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
A couple weeks ago, I mentioned visiting Cafe 21, a new restaurant in Fargo serving Japanese and Vietnamese dishes. We visited Cafe 21 soon after reading a positive review on FMFare, a new blog written by a fellow Fargoan.
In typical Jake and Jen style, we left for dinner after work on Friday and were in bed by 8:30 p.m. Because we’re awesome like that.
Cafe 21 is located in the same, covered strip mall as Leela Thai. It seems to have replaced Yuki Hana, a restaurant that served Japanese and Korean food. Our friends said Yuki Hana may have served Fargo-Moorhead’s only version of Bi Bim Bap, and a respectable one at that. Too bad we never visited Yuki Hana before it closed.
I ordered a bowl of spicy kimchi ramen soup, $6, along with an unagi (eel) sushi roll $9. The server informed me the ramen also came with an egg. Jake chose an appetizer of fresh spring rolls, $5, and a beef pho, $8.
After ordering, our server offered us complimentary bowls of miso soup. I passed on my own bowl and tasted Jake’s instead. This version of miso soup tasted much better than most we’ve tried at other Asian restaurants. It was also a little sweet. The miso swirled in delicate clouds without being gritty. I almost wished I hadn’t passed on my own bowl, except I knew I would have been too full for my entree of soup.
The spring rolls were stuffed with fresh vegetables, roasted pork, and shrimp and served with a thick, sweet dipping sauce laden with chopped peanuts. I would normally consider the sauce too sweet, except that it contrasted nicely with the savory, roasted pork. Jake thought the spring rolls were too heavy with lettuce, while I liked that they resembled salad. Sometimes I feel some restaurants overload their spring rolls with rice noodles, which I find redundant when they are wrapped in rice paper.
My eel sushi roll arrived as an appetizer with the spring rolls.
I noticed the eel sushi and sashimi were the most pricey fish options. That being said, I liked the flavor of the eel in this sushi roll. The portion size was also large. There wasn’t necessarily a lot of eel in each piece of sushi, but it didn’t taste fishy and the texture wasn’t mushy. Not the best unagi I’ve ever eaten, but far from the worst. The sushi rice was slightly warm and loosely packed and the rice grains appeared smaller than what I’ve typically seen in sushi.
I really enjoyed my bowl of spicy ramen in kimchi broth. For my tastes, the broth was pleasantly spicy which I seldom find.
I’m not sure if the ramen broth was scratch-made or from a mix, but I’m guessing there was a bouillon component to it. I added a little hoisin and soy sauce to balance out the flavor. The carrots and broccoli were fresh and cooked al dente.
Plus, there’s the egg. I loved the egg. When I make spicy ramen soup packs at home, I also add fresh vegetables and egg. Whether or not the soup was completely scratch-made, it’s darn tasty. It’s also a steal considering it’s size, inclusion of fresh vegetables, and the scrambled egg. I quickly ate the small dish of kimchi that came with the soup, and added the shredded cabbage to the ramen soup. This is a bowl I’d order again.
Jade Dragon is no longer the only place in Fargo-Moorhead to order pho. Cafe 21 offers both a chicken and beef version (FMFare spoke highly of the chicken pho). Jake enjoyed his bowl of beef pho. He said it was no Pho 79, but liked it better than Jade Dragon’s because the broth had more flavor and depth, to which I agreed. The bean sprouts, jalapeno, and Thai basil garnishes were also fresher and more plentiful.
In contrast, I liked the beef better at Jade Dragon. I prefer pho with thin, raw beef slices placed in the hot broth. Cafe 21′s beef pho is prepared with slices of beef brisket and springy meatballs. Jake said he would return for this bowl of pho.
Lastly, we split flan, $4, for dessert.
The creamy custard was covered with fresh kiwi and caramel sauce. The caramel sauce had a toasty, almost burnt taste to it and before we knew it, we were haggling over the last bite.
During our Friday evening visit, this new restaurant was turning over a steady stream of customers. The entrees seemed to lie in an expected price range, while many items were of a surprising value.
When we first ordered, Jake had his heart set on a bahn mi sandwich and learned they are only offered at lunch. Cafe 21′s menu only lists a roasted pork variety and it costs $7. This price is high by Twin Cities standards, but when you’re (possibly) the only restaurant offering bahn mi’s, I suppose you can charge whatever you’d like. Plus the food costs here are higher than the Twin Cities’. As we were walking back to our car, I noticed a microwave sitting in front of the main window facing the parking lot.
This was one of those happy dining experience were everything just tasted really good. All of the dishes were prepared with fresh ingredients and thoughtfulness. The service was also warm and appropriately attentive.
We’re thrilled to see another restaurant in Fargo-Moorhead serving Vietnamese options and wouldn’t hesitate to return. Especially for their bahn mi at lunch.
I spent the weekend before Christmas in Seattle.
This was my fourth visit to Seattle. I first traveled to Seattle my senior year of college when I co-led a college service trip. We spent the week volunteering for Multifaith Works, a nonprofit dedicated to serving those with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. The nonprofit has since become Rosehedge/Multifaith Works and expanded their mission to also supporting those who struggle with isolation and loneliness.
I think it’s safe to say our whole group of students fell in love with Seattle upon arrival. Such a stark contrast to Iowa. From the steep hills to smooth public transportation systems to the diversity of food.
We experienced many examples of hospitality during this week. One man gave up his weeknight to take us to the grocery store when we arrived, and a church allowed us to crash in their basement and use their kitchen. We painted a house one afternoon. Later that evening, the landlord treated our whole group to a seven course feast at a Chinese restaurant in the International District.
Each course was an adventure. Fish maw soup that we were instructed to spike with a red vinegar and white pepper. Peking duck. Knots of salt and pepper fried crab that I clumsily poked with my chopsticks. Sweet and sour pork chops, and shrimp with walnuts coated in that sweet, mayonnaise sauce. Afterwards, his daughter led us to her favorite bubble tea shop.
For the first time, I came away with the understanding of travel mercies. I was humbled.
The focus of this most recent visit was to celebrate celebrate my friend’s marriage. We celebrated over frantic wedding preparations. While in transit. Over spicy Thai food. And deep, dark coffee.
While some danced at the reception, we non-dancing folk enjoyed hot, buttered rum. It was truly a whirlwind weekend and a beautiful wedding. And it involved making lots of chili.
The family found out I was in culinary school and asked if I could make a mild version of chili for 50 people with whatever was in the groom’s kitchen within a matter of hours.
As I began the mild version, I was asked to make a spicy version for 50 more people. I exclaimed, ”I’m gonna chop the heck out of all these vegetables!” or at least, that’s what I’ve been told. I just remember feeling like I was on Chopped. Then things got messy.
Before leaving for the rehearsal dinner, we accidentally spilled at least half on the floor. The next day, we learned we left a large bag of it on the counter overnight. We quickly scrambled and fortified what was left. Hours before the wedding, I noticed a placard stating the chili was free from a multitude of allergens including soy. My eyes widened in panic because I remembered seasoning it with soy sauce I had found in the fridge.
We simply crossed out the word soy and all was well.
I did not think I would want to make chili for a long time. Which is why I was so surprised when I started craving chili when I got home. I think I wanted to share some of my experience with Jake who was unable to join me due to work.
Jeni’s Spicy Chili
1 pound of ground beef
1/2-1 can of beans
1 onion, diced
1-2 carrots, diced
1 sweet bell pepper, roughly chopped
1-2 red or green jalapenos, roughly chopped (I use seeds and all but you can remove for less heat)
Tomato paste (I use at least a few tablespoons)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Cinnamon (a couple pinches)
1-2 cans crushed tomatoes (if you don’t have enough, add water)
Brown sugar, enough to balance the acidity
Soy sauce or tamari
Sriracha, to taste
Butter, a small knob
Join me for my second to last installment of the Farm To Fork, A CSA Series on Simple, Good, and Tasty where I learn how to cook my first pumpkin. I added the cooked pumpkin to the mini cheesecakes my mom used to make.
In case you have been wondering where all of my posts about home cooking adventures have gone, I have been saving them for this CSA series and you can read about them here.
I love that it’s fall.
At the very end of August, we treated ourselves to dinner at Green Market Kitchen with friends.
We last dined at The Green Market not quite a year ago when we tried their special Dia De Los Muertos-inspired menu. On our most recent visit, the Green Market featured a menu made with produce from the local Probstfield farm.
Probstfield Farm is a part of the Probstfield Living History Foundation, donated by Randolph Probstfield’s family to avoid falling to commercial development. It is currently being restored as a working farm that provides opportunities for new farmers to learn and be mentored in sustainable agriculture. This summer, the farm has been selling its produce at the Old Trail Market in Moorhead, MN. When I visited the market, I chose from tomatoes of all sizes, eggplants, shapely squashes, and melons.
I stopped at Cash Wise, afterwards, to pick up some pantry essentials and couldn’t help but feel sad for those who were picking over a selection of melons grown from a far.
The Green Market seems to be one of a few in Fargo-Moorhead that sources local products and offers a menu based upon what’s fresh and seasonal. Of the area’s restaurants that do offer a seasonal menu, Green Market’s menu differs day to day.
We split this vibrant cheese plate, $15, while the co-owner picked out a mean red wine to go with our meals (mean is good). Please take away my laptop if I start describing food as “bananas.”
This was my favorite cheese plate I have tried, thus far. I don’t remember the exact cheese selections, but they ranged from a lush triple creme brie to Gorgonzola dolce to crumbly cheddar. The plate was sprinkled with micro greens, dried and fresh fruits, and sweet cubes of quince paste. We scooped up the contents of this plate with a thoughtful selection of focaccia, crostini, and flax seed crackers. Cheeses are also available for purchase from the restaurant’s small deli case.
We also nibbled from a plate of smokey baba ganoush and slightly spicy green beans in a tomato sauce, garnished with olives, giant capers, and more breads.
Jake ordered a cup of beef soup and the ND 28 day-dry aged beef burger on foccacia with cheese, $12.
The soup’s broth was round and subtly sweet, containing pulled beef and crisp bites of corn. My only minor quibble is that the beef was a little more toothsome than I expected.
Jake’s burger was served on toasted focaccia. We enjoyed the burger patty’s beefier than average flavor. Plus, it was juicy and cooked to medium rare.
The boneless chicken pieces were tender and moist. Even the breast meat, which I usually avoid since it’s usually dry. This chicken tasted like it had been brined and a thin layer of crispy chicken skin sat on top. The sauce was a little bit sweet and nutty with sesame. The heat level was slightly spicy. I could have used more heat, but I can usually use more heat. Overall, the dish was a fun interpretation of Korean flavors.
The Koreans liked the Korean chicken.
Last, we all shared a couple orders of this sweet corn cake with ice cream and caramel sauce. The cake was light in texture and just sweet enough. Chewy kernels of corn dotted the cake. We also enjoyed the caramel sauce that was also sweet enough with a slightly bitter note. I’m not typically one who leaves room for dessert, but I know that I ate more than my fair share.
This Sunday, September 16th, 2 p.m., the Green Market is hosting a fundraiser to raise money to restore the Probstfield family’s original log cabin, which is possibly the oldest structure in the Red River Valley. Bernie’s Wines & Liquors is donating wine while the Green Market is providing cheese and fruit platters. I’m honored to be among a few others who will briefly speak about the farm, herbs, and food blogging. Join us if you can.
This week I took the easy way out. I broke down and finally ate my broccoli. But not without combining it with cheese. I also experimented with refrigerator pickling. It’s an easy method to use-up small quantities of vegetables without going through the whole canning process.
I’ll meet you there.
I’m new to knoephla soup.
The first time I encountered knoephla soup occured during a solo road trip to Fredonia, ND. Last fall, I had stumbled upon the site Ghosts of North Dakota which documents ghost and near-ghost towns throughout the state. I became enamoured with the website’s stunning photography and its readers’ compelling antidotes. Fredonia had caught my eye because a reader mentioned Home Plate Cafe, a restaurant offering Russian-German specialties.
At Home Plate Cafe, I lapped-up every drop of my knoephla soup. It came with the hearty meatball lunch special which probably cost less than $7 dollars. The broth had a light texture and mouthfeel, even though it shimmered with butter.
Translucent shards of celery and onion floated in the soup, amidst tender potatoes. Its knoephla dumplings were shaped as diversely as snowflakes. Unfortunately, Fredonia is two and a half hours from Fargo; west to Jamestown and south through the rural back roads of North Dakota. I hope to return, someday, for another meal.
Since our move to North Dakota, I’ve learned a little about the state’s robust German-Russian heritage. Knoephla soup is one of their food traditions and makes its appearance in restaurants all over this region.
My newly found fascination with German-Russian cuisine has resulted in my self-proclaimed knoephla soup quest. I am going to try as many versions of khoephla soup as I can and create a version at home, drawing from my favorite versions.
This weekend, I stopped by Kroll’s Diner, a local chain with four locations in North Dakota. My takeout bowl of knoephla soup with saltine crackers cost $4.99, before tax and tip.
The broth was salty, verging on too salty. I debated on whether or not I wanted to dilute the soup with a little milk. The clunky knoephla dumplings were abundant and I was relieved when they tasted lighter and fluffier than they appeared. The broth left a strong, bouillon aftertaste in my mouth. I also noticed small pieces of translucent onion and occasional chunks of potato.
This afternoon, I ordered a bowl of knoephla soup from CJ’s Kitchen, to go. This bowl’s size seemed comparable to Kroll’s Diner and cost $5.50, before tax and tip.
CJ’s knoephla soup was almost as salty as Kroll’s Diner’s. The broth reminded me of clam chowder and didn’t leave any bouillon aftertaste. The dumplings were dainty and their texture was light. In addition to small chunks of potato, CJ’s version included some bits of chicken. I feel the price tag was a little steep.
Overall, these two Fargo versions were tasty and and comforting enough, but quite salty. I preferred CJ’s by a small margin and will continue my knoephla soup quest. Feel free to suggest your favorite versions of knoephla soup, recipes, or tips.
Jen’s Knoephla Soup Quest Ranking:
1. Home Plate Cafe, Fredonia, ND
2. CJ’s Kitchen, Fargo, ND
3. Kroll’s Diner, Fargo, ND
For months, Jake has begged me to make miso soup.
He finally admitted that he is not crazy about sushi or sake, but looks forward to sipping miso soup while dining at Japanese restaurants. So much so, that he longs for a large bowl of miso soup. I like miso soup, I don’t particularly crave it, so I procrastinated on his request.
A few weeks ago, one of my favorite blogs, Chow Times, published an article about making Miso Soup at home and it was the perfect inspiration I needed to begin.
First things first. . . finding Asian ingredients in Fargo. I visited the Asian & American Market on Main Street.
At the market, I easily find tofu, substituting firm for soft. I forget green onions. Bonito flakes are no where to be found, so I grab the Hondoshi brand bonito soup bouillon as seen in the Chow Times article.
Finding this ingredient feels like a minor victory and I save dashi making for another occasion. I pause at the seaweed. There are so many varieties and I don’t know what I’m looking for. I grab a package that mentions “dashi.”
I find a small selection of miso paste in the refrigerated section. The packages cost more than I planned to spend, so I resolve to use the year-old tub I bought in the Twin Cities and hope we don’t die.
The First Soup-Making Attempt
When I begun to make the soup at home, I realized that I bought the wrong kind of seaweed. The sheets were so tough I could hardly cut them with a knife and when I tried to soften them, their texture became like wet linen. The flavor was so salty and oceanic that I realized I’d made a mistake.
Instead of seaweed, I substituted a lot of shredded cabbage which was rendered silky and tender after simmering. I busted out my year-old tub of white miso paste. Having no green onions, I substituted thin shaves of red onion, adding a little to the soup and saving some as garnish.
My soup was simple but satisfying. The flavor was as good, if not better, than versions we’ve tried at restaurants (except for Obento-Ya in Minneapolis, MN), and the soup lacked any unappealing graininess. I’d love to try making miso soup with real bonito flakes, but the powdered stock was good enough and added a hint of their smokey flavor.
This afternoon, my Spoonriver Cookbook arrived in the mail. I smiled when I noticed the recipe for Tim’s Miso Soup which also incorporates fresh cabbage, among other vegetables. I love that miso soup can be hearty enough to be a meal.
I tried again and filled my second batch with many more vegetables.
6 cups of water
2 teaspoons of dashi flavoring
Tofu, cut into cubes (I used firm)
Your choice of vegetables: Cabbage, carrots, onions, greens, etc.
Miso paste, starting with 5-6 teaspoons (I used white)
Bring the water to a boil.
Reduce the heat to low and add the bonito soup stock. Stir.
Gently add the tofu cubes and your choice of veggies. I prefer a lot of each for a heartier soup. Do not return to a boil. Gradually dissolve in the miso paste. You can try adding some of the hot water to your miso paste and dissolving before adding to the soup pot. If it tastes to salty, add more water and if it tastes too bland, add more miso.
My understanding is that one should not boil the soup, in order to preserve the probiotic benefits of miso, as it is a fermented product.
Garnish with more raw onion or scallion.