Released in March, "Sam the Cooking Guy: Just a Bunch of Recipes," coincides with San Diego TV chef Sam Zien's ascent to the national cable lineup. With his creative, quick-and-easy recipes and everyman personality, Zien, better known as Sam the Cooking Guy, already is a celebrity on his home turf, drawing hundreds to book signings in Mira Mesa and La Jolla this spring. "Just Cook This! With Sam the Cooking Guy" is now playing on TVs across the country on Discovery Health Channel.
Those familiar with the local show "Sam the Cooking Guy," a low-budget cooking show shot in Sam's kitchen available on 9 local stations like San Diego's County Television Network, will recognize the book's 200-or-so recipes -- all requiring little kitchen know-how, no fancy equipment, and (almost) no gourmet ingredients.
But although Sam is on his way up, his first book remains true to his casual culinary style and down-to-earth personality.
Sam's recipes use everyday items, including eyebrow-raising variations of far-from-elegant products like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Top Ramen noodles. Think Rachael Ray, but more creative, even off-the-wall, and lacking the New Yorker's overuse of extra-virgin olive oil.
With each recipe we get Sam's take via a short intro and sporadic comments. In one of the book's crazier recipes, "Chili Corn Chip Bags," he instructs readers to dump hot chili and shredded cheddar into individual-sized Fritos bags. "This is one of those things that people make fun of until they try it," he writes, and then tells readers to eat it straight out of the bag. "Stupid, but great," he concludes. Like the everyman anti-chef he is, he tells us to try it before we knock it. In "Cinnamon Pull-Apart," he uses prepackaged refrigerated biscuits as a base for a gooey delicious concoction. He's like that college roommate, whose kitchen concoctions seemed completely absurd at first but upon sampling were delicious, simple to prepare...and cheap!
Despite its zanier moments, the 250-page collection provides a comprehensive variety of dishes that everyday households would actually want to make on a regular basis. Although the recipes reflect California cuisine styles, they are big on flavor, not effort, and at times the results appear more gourmet than they actually are. Foodies will delight in the more gourmet recipes such as "Pesto BBQ Shrimp"; "(Fake) Crème Brulee," prepared with pre-made vanilla pudding; "Gooey Blue Cheese and Red Onion Quesadillas"; and "Mini Crab Cake Sandwiches."
The book includes Sam's favorites, including "Sammy-Boy's Margarita," built on sweet-and-sour mix. While his dishes cross all categories, readers can expect quite a bit of Asian influence, as in "Black Bean Salmon," which uses prepared Chinese black bean sauce. Recipes also have much Latin influence, as in "Mahimahi with Salsa Cream." Also, you'll find lots of great uses for blue cheese and ready-made bacon, Sam's favorite ingredients, as in "Warm (Napa) Cabbage Salad."
While not specified as a collection of healthy recipes, the book well could be, as Sam stays away from heavy ingredients and fried goods. In "Easy Bunuelos," he modifies a traditional Mexican dish by baking puff pastry sold in the freezer section, rather than deep frying homemade dough.
The recipes are all on his Web site at [...], but it's worth the Amazon price to snag a copy of this collection so his no-nonsense recipes are always easily accessed. The book, unfortunately, is as low-budget as his local show. There are no photos of recipes, only the occasional black-and-whites of Sam and his dogs. The book is entirely black and white with a green spot color. Once readers get past its no-frills appearance, they will see that it's actually quite a useful collection of creative, everyday recipes and tips. It's also quite entertaining, as Sam wrote it himself (not ghost-written, as some of the bigger celebrity chefs' books are) and so the book is not without his wry, funny personality. He writes, on the back of the book:
" `I can't cook,' I hear that all the time. And it's not that you can't -- it's that you don't. It's that we've been wrecked by cooking shows with their millions of complicated steps and crazy-ass ingredients. Ingredients you can't find, let alone pronounce. That's not how I want to cook. I want to eat well, but I don't want it to take a year. Who's `making stuff like `Truffled Peruvian Mountain Squab with Chilled Framboise Foam' anyway?"
Definitely not Sam.