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Fast Food with Robin Miller
March 28, 2007
By Jennifer Chandler

Use 'meal kits' so great meals are quick

By Jennifer Chandler
Special to The Commercial Appeal

March 28, 2007

Robin Miller is the real deal. A working mother of two young boys, she understands firsthand the challenge of trying to put a nutritious, homemade meal on the table every night.

Busy people everywhere face the same dilemma -- how to get healthful weeknight dinners on the table when you've only got minutes to spare. Frozen food and take-out is not the right answer.

In her new book "Quick Fix Meals" (The Taunton Press, $18.95), Food Network celebrity Miller shares her tried-and-true, stress-free meal planning strategies to getting a homemade meal on the table in no time flat.

"The ideas for my different strategies came from my real life," explains Miller. "I wanted to serve a healthy dinner for my family but also didn't have the time to spend hours in the kitchen each night.

"One night I was making pasta and found that I had a lot left over," Miller continues. "I decided to put it in a container in the fridge as well as a little extra sauce. I then found that I had the basis of another meal for later in the week already taken care of."

Always passionate about food, Miller soon found herself obsessed with preparing "meal kits" for dinner, parties, breakfast, even her children's school lunches.

Miller suggests that if you spend an hour each weekend prepping meals for the week, you will find yourself able to "assemble, heat and serve" a nutritious meal in about 20 minutes each weekday.

Miller's right on track about the importance of preparing food at home rather than relying on take out or frozen entrees for her meals.

"There is nothing wrong with dining out," says Leslie Schilling, a registered dietitian with Dietitian Associates, Inc. in Cordova. "A problem arises when dining out becomes the norm versus having a family meal at home. Meals prepared at home can provide an opportunity for a balanced and healthful intake."

To get started cooking the "Quick Fix" way, Miller says that you need to have a strategically stocked kitchen. In her book, she lists 10 pantry items she is never without (olives, cooking-spray, and toasted sesame oil to name a few) and 10 other items she likes to have on hand (low-fat sour cream, flavored oils and canned beans are some examples).

"Depending on how well your kitchen is stocked," says Miller, "you'll be able to have most of my 'Dinner Express' recipes made any night in just about 20 minutes."

Her recipes in the "Dinner Express" chapter are designed to be fast, delicious and versatile enough to handle substitutions based on what you have on hand.

Miller's "Meal Kit" strategy takes a little more forethought, but is well worth the time on the weekend so that your weeknight meals are stress-free.

"A meal kit is a combination of ingredients prepared in advance, placed in separate plastic bags or containers, ready for reheating later in the week," explains Miller.

In her book, Miller's recipes are written to help you in your meal planning. Each recipe tells you the total cooking time, prep time, active cooking time and even walk-away time. If you are making the meal kit, she tells you how to store the meal and then what to do when you are ready to serve it.

"There's only one way to succeed with the home-cooked meal -- plan ahead," Schilling says. "Planning can help cut time and cost while allowing for nutrient balance."

Miller's steps are so detailed that every home cook will achieve success following her recipes.

Another Quick Fix strategy she recommends is "morphing."

"You take one ingredient and turn it into several different dishes during the week," Miller explains.

In the "Morph It" chapter, Miller gives the reader a main recipe which can be transformed into several other morphed recipes. The key is to take the leftovers from one meal and transform them into entirely different dishes.

"If you want something to do with chicken, serve a roasted chicken the first night and turn the leftovers into Teriyaki Chicken with Soba Noodles, Chicken Reubens with Swiss and Kraut and Mustard-Glazed Chicken over Cous-Cous for dinners the rest of the week," suggests Miller.

"The key to healthy meals is using lower-fat ingredients whenever possible, using highly flavored ingredients so you can use less, and using cooking techniques such as roasting and grilling instead of frying," she advises.

"I want people to get back to enjoying cooking," says Miller. "Family and friends should come first and mealtime should be enjoyable, not stressful."

Parmesan-crusted Chicken with Sweet-n-Hot Mustard Dip

Parmesan-crusted chicken:

1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. salt, divided

3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tbsp. water

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably freshly grated

1/4 cup quick-cooking oats

2 tsp. salt-free garlic and herb seasoning

Cooking spray

Sweet-n-hot mustard dip:

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

2 tbsp. honey

1 tbsp. white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. hot mustard powder

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

In a shallow dish, combine the flour and 1/2 tsp. each of the salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the mixture and turn to coat evenly and completely.

Whisk the eggs and water in a separate shallow dish.

In a third shallow dish or plastic bag, combine the Parmesan, oats, garlic seasoning, and the remaining 1/4 tsp. each of salt and pepper.

Dip the flour-coated chicken into the eggs, then transfer to the Parmesan mixture. Turn until well-coated.

You can make ahead to this point. If you are stopping here: Wrap the chicken tightly in plastic wrap or transfer to plastic bags and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months. Thaw completely in the refrigerator or microwave for about 4 minutes on low before baking.

When you're ready to eat:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Unwrap the chicken and place it on the prepared baking sheet. Spray the tops with cooking spray and bake until the crust is golden brown and chicken cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. While the chicken cooks, whisk together the dip ingredients. Serve the chicken with the dip on the side. Serves 4.

Note: This is a "Meal Kit" meal. Prep time, 10 minutes; walk-away time, 25-30 minutes

Roasted Salmon with Sweet-n-Hot Mustard Glaze

Cooking spray

3 1/2 lbs. salmon fillets or steaks, skin on and pinbones removed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

1/2 cup honey

2 tbsp. water

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. hot mustard powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, coat a shallow baking dish with cooking spray, season both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper, and place salmon in the prepared baking dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard, honey, water, lemon juice, mustard powder, and garlic powder. Remove a cup of the mustard sauce and set aside. Pour the remaining sauce over the salmon fillets in the pan. Roast the salmon, uncovered, until fork-tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir the dill into the reserved mustard sauce. Serve 1/3 of the roasted salmon (four fillets, each about 4 oz. after cooking) with the dill-spiked mustard sauce spooned over the top. Refrigerate the remaining salmon up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months; thaw completely in the refrigerator or microwave for about 3 to 5 minutes on low before using. Serves 4.

Note: This is a "morph" recipe; leftover salmon is used in the following recipes. Prep: 10 minutes; walk-away time, 15 minutes.

Asian Salmon Cakes with Sesame-wasabi Cream

2 cups leftover coarsely flaked salmon

2 tbsp. seasoned dry bread crumbs

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

1 tsp. ground cumin

6 tbsp. light mayonnaise, divided

2 tsp. toasted sesame oil

2 tsp. wasabi paste

1 tbsp. olive oil

In a medium bowl, gently mix the salmon, bread crumbs, egg, cilantro, cumin, and 2 tbsp. of the mayonnaise until combined. Shape the mixture into four patties, each about 1-inch thick.

In a small bowl, add the sesame oil and wasabi paste to the remaining 1/4 cup mayonnaise and mix well. Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the salmon cakes and cook until golden brown and cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per side.

Serve the cakes with the sesame-wasabi cream spooned over the top (1 tbsp. per salmon cake).

Serves 4.

Note: Prep, 10 minutes; active cooking time, 6-10 minutes.

Mixed Seafood Paella with Sausage and Pink Beans

1 1/2 cups quick-cooking rice

1 to 2 cups leftover salmon, broken into pieces

1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 links chorizo or andouille sausage, cut into half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4 -inch-thick slices

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes

1 15-oz. can pink beans, drained

1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. saffron threads

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the rice according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the salmon, shrimp, sausage, tomatoes, beans, bell pepper, oregano and saffron, set over medium-high heat, and bring to a simmer.

Let simmer until the shrimp are bright pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cooked rice and cook for 2 minutes to heat through. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve. Serves 4.

Note: Prep, 10 minutes; active cooking time, 7 minutes.

All recipes: "Quick Fix Meals," Robin Miller

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