- 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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The mood was festive on Ultimate Recipe Showdown Sunday as four competitors showed off their best party recipes. This week’s personalities were as fun as the food—we had a black-belt Grandma, a young clothing designer who poured himself a cocktail during the competition, a TV news reporter and a former rocker. Throwing a party with the four of them—plus fun-loving URS host Guy Fieri, of course—would surely be a good time.
Like last week, we sat down with Katherine Alford, Vice President of Food Network Test Kitchen, to get her take on the Party Food theme.
FN Dish: What makes party food a little more special than everyday meals?
Katherine Alford: This is when you pull out all the stops. You want a little wow and are willing to go the extra mile to make your friends feel special. Cooking for friends is such a generous act.
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Take a cue from these busy chefs and search your kitchen for makeshift beauty products.
Kelly English, Chef/owner, Restaurant Iris, Memphis
- BEER – “As a broke college student who had to choose between beer and shampoo, I found you can wash your hair with beer—it strips away impurities built up on your scalp. Just pour the beer on in the shower. But be sure to rinse it out well or you might smell less than appropriate.”
Sue Zemanick, Executive chef, Gautreau’s, New Orleans
- NUTS – “Nuts are a key ingredient in lots of our desserts, and I’ve noticed they do wonders for my skin. I soak some almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts or hazelnuts in water overnight to soften. Then I puree them in a blender with a little bit of water and strain them. I use the nut milk as a body and face scrub: It makes my skin really shiny.”
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Ultimate Recipe Showdown Season 3 kicked off with the Comfort Food round on Sunday, and we’re already quite jealous of the judges. While host Guy Fieri runs the show and checks in with the competitors, these three folks with esteemed palates get to sit back, watch the live cooking action and taste eight dishes perfected by home cooks. Who wouldn’t want that job?
After each episode this season, we’re sitting down with Katherine Alford—Vice President of Food Network Test Kitchen and URS judge—and asking three questions about the week’s theme. Today she shares her insights on comfort food.
FN Dish: What makes a dish “comfort food”?
Katherine Alford: Something that hits an emotional cord, soothing, nurturing and generous. Comfort also can be inspired by who cooks for you, like a favorite friend or relative. Comfort food can come in a myriad of forms… but most likely at its base it’s got a serious carb thing happening, like mac and cheese, grilled cheese, or my favorite, a buttery baked potato. Read more »
Recently I’ve become obsessed with The Best Thing I Ever Ate—the problem is, this show makes me way too hungry. While I usually just salivate in front of the TV, after watching the “Meat-Fest” episode I got proactive.
When Michael Symon professed his love for the Large Format Feast at Resto in New York City, a lightbulb went off in my head: “That’s how I’m celebrating my birthday this year!” At the feast Michael described, the restaurant would procure a whole animal of your choosing and prepare it every which way for a three-course feast.
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