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.


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