Test Kitchen: Chef Sam Talbot’s The Sweet Life


by Brian Herrick

As a person living with type 1 diabetes (T1D), I think a lot about what I eat. Since college, I’ve taken a keen interest in cooking, and I avoid foods that tend to push my blood glucose out of range. I own a bevy of cookbooks, keep my DVR stocked with my favorite cooking shows, and try to keep my diet as T1D-friendly as possible. But I’m always on the lookout for new dishes, new ways to explore foods, and new cooking techniques.

Enter Chef Sam Talbot—a celebrity in both the culinary world and the T1D community. Like me, Sam is a foodie living with T1D. Unlike me, Sam was a semifinalist and “fan favorite” on Season Two of Bravo TV’s runaway hit show Top Chef. These days, Sam is executive chef at the Surf Lodge in Montauk, NY, and co-chair and executive chef of The Sweet Life Kitchen, a fundraising event that benefits JDRF. Last December, Sam shared his best tips for enjoying the holidays with T1D in JDRF’s Countdown magazine. Last October, Rodale Books published his first cookbook, The Sweet Life: Diabetes without Boundaries. His book seemed like the perfect chance to test my culinary chops, so I picked up a copy, took hold of my freshly sharpened knife, and tried my hand at a couple of recipes.

The first dish I prepared was Sam’s Fish Tacos with Tomato Salsa and Citrus Crema. You can tell right away that this chef is accustomed to cooking for more than just a couple of people. Some of his ingredients—like cabbage, cilantro, and parsley—were available to me only in large quantities, though the recipe only uses a small amount of each. Unless you have another use for them, like Sam certainly would, it’s easy to waste a lot. (Maybe I just need to eat more cabbage?)

Thanks to Sam’s easy-to-follow directions, preparation wasn’t difficult, but it was time-consuming—a small price to pay for using so many fresh ingredients. Sam offers a few suggestions of different types of fish that work best in this recipe, so that readers can choose a fish based on its availability and freshness, which is always helpful. I had an issue with the cooking time, which for me was triple the time that the recipe suggests. However, Sam more than makes up for it with his excellent instructions for checking the fish for doneness—I would have been lost without his guidance. And the end result? Tender mahi-mahi blending with piquant salsa and zesty crema, in a toothsome whole wheat tortilla—taco perfection.

On to the next course! The second recipe I made was Seared Strip Loin with Ginger and Chives. The ingredient list was shorter and totally accessible. I know that choosing the right cut of meat is key to making a great steak, so I relied on my butcher’s guidance. The preparation time was much shorter this time around.

From my experience with the previous recipe, I was wary about the cooking time being correct, but I always use a meat thermometer, and that helped me get the steak just how I like it—medium, with just a hint of pink through the middle. (Note: a meat thermometer is an inexpensive—under $10—addition to your kitchen equipment that is a ready and reliable food-safety tool). The garlic and ginger in the marinade gave the steak depth that normally only comes with aged steaks, nicely complementing but not overpowering the flavor of the meat.

While I tried to fight off the urge to have a second serving of steak, I checked out the rest of the book. Sam shares a lot more than just his recipes; he shares his personal tips for living with T1D. He stresses how the glycemic index—which measures the impact of different carbohydrates on blood glucose levels over time—is a great tool for people with T1D, and why fresh, unprocessed food is not only more environmentally sustainable, but also healthier for people with T1D.

Sam states that his goal with his book is to show that “there is no flavor on this earth we diabetics have to miss out on.” His cookbook is a recipe for a flavorful, wholesome life, with or without T1D. I loved these low-carb, easy-to-prepare dishes. I can’t vouch for every recipe in the book, but there was a lot to savor in the recipes I prepared. Watch out, Top Chef—I may be coming your way!

To learn more about Sam Talbot and purchase his cookbook, click here.

Fish Tacos with Tomato Salsa and Citrus Crema

Serves 8

Tomato Salsa:

1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
3 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
1 small red onion, diced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 jalapeño chile pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place a small skillet over high heat. When it begins to smoke, add the cumin and coriander seeds and toast, stirring constantly to prevent them from burning, until fragrant, about one minute. Allow the seeds to cool, then use a mortar and pestle to crush them coarsely.

In a medium bowl, toss together the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, and lime juice. Add the crushed cumin and coriander seeds and mix well, then season to taste with salt and black pepper. The salsa can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 24 hours.

Citrus Crema:

1 lemon
1 lime
1 orange
1/2 cup 2% plain organic Greek yogurt
1/3 cup sour cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Use a Microplane zester to zest the lemon, lime, and about half of the orange. Place the zests in a small bowl and stir in the yogurt and sour cream.

Juice all of the fruits into another small bowl. Measure out 1/4 cup of their combined juice (save the rest for another use) and add to the yogurt–sour cream mixture. Stir to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. The crema can be refrigerated, covered, for up to two days.

Fish Tacos:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing the tortillas
2 pounds skinless cod, snapper, or mahi-mahi fillets
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 flour tortillas (6-inch)
1 cup Tomato Salsa (recipe above)
1/2 large head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Citrus Crema (recipe above)
1 Hass avocado, pitted, peeled, and thinly sliced
2 limes, cut into 4 wedges each

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the butter and 1/4 cup oil on a rimmed baking sheet and place it in the oven to melt the butter. When the butter is melted, arrange the fish fillets on the baking sheet and sprinkle with the parsley, cilantro, and garlic. Pour the wine around the fillets, and season generously with salt and pepper.

Bake the fish until it flakes easily with a fork, 10 to 12 minutes. Break the fish into 1-inch chunks and set aside.

Heat a grill pan over high heat. Place the tortillas in the pan, one at a time, and cook until they are hot and marked with grill lines, 15 to 30 seconds. Brush the hot tortillas with a little oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

To assemble the tacos, spoon 2 tablespoons of salsa, a few fish chunks, and some of the cabbage onto each tortilla. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the crema over each serving, and top with two or three avocado slices. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with a lime wedge.

PER SERVING: 447 calories, 28 g. protein, 42 g. carbohydrates, 19 g. total fat (5 g. saturated), 52 mg. cholesterol, 6 g. fiber, 489 mg. sodium

Seared Strip Loin with Ginger and Chives

Serves 4

Roasted Garlic Oil:

2 cups grapeseed oil
20 garlic cloves (about two heads), peeled

Roasted garlic adds a rich dimension to so many different dishes—and it’s super easy to prepare. I usually roast about two heads of garlic at a time, but this recipe is easily halved.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over low heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer (be careful not to let it boil), add the garlic cloves. Cook the garlic uncovered for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the cloves are easily mashed with a fork. Store the cooled oil and garlic cloves in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Seared Strip Loin with Ginger and Chives:

5 tablespoons Roasted Garlic Oil (recipe above)
4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, smashed and finely chopped
1 shallot, finely diced
2 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 strip loin steaks (12 to 14 ounces each), preferably aged
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons of the garlic oil, 3 tablespoons of the chives, 2 tablespoons of the ginger, the chopped garlic, shallot, tamari, and vinegar. Add the steaks to the marinade, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

In a large skillet, heat the butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons garlic oil over high heat. Remove the steaks from the marinade and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the steaks to the pan and sear for two minutes on each side, until they are golden brown and medium-rare. On the final turn of the steaks, add the remaining 1 tablespoon chives and 1 tablespoon ginger to the pan. Spoon the pan juices, ginger, and chives from the pan over the steaks as they cook for their final minute.

Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and let them rest for five minutes before slicing against the grain.

PER SERVING: 461 calories, 39 g. protein, 5 g. carbohydrates, 31 g. total fat (8 g. saturated), 102 mg. cholesterol, 0.5 g. fiber, 102 mg. sodium

Reprinted from: The Sweet Life: Diabetes without Boundaries © 2011 by Sam Talbot. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc. Available wherever books are sold.