Amy Thielen’s Essentials

Six things that chef, cookbook author, James Beard Award winner, and Food Network television host Amy Thielen can’t live without:

Weeknight meal: Spaghetti carbonara . This dish is my last-minute hero. It’s a rare day that I don’t have pasta, bacon, frozen peas, eggs, and Parmesan on hand. I make a classic carbonara, with raw eggs, but I add garlic to mine, and a bit of white wine, and a dollop of heavy cream to the eggs before tossing, and it’s pretty luxurious. Hank [my son] generally picks out the peas, but still, he loves this one.

Inaugural Midwestern meal for out-of-towners: Most friends who visit us from far away are curious about local ingredients, so I always serve our own wood-parched wild rice (harvested from the creekbed below the house), and if I have some fish, walleye or northern pike or perch sautéed in butter. If I don’t have fish, I like to make something with our venison sausage. We make tons of bulk venison sausage in season and freeze it in vacuum-pack bags. It makes amazing Doner kebabs grilled over the fire.

Strategy for engaging kids in the kitchen: I had [Hank] baking at an early age. In fact, instead of play dough, I often just gave him one of my experimental bread doughs to play with. We’d make faces from the dough—we called them bread heads—let them rise, bake them, and then crack up over the faces they made once baked. Though sometimes he just turned the dough into a raceway and ran his little cars all over it. But now I engage him in smaller ways. I encourage him to “make up recipes,” and stir together all kinds of liquids into soups (the chocolate-honey-lime one was memorable). He’s not making egg rolls yet, but he’s comfortable in the kitchen, and some days will unexpectedly pop up onto a stool by the stove and want to stir his scrambled eggs or help me make his potato soup.

Cookbook: I put all my trust in Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, and found one of my favorite recipes in it: a shortcut puff pastry. Real French puff pastry, with its many layers of butter and dough, requires hours of chilling and rolling and folding. It is one of the most laborious pastries in existence. Maida Heatter’s quick version is genius. She directs you to cut lots of butter into flour, as if making pie crust, and then folds in a small cup of sour cream into the dough to bind. Then, when it’s cold, you roll out and fold and chill it a few times, an abbreviated version of what you go through when making real French puff pastry. When baked, this finished dough puffs, turns golden brown, and is impossibly light. I swear, it is just as good as the long-process French puff pastry.

Minnesota road trip food: I really think that smoked fish, preferably that fatty deepwater Lake Superior lake trout, is the best road trip provision ever. At Kendall’s Smokehouse in Knife River they sell a bag with crackers, napkins, and plastic utensils next to the register, all you need for eating your smoked fish on the road. Because once you bring that deliriously smoky stuff into your car, it’s really only a matter of time before you crack into the package to sample it.

Essential cosmetic for appearing on TV: Sleep.