After watching 10 weeks of competition and making your voices heard in this season's finale vote, you, Star fans, are just days away from meeting the newest Food Network Star. No matter if you're rooting for Damaris and her Southern-inspired Eat, Date, Love idea, for Rodney's pie-focused pilot Pie Style or for Russell's deliciously sinful Guilty Pleasures concept, anxiety will be at an all-time high on Sunday night, when one hopeful will earn the job of a lifetime.
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Even if you're a frequent restaurant diner, there are surely times when you want to dig in to dinner in the comfort of your home, and on these nights, you shouldn't have to settle for average, predictable dishes. You can indeed turn out restaurant-style meals — like the ones the finalists reinvented during last week's Star Challenge — with quick, simple recipes. This week, Food Network Star mentors are sharing their can-do versions of a few of the meals the competitors made over at Phil Trani's restaurant. Try Giada's, Bobby's and Alton's top-rated recipes for chicken cacciatore, salmon and steak to enjoy professional chef-quality plates in your own kitchen.
Rodney transformed the chicken cacciatore at Phil's into a pie, but Giada's Chicken Cacciatore (pictured above) is a tried-and-true classic that's full of traditional flavor and texture. After quickly browning chicken breasts and thighs, Giada simmers them in a bold white wine-tomato sauce with sweet bell peppers, onions and briny capers until the meat is cooked and tender.
When 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', 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.
Each week viewers watch contestants put out dish after dish, many successful, others not so much. Those that do get high praises from the judges and focus group members are drool-worthy. Did you know you can make them at home? Get the recipes for the most memorable meals featured on Food Network Star, like Nikki's Potato, Cauliflower and Parsnip Soup (pictured above) from Episode 1.
Two Chix in a Truck (Serena and Brianna) hit it big this week. The ladies put their catfights aside to strive for redemption, and they delivered. All of their food truck lunch dishes won praise from the judges, but when it came time to cook a winner, picking one standout was a no-brainer: Brianna’s Empanada with Serena’s Chimichurri sauce. I listened to Paula and was instantly sold: “The empanada, y’all, is really good.”
I ran into a roadblock when my grocery store didn’t have empanada wrappers. With no time to hightail it to a Latin market or to make my own dough, I scoured the frozen food aisle for a good plan B. I decided to improvise with wonton wrappers. My two-bite empanadas would just have to be an appetizer version of Brianna and Serena’s lunch pocket.
Energy Chef Herb was crestfallen when he and fellow finalists failed to beat the three-minute buzzer during their cooking demos. Stage right, enter Grill It Guy and all-around Superman Bobby Flay. In less than three minutes, Flay troubleshoots a trio of Star hopefuls' dishes, transforming them from meh to masterful. And he shows off some dapper duds, to boot.
In this week's Re-Flay, he jazzes up Herb's cooking-oil stir fry conundrum in a flash, then takes on Team Wisconsin. The king of Bobby's Burger Palace tells Brad and Aria they needed fattier beef (20 percent fat!) for better burgers. And if your marketing plan includes boasting about being Cheeseheads, he advises, skimping on the cheddar is a bad call, no matter how you slice it.
How can Bobby make it look so easy when the finalists look so tortured? C'mon, did anyone look good? Vote for your favorite. Then check out this week's scrapbook starring Dame Paula Deen. And no, Aria's injury was not Brianna's fault.
The sizzle of the finalists' lunch trucks dishes in the preview for Sunday's Star episode made me hungry for street food, (alas, no Smell-O-Vision) so I cooked up Aarti's street food-inspired winning dish from the last episode while I waited it out for Sunday night. Her take on Jonathan Waxman's favorite dish -- lamb and potatoes -- had the "Obi-Wan Kenobi" of the food world singing her praises, so I figured that the Ground Lamb Kebabs with Pomegranate Glaze, Bengali-Spiced Potatoes and Cucumber Raita would be a sure-fire hit at my dinner table.
Turk-Eye Meatloaf is an unfortunate and not-exactly-appetizing name for a recipe, but the flavor of Aarti’s dish proved otherwise. She drew Horror as her inspiration for the movie-themed camera challenge, and the judges ate up her cute "wandering eye" story that tied this dish to the genre.
Since I wasn’t stuck with any scary movie challenge while making Aarti’s meatloaves at home, I left off the (intentionally) creepy “eye” garnish. Without it, these individual meatloaves make a healthy and simple weeknight meal. Keep the garnish and it would certainly be a fun dish for Halloween.
Seriously, who doesn't love carnivals? You've got rides galore, great people-watching and of course, that deep-fried, candy-coated carnival food. Okay, after this week's episode of Star, maybe a few of our contestants aren't big fans -- poor Doreen!
When Ace of Cakes Duff Goldman, along with special guest-star Zoltar, asked the contestants to turn iconic carnival sweets into a savory party bite, I was intrigued -- anyone who can improve on funnel cake is someone I'd want to eat dinner with.
Aarti conquered her self-doubt (and the fact that she's never had a funnel cake!) and came out on top, and I couldn't wait to try her winning dish: Scallion Blini with Chicken in Tandoori BBQ Sauce. Would I be able to "taste the love" in the recipe? Well…