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Oct 23, 2013 01:04 PM

Cooking from: The New Midwestern Table by Amy Thielen

I love this cookbook and I'd love to share our experiences cooking from The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes by Amy Thielen.

I'm borrowing the info below from an informative post by The Dairy Queen in the October cookbooks thread. I hope she doesn't mind, but it saved me a lot of time.

Her blog:

Wild rice recipes (I don't think all of these are in the book):

Food Network recipes:

On (take care--the title says 20 recipes, but it's actually only the first 6 or 7 that are hers):


Food & Wine:

In the Mpls Star Tribune:

And if you want to see the pieces for which she won the James Beard Award (on beans, walleye, and mortar and pestle) plus read a quick snippet about her second book on, here:

Star Tribune archives with some of her essays here:

In the St. Paul Pioneer Press:


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  1. Thank you, rasputina, for encouraging me to have a close look at this book. Here's a listing of the wintery-type recipes I'd like to try (and a few spring and summer ones I couldn't help marking):

    I think the pot roast will be first.


    1. I'll have to see if the library has the book. I've been DVR'ing her show (it's on at 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays, so I'll never see it live), and I like not only her food, but her style.

      1. So, I had the pleasure of having Amy Thielen cook dinner for me (and 29 other people) last night. I learned she was teaching at a local cooking school where, apparently, she's taught for many years (including one class on lobster, about which she told a hilarious story about having to break down all of the live lobsters for 100+ people), so I snared a spot at the last minute. (She's doing appearances all over the Twin Cities this weekend.)

        (I'm writing this very distractedly with lots of interruptions from husband and child. Want to do it before I forget, though.)

        The menu was:
        Steakhouse Deviled Eggs
        Smoked Sardine Caesar with Salumi and Pan Croutons
        Classic Beef Pot Roast with Pistachio Salt (really a gremolata)
        Buttercup (or butternut as we had) Squash with Ricotta and Fried Sage
        Sour Cream Raisin Pie with Sweet Pecan Pie Crust

        She's a wisp of person. Seeming a little nervous and ill-at-ease with her sudden fame, at first, but once she got cooking she settled in and was really fun and playful. Her mom was there, too. It was fun to see the banter between the two for instance, when her mom had to remind her to take the deviled eggs out of the oven or when she had to defend herself over what she did with 9 pounds of butter at Thanksgiving dinner ("Some of that went into the candy," she said.)

        She does have a contract for another book, a narrative about which she has no details, "I have to write it first," and she mentioned that she has curtailed her book tour because they are working on more episodes, "I'm spending a lot of time in my own kitchen." She said it took her two years to write the book once she had a contract. After you have a contract, you have to hire your own photographer and illustrator.

        She says it's been great working with Lydia and Lydia's daughter, who is also a producer of the show.

        Someone asked what her favorite Twin Cities restaurants are and (she says because her son is 6, they don't go out for dinner as much as she used to, but she mentioned Meritage for oysters in St. Paul). She also talked about how we have such a non-VIP culture in the Twin Cities especially compared to NY where she worked, that she hasn't been able to get into the Butcher and the Boar and told a story about how she was with Lynne Rosetto Kasper about a year ago and LRK (and everyone recognizes Lynne's voice, she said) called ahead and they still couldn't get in.

        She said the Beer Cheese Soup recipe in the book is Steven Brown's from Tilia (which is where she had her book launch party, "The most beautiful restaurant in the Twin Cities.)

        She expressed admiration for Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir and said it inspired one of her recipes (I can't remember which one--but I wrote it down on in my caesar salad notes, so maybe it was something in the caesar?... She was jumping around the recipes a lot, as you would if you were cooking a full meal, but I actually think it had something to do with the gremolata for the roast. Or maybe it was the creamy pecorino date dressing. Darn! I should have written it down, but it was at this point I felt the person next to me staring at my notes and I was feeling self-conscious.)

        Anyway she cooked the Steakhouse Eggs and says you can make them ahead, as long as you do the nori and crumb at the last minute. She wanted these eggs to be evocative of steakhouse decadence and kind of have an 80's flavors to them. Her secret is to add baking soda to the water when hard-boiling farm fresh eggs to make them easier to peel. She used Fisher Farms bacon, "I should have brought some Thielen Meats bacon!," she said. She talked about experimenting with the combination of nori and bacon saying she thought they were very interesting together, "Where can I use it, how often can I use it," she said. She talked about umami for a bit in here.

        The crumb makes the eggs a little messy to eat but she says that's a good way to loosen everyone up at parties. She serves the eggs warm, which was a revelation. Wow! She had the staff push the yolks through a sieve, so they were super lush and creamy. She said mashing with a fork would also be just fine. You wouldn't notice the lumps because of the crumb. She also talked about making your own breadcrumbs from your less than prime bread and keeping it in the freezer and how having these fresh breadcrumbs on hand are a real timesaver for quick meals for her.

        She did the Smoked Sardine Caesar she did on the show. She says she thinks they are less fish than anchovies (I'm not sure I agree.) She just used regular grocery store sardines. She talked about toasting the paprika in order to bloom it. She said you could do another version with creamy dressing with pecorino and grilled dates. She mentioned you could make commercial mayo taste just like homemade if you added enough decent olive oil. When making a salad, always salt your greens, she said. She told a funny story about how invasive mint is and that someone once suggested (years ago) that she put mint in her flower beds (at which point everyone in the room cried, "NO!") and she's been regretfully weeding out mint ever since.

        She did a hilarious thing with a dish of leftover bacon fat (from the steakhouse breadcrumbs) that was sitting there. She was incredibly distracted by it while she was toasting the croutons. She kept saying, "I really want to put that bacon fat in there, but I know I shouldn't because it's not in the recipe." And then, eventually, she just said, "I can't stand it," and poured the bacon fat in. Later someone asked her if she preferred to toast her nuts in the oven or stove-top in a pan, and she said she preferred the pan because it's easier to watch them. "I've burned so many nuts in the oven," she said. "Plus, if you toast them in the oven you might miss an opportunity to, say, add in some bacon fat."

        She also said that she's started to view her own recipes in the book as if they were written by someone else and she has this nagging voice that says,"I'm not going to follow HER recipe." Even though she said she really tested the recipes over and over until they were exactly the way she wanted. This came up when she decided she needed to consult the recipe to see how many sardines to use (she removed the spines, by the way) and she said '"Two? I'm not going to add two. I'm just going to do it by taste.' (She was scaling these recipes way up times four and I think the proportions were kind of blowing her mind.) Anyway, she did the dressing for the caesar by taste even though the staff had done all the measuring for her mise en place already. By the time she was done with the dressing (it should taste lemony by the way) she only had a tiny bit left in her little measuring cups. She tasted it and said,"Yeah, that's right." Then looked at the tiny little bit left in her cup and laughed, "Hey, HER recipe really worked." Then stirred the remainder in.

        She says romaine lettuce is a good sturdy lettuce they can get in small town MN in winter so it makes a good winter salad. "I really like to coat the lettuce," she said. Someone asked if the dressing could be made in advance and kept in the fridge and she said it could be. She said you could also throw in a sprig of rosemary while toasting the torn croutons. "Or bacon fat." Someone remarked the croutons were really tender compared to what you usually get at a restaurant. She said that's because the bread was torn and because the croutons were fresh.

        I have to sit down to breakfast now. More later.

        Earlier in the day she'd made the classic beef pot roast with pistachio salt. She said it's best to make it ahead, in the morning at least, even a day ahead, and let it rest and soak up all of the braising liquid. Reheat in the oven at 325 until hot. The most important thing was to use chuck roast with lots of marbling, "You want a nice marble deckle on top." She said the roast is served with "a lot of traditional overcooked root vegetables" so she added the cherry tomatoes for brightness and freshness, as well as the pistachios for a different color. "Christmas!" she said.

        The buttercup squash puree recipe was inspired by a chef she worked for in NYC. She says it's super silky and decadent. And mentioned that holiday dinners are really all about the food we eat everyday, just fancied up a little. At one point, while pureeing the squash, she said, "I need some butter," then walked over and picked up a dish with a pound of butter on it. The entire audience gasped. She looked out at everyone and said innocently" What? I wasn't going to put the WHOLE thing in" then lopped off several tablespoons. She said she'd read somewhere or someone told her that sage leaves would crisp up in the butter at the same rate the butter would brown, which is why she loves this recipe. She says you can make the squash ahead of time and heat it up later as long as you fry the sage at the last minute.

        For leftevers, thin the squash with chicken stock and make a soup with curry. Maybe make a curry butter and add a dollop of fresh ricotta.

        Someone asked if you could make ravioli with it and she said yes, but only if you used buttercup. Butternut would be too soft.

        She also said you could thin it with stock and use it as a sauce for pappardelle (or any pasta) with rosemary brown butter.

        Last was the Sour Cream Raisin Pie with Sweet Pecan Crust. As you may know, I DESPISE raisins and, by association, this pie which my husband loves. She said this is a great pie because you can make it from what you have in your pantry when you're a long way from town. She said one of her grandmothers didn't "cook a lick," but that there's a cafe in the town she grew up in that made a great sour cream raisin pie and that's something she enjoyed having with her grandma.

        She also mentioned at this point that the book was inspired by her and her husbands travels all over the Midwest (and starting listing off all of the great Midwestern foods cities) and said that there were "pockets" of food culture all over the Midwest. She said the did some traveling in Canada and ate tons and tons of sour cream raisin pie. She makes hers with a cream top instead of the more typical meringue, which she finds too sweet. She soaks the raisins in Madeira (which is not typical.) She said the pie filling works on the same principle as pastry cream: the added flour stops it from curdling. The crust is crumbly, almost like a cookie she said. She adds a little sour cream (or yogurt, but since this is a sour cream pie, sour cream) to her cream top. She said it gives it staying power. She said this is the type of pie that you can keep in the fridge and just lop off a slice whenever you want.

        I have to say, I really loved my first few bites of this pie. Didn't even mind the raisins so much. After that, though, I thought, this would be a great pie if it weren't for the raisins. It ALMOST converted me to a sour cream raisin pie lover. Almost, not quite. I'm not a sour cream raisin pie tolerator.

        Okay, I'm done, I think. I'd make everything again. Pot roast needed more salt. I didn't like the overly-pureed texture of the squash: I might leave mine a little more rustic. Loved the eggs. Even (almost) loved the pie. Enjoyed the salad.

        I am big fan, more than over. Will have to refrain from being gushy fangirl from here on out. Am so impressed with her work.


        18 Replies
        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Now you've done it. Suddenly, I must get my hands on this book. What a fun evening, thanks for sharing.

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Wow, sounds like a great night! I've been wanting to make pot roast, maybe next week.

            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              TDQ: That's the most all-inclusive report I think I've ever read. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it for us! You didn't miss a breath she made. Thanks very much!

              I think you should be our roving cooking demonstration reporter. We could send you all over the country to watch, look, listen, eat, then report. Of course we get you staff to take care of house and home till you returned. It would only be fair.

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Ack! I notice a typo in the last sentence of my third paragraph to the end which completely changes my meaning: the sour cream raisin pie paragraph: I meant to say, "I'm NOW a sour cream raisin pie tolerator," as is in, now I can tolerate sour cream raisin pie, whereas before I couldn't even touch it.

                Also, she mention the stick of soaking your garlic cloves in water for easy peeling. She said, "I hate when you are trying to chop your garlic and you smack it with the side of your knife. Now everything's all sticky and you're trying to get the bits of paper off and now you have all of these messy, shattered bits of garlic to contend with and there's juice everywhere..." She says if you keep your cloves in a little dish of water during your mise en place that the skin will slip right off. And then she launched into a discussion of how minced garlic tastes sweeter than garlic pushed through a garlic press and how the taste is different and can matter to someone who is really sensitive to these sorts of things...

                She also said when you're chopping herbs like parsley, that you should be holding the herbs in a bunch and as you're doing your knife work at the end of the bunch, that you should think of just shaving off little bits of parsley, rather than "chopping it". She says if you just shave it off, shave it off, etc. you'll end up with a nice cleaning pile of chopped parsley rather than a mess.

                Also, I forgot to tell a couple of her Lidia stories. When someone asked if Lidia was present for filming she got really wide-eyed and said, "Yes, Lidia is right there in my kitchen. And she says things like, "The camera is sucking all of your energy. You must give it more."

                Amy said that in the episode on the show where she's doing the stuffed roast chicken and the skin breaks, she (Amy) immediately went, "Oh no! I need another chicken.! I must go get another one. " Lidia stepped in and said, "No, keep going. You must keep going and show what to do next."

                And, wow, it made me realize what a smart, shrewd, perceptive woman Lidia is. Everyone keeps talking about how genuine Amy seems and Lidia is the one who must see that in Amy and keeps Amy true to that when she's about to stray.

                On the other hand, she also told some stories about the absurdity of recreating things for the show, like going to Bologna Days a month after it really happened. She said it was really hard to convince her 6 year old to go along with the pretense. "Mom, where are we going?" "Bologna days." "No we aren't, we just went there."

                She also said something like, "I just love Madison. I think it's the best food city the Midwest, second only to Minneapolis of course." And then she was quiet for an embarrassed second after which she said, "Um, well, Chicago. " Then she proceeded to list almost every major city in the Midwest... Really funny.

                Finally, I wanted to mention how interesting it is that Amy doesn't feel the need to stick to totally seasonal ingredients. For instance, she adds cherry tomatoes to the pot roast and suggests serving it for Christmas. Or she puts nori in her deviled eggs.


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Is this round of TV episodes done already? My DVR didn't record anything yesterday, and I see that the next one in the line-up appears to be a repeat. Really enjoy the show, and your write-up, DQ.

                  1. re: pine time

                    Yes, I believe this round of shows is done. But, they are re-showing them on Mondays now.


                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Thanks! I hung on every word you wrote!

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Thank you for this fabulous report, TDQ! Now I am dying to take a class from her. And thanks to Rasputina's great post, I can keep tabs on where AT will be speaking and try to snag a ticket/seat.

                    TDQ---I LOVED what AT said about smashing garlic with the blade of a knife. I have always hated doing that. I tried her method of soaking the garlic cloves in water this am and it worked like a charm..... The skins just slid right off. That's gonna be my method from here on in. (I will still use my garlic press, though, because I find mincing garlic tedious.)

                    1. re: soccermom13

                      Oh! I forgot! She has you slice garlic kind of like you slice an onion--you kind of make cross cuts parallel to the cutting board, then you chop it perpendicular to the cutting board like usual"'s practically minced by the time you're done.

                      Zimmern's podcast:



                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        Yes, thanks for posting about soaking the garlic. I personally like my garlic press, but I've been looking for a method to remove the skins and keep them whole for lactic acid fermentation. Now I just need to buy enough to fill a jar.

                        1. re: rasputina

                          I just finished reading through her cookbook last night--all of the chapter intros, recipe headnotes, sidebars, and "tips". I'm pretty Amy'd out at the moment, but she's got lots of great little tips buried here and there in the book, too.


                      2. re: soccermom13

                        I just watched the "butter" episode of her show, which I'd previously missed, and she says the soaking in water trick also works for shallots and onions.


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          I tried the soaking in water trick with my garlic last night and it didn't work. Maybe I didn't soak for long enough? Smashing it a bit usually works pretty well to loosen the skins for me.

                          Honestly, I think it mostly has to do with the age and variety of garlic -- some garlic just has stickier skin and there's nothing you can do about it. Since avoiding garlic isn't an option at my house, I've just decided to live with it.

                          1. re: Westminstress

                            I got the impression it had to soak for awhile, at least a good 20 minutes (and I heard something in there mumbled about 20 minutes--there was occasionally a lot of talking in the room or people asking questions quietly, where you could hear the answer but not always the whole question, so maybe that's what the 20 minutes mumble related to), but she had it soaking during her entire prep and we watched as the skins just peeled right off. She said she arrived around 11am to start her prep (our class started at 6pm), so for all I know, it could have been soaking for hours.

                            ETA: I can't speak to the age of her garlic, but she said the prep cooks she worked with in NYC would prep buckets of garlic this way. And she has a very large garden and garlic is one of the things that grows in MN. So my guess is she works with both very fresh garlic right out of her garden, as well as whatever she puts up for the winter, which by April or May, is no longer that fresh. Hard to say.


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              Thanks for the info. I will try again with a longer soak.

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                I must give this garlic prep trick a try: the rheumatoid arthritis in my hands is making the bashing with a knife trick more painful, and I just can't tolerate jarred garlic. Will try drowning it!

                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                          My goodness, TDQ, that was amazing reporting! This is a book I don't think I'd find much in, but I was reading your post breathlessly. I've never even heard of this raisin pie thing; might, just might, need to try it.

                          1. re: LulusMom

                            It was a super fun evening and pretty much a last minute thing, so I was thrilled to go. If you try the pie, do report back.


                        3. Love this feed about Amy Thielen... here's another article to add to the bunch. :)

                          1. Help! I'm making the Sweet and Sour Potluck Meatballs, p. 45. The text instructs to combine the pork, PEANUTS, etc. The ingredient list in my book, however, does NOT include peanuts! Any idea what quantity per 1 1/2 lb pork I should use? Would you chop finely? Or roughly?

                            10 Replies
                            1. re: mirage

                              Yikes! Is this the same recipe?

                              If yes, 1/3 cup crushed salted peanuts.


                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                YES! You're a doll! Thank you, thank you!

                                This is the first recipe I'm trying from this book, along with the onion dip, for a potluck tonight.

                                Again, thank you!

                                1. re: mirage

                                  Well, I have no idea how they will go over at the Potluck, but my daughter and I LOVE these meatballs. Delicious. Trying to keep our paws out of the pot.

                                  The Onion Dip is very good, too - and I'm sure everyone will love that.

                                  1. re: mirage

                                    Thank you so much for reporting on those. I think they both look like wonderful party/holiday type dishes and have been curious about them. I have my eye on the green pea pesto and artichoke dips for a function next week.


                                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  That looks really comfort-foody-delicious.

                                  As an aside, isn't it funny when the last word of a recipe title is "recipe"? Like to warn about what's coming?

                                3. re: mirage

                                  OMG----Those pork meatballs look fabulous! I could see serving those with very small soft white dinner rolls. My brothers would swoon!

                                  1. re: mirage

                                    You know, I was wondering the same question today as I stared at the recipe instructions. I went online and search for an errata page and couldn't find one. By the time we got done grinding up the pork I completely forgot about the peanut question so I made it without them. Didn't have any peanuts in the house anyway.

                                      1. re: soccermom13

                                        They were great, we ate the last of them today.