All Posts By Maria Russo

Maria Russo is an associate editor at Food Network, now living in New York City after being born and raised in the great state of Michigan. She likes her eggs runny, her pasta cheesy and has been known to throw back dozens of oysters at a time.

Star-Worthy Pastas to Make at Home

by in Recipes, July 24, 2013

Nikki DinkiWhen it comes to cooking in the Food Star Kitchen, mediocrity will never suffice. Week after week, Star finalists must turn out camera-worthy meals that are both deliciously inspired and intelligently presented. But just because mentors demand excellence on the plate doesn’t mean the rivals have to concoct complicated dishes that take hours to prepare; easy-to-make, quick-cooking offerings are also acceptable, and the finalists proved that with their preparations of classic pasta dishes during last week's episode.

Damaris PhillipsDamaris', Stacey's and Nikki's pastas were among the simplest prepared during the Mentor Challenge, so much so that you can make them easily in your home kitchen. Nikki's Fire Island Burst Tomato Pasta with Lemon Herbed Goat Cheese Balls is a family-friendly plate that puts seasonal cherry tomatoes to work. Nikki starts by sauteing the tomatoes with garlic until they're soft and sweet, then she tosses the sauce with linguini and tops it with a sprinkle of fragrant basil and mint. For an indulgent finish, she studs each plate with a few goat cheese balls, which she's rolled with bright lemon zest and fragrant basil, mint, rosemary and thyme.

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Caption It: Taste Tester

by in Community, July 19, 2013

Alton BrownFrom private chefs and culinary instructors to restaurant owners, underground chefs and James Beard Award semifinalists, this year's cast of Star finalists boasts a long and impressive kitchen resume. They're keenly aware of what it takes to turn out balanced and full-flavored dishes, but thanks to the pressure of cooking on camera and against the clock — for a panel of esteemed food stars, no less — some of the rivals' offerings have proven disappointing, some even inedible. While the Selection Committee has demanded culinary excellence from day one of the competition, now nearly two months into the contest, the judges are finally starting to see consistently stellar plates.

In the sneak-peek photo above from Sunday's all-new episode, it looks as if Alton's come across a dish he especially likes. No need for utensils or a tasting table here: He's gone hands first into a pot of one finalist's offering, picking at it while looking over his shoulder with a serious side-eye. What kind of food do you think is waiting for Alton in that pan, and who do you think made this sample-worthy meal?

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Photos: Mentors’ Most Memorable Facial Expressions

by in Judges, July 18, 2013

Alton Brown and Giada De LaurentiisNow seven weeks into the competition, the remaining finalists are just now finding their footings in the Food Star Kitchen, and many are able to hold the attention of an audience on camera. They can turn out winning meals and garner high praises from focus groups, but their performances weren't always so star-worthy, and no one knows that better than the three people who've been face-to-face with the competitors' offerings from the very beginning: the judges, Alton, Bobby and Giada.

This Selection Committee has watched the contestants develop from day one, and in the last two months, the judges have experienced firsthand the exciting, disappointing, and simply odd plates and presentations shared with them. Given the surprises and sheer meltdowns they've seen from this year's competitors, then, it's no shock that the judges' faces through it all have been as wild and unpredictable as the antics they've witnessed. From Alton's furrowed brow and Bobby's cheeky grin to Giada's glaring side-eye, the judges don't hide what they're feeling well.

Browse this photo gallery to see the mentors' most memorable facial expressions, then tell Star Talk in the comments: What is your favorite moment from the season so far?

No-Bake Sweets for Sunday’s Star

by in Community, July 17, 2013

Chocolate Cream PieNo matter who you're with or where you're watching Food Network Star from, you surely have on hand eats and drinks to last you through the episode, right? Here at Star Talk, we want to see what you're munching on. Every Wednesday, check back for recipes to get you ready for the episode ahead, and on Sunday nights, snap photos of your spread and share them with @FoodNetwork via Twitter and Instagram using #FoodNetworkStar.

This week is proving to be a doozy on the heat index, which means that after days of sticky humidity and all-around sweatiness, the last thing you'll want to do come Sunday night is turn on your oven to make dessert. But just because you won't be baking doesn't mean you can't enjoy deliciously sweet treats. For this weekend's all-new Star, cool off with a few no-bake desserts, like the indulgent-yet-refreshing recipes below.

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Caption It: Here’s Looking at You

by in Community, July 12, 2013

Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby FlayCome evaluation, the Food Star Kitchen turns into a scary place week after week. As finalists stand wide-eyed awaiting judgment, three successful chefs and stars stare back them, ready to dole out several notebooks' worth of critiques about their food and performances. Sometimes the scene ends with tears and an emotional goodbye, but other times the atmosphere is far less tense — perhaps even happy — be it on account of one contestant's superstar presentation or particularly camera-worthy meal.

Check out the sneak-peek photo above from Sunday's all-new episode: Giada and Alton look out to the remaining finalists during evaluation and smile, while Giada points two fingers at them, doing so in a seemingly positive way. Do you think the mentors look particularly pleased because the group as a whole was successful this week, or did one competitor deliver an especially knockout performance? What kind of feedback do you imagine the judges are giving here?

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Sunday’s Star Menu: Your Signature Dish

by in Community, July 10, 2013

LasagnaAs Sunday afternoons turn into evenings and the hours until the next episode of Food Network Star tick away, how do you settle in to watch the latest premiere? No matter who you're with or where you're watching from, you surely have on hand a spread of eats and drinks to last you through the episode, right? Here at Star Talk, we want to see what you're munching on. Every Wednesday, check back for a themed menu to get you ready for the episode ahead, and on Sunday nights, snap photos of your spread and share them with @FoodNetwork via Twitter and Instagram using #FoodNetworkStar.

Signature dishes: They're the go-to meals you're known for preparing flawlessly every time and the dishes you immediately look to when asked to cook for a special occasion or to bring food to a party. On Sunday's all-new episode of Star, the remaining contestants must put their culinary points of view on a plate in the form of their own signature dishes and sell them at an auction in the Food Star Kitchen. You, too, can show off deliciously infamous plates at home with the help of these top-rated recipes for classic preparations of timeless meals below.

Anne Burrell's family-friendly Lasagna (pictured above) features layer upon cheesy layer of pancetta-studded marinara sauce, sauteed Italian sausage and earthy mushrooms, plus a creamy mixture of ricotta and Parmesan, and a topping of mozzarella. A big-batch recipe that's easy to make, Anne's basil-laced Lasagna slices better if it's baked a day before it's served.

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Caption It: High-Five

by in Community, July 5, 2013

Food Network Star, Season 9 FinalistsA finalist's journey on Food Network Star is a rollercoaster-like experience of high and low moments, often fluctuating between flashes of intense pride and painful disappointments — sometimes within the same week. It's up to them to revel in their personal progress and slices of victory, and recognize their flops, while, of course, avoiding becoming discouraged by the missteps. While some know how to take the difficult days in stride and learn from them, others find themselves hung up on thoughts of weakness or particularly critical feedback.

In the sneak-peek photo above from Sunday's all-new episode, it appears as though this group of contestants has no trouble embracing a happier moment of the day. Here, they've come together for a quick second of celebration, high-fiving and laughing with each other on set. What do you think has these rivals in such a good mood? Does it look like they're once again working in teams, or are they simply supporting each other in the competition?

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Sunday’s Star Menu: A Finalist-Inspired Barbecue Feast

by in Community, July 3, 2013

Memphis-Style Hickory-Smoked Beef and Pork RibsAs Sunday afternoons turn to evenings and the hours until the next episode of Food Network Star tick away, how do you settle in to watch the latest premiere? No matter who you're with or where you're watching from, you surely have on hand a spread of eats and drinks to last you through the episode, right? Here at Star Talk, we want to see what you're munching on. Every Wednesday, check back for a themed menu to get you ready for the episode ahead, and on Sunday nights, snap photos of your spread and share them with @FoodNetwork via Twitter and Instagram using #FoodNetworkStar.

Just as you may host weekly viewing parties to take in the latest happenings in the Star Kitchen, so, too, do this season's contestants, throwing food-focused bashes with their families and friends to catch themselves on television. Last weekend, rivals and friends Rodney and Chad came together to watch the 4th of July Live challenge (see the photo below), and they told Star Talk that true to the styles of the Pie Man and Barbecue Guy, their menu was a hearty one. At each of his three Dangerously Delicious Pies shops, Rodney offers a selection of classic dessert-style pies, plus savory options with chicken, pulled pork and potatoes. He brought a few kinds of both varieties to the party, while Chad stayed true to his point of view, providing the ultimate barbecue feast: Memphis-inspired ribs, traditional barbecue sauce and spicy coleslaw.

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Caption It: Bunny Ears

by in Community, June 28, 2013

Damaris Phillips, Russell Jackson and Nikki DinkiEach episode of Food Network Star runs for about 42 minutes total — not including commercial time, of course — but to produce that short amount of television, finalists, mentors, camerapeople and behind-the-scenes crew devote three whole days to filming a single show. Shooting often starts early in the morning and doesn't wrap until late in the evening, and while the process is indeed efficient and organized, the cast is surely left with downtime, both on the set and behind the scenes. It's up to them to fill that time on their own: Should they try to anticipate future challenges, hash out go-to recipe ideas, reflect on the competition in their journals or chat with contestants?

Given the sneak-peek photo above from Sunday's all-new episode, it looks as if Russell and Nikki have taken the moments before filming begins to simply goof around with each other, donning silly faces, lighthearted expressions and bunny ears. Do you think they've become slaphappy by their long days on set, or are they using the play time to de-stress from the competition? Will they be able to regain focus and professionalism before the next challenge begins?

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Sunday’s Star Menu: Patriotic Eats and Drinks

by in Community, June 26, 2013

Fruit-Tart FlagAs Sunday afternoons turn to evenings and the hours until the next episode of Food Network Star tick away, how do you settle in to watch the latest premiere? No matter who you're with or where you're watching from, you surely have on hand a spread of eats and drinks to last you through the episode, right? Here at Star Talk, we want to see what you're munching on. Every Wednesday, check back for a themed menu to get you ready for the episode ahead, and on Sunday nights, snap photos of your spread and share them with @FoodNetwork via Twitter and Instagram using #FoodNetworkStar.

Food Network Star will pay tribute to the most American of holidays on Sunday night with a 4th of July Live Star Challenge that tests the finalists' abilities to think — and cook — quickly on live television. With no stops, restarts or scripts allowed, this will indeed be a test of the contestants' star powers, and what better way to showcase your own stars and stripes than with a menu of patriotic eats and drinks to enjoy during the show?

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