Thursday, August 21, 2008

Robin Miller’s Cooking Is Bland, But Her Food Handling Is Wild

Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller

Thai One On
Peanutty Somen Noodles with Shrimp
Chicken Satay with Rice
Mango-Red Onion Salad
Steak Salad with Peanut-Lime Vinaigrette
Root Beer Floats
Chocolate-Hazelnut Sandwich Cookies

It takes a lot to make a bad peanut sauce, but that’s just what happened when I looked in on Robin Miller’s Quick Fix Meals. This was a show from 2006 and I LOVE peanut sauce, so I thought I would check it out.

Her plan was to make a peanut sauce at the beginning of the week and use it in several ways to make different meals during the week. That sounds fine.

But I grow concerned at her very first step. She takes 3 cups of chicken stock and pours it into a pot. Why does that bother me? Because I didn’t think she was making chicken soup, I thought she was making peanut sauce. Add all the peanutty and spicy stuff first and THEN thin it, if you have to. And, frankly, I don’t even LIKE the idea of chicken stock in a sauce that will become a salad dressing. (I put Chinese tea in my peanut sauce. Email me for the recipe, it’s not mine to give out.)

To the stock, Robin adds a paltry 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. My recipe calls for ½ cup and I always find myself adding more. BECAUSE she’s already diluted the sauce way too much, adding only 2 tablespoons of peanut butter isn’t going to go that far towards making a rich sauce with a strong peanut butter flavor. She adds 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon hot sauce and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil. Robin whisks the mixture and simmers it for 8 to 10 minutes.

She puts udon noodles in a pot of hot water. I think she meant for it to be boiling, but it’s not busting even a tiny move.

Robin adds peanut oil to a pan. That’s the first thing I approve of so far. She adds 1 tablespoon of chopped ginger and 3 teaspoons garlic from a jar. (I didn’t diss Aaron for that, but I really don’t approve)

Robin chops 1 green pepper in a way that wastes the most pepper. She holds it on a cutting board and cuts straight down on all four sides, leaving a huge amount attached to the stem and a lot on the bottom. Actually that’s okay with me, because I NEVER use green pepper, except if I’m being cheap. (She does say to use any pepper you have handy.) She chops it roughly, very roughly, and cooks it a few minutes and then adds peeled and cleaned shrimp. She cooks them for about 3 minutes.

She gets her garnishes ready – chopped scallions, chopped peanuts (oh goody, she’s chopped some to have ready for later in the week).

Robin pours the drained udon noodles into the pan, telling us it’s fine if you get some of the pasta water in there. Of course, there is no salt in the water, so she’s not going to pick up much flavor.

She tosses everything together with one cup of the pale brown watery sauce. She garnishes it with the scallions, peanuts and some chopped cilantro. It doesn’t LOOK bad, but it can’t taste like much. Maybe if she added a massive amount of cilantro, it would be enough to compensate for a less than potent peanut sauce.

The next dish, which will use some of this peanut sauce, is chicken satay.

She cooks 2 cups of brown rice in 5 to 10 minutes!!! I know no one has time to cook anymore, but don’t make instant or quick cooking rice, even if it is brown. It’s more expensive and has fewer nutrients. Cook it over the weekend and freeze it or start it the SECOND you walk in and it’ll be done by the time you wrestle everyone to the table.

Robin has sliced the boneless chicken breasts already. She threads them on wooden skewers, which have been soaked for 30 minutes in water. Then she does something disturbing. She doesn't isolate the skewers she’s using for the chicken and she’s got raw chicken on her hands. (She can’t be using all of those and she grabs them out of a common container.)

I would definitely like to see more anti-contamination safeguards in place.

Wait, she must be listening. She actually says THIS hand is still clean. Okay, let’s rewind the tape. I was going to be (even more) petty and take a picture every time the chicken touched the “clean” hand, but, believe me, it looked like it did. I don’t see what the problem is with just washing your hands before the next step. At least, TELL us you did!

Robin puts the chicken on a stove top griddle and cooks it 5 to 7 minutes. She says to turn it frequently. She washes her hands NOW.

For the satay sauce, she adds 1 cup of her watery peanut sauce to a saucepan and adds 2 tablespoons of Hoisin Sauce, which she says in an annoying way. She says hoy-SAN sauce. (I say HOY-zen.)

And she’s using the bootleg kind from the supermarket, which is okay if you have nothing else, but it does leave a nasty aftertaste. THIS is the best Hoisin Sauce in the universe and authentic. You can get it at Asian markets, of course, but also Wegman’s type places. Just buy 3 jars, when you see it.

After the hoy-SAN sauce, Robin adds a touch of hot sauce. She whisks and cooks the whole thing for 5 minutes.

She moves on to a mango salad. Robin peels the mango the way I like to: Cut both sides off as close to the pit as you can. Score the inside of the mango in 2 directions and cut off the skin. (There are other alternatives, however). She cuts the mango and the red onion a little too big, adds cherry tomatoes, cumin which she says is weird (cumin isn’t WEIRD, it’s the best) and lime juice.

She spoons the way-too-runny, in-no-way-authentic satay sauce (since when do you add hoisin sauce to satay?) into a bowl and plates the chicken, which I’ve just realized has had no seasoning of any kind. (She was too chintzy with her peanut sauce to give the chicken a quick bath in that before cooking.)

The finished dish looks pretty enough. The skewered chicken and mango salad is on a plate with the satay liquid in a bowl. The rice has scallions on top. Pretty, but many opportunities for flavor have been lost.

Next is a beef salad. She sprays a grill pan, heating on the stove, with olive oil spray. NO! And I’m not even talking about the horrid olive oil spray. (You can buy your own atomizer and spray REAL olive oil on your pan AND a little behind each ear, too.)

Never use a Pam type spray on a hot pan. And spray it over the sink, not ON the stove. The spray cooks on to the stove and forms a hard brown residue, which is hard to remove from the constantly hot stove.

Robin slits open the package of meat with her big knife. Using tongs, she places the steak on the hot grill and seasons the top side. Then, on the same board, WITH THE SAME KNIFE WITH WHICH SHE OPENED THE MEAT PACKAGE, she chops lettuce and watercress.

I know the meat was in the package and it’s possible that slitting open the plastic MAY NOT have put the knife into contact with the actual steak, but it also MAY have.

AND the tongs she used on the raw steak are now sitting next to the stove and on the cutting board, next to RAW ingredients.

I’m so distracted I have no idea what else is in this salad. AND now she’s used the same tongs to take the cooked meat off the grill, which means that anything that might have been killed from the cooking is now back sitting on the meat.

Robin lets the meat sit before carving it on the very same board that had all the vegetables. That’s okay, as long as no more vegetables need to be chopped.

The dressing is simply the peanut sauce (from days ago, by now) mixed with lime juice. That’s it. That’s all she wrote. She pours this liquid over the salad. She’s basically pouring chicken stock - cold chicken stock - over salad ingredients.

She carves the steak, places it on top of the salad and tops with peanuts. She tastes it and pretends to like it.

Okay Robin, Food Network, everybody in the universe, let’s go over this AGAIN!!! Any utensil, dish, board, hand or ANYTHING that comes into contact with raw meat must be washed before it can be reused. That’s the long and short of it. There are no exceptions, exclusions or EXCUSES.

I can’t even watch as she makes root beet floats. (Admittedly, there’s not much to watch. You shove ice cream into a glass and pour over root beer.)

I’m still thinking about the raw meat lurking around the beef salad. What a shame to end the week of peanut sauce meals with a bout of food poisoning.

None of these IDEAS were bad. Who doesn’t love noodles or beef salad with peanut sauce and how can you go wrong with chicken satay? It’s just that these recipes aren’t great.

You know, I don’t go around looking for these transgressions. I just wanted to see if Robin had a decent peanut sauce. These things were leaping off the screen at me and I couldn’t NOT comment!!!

From the little I’ve seen before, I didn’t expect Quick Fix Meals to be riveting, but I certainly never thought I’d be transfixed by what Robin would do next with her raw meat fouled implements.


Anonymous said...

I like the idea of Robin's show, but not the execution. It's something that used to appear in newspaper weekly food sections a lot; how to make many meals from a few ingredients. The trouble is that Robin's meals are lowest-common-denominator, and if you're going to add some requisite flavor, they're a whole lot more work than what she does.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Robin Miller's show is consistently boring. Occasionally she'll make soemthing that intereste me, but it usually requires a slow cooker.

I really don't see anything wrong with making one big meal and just eating leftovers for a night or two. I don't feel a need to keep remaking the same meal over and over.

Emiline said...

I know food poisoning isn't anything to laugh about...but you sure make it funny when you point out the mistakes that people make.

I've only seen Robin's show a few times. Is her emphasis on healthy cooking? No, wait, it's quick meals. Sorry.
I was just going to say, maybe her peanut sauce is a lighter version? And that's why she made it that way? But if she doesn't do healthy cooking, I don't know why she made it that way - the watered down version.

Sue said...

Hi Anon,
I don't think Robin uses so few ingredients and you're right, her stuff just isn't that good. She seems nice enough, but her recipes need to be pumped up a bit.

Hi Rach,
I agree with you about leftovers. If it was good the first night, it's often even better the second. And all her recipes were similar enough that I don't think she was fooling anyone.

I guess her peanut sauce was a little healthier, but because it had no flavor, you'd probably need 50 times more than a normal peanut sauce. And nothing was so incredibly quick that it was worth eating dreck.

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