Food Network star updates traditional Midwestern dishes

Joy Summers
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Molly Yeh has a lot on her plate. With a popular television show, a new baby, a new cookbook, a new line of cookware and a new restaurant in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, she is in constant motion.

Along with her brand of plucky warmth, hearty work ethic and reverent love of cookie salad, there's also the growing ambition of an entrepreneur as Yeh cements herself as Minnesota's answer to the Pioneer Woman. Much like blogger-turned-lifestyle guru Ree Drummond turned a small Oklahoma town into a homey empire, Yeh's blog, books, Food Network show and restaurant invite fans to experience her slice of the Upper Midwest. Not an obvious path for a Juilliard-trained percussionist.

Yeh, 33, was born in Glenview, Illinois, to her Jewish mother and Chinese American father. Her father is an accomplished clarinetist, and Yeh seemed poised to follow him as a professional musician. She studied percussion at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, where she met the person who would take her on a different path.

Fellow student and Midwesterner Nick Hagen comes from a long line of Red River Valley farmers. In 2013, the two moved to the Grand Forks area so Hagen could carry on the family farming legacy. Now in an entirely new landscape, one dotted with sugar beet farms and the blustery winds of the northern plains, Yeh had plenty of time to plot her next chapter, which came courtesy of a relatively recent high-speed internet connection.

She began writing about food as a way to connect with friends and family and share her love of recipes from their home near the Minnesota-North Dakota border. "My Name Is Yeh" (pronounced yay!) quickly became a must-follow for its beautiful, procedural food photography, personality and its fun mix of her culinary influences — plus a healthy amount of sprinkles.

The draw to writing about food — telling the stories behind new-to-her regional delights such as dessert salads and hot dish — was too wonderful not to explore. The blog quickly moved from friends and family to being recognized by Saveur magazine. Written entirely in lowercase, the conversational stories accompany a variety of recipes that aren't confined by cuisine, but instead collect flavors and ingredients from around the world before landing squarely back on the farm. The blog is where she shares her life's stories and big moments, including the announcement of her first pregnancy: "friends! i am so soo excited that i can finally talk about our forthcoming little nugget!! do you know how hard it was to keep this secret from you for almost four months?? harder than sitting in front of a pile of cheese fries and not eating any of them."

Yeh's bubbly personality carried into her first book, "Molly on the Range." Released in 2016, it's filled with witty twists on ingredients and traditions — like doughnuts topped with dukkah spice blend — along with heartfelt stories. But even on the page, it seemed like Yeh's warmth was destined to be delivered live person to person.

In 2018, "Girl Meets Farm" launched on the Food Network, filmed in the couple's kitchen. The first episode featured Yeh and Hagen celebrating their third wedding anniversary with everything-bagel-seasoned grilled cheese sandwiches and raspberry hand pies. (If sprinkles are Yeh's most-used ingredient, everything bagel seasoning is a close second.)

Since then, Yeh has steadily grown her audience and roots in the Midwest, which includes two daughters: Bernie, born in 2018 and the namesake of her just-opened restaurant, and Ira, who was born in February.

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Amid the action, Yeh took time to speak with us by phone between stops on her national book tour, just days before Bernie's opened, about why we should embrace the whipped cream salad and why home really is where the eggs are.

Q: Your first cookbook, "Molly on the Range," placed you on the range. The new book, "Home Is Where the Eggs Are," puts home first. When did the Grand Forks area start to truly feel like home?

A: When I had Bernie — and when I had Ira. I think of home and them and it's Grand Forks. When we moved back to the farm and near Minnesota it allowed me to be home, but really it was when I had my kids. There's something about having a kid with Grand Forks on her birth certificate that really makes it home.

Having kids allows me to really know this community and have more friendships here. We're creating those lifelong memories for them — at the farmers market, the public pool and the library and seeing other parents.

Bernie's [the restaurant] will expand that sense of community. Everybody should be welcome here. We hope it will be a place to celebrate this region and cuisine. We want people to be able to enjoy it multiple times a week — day after day, week after week. This isn't a place where you don't feel cool enough to walk through the front door. Everyone can feel welcome here. There's a nostalgic core, but also whimsy.

Q: You've spoken about your love for winter and the cozy foods of the Midwest — in particular hot dish. Do you remember the first time you encountered a hot dish?

A: Yes! It was turkey wild rice hot dish that my mother-in-law made. I kept saying, "Oh, WOW! What is this? There is a lot going on in here."

I feel like there's nothing that hot dish won't fix.

Q: And then there's the Midwestern dessert we call salad that you approach with an archaeologist-like zeal of enthusiasm. What about that appeals to you?

A: I think the feeling about growing up thinking it's all gross and weird. Not growing up with it gave me an advantage. Every family has these food traditions. I feel like that was a huge steppingstone to feeling at home here — it's important to know these traditions. These hilarious ingredients suspended in Jell-O. I love eating cookie salad so much. On one level, when I moved here I had a fish-out-of-water feeling. Exploring and cooking from old church cookbooks really helped me understand this cuisine and culture.

Q: What are some food traditions you hope Bernie and Ira will carry forward?

A: I want to teach them very early on how to make chicken noodle soup. I hope one of their earliest memories is waking up from a nap smelling chicken noodle soup. Nick is better at wrestling and that kind of play, but the joy on Bernie's face when she has chicken noodle soup is where I shine.

We also make a lot of fairy toast. When you always have good bread in the house, you'll eat well. One of the earliest experiences with Bernie was when she was 2 weeks old, it was the first time I was baking and I just wanted to make good, fresh bread. Bread and chicken soup. It cures everything!

Q: Tell me how you came up with the design of your new Macy's product line.

A: I'm very particular about my baked goods and how I want them to look. Things have to be sturdy, functional and very good looking. A lot of the things I used were from Nick's grandma's pieces and there are sturdy useful things Nick has built me. Everything had to be able to stand up on the farm. I wanted to use a lot of wood and ceramic. My dream is that everything will last a generation.

Q: From blogger to Food Network star to cookware and now a restaurant, there's an argument to be made for you being the Midwest's answer to Ree Drummond and her Pioneer Woman empire.

A: I would be so honored. She's amazing.

If Grand Forks could be like Pawhuska [Oklahoma], that would be incredible. We went to Pawhuska before COVID and it's amazing. To see her as an amazing mother and also have this empire — and seeing her do it all is humble inspiration.

Q: It's incredible to think you started as this solitary blogger in the country and now are a recognizable face with influence and inspiration.

A: This path led me to Grand Forks. When we moved out there, they'd just gotten high-speed internet so we could have Wi-Fi at the farm. I think all the time, if I had lived here 10 years earlier, what would I have done for my job? Would I have felt as passionate about this?

In the big city I had the resources to follow my passions. To be able to be here and be able to order a book or research online — I couldn't have done that without that Wi-Fi. And now I'm able to do all this while Nick can be working on the farm and carrying on these family traditions. It's so much about the timing.



Serves 4 to 6.

Molly Yeh developed this recipe while working at an adult summer camp outside of Fargo. "After cranking out dozens of beefy, creamy Tater Tot hot dishes for the masses, I turned my focus to the vegan/gluten-free campers and made them a chickpea harissa hot dish that came out so good it should have been the main attraction," she wrote in "Home Is Where the Eggs Are" (William Morrow, 2022). "Now, while I don't think I can physically eat a harissa- covered chickpea without impulsively reaching for the feta and yogurt dollops, that obviously de-veganizes it, so feel free to leave these out or sub in dairy-free alternatives."

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 2 large celery stalks, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or smoked paprika
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon harissa paste or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried harissa
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 pounds frozen Tater Tots
  • A few squeezes of lemon juice
  • Chopped cilantro and flat-leaf parsley, for topping
  • Crumbled feta, optional, for topping
  • Dollops of plain Greek yogurt, optional, for serving


Arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat a large, oven-safe skillet, braiser or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil's hot, add the onion, carrots, celery and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic, Aleppo pepper or paprika, and a few turns of black pepper and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the harissa, tomato paste and white wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, water, sugar and 2 good pinches of salt and increase the heat to bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.

Cover with a layer of tots. Season with salt and pepper. Bake until the tots are golden; begin checking for doneness at 35 minutes.

Top with a few squeezes of lemon juice, the herbs and feta, if using, and serve with dollops of Greek yogurt, if desired.

To make ahead: Complete the steps up through topping with tots, assembling in a 9- by 13-inch metal casserole dish. Let cool, wrap in plastic or foil, and refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook. It'll last 2 days in the refrigerator and 3 months in the freezer. If reheating from the fridge, uncover and proceed as directed but add on a few more minutes in the oven to ensure that it's heated through. To reheat from frozen, cover loosely with foil and bake at 350 degrees for an hour, then uncover and increase the heat to 450 degrees and bake until the tots are golden brown and the innards are heated through; begin checking for doneness at 20 minutes. Top with a few squeezes of lemon juice, the herbs and feta, if using, and serve with dollops of Greek yogurt, if desired.


Serves 4 to 6.

The most gratifying requirement of being a Jewish mother is having a chicken soup practice. This soup doesn't have to be an original recipe or contain secrets that make it the best. It honestly doesn't even have to be that great — you just need to make it, because no matter what, your kids and your kids' kids will both need it and love it. Sunday afternoons are when I make my soup. It's my workout rest day, so instead of riding the exercise bike when Bernie takes her nap, I build a stock and get it simmering while I stamp out as many noodle stars as I can before she wakes up. If Bernie's earliest memory is waking up to a house that smells like chicken soup, I will feel like I have succeeded as a parent. From "Home Is Where the Eggs Are," by Molly Yeh (William Morrow, 2022).

For the soup:

  • 1 (3 1/2-pound) whole chicken
  • 2 medium yellow onions, 1 quartered and 1 chopped
  • 2 medium parsnips, trimmed, 1 cut into large chunks and 1 cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 3 large carrots, trimmed, 1 cut into large chunks and 2 cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 3 large celery stalks, 1 cut into large chunks and 2 cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 6 flat-leaf parsley sprigs, 3 whole and 3 chopped
  • 12 dill sprigs, 6 whole and 6 chopped, plus more for serving
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, plus ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Zest and juice of half a lemon
  • Freshly grated nutmeg

For the egg noodle stars:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup water


To prepare the soup: In a large pot, combine the chicken, quartered onion, parsnip chunks, carrot chunks, celery chunks, garlic, thyme, the 3 whole parsley sprigs, the 6 whole dill sprigs, the bay leaves and the peppercorns. Add cold water to cover and come up just below the top of the pot, about 5 quarts. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer at a low bubble, uncovered, until the chicken is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours (or longer if you have the time — up to 6 hours, topping off with more water if the stock dips below the chicken and veggies), skimming off any scum (there won't be much) and, if desired, some fat.

While the stock simmers, make the stars: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and nutmeg, add the eggs and water and mix to form a dough. Knead for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, dusting with more flour as needed to prevent sticking, and cut out stars with a bite-size star-shaped cookie cutter (or other small cookie cutter). Dust the stars with flour so they don't stick together and set them aside on a sheet pan. Reroll the scraps and repeat to use up the rest of the dough. (If you don't have the patience for all these cutouts, you can also just use a knife to cut long skinny noodles.) Set aside until ready to use.

Carefully strain the stock, discarding all of the solids except for the chicken. You should have 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 quarts of stock. Set the chicken aside to cool briefly while you put together the rest of the soup. Return the strained stock to the pot and bring it to a simmer. Add the chopped onion, sliced parsnip, sliced carrots, sliced celery, chopped parsley, chopped dill, noodles and 1 tablespoon salt and simmer, covered, until the vegetables and noodles are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, pull the chicken off the bones and chop it into bite-size pieces. Season the chicken with salt and, when the vegetables and noodles are tender, add it to the soup along with the lemon zest and juice, nutmeg and ground black pepper. Taste and add more salt if needed. This is important: The amount of salt in a chicken soup can mean the difference between unappetizing chicken tea and the elixir of bubbe love that it should be. So don't skip this step, and don't rush it, either. Taste your soup. If it doesn't make you smile reflexively, add more salt, about ½ teaspoon of it, and give it a few good stirs so it can dissolve. Taste and repeat as needed until it tastes good.

Garnish with fresh dill and serve.

As a mushy noodle fan, I store the soup all together and look forward to the next day when the soup will taste even better and the noodles will be even softer. I recognize that not everyone loves a mushy noodle, though, so if you're in this category and you expect to have leftovers, cook the noodles separately in salted boiling water to your desired doneness and store the drained leftover noodles separately as well. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

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