'Heartland Table': Amy Thielen is canny about fresh food

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amy-thielen-heartland-table-food-network.jpgRegular viewers of Food Network's " Heartland Table" -- returning for a second season Saturday, March 8 -- know that host Amy Thielen is a big advocate for sourcing locally raised produce and meats.

And she certainly walks the talk, buying poultry and beef from neighbors near her rural Minnesota home and growing vegetables in her large garden to use in recipes she prepares on the show and for her husband and 6-year-old son.

But in northern Minnesota, growing season is short, so in cold-weather months she must resort to more conventional sources such as supermarkets. She also freezes, vacuum-packs and cans.

In fact, she's a trained canner.

"I've never told the Food Network that," Thielen tells  Zap2it, laughing. "I've taken classes at the University of Minnesota because at one point early on, I wanted to manufacture jams and pickles. That was a very short-lived obsession that kind of fizzled out, but I kept the knowledge. So between that course and then my grandma telling me all the stuff she did, I'm a pretty good canner."

Turns out there's quite a bit of science to canning.

"I completed a course called Better Process School," she says. "And it was like a three-day seminar, and you go there, and they teach you the principles of safe canning. So you learn about water mobility, and you learn about pH. So I have a pH meter.

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"And this is actually really fascinating," she continues. "You can take a pH meter, which measures acidity ... and shove it into a tomato -- a tomato that you grow -- and it's really useful in the North because our tomatoes don't get that acidic. So then you realize, 'Oh, my gosh! I have to add quite a bit of lemon juice to this because I have a very base tomato.' I don't know, it's very nerdy."

What are you currently reading?

"I just read one of the best food memoirs that I've ever read, and it's called 'Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking' by Anya Von Bremzen. ... And this book was amazing because it has a lot of Soviet history, and it's totally entwined with a personal memoir story."

What did you have for dinner last night?

"I made for myself a very odd and super-satisfying little stir-fry of scallops with snow pea pods, asparagus and actually walnuts - which sounds weird, but it's great - and ginger and a little sesame oil."

What is your next project?

"I'm working on a book of stories about food, and I'm always working on recipes."

When was the last vacation you took -- where and why?

"We went out to San Francisco. My husband is curating an art show out there, and I didn't have any work to do. ... And we went out with [son] Hank, and we brought a scooter, and we scooted around, and I really got to enjoy just the food and the people and everything in San Francisco. I thought it was lovely."
Photo/Video credit: Food Network