Real, Honest Food with Sam the Cooking Guy & Just Grill This

Grilled Whole Trout with Sam the Cooking Guy

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."

Just Grill This! 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.

Kitchen Essentials

  • 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.


Iron Chef Bobby Flay Turkey Reuben Sandwich recipe


The other day my son politely announced his school lunches sucked.

Was it the baby carrots? I rely heavily on baby carrots. They're so cute and so good for you!

Although he could do with fewer baby carrots, thank you, it was the same old, same old that was bringing him down.

My son, who has a pretty wide palate, was bored. Boring lunches are easy, but

brown bag lunches don't have to be boring.

With some help from chef restaurateur Bobby Flay, you can pack a lunch that your kid's friends will fight over.

Chef Flay, who's been associated with Hellmann's for three years, uses the mayonnaise to create flavor and interest in his signature sandwiches.

“I use Hellman’s to build layers of flavor. I love Hellman’s because it’s real simple food made from three ingredients – eggs, oil and vinegar.  I use it as a building block to create lots of flavor,” said Flay.

Flay spoke with me recently to mark the relaunch of Hellmann’s virtual Sandwich Swap ‘n’ Share on  Facebook.  Through its Facebook game, Hellmann’s is donating  $75,000 to Share Our Strength to stop childhood hunger

If you visit the site, you’ll see all kinds of ingredient choices, fillings and spreads to help you think about creating a sandwich and you'll get to support a great cause.

Flay's favorite sandwich is turkey and daughter, Sophie, loves his Turkey Reuben recipe.

"I love leftover turkey. For the holidays I’ll make a turkey for Thanksgiving and one for  the leftovers," Flay said.  "I take room temperature  turkey leftovers, make a cranberry mayonnaise.  It makes a fantastic next day sandwich."

Bobby Flay's Turkey Reuben

Turkey reubenPrep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes

1/2 cup Hellmann's® or Best Foods® Real Mayonnaise, divided

1/4 cup finely chopped dill pickle

2 Tbsp. ketchup

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 cups coleslaw mix

8 slices rye bread

8 slices Swiss cheese

1 lb. sliced cooked turkey

Combine 1/4 cup Hellmann's® or Best Foods® Real Mayonnaise, pickle, ketchup, vinegar and mustard with wire whisk in medium bowl. Season, if desired, with salt and pepper. Stir in coleslaw mix; set aside.

Top 4 bread slices with cheese, turkey, coleslaw mixture, then remaining bread slice.

Evenly spread outside of sandwiches with remaining 1/4 cup Mayonnaise.

Cook sandwiches, in batches, in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat, turning once, 8 minutes or until golden brown.

Lidia cooks from the heart of Italy

Lidia brings the feasts of Italy to your tableIf you are a fan of Lidia Bastianich's popular public television cooking series, you will find her latest cook book, Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy (Alfred A. Knopf, 411 pp., $35) delightful.

This latest cookbook with 175 regional Italian recipes has the voice, feel and style of Lidia's television broadcasts, which,to those sadly unfamiliar with them, is warm, familial and inviting. 

Lidia makes us feel as if we are one of her brood and that we too can cook deliciously savory and sumptuous traditional Italian meals.

The cookbook, written with daughter, Tanya Manuali, who earned a Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance Art History from Oxford and conducts food, wine and art tours in Italy, is as much a guide for cooking as it is a peek into the food culture and history of Italy.

Lidia and daughter take us into the lives and places of the people of Italy, from north to south. With essays that explain food history and its importance to each region as well as glimpses into the places where these succulent dishes derive, from Trentino-Alto Adige to Sardinia, the cookbook reads like both travel guide and cooking compendium. Its lavish photographs by Lidia and Hersheimer & Hamilton depict intimate glimpses of gorgeously prepared food as well as beautiful Italian landscapes.

The cookbook transcends the usual homage to cuisines of Italy's better known gastronomic regions - Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna - presenting recipes from these epicurean giants as well as those from lesser known areas.  

The recipes are often simple to prepare yet complex in texture and taste, creating meals that are steeped in Italian tradition and rich in the flavors of locally sourced foods. The mother-daughter team, with David Nussbaum, showcase many of the little known delights of Italian regional cuisine.

From Abruzzo, there is the renowned Maccheroni alla Chitarra, freshly made strands of pasta serving as the foundation for numerous sauces and from Valle D'Aosta, there is Soup with Bread & Fontina Pasticciata (Seuppa ou Piat), a layered bread and cheese baked casserole served in bowls of hot broth. 

From Le Marche, there is Lamb Chunks with Olives (Agnello 'ncip-'nciap), a piquant and hearty dish; and from Sardinia, there is Flatbread Lasagna (Pane Frattau), the traditional Sardinian shepherd's meal of layered flatbread, tomato sauce, grated pecorino and poached eggs.  

Three things make this cookbook, from a technical standpoint, a beginning cook's pleasure - the way Lidia presents possibilities for variations on recipes, teaching one to cook from intuition and experimentation; ingredient lists where the ingredient text is highlighted in red so cooks can easily see necessary items; and equipment lists suggesting tools needed for recipe preparation.  For more experienced cooks, the commentary on the provenance of particular foods and their uses in the Italian kitchen is invaluable.

Lamb Chunks with Olives

Agnello ’ncip ’nciape

Serves 6 or more

3½ pounds boneless lamb shoulder or leg
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup extra- virgin olive oil
7 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, stripped from the branch

1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons red- wine vinegar
1½ cups brine- cured green Italian olives or oil- cured black Italian olives, crushed and pitted

Recommended equipment: A deep skillet or sauté or braising pan, 11- to- 12- inch diameter, with a


Trim the exterior fat from the lamb shoulder or leg, and cut the meat into 2- inch pieces, removing fat and bits of cartilage as you find them. Pat the pieces dry with paper towels, and season all over with 1 teaspoon of the salt.

Lamb Chunks with Olives

Pour the olive oil into the pan, and set it over medium heat. Scatter in the crushed garlic cloves and peperoncino. When the garlic is sizzling, lay in all the lamb pieces in one layer, scatter the rosemary on top, and season with the remaining teaspoon salt. When the meat starts to sizzle, cover the pan, lower the heat, and let cook gently, browning slowly and releasing its fat and juices.

After about 10 minutes, uncover the pan, turn the pieces, and move them around the pan to cook evenly, then replace the cover. Turn again in 10 minutes or so, and continue covered cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the lamb is nicely browned all over and the pan juices have thickened and caramelized. If there is a lot of fat in the bottom of the pan, tilt the skillet and spoon off the fat from one side.

Stir the wine and vinegar together, and pour them into skillet, swirling them with the pan juices. Turn up the heat, bring the liquids to a boil, and cook them down quickly to form a syrupy sauce. Drop the olives into the pan, all around the lamb chunks, then cover and adjust the heat to a bubbling simmer. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, again concentrating the juices and marrying the flavors. Finally, cook uncovered for a few minutes, tumbling the meat and olives in the pan, coating them with the sauce.

Serve immediately, right from the skillet, or heap the meat chunks on a platter or in a shallow serving bowl. Spoon out any sauce and olives left in the pan, and drizzle over the lamb.

il Buco celebrates all things pig with Sagra del Maiale, Festival of the Pig

Infiernito-cooked pig & Chef Mattos (center)

il Buco restaurant celebrates its 15th anniversary on Sunday, September 20, 2009, during its sixth annual Sagra del Maiale (Festival of the Pig).

The event, an outdoor pig and apple festival marks the Autumnal Equinox (when day and night are of equal length).

The celebration will take place outside il Buco on Bond Street between Lafayette and Bowery from 1:00 - 8:00pm. Chef Ignacio Mattos and staff will rise before the sun and start a bonfire on Bond Street, where they will slow-roast a 200 pound heritage breed Crossabaw Pig.

Cooked on an infiernillo (literally "little inferno" but more commonly known as "little hell"), the pig slowly roasts between two large iron griddles with an intense wood fire above and below, a method developed by Chef Mattos' South American Mentor, Chef Francis Mallmann.

Throughout the night, Chef Mattos will tend to the flames while encountering late-night passersby for an incredibly fun New York night.

Starting at 1pm, friends and family alike will line up early for a convivial feast of all things pig.

Tickets will be available on-site for $20 per plate. Red and white Wine, Prosecco, Lambrusco, and Wolffer Estates Apple Wine will be $10 per beverage. Beer will be $8.

il Buco works extensively with the Crossabaw Pig, a special hybrid of the a rare breed Ossabaw, a pig from Georgia's coast on Ossabaw Island. The Ossabaw, left by the Spaniards more than a century ago, is a direct descendant of the "Pata Negra", or black-footed pig so treasured for its flavorful meat.

These Ossabaw pigs are raised in the open woods in North Carolina, on a diet of acorns and peanuts, both extremely high in oleic acid, the same fats that make olive oil so healthy. So pig is, indeed, good for you!

Executive Chef Mattos is from Santa Lucia, Uruguay. A protégé of the renowned South American Chef, Francis Mallmann, Ignacio has also worked with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, Spain's Martín Berasategui, and with Judy Rodgers at Zuni Café.

As Executive Chef of il Buco, a beloved NYC establishment that has been open for 15 years, Ignacio has had the honor of cooking at the James Beard Foundation, has taught cooking classes with the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), the French Culinary Institute (FCI), DeGustibus and The New School and has participated in numerous food events in and around New York City.


Breakfast for dinner: omelets anytime with Julia

The newly released movie, Julie and Julia has everyone celebrating the late  and very wonderful American chef Julia Child.

I love her enthusiasm for even the simplest of meals and this video detailing the proper way to make an omelet is a classic. Child introduced the French technique to an American audience hungry for a new and nuanced way of cooking.

Break some eggs and enjoy a simple satisfying meal.

Happy Birthday to The French Laundry

There are restaurants that star in my recurring gastronomic fantasies. Among them is Thomas Keller's The French Laundry.

This month marks the 15th anniversary of Chef Keller's Napa Valley culinary vision and the 10th anniversary of  The French Laundry Cookbook, a compendium that tells the stories behind the menus created at his Yountville restaurant.

The wit and the whimsy behind these beautifully focused small plates bring food enthusiasts out for tasting menus which never replicate a food or flavor at a cost of $240 per person.

Beginning with a signature amuse-bouche of Salmon Tartare Cornets with Sweet Red Onion Creme Fraiche and ending with mignardises, the menu is famous for its Oysters and Pearls, Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar - among others. There are websites dedicated to cooking their way through this gorgeously photographed tome.

Each night's variation just a bit different from the last, Chef de cuisine Corey Lee collaborates with staff and purveyors to produce nightly menus from what is fresh, local and seasonal. The result is magical. 

The one word that is a recurring theme in Keller's restaurants: finesse. And if rumors are true, NYers will be treated to a new Keller restaurant this fall.

Edible evenings at BK Botanic Gardens

Join FOOD NETWORK stars Anne Burrell, host of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef and Sunny Anderson, host of  Cooking for Real while they demonstrate healthy cooking recipes for great local, sustainable meals you can make at home.

Learn more about local, sustainable food choices Thursday, July 23, from 6-9 pm Grilling in the Gardens. 

Discover how to grow your own edibles, sample food, wine and beer and pick up a trick or two from your favorite chefs.

Melt executive chef Patrik Landberg creates serious food without attitude

Patrik Lannberg makes serious food at Malt

Sixteen hour shifts and six day work weeks are the province of the young, upwardly mobile chef.  There seems little time to balance work with life outside of the restaurant.

Remarkably Melt (440 Bergen Street, Brooklyn NY 718.230.5925) executive chef Patrik Landberg manages both. On a sunny spring afternoon, the kind that promises heat but delivers a breezy chill instead, Landberg met with me at the stylish neighborhood restaurant with big ambition, owned by Muguette (pronounced “Mu-Get”) Siem A Sjoe.

Landberg is amazingly fresh for a new father who works the long hard hours required of the executive chef of a small promising neighborhood restaurant. He is easy-going, open and pleasant.  The word authentic seems an apt adjective to describe Landberg.

A native of Sweden, he went to culinary school at age 15, studied his craft for two years, learning French technique.  The cuisine at Melt is best described as eclectic modern America, infused with hints of his own Swedish heritage.

Originally, Melt was a bar and the kitchen later was added to reinvent the space.  The small restaurant, about 60 seats, has an even smaller kitchen. Landberg and the two chefs on his team work in a row and in synchronized, economical movements, a must in a kitchen where an open dishwasher blocks passage. It boggles the mind to see the amount and quality of food that is turned out of this tiny space.

The focus at Melt is seasonal, inventive and fresh daily. Landberg is often at the local produce markets in the morning before coming to work in his kitchen. 

"It's very important to follow the seasons. The vegetable is going to taste so much better in season," he said, noting the challenges of balancing a menu that supports sustainability and yet also offers customers the items they desire.  "You have to do what you have to do for business. Brunch requires berries."

Melt's menu contains mainstays like Aged Boucheron Goat Cheese Salad, Yellowfin Tuna Tartar, and Kobe Beef Burger, but Landberg likes to rotate items off the menu as the seasons change. Weather affects the palate and is one of the things the executive chef follows when thinking about what to create for his menu.

"Weather can change everything.  In the spring, it's tricky," he said.

Melt is gaining a bit of a reputation for its tasting menu as well.  The five-course tasting menu is $25 (and additional $20 for paired wine tastings) and is served the first Tuesday of each month.  Landberg and his team of chefs create a menu based on the best of the market for that day.

A recent tasting menu featured a lobster theme with a Lobster Broth and Buckwheat Noodle consomme reminiscent of Thai lemongrass fragrant Tom Yum Goong, but not as pungent; Boston Bib Lettuce Wrap, a lobster tail, pickled carrot and cilantro wrapped in Bibb lettuce leaves; Surf and Turf Kobe Beef Slider served with Chipotle sauce and crispy fries; and Lobster Ravioli with a Sweet Onion Fondue and Buerre Blanc.

Executive chef at Melt since 2007, he arrived in the US in 2000 with the intention of staying only a summer and has been here since. Landberg has cooked at  the now closed Meet in the Meatpacking District, Ulrika's (also shuttered) and The Roger Smith Hotel, where he followed Ulrika Bengtsson, who took over as Food & Beverage Manager after closing her eponymous Scandanavian restaurant. 

Landberg understands the balance between satisfying his own creative impulses and imagination and satisfying the customer.  He is not a slave to his ego.  He wants to make the customer happy.

"We're in the service industry," said Landsberg, noting reasonable requests are always honored. "This is what I created. I'm here to please you. Why shouldn't I make you happy?

Christopher Ranch Garlic is The Stinking Rose muse

Chef Froncillo makes even garlic seem sexy

Garlic aka stinking rose is muse for the aptly named San Fran restaurant, The Stinking Rose, where Chef Andrea Froncillo, presides.

Froncillo shared his 40 Cloves Garlic Chicken with  local garlic producers Christopher Ranch who in turn generously shared with yours truly.

A rose by any other name stinks.

40 Cloves Garlic Chicken

Type of dish:    Entree

Yield:     Four servings


1 large (2 1/2 to 3 pound) broiler-fryer chicken


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons CHRISTOPHER RANCH Heirloom Garlic, minced
Leaves from 1 sprig rosemary, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper


1 cup dry red wine
1 shallot, quartered
4 Heirloom Garlic cloves, chopped
Leaves from 1 sprig rosemary, minced
Leaves from 2 sprigs thyme, minced
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups roasted Heirloom Garlic cloves


Remove the giblets from the chicken and reserve for another use. With a large, sharp knife, cut the chicken in half lengthwise, then cut in half crosswise to separate the breast from the thighs.

To make the marinade:

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Put the chicken parts in a heavy resealable plastic bag, pour the marinade over the chicken, and seal the bag. Work your hands over the bag until the liquid covers all the chicken parts. Place the bag in the refrigerator for one to three hours.

To make the sauce:

In a heavy saucepan, combine the wine, shallot, garlic, rosemary, and thyme. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for two to three minutes. Gradually stir in the cream and cook to reduce the liquid by one-third, about 10 minutes. Add the butter in batches, stirring to melt. Season with salt and pepper. Pass the sauce through a fine-meshed sieve, cover, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees. Put the chicken in a heavy baking dish and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, turn the chicken pieces over, and baste with the pan juices. Return to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the skin is crackly and golden brown and the meat is opaque throughout.

Arrange the chicken on a serving platter. Pour the warm sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with the Heirloom roasted garlic cloves. Serve immediately.

'Red Cook' teaches Chinese kitchen secrets at ICE

Kian shops the markets

I am a huge fan of the Red Cook. You should be too.

He cooks beautifully and does an equally amazing job of chronicling his time in the kitchen.

If you've ever wanted to learn the art of Chinese cooking (and I'm sure there isn't any one who doesn't love Chinese food), then take one of Chef KianLam Kho's cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education this month.

Learn all about the Chinese kitchen, the culture, and artistry of Chinese meals and snacks.  Each of the two four-hour courses covers a different delicacy from a full and festive dinner to the ubiquitous dumpling.

Best of all, unlike math class, you get to eat your homework.