cookbooks and cookbook authors

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.


Just in time for my latest kitchen adventure is Roberto Santibañez' new book, Truly Mexican (with JJ Goode, Wiley Hardcover, April 25, 2011, $35.00, 272 pages).

I love tamales, well practically any meat-filled, lard-infused treat will do, so I'm eagerly anticipating the arrival of the New York chef and restaurateur's latest book.

 If I can't get my hot tamales from local pushcarts, I'll have to make my own. In preparation, I've laid in the supplies for a big batch of tamales - corn husks, masa harina, pasilla chiles, etc.

The chef promises fast, fresh and authentic Mexican for the home kitchen. I'm sure he'll deliver like he's been doing since 2009 at his Park Slope place, Fonda.

Santibañez is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and the culinary partner of The Taco Truck in Hoboken, NJ.

The Mexico City native is also author of Rosa’s New Mexican Table.

Tamale time this weekend!

Truly Mexican

Just Grill This! Sam the Cooking Guy

Sam the Cooking Guy's got a new cookbook, Just Grill This (Wiley, Paperback, 272 pp, April 2011) out just in time for my favorite time of year - grilling season.

Now I know some of you are hardcore and grill outside year-round but I'm just as happy with my indoor grill pan. I just can't get into being bundled up like the Michelin Tire Man to throw my kebabs on the grill.

This is a great little book to have when you're done with the same old, same old recipes.  From the Grilled Bacon & Mashed Potato Pizza to the Grilled Coconut Shrimp, there's a recipe to please just about any palate.

Sam Zien, twelve-time Emmy award winner and host of Sam the Cooking Guy, loads us down with fun, tasty and easy to prepare recipes.

Hop on over to Amazon from my page and check it out!

The art of simple food

Last week I picked up a used copy of Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food at my local library book sale.  It was perhaps the best and most satisfying $5 I've spent recently.

Though it isn't a new cookbook, it is indeed a delicious revolution.

The chapter I'm digging into, pardon my corny self, is Salads.

There is no meal or side dish quite so simply elegant and satisfying as the salad. When Waters writes, "I love salad. I love to wash it. I love to eat it. As far as I'm concerned, a meal withut one is incomplete," I feel as if she has channeled my thoughts exactly.

So it is with great delight and anticipation that I peruse her writings on the composed salad, the art of combining and arranging ingredients on a plate. I anticipate the mesclun and fresh herbs from my edible garden- if I can wrest them from the digging squirrels - as mainstays on many a happy plate from my kitchen.

The joy of salad making for me is the infinte variety.  From fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits to tasty roast leftover meats to slivers of nuts and cheese, there are many and diverse ways to build a lovely salad. 

Here is a recipe using one of my favorite ingredients, the beautiful beet.

Recipe: Marinated beet salad

Alice Waters, "The Art of Simple Food"

Beets of different colors make a very beautiful salad.  Dress the red ones separately so their color doesn’t bleed all over the others.

  • 1 pound beets (red, Chioggia, golden, or white)
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar (red wine, sherry, or white wine vinegar)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil.

Trim the greens to 1/2 inch from 1 pound beets (red, Chioggia, golden or white).

Wash thoroughly. Put them in a baking dish with a little water (enough to cover the bottom of the dish to a depth of 1/8 inch) and sprinkle with salt.

Cover tightly and bake the beets in a 350°F oven until they can be easily pierced with a sharp knife, 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on their size. Uncover and cool. Cut off the tops and roots and slip off the skins. Cut the peeled beets into small wedges or 1/4-inch dice and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon vinegar (red wine, sherry or white wine vinegar) and salt.

Let stand for a few minutes to allow the beets to absorb the flavor. Taste and add more salt or vinegar as needed. Toss with 1 to 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil.

Serve alone, or with other salads.



  • Substitute fresh orange juice for some of the vinegar and toss with grated orange zest.
  • Toss with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs such as mint, tarragon or cilantro.


Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything iPad app

Download Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything has now been optimized for the iPad.

The new app contains 2,000 no-nonsense recipes, plus hundreds of technique illustrations, cooking tips, and detailed ingredient and equipment advice.

The app features extensively enhanced search capability, shopping lists, multiple timers for every recipe, bookmarks within recipes, a recipe note option, featured recipe photos, and more.

Like the iPhone version, this app can be used anywhere, anytime, online or offline. It’s the ultimate companion to everybody’s favorite cookbook.

Written by Mark Bittman, the longtime New York Times columnist, television personality, author, and blogger, How to Cook Everything promotes a simple and accessible approach to home cooking.

For more than 10 years, cooks have relied on this cookbook to make crowd-pleasing food using fresh, natural ingredients; simple techniques; and basic equipment.

In the new How to Cook Everything iPad app you’ll find brand new iPad-only features including:

·        Intuitive filters that pinpoint searches by multiple ingredients, techniques, or cuisines

·        At-a-glance access to all the book’s how-to illustrations

·        Note-taking capability for every recipe

·        Bookmarks to hold your place in several recipes at a time

·        A constant-on option to allow uninterrupted reading and recipe review

·        Featured recipes, now with photos

  The iPad app also contains:

·        Customizable (and email-friendly) shopping lists

·        Built-in timers

·        Immediate inspiration with Bittman’s Picks, Quick Dinners, and Most Popular features

·        Printing option for recipes and shopping lists

Available at iTunes for $9.99.

Pig: King of the Southern Table pork recipes head to tail

James Villas, photo courtesy of Wiley Two of my beloved sayings involve a favorite food source and Southern comfort food -- the humble pig and the fruit of its loins, if you will.

Root hog or die.  This phrase is never far from my mind in times of crisis. Simply put, you must do whatever it takes to survive in this world. 

Take a bite of that barbecue and let me kiss them greasy lips. This quote needs no real explanation other than this: certain foods act as an aphrodisiac.

All this talk of survival and sex is one way of introducing yet another of my favored pastimes - reading cookbooks about foods I adore. While I enjoy beef and chicken, it's the other white meat that I truly enjoy for its versatility and for its long history on spits and grills the world over.

Fellow Southerner James Villas, a culinary expert who was food and wine editor for Town & Country magazine for 27 years, recently published PIG: King of the Southern Table, the complete compendium of pork cookery. 

PIG (Wiley, May 2010, 424 pp, US$34.95) covers the familiar recipes - devoting a lengthy chapter solely to the often controversial preparation of barbecue, its sauces and rubs - as well as the obscure (to some) recipes featuring variety and specialty meat, the polite term for the organ meats and odd bits often deemed unfit for the table. 

In true Southern fashion, Villas, a two-time recipient of James Beard Journalism awards with 15 cookbook titles to his credit, leaves nothing but the squeal uncooked.  He included recipes for Tennis Ball Salad with Salt Pork-Buttermilk Dressing (the precursor to the Iceberg wedge slathered in roquefort dressing), Bacon Waffles, and Carolina Pork and Sweet Potato Pie with Biscuit Batter Crust.

While his recipes were mostly familiar and traditional, the kind of country comfort food you'd find dished up everyday as well as for Sunday dinner, there were a few which I'd never heard of such as the intriguing Texarcana Pork and Bean Pie with Cornpone Topping or the savory  Baked Pork Loin with Fig-Citrus Stuffing.

Villa's recipe for Hog's Head Stew reminded me of New Year's Day when I was 12 and my father insisted I help cook a hog's head as part of the traditional dinner celebrating the first day of the new calendar. Villas  is correct; it is an acquired taste.  

For the uninitiated, the cookbook author includes a Southern Pig Primer: From Head to Tail, with delectable descriptions of the choice parts of the pig and their uses as well as A Southern Pig Glossary, with brief and delicious descriptions of the delicacies prepared from pig.

PIG is more than just a collection of pork recipes; it tells a tale of culture, cuisine and technique through  its memoir-laced introduction and well-versed headnotes. As an added treat, he includes factual tidbits and pig lore, referred to throughout as Pig Pickin's.

Lucy Schaeffer's food photography is a luscious side dish to the main course.

Sam the Cooking Guy: Spicy Chinese Chicken Pizza

  DSC_0680We get so tired of the same old drill for dinner.

Now we have Sam the Cooking Guy's just released cookbook, Awesome Recipes & Kitchen Shortcuts (Wiley, $19.95, 256 pp)  for new flavors and fun inspiration when dinner seems like drudge work.

Today we whipped up Spicy Chinese Chicken Pizza in what seemed only seconds - okay, really, minutes.

Just like Sam says in the cook book: You're going to like this a lot.  It was seriously finger-licking good - gooey with fresh mozzarella and tangy, spicy sweet from the hoisin sauce and the Thai chili paste.  The spring onions and fresh cilantro added a herbaceous kick and crunch. 

My 11-year-old son handled a lot of the prep work and while I'm still squeamish about his proximity to heat and flames - let go, Mommy, let go - we worked together to pull the meal off.  I love cooking with my son and he loves eating what we cook. Of course, I do too.

 Sam Zien, eleven-time local Emmy Award winner, hosts Sam the Cooking Guy on Cox Channel 4 in San Diego. A frequent guest on the Today Show, Zien has TV shows in syndication across the country.

Ready to eat!Spicy Chinese Chicken Asian Pizza

adapted from the book

Makes one 10-inch pizza


1/3 cup hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons Asian chili paste

1 package pizza dough (we prefer Trader Joe's, but you can make do with Pillsbury)

2 cups cooked and cubed chicken

1/3 finely chopped spring green onions 

6 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Farenheit. In a small bowl, mix together hoisin sauce and chili paste, then spread over the rolled pizza crust.  Top with chicken, green oinons and cheese slices.

Bake about 12-15 minutes, depending on how hot your oven cooks, or until golden. Our test recipe took exactly 12 minutes. 

Sprinkle with cilantro to serve.  Serves 4.

Mayan recipes from The Painted Fish

CARRBORO - When Sonja Lillvik unpacked her bags in the Yucatan peninsula, she planned only for a brief healing interlude. A lifetime later, she still lives and works on the magical Mexican Riviera Maya.

Memorable meals from the Mayan RivieraHer food-oriented memoir, "Painted Fish and Other Mayan Feasts," paints the colorful story of her happily  ever after through anecdotes, Mayan recipes and pictures. The title refers to a festive grilled fish dish, ticnchik, known for its deep, brick-red color derived from achiote, a spice paste made of ground annatto seeds, herbs and pepper.

Lillvik will sign copies of her book Friday from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Johnny's in Carrboro, and Saturday at 2 p.m. at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. She and former Flying Burrito owner Phil Campbell will demystify the crispy, sweet, edible root, jicama, a Mexican vegetable mainstay.

The 192-page book with 100 recipes - some based on recipes hundreds of years old - was more than 20 years in the making. It is a feast for foodies, armchair travelers and romantics who don't happen to live in the Yucatan yet would like to experience authentic, fresh Mayan cuisine.

Corn tortillas are as essential to Mayan culture as bread is to French or Italian. "Mayan mythology says man was made from corn," Lillvik said. "The corn tortilla is a pusher, a spoon, a plate. They're homemade and much healthier than flour tortillas."

But modern Mayan cuisine is more than the tortilla, with a range of tastes and textures drawing on tradition as well as influences from cultures as diverse as Spanish and Lebanese. Noted for its use of the high-heat habanero, the cuisine relies also on basic spice pastes - blue, red, and white - which are the basis of many Mayan dishes.

"I arrived in Mexico with a broken heart," recalled Lillvik. She escaped California and a series of devastating tragedies for a working vacation, managing the day-to-day operations of the Caribbean beach resort, Kai Lu'um.

Her entire kitchen staff were Mayan and spoke no English. A single waiter spoke Spanish, but no English. Lillvik spoke only English. What could have been a recipe for disaster was overcome through the medium of cooking. While learning to communicate without words, she also learned the art of flaming foods, carefully training a blue flame down the spiral peeling an orange.

Months later, she found she'd seen only the inside of a kitchen or dining room and very little of the serenely beautiful landscape around her. And she still spoke broken Spanish.

Deciding to linger a little longer, seeking spiritual guidance as well as scenery, Lillvik turned up in Punta Allen. Punta Allen is a lobster fishing village in the world biosphere reserve of Sian Ka'an, which in Mayan means "the land where the sky was born."

There she met a charming and attractive lobster fisherman, Armando Lopez, fell in love and started sharing his hammock as well as his simple lifestyle.

Once again, she found herself relying on food as a medium of expression, joining her new husband's friends and family in the kitchen to help during meal preparations. Here she learned the secrets of Mayan home cooking.

The couple ran Casa Cuzan, a guest house and fishing lodge embracing eco-tourism. "I didn't know anything about running a restaurant. We were lobster fishermen, so it was lobster for breakfast, lunch and dinner," she said of the early days running their rustic resort.

Rory Flood, her cousin and publicist, loves to tell the dream-like tale of Lillvik's sea change to those of us who yearn to sleep in hammocks, waking to an expanse of azure ocean and lovely days free from the constraints of clocks.

"It's splendid, truly a place that people want to go to," Flood said. "My cousin Sonja laughs more than anyone I know. She bubbles."

Lillvik always meant to write a cookbook. She'd originally started journal writing to relieve the solitude of her inability to speak the native language. Writing the cookbook was a way to reveal her passion for the Mayan kitchen.

But throughout the years of working with her husband to build their business, there never seemed to be time. She kept at it, dish by dish, a tidbit at a time, and when she was diagnosed with breast cancer about nine years ago, she determined to finish.

"I had to get the book done," she said.

Donna Neilson, a chef and cookbook editor who worked with Lillvik through the years to adapt the Mayan recipes, remembered the early kitchen conditions at Casa Cuzan.

"I didn't have a mixer, but I had a blender. There was a stove but no oven. I shaped what I did to fit the situation," Neilson said. "This may sound corny but the main thing with cooking is a good knife and a whisk."

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.