Forget about the 12 Emmys.
Sam Zien, better known as Sam the Cooking Guy, is just a regular guy who likes to cook real, honest food.
Okay, It's hard to forget about the Emmys.
But, Sam the Cooking Guy is down-to-earth and easy to talk food with. He gives home cooks carte blanche, or complete freedom, to use short cuts. I love it whenever I have permission to cheat, especially when it tastes this good.
Frozen shrimp? Check. Ditto, frozen scallops and steaks. Pizza crusts? Cooked chicken breast? A big up.
Sam compares cooking to riding a bicycle. You get on and you pedal. The more you do it, the better you get.
The Canadian-born everyman of cooking started out just like everyone else - by opening the refrigerator door, peering in, and trying to figure out what would be good to eat. He began by grilling for his wife.
"I would go out and do the burning," Zien recalled recently. "Kelly and I would pretend it was good and eat it." But, the more he grilled, cooked and experimented, the better the food tasted.
Along the way, he discovered his life's work.
Originally, he intended to create a TV travel show for regular people who wanted to discover far flung places in uncomplicated ways. Poised to start, September 11th happened and with it, the way we live and travel was altered forever, so Zien had to rethink his idea.
Since everyone eats, a food show seemed like the next best option.
Now, he's host of a regular half hour show Just Cook This, Thursday nights on Discovery Health, which is taped in his San Diego, CA, home, complete with wife, kids, and dogs.
His third book, Just Grill This, (Wiley, softcover, US$19.95, 256 pp), is now out. In our house, I've designated it as the go-to cookbook for the men in my life who love to eat but aren't very skilled in the kitchen.
Sam had some great ideas for my 12-year-old son, who is excited about learning to cook, and my boyfriend who wants to learn to cook, but is intimidated by food that requires more than five ingredients.
For my son to try, he recommended trying the Fry Dog, a basic hot dog made with great kosher hot dogs, topped with French Fries and spicy mayo. We made a souped up version, adding our own twist with melted cheese and chili.
Think chili cheese fries over a hot dog. Delicious!
For my boyfriend, Sam suggested making Sesame Grilled Meatballs, a success story for any new cook. A grill, a bag of defrosted fully cooked meatballs, skewers, hoisin and chili sauce, sesame oil and chopped green onions - you're in business.
There really is nothing like grilled meat on a stick.
"Meatballs," he said. "Yeah, meatballs. Just do it. I love giving my guests a job. I hand them the appetizers. It gives them something fun to do and frees me up to do other stuff."
Flipping through this third cookbook, it's easy to get whipped up about dinner - or lunch, or snacks, or drinks or dessert for that matter. This cookbook and his others are not only fun, but filled with recipes that are accessible for home cooks of all experience levels. The same warmth and wit that makes Sam the Cooking Guy so approachable in person and on TV comes through in print.
Among his favorite recipes are Sweet Sticky Ribs, Cedar Plank Salmon and Grilled Catfish Sandwich. Popular with his kids are what his sons call Sam Pockets, round refrigerator rolls flattened and stuffed with any filling you can dream up, then baked about 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Keeping a well-stocked pantry is essential for happy, well-fed people. There are a few basic essentials that Sam the Cooking Guy recommends. Contrary to popular belief, there is no shame in a shortcut or frozen food.
On a trip to Hong Kong, he watched fascinated as women shopped for fresh foods to cook, thinking they were doing their daily food shopping. What he discovered was that these home cooks made a trip to the market for each meal. The reality for most households is that grocery shopping has got to be done far less frequently, but that doesn't mean food has to be industrial, fast food, bad for you or boring.
- Sauces - Hoisin, Teriyaki, BBQ, Chili
- Frozen Foods - Shrimp, Scallops, Steaks
- General Foods - Olive Tapenade, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Black Pepper
My new favorite is the Whole Grilled Trout. It fits right in with my favorite kitchen theory: the meal should look really fantastic, appearing complex, but really a breeze to prepare. On the plus side, you can use any whole fish for this recipe.
"This is about really good, honest food. Simple. You make it. You eat it. It tastes great," Zien said.