Home With The Lost Italian: Cranberry sauce and baked brie in puff pastry star of appetizer table

Ten years ago, my dear friend, Karen Seljevold, read an article in The Forum that stressed the need for donations to our local food pantries as winter approached.

Cranberries and candied pecans top brie cheese inside of a baked pastry crust. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Ten years ago, my dear friend, Karen Seljevold, read an article in The Forum that stressed the need for donations to our local food pantries as winter approached. Moved by the story and never one to shy away from a good cause, Karen reached out to her friends Linda Lamb and Jenni Monson and said, “We should do something.” The three ladies brainstormed ideas, and the Pantry Party was born, with Gina Kraushaar joining the group as a fellow host a few years later.

The annual party is hosted in their homes, trading off among the friends from year to year. Dozens of women are invited to attend the party with the intention of coming together to enjoy food, wine and friendship, and all they ask in return is that each guest makes either a monetary or non-perishable donation to the Fargo Emergency Food Pantry.

I remember attending my first Pantry Party several years ago before they began accepting monetary donations, when the evening would end with several rooms packed to the hilt with bags and boxes of non-perishable food donations. The entire house was filled with food. There was no way you could leave a party like that without feeling warm and fuzzy, knowing that you’d joined others in doing good.

Karen estimates there were several hundred pounds of food collected each year before they also began encouraging cash donations. The bulk of the gifts are now monetary, and, while I miss the visual dynamic of all that food, I love knowing that the pantry can make our dollars stretch much further than our food donations. This year alone, Karen expects their cash contributions to exceed $1,800, in addition to dozens of bags of food.

“When you get an idea and have great people around you, it’s easy to do something like this,” Karen said. I’d argue the easy part, as planning a party for 30 to 50 women is never a simple task, but I understand the sentiment. Everyone has a good time at this party, including the hostesses.


Like any great party, there is no shortage of delicious food at this event, and this year the star of the appetizer buffet was Karen’s baked brie in puff pastry. When I asked her for the recipe she rolled her eyes and said, “This is way too simple for you, Sare. It’s a brick of brie cheese covered in raspberry jam and wrapped in puff pastry. Seriously, there’s nothing to it.” Yet, it was the dish everyone was talking about and returning to for more.

And hey, aren’t we all looking for that one dish that impresses everyone with minimal effort on our part? I jazzed it up today by adding candied pecans and homemade cranberry sauce instead of jam (great way to use leftovers), but Karen’s version was just as satisfying.

“Who knew cheese could taste this good?” exclaimed Dave Wallis, our Forum photographer.

We’re hosting an open house book-signing party at Sarello’s this Sunday to celebrate the arrival of our new cookbook, “Party on the Prairie.” In the spirit of the Pantry Party, we’d love to have you join us from 4 to 6 p.m. for great food, Prosecco and friendship, and all we ask in return is that you bring in a non-perishable food item or make a monetary donation to the Emergency Food Pantry. We promise you’ll leave with that warm and fuzzy feeling.

Baked Brie in Puff Pastry Appetizer


1 wedge or round of brie cheese

1 package Pepperidge Farms puff pastry (may only need 1 sheet depending on size of brie)

1 to 2 cups cranberry sauce


1 to 2 cups candied pecans

1 egg

1 tablespoon water


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to smooth out the seams in the sheet of puff pastry. Transfer the puff pastry to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the piece of brie cheese (the white rind stays on) on top of the puff pastry. Line the top of the cheese with a generous layer of cranberry sauce followed by a tight layer of candied pecans

Bundle the puff pastry up and around the cheese, trim any excess and press along the seams to seal. Beat the egg and water together in a small bowl. Brush the top with the egg wash, especially around the seams. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. Cut into finger food-sized wedges and serve.

This dish bakes better if the ingredients are cold when assembling them.


Use the excess pastry to create decorative trimmings for the top, or place seam-side down on the baking sheet for a smooth appearance.

Brie can be frozen for up to 6 months. While this process will alter its texture slightly, the cheese will still work well in baked dishes.

Sarah's Homemade Cranberry Sauce


1 package fresh cranberries

1 cup orange juice

¼ cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

½ cup white sugar

½ cup brown sugar


1 to 2 teaspoons orange zest

¼ teaspoon cinnamon


Combine the sugars, orange juice and orange liqueur in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, add the cranberries and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle boil, add the orange zest and cinnamon and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and cool completely to room temperature, and refrigerate until serving. Allow sauce to come to room temperature before serving.

To store: Refrigerate cranberry sauce in an airtight container for up to 10 to 14 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.

Sarah Nasello's new recipe book sits alongside the appetizer. Dave Wallis / The Forum

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