave and I worked pretty closely and he had a vision of wanting to have a slatted acoustic, rosewood-style ceiling in here, so that became kind of the icon for the public space. Rather than a traditional lake or cottage-style ceiling that’s overused, the slatting gave the home a unique twist. When you take all of the furniture and people out of here, the home is just sheetrock and paint. It’s really Dave and Pam that put the character in this home, through their art, photography and music background. I was just given an opportunity to present their character through this design.”

“The lake experience is both inside and out; it’s about the wind, finding spaces to enjoy the morning sun – morning, afternoon and evening. There is a lot of opportunity for inside and outside living spaces, and we let those really shape the home. It was a great experience to exchange ideas back and forth and not just communicate ideas to the client. To have somebody that can respond back to you with just as much creative energy makes for a really positive experience.”


Tour Stop #3: The Schlossmans

At our third stop on the tour, guests arrived at the extraordinary summer home of Mary and Bill Schlossman with the architect, Terry Stroh of T.L. Stroh Architects. For the entree, guests dined on Blackbird Woodfire’s specialty artisan pizzas. Chef Casey Absey and his team brought in their mobile woodfire oven and all were invited to choose one of their tried and true recipes or design their own woodfire masterpiece.

About the Schlossman Home:
Bill Schlossman grew up next door to the existing property, eventually purchasing the adjacent lake lot with small cottage from his brother. When it was time to rebuild, the couple contacted architect Terry Stroh, whom they had previously worked with on the design of their condo, as well as interior designer Lark Lomsdal. To mimic the yesteryear appeal of an authentic cabin or summer home, they opted for a design with more minimally-sized bedrooms and closets, leaving the majority of the square footage for post and beam communal areas.

Working through the details of the design with Stroh, Bill Schlossman had an idea to omit sheetrock in lieu of clear Douglas Fir siding and cedar ceiling beams. This concept would involve a labor-intensive process of perfecting each individual piece of wood, on every wall of the home, with no room for error. Kevin Pagel of Dakota Construction would do the painstaking fabrication with timbers sourced from Pierce Log Homes. Now 12-years old, the home’s extraordinary carpentry has maintained its original beauty and structural quality from day one.

Most of the photos throughout the home were taken by Bill Schlossman himself or influential locals like the late Fred Scheel Senior, a renowned photographer in his day. One treasured photo, framed high into the beams, is a sentimental image which inspired the lake home’s design; a photograph from 1928 with Bill Schlossman’s mother seated at the back of a small row boat, along with his grandfather and uncle.

“We love working with Terry. He originally came up with three different plans, but when we saw this one, it was fabulous,” said Mary Schlossman. “This was a great project for Bill and myself – we found out that we had a lot of similar tastes and it was really fun bringing those ideas to Terry. He found a really interesting book at Walker Art Center that had a lot of this style of house depicted in it and quite a few of our ideas were inspired by what we saw.”

“Working with a great architect like Terry on this project was critical for pulling together our vision,” said Bill Schlossman. “Some people are great designers, but Mary and I, as much as we enjoy looking at different things, can’t put it all together by ourselves. We also worked with an interior designer, Lark Lomsdal – she’s wonderful. She worked with Braaten Cabinets to design all of the cabinetry throughout the home.”

From the Architect, Terry Stroh:
“The whole idea of doing a post and beam structure and the concept of combining that with other conventional construction made this a really fun project. We actually built a model with the contractor, John Gunkelman and he used it during construction because it had every detail within this house. We still have it in our office and we use it to show clients what we can do.”

“As architects, we don’t always get to see the home once it’s lived in, but both the Dawsons and Schlossmans invited us down to see their furnished homes. Seeing what they bring into it and how they use the space, is really what makes it a home.”


Tour Stop #4: The Promersbergers
Our final stop on the Progressive Architecture Dinner did not disappoint. Led down a tree enveloped path, guests were delighted to find brilliance in color and design at the lake home of Jan and Ken Promersberger, with architect Chris Hawley of Chris Hawley Architects. Just when we thought our day could not be any brighter, we were treated to a dessert course, including six different cheesecakes by Pastry Chef Kayla Houchin of Indulgence Baking Co.

About the Promersberger Home:
As owners of The Promersberger Company in Fargo, Ken and Jan have spent the majority of their lives brainstorming creative marketing solutions for clients all across the country. Designing a lake retreat unlike anything else is simply a more personal outlet to foster their creativity. Beyond the barn doors of the agency, they’re known for spearheading a unique farmstead-themed community concept called Rocking Horse Farm; another collaboration with Chris Hawley Architects.

After being on the lake for many years, the couple found this 50-foot lakefront, which they purchased within 15-minutes of walking the lot. They’d always envisioned a white exterior with a high pitch, but once on the lot, Ken Promersberger found a bright Scandinavian design with three offset cubes he needed to explore. Presenting the idea to Hawley, each cube would be in a different primary color and have their own view of the lake. To enhance the concept, Hawley suggested having the roof the same color as the siding, which became a game changer in achieving their Scandinavian exterior. These days, the Promersbergers have heard just about every colorful remark about their home, which is often fondly referred to by neighbor kids and their six grandchildren as the “Lego house” or “Crayola house”.

“The Airstream on the property was part of the site plan from the beginning. It could be used as an extra bedroom, but we just use it as storage. I’ve been in the design business all my life and to me, an Airstream is a piece of art,” said Ken Promersberger.

Surprisingly, the interior of this colorful abode is a stark contrast to what most outsiders would expect. “We knew for sure that we wanted the interior’s style to be minimalistic; we liked the wood and white elements,” said Jan Promersberger. “We’ve always had that style with every house we’ve had. It is kind of a surprise to walk up to the red, yellow and blue, then come inside and see things calm down a bit. Tom Dawson’s son, Mike, is also an architect with Chris and spent quite a bit of time out here – Mike and Chris were both wonderful to work with.”

Within the bright white and pitched ceiling design, the Promersbergers and Hawley incorporated acoustic tiles to absorb and reduce noise in their open-concept floor plan. Their next project is to hang a mobile made entirely of white acoustic tiles.

“We wanted to have a screened-in porch but we didn’t want to lose the depth, so that’s why we have all of these windows that can open. We get quite a breeze through here just by opening the patio doors and a couple of the cubed windows on each side,” explained Ken Promersberger.

Continuing their minimalist lake living, the Promersbergers purposefully left closets out of the design, instead, adopting a more Scandinavian approach of using wardrobes. Interestingly enough, two out of the four featured homes do not have closets; the Hansons also keep their lake life minimalistic.

From the Architect, Chris Hawley:
“Ken sent me a photo of a Scandinavian fishing village that was a group of gables all lined up in different colors; that’s really how this idea got started. The lot is skewed and every cube touches the setback – there’s also a five-foot grade change from front to back. It’s really interesting that every cube has its own zone; one is the public space, one semi-public and one more private. There’s a six-foot offset between the cubes, but we were able to use the same truss all the way through. It was quite the game; anything we did on one side to a cube, we had to do on the other side and stay within the lot line.

“There are a lot of windows, but the way it’s designed, they can see far more outside than other people can see in. The discussion about the window placement and quantity was probably the longest conversation that we had when we were designing the home.”

Naturally, not everyone in the neighborhood fell in love with their creative expression, but one neighbor, who did admire their creative spirits, gifted them with a piece of art that spoke volumes; affirming their decision to keep pushing the boundaries of conventional architecture and design.


Interested in attending the next Progressive Architecture Dinner? 

Sandy Thompson / Director of Development
704 First Avenue North, Fargo

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Downtown Wine Cooperative [ Rooftop Rendezvous ]

Words by Shayla Knutson, Sweetly Simple Life Photography by M. Schleif Photography On a brisk night in August, we invited Midwest Nest to gather on the rooftops to experience our…

Words by Shayla Knutson, Sweetly Simple Life
Photography by M. Schleif Photography

On a brisk night in August, we invited Midwest Nest to gather on the rooftops to experience our 38th Downtown Wine Cooperative event with local sommelier, Jean Taylor. To double the fun, we joined rooftop patios with our neighbors, Terry and Darla Johnson to pack in over 40 wine enthusiasts, ready to learn. To give our guests a night of wining and dining, my husband Cam and I prepared small plates and hors-d’oeuvres using recipes from my Sweetly Simple Life food blog. This perfect evening would mark 1,400 attendees and an impressive 7,000 glasses of wine served in unique locations all over Downtown Fargo.

Downtown Wine Cooperative
The event began in 2014 as a one-time gathering to further our wine education, but quickly progressed to a monthly event. Although the first event was at our home, our focus shifted to help others experience new downtown places and meet new people. We keep it very casual and proudly proclaim that there is no dress code and we don’t try and make it fancy. We believe wine should be approachable and doesn’t need to be stuffy.

Our local sommelier and educational host, Jean Taylor, has been in professional wine service for over 10 years, working in fine dining at esteemed, local hot spots like Maxwell’s and Mezzaluna. When she’s not teaching us the fundamentals of wine, she works for a boutique wine distributor called Small Lot, based in the Twin Cities.

People & Places
To experience more downtown locations, we’ve held the wine cooperative at a number of downtown condos, businesses and homes in the area. We’ve also ventured out to interesting locations we felt everyone should experience like, Troll Bar at the Sons of Norway, Elevate in the Loretta building, Sanctuary, Abovo, Woodrow Wilson apartments (one before renovation and one after), APT Creative Incubator Space, a 102 Broadway rooftop and many more!

Life & Wine
Cam and I will soon be making the move to Bismarck, but we plan to keep our downtown condo and return often. We hope the wine cooperative will continue with Jean and we’ll be making the trek home to attend whenever possible. To sum up our experience, I’ll leave you with a note from my husband, Cam Knutson;”The biggest thing that I’ve learned from this is that wine is a life-long journey. There’s no point that you’re going to reach a peak and say, I’ve mastered everything there is to know about wine. You’re going to keep learning throughout your entire journey in life – to just be intentional as you’re talking about wine whether you’re at an event, traveling or out for date night. When you have a chance to be thoughtful about what you’re drinking and where it’s from – read up on it, learn more and keep continuing on this journey to learn and enjoy wine.”


5 [Sweetly Simple] Tips
For Hosting A Great Party 

  1. Give yourself plenty of time.                                                                                                                Start prepping a day or two in advance. I prep everything I’m cooking ahead of time and set out all the serving dishes I’m going to use. Being prepared takes a lot of the stress out of hosting an event and will let you enjoy yourself more when the day arrives.
  2. Simplify the menu.
    Don’t try to make something new. Stick with things you enjoy making and know taste good.
  3. Set the right mood.                                                                                                                    To set the mood, turn down the lights, play some music and pick up some inexpensive flowers from the grocery store, Costco or your local farmers market.
  4. When someone offers help, accept it!
    Have them help with something as simple as putting dishes in the dishwasher or setting the table.
  5. Relax and enjoy yourself!                                                                                                                      Nothing makes guests more uncomfortable than a nervous or anxious host. It’s your party, so allow yourself time to have fun and enjoy the company.

Onion Relish and Sausage Crostini 
* 1 package Kiolbassa Smoked Sausage (find this at Costco or Sam’s Club)
* ¼ C. oil
* salt and pepper
* 1 med/lg yellow onion (finely chopped)
* ½ C. balsamic vinegar
* 3 Tbs. honey
* 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
* Pinch red pepper flakes
* 1 ½ C. ricotta

* 2 baguettes

For the Sausage: 

Slice the sausage at a 45° angle into ½” to 1” thick pieces. Place the sausage on a grill, in a grill basket on medium to high heat. Keep a close eye on these as they cook very fast.

For the Onion Relish: 
Heat ¼ cup oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, thyme, red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden and tender, 13 to 15 minutes. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and honey.
For the Baguette: 

Preheat the oven to 400℉. Slice the baguette diagonally into ¼ inch slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until they are golden brown.

Assemble the Crostini: 

Top the toasted bread with a dollop of the ricotta, a piece of sausage and a spoonful of the onion relish.

Apple Manchego Salad
* 5 to 6 apples (Fuji, Honeycrisp or Granny Smith)
* 7 oz Manchego cheese
* ⅓ C chives (chopped)
* ¼ C fresh lemon juice
* 1 T olive oil

* Pinch of salt

Slice the apples into matchsticks. Toss the apples with lemon juice. Slice the cheese into matchsticks and add to the apples. Toss apples and cheese with chives, olive oil, and salt. Note: Do not make more than two hours ahead.


Whipped Feta and Tomato Crostini
* 6 oz. feta
* 3 oz. cream cheese (softened)
* ⅔ C. olive oil (divided)
* ½ of a lemon (juiced)
* 1 small onion (minced)
* 1 Tbs. minced garlic
* 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
* 2 pounds cherry tomatoes (halved)
* 3 Tbs. julienned basil leaves
* 2 baguettes
* ¼ C. toasted pine nuts

* Salt and pepper

For the Whipped Feta: 

Place the feta, cream cheese, ⅓ cup olive oil, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper in a bowl and beat with hand mixer until smooth.

For the Tomatoes: 

Combine minced onion, garlic, vinegar, ⅓ cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Before serving, add the julienned basil.

For the Baguette: 

Preheat the oven to 400℉. Slice the baguette diagonally into ¼ inch slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until they are golden brown.

To assemble the Crostini: 
Spread each slice of bread with whipped feta mixture. Place the tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with extra basil and toasted pine nuts.
Candied Pecans
* 4 C. pecan halves
* 1 large egg white
* 1 Tbs. water
* 1 C. sugar
* 2 tsp. cinnamon
* ½ tsp. salt

* 1 dash of cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the egg white and water until completely combined. In a large mixing bowl add the pecans, egg white and water mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, cayenne and salt. Pour the cinnamon sugar mixture over the pecans and stir until all of the pecans are fully coated. Place the pecans onto the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake at 300°F for 45 minutes, stirring the pecans every 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely on the baking sheet.

Smoked Pork Belly Sliders 
* 24-32 King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls

* 1 Cucumber

For the Marinade: 
* 2-4 pound pork belly
* ¼ C. hoisin sauce
* 2 Tbs. soy sauce
* 2 Tbs. honey
* 2 Tbs. minced ginger
* 2 Tbs. minced garlic
* 2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
* 2 Tbs. sesame oil

* ½ tsp. pepper

Whisk together the garlic, ginger, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, sesame oil and pepper. Add the pork belly, cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

For the Pickled Carrots and Daikon: 
* 1 C. julienned carrots
* 1 C. julienned daikon radish
* ½ C. sugar
* ½ C. rice wine vinegar

* ½ C. water

Combine the carrot and daikon radish in a bowl. In a small pot, whisk together the sugar, vinegar and water. Bring to a simmer until sugar dissolves; let cool for 10 minutes. Pour the sugar mixture into the bowl. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

For the Spicy Onion Mayonnaise: 
* ¼ C. mayonnaise
* 3 green onions thinly sliced
* 2 tsp. minced garlic
* 1 tsp. sriracha
* ½ tsp. smoked paprika

* Dash of salt and pepper

Combine the mayonnaise, green onions, sriracha, smoked paprika, salt/pepper and garlic in a small bowl.

Smoked Pork Belly:

Traeger Smoker Option: When ready to cook, start the Traeger grill on smoke with the lid open until fire is established (4-5 minutes). Set temperature to 275 degrees F and preheat, lid closed, for 10-15 minutes. Place pork belly directly on the grill grate and cook for 3 to 3 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees F. Remove from grill and let rest 10-15 minutes. (https://www.traegergrills.com/recipes/pork/smoked-pork-belly)

Stovetop Option: Thinly slice the pork belly. Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a pan. Add the pork belly and cook until crisp and browned, about 4-5 minutes.

Serve pork belly on toasted Kings Hawaiian rolls with pickled daikon and carrots, thinly sliced cucumber and spicy onion mayonnaise.


To see more of Shayla Knutson’s Sweetly Simple recipes;
Follow her on Facebook or Instagram @sweetlysimplelife

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