Jose Garces has a big Iron Chef America battle coming up Sunday night, but he’s already a winner in my book. Our newest Iron Chef hails from Philadelphia—a city I love dearly (I went to college there). Garces opened his first restaurant, Amada, in Old City just a few months before I graduated, but it quickly became one of my favorite spots. His mini-empire has proliferated since, with restaurants all over Philly and one in Chicago.
Just a couple of months ago, he opened up a new gourmet market/cafe called Garces Trading Company, and he’s got more ventures in the works. You may have seen him this week on Nightline, talking about Cinco de Mayo and his Latin roots. With all this plus his Next Iron Chef win last fall, I’d say Garces has experienced a pretty successful five years.
On a recent trip back to Philly, I was psyched to lunch at one of his latest ventures, Village Whiskey. While all of Garces’s other restaurants are Latin-inspired (Amada does tapas, Distrito is Mexican, Chifa has Peruvian influences…), Village Whiskey is unapologetically American. Think burgers. Pulled pork sandwiches. Lobster rolls. Chicken-fried steak.
Inside, the narrow space has a speakeasy feel, with white-tiled walls, dark leather banquettes and wooden fans spinning overhead. Obviously, there’s a long list of bourbon and Scotch. But we came for the food. Specifically, for the burger—the Philadelphia Inquirer has called it the city’s best.
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This week Alton Brown co-hosted The James Beard Foundation Awards Ceremony and Gala Reception with two other esteemed previous award winners, chefs Lidia Bastianich and Wolfgang Puck. Alton’s show Good Eats won the Best T.V. Food Journalism Award back in 2000.
The annual event honors the rockstars of the food and beverage industries by celebrating outstanding achievement in each of the following categories: Restaurant and Chef, Restaurant Design and Graphics, Books, Broadcast Media, Journalism and special achievement awards.
A group of Food Network chefs and hosts attended the star-studded festivities at the Lincoln Center in New York City, and we have their snazzy red carpet pics!
Alton Brown, Beard Foundation President Susan Ungaro, Chef Lidia Bastianich, Ted Allen
Iron Chef Michael Symon
The Neelys – Gina looked fabulous in a last-minute ensemble she put together after her luggage got lost.
Chef Anne Burrell
Beard Foundation President Susan Ungaro, Chef John Besh, Guest
Iron Chef Mario Batali (no shorts! no Crocs!)
- Janet Johnston cooks spiced-up dishes on her new show, Spice & Easy
Janet Johnston’s road to Food Network started two years ago, when Pat and Gina Neely headed to Denver for an episode of Road Tasted with the Neelys. They stopped in at Savory Spice Shop, which Janet owns with her husband, Mike.
The Johnstons and the Neelys hit it off right away, and since then Janet and Mike have guest-cheffed on episodes of Down Home with the Neelys and Paula’s Best Dishes. It soon became clear that Janet’s delicious spice-inspired food deserved a show of its own, and the idea for Spice & Easy was born. The new show premieres tomorrow morning at 9:30am/8:30c.
The Colorado shop owner and home cook films in her home kitchen as well as in the nearby Denver outpost of Savory Spice Shop. Janet couldn’t be more excited to share her love of spices and cooking with Food Network fans: “We’re having a little viewing party with our employees…It was my husband’s excuse to buy a 55-inch TV!”
To get to know FN’s newest star, read our 20 Questions for Janet Johnston.
1. What are five spices everyone needs in their pantry?
Can we eliminate salt and pepper? That just has to be a given; they are such important ingredients! Okay, then I’d start with a really good fresh ground cinnamon. I don’t know if this is cheating, but seasonings and blends are really important—I’d do an Italian herb blend and a paprika-based barbecue blend. A really good vanilla extract. Lastly, a good seafood blend like some kind of a citrus pepper or garlic pepper—a pepper-based blend. Those are some great basics that will get you there. I carry almost 500 products so this is really hard for me!
2. What did you have for dinner last night?
I made leftovers with my carrot risotto. Wow, I’m glad I made a good dinner last night…if that was my frozen pizza night I would have been embarrassed! I made the risotto two nights ago for dinner, so with the leftovers I made patties that I folded around mozzarella cheese. I floured and panko-breaded them and gave them a light fry. Mike had three of them and they were the size of burgers!
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- Competitor Cory Anthony's Catfish Tacos with Cilantro Lime Slaw and Chipotle Cream
Sunday night’s Hometown Favorites round marked the finale of Ultimate Recipe Showdown‘s third season. Contestants put their spins on recipes inspired by their towns and regions, and there was clearly a lot of pride in the kitchens. Southern food dominated this year—competitors hailed from Texas, Florida, Mississippi and Kentucky—but the diversity of dishes showed that there’s a lot more to it than biscuits and gravy.
Katherine Alford, Vice President of Food Network Test Kitchens and a fixture on the URS judges’ panel, loves this round: “It incorporates great American regional foods and each cook’s personal food story. I think it’s great when the contestants put their spin on a regional classic.”
If you missed Hometown Favorites or any of the other Showdowns this season, you can still catch them on Food Network—check our schedule for dates and times. Today, Katherine chats with us about the very personal food prepared in the Hometown Favorites round and reflects on this season.
FN Dish: If you were to enter this round as a competitor, what would you make?
Katherine Alford: Oh my. That’s a good one. My hometown now is New York, but I grew up all over from Cape Cod, Washington DC, Florida to California. So given all that coastal living, it’s got to be a fish or shellfish dish. I’d say my take on a clam bake or crab boil. But maybe grilled oysters, lobster rolls or something with beach plums. There are too many choices!
FN Dish: After sampling all the food in this round, which hometown region were you most inspired to visit?
KA: I think they all had a Southern flavor to them, which I love. I think there is nothing better than driving the back roads of the American South and eating at small local restaurants. But what is great is about this round is, we get to see what folks are cooking in their homes.
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- Competitor Andrea Gaskins's Apple Crisp Bread Pudding
After four weeks of savory showdowns, bakers finally took the spotlight on Ultimate Recipe Showdown last Sunday. The Cakes and Desserts competition was a sweet tooth’s fantasy: Layer cakes, cupcakes, crisps and cobblers, brownies (topped with cookie dough!) and more.
Food Network Kitchens’ Katherine Alford, our in-house URS judge, is back this week to share some tips for baking perfection. And for those days when there’s barely enough time to preheat the oven, she gives her favorite quick and simple dessert ideas.
FN Dish: This round can be tough timing-wise, since most of the cakes have to bake and then cool down enough to be frosted. Any tips for speeding up this process when you’re in a time crunch and need to get the frosted cake to a party?
Katherine Alford: Cakes really do need time to ripen. Not just for icing, but also for flavor. Smaller is better obviously, like a cupcake—they cool down quicker. But always cool a cake on a rack out of the pan, and cool the layers separately. Pop it in the fridge first to cool it down and then move it to the freezer.
FN Dish: Cupcakes are huge right now. Can you make any cake recipe into cupcakes, or are there some that don’t work as well? What should you keep in mind when using a cake recipe to make cupcakes?
KA: Simple cakes often work as cupcakes, but not always. I think chocolate works better. Don’t over-fill the molds and bake for less time. Sarah Copeland, one of our recipe developers and a cupcake expert, suggests, too, that dense cakes (like carrot cake) make better cupcakes. The airy sponge cakes just get flat and tend to leak over the sides. Thick cake batters (dense cakes) hold their shape better and sometimes even dome a touch in muffin tins.
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- Competitor Michael Cohen's Northern Italian Trattoria Burger
Any food-lover knows that burgers are all the rage these days, showing up on menus everywhere from dives to fancy four-star restaurants. Food Network chefs are all about them—Bobby Flay just opened up his fifth Bobby’s Burger Palace, this one in Philadelphia, where fellow Iron Chef Jose Garces also has a terrific burger joint. On Ultimate Recipe Showdown this week, the competitors showed that home cooks can also make some killer burgers.
The burger episode was even more intense thanks to a heated battle-within-a-battle: Father versus Son. Michael Cohen went up against his dad, Harold, the reigning champ of last season’s burger showdown.
The eight burgers presented were diverse in their toppings and flavors, and the judges pronounced many of them excellent. Today Katherine Alford, Vice President of Food Network Test Kitchen and URS judge, shares her expert insight on how to achieve burger perfection at home.
FN Dish: Many of the burgers in this competition had a lot going on, from salsas to dressings to herb butter to grilled lettuce. For you, what are the key components of a great burger?
Katherine Alford: For a classic, it’s all about perfectly cooked, juicy, full-flavored quality meat. You need a bun that contrasts with the meat’s texture but doesn’t get in the way and holds up to a mess of personalized toppings.
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Claire Robinson, known for her fresh and simple cooking style on 5 Ingredient Fix, is the new face of Food Network Challenge. Her first episode as Challenge host (Spongebob Birthday Cakes) premieres this Sunday at 8pm/7c.
We sat down with Claire in Food Network Kitchens to chat about her new gig, what to look forward to this season, and her own easy dessert signatures—they’re quite different from the intimidating, gravity-defying sweets you’ll see this season on Challenge!
FN Dish: You’ve wrapped your first season as host of Food Network Challenge…what does your job on the show involve?
Claire: I love that they’ve added the element of a host. Keegan’s the M.C. and he’s a rock star pastry chef. Did you know he was also a competitive biker? He’s a major cyclist. He’s awesome. But being the host, I feel like I’m the voice of the audience because I’m just like everybody watching at home. I don’t have that level of skill, I’m not going to go home and do this stuff. If I went home and attempted this stuff, everybody beware because I’d probably burn down my kitchen. They use blowtorches and drills…don’t give me anything power-operated! I’m able to ask the questions that the audience is probably thinking. “How did you do that? What made you think to sculpt it that way? How is that standing up? How do you make that so smooth?” Questions that there hasn’t really been anybody asking, because these are a bunch of professionals. That’s what I’m there to do.
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Who doesn’t appreciate quick and easy budget-friendly dinner ideas? Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian’s show, Ten Dollar Dinners (Sundays at 12:30pm/11:30c), is all about making the daily dinner struggle a little easier without breaking the bank. We were excited to chat with Melissa about Easter, spring produce and her fresh new season of Ten Dollar Dinners, filming next week.
FN Dish: What are some of your favorite ways to keep costs down when you’re entertaining for a special occasion or holiday like Easter?
Melissa: One of the great things about Easter is you’ve got inexpensive proteins that are front and center. Ham and pork roast are two very inexpensive proteins that feed a lot of people, and they’re festive and feel decadent without being expensive. Another Easter-time protein is the egg. An egg runs anywhere between 12 and 17 cents, so even at two eggs a person you’re only talking 25 to 30 cents. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that, and an egg is actually really versatile. We tend to think of eggs only as breakfast, but I think that eggs as protein for lunches and dinners are often overlooked, so there are lots of opportunities with the egg that will save a lot of money.
In fact, on FoodNetwork.com I have some recipes to use up hard-boiled eggs from the Easter egg hunt, because there’s only so much egg salad you can eat. But don’t waste those eggs. They’re great protein, not a lot of money and there are some creative ways to use them.
See Melissa’s tips for making perfect hard-boiled eggs, plus recipes for Asparagus with Tangy-Smoky Dressing and her Egg and Garlic Cheese Baguette. Also, see how she makes the cutest Easter cupcakes.
P.S. In case you missed it, watch Melissa whip up more Easter brunch recipes on the TODAY Show.
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- Competitor Julie Merriman's Chipotle Rubbed Steak Tacos Mole
The heat is always on in the Ultimate Recipe Showdown kitchens, but it got even hotter this week with the Hot & Spicy competition. The contestants’ fiery flavors spanned the globe, from Thai chicken soup to Indonesian salad to Mexican tacos.
Once again, we sat down with Katherine Alford, VP of Food Network Test Kitchen and veteran URS judge, to get her tips on cooking (and eating) spicy foods.
FN Dish: Is a dish ever “too spicy” for you? Were you worried at all that one of the contestants might overdo the heat in this round?
Katherine Alford: Yes, a dish can be too spicy, if it’s hot just for the sake of being hot and taking your head off. The best spicy food has more than just incendiary heat. Even dishes that use habaneros, the hottest chile, should be balanced to play up its fruity quality. A good hot and spicy dish should have enough going on so that the heat is part of a larger taste.
FN Dish: The dishes in this round represented many diverse cuisines. What are some of the best international cuisines for spicy food lovers to experiment with?
KA: Of course the first that comes to mind is Mexican, as well as a wide range of Asian cuisines such as Szechuan, Vietnamese and Thai, Indian…or Indonesian like our runner-up. But what is interesting is that spices and chiles can be found in many cuisines…one of my favorite peppers is the Aleppo pepper that is used in Turkish and Lebanese food. It’s smoky, almost meaty, and it packs a punch.
Try Bobby Flay’s recipe for Tuna Crusted with Aleppo Peppers.
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Earlier this week, Sandra Lee was busy working on recipes in Food Network Kitchens. She took a break to sit down and chat with us about her new season of Sandra’s Money Saving Meals, premiering this Sunday at 12pm/11c.
FN Dish: This season’s premiere of Sandra’s Money Saving Meals is all about the Bake Sale. When you visit a table full of great-looking treats, what’s your pick? Cookie, brownie, cupcake, something else?
Sandra Lee: Snickerdoodles. If they have a snickerdoodle, I’ll definitely buy that.
FN Dish: What’s your wallet-friendly take on this classic fundraising event?
Sandra: I wanted to show that it can still be inexpensive to throw a fabulous bake sale. And not just a bake sale that’s all about sweets, but a bake sale that also offers savory items. So that way, if you’re walking by, there’s no reason to say no. You can’t say, “I can’t have sugar because I haven’t eaten anything.” Well, we’ve got Ham and Cheese Pinwheels. Have that and then you can have a brownie! Cookies are always good, too; brownies already cut and packaged are good. Cupcakes can be good but glazes are better than high icing. Cake is great, but pieces should always be pre-packaged so you’re not touching it. Avoid anything that’s hard to slice and messy. Banana cream pie—not so much.
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