Spring semester is nearly over.
Stop by Simple, Good and Tasty for my latest culinary school update about morning kitchen labs and a recipe for knoephla soup, my new favorite since moving to North Dakota.
I’ll meet you there
Around here, The Red Pepper is kind of a big deal, bordering on legendary. Red Pepper is known for their take on Mexican food including tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, and grinders that are deli sandwiches topped with taco meat. According to their website, they source local beans and bread, purchase meat ground by a local company, and make their sauces daily.
The original Red Pepper opened in Grand Forks, ND over 35 years ago and has since expanded into two additional locations. Red Pepper has been making headlines in Fargo since last summer when they began to scout for locations. Their soft opening on March 16th was highly anticipated and word quickly spread via the newspaper and social media outlets. The author of Grand Forks Gourmet, Grand Forks’ most frequently updated food blog, mentions Red Pepper offers late hours and is popular amongst intoxicated college students. This author’s not crazy about Red Pepper’s food, but acknowledges how it holds a special place in hearts of its devoted fans. Red Pepper’s rumored to serve a notorious Garbage Plate of which the leftover toppings left on the counter are collected and placed on top of a tostada.
My curiosity was piqued and I wanted to experience The Red Pepper for myself.
On the first day of Red Pepper’s soft opening, the line was out the door. I waited for 20 minutes before going home. The inside of the store was chaos where people were squished like sardines. Because there were no line markers, no one really knew which way the line moved and this encouraged a lot of cutting, or what we referred to as “budging” in grade school. People arrived by the vehicle-fulls and let their families into line. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal if the line moved, but it really hadn’t.
Within my 20-minute wait, I only moved ahead about six steps. I was especially puzzled that I hardly saw anyone leave with food, despite the fact that there were only a small amount of tables, one of which remained empty. While the mob wasn’t entirely friendly, it wasn’t entirely hostile. The woman behind me told me how much she liked Red Pepper’s food with so much sincerity that some of my building frustration melted. I returned two more times within the next week and a half during non-meal times, but the line was still out the door. Nearly two weeks later, my husband begged me to try again and pick up cheese tostadas and this time, the line was shorter.
I ordered three cheese tostadas ($1.65 each), a whole Everything Grinder ($8.99), and a four-ounce cup of hot sauce. Then, I waited. Each order took quite a while to complete and I assume this is because the employees are still getting used to the food preparation processes. As far as I could tell, nothing was being cooked freshly, just assembled. I noticed a hot food holder containing items like beans and taco meat, a cold sandwich station, heated drawers that held chips, and four microwaves, double stacked. The doorway to the kitchen lies just out of sight and I caught a glimpse of corn starch boxes perched high atop a shelf.
Employees offer those who dine-in and order sandwiches the option of having them heated. I observed this means microwaving them for exactly 20-seconds. Oddly enough, the tostadas I ordered were not heated. They were topped with cold cheese and wrapped, as is. Since it looked like the microwave was Red Pepper’s only active heating apparatus, I decided to just let Jake decide whether or not he wanted to microwave them at home.
From start to finish, I was out the door in about 20-minutes. There had been approximately six people ahead of me in line when I arrived, and, by the time I left, the line had become longer. The service was very pleasant, though slow.
Let’s discuss the tostadas, first.
These just weren’t very good. A crunchy corn tortilla topped with cold cheddar cheese and scribbled with a mild, red sauce. I am still stunned by the fact that the tostadas aren’t heated. A toddler could assemble these. They are like a terrible, lazy version of nachos and a questionable value at $1.65 each.
I enjoyed the sandwich more.
The Everything Grinder was huge enough to provide a me-sized person multiple meals. It was filled with cheap-tasting and slimy ham, salami and turkey deli meats, luke-warm taco meat, shredded cheese, shredded iceburg lettuce, mild red sauce, and a white sauce that reminded me of ranch. I microwaved it for exactly 20-seconds for the most authentic experience. All in all, it wasn’t bad. I dunked each bite into a copious amount of the hot sauce whose heat level was somewhere between Frank’s and Tabasco. In fact, I consumed about three ounces of the sauce while eating only half the sandwich.
The most questionable part of the sandwich was the taco meat. While I liked its flavor, its temperature was neither hot nor cold upon examining it before microwaving. Having recently passed my ServSafe food handling certification, I wondered at what temperature this substance was held (cold food must be kept at 41℉ or below and hot food at 135℉ or above). For the record, I felt completely fine after eating the food.
I find the Everything Grinder’s tastiness increases with a cold, Mexican beer.
Red Pepper still remains an enigma to me. I suppose it’s like any other type of comfort food. People just like what they like. Some foods feel nostalgic if they are associated with positive experiences or memories, while others connect to one’s perception of home. I did not grow up on The Red Pepper’s food, nor does it correspond with any of my memories. So, my first taste of the grinder was pleasant enough, but didn’t strike me as anything I would go out of my way for, while the cheese tostadas struck me as downright heinous.
That being said, I seek out some of my favorite comfort foods even though they aren’t the best versions of themselves. I love many of these foods for their imperfections, such the Chinese take-out of my childhood. So, while I can’t understand why the restaurant’s line is constantly out the door, I kind of can.
To each, his or her own.
Fargo operates a wonderful public library downtown and I love it for so many reasons. Let me count the ways. . .
The downtown location is spacious, contemporary, and well-stocked. Visitors can park for free for three hours in a lot across the street as long as they remember to ask a staff member to validate their ticket. There’s a small coffee shop near the entrance that smells like freshly-baked brownies and visitors are free to bring anything from this coffee shop into the library. Unlike bigger cities, new releases and best sellers often perch on shelves instead of waiting lists, and the fines are noticeably more affordable. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve paid fines totalling $30-40 in Minneapolis, but in Fargo, they’re more like $6. My replacement library card cost a mere $1. On certain occasions, late fees are altogether waived or discounted if you donate canned goods.
When I visit the downtown library, I make a beeline for the cookbooks, of which there are many shelves. On my most recent visit, I picked up Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook because I enjoy her food blog. Perelman’s recipes are creative without being pretentious and they are conducive to home cooking. Plus, her beautiful photography makes everything look enticing. There’s nothing I like less than examining a cookbook only to find that each recipe requires a massive number of ingredients, is filled with ingredients that are extremely expensive or difficult to locate, or includes 20-billion istructions.
Fortunately, Perelman’s recipes are quite approachable. One of the most simple recipes in her book is for Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats, in which Perelman deviates from the original version by using a larger quantity of butter, browning it, and adding sea salt. Those who tried my version of Perelman’s treats described them as “Rice Crispy treats for adults,” and said they reminded them of “creme brulee.”
These treats only require three ingredients and they are ready to eat as soon as they cool enough to cut. Therefore, they’re an an easy guilty pleasure to bring to a party that will appeal to both adults and children. We served them plain, but you could also drizzle them with chocolate or enjoy them like my husband; spread with Nutella or peanut butter and nibbled while curled up on the couch watching Seinfeld.
Browned Butter and Sea Salt Rice Crispy Treats
6 cups Rice Crispies (or puffed rice cereal)
1 bag (10 oz.) of plain miniature marshmallows
1 stick of butter, salted or unsalted, plus enough to grease the pan (I used salted butter and the specified amount of salt and did not find them too salty. If you are cautious, use a little less salt).
1/4 teaspoon of Fleur de Sel (you could use another type of course or flaky sea salt like Maldon, but I prefer Fleur de Sel because it’s so delicate).
In culinary school last semester, I spent a couple months in baking lab and bragged about making this fantastic pistachio-crusted citrus cheesecake.
Typically, I don’t order cheesecake because I find it overly rich and cloyingly sweet. In my worst nightmares, I’m being forced to eat a brick of cheesecake in a flavor like mocha-nut-fudge-bomb, or something that might be served at The Cheesecake Factory.
This cheesecake is much lighter and gently flavored with citrus zest, while a thin nut crust replaces the heavy cookie crusts. For those like myself who struggle eating super sweet desserts, I’d recommend serving this cheesecake with a tart berry sauce.
When we made this cheesecake in class, the student in charge of purchasing bought small bags of shell-on pistachios. I spent a long time shelling the nuts until we reached one pound, so buy shelled pistachios if you can. If the nuts are salted, they’ll add further contrast to the sweet cream cheese filling.
Late is better than never, so here’s the recipe, as promised.
Pistachio-Crusted Citrus Cheesecake
Adapted from the recipe for Pistachio Citrus Cheesecake, recipe 35.22, published in On Cooking: A Textbook Of Culinary Fundamentals, 4th Edition.
The original recipe makes 4, ten-inch cakes. I halved the recipe for home use. Use any type of citrus zest and feel free to combine different types of citrus zests. Grate it finely or further chop with a knife because large pieces of zest, though pretty, will remain chewy. The original recipe also instructs one NOT to use springform pans. I suppose springforms might ruin the delicate nut crust.
Butter, melted (salted or unsalted). Enough to coat the insides of the pans.
1/2 lb pistachios, roughly ground. We used a food processor.
3 lb. 5 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 3/4 oz. flour, sifted
1 lb. sugar
5 oz. heavy cream
4 Tb. citrus zest, finely grated.
This past week, I was surprised to find two of my original photos posted on TripAdvisor’s website. They were uploaded as the main images for both both Fargo locations of Extreme Pita and Lakes Country Buffet, located in Fergus Falls. I also found that one of my photos was being used as the main image for Brass Lantern, Alexandria, MN on Yelp. Ironically, the photo uploaded for Extreme Pita featured pita I baked in my own kitchen and the photo for Lakes Country Buffet was actually taken at a different restaurant.
These photos were used without my permission, did not link to my blog, or provide me with compensation, even though they were used to promote the restaurants. To edit a restaurant listing on these sites, one has to have set up an account and register their business, but anyone can upload photos. I’m not sure who uploaded mine, but guess it may have been someone associated with the restaurants. Otherwise, I’m not sure why a random individual would take the time to upload photos from my blog, especially considering they didn’t feature the correct restaurants.
I immediately requested that TripAdvisor and Yelp remove them by filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notification. Tripadvisor removed the photos within 24 hours of the next business day but ignored my requests to send me confirmations the issues were resolved. Yelp was slower to respond, taking about a week to remove the photo, but they did send me an email confirmation.
Keep in mind that the other party can send you a counter-notice if they feel they were not infringing. You can read more about this process on the links to the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s website, below. In my experience submitting DMCA notifications, I’ve only received one counter notification from an individual bold enough to claim they had the right to use my photos however they wished because I published them on my blog. A simple reply put an end to this nonsense and it was promptly removed. In my experience, companies take these requests seriously, as they are liable if they do not enforce copyright law.
One could add a watermark to their photos, which may prevent them from being stolen. I choose not to. Watermark or not, you still have a right to protect your photos.
To send a DMCA notification to TripAdvisor, simply email it to: email@example.com. Include the following text and customize it to your individual case. Keep the paragraphs separated and marked.
a.) Describe the work you claim is infringed and provide a link to the source where the work is taken without permission.
b.) Provide a link to your own website to show the work is your own.
c.) Include your contact information such as a phone number and email address. Some companies may ask for your home address.
d.) Include the statement,”I have a good faith belief that the material that is claimed as copyright infringement is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.”
e.) Include the statement, “I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and I am the copyright owner, or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner, of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.”
f.) Provide your electronic signature by typing your name as you would normally sign it.
There are a several ways to file a notification with Yelp. First, you can send them a message on this Contact page. The word space is limited, but if you condense some of the the DMCA notification above, you can fit in the whole request. I received the fastest response when I created a Yelp account and flagged the offending photo as inappropriate, explaining the issue in the space provided. Yelp sent me an email response and removed the photo. The email confirmation was sent from firstname.lastname@example.org and made not mention of not responding to the email address, so you could give this a try. Finally, you could contact your local Yelp Community Manager on Twitter. For Minneapolis-St. Paul, this is Annie D’Souza @YelpMSP. She responded to my direct Tweet quickly, while the individual managing the Yelp headquarters account did not respond.
This past week’s spring break was a good example of how even the best laid schemes can go awry.
One morning, I planned to drive to the Twin Cities to visit a some friends. My last solo trip was interrupted by a blizzard and all of the major freeways surrounding Fargo-Moorhead were closed. This happens, here. They actually close the freeways.
I was desperate to go to the Twin Cities. Spring break’s fluctuating weather left me stir crazy. Plus, I felt guilty for mistaking the date of a get-together I initiated. My friends were kind to rearrange their schedules and I wanted to attempt the drive. With nothing more than a soda and a backpack, I drove east on I-94, even though it had been closed earlier. I figured that as a seasoned Midwesterner with new tires, the roads couldn’t possibly be that bad. After all, the MN Department of Transportation traffic map categorized the roads as challenging and I am usually up for a challenge.
The road becomes icy and I witness a frightening car accident when someone pulls around my car to pass me. They whiz past me and I watch as they begin to spin in circles and tumble into the ditch. For the first time in my life, I call 911. I panic and my hands shake so hard I can barely hold the phone. The dispatcher keeps asking me to better describe my location and I can’t. Finally, someone tells me they found my location from my phone. By the time I turn around at the next exit, the police and tow truck are at the scene and it looks like everyone is OK. I drive home going 45 miles an hour, even though a plow has already sanded the road. Cars and semis pass me, clearly frustrated, and I don’t care because they didn’t see what I just saw.
I spent my last weekend of spring break at home. Sitting on and brooding in my wanderlust.
On a nicer day, I returned to Cafe 21 to try the Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches they only serve at lunch. To my knowledge, these are the only regularly offered banh mi sandwiches in Fargo-Moorhead. I have found cold cut banh mi sandwiches at the Asian market but they look like they are imported from the Twin Cities. I’m not a fan of the mysterious deli meats and feel some of the freshness is lost in transit.
We’ve previously enjoyed a couple dinners at Cafe 21, especially liking their fresh spring rolls and spicy ramen. I found their version of pork bulgogi to be less spicy and sweeter than the fiery versions my favorite Twin Cities Korean restaurants serve, but I’d still order it again. On this weekday, I ordered two banh mi sandwiches ($7 each) to go. One for me and one for Jake, who unsuccessfully tried to order one on our first visit. Cafe 21 only offers a roasted pork variety, but this happens to be my favorite. The server kindly brought me a glass of water as I waited for my order and 15 minutes later, I was on my way home.
Each sandwich was packed with a serving of french fries and small cups of ketchup and soy sauce.
I found a lot to like about this sandwich. The pork had a satisfying savory flavor. There were a lot of sweet and sour pickled vegetables. Strands of fresh cilantro and jalapeno. A glistening of mayonnaise and, best of all, a thick smear of pate. It looked like banh mi’s I have loved and tasted like banh mi’s I have loved.
Unfortunately, I felt the size was a little small and the bread was too hard. The bun was overly toasted and crunchy like a crouton. I sustained minor damage to the roof of my mouth. In the Twin Cities, the typical roasted pork banh mi is a slightly larger in size and typically costs around $3.75-$4. This is Fargo, though, and I realize banh mi sandwiches are rarer and the food costs higher.
The flavors were spot on and the fillings were fresh, but that bread. Overall, a good effort.
When I get bored, I drive. When I feel sad, I drive. When I have the time, I drive.
My life is flecked with wanderlust. Or, more like plagued. I’ve read enough travel memoirs to know I’m not alone and that there are more like me out there. This week, I felt great kinship with author Irma Kurtz as I read her memoir The Great American Bus Ride, cover to cover.
I like the safety and security of my home base. My nook on the couch and the flop of my husband’s favorite slippers as they slap the hard floor. I like waking up to the sound of his morning showers and the smell of freshly brewed espresso. But I also like to wander and this wanderlust always leaves me with a certain amount of discontent. One small town or back road is never enough. Once I visit, I want to know more about that town and then I want to move on to another. Ironically, my wanderlust is both propelled by both enthusiasm and fear. There’s nothing I find more invigorating or terrifying than solo travel.
It’s Thursday and nearing the end of my spring break from school. At the break’s start, I became enamoured with Andrew Flier’s website Everydot, in which he photographs every town in North Dakota. I spent hours working my way down the list, from A-Z, lost in big skies and fields of soft, waving grass. Some of the locations were nothing more than an intersection of rusty dirt roads. Others reminded me of the abandoned towns depicted on AMC’s television series the The Walking Dead. I kept an eye on those that seemed to have active cafes and bars and notated them on a map. Flier was kind enough to email me back and mention a couple memorable dining experiences.
I stayed up late drawing majestic itineraries that would take me to the far reaches of North Dakota. Straight north to the Canadian border, passing through Grand Forks, Cavalier, Langdon, Pembina, and ending at the strange, pyramid-shaped safegaurd complex. Another took me through the south-central part of the state in search of German-Russian cuisine, passing through Fredonia, Wishek, Napolean, and Linton. Unfortunately, March in North Dakota might as well be February. The roads have been prone to iciness due to the temperature fluctuations and precipitation so I put my grander plans on hold. It’s hard waiting for the spring.
Recently, a Twitter friend mentioned a new bakery in Hillsboro, a town of about 1,600, located less than a half hour north of Fargo on I-29. Our Town Bakery opened early last December. According to this Grand Forks Herald article, the cafe was a community effort. The residents helped Amanda Johnson, the bakery’s owner, save the buildings, built in 1890, from destruction.
I parked across from towering farm buildings, stopped in a quirky antique store, and almost walked past the bakery whose window was marked with a paper sign. The interior was beautifully remodeled. Exposed brick walls, interesting wooden tables, and a sleek contemporary feel. The bakery counter offered a small selection of treats such as cookies, bars, and turnovers. Shelves to the left of the counter offered homemade marshmallow creations and hinted at freshly, baked bread, although I did not see any that morning.
A whiteboard described the daily lunch special ($8) and soup of the day. I ordered two beef pies, one for me and one for Jake, and sipped on a bottled soda. The pie crust was buttery and flaky, like it had merged with phyllo. Its golden top was thoughtfully sprinkled with salt and pepper, encasing stew that comforted with carrots and tender beef.
I paused to enjoy my pastry. The tables were few and I watched people who appeared to be in a business meeting extend an invitation to share their table with a pair of elderly women. As I returned back to my car, I heard the tinkling of a carillon. I half-heartedly drove in search of its source before rejoining the freeway towards Mayville.
The city of Mayville is about 20 minutes north east of Hillsboro, home of Mayville State University It’s smaller than it’s counterparts in Fargo or Grand Forks, and its total enrollment hovers around 1,000 students. I figured Mayville would have the type of charm that usually accompanies college towns.
I spent my college years in Waverly, IA, a small, rural town along the Cedar River. The campus was surrounded by neighborhoods. We could walk to our favorite bars, a small grocery mart, and a movie theater that treated students to 99¢ cent movies one midnight a month. On these evenings, we marched to the theater in packs. I loved running on the bike trail along the river and we always felt safe. Back then, I resented the smallness of the community and have now grown to miss it.
Mayville is quite a bit smaller than Waverly. About nine times smaller. The main street was dotted with the usual suspects. A pizza joint, drug store, bank, bakery, cafe, and even a small theater. Paula’s Cafe was packed for lunch and I slowed my car down to examine the day’s specials including a hickory burger, roasted ham, and roasted turkey. Since I was full of beef handpie, I made a mental note to return and moved on to the Soholt Bakery.
A woman greeted me as I gazed at the small shop’s products. A sign let me know they did not accept credit cards, so I averted my gaze from loaves of bread and packages of cookies. With two dollars in my pocket, I focused on the smaller treats and settled for a tray of plain donuts.
“How much are they?” I asked.
The woman replied about $2.50 for six or 45¢ each.
“May I have four?” I asked after trying to do some quick mental math.
“Whatever,” she responded in a sing-song voice. “You can have however many you’d like.”
By this time in the afternoon, the donuts were cold. A little dense, a little soggy, with enough crisp left on the outside. They tasted like nutmeg and I found them strangely addicting. I enjoyed them with my next couple morning coffees.
Before I left Mayville, I drove around the campus and admired a stately, red brick building. Maybe it was the winter or the cloudy day, but the town looked tired. I’ll pop back on my grand tour North. Everything looks better in the Spring.
Join me at Simple, Good and Tasty where I share highlights from our poultry unit.
During the past half-semester, I worked hard to bounce back from my first “F,” ever, broke down my first chicken, and learned how to make Peking duck.
You can, in fact, make a pretty decent Peking duck at home if you have an air compressor or a bicycle pump.
Read more here.
It’s an exciting time to live in Fargo-Moorhead. Two, internationally-influenced markets opened, just within the past five months. Katerina Berg opened the European Market in the late fall and, in February, four individuals from Bhutan opened the Himalayan Grocery.
The European Market is located in Downtown Fargo, down the sidewalk from Nichole’s Fine Pastry. Their Facebook updates describe their latest deliveries from the East Coast including pastries, cheeses, and cured meats. In early January, Forum reporter John Lamb wrote about his visit to the Market and the foods he sampled. I stopped in this past weekend to check it out for myself.
The shop is tiny but features a cross-section of foods from Eastern Europe and Russia. Its selection is limited, but thoughtful, as if the proprietor cut to the chase and picked out her favorite things to feature. I chose a bag of frozen beef and pork pelmini dumplings from the frozen foods case that also containsed frozen blintzes, and additional pelmini varieties in both a veal and sweet variety. Across from the frozen section is a shelf of dry goods. I grabbed a jar of sweet and spicy eggplant spread and buttery crackers. I was also intrigued by jars of fruit preserves and tiny, pickled patty pan squash, though I passed on this visit.
Next, I visited the deli counters featuring cheeses and cured meats. I tend to be a shy and slightly bashful person, but I’m glad I asked Katerina for suggestions. She encouraged me to sample a variety of cheeses, from smoked Gouda to a mild, dimpled cheese from Lithuania. I noticed a few more cheeses in the refrigerated cooler. One appeared soft and spreadable, while another reminded me of feta. Next time, I’ll explore the cured meats. Finally, the cooler to the left of the cheese case featured fancy desserts. Tidy rectangles of layered cakes and pastries in all colors. Like the rest of the store’s offerings, they, too, were affordable.
My bill was $14.
This is frickin’ awesome.
Katerina instructed me to boil the pelmini for seven minutes in salted, boiling water along with a bay leaf and enjoy them with ketchup or sour cream. After I boiled the dumplings, I tossed them into a pan and sauteed them with butter infused with caramelized onions and hot chili.
They were porky and succulent. A nice lunch for two (with leftovers) for $4 a bag. My friend, Yuliya, who coordinates the local Fargo Foodies Network in Fargo makes her own pelmini and recommended this video tutorial. She fills hers with ground beef, garlic, and green onion and serves them with sour cream and sprinkled with dill.
While I was exploring the European market, a couple popped in to visit. They looked around and left without trying anything. Confronting a deli case filled with unfamiliar meats and cheeses can feel intimidating, but don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions or samples. I’ve rarely met a propriator unwilling to show off his or her favorite foods.
Believe it or not, I’ve never cooked a steak.
We found pair of porterhouse steaks in our half-share of beef from Thousand Hills Cattle Company and I didn’t know how to prepare them. Growing up, my family cooked proteins to the well-done state, and sometimes past. Burgers, kabobs and Omaha Steaks-brand filet mignons wrapped in bacon all arrived at the same fate and I used to think I disliked them all. Now that I’m an adult, I prefer a rosy medium-rare.
My classmate mentioned her favorite steak marinade was a simple mix of soy sauce, brown sugar, and sriracha hot sauce. I added minced garlic, ground ginger, black pepper, and grated Asian pear to mine. After the steaks soaked in the marinade for a few hours, I allowed them to come to room temperature and seared them on both sides. Then, I placed the whole skillet in the oven at 325 until they were cooked to our liking.
On my first go around, the steak was too chewy so I bashed the heck out of the second one with a textured meat cleaver before I tried again, later.
The steaks dripped with richly flavored juices. We even chewed the flavor from the gristle and nibbled the melting fat. I may have unwittingly committed a steak felony or two during these first attempts, but we enjoyed the steaks anyway.
After all, cooking at home is fun because anything goes. We can all be the kings and queens of our own kitchens.