Monday, August 24, 2009

Mel, Meatballs And Faux L’Orange Sauce

Less Money, More Moroccan

North African Meatballs

Couscous with Dried Dates

Glazed Carrots

I wasn’t really all that excited to check out Melissa’s new show (which is different from the pilot they were pretending would be her new show), but I thought I’d give her a chance, actually two chances. I had two shows saved. So here goes…(Nothing?)

Why is Mel wearing a tablecloth, and a green one at that? Oh, she’s making a North African dinner, so she’s wearing a kind of Tunisian looking top. She’s taking longer to describe the dishes than they will take to cook.

Melissa’s making meatballs, which will have North African flavors. I like that she’s sweating her onions and not browning them. That’s what I do.

She adds lemon zest to the onions. So early?

Mel tells us that she does this “crazy” thing of buying olives at the olive bar at the grosh-ery store. Wow! I’ve never heard of anything so zany in my life. NOT! She continues giving us really great (not) advice to look in the salad bar for olives. I never thought of buying olives as a scavenger hunt, but if that makes it fun for her, then fine. As a last resort, you can use the olives in your pantry, she says.

Melissa deglazes the pan with ½ cup white wine. “You’re looking for the steam,” she says. That’s great, but there was absolutely nothing to deglaze in the pan…no little bits.

Mel tells us that canned tomatoes go on sale A LOT. Why is she yelling at us? Honestly, I have to turn down the volume. She makes a good point that canned tomatoes are canned at the peak of their freshness. She adds chili flakes and a bit of cinnamon and a little brown sugar. Her onions don’t look soft enough to me, but whatever. She adds the CANNED TOMATOES (shhh!) and then some CHICKEN STOCK. Really, she needs help modulating.

“Building a 10 dollar meal around the meatball isn’t the challenge. The CHALLENGE is to make the MEATBALL special!” OKAY, THANKS, but I can hear you.

For the meatball mixture, Melissa cracks an egg on the wooden chopping block, leaving raw egg dripping off the edge of the board. That’s not good. She whisks the egg with tomato paste with a too big whisk. She adds chopped cilantro (kids will HATE these) and some cumin and cinnamon.

Mel gets her ginger from THE FREEZER. (Her caps, not mine). She tells us she likes to store it there, so it can keep longer. She grates it into the mixture. That’s not a bad technique.

I’m not saying these won’t be good, but I promise you 80% of people won’t like them.

Mel adds whole rolled oats in the place of bread crumbs. Oh wait, she grinds the oatmeal first in a spice grinder. She says you don’t have to do that. Good, I never would. Next she adds ground beef.

BTW, Mel places the raw egg-ed whisk on the cutting board, which, added to the drips of raw egg already there, will COMPLETELY (MY caps) pollute the board. I keep a stack of small plates and mismatched saucers nearby to use as utensil rests. I NEVER put a used spoon or whisk down on the counter or board.

She adds the meat and mixes it in by hand. She says she likes small meatballs. Those don’t look all that small. They go onto a baking sheet. Oh, that’s just to hold them in one layer. She adds them to a sauté pan with oil. The trick to browning them, she says, is not to move them.

Melissa moves on to the couscous. It’s kind of “fancy” she says. Okay, I’m about ready to give up. This is enough of this. Wait a sec, she adds dates to the couscous – not a horrible idea. She adds the meatballs to the tomato sauce and leaves them to simmer.

Next is a glazed carrot recipe that she seems overly excited about. Melissa is using an overly large sauté pan, I think. She would need 5 pounds of carrots to cover the bottom of that sucker. She’s “building” a glaze. Melissa puts in water and chicken stock, then butter and brown sugar with cumin and a big pinch of salt. She’s peeling the carrots on the raw-egg-laced cutting board and cutting them into “coins”, except that they aren’t. Coins are round.

What is this face-the-camera-interview-thing” in the middle of each recipe? It’s really dumb as she talks about cooking carrots. Whoo-hoo! Really exciting!

The carrots are done. She adds a squeeze of lemon juice.

Mel plates the couscous and adds some meatballs and carrots. There’s nothing wrong with it. It looks fine. Did I learn anything? No, although I didn’t hate the idea of adding dates to couscous. She spends too long tasting and describing. It’s just not that complicated.

Next show

Bird on a Budget

Crispy-Skinned Chicken a l'Orange

Fennel and Cabbage Slaw

Perfect Crispy Potatoes

The blue kitchen is hideous. Melissa grabs honey, never mentioning the different kinds that are available. She isn’t using a honey bear, at least. (You know I have a thing about good honey.) She adds that to a pan with frozen orange juice concentrate and salt and pepper.

She adds vegetable oil to a pan. (That looks exactly like the olive oil she was using in the previous show) You can save money on your grosh-ery bill by buying chicken on sale and on the bone with skin. Really? Stuff on sale is cheaper than stuff not on sale? Interesting.

Mel says freezing chicken doesn’t change the texture at all. No! That is only true with slow and gradual thawing in the fridge. If (like most of us) you take it out later than you should and speed up the thawing in the microwave, it can be nasty. She doesn’t mention how to thaw it at all.

Melissa puts the chicken in a hot sauté pan. Why are there only three pieces, if she’s serving FOUR people?

She moves on to the potatoes, which she peels and then puts in water, so they don’t oxidize. She says to cut off a tiny slice from the bottom, so the potatoes don’t roll around. Not a bad tip. She cuts them into ½ inch cubes.

Oh this is funny. We have another of those useless camera-to-us interviews and she’s wearing the green tablecloth shirt from the last show, not this week’s black one. I feel like one of those people who points out inconsistencies in movies.

Melissa tells us that she and her hubby lived in France “for a number of years” and they used to love Duck a L’Orange. When she got back to the United States, she thought (because she believed that Americans know NOTHING about food) that she could scam people by making that dish with chicken, frozen orange juice concentrate and cheap honey. Well, maybe she didn’t exactly put it that way, but that’s MY interpretation anyway.

She adds her potatoes to a hot skillet with vegetable oil. “Vegetable oil” makes me nervous. What exactly is she using? I use olive oil mostly, safflower oil for baking, peanut oil for frying - if I’m feeling flush - and walnut or hazelnut oil for the most divine salads. Oh, and grapeseed oil for a deep, warm, luscious flavor. What DOES she mean by vegetable oil? Plus her potato pan is really deep. Too deep.

Mel turns over the chicken so the browned skin is up. She brushes the glaze over the chicken and puts it into a 375°F oven for 15 minutes.

She grabs bacon from the freezer. Melissa tells us that 2 slices of bacon crosswise is the same as 2 regular long slices. Even if that is true, she’s screwed up the rest of the bacon to use as slices. The bacon goes into a pan to render.

Melissa goes back to the potatoes. She’s told us 10 times that she has a great trick for getting the inside of the potato “fluffy”, while the outside stays crispy. When have you ever had fried potatoes and considered the inside “fluffy”? Fluffy is for mashed potatoes, not fried.

AND there looks like there is way too much moisture in the pan, because she is using one with high sides, not a classic sauté pan or frying pan. The steam builds up on the sides and goes back into the pan, leaving you with sogginess.

Her great trick for fluffy insides to fried potatoes (which I’m not sure I want to begin with) is to lower the heat and pour in just a bit of water to create a lot of steam. That will cook the inside of the potatoes. She covers the pan. Of course, she had steam anyway because she was using the wrong type of pan, so she didn’t even need the water.

Her carrots in the last show were in the wrong sized pan too. Food Network, get the gal the proper cooking equipment!

Plus, if she’s says fluffy one more time, I’ll wring the neck of the next bunny I see. She adds some butter to the potatoes and spreads them on a pam-ed baking sheet to cook in a 375°F oven for 15 to 25 minutes.

She takes out the chicken when it’s halfway done and brushes it with her glaze. It goes back in the oven.

Melissa encourages us to eat fennel as a vegetable if we never have. Well, what else would we have eaten it as? Mel cuts up fennel and red cabbage. She chops up the fronds of the fennel too. For the dressing, she mixes ¼ cup mayo, a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar, a teaspoon of sugar, salt and pepper and the fennel fronds. (I really hate those.) She whisks it together and pours it over. She adds some chopped scallions and bacon. That’s the accompaniment to her chicken. Very odd, but it might be okay with hot dogs.

Fluffy alert! Again. I am tempted to rewind and see how many times she really did say that. Oh my, the potatoes are so “crispy” as they come out of the oven that they sound like bullets hitting the baking sheet.

Mel takes the chicken off the bone and slices it. THAT’S how she deals with 3 breasts for 4 people, I guess. She scrapes the glaze from the pan and spoons it over. THAT reminds her of Paris? It reminds ME of Milwaukee. Just kidding. Milwaukee has great food.

Melissa’s show is fine. Her food is okay. But there’s no “star” quality to it. I don’t want to sound harsh, she really is all right. But neither the food, nor the host (yet) is really worth my time. However, please stay tuned for my Brian Boitano post. HE is awesome.


Sheila said...

I caught her duck show this weekend. I don't like how she's constantly saying things like, "I invented this..." "My trick I came up with..." I should watch the show again to have the exact phrase - but it's like she came up with all these tricks that have been around for a LONG time. I was annoyed.

She should stop yelling at us also.

Brian's show was entertaining!

meleyna said...

I use a kefta recipe that has cinnamon, allspice, and mint to make meatballs, and my son loves them. Then again, he also picked the basil off of his pizza last night, so we'll see how much longer his adventurous eating lasts.

And I completely agree with you about that slaw--I was watching the show thinking "Why on earth is she serving slaw with this?"

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Thanks for the recap because I really wasn't sure I wanted to satisfy my curiosity about this show by watching it myself. It sounds pretty much like I expected. You have a hyper cook who's not bad in the kitchen, but really not much in the way of camera talent. She reminded me right from the beginning of Rachael Ray with better recipes. She was chosen for her marketability.

Anyway, I have long since given up on learning anything from a FN show. At best I hope to learn a new recipe now and then. Otherwise, I sweat the channel is mostly for snark purposes!

DebCarol said...

Sigh. I was afraid things would turn out like this for Mel. Nice person, competent cook, good hair. But no charisma. You know when Ina is on and you semse she is talking to only you and you feel like you are sitting with her in the kitchen . .. expecting Jeffrey to pop his adorable head in any minute. Now THAT is charisma.

Adam said...

Sounds like quite a few mistakes on the part of Mel Mel. Raw eggs with a side of salmonella :)

And thanks for the diced peach idea for chicken salad. That's actually awesome for this time of year.

mom23inmi said...

I also wondered why she only cooked 3 chicken breasts. I've been known to stretch 3 large pieces to feed all 5 of us, but that's usually in a stew or stir fry. I wonder if someone messed up on the prep for that one.

Overall, I'm disappointed with the whole concept of her show, dinner for 4, excuse me, doesn't she have a family of 6?! As a mom with 3 kids, I need recipes that feed more than 4 people.

Sue said...

Hi Sheila,
Yeah, I noticed that too. I guess I was trying not to sound SO picky. (I don't think I succeeded that well, do you?)

She needs to tone down her tone. We're not her kids!

Brian is funny.

That's great, Meleyna,
You're obviously trained your son well. What's your secret?

It seemed as if someone said to her you need a side dish that costs 84 cents and you have to think of one NOW, and that's the one she came up with.

Do NOT waste your precious time. Let me. You are so right about the RR connection. Mel's the version with blond hair and kids.

Sigh, I was afraid things would turn out like this - that we'd have ONE MORE DUMB SHOW on the FN!!!

Wouldn't it be nice if they doubled up on Ina? But then she wouldn't have time for her lovely life with lovely Jeffrey and her lovely friends.

I really couldn't believe the dripping egg when I saw it.

A bit of diced peach IS pretty awesome in chicken salad.

Hi Mom,

I thought that exact same thing about her having 4 kids and needing to cook for 6 at home! But I wouldn't worry too much about that. If you like the recipes just up the ingredients. The problem is finding recipes you want to try.

Shays’ Rebel said...

The two people I NEVER have to mute on FN are Ina Garten and Sunny Anderson. I’ve never heard a single screech or howl or cackle out of either of them. I mean there are other non-screechers, but Ina’s and Sunny’s voices are SO mellifluous, and why can’t Sunny be the “Southern” person instead of you-know-who (Paula), I often whine.

Isn’t Mel’s husband a big guy? He didn’t look like he would be satisfied with one or two slices of chicken. My sister cooks like that; a limited amount of food divided evenly into four portions, or five portions if I’m there.

Just by chance I saw that Brian Boitano show. I don’t know who that is, but whoever did the cooking was really funny.

elizabeth @ Take Back Your Kitchen said...

Sue--great analysis of Melissa's show. It is not terribly charming, nor does it instill me with oodles of tips (I feel like this is something she would say) that she claimed to have during the competition. Maybe it's the concept; maybe it's her, but either way, she has been placed in the balance and found wanting.

As for BB--such a joy! It was weird, it was full of non-sequiturs, it was filled with good food--it honestly felt like an episode of Good Eats with an entertaining angle, or an episode of Barefoot Contessa with a decidedly whimsical attitude. Either way, it's a win for me--it's not the best show on the network, but it's easily the best show to premiere on it for LONG time.

Tracy said...

I actually made the chicken and the potatoes. The chicken wasn't my thing -- as I recall, it was pretty sweet -- but the potatoes were really good.