Midwest Nest Magazine

Midwest Nest Magazine

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Category: Cuisine

A White Wine Winter

Words by Dan Hurder and Laura Botten Photography by M. Schleif Photography Some wine enthusiasts suggest that winter requires red wine. While we adore a glass of red with a…

Words by Dan Hurder and Laura Botten
Photography by M. Schleif Photography

Some wine enthusiasts suggest that winter requires red wine. While we adore a glass of red with a hearty bowl of beef stew or savory roast, we just aren’t willing to put our whites away while the snow flies. So, with our permission, dust off those white wine glasses and check out a few of our favorites. Laura Botten and I are braving below zero temps and taking you on an exploration of whites, starting with the classics.

Winter White Flights
By consumption, the most popular white wines are Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Moscato is leaving a mark with its surge in popularity, and Sweet Justice deserves its place at the table. Our selections were intentional to showcase the range of styles produced.

We’ll lead with Chardonnay, the “queen” of whites. We collectively cringe when we hear “I hate Chardonnay.” Challenge on! Most likely, the “right” Chardonnay has not graced your palate yet. The diversity within the category is vastly based on region and production methods. Winemakers can choose to make a very fresh, unoaked style that is all about the fruit or they can add complexity through a variety of techniques:

What Makes White Wines “Complex”?
• Sur Lie Aging – This means it had an extended contact with spent yeast cells. It adds texture and enhanced mouthfeel as well as flavors reminiscent of freshly baked bread.

• Malolactic Fermentation (ML) – This converts malic acid (think tart granny smith apple) to the rounder and creamier lactic acid. And, a byproduct of ML is diacetyl, which is used in margarine to make it taste more like (light bulb moment) butter.

• Oak Influence – This can be achieved through barrel aging or other sources and can add tannic structure, apple pie spice notes, vanilla, dill and a host of other tertiary flavors.

Seaglass Chardonnay is an unoaked expression of this versatile grape that is simply about the fruit. A Santa Barbara County appellation (rare for the price point), yields peach, pineapple and melon flavors and aromas. This easy drinking Chardonnay would appeal to a Pinot Grigio drinker with its fresh, fruit-driven style.

California Chardonnay came into its own in the mid-80s, and Rombauer was right there in the fold helping to define the quintessential expression of oaky, buttery, full-bodied Chardonnay. In fact, Rombauer-esque is often used to describe other wines of this style. Carneros fruit, sur lie aging, ML fermentation and nine months in French and American oak barrels yield a rich mouthfeel, tropical fruit, buttery notes and beautiful apple pie spice. Cold weather comfort foods like chicken pot pie or a more elegant meal of lobster tail pair beautifully with Rombauer.


Pinot Grigio
It’s hard to think about Italy without thinking of Pinot Grigio. Enough said.

A to Z
Oregon is producing amazing Pinot Gris (the French term for Pinot Grigio) and A to Z is a market leader. While the grape variety is the same, Pinot Gris on a label suggests more intense fruit character and added complexity. Fabulous to simply sip, it pairs nicely with salads or dishes you would squeeze a lemon over. Pan fry some walleye and enjoy!

Candoni is a classic Italian expression. Bartlett pear shines through on the nose and palate with a crisp, lingering finish. It’s easy and approachable nature makes it a crowd pleaser.

[Sauvignon Blanc]
One of the more polarizing grapes, Sauvignon Blanc tends to evoke a “love it or hate it” response. Characteristics range from bell pepper and vegetal qualities to intense grapefruit, white peach and melon.

Loveblock from Marlborough, New Zealand, is produced and owned by Sauvignon Blanc icon, winemaker Kim Crawford. We find this a more refined and elegant expression, lacking the aggressive acid and over the top grapefruit typical of the region.

Cade Sauvignon Blanc is from Napa Valley, a warmer growing region. This yields riper melon fruit, a softer mouthfeel and more weight on the palate. The nominal blending of other aromatic grape varietals lends complexity.

Riesling, a personal favorite, is often underappreciated and oversimplified. One of the most esteemed white grapes, it runs the gamut from bone-crushingly dry to sweet, dessert wine. For those that dismiss Riesling because they don’t like sweet wine, the secret is to check the alcohol content on the bottle. Alcohol and sugar have an inverse relationship – the higher the alcohol, the lower the sugar. Seek out 9-10% alcohol content or higher if you prefer a drier style.

Kings Ridge
At 12%, Kings Ridge Riesling from Willamette Valley, Oregon, is technically dry and showcases that Riesling is NOT the simple quaff many think it to be. Peach, green apple, and rose predominate, and the distinct petrol (think brand new yoga mat) aromas are a hallmark of the grape.

Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen
Approaching the other end of the spectrum is Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spätlese. Try polishing off a bottle and saying that five times fast. This gorgeously complex bottling is from the Goldtropfchen vineyard, one of the most esteemed in the Mosel region of Germany. Spätlese means late harvest, suggesting more developed fruit character. At 8% ABV, expect more sweetness – perfectly balanced by crisp acidity.

This Riesling is a perfect partner with spicy side dishes like the jalapeno poppers from Boiler Room but also pairs perfectly with spicy Thai or Indian cuisine. Only 700 cases produced and with a 91 point rating from the Wine Spectator, this is a gem to seek out.

Sweet Justice
Sweet Justice Moscato, produced by boutique Australian winery, Shinas Estate, has won over many Moscato naysayers. Only 500 cases are produced each vintage and astonishingly, over 300 are consumed right here in North Dakota. With a bit of a cult following, this is not your dorm room variety Moscato. It is ethereal in nature, with stone fruit and tropical flavors, and a touch of effervescence. You be the judge, but we bet Sweet Justice will win you over.

Dan Hurder is Managing Partner of Twist, Boiler Room and Chef’s Table Catering. Laura Botten is Fine Wines Manager of Johnson Brothers ND. For more information or if you want to chat about wine with Dan or Laura, email info@brixandbanter.com

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In the Kitchen with Laneil Skaff

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Dan Francis Photography If you’ve ever lived in Fargo-Moorhead, you’re probably familiar with the last name. Skaff Apartments was founded in 1957 and even…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography

If you’ve ever lived in Fargo-Moorhead, you’re probably familiar with the last name. Skaff Apartments was founded in 1957 and even today remains family-owned and run. Laneil and Sam Skaff have devoted much of their lives to creating comfortable spaces to live. Now working alongside their children, their daughters Julie Stoe and Jenna Stowers assured us that their mom was not only a wonderful interior decorator for their properties, but also a talented at-home chef. Not wanting to miss a great opportunity to learn a few new culinary tips, we decided to visit their Moorhead home of 25 years to see what’s cooking. Whether your Valentine’s day centers around romance or family, Laneil Skaff created one meal that everyone is sure to fall in love with.

“When my daughter, Julie, asked me to do this, I thought of this entree recipe right away. It’s a recipe I make for Sam on a weeknight, but it’s also dressy enough to make for a special occasion,” said Laneil Skaff. “I wanted to do something that always tastes good, that’s easy and even the guys could make for Valentine’s Day. I don’t usually like to go out for Valentine’s Day because every restaurant is so busy, but this meal is simple and only takes about an hour.”

Valentine’s Day Menu:

Pear, Pomegranate and Pistachio Salad
For a fresh start, Laneil Skaff chose this salad because it’s one of her family’s favorites. It’s a pear, pomegranate and pistachio salad with a creamy poppy seed dressing. To make prep easy, this can be made ahead of time, then simply add the dressing before serving.

Coq au Riesling
“For the entree, I chose a chicken in a white wine sauce called Coq au Riesling. This recipe called for bone-in, skin-on chicken because it just delivers so much more flavor and moisture than boneless breasts,” said Laneil Skaff. “For this dish, you can serve it over rice or noodles, but I prefer a crusty bread to soak up the delicious sauce. This recipe can easily be made into other dishes. Roast some vegetables, use the chicken and sauce and recreate it as a rice bowl the next day.”

Poached Pears with Caramel Sauce
For dessert, Laneil Skaff did a simple, poached pear in chardonnay, with a caramel sauce, then garnished it with fresh raspberries and cracked pepper.

Tips of the Trade:
When it comes to cooking, Laneil Skaff generally uses a cheaper wine. Since her poached pears require an entire bottle, this is a good thing. She suggests sticking to the less expensive selection, but choosing one that you would like enough to drink.

International Inspiration
“I like to roam the internet, page through magazines and sometimes I find recipes through T.V. shows. I love cooking and I love being able to glean recipes that are easy and yet delicious. I’m pretty sure I should have been born Italian,” laughed Laneil Skaff. “When I was in Italy, my favorite thing was the pasta and the different dishes. We went to a small agriturismo which is like a bed and breakfast where they grow all of their own produce. It’s a working farm with grape vines and olive trees. He would just show up and he’d cook for you and I got him to tell me a recipe of his. Wherever we go, I like to find a recipe that I can bring home and try to recreate.”

“We have a couple of pasta favorites, one that’s a white wine, lemon-chicken pasta and also a Fascilli Fresco. We eat this a lot in the summer using fresh tomatoes and basil that we grow, along with garlic in an olive oil. We just let that sauce marinate all day long, then cook the noodles and combine it at the end with fresh cheese. It’s just easy and you can add chicken breast if you want or serve it alongside. Those are two very versatile dishes,” said Laneil Skaff.

Even though Italian is a favorite in their home, Laneil Skaff loves to branch out and try virtually any nationality of cuisine. “I love to go to cooking classes. There’s something to be learned from anybody and everyone. I usually go to Sur La Table when I’m down in Phoenix and bring some girlfriends with me. It’s a cooking store that hosts cooking classes as well. One of my favorites was the croissant class. Sometimes you learn a lot of new things and then there are others like my risotto class where I realized that I was actually doing it right all along,” said Laneil Skaff.

“I love to cook and I’m at the age now, where I kind of wish I had pursued it earlier. But, back then I had four kids,” laughed Laneil Skaff. “There are days I’d love to open a little, funky restaurant, but an idea from other cities that intrigues me the most is having people come and eat and pay what they can.”

Family Recipe Night
“The kids’favorite thing to do is recipe night, where we try out new recipes and then all watch a T.V. show. It was usually centered around the show “24”. We all get together quite a bit. On birthdays I let them either pick a place to eat or write a menu, so sometimes it’s breakfast, hot dogs or sloppy joes. Last night it was a new recipe for me, Pad Sai Mu??, a Thai dish. So, I took a little trip to the Asian grocery store and got the Chinese broccoli and the noodles that I needed. A trip there is kind of an event in itself, it’s fun,” said Laneil Skaff. “You have to have a strong stomach for smells, but it is delightful and a great place to get what you can’t find at other stores. And it’s more reasonable because sometimes you can find it in the regular grocery stores, but it’s so expensive.”

The Skaffs are blessed with six grandkids ranging from 15 years-old to three months. “The younger ones love my mac and cheese, but my oldest has two things he calls “The Famous”. One of them is my hot fudge sauce and the other is my raspberry jelly,” laughed Laneil Skaff.

Skaff’s Grocery Staples
In the Skaff’s fridge, you can always find a few basic ingredients; garlic, onions, celery, diced tomatoes and carrots. “With these, I can make just about any kind of soup. I always keep a few different proteins in my freezer and then I use the garnishes like cilantro, parsley and croutons. I think it’s a well-rounded mix of things,” said Laneil Skaff. “It’s amazing what you can make with those very basic ingredients.”

Many of Laneil Skaff’s cutting boards and the elevated wood boards hail from a local store, Eco Chic Boutique which happens to be located on the street level of one of the Skaff’s properties, Stone West Village in Fargo.

Cooking for a Cause:
Beyond her family gatherings, Laneil Skaff stays busy cooking for the masses to benefit local non-profits and her church. One of the non-profits does vital work in South Africa and another in the Philippines, so she learned how to make South African food and Filipino dishes. Her largest gatherings were a Norwegian supper and a Thai banquet which served from 100 to 300 people at a time. Another she’s currently working on is the Frozen Meal Ministry through their church, Bethel Lutheran.

“We all love to cook with her,” said her daughter, Julie Stoe. “She cooks for a lot of different things from the Frozen Meal Ministry to thank you dinners for the ministry and we usually help.” It’s not unusual to see the entire Skaff family either helping prep, cook or serve at any of these functions right alongside others in the church who love to cook and learn new recipes. “It’s a great way to see the ladies. Instead of coffee, we get together to cook,” said Laneil Skaff.
Get the Recipes:
Coq au Riesling

¼ Cup butter-divided
Splash of olive oil
2 Medium onions, finely chopped
¼ Pound pancetta sliced into thin strips (can also use bacon)
4 Garlic cloves, thinly sliced
8 Chicken pieces on the bone (I used 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks –can also use breasts – best on the bone and with skin)
8 oz. Portabella mushrooms, sliced
2 Cups Riesling
1 Cup whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful chopped parsley

In a large skillet over med-high heat, fry bacon until crispy and bacon has rendered its fat. Remove from pan (leaving fat behind).

Melt two tablespoons of butter and oil. Salt and pepper chicken and brown the pieces all over and remove from pan. Add rest of butter and onions and allow to fry until translucent. Add the garlic and allow to sauté for another 30 seconds before removing mixture from the pan (leaving the fat behind). Add the mushrooms and allow to fry for five minutes (can add a little more oil if pan is too dry.)

Add the onion, bacon, and chicken back to skillet. Pour in the wine and allow to come up to a boil. Turn down heat to a simmer and cover. Allow to cook for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Uncover, add cream and continue to cook another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste – garnish with parsley.
Serve with white or brown rice, hot buttered noodles or crusty bread.


Pear, Pomegranate, and Pistachio Salad
With a Creamy Poppyseed Dressing

2 Cups romaine, chopped
2 Cups spring mix
4 Salad onions, thinly sliced
4 Mini cucumbers, peeled every other strip and thinly sliced
2 Pears, thinly sliced
1 Pomegranate, seeded
½ Cup shelled pistachios
½ Cup crumbled feta cheese

Creamy Poppyseed dressing
½ Cup mayonnaise
¼ Cup two percent milk
3 Tablespoons sugar
4 Teaspoons cider vinegar
2 Teaspoons poppy seeds

Whisk together in mayonnaise, milk, sugar, cider vinegar, and poppy seeds. Set aside.
In a large bowl add tossed romaine, onions, cucumbers, pomegranate seeds, pears, feta cheese and pistachios. Add the dressing and toss gently. Serve immediately.


Poached Pears with Caramel Sauce

4 Anjou pears, with stems
1 Cup granulated sugar
1 750 ml bottle of Chardonnay
1 Tablespoon peppercorns
Zest of one lemon

Caramel sauce
1 Cup sugar
3 Tablespoons water
5 Tablespoons butter
½ Cup whipping cream

Place sugar, wine, peppercorns and lemon zest in a small, deep pan and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. While mixture is heating, peel pears, leaving the stem and a little peel at the top. Cut a small slice off the bottom of the pear so they stand. Once the liquid is boiling, place pears in pan, standing up. Turn heat down to med-low and place cover on pan. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes or until tender.

Make caramel sauce: Have all ingredients ready to go – this will go fast.
Heat sugar and water on med-high in a heavy, three-quart saucepan. As the sugar melts, stir with whisk or spoon. As soon as it comes to a boil, stop stirring. The syrup will become dark amber. Immediately add the butter and whisk until melted. As soon as the butter is melted, pull from heat, allow to cool 30 seconds. Add cream slowly to mixture and continue to stir. Mixture will foam. Continue to stir until smooth. Cool. (Can be made ahead and stored in the fridge.)

Plating dessert: Place pear standing on a plate or small bowl. Drizzle caramel over top – sprinkle with pepper. Garnish with raspberries or pomegranates. Serve warm and enjoy!

At Home with Laneil Skaff:
Laneil Skaff is in the midst of planning a remodel on her kitchen, but in the meantime, they embrace the space that brings their family together. Beyond the spacious kitchen, overlooking the river in their South Moorhead home, the Skaff’s style is stylish and inviting. “My style is comfortable, I love the Fixer Upper style using reclaimed wood,” said Laneil Skaff. “In this room, we have a lot of windows, so I love to bring the outside in with the birch branches. Just keeping things natural, mixing woods and metals. I switched to grey, but I try to keep it as warm as possible because I live in a 25-year-old home. So, I try to mix in the flavor of the oak with brand new colors and accessories.”

When Laneil Skaff wants to update her home, she turns to a few of her favorite stores like Scheels Home & Hardware, Eco Chic Boutique, Grain Designs, Pottery Barn, West Elm and Crate & Barrel. “I like to shop a variety of places, including local art shows and art fairs. I like it to look hand-crafted and I don’t want it to look like I bought it all at once,” said Laneil Skaff. I want it to look like a collection of living and always be someplace that can gather people in and make them feel comfortable.”

Future Issues:
This spring, Laneil Skaff will be showing our readers her favorite Tuscan recipes and sharing a few memories from her trip to Italy. Also, don’t miss our July issue when we head to the lakes area to feature their newly renovated, farmhouse chic lake home.

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Cocktails + Cookies

Words by Jesse Masterson Photos by Dan Francis Photography After I debuted my love of cheese and charcuterie trays in the October issue, I’m happy to be back for the…

Words by Jesse Masterson

Photos by Dan Francis Photography

After I debuted my love of cheese and charcuterie trays in the October issue, I’m happy to be back for the holidays to talk about two of my other favorite things; cocktails and cookies. Whether you’re entertaining for the holidays or just trying to make your weekend a little jollier, you’ll find these recipes to be simple, fun and absolutely delicious.


Pinterest Perfected
These Cranberry-Pistachio Holiday cookies are simple and festive and have become an ongoing tradition in my house. I love pistachios and Christmas, so combining the two is perfect. One year, I actually made 60 dozen. Needless to say, this cookie is a popular request among friends and family. I originally found the recipe on Pinterest, but have since made my own modifications to portions and ingredients. I then modified the recipe even further to make a biscotti version of the cookie recipe. If you’re aghast at seeing that I used a sugar cookie mix, don’t worry. I usually prefer the homemade versions of everything too, but with these particular cookies, I’ve found the Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix to be the best. In the pursuit of Pinterest perfection, I tried multiple, homemade recipes for the sugar cookie portion but it just never turned out as well. Plus, this simplifying step will save you some time.

A Holiday Spin on a Classic Cocktail
I’m no mixologist, but I do enjoy concocting a fun cocktail now and then. After working in the restaurant industry for many years, I’ve gotten to observe some great tricks of the trade and it certainly helped expand my horizons in food and drink. I chose the cold drink for its holiday spin on one of my favorite classics, the gin and soda. It’s a clean and simple combination that can easily be spruced up for the seasons. To give this drink a holiday vibe, I made a thyme simple syrup, added a lime wedge and garnished with cranberries and fresh thyme. I find the salty-sweetness of the Cranberry-pistachio cookie pairs perfectly with this drink.

It’s a Hot One!
My other choice is a hot one, literally. It’s inspired by a drink I love from HoDo Lounge named “On a Plane to Mexico”. Their version is a little different, but still has a similar espresso base and a hint of orange. I also serve it in a champagne flute just like HoDo does. To create this, I used mandarin-flavored vodka, simple syrup, skim milk and espresso, then garnished it with a sugar rim and orange zest. Since coffee drinks are made to couple with biscotti, I altered the cookie recipe to create my own version of this coffee shop favorite.

Entertaining + Organizing
Since not every home is set up for easy entertaining, sometimes you need to bring in a little reinforcement. I found this bronzed-gold bar cart with marble top at McNeal & Friends in Downtown Fargo. I love the clean look of it and the fact that it has three tiers to help organize the necessities and display the goodies. I recommend keeping this cart in close-proximity to the dining table so guests have easy access to cocktails and other things that might be in high-demand. You can also include fun little recipe cards for your featured drinks so guests can try their hand at crafting their own.


Get the Recipes:

Cranberry-Pistachio Holiday Cookies

1 pouch (1.5 oz.) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
1 box pistachio pudding
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 dry roasted pistachio nuts, Whole
1 cup dried cranberries, whole

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In a large bowl, stir flour, cookie mix, and pudding. Stir in melted butter and eggs.
3. Add pistachios and cranberries, mix well.
4. Drop tablespoons onto parchment lined cookie sheet.
5. Bake 8-10 minutes. Cool on wire rack.


Cranberry-Pistachio Holiday Biscotti

1 pouch (1.5 oz.) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
1 box pistachio pudding
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 dry roasted pistachio nuts, whole
1 cup dried cranberries, whole
2 tablespoons powdered sugar (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. In a large bowl, stir flour, cookie mix, and pudding. Stir in melted butter and eggs.
3. Add pistachios and cranberries, mix well.
4. Divide dough in half. On each of two ungreased cookie sheets, shape half of dough into 15’x2′ log.
5. Bake 18-20 minutes. Cool on cookie sheets for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 250. Place logs on cutting board. Cut crosswise into 3/4 inch slices. Place slices cut side down onto ungreased cookie sheet.
6. Bake 38-40 minutes, turning once half-way through. Immediately remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool 10 minutes. With a fine mesh strainer, sprinkle powdered sugar over tops of cookies.


Gin Thyme
2 oz. gin
Soda water
1 splash thyme simple syrup (Find the recipe below)
Serve over ice

Lime wedge
Thyme sprig
Fresh cranberries


Spiked Orange Espresso
1 oz. Absolute Mandrin
2 shots espresso
1/2 oz steamed milk or cream
Splash simple syrup (Find the recipe below)
Sugar rim
Serve hot in champagne flute

Edible Garnish:
Cranberry-Pistachio Holiday biscotti or orange zest


Simple Syrup Made Simple
You can buy a variety of Simple Syrups at the store, but if you make it at home, you can save money and create your own customized concoction. Simple Syrup is very easy to make and can be infused with just about any type of flavor. Once made, you can add it to your coffee, cocktails and even lemonade. If stored in a cool spot in a tightly sealed bottle or mason jar, your syrup can last up to six months.

Make your own Simple Syrup
1. Combine equal parts of sugar and water.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.
3. After the sugar is completely dissolved, stir in your sprig of thyme. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
4. Allow to cool completely, then transfer to a bottle for storing.


Holiday Tools, Appliances & Accessories:
Nut bowl – Michael Aram, McNeal & Friends
Wine glasses and champagne flutes – Waterford Crystal, HomeGoods
Bar cart and holiday sprigs- McNeal & Friends
Shotglasses – Target
Aero latte frother – Creative Kitchen
Verismo expresso maker – Starbucks
Zyliss fruit zester – Creative Kitchen

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Family & Food – 6 Must-Have Holiday Recipes from the Kitchen of David Baxter

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photos by Dan Francis Photography If your holiday menu is still at-large, this is one story you need to read. Meet David Baxter, he’s the key…

Words by Tracy Nicholson

Photos by Dan Francis Photography

If your holiday menu is still at-large, this is one story you need to read. Meet David Baxter, he’s the key to your best holiday meal yet. During the week, he’s a State Manager with PMA/Washington National and travels between four states focusing on supplemental insurance. Arriving back in town on Thursday nights, Baxter shifts focus to his two other loves, family and food. Married to interior designer Ami Baxter, these two are a well-oiled machine in the kitchen and know the secret recipe for entertaining with ease.


Prime Rib Perfection
The perfect prime rib can be tricky, so before we share David Baxter’s recipes, we asked him to share a few of his grill master secrets. “The biggest thing I always make sure to do when grilling, is to bring the meat to room temperature before I put it on the grill. If it’s frozen or even somewhat cold, the meat won’t get as juicy,” said Baxter. “Also, this makes a big difference with the seasoning. When you put salt on the meat and put it right on the grill it does something different. But, when you season it and leave it, the salt will actually penetrate and can help break up the fat a bit. When you’re going to put something on the Green Egg, it pays to take your time. I always tell people to over-season since you will naturally lose a lot in the process of cooking.”

Big Green Egg Vs. Gas Grill
“The first thing we ever made on a Big Green Egg was chicken, and when we were done, I tried an apple pie on it,” said Baxter. “After that, I was hooked and we never went back to a gas grill. Our friends from Alabama, Anna and Dustin Harris, who used to live in Fargo, had three of these Big Green Eggs. At that time, I didn’t know anything about them. He showed me how he cooked brisket, an amazing breakfast entree and Boston butt which is like pork shoulder. So, he’s the one that actually showed me how much better it was than gas grilling.”

For Baxter, patience is a virtue that is required in the kitchen and especially while grilling up his masterpieces. “I think that if you master the low and slow concept on the Big Green Egg, and learn to be patient, that’s the best way to cook,” said Baxter. “A lot of people like to turn the grill on for five minutes and be able to throw their steaks on it. At the end of the day, if you want something that tastes amazing, it takes time. You can still cook fast things on it, but it probably takes about 15-20 minutes to be ready to grill. I like the Big Green Egg because it can keep everything at a constant temperature, very low, with consistency. After a while, it’s kind of like a Dutch oven with the added flavors built-in.”

Garnishing Greatness
Every good chef knows that creating over-the-top dishes requires proper seasoning and the perfect, complimentary garnish. To take his grilled carrots to the next level, Baxter relies on candied bacon for a little crunch and sweetness.

When it comes to prime rib, he is all for garnishes with a punch of flavor and varying textures. “Some people like mushrooms on steak, but I prefer them on prime rib with a bit of fried onion and coarse horseradish,” said Baxter. “To make the mushroom garnish, I just used a little bit of butter, oil and balsamic vinegar with about a 1/4 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce. Then I get the mushrooms hot and keep flipping them until they’re soft and just a tinge crispy.”

Southern Inspiration
“Ami and I went to this place out in Nashville a month ago and they did a whipped feta honey and served it with warm, pita bread. We loved it and it has such a smooth consistency, so I thought it might be the perfect addition to mash potatoes. The pomegranate as a garnish and in the gravy gives you just a little bit of sweetness to compliment the savory.”

“For the gravy, I used Four Roses Bourbon, but the trick is to put the bourbon in after the onions start to carmelize, letting the alcohol burn off. You want the aged, oak barrel taste that bourbon has, not the alcohol taste,” said Baxter. “Then I start to dilute it down. When I did my carrots, I basically did a crudite putting it in boiling water for five minutes. So I kept that carrot water and used some of it to dilute the gravy. Also, when your prime rib is done, make sure to put a cast iron skillet under it to gather the drippings to include in your gravy. Another tip is to use cornstarch as a thickener, not flour. Cornstarch won’t leave a floury aftertaste and your gravy will stay clearer and more flavorful.”

Labor of Love
In their household, David Baxter does most of the heavy cooking, while his wife, Ami Baxter manages the sidelines, cleaning up after each course and often prepping and chopping ingredients. Even though she can hold her own in the kitchen, she prefers to take a backseat to allow David to run the show. “It’s a good trade-off, she doesn’t like to cook and I don’t like to clean,” laughed Baxter.

Reinventing Recipes
Ask Baxter his thoughts on altering recipes, and he’ll tell you that being precise is over-rated. “A lot of people look at a recipe and they have to follow it step-by-step. If I don’t have the exact ingredient, it challenges me to figure out another way. Baking is a science, but cooking is an art. When you’re cooking, the amounts don’t need to be perfect,” said Baxter. “I think really good cooks, over time, continue to change their recipes. I grew up watching both of my parents cook and my Aunt Kathy, who wrote a couple of cookbooks, would always spend time teaching me in the summertime. From this, I learned that I have to be patient and not afraid to fail. I’ve had plenty of things not turn out the first time. It just takes time to improve and learn what works and what doesn’t.”

Entertaining with Ease
Through trial and error, Baxter has learned to have a plan of attack when entertaining. “Figure out your menu in advance and make sure all of your ingredients are prepped and ready to use the night before,” explained Baxter. “You’ll notice some of the ingredients are repeated throughout each of the dishes, so you can multi-task the prep of those. The biggest reason why people get frustrated in the kitchen is that they waste too much time focusing on prepping and chopping for each dish, one at a time. The same goes for seasonings. I usually have mine measured out and ready to go before I start cooking.”

Plating Perfection
If you want to make sure everything is hot when you plate it, Baxter suggests knowing how long everything takes to cook and scheduling a time to work on them in order of cook time. “It also really helps to have someone help and hold you accountable for each dish. Ami and I make a good team that way, she makes sure I have the right ingredients and helps keep track of every step so each dish is hot and ready for plating at the same time.”

Get the Recipes:

Rosemary and Garlic-Crusted Prime Rib
1. 5lb bone-in prime rib – bring to room temp over 4-5 hours.
2. Heavy coating with a seasoning of your choice when prime rib is at room temp.
3. Fire-up Big Green Egg to 550 degrees with lump.
4. Add 4 blocks of wet hickory and let burn until heavy white smoke stops and grill hits 500 degrees again.
5. Put prime rib on indirect heat for 30 mins. Put a cast iron skillet below prime rib with 1/2” water to catch drippings.
6. Shut down all vents completely.
7. Let prime rib stay in the Big Green Egg until internal temp hits 135 degrees.
8. Pull off prime rib and let rest until internal temp hits 140 degrees (medium rare).
9. Garnish with horseradish, sautéed mushrooms, fried onions and Au Jus.

Pomegranate Au Jus
1. Sauté 1/4 cup of yellow onion and 1 clove of garlic with 1 tablespoon butter.
2. Add 1/4 cup of pomegranate juice, 1/4 cup of pomegranate seeds and 1 ounce of favorite bourbon. Reduce to simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Add in prime rib drippings (approximately 2 cups) with 1 cup of water and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Strain Au Jus through a filter.
5. Bring Au Jus back to a simmer and thicken with cornstarch. Add cornstarch until you feel the Au Jus getting ever-so-slightly heavier. It will continue to thicken on its own.
6. Remove from heat after 5-7 minutes of thickening. Set aside covered.


Whipped Feta and Honey Mash
1. Boil 9 large, peeled potatoes until cooked through.
2. In a separate bowl combine 1/4 cup of honey, 1 1/2 cup of feta, 2 tablespoons of butter, and 1/2 cup of cream cheese. Whip ingredients until the consistency is smooth.
3. Add in potatoes and blend until smooth.
4. Garnish with tarragon and rosemary.


Candied Bacon, Grilled Carrots
1. Peel 8 large carrots and trim tops.
2. Lay out 8 strips of applewood bacon on a cooking sheet with tinfoil. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of sriracha over bacon – about 3 drops for each piece.
4. Bake at 325 until edges begin to crisp.
5. Quickly remove bacon from cooking sheet and transfer to a non-stick parchment paper until cooled. Then chop bacon into garnish size pieces.
6. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil and submerge carrots for 4-5 minutes until softened. Dry carrots thoroughly and toss in olive oil and salt.
7. Add carrots to high heat on Big Green Egg for 1-2 minutes on each side until grill marks form. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
8. Cut carrots diagonally and garnish with candied bacon.


Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash
1. Cut 2 medium zucchini and summer squash in half, lengthwise.
2. Toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper.
3. Add to high heat for 3-4 minutes each side until cooked through and grill marks form.
4. Remove from heat and diagonal cut. Garnish with Irish Cheddar Cheese.

Savoring the Leftovers
Baxter is known for honing his culinary skills while entertaining guests, but only his family knows how creative he can be with the leftovers. After you’ve made his prime rib perfection, you’re going to need a plan to make something spectacular, so not one single morsel goes to waste. We asked Baxter to offer up some culinary advice and one of his family’s favorite recipes for making good use of great prime rib.

Remnants of the Holidays
Baxter suggests saving the ends of vegetables that get chopped up, so they can be frozen and later made into vegetable broth. “When you’re ready to use them, throw them in a pot with some water, let them rest for four hours on simmer, then strain out the vegetable remnants,” said Baxter. “You can pretty much do the same for any chicken remnants and bones to make chicken broth.”

Fast Food at Home
The Baxter’s live an extremely busy life with their three children under the age of eight, Fuschia, Scarlett and Harrison. Ami Baxter owns her own Interior Design firm, while David Baxter is on the road for work, traveling Monday through Thursday between four states.

“When the kids get home, they don’t want to wait an hour or more to eat, so I like making a meal plan for the week,” said Baxter. “In our house, we love leftovers. When I get back into town for the weekend, I’ll plan out my meals, sometimes making a big pot of soup for them, chicken or lasagna. Then Ami and the kids will use those leftovers through Thursday night when I get home, then we do it all over again. If you cook prime rib on Sunday, you know that you can probably have two or three meals from the leftovers. We would then do stroganoff, beef stew and probably thin-sliced prime rib sandwiches.”

Leftover Prime Rib Stew
1. Trim 1 1/2 pounds of the leftover prime rib. Remove all the visible fat and cut into 1/2” chunks.
2. Heat a large skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and the prime rib. Season lightly with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, about 3-5 minutes total. Transfer the meat to a plate.
3. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet. Add 2 large diced carrots, 2 diced celery, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 large, diced potatoes, 1 medium, diced onion and cook until lightly colored, about 3-4 minutes.
4. Stir in the 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour. Add 1 cup of merlot red wine and simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add 2 cups of beef stock, 4 fresh thyme sprigs and 1 bay leaf. Bring the ingredients to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the carrots and potato are fork tender, about 7-10 minutes.
5. Finally, add fresh peas and the prime rib along with any accumulated juices, cover and simmer until the meat is heated through, about 3 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

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Progressive Architecture Tour

Words by Susan Hozak-Cardinal Photography by Dan Francis Photography Leave it to the art community to create an event pairing food, wine and a tour of three amazing homes, all…

Words by Susan Hozak-Cardinal
Photography by Dan Francis Photography

Leave it to the art community to create an event pairing food, wine and a tour of three amazing homes, all in the same night. The 2nd annual Progressive Architecture Tour from Plains Art Museum took place on September 23 and walked guests through three homes of area architects and owners to share their stories and insights about the making of their dream homes.

The Crew
I, along with my husband Jason Cardinal, photographer Dan Francis and contributors Trever Hill and Jesse Masterson, were ecstatic to join a small group of 42 people touring three notable homes. It was a day and evening full of excitement, questions, and the chance to meet and mingle with the homeowners and architects. All proceeds raised from the event went to help support the PlainsArt4All initiative to keep the museum’ general admission free.

If you missed out on the tour, no need to fret. Grab yourself a snack and glass of wine and join me as we tour three homes with three different courses.

Progressive Architecture Tour: House #1
Owners | Sunny Clark and Marc Wilson
Architects | DandE Lab, Malini Srivastava and Mike Christenson
Course #1: Hors d’oeuvres | Luna, Chef Ryan Nitschke

The first home we visited was the Horizon Home in Moorhead. When we arrived, we were greeted by Sandy Thompson. Thompson is the Development Director at the Plains Art Museum, and he and his staff did a wonderful job of organizing the tour for everyone to enjoy. Thompson encouraged the crew to enjoy the hors d’oeuvres prepared by Chef Ryan Nitschke from Luna while touring the home. Towards the end of the hour, we would all gather together to hear from the home owners and architects.

Let the Tour Begin
Off we went. We loved the clean lines of this house. We also loved the simplicity of the home in that everything seemed to have a purpose. No space was wasted space. Yet, it was so bright and inviting too. Every room and layout of the house made more sense after hearing from the owners on their story towards the building of their energy efficient masterpiece.


Marc Wilson, Homeowner
“Like with any budget, we had to think about things that mattered to us and things that didn’t matter to us. We looked through Dwell Magazine for ideas. We knew we wanted a sheltered effect in the backyard. We knew that we didn’t care about big spaces like big bathrooms and that we did want a nice sized kitchen and living area. We also wanted to be environmentally friendly and playful at the same time.”

Owners Sunny Clark and Marc Wilson found the perfect fit with architects Malini Srivastava and Mike Christenson from Design and Energy Laboratory, LLC (DandE Lab). DandE Lab provides affordable, high-performance, energy-efficient architectural design and won the 2014 AIA North Dakota Honor Award for Residential Architecture for the work done on the Horizon House. Energy efficiency, no waste, and leaving the smallest carbon footprint were top priorities of this project.


Mike Christenson, Architect
“When we got together to talk about this project, we all just seemed to click. This was a very enjoyable project to work on and we made a lasting friendship.”

Malini Srivastava, Architect
“What was really interesting about this project was that the conversation was about having a spatial quality but not a big house. So the connotation was about how it would feel, and so the answers weren’t obvious, but we knew we would get there. Marc and Sunny had a list, and together we developed a design concept around it. They were willing to experiment and go on an adventure.”

Efficiency, Efficiency, Efficiency
One example of moving forward on being energy efficient, yet cost effective, is with the windows. Windows that are high performance are usually very expensive. Through the company, they were able to use rejected high performance windows that were not used in other projects because of size or color.

“My idea of being green comes from multiple things – less material, less energy, being resource conservative,” said Srivastava. “Windows can be weakest part of the equation in trying to get the home air tight. We would continually test before we finish to make sure the house was as air tight as we wanted it to be before moving forward.”

“Travis (VanDoren) was an amazing builder. We can’t even tell when the wind blows,” said Clark. “We look outside and see the trees moving but everything inside is so quiet.”

Clark also explained how they purposely decided not to put an air conditioner in the home. They experimented on how to keep house cool in summertime by opening windows at night, letting fresh air in, and shutting it down during the day. There is radiant heat as well – no ducts, no forced air. This was one of many aspects where Clark and Wilson had to juggle with priorities. Another was with the size of their master bath. They didn’t feel like they needed a large master bath in comparison to having a larger kitchen and living area, where most of their daily family activities happen. They were also able to cut down on costs by doing some of the finishing work themselves, such as making the cabinets and the doors.

The Ever-Changing Process
Although Srivastava jokes about how slow the designing process took in order to get to where everyone wanted to be, Clark and Wilson didn’t think that at all. In fact, they felt like it was Christmas every time they got to meet with Srivastava and Christenson to make decisions on each phase.

“Marc and Sunny were as much of design process as we were. We did drawings as multiple options as a way to figure out where we are going,” said Srivastava.”As architects, we do work that lasts a long time. It’s easy to make mistakes and hard to know when it’s right so we have to take time to use models and drawings as a way of having conversations with the homeowners.”

Progressive Architecture Tour: House #2
Owners | Sarah and Chris Hawley
Architect | Chris Hawley Architects
Course #2: Salad | Mosaic Foods, Chef Eric Watson

The second home on tour was Casa Hawley, home to Chris and Sarah Hawley. When we arrived at the home, Thompson explained to us that he and Chris Hawley worked together on creating this tour for the Plains Art Museum and will be teaming up for future tours. At Casa Hawley, the group enjoyed a salad by Chef Eric Watson from Mosaic Foods, and roamed around once more, taking in the thoughtful architecture, art and home.

Architect and Homeowner
This home was unique to the others on tour because Chris Hawley was both the architects and homeowner. Hawley explained that his wife and family were living in an 880 square-foot house and thought, enough was enough, they needed a bigger space. They thought about building a new home but that changed when Chris Hawley noticed an “ugly house” for sale that was built in 1968.

Chris Hawley, Architect & Homeowner
“That has got to be the ugliest house. Who would be dumb enough to buy it? These were my first thoughts. But during the second weekend of looking at the house, I told my friend, you know what, there is something there. The neighborhood is right, the space if right, and there is something about the quality of the construction.”

Sarah Hawley, Homeowner
“Chris did a sketch within an hour. He has such a vision and I tend to trust him with most things. When he showed me the sketch, I loved it. I love modern and that is definitely our style. As soon as I saw that sketch, I knew that he could pull it off.”

And the adventure begins…

During the Q & A with Chris and Sarah Hawley, we learned about some challenges they faced during the remodel and what steered them towards certain aspects of the home. Chris Hawley said that one thing they went back and forth on was the kitchen. They were deciding if the kitchen would just be opened up partially, but decided to make it big and open, warm and entertaining. “The kitchen island made sense for us and how we live,” explained Chris Hawley. ” If we need formal dining, we use the screen porch for that. We live on the end of this table. We live very informally.”


And then there was a water mishap when it rained during the process of changing the roof. “It became challenging for the family. Yes, it was stressful with the flooding, but we made the most of it. What can you do? I said, let’s play ping pong. I’m a pretty good sport,”laughed Sarah Hawley.


Reflection of Us
Even with the challenges involved, the finished product of Phase One was a success. You can still see some of the original parts of the house with the pink and avocado bathrooms. So far, the house has a very polished and modern look, but the basement, Phase Two, will have a dramatically different look. It will be more industrial with exposed concrete and a family game room. But like the home above, it will be a reflection of Chris and Sarah Hawley and their family.

Chris Hawley, Architect & Homeowner:
” I’m a minimalist and like reusing things. The table is from wood from an old restaurant in Minot and with repurposed spikes from that project as well. This house is a reflection of us. There is art from my brother or friends, each with personal stories that are near and dear to us.”


Progressive Architecture Tour: House #3

Owners | Rondi and Keith McGovern | Fargo
Architect | Chris Hawley Architects/Interior Remodel
Entree | VIP Room, Chef Anthony Bachman
Dessert | Nichole’s Fine Pastry, Pastry Chef Nichole Hensen

The final home on the tour was what Fargoan’s refer to as, The Fargo Laundry Building, home to Rondi and Keith McGovern. When we arrived, we divided into two tour groups. My group went with Keith McGovern and the other group with Rondi McGovern and Chris Hawley. Keith McGovern assured us we were in the group that would get a thorough run down of the place and he was right. There was just so many fascinating and story-filled parts to this home that I am going to have to just share a few with you.

Wait…what? A Laundry Building?

Keith explained to us that after going through three floods, he wanted to move somewhere where he didn’t have to worry about that again. So while he and his realtor were hard at work looking for a house, Keith McGovern suddenly came across an old laundry building for sale. He immediately called up his realtor, Dave Noah, and said, “I can fix anything. Call those guys, I want to buy that building.”

Our tour started in the large garage/shop portion of the building, the same area that Keith McGovern had first looked at as well. “When I walked into this room, I decided that I wanted to buy this building,” Keith McGovern said. We were now in the original room where Leef Cleaners received laundry in 2,000-pound totes. This place use to have washing machines, all sorts of pipes, with lint and soap scum everywhere. This all required a massive cleanup but has now transformed beautifully into a shop, and garage complete with a mudroom and gear room.


Keith McGovern, Homeowner:
“I have to give credit to our governor, Doug Burgum. When he came over and I told him my plan, he said, if you are really going to do this, you need to call this guy, he’s an architect. His name is Chris Hawley.”

Chris Hawley, Architect:
“Keith gave me a call Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. and wanted to see some drawings the next day. After seeing the first sketch, I had until Friday and stayed up all night Thursday and those are the two drawings I came up with, and what is cool about it is that it didn’t change much.”

From Drawing to Reality

“I can’t stand CAD and I let Chris know that,” said Keith McGovern. “Chris is an amazing artist so he drew everything for me. We ended up with these drawings and then the building itself.”

The Basement
The laundry building use to be its own self-contained building in 1923. It had its own water treatment, power plant, and fire system. In the east wall, a train would drop off coal which would then be shoveled into a huge boiler. The McGovern’s transformed this basement area into a gym which they now refer to as “The Pit”.

The Pit
“This is the cross-fit gym where the kids work out, and this is the normal gym or Rondi’s gym,” said Keith McGovern. “Her gym area used to be offices for Leef Cleaners.”

Grand Staircase
The staircase was hard to get approved because there are no legs and Keith wanted to be historically correct. The staircase actually bolts together and they assembled it on-site.

Indoor/Outdoor Patio Magic
Keith McGovern led us into a brick room and surprised the crowd with what would undoubtedly be one of the most unique rooms in the city. He explained that he wanted an indoor patio that was essentially, outdoors. A moment later, concrete blocks started to move and a rustic garage door opened to reveal a heated, indoor, swim spa. This area was originally the site where trucks backed up to doors that were operated by heavy, concrete blocks. To preserve the history of the building, Keith McGovern kept the original doors and replicated the massive, concrete counterweights.

Happily Ever After
During the Q&A portion after dinner, we found out that Keith and Rondi McGovern were once prom king and queen. With such an extensive project, the touring crowd wondered if there were any design battles between the “royal court”, and also what it was about Fargo that made them want to keep their roots firmly planted.

“Rondi’s family brought us here and the wonderful people of Fargo kept us here,” said Keith McGovern. “We were really in sync in how Rondi and I functioned on this project. For the structural and mechanical areas, Chris and I worked together. Certain rooms were Rondi’s so I had no say in those,” he joked. “Rondi did save the day by telling me not to frost the windows in the bar area. That would have made a big difference if we did and you couldn’t see outside. Rondi was with me the whole way, and with Chris’s hard work, we were able to pull this all together.”

The Tour Concludes
Through the Progressive Architecture Tour, organized by the Plains Art Museum, we were able to see three incredible homes in different stages of development and thought-process. What most people can only imagine from the street, this tour group, comprised of architectural admirers and dreamers, got an up-close and personal glimpse inside their doors and greatest design ambitions. Although each home and family revealed a different lifestyle, they all shared one commonality. Amidst an array of challenges, they had a vision and a dream to create a space that felt like their version of home.

With Gratitude
To all of the homeowners and architects, thank you for sharing your story, your personal space and your unique vision. To the chef’s who created each sumptuous course along the way, thank you for sharing your talents.

For more information about the Progressive Architecture Tour, contact:
Plains Art Museum
Sandy Thompson, Director of Development
704 First Avenue North, Fargo, N.D.

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A Twist on Tradition

Words by Shayla Knutson Photography by Zach Davis Photography Thanksgiving is not too far away, and that means it’s time to start menu and table- setting prep. Thanksgiving is about…

Words by Shayla Knutson

Photography by Zach Davis Photography

Thanksgiving is not too far away, and that means it’s time to start menu and table- setting prep. Thanksgiving is about tradition and we all have our go-to recipes, but sometimes a little refresh is in order. With a small twist on tradition, those classic cranberries, stuffing, turkey and green beans will reach a whole new level of tastefulness. For some, it is hard to stray from the typical Thanksgiving menu, but this menu is simply taking a different approach to classic dishes. Perhaps finding a new family favorite dish is simply adding a small twist on traditional dishes.

If you are hosting and/or cooking, there are subtle changes that you can make to traditional family recipes that will keep things new and exciting. Traditions will always be important during holidays, but I think the way to keep everyone from falling asleep, is to spice things up a bit, whether you inject a little whimsy into the menu, or just experiment with new foods and flavor combinations. I especially love it when an experimental recipe transforms into its own tradition. That’s the way it was with my green bean casserole. It’s now demanded at every Thanksgiving.

This menu of sides and dessert provides traditional Thanksgiving fare, but sprinkles in a few variations for good measure. I’m a strong believer in classic dishes, but there’s definitely room for creativity. I guarantee you’ll earn a major applause at the Thanksgiving table.

Table Setting
Floral: Love Always Floral
Half of the success of a dinner party is the presentation. Fall provides great, natural elements you can incorporate into your table design ideas (e.g. wood, greenery, pumpkins). Thanksgiving is also a great excuse to give your table a fun new makeover. A new tablecloth, runner, or throw blanket will give your Thanksgiving table-setting a fresh new look. From there you can add many natural items combined with items around the house to create a beautiful, layered Thanksgiving table.


I love mixing fun colors along with textures. I used a wool throw blanket instead of a table runner to keep it less expensive. I love blending sophisticated plates and glasses with organic wood pieces, greenery, and florals.

Don’t forget to incorporate the reason for the season in your Thanksgiving dinner plans. One tradition in my home that will never change is having each person at the table tell something he or she is thankful for. For this, offer small pieces of paper to everyone and have them write down what they are most thankful for and share after dinner.



I recently just developed an appreciation for a good cranberry sauce and realized that sweet and savory anything together is an incredible combo. This cranberry sauce is unique with the addition of cognac and walnuts.


This stuffing is very classic but with a small twist of using bagels instead of bread.

Green Bean Casserole
I love a good green bean casserole but hate using canned vegetables and processed fried onions. This recipe came about when my husband became gluten-free and could not have those addicting processed fried onion toppings.

I am a lover of a good pumpkin pie…but switching it out is always good.

The mashed potatoes have a hint of something new with the addition of ranch and greek yogurt.


Get the Recipes

Apple Crisp
For Apples:
• 1 C sugar
• 1 T g/f flour
• 1 t salt
• 1 T cinnamon
• 5 C apples
Cut apples into ¼ “ slices. Mix ingredients in large bowl and place in 9X13 pan or 6 ramekins.

For topping:
• 1 C brown sugar
• 1 ½ C g/f flour
• 1 C butter
• 1 C g/f oats
Cream together sugar and butter. Add oats and flour. Crumble on top of apples.
Bake for 50 minutes.

Bagel Stuffing
• 1 C onion
• 2 C celery
• 1 C butter
• 2 ⅔ t salt
• ⅔ t pepper
• 2 ⅔ t poultry seasoning
• 1 t fresh thyme
• 1 t fresh sage
• 6 plain white bagels

A day before, cube bagels to dry out. Chop the onion and celery very fine. In a pan, melt the butter then add celery, onion, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, thyme, and sage. Mix in the dried bagels and stuff turkey.

Fresh Cranberries
• 1 pkg (12oz) fresh cranberries
• ¾ C sugar
• ½ C orange juice
• ¼ C triple-sec (or orange-flavored liqueur)
• ¼ t ground allspice
• ¼ t ground cloves
• ¼ t ginger
• 1 T grated orange peel
• ½ C chopped walnuts, toasted

In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, sugar, orange juice, liqueur and spices until boiling. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer, stirring frequently until cranberries begin to pop and mixture has thickened slightly approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Stir in orange peel and toasted walnuts

Fresh Green Bean Casserole
• 1 ½ lbs chopped green beans
• ½ C onion chopped + 1 ½ C onion thinly sliced
• 1 12oz Pacific brand cream of mushroom soup
• 1 t salt
• ½ t pepper
• 1 T Worcestershire sauce
• 1 T minced garlic
• ¼ C milk
• ¼ C + 1 T cornstarch
• ½ C oil for frying onions
Steam the chopped green beans for six minutes. Remove and place in a bowl. Add the cream of mushroom soup, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, milk, ½ cup chopped onion, and 1 T cornstarch. Mix in a bowl and pour into a medium-size sauté pan. Turn the heat on to medium-high and let simmer covered for eight minutes.

For the crunchy onion topping: take the 1 ½ cup thinly sliced onions and toss them in ¼ cup of cornstarch. Drizzle several tablespoons of avocado oil into a sauté pan on high heat and pan fry the onion slices. Place on paper towel to get rid of excess oil. Remove lid from green bean mixture and add the crunchy onions. Simmer to thicken for 3 to 4 minutes.

Twice Baked Potato Casserole
• 4 lbs new baby potatoes
• ½ C plain greek yogurt
• ½ C butter
• 2 T dry ranch
• 1 ½ C cheddar cheese
• 10 slices cooked bacon
• 1 t salt
• ½ t pepper
• ¼ C milk
• ¼ C scallions chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Wash and cut potatoes into large chunks.
Place potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water and cook until fork tender, approximately 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes, return to pot with butter. Mash with a potato masher. Stir in milk, greek yogurt, bacon, dry ranch, salt, pepper and one cup of shredded cheese and mash until desired consistency. Lightly spray a casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place the potato mixture in baking dish. Top with remaining ½ cup cheese and scallions. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted.

To see more of my Sweetly Simple recipes, follow me on Facebook or Instagram @sweetlysimplelife.

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Live, Laugh, Love – A Night of Wine, Wishes and Pizza

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by AB Images Have you ever been to a live auction and wondered what it would be like to attend one of the elite dinners…

Words by Tracy Nicholson

Photography by AB Images

Have you ever been to a live auction and wondered what it would be like to attend one of the elite dinners that are often up for bid? This Fall, we were invited to the beautiful, Sheyenne River home of Vonda and Jim Leiner to get a glimpse inside their authentic, Italian, wood-burning pizza party. This event was donated by the Leiners on behalf of Make-A-Wish, North Dakota at the 2017 Wine & Wishes event held this past Spring. Casting the winning bid, Angela and Joe Kolling had a reason for supporting this cause that was close to home. In 2009, their own daughter Morgan was once the recipient of a Wish. Driven to show continued support for other children with life-threatening illnesses, the Kollings gathered friends and family in a celebration of life, love and pizza.


Inviting seven of their closest friends to the dinner, the Kollings know too well the need for Wishes to be granted. Donating a dinner like this one can mean raising anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, all going towards granting children’s Wishes throughout the state.

The Power of a Wish
“It’s been eight years since we went on our Wish trip for Morgan and we have not missed a Make-A-Wish event since,” said Angela Kolling. “Make-A-Wish was wonderful in making sure that her wish happened. We had a setback the week before she was going on her trip and so they were good about making sure plans were changed to accommodate Morgan, and honestly, Make-A-Wish is one of the best organizations out there. It truly gives kids that are going through this, something to smile about and gives their family that little break and reprieve. Whether it’s a trip, a new bedroom or a new swing set; whatever the wish may be, they make sure it happens for that child and make each wish special.

After their daughter’s Wish was granted, the Kollings vowed to keep giving back. The group of friends they invited to the Leiner’s house comes every year to the Make-A-Wish event to show their support. “It’s nice to be able to share the night with them,” said Angela Kolling. “I think Make-A-Wish would agree, there’s no gift that’s too small. But, even just to get the awareness out there of the organization and what they do. You don’t have to give, you can also donate your time or help with the wishes, it’s not just about spending money.”


Donating an Experience

Co-hosting for the night’s dinner was Brad and Jennifer Dahl. Brad Dahl has been on the Make-A-Wish board for the past 12 years and he and his wife were the two that proposed the pizza party idea to Jim and Vonda Leiner. In past years, typically executive chefs had donated dinners, but the Dahl’s knew firsthand that the Leiners could create an experience that people would love to bid on. “This is more of an experience,” said Jennifer Dahl. “The food’s going to fabulous, I know that for a fact. It’s a beautiful home, there’s a set up to have a bonfire as well. This is a treat because we’ve been out here or a lot of pizza parties and there’s usually 10 to 20 people. It’s really fun and you can make your own or they’ll make one for you. Jim and Vonda have ruined pizza for us,” laughed Jennifer Dahl. “Once you eat their pizza, you don’t want to go anywhere else.”

Made-from-Scratch Wishes
To create an authentic, Italian experience for the Kollings and their guests, Jim and Vonda Leiner spent nearly 12 hours preparing and sauteeing every type of pizza ingredient imaginable. Jim Leiner made the pizza crust dough from scratch, planning for 16 pizzas.

To make the most of the experience, guests were invited to either create their own concoction or follow one of the Leiner’s favorite recipes they cleverly displayed on restaurant order pads.

“One of the pizzas that really throws people is our bratwurst and sauerkraut with mustard sauce. Also, the shrimp pizza is a signature that not many people have had,” said Vonda Leiner. “The shrimp pizza has a secret base, it’s something that Jim creates as he’s sautéing for the sausage, onions and garlic. This time he did more of a beurre blanc, so it has more of a lemon taste to it.”

“This peach one is our salad pizza and a favorite of ours, we got it from Muddy Waters, that was a restaurant in Minneapolis. There’s Parmesan, Mozzarella, Blue Cheese, Prosciutto, peaches, pears, toasted walnuts and arugula. Then we just drizzle it with balsamic vinegar,” said Jim Leiner.

For another popular pie, the Leiners use bacon grease as the base, Pecorino Romano, Parmesan cheese and a little Mozzarella. “If you look at different recipes, you can pretty much use any kind of cheese and pepper,” said Vonda Leiner. “It’s called Cacio e Pepe which translates to cheese and pepper in Italian. We’re planning a trip to Italy next year for our 30th wedding anniversary, so Jim’s actually learning how to speak Italian. Right now he’s about 40 percent fluent, he can read and write in Italian. I only know a few words, but he’s able to listen to it all day while he’s working, so he’s actually pretty good.”

Woodfire Whimsy
The Leiners wanted an authentic, woodfire pizza oven that could only be found in Italy. Jim Leiner, a long-time cabinet builder for Wood Specialists in Fargo, N.D., Installed the pizza oven, beautiful cabinetry and stone surround. The couple typically reserved pizza parties for the winter, and for good reason. Their authentic pizza oven gets up to around 800 degrees, sufficiently heating up the house.

“We roll the dough out, then place on cornmeal so it doesn’t stick,” explained Vonda Leiner. “The only other secret is not to add too much sauce to the very edge. Each pizza takes about three minutes in the brick oven.”


Tour the Leiner’s Home

Before guests arrived, Vonda Leiner gave us a tour of their stunning home. For new guests to the Leiner’s home, the experience starts at the street with a picturesque walk through a dreamy landscape framed with cafe lights, finally leading to their front porch, where Frank Sinatra is crooning through the speakers near the entrance.

Inside, it’s easy to feel as if one’s been transported to another, more exotic location; maybe a gorgeous Italian villa, a beautiful resort in the mountains or your favorite restaurant in Napa Valley. Vonda Leiner’s flair for design and detail is in every nook and cranny of their gorgeous home. She doesn’t follow the standard rules of design, and it’s utter perfection. In fact, she doesn’t follow trends, and her style cannot be defined in one word. Some would say it’s an eclectic mix of French country, vintage, industrial, contemporary, Italian and everything in-between. To combine all of these styles seamlessly, with family heirlooms, flea market finds and handmade items is a skill all on its own. Each room is a reflection of the Leiner’s 32 years together. One walk through the home and guests feel as if they’ve gotten a glimpse of their personality, their life, and their loves.

“Her home is beautiful,” said Make-A-Wish mom, Angela Kolling. “It’s nice to be able to come into someone else’s home and experience a different style of dinner. We’ve had dinners through Make-A- Wish where they come to your home as well. So, this had a nice appeal, to be able to go into a different house and be with our friends and family, those that are close to us.”

Seasonal Decor with a Spin
The Leiner’s table is set for Fall perfection. “We just hung the branch over the table last winter for Christmas and then we had antique icicles and snowflakes that hung off of it,” said Vonda Leiner. “After Christmas, we decided to keep it, we liked the architectural look and we didn’t want two more light fixtures in here because of the large kitchen pendants.”

“So, this was an old farm table, but in 2010, I almost started our whole house on fire with a mix of candles, wood, pine cones and fresh greenery,” laughed Vonda Leiner. “It had huge burn marks down the center and I couldn’t find a table to replace it so, we just tried to think of another way.”As a solution, Jim Leiner had a stainless steel top fabricated to fit the lower legs, lending the space a mix of farmhouse, industrial appeal.

An efficient self-taught designer, Vonda Leiner doesn’t decorate for one specific holiday, she decorates for the longer haul, focusing on the seasons. Her Fall decor for the dinner is a seasonal style which will easily last through Thanksgiving. “I’m not a big orange fan, but the white pumpkins are a must,” said Vonda Leiner. If you’re wondering about Christmas, she doesn’t like taking the decor down in four weeks, so Vonda Leiner opts for Winter-inspired decor to last through the next season.

DIY Masterpiece
After sheet-rock, Jim and Vonda Leiner are known to take over the project and physically do all of the home’s finishes themselves. Putting to good use Jim Leiner’s 30-plus years as a cabinet-maker at Wood Specialists, they were able to build their cabinets themselves and have him do all of the custom rock work, tile and almost every finish.

The Leiner’s master suite is an ode to love and family. Vintage photos of their great-grandparents represent both sides of their family, along with pieces from their past.


Organic Outdoors
Just off of the master suite, Jim Leiner built a swoon-worthy three-season porch with sliding doors to accommodate the seasons. A slightly more contemporary look at first glance, a second glance reveals an eclectic mix of vintage and flea market finds with a stunning view of the patio and woods beyond their home.

Outside on the patio, Jim Leiner cut 400-pound tree trunks to brace their table top. The table top alone is an impressive 1,200 to 1,300 pounds. The white handrail on the deck was found at an antique store and was originally from a hotel in Minneapolis.

“We’ve been here for 12 years. We wanted to keep the backyard rustic and we wanted it to feel like when you come out here, that you’re in Itasca or someplace like that,” said Vonda Leiner. “We’re just going to put down a little grass and those yellow, weed flowers that you see on the side of the road. We just want it to look really natural.”


Supporting a Wish

To understand the purpose behind events like the one Jim and Vonda Leiner generously donated, just ask Brad Dahl, a longstanding board member, and wish-granting volunteer. “The best part of being involved with Make-A-Wish is putting smiles on kid’s faces. We’ve got close to 50 kids that get Wishes granted in North Dakota. We have to raise money, the kids get a wish and we don’t want to have to deny it. It would be nice if this number would decrease, that means the kids aren’t getting sick with life-threatening illnesses. If someone wants to get involved with helping, any ideas are listened to by our executive director, Billi Jo Zielinski. When we had this idea, we went to her and she said, “Absolutely.” We didn’t know how it was going to turn out if anyone would even bid on it, but we ended up having a couple of different people that bid on it. Every little bit counts.”


“It’s great that people do things like this, it’s a great setting and something that’s really attractive to bid on at the event,” said Joe Kolling. “It’s something different and a lot of fun for a night out. To come to an event like the Make-A-Wish fundraiser, you don’t need to spend $2,000, you can go and spend $25 and still make a huge impact. It’s a fun night to go whether you win something nice or just donate a small amount. It makes an impact and it’s worth going no matter how much you can offer. Going to an event like this is a big eye-opener for someone who hasn’t been through it. The lasting impact that Make-A-Wish has on these families, I can’t describe it. To go to the event at least helps give some kind of perspective on what they do.”

“Joe and Angela’s daughter, Morgan, received her wish to go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in April of 2009,” said Make-A-Wish North Dakota President and CEO, Billi Jo Zielinski. “After the trip, Morgan began coloring pictures and selling them to raise money for Make-A-Wish. From notecards to live auction prints, she has posthumously raised over $30,000 for other wish kids in North Dakota.”

“We could not grant the wishes to almost 50 children each year without the generosity of people like the Leiners, Dahls and Kollings,” said Make-A-Wish North Dakota President and CEO Billi Jo Zielinski. “Donated experiences like this go beyond just a moment at an event. They transform lives, one wish at a time. One of the Kolling family’s favorite mottos is “live, laugh, love” and you can bid on Morgan’s art piece with this motto, hear other wish children stories and enjoy wine from Happy Harry’s at next year’s Wine & Wishes event on Friday, April 6, 2018 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fargo.”

To donate time or help support a Wish, contact:

Billi Jo Zielinski
President and CEO
Make-A-Wish® North Dakota
4143 26th Avenue South, Suite 104, Fargo N.D.

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Culinary Masterson

With Fall entertaining in full-swing, I thought this was the perfect time to introduce one of my own party essentials, the gourmet charcuterie tray. I’m not a professional chef or…

With Fall entertaining in full-swing, I thought this was the perfect time to introduce one of my own party essentials, the gourmet charcuterie tray. I’m not a professional chef or an expert in wine and cheese, but when it comes to hosting, I love to make the presentation pop. With a little creativity, I’ll show you how a gourmet tray can serve as a gorgeous and edible centerpiece that will impress even the most discriminating of guests.

Stock Up

Creating the perfect palate pleaser is easier than you think. Typical cheese trays have a variety of meats, fruit, preserves, honey and olives to fill in the gaps and help create a mix of flavors and interest. I bend the rules a bit and throw in sweeter elements like dark chocolate almonds and a spicy dark chocolate dip which works well with the lighter cheeses and fruit. I love that you can get creative and there’s really no limit as to what you can do. Just make sure it’s appealing to the eye and tastebuds with an array of colors, textures and tastes.

Where to Shop

If you want to find unique items and super-fresh produce, head to Prairie Roots Co-op in Downtown Fargo. While in the vicinity, visit Pinch & Pour, where they encourage guests to taste test until you find the perfect olive oil and balsamic concoctions. For the cheeses, I used a mix of local favorites from Pinch & Pour, Prairie Roots Co-op, Luna and even Costco. If you’re not sure how to choose the cheese, the experts at Luna are happy to help anyone navigate their impressive cheese selection.

Wine & Dine

After choosing four varieties of cheese, we asked The Spirit Shop’s Ronni Heggen to coordinate the perfect wine pairings to complement our selection. When hosting, never assume your guests are master sommeliers. Positioning the wines directly behind each cheese lets guests enjoy the experience without the guessing game.

10 Tasty Tips

1. If you’re new to cheese trays, keep it simple. Select at least one soft cheese like brie, one hard or semi-hard cheese like cheddar and another bolder variation such as blue cheese. In this tray, I included a coordinating cracker or bread for each cheese. Example, water crackers and artisan crisps pair well with the Brie. Use a french baguette with Blue cheese or olive oil, and any other unique cracker for the Cheddar and Montamore.

2. For a more festive and fresh approach, make sure to include spreads and produce that are currently in-season.

3. If you don’t have a specific cheese tray or cutting board, take a look in your pantry and get creative. Any large serving ware or clean, flat item can work. If you’re doing trays for larger parties, consider splitting the food up by category breads and crackers, cheeses, produce, dips and spreads and even a bite size dessert tray.

4. To achieve the fullest flavor, make sure to take your cheese out of the refrigerator at least a half hour before you serve it. Cheese should always be served at room temperature.

5. To begin your tray design, start with placing the cheese, spacing them out so you have room to add in the complimenting produce, nuts and spreads. Placing largest to smallest is an easy way to create an appealing tray.

6. Make sure you thoroughly drain olives and capers before placing them on the tray. This will help eliminate runny messes. If you need to use watery fruit like watermelon, you can also use small ramekins to keep the foods separated.

7. If your tray includes meat varieties, create sections of each separate meat near the cheese. Then get creative and fold, flower or roll the meat for added visual appeal.

8. Get creative with your garnish. A finished tray is not complete without a little greenery. I like to use fresh herbs like Rosemary and Thyme, ferns, flowers or pine branches depending on the season. If you opt for herbs, throw a sprig in your olive oil for an extra punch of flavor.

9. Try making your own candied nuts. You can find multiple recipes online, but most just call for roasting the nuts in the oven at 350 degrees first, then quickly stirring them into a saucepan with melted sugar. Once coated, lay them out on parchment paper and sprinkle with salt. Just remember to work quickly as you’ll only have seconds before the sugar starts to crystallize.

10. As any good host knows, keeping food and drink flowing is a tough task to keep up with while entertaining guests. Simplify the process by pre-cutting extra fruit, cheese, and meat, then placing them into presentable ramekins or small bowls in your refrigerator so that you can easily restock, even in mid conversation. This will help keep wrappers and plastic produce containers out of sight and you won’t have to stop mid-party to slice and dice.

The Price to Party

As an appetizer, our tray with four cheese selections would typically accommodate about six to eight people. For this size, expect to spend around $100 to $150, with plenty of leftovers to create another. If that’s out of your budget, just scale it down using fewer cheese and cracker options with less produce. The price of the cheeses vary, but the ones we selected ran about $10 to $15 dollars per block.

Love Your Leftovers

To get a longer life out of your leftovers, make sure to store your cheese according to its type. Soft cheeses like Brie should be kept in an airtight container. Semi-hard cheeses like Cheddar and Blue cheese can be wrapped in plastic wrap. Hard or aged cheeses should be wrapped in parchment paper or cheese cloth. If you need a quick storage solution for hard or semi-hard cheeses, you can also purchase special parchment bags at most grocery stores.

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