A Peek Into the Fridge of Food Network Host and Cookbook Author Robin Miller
I don't know about you, but TV cooking shows changed my life. It all started with Julia Child but it's really been the Food Network that has influenced my cooking the most.
When the Food Network launched in 1993, I was instantly smitten. In the early days of the network, I rushed home from work to watch Emeril and David Rosengarten. I was hooked. Then came Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Giada Di Laurentiis, Ina Garten.
Better than any comedy or drama or game show, there were days when I'd have the Food Network on for hours while I worked around the house. One day I discovered Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals. I'd never heard of her before. She wasn't a celebrity restaurateur or the daughter of anyone famous and I'd never seen the show or heard anyone mention it. But she caught my attention because of her easygoing manner and big, warm smile.
Miller was a mom cooking "mom food" for her family. Although my kids were grown and long gone and I was cooking for just the two of us, I found her approach to preparing and cooking ahead using easy-to-find ingredients to be eminently smart.
I've never been an ingredient maven. Even though I'm a "foodie" and a cook, I don't keep a stock of exotic ingredients on hand. When Robin cooks a meal I know that I can probably make that same dish for dinner that very night without running out to the store to buy some special ingredient that I might never use again. Her recipes are simple, straightforward and tasty. So I became a regular watcher.
Recently I found out that Robin Miller lives in Scottsdale and that she majored in nutrition in college. Since we share an interest in healthy eating, I decided I'd like to see what's in her refrigerator. I mean, I wanted to know if she walked the walk or if it was all for TV.
A Scottsdale resident for the past seven years, Robin has been spending a lot of time on the road lately promoting her latest cookbook, Robin Takes 5. That means she's not around to cook those healthy meals for her husband and kids. So are they hanging out at fast-food restaurants?
Robin says that even while she's away from home, her family continues to eat home-cooked meals. Following her own advice, she fills her fridge and freezer with easy-to-reheat foods like lasagna, shepherd's pie, chili, sloppy joes and soups–foods that her husband can quickly heat up in the microwave.
If you watch the Food Network, then you know that many of its cooking show hosts are chefs or have worked in the industry. I wondered how Robin got from being a nutrition major in college to becoming a cookbook author and TV personality.
Robin wasn't a natural-born cook. In fact, her roommate cooked the meals for both of them when she was in college. But when Robin got married, she wanted to be able to cook for her husband so she taught herself to cook using the Silver Palate series and Joy of Cooking as her textbooks.
Once Robin was confident in the kitchen she started to get creative. "I could never leave well enough alone. I would use the recipes from these books as a baseline and then improvise–sometimes to make the recipe easier or healthier."
Miller realized she wasn't the only newlywed who didn't know how to cook. "Newlyweds get all this great equipment but they don't know how to use a lot of it," she says.
Even though she didn't have any writing experience, she decided to write a cookbook for newlyweds sharing what she had taught herself. Robin had taught herself to cook so she figured she could also teach herself to write a cookbook.
Writing the book was one thing but getting it published was another. She bought Writers' Market (a book that lists the names of agents and publishers). Robin found 15 niche publishers whom she thought might be interested in The Newlywed Cookbook and sent out 15 proposals. She very quickly received 14 rejections and one letter of interest. That was the beginning of her cookbook-writing career.
Robin honed her cooking and recipe writing skills while working at Family Circle Magazine's test kitchen after college. It's there that she also learned what American home cooks really want to cook and eat.
So how did a former noncook with no media experience get her own cooking show? Persistence. Hard work. Right place, right time.
She got her first break in television on the Today show while working at Family Circle. Her TV career was born when they sent Robin to do a segment with Al Roker because no one else was available at the time.
The Food Network was in its infancy at that time and Robin appeared occasionally as a guest expert on a talk show with David Rosengarten and Donna Hanover. It was one of those "one thing leads to another" occurrences.
As her career was beginning to take shape, Robin had an idea to write a healthy cookbook with Jane Fonda, who was making exercise videos at the time. No, Robin didn't know Fonda, but that didn't stop her.
First she cold-called Jane Fonda using a telephone number she got from a friend. The response was negative.
"I was so pushy," she recalls.
While on a trip to Los Angeles, Robin called Fonda's assistant and told her she was stopping by the office in 10 minutes to discuss her proposed project. Just like that. Robin arrived in the middle of a casting session for an exercise video and ended up getting a part in the video but no cookbook agreement.
"I'm persistent. I didn't give up. After the video, I kept talking about the cookbook until Jane saw the benefit and agreed to do the book, Jane Fonda: Cooking for Healthy Living, with me."
So what does a working wife and mother of two boys, 8 and 9 years old, make for dinner?
If you've seen her show, you know that she believes in cooking extra and storing for later in the week, making food serve double duty. So if she cooks a starch like rice or pasta, she makes extra. If she cooks a roast chicken, she makes extra and saves it for later in the week. The first time she might serve the roast chicken with potato and a vegetable. In its second incarnation she might make chicken enchiladas or tacos or chicken salad sandwiches. It all depends on her mood and what other ingredients she has on hand.
One night she might make spaghetti and meatballs then two days later use the leftover meatballs to make sub sandwiches. She's always thinking ahead, trying to come up with ways to make cooking meals efficient and easy for busy people.
She had planned to make spaghetti and turkey meatballs for dinner the night before we arrived to interview her for this article but the family ended up going out for dinner. She still had the ground turkey so her new plan was to make calzones using the frozen bread dough she always has in the freezer, mixing the turkey with spinach, mozzarella and a little sauce–all ingredients on hand.
Even though she writes recipes for a living, Robin doesn't cook from recipes when she's cooking for her family. She does consult allrecipes.com for inspiration but as a rule she quickly strays from the recipe, as she always has, substituting and creating as she cooks.
When Robin was taping her shows, she worked for two weeks creating two shows a day (26 shows). "It takes about four hours to tape a half-hour show. The 'beauty shot' [the finished product] takes the longest time to shoot because they want to make sure they've captured the final dish perfectly."
All the TV chefs make a big deal about tasting the finished dish. They ooh and ahh over it, telling us how wonderful it is. But is it?
"There have been times when I've tasted a final product and it's been undercooked or too highly spiced so when the cameras stop rolling, I'll spit it out. But usually the finished dish is very good. I do most of the cooking, after all."
Robin Miller loves to teach and regards her TV show and cookbooks as vehicles to teach people how to cook healthful, quick meals. For someone who started out not knowing how to cook and with no aspirations to become a TV personality, she's done pretty well for herself.
Always in Robin's Fridge
Prepared pesto sauce
Huge jar of grated Parmesan cheese
Lots of condiments
Frozen bread dough
Roasted red peppers
Sun dried tomatoes
Cheeses like goat cheese, feta, Gorgonzola
Prepared Thai peanut sauce