Sam Zien–aka Sam the Cooking Guy–sits down with Renee and David to discuss the power of leftovers and takes our Leftover Challenge.
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David Leite: Renee?
Renee Schettler: Yes?
David: Are you a big leftover fan?
Renee: Oh my God, I love leftovers.
David: You do?
Renee: Constantly, yeah. There’s nothing better. My favorite, I would have to say, whenever I get takeout or I make my own Vietnamese-style rice noodles, I make sure, great restraint, I make sure there’s some left over, and then I’ll sizzle them up in a skillet, cast iron, the next morning, until they’re crispy at the edges and kind of a little chewy/gooey. Just a little bit of that kind of tapioca-starch-rice-noodle-y thing. Then I’ll crack a couple of eggs on top.
David: Okay, nice.
Renee: That’s one of my favorites. Eggs on top of almost anything to me makes it breakfast, or supper for that matter. There’s just no end to what you can do with leftovers. What about you?
David: Well, you have to understand, when I eat there’re no leftovers. That’s a big issue.
Renee: You mean, you never have a quarter cup of cooked rice left over and half a piece of halibut?
David: Well, if it’s on the plate at the end of the meal, The One and I are like, “Oh, let’s just eat it now.” When we do have leftovers, I think we make that terrible mistake that everyone does, which is well…if you had roast chicken last night, have roast chicken tonight and if there’s some left over, have roast chicken the night after that. I get bored, so I want something different. If we have them… Except Thanksgiving. I can eat Thanksgiving leftovers day, after day, after day, the same exact meal day after day. I love it.
David: What about you, Adam? Are you a big leftover fan?
Adam Clairmont: Well, I mean what’s not to love about leftovers? When you think you get to eat faster and there’s less dishes!
Renee: Right? Less dishes. I love that.
David: Exactly. There you go.
Adam: Come on.
Renee: Smart man.
David: Smart man. Today’s guest knows all about leftovers and he’s even written a book about it. It’s titled Sam the Cooking Guy: Recipes with Intentional Leftovers and he’ll explain exactly what “intentional leftovers” is, are…is. Whatever. Are. Sam Zien is an author, restaurateur, and YouTube sensation with 2.4 million subscribers. I do think that my 792 subscribers could still stand up to his. I do.
Renee: I don’t know about that. I’m Renee Schettler, Editor in Chief of the website Leite’s Culinaria.
David: I’m David Leite, its founder. This is “Talking With My Mouth Full,” a podcast devoted to all things food, the people who make it, and the stories that make the people. Welcome to the show, Sam.
Renee: Thanks for being here, Sam.
Sam Zien, the Cooking Guy
Sam Zien: Thanks guys, I’m so happy to be here.
David: All right, so let’s just start out and shoot from the hip, as you always shoot from the hip.
Sam: Go for it.
David: You didn’t go to cooking school.
David: You didn’t have any media training, yet you are a YouTube superstar basically. I mean, there’s Justin Bieber and then there’s you.
Sam: There might be a couple of other people in between us, David. Just a couple.
Renee: It’s close. That’s close.
David: Do you know that you have 2.4 million subscribers? Which I’m sure you do know–
Renee: He probably knows that, David.
David: But what you may not know is that that’s four times the population of Newfoundland and Labrador together.
Sam: That I did not know, actually.
Renee: David’s great at that kind of information.
Sam: Thank you for the Canadian population references. I’m from Vancouver and I appreciate it.
David: There you go. Exactly. I did that specifically for you.
Sam: I figured you did.
Where the hell did you come from?
David: Briefly, tell us how did you get from there to here?
Sam: All right, I grew up never having any idea what I wanted to do. So many people are in that position. I found myself graduating high school, no clue. I went to a college, no clue. I have three older brothers. My second oldest brother was in advertising and I thought that seems reasonable. I’ll just follow what he’s done. So, he lived in Toronto. I moved to Toronto. He worked for an agency, started his own, I worked for an agency. Just following somebody else’s example is not… We work 30%-ish of our lives. This is something that we should be really enjoying.
Sam: We ended up in Phoenix, specifically Tempe where the lovely Renee is, and one of his clients… My brother’s agency’s clients was a place called Penguin’s Frozen Yogurt. We bought into the franchise, my wife Kelly, myself, my dad, and my brother. Kelly and I ran it for about a year and a half until the guy that had the franchise rights for Tucson had to have Phoenix rights so badly he bought it from us. Nobody really made any money. I didn’t know what to do, so I did what a lot of people do when they don’t know what to do, I went into real estate.
David: Of course. That’s exactly–
Sam: I was in real estate for five years.
Sam: It’s an honorable profession. Anything is honorable as long as you like it. I didn’t like it.
Sam: Actually, we moved from Phoenix to San Diego because we had some family here. Went into real estate in San Diego. I didn’t like it. I always said I believe this will lead me to something, I just didn’t know what. I sold a house to a guy once who started a biotech company. He called me up to help him find the facility space. In the middle of that transaction, he looked at me one day and he goes, “You know what, we get along so well. Why don’t you come work for me at the biotech company?”
Sam: I said, “I don’t know anything like that.” He goes, “No, but you could be the Facilities Manager: you know, building and real estate, and stuff like that.” So I said, “Thank you, yes. I’m happy to go.” I went and seven years later I was so miserable. So miserable. I think if you’ve watched our YouTube channel even for five minutes, I’m a pretty happy guy. I wake up happy. I go to sleep happy. My social life is happy. My family life is happy. But in my biotech days, I would drive 30 minutes north of San Diego to Carlsbad, and I as went north in the morning my mood would go south. Every day for the last year that I worked there, I drove into the parking lot and I said, “Not this effing place again.”
God doesn’t talk to Sam the Cooking Guy
Sam: And that is about as sad as it gets. So, I find myself one day sitting at my coffee table, in San Diego, with a San Diego Union-Tribune Sunday Help Wanted general section. I start with my pointer finger in the As, and I’m literally going down the columns hoping to find some inspiration. Imagining that as my finger touches “Hotel Night Auditor” or “Janitor” or “Accountant” that the hand of God will push me. I’ll get an electric charge.
David: A chill up… Yeah.
Sam: That’s it! This is what it’s supposed to be. I’m going to tell you something, God doesn’t work like that.
David: God didn’t talk–
Sam: It didn’t work like that for me. I’m now sitting in my biotech office one day. Really, I was trying to put myself into some pre-existing job, this round peg square/hole kind of thinking. I went, “Wait a minute, I’m doing this wrong. What if somebody came in my door right now and said ‘You can go do anything you want. What would that be? No regard for family or money. What do you want to do? Just answer that question’.” Instantly the answer was I wanted to go back to Tokyo where I’d been two years before.
David: Uh huh.
An idea is formed
Sam: So, I’m a fairly practical guy. That moment, I started figuring out how could I get myself back to Tokyo, because I fell in love with the place. I could become a flight attendant or a pilot, but I don’t like people that much that I want to be abused for 14 hours on a flight from San Diego to Tokyo. I see how people treat flight attendants and it’s horrible. I’m lousy at math. I probably couldn’t have been a pilot. I could teach English as a second language because I’m Canadian and I do believe I speak the Queen’s English. But coming home and saying to my wife and family, “We’re moving to Tokyo. We’re going to live in 14 square feet. We’ll sleep standing up. Lying down is overrated. Let’s go.” That wasn’t going to work.
Sam: Somewhere in the next following half an hour I went, “Wait a minute, what if I did a travel show?” Not quite the opposite of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, which only people of a certain age will know, but maybe I could show people how to go to a place that they thought was complicated and it wouldn’t be for them? So, I called a little crew. I quit my job. I came home and told my wife, and my wife Kelly-
David: Before shooting the pilot, right?
Sam: Before shooting the pilot, yes. My wife was…this was her response, “Honey, I think that’s an excellent idea and you should do it.” Kelly now will tell you she thought it was the worst idea on the planet, but she knew how miserable I was, and she knew if something drastic didn’t happen in my life, I wouldn’t make a change. That is the amazing person behind the person that gets the light shined on them. Without her suggestion, her push, I wouldn’t have done it. But I did. I quit the job. I pulled a crew together. We got ready to go shoot some demo stuff in Tokyo and Hong Kong, and 9/11 happened.
Sam: When I tell the story I always say that day changed thousands of other people’s lives much, much more significantly than it changed mine, but my world still changed. I couldn’t go back to the biotech company. I couldn’t travel. Nobody was buying a travel show, especially from somebody that had barely traveled and had no television experience. So, I sat at home. Kelly would go to work. In the week and a half following 9/11 she said, “What are you going to do, sweetheart?” I go, “I don’t know but I’m going to figure it out.”
Sam: Flipping channels one morning, no job to go to, I came across what I say is the worst cooking segment I’ve ever seen on TV: a fancy chef in a local TV studio in San Diego making butternut squash soup. He was using crème fraîche. The anchors had their dopey aprons on with the station number on it. They didn’t know what crème fraîche was. They couldn’t pronounce it. There was this one long horribly boring shot straight into the pot of over 30 seconds of just stirring. They don’t know how to talk about food at a local TV station.
Sam: This guy’s job, he could probably kick my ass all over a kitchen, then and potentially now, but this guy’s job was to do one thing: make something look beautiful that people at home would go, “Oh my God. I want that. Let’s go to their restaurant.” I thought, listening to the complicated recipe and what was going on, I thought what if somebody just cooked on TV and instead of saying, “Let’s go there,” they went, “Oh my God, that looks delicious, but it also looks easy. I think I could make that.”
Sam: My wife comes home from work. I say, “I’ve got it.” She goes, “You got what?” I go, “I know what I’m going to do. Not travel, but cooking simple stuff.” She goes, “I think it’s a great idea.” There she is again with this encouragement. She goes, “Just one thing.” I go, “What?” She goes, “You actually can’t cook.” I go, “Well see, here’s the genius part of this, I will make things so easy that anybody watching can also make them. I’ll sort of be my own weakest link.”
Sam shoots a (really bad) pilot episode
Sam: That was it. I shot a pilot. I sent it out. I got picked up by a local San Diego TV station to do two segments a week, a Monday and a Friday, a 90 second cooking segment. They would come to my house. They would shoot. They would edit it down. It would air. And they started to become popular and I started to learn how to cook. The first thing I made was this… God, I should send you my demo.
It’s horrible, but it got me on TV. I always say you only one person to believe in you. You only need one wife, one husband, one person to believe in you. One wife, one husband, unless you live in Utah and then all bets are off. They do whatever they want with wives and husbands there.
Sam: A guy named Elberto Pandeau, the VP of Programming at the station, called me and he went, “I like your style. We’d love to put you on the air.” I mean, it was a little more complicated than that, but I ended up on the air in May 2002 doing a cooking segment twice a week.
And that led to Emmy Awards–15 in all
David: And 15 Emmys later.
Sam: Yeah, 15 Emmys later. So, it wins Emmys for this 90-second stuff, then it becomes a half-hour show, and it wins more Emmys. Discovery Health came along. I had a series there called Just Cook This, until they sold the channel to Oprah, who I’m not mad at, even though they didn’t think I could be part of that channel. Live Your Best Life, apparently, I didn’t help anybody live their best life, or I was too manly or too much testosterone in my recipes, whatever it was. So, I didn’t get that.
Sam: Then another channel had me, and about seven years ago my oldest child said, “I think you should be on YouTube. It’s becoming this real thing. I want to be part of it. I want to shoot it. I want to edit it.” He had no experience at all. How could I look at him and go, “You have no right to be in this business,” when I had no right to be in the business?
Follow what you love
Sam: It’s really about following what you love to do. What matters. I think the older you get you realize how important this concept is, really what matters is that you do what you love because on your last day on this planet you’re not going to remember the money, the cars, any of that BS. You’re going to remember what’s in your heart. I don’t want to get sappy, but I truly firmly believe that. You’ve got to do what you love, because if you do it well you’ll succeed at it. It’s that simple, but you’ll also enjoy it.
Sam: Do you know that book, Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow?
Renee: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
David: Yes, I do.
Sam: I think they should rename it to “Do What You Love, You’ll Be Immensely Effing Happy, and If the Money Follows, It’s a Bonus.”
Renee: You talk about that often in your different videos. There’s one, in particular, I’m thinking about, about how you caution people that you don’t just jump in doing it well, kind of like what you just explained. It’s your first video, but it’s you watching your first video. In fact, I think you call it “Me Watching My First Cringe-y Video”.
Sam: Cringe-worthy, exactly.
Renee: You’re critiquing yourself, right?
Sam: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Renee: I think we’ve all had that moment. We hear or see ourselves, and we’re like, “Oh.”
David: Yeah, oh yeah. What was great about that video is some of the stuff you’re saying now, about you just got to believe in yourself, or just have that one person who believes in you, and give yourself permission.
David: I thought that was great.
Being himself was the answer
Sam: My third cookbook I wrote in the beginning, “Cooking is like riding a bike, the more you do it the better you get.” The reality is, everything is like riding a bike. Nobody could ride a bike in the beginning.
Sam: And now look, everybody can and the only difference between not riding a bike and riding a bike is this little thing called practice and experience. An accountant is nowhere near as good his first day as he is his 501st day. A doctor’s bedside manner improves the more experience they have. We all just get better. So, you just got to give it a little bit. You go to make a pineapple upside down cake, something I’ve never made, and I don’t know why I use this example, but you make it once, it’s way too sweet, it’s way too burnt, it’s dry, it’s awful.
Sam: Just because some celebrity chef in a cookbook or on YouTube on TV says, “Do it this way,” doesn’t necessarily mean that all the details are going to work out for you. Their oven may be absolutely perfectly calibrated. When they dial 350, it’s exactly 350. I imagine if you ask 1,000 people what their oven was really at, they wouldn’t have any idea and 350 could very well be 450, 325, 300. Maybe one cup of sugar is too much for your taste. But the second time you go to make that pineapple upside-down cake, now the experience kicks in. Too much sugar? I’m going to back it off. Too long in the oven? I’m going to back it off. Not enough time? I’m going to increase it.
Sam: It changes. You just get better. I got better as I went. The difference between that original video, Renee, and eight months later is I finally found my voice. I was trying to be what everybody else who cooked on TV did.
David: Right, yep.
Sam: I finally came to the realization, the world didn’t need another Bobby Flay, another Emeril, another whoever came before me. Just by being myself, that should have been enough that I didn’t get it in the beginning, and now I know. My grandmother’s expression is this, “That’s why they make different flavors of ice cream.” I get not everybody is going to like me, but it’s a lot easier being me than trying to be me as a cook that I have watched and I’m going to mimic.
David: Absolutely. One of the things that I love about watching your videos and listening to a lot of the podcasts that you’re on is that you are fabulously and also famously neurotic. That’s the great thing about it, you are. You talk about-
Renee: It’s endearing.
David: It is, because–
Sam: Well thank you.
David: You talk about feeling inferior, feeling less than, feeling competitive, feeling jealous and envious. There was one show that I listened and I was very touched. You talked about your brother’s suicide. I think that people tune in to see the cooking, absolutely, but there’s a real guy behind that and I think what you see is what you get.
Sam: Look, my wife would tell you… Kelly would say, “David, Renee, and Adam, if you like Sam on YouTube, you’ll like him off YouTube, because he’s the same guy. That being said, if you hate his guts on YouTube you’ll hate his guts off YouTube because he’s the same guy.” It occurred to me at some point it was easier just to be me than try and be somebody else. I don’t like to lie because I’m not bright enough to remember all of the made up stuff. I don’t want to have to go – when somebody goes, “Hey, where were you Tuesday night?” I don’t want to have to go, “Oh crap. What did I tell them? Did I say I was at home? Did I say that I was sick?”
Sam: By the way, I’ll never use a sick excuse. I just think that’s the world’s worst karma, always.
David: Yeah, come back and bite you in the ass.
Sam: I met a guy years ago that was in the knife business and had knives in all the very famous people’s hands. He said to me one day, he goes, “Why, you really are the same.” I go, “What do you mean?” He goes, “Well like the celebrity chefs you see on TV, there’s a very definite on-screen persona, and then off there’s something else. You’re the same guy.”
Sam: I joke I’m not bright enough to remember the difference, but it just feels right.
Renee: That’s a huge compliment.
Viewers love screwups
Sam: My TV show in the very beginning, if a producer or a camera person’s phone went off as I was shooting, I would call them out for it and we would leave that in the shot. There’s this fourth wall, you never address anything on the other side of the camera, but it didn’t make sense to me. If I’m shooting and somebody’s phone goes off whose just watching, I’m going to say something to them. So, you either like me or you don’t. I feel very warm and hugged by you guys right now.
Renee: To the point where you give people permission to be themselves, and to not get it right, that’s what you do for others when you show who you truly are. In that same video I was referring to earlier, you kept in the part where you were looking in the dishwasher. You were rifling through your drawer for your whisk. You’re like, “No, I don’t want to cut this from the clip,” because that’s how it really happens in life.
Sam: The guy that shot that said, “All right, let’s just stop the camera, I’ll put it down. You find your whisk and we’ll pick it up as if you had it.” I said, “Somehow, that just…” What feels real is not knowing where your stuff is.
Sam: I know that happens to people. I got the comment back from one of the people that I sent it to for an opinion. He goes, “Look, you have to be looked at as you’re the expert. You know everything.” I go, “But people don’t know everything.”
Sam: I remember hearing that Rachael Ray cut herself in one of her very first times on camera. They stopped the camera. They backed it up. They Krazy Glued it. They put makeup on the cut and they continued like it didn’t happen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cut or burned myself on camera, left it and dropped things. To your point Renee, people come up to me now and they go, “You make me feel like it’s okay to make mistakes.” I go, “But it always was okay. The problem is, you’re watching this perfectionist version of what cooking should be in those worlds.”
Sam: I remember saying once on camera in the very beginning, “Blah, blah, blah, make sure you use a really good olive oil.” We finished that segment, cameras go off. I start getting ready for the next one, and one of the camera people said, “What do you mean by ‘a really good olive oil?'” I went, “Oh crap, I don’t know. I just heard Martha Stewart say that.” I don’t know what that meant. Now, I know and I know not to say things like that, or if I do, explain why you would want a good olive oil, and why you wouldn’t want this.
Sam: I don’t watch very much cooking, but when I do and I hear somebody say something, “Cut against the grain,” and they don’t explain why you should cut against the grain with a steak or something, I just go nuts. Come on, give people more information than you’re giving.
Renee: Exactly, because then they do the exact opposite of what they’re professing to do. They’re making people feel more inadequate. People already have enough of that. Let’s talk about Sam the Cooking Guy: Recipes with Intentional Leftovers, your latest book.
So, why write about leftovers?
Renee: Why did you decide to write about leftovers? In my opinion, people have very strong feelings about them.
Sam: They do. I think a lot of people feel leftovers are the best part of the meal sometimes, the next day, this, that, whatever it is you’re making. Because I didn’t come from a culinary background, because I didn’t go to culinary school… Now I have restaurants, but I’m not really on the line cooking all that often. I didn’t grow up studying really everything you can do with food. Maybe a chef comes out of the Culinary Institute of America and really knows everything to do with a leftover piece of fat or steak, or chicken, or whatever, but it was not really until a couple of years ago that my thinking changed.
Sam: Before that, it would be make this chicken, have it as chicken, have it as chicken the next day, and then be like, “Again. Okay, I’m sick of chicken now.” And then it would sit in the fridge another two days, and then I’d throw it out. I think in the beginning of the book I go, “We throw 35 million pounds of food a day in this country.”
Sam: Yes. Which, by the way, is . . .
Adam: Hook, line, and sinker. I bought it.
Sam: Which, by the way, thank you, is complete BS. I just made that number up. I’ve had so many people-
David: Totally bought it.
Sam: Who’ve read that and then stopped reading apparently and went, “Wow, that statistic is amazing.” I go, “Yes, well it’s also BS because I made it up.” But we do. A couple of years ago I started saying, “Maybe that little piece of chicken could be something else. Maybe this leftover steak or that one slice of cold pizza could become something.” That started the thinking. It really sort of kicked in, in the past year and a half/two years, when Michael Tizano from Countrymen came and said, “I’ve been watching you. I’m a fan. Would you be interested in writing a book?” “I would.” He goes, “Any thoughts about what that might be?” I go, “100% thoughts. I’ve got it basically almost written in my computer.”
Sam: He goes, “What do you mean?” I told him what the idea was and he goes, “Well, I like that. I think that could be something.” My original title was Make This, Then That.
David: Then That, right. Yep.
Sam: Which is a bit of a rip from–
David: It’s a great title.
Sam: Men’s Health Magazine, Eat This, Not That.
Renee: Not that.
David: Right, yep.
Sam: I think they thought it was a little close, but the best advice I got on not using that title was it said nothing about food. Make This, Then That. It could be make this sweater by knitting and then turn it into things to put on your counter so you don’t burn the counter when you put a hot pot down.
David: What I find is fascinating, is that I saying to Renee earlier in the show that it’s not so much intentional leftovers. I think of it is as intentional makeovers.
Sam: Oh, that’s . . . thank you for ruining my title. You’re now making me want to rewrite the second version of the book.
David: I know.
David: Sam, you didn’t call me in time.
Sam: I didn’t know you. Now I will.
David: They’re makeovers. That’s what’s so great.
Renee: Well, but that doesn’t say food, either.
David: That’s true.
Sam: So good, thanks, Renee. Good, it’s a terrible idea, David. Stop it.
Sam: It just started coming together. I like to make things and I like to make them last longer, and I think they get a new life, and sometimes they get a better life. Thanksgiving is great. Thanksgiving the next day is great. Stuffing the next day is great, but repurposing into something else. I’ve already said I don’t like cold pizza. I don’t like cold pizza. I don’t know how people can eat cold pizza, but hey, make a great pizza or buy a couple of great pizzas and then turn it into other things.
Sam: There’s a lasagna made out of leftover pizza. I mean, you got to add a couple of things to it, but it comes out amazing. Do you guys have a copy of the book there?
David: Yeah, of course, we do. We’re looking at them.
Sam: Okay. Okay.
David: What’s wrong with you, man?
Sam: Sorry, I don’t know-
David: We’re looking at it.
Sam: I’m Canadian. I’m in San Diego. I don’t know. I’m in a different time zone, who knows? Who knows what’s wrong with me?
Renee: Being Canadian explains the leftover brisket on fries with cheese sauce. That’s a nice riff.
Sam: Oh, doesn’t it? Yeah, thank you. Yeah.
David: For the listeners, explain how you take meatballs and then what you do with it so they understand the concept that they’re not thinking they’re having meatballs four days in a row.
Sam: It occurred to me one day, can I use meatloaf as an example, because that was one of the first things that I did.
Sam: So you make meatloaf. One of the greatest foods ever. I know a lot of people are off of it. They don’t like it. I think that’s just because they grew up with crappy meatloaf.
Sam: So, I think my meatloaf is a great meatloaf. By the way, we shot it once for the book and then I looked at the photos and I went, “Wow, something’s really missing.” I know what’s missing, a little color. I’m famous for using green onions or parsley on top of food. I really think you should finish the food. It should look finished. It should look nice. Green onions chopped, or parsley, is not a complicated thing to do. I’m not doing fancy chef tricks. This is something anybody can do.
Sam: I ended up putting spinach in the middle of this meatloaf, and oh my God, it’s a whole different thing. It’s completely… It’s gorgeous. It’s maybe one of the most beautiful meatloaves I’ve ever seen in my life. It occurred to me one day, as I’m looking at a leftover big fat slice of meatloaf, what could that become? It became a meat sauce for me. I had in my pantry, which is also in the book… not my pantry, my fridge, some leftover roasted red pepper sauce that I made. That, I think, is one of the greatest things ever that you can make literally with a jar of roasted red peppers and a little broth and some seasoning. You’re there and you put it in a blender and you’re done.
Sam: I looked at this meatloaf and I went, “Wait a minute, if I was going to make a meat sauce to go on some pasta, I would take ground beef, I would put it in the pan. I would start to cook it. I would add seasonings. I would mix it all together. Then I would add the tomato or the roasted red pepper. “Wait a minute, the first 80% of it’s already done.”
Sam: So I took that meatloaf, I heated a pan and I put a little avocado oil in it, crumbled it up, got it hot, and then threw the roasted red pepper sauce in. I was like, “Holy crap, this is literally now a two ingredient recipe.” The greatest thing ever. So look, the meatloaf is great like that. We make meatloaf sloppy joes out of it. Then of course there’s the classic and you have to make it, a meatloaf sandwich with melty cheese on top of it, and the sauce that is in the book is this thing, this mayo, and Chipotle chiles, and ketchup and apricot jam that just glazes it beautifully but works it out so nicely.
Sam: The meatballs that you spoke of, we turned into a meatball pho. Why can’t you? Beef broth, some noodles. A few things. You go from nothing to everything in about five minutes. The line I’ve used for years is, “Big in taste and small in effort.” I want to eat well. I don’t want it to take forever. We all have a choice. You talk to friends and you go, “Okay look, I’m going to be home from work at 5:00. Let me get ready. I’ll start to cook. I’ll do everything,” blah, blah, blah, “You guys come over at 7:00.” They come over and everything’s done.
Sam: I would rather this be the scenario, which it is in my house, “I’m going to be home at 5:00. Just let me get in my clothes, go to the bathroom and wash my hands. You come over at 5:20. Now we make everything together, and the stuff is going to be easy. If shrimp have to be grilled, Allen, you get to grill the shrimp. Susan, you’re going to do this. Somebody’s on cocktails.” Time with friends and family is so short these days. Everybody’s so busy. Giving yourself less time because you want to lay out some chef-y kind of fancy thing with roulade … I don’t know, I can’t even think of the words, but it makes me crazy.
Sam: People say to me, colleagues, people I know, “Hey, we should get together for dinner sometime,” and I am now, because I’m old enough and I’m confident enough to say to them, “I think it’s a brilliant idea, I’m just going to be honest, it’s probably not going to happen.” The closest people in my life, I just honestly don’t have time for. It’s not that I don’t want to have time for you, I do, but I need to spend time with the ones I really love, and I really have to see.
Renee: I respect that.
Sam: We should learn that line, it’s tough.
David: It is.
Sam: Back to David’s meatballs. We turned it into a Bahn Mi. They’re already meatballs. A meatball Bahn Mi, come on. Some mayo and the seasonings and stuff like that, you’re there. I use it for a Greek salad, a big meatball Greek salad which is great. One of the things that we serve at my restaurant, Graze. I live in Little Italy. the restaurant’s in Little Italy here in San Diego, which by the way a little known fact, largest Little Italy in the country. I know both of you will crap on that and you’ll, “No, New York or Philadelphia. No. No, San Diego, the Left Coast. It’s not possible to have that.”
David: How am I supposed to trust you when you said that we waste 35 million pounds of food a day?
Renee: I know. You already gave yourself away.
Sam: I did admit that was a lie.
David: You did. You did admit it was a lie. All right.
Sam: I named this polpeto domano, which very strictly translated means “hand meatball.”
Sam: So when you take puff pastry, in a muffin cup and you put some cheese and sauce in the bottom, and then the meatball, and more stuff on top and you bake it, it’s wonderful.
David: They look great.
Sam: It’s wonderful. So, there’s that. The other thing I do is you cut them in half, you mix them with pesto. They go on a flat bread and you make this great, delicious, cheesy, pesto meatball flatbread. Just don’t eat the same thing the same way all the time. I just want to shake people.
David: That’s the reason why I don’t like leftovers. I’ll eat the same damn thing for four days in a row and then I get tired of it and I throw it away.
Renee: But it’s so easy to change it up, David.
David: I don’t think of it, you know?
Sam: Well, you need to start. There’s another step beyond the people that eat the chicken the same way for three or four days. It’s the people that do this, “well if it’s Tuesday, the day we make Aunt Ruth’s chicken, Wednesday is this. Thursday is that. Sunday night is always this”. I’m like, “Just stop that nonsense right now.” If you must, if you’re going to the store to buy the ingredients for Aunt Ruth’s chicken – I don’t know what the ingredients are. We’ll just say raspberry jam, chicken, panko breadcrumbs, green onions, and yogurt. Who knows?
Sam: Which, by the way would be a terrible combination. Nobody do that. I just made that up. I say this, “Pretend one of the ingredients no longer exists, or you can’t buy it.” Some of the best things I’ve made, when I’ve been forced to punt and “Oh crap, I can’t get that. What am I going to do now?” Find something else. Barbecue sauce – “I thought I had it, and I need to make this,” – well guess what? Hoisin is always in my pantry. It’s always in my fridge. Hoisin is a beautiful stand-in. I call it Chinese barbecue sauce … I guess it kind of is.
Sam: You just need to change up your thinking. If the thinking doesn’t change, the food doesn’t change and what you eat doesn’t change, and now you’re just in a food rut.
Renee: Well it’s just like you mentioned earlier, when you started to change how you looked at your next job, then your world changed.
Sam: Yeah, you’re right.
David: Everything changed.
Adam: Actually, I’ve got a question here for you, Sam.
Adam: What’s the craziest thing that you’ve come up with recipe-wise that just didn’t quite make it into the book?
Sam: Wow, that’s a good question. There was a moment in time when I was going to… So, there’s 19 chapters in the book, each with a master recipe, apart from the Thanksgiving one where we’re not showing you how to make anything, but what to do with the leftovers. There was a moment in time where I was going to do a chapter on cheeseburgers. We have a burger restaurant. I think I’ve got an amazing cheeseburger and I thought, how fun to take that? It just did not pencil out.
David: We have a recipe for you.
Sam: Go ahead.
David: Cheeseburger Thanksgiving stuffing.
Sam: Okay, I was just going to say, that’s the only thing. The only thing I can come up with because there’s the White Castle stuffing.
David: White Castle, exactly.
Sam: That’s it.
Sam: That was the goal. A chapter with how to make a cheeseburger and then one recipe wasn’t going to cut it.
Adam: Do you guys remember, what was it called, Hamburger Helper? That’s probably not something everybody really wants every night, but just thinking there was a cheeseburger flavored Hamburger Helper. I’m remembering this from the 80s now.
Sam: Do they still make that?
David: They do.
Adam: You’re welcome, David and Renee. I get to bring up Hamburger Helper on your show.
Renee: So wrong.
Adam: I know.
David: Thank you. Thank you, Adam.
Sam: You know what, maybe it’s something that needs to be tasted again, Renee, before you say “So wrong”. Who knows?
David: See, it’s the taste of my childhood. I don’t care how bad it is. My husband, he loves Velveeta. I can’t break him of the Velveeta habit. He loves it.
Sam: Oh, no. By the way, you should just leave him the hell alone. Velveeta has an absolute place in our society. It really does.
David: He thinks so too.
Sam: I’ll talk to him sometime. Give him some ideas.
Sam: It’s fantastic.
LC Leftover Challenge
David: This is going to lead into what we want to call Sam the Cooking Guy, Leftover Challenge. We’re going to name three ingredients-
Sam: Oh God, three?
David: Yes. Three disparate ingredients, and we want to know what you can make out of it.
David: All right?
Sam: Wait, all three in the same dish? Or three separate dishes?
David: No, maybe three in the same dish.
Sam: What was the intention?
David: The intention was to basically screw with you.
Sam: Okay, well thank you. I’m on now the Leite’s Culinaria version of Chopped.
Renee: But you get to do it your way, Sam.
David: The first one would be spaghetti carbonara, chicken liver pate, and roasted broccoli. What can you do with that?
Sam: Oh, for God’s sake.
David: I know.
Sam: What was the second one? What kind of pate?
David: Chicken liver.
Sam: Well look, I’m Jewish. I think I make maybe the best chopped liver. Are you a chopped liver fan, anybody?
David: I love chopped liver. I’m the biggest Jew wannabe you’ll find. Biggest.
Sam: Well, it turns out we’re taking applications this week, David.
David: There you go.
Sam: If you’d like to join the team, I’d be happy to send you the paperwork.
David: Great. End of the year sale.
Sam: Okay, carbonara, chicken liver pate and?
David: Roasted broccoli.
Sam: Okay, so here’s what we’re going to do, I’m going to repurpose the carbonara much like it is. It does have a protein in it. There’s bacon or pancetta, or something like that.
David: Pancetta, right.
Sam: But we’re going to use the pate in that as well. We’re going to let it be a little sauce. While the carbonara is doing its thing, just being re-warmed, re-thermed as we say. I’m going to take the pate and I’m going to put it in a pan, I’m going to start to warm it up. As it starts to break down, I’m going to add some whipping cream to it, some heavy cream.
Sam: Not too much. I’m going to mix it. It’s going to go from being this chunky pate, a slice or whatever nonsense piece you gave me to work this up. This then will now become a cream sauce, a liver pate cream sauce, which by the way I think would be really delicious.
David: It’s up my alley.
Sam: With maybe a little extra seasoning to it. Perhaps a touch of red pepper flake. So, the pasta’s being re-themed. I’ve got this cream sauce going on here. And now we’re going to take the roasted broccoli, we’re going to chop it up and now I’m going to throw it into a very hot oven because I want to make these smaller pieces of it crispy, because they’re going to become the garnish for this horrendous mess that you’ve forced me to put together on a plate.
David: If I had a bell, I’d ring it.
Sam: The carbonara is now warm. The leftover chicken pate cream sauce is now folded into this. It’s plated beautifully, using that gorgeous chef technique of that long fork that you would carve a turkey with, which by the way I’ve never owned one. I’ve owned one, but I’ve never jammed that into a turkey or a roast beef to use. I just somehow use my hand. I’m going to wind the pasta around that. I’m going to put it on a plate, looking as beautiful as I can muster, and then scattered over the top of it will be these crispy bits of broccoli you say, just nicely.
Sam: Just to finish it, I’m going to add one more thing. I’m going to take some panko breadcrumbs while this all happening, melt some butter, combine the two in a little pan, let them get crispy, and that will be sprinkled over the top.
David: All right, bravo.
Sam: I don’t know who’s going to eat that. Thank you. Thank you.
Renee: You can see how amused David is.
David: Now, Renee will ask you, I’m sure, because Renee is a very kind, kind person, a reasonable one.
Sam: Oh, thanks.
David: Renee, do you have one?
Renee: All right, how about… This is something we hear a lot of. People always are looking for what to do with leftover roast or rotisserie chicken.
David: That’s true.
Renee: What if you also happen to have some leftover rice? Maybe the takeout rice from the Chinese restaurant around the corner. Say the only other thing you have in your fridge is a jar of half-eaten peanut butter.
Sam: Oh, I’m making a burrito. There’s no question about it.
Sam: I had burrito in my head the second that I heard rice. Now the peanut butter is fine. You’ve got deli roasted chicken, you’ve got the rice. It’s just going to build out this burrito even more, give it some bulk. Rice in a burrito, don’t forget I’m from Southern California, from where I’m sitting right now, 20 minutes to the Mexican border, and just on the other side is the best Mexican food in the world. But we’re not going Mexican with this, we’re going to go slightly Thai/Southeast Asian. So that peanut butter is going to go in a little pot with a splash or two of soy sauce, some red pepper flake, maybe just a touch of sesame oil because as we all know, or we should all know, a little sesame oil is brilliant. A little too much sesame oil takes over. It’s awful. It can ruin everything.
Sam: So, I’m going to keep this peanut butter fairly thick with the soy and the sesame oil. A little splash of lime juice will go into this pot as well, and a little red pepper flake to spice it up a bit. You keep that fairly thick. Now I’m going to take my chicken, I’m going to toss that in this thickened Southeast Asian/Thai-style peanut butter sauce. Now I take my large scale, like the foot and a half in diameter tortilla that you probably can’t get very many… I go to my local taco shop and buy them uncooked. I put it on the flattop. I warm it up because it needs to be pliable. Then I take it off, and now the rice goes down, this gorgeous chicken with the soy and the peanut butter flavorings on top of that, and then fold up the sides, roll it away from you. You’ve got this nice, tight beautiful burrito.
Sam: It goes back on the flattop. We’re in a nonstick pan. Seam side down, that will help close up that seam and keep it from opening, but it will also give it a little color. I keep saying putting it on the flattop or on a nonstick pan. It doesn’t just benefit from putting color on the outside of it, but some texture. You’ve got a little bit of crisp now to the outside of this burrito. You cut this guy open, oh my gosh, the beautiful chicken and the peanut butter there, the rice, that’s classic. I actually might make that.
David: That is brilliant. It’s like hacked chicken in a burrito. Excellent.
Sam: Now if I could guarantee that I could get on Chopped and that would be in my basket, I would be okay. I don’t have a chance of that. No chance.
David: Well, Sam it has been so great talking to you and we need to have you back because this has been a great, great episode.
Sam: Thank you. I was just thinking, could I just call you guys on random off times and chat, because you’re so fun. I love talking food all the time. People come up and they’ll ask me a question, “Sorry, I don’t want to bug you with this, but-” look, you’re not bugging me because this is my world. It’s what I do. I love talking food, especially when it gets people to the point where they get some inspiration.
Sam: Look, not to make it all about the book, but if you get anything out of the book, forget the recipes, even if you just look at a friend’s of yours copy, if you walk away going, “Well holy crap, that gave me some ideas about what I can do.” You know, when I first started talking about this, there’s a chapter on how to nail a perfect steak every time. Reverse sear. I know you guys know it. It’s an important technique. It’s very simple. It lets you get a steak exactly where you want it without the gray around the outside, and a slight little bit of medium rare in the middle. This gives you medium rare, top to bottom, end to end and wall to wall.
Sam: But people would say to me, “No, I appreciate what you’re doing, but I never have leftover steak.” I want say, “Listen, idiot–“
David: Make more.
Sam: You don’t have to have leftover steak. Cook once, but eat a bunch of times. If you’re going to go out to the grill and, God knows what your temperature is right now, stand there in 20-degree weather and cook one steak, why not cook two steaks, or two chicken breasts, or make a couple of extra meatballs and put them in your freezer and then bring them out a week from now, a month from now. Cook once, eat a bunch of times. It’s that simple.
Sam: So if the only thing people get from this book is some inspiration, I mean come on, that makes me very happy.
Renee: Nice, intentional cooking indeed.
David: Sam Zien is a leading cookbook personality, restaurateur, and author with 15 Emmys for his regional TV show. Four cookbooks, 12 Today Show appearances, two restaurants in San Diego, and now over 2.4 million YouTube subscribers. Yes, I wonder why I feel inadequate at the moment.
David: This podcast is produced by Overit Studios, and our producer is Adam “the audio guy” Clairmont. You can reach Adam and Overit Studios at OveritStudios.com. And remember to subscribe to Talking With My Mouth Full wherever you download your favorite podcasts. And if you like what you hear and want to support us, consider leaving a review and rating on Apple Podcasts. If you’d like to leave Renee and me a recorded question, or even a compliment—we love compliments!—visit our podcast page at leit.es/chat. Press and talk away and maybe you’ll be featured on the show. Chow!