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.
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.
For the bus tour challenge, Team Giada ended up right in their mentor's comfort zone: Arthur Avenue, the Bronx's answer to Little Italy. Maybe this added a little pressure — as Team Giada, they couldn't mess up Italian food! They stepped it up, made some tasty food and won the challenge.
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.
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.
As I watch The Next Food Network Star from my couch at home, I’m pretty jealous of Bob, Bobby and Susie—the lucky ones who actually get to taste the food. Well, maybe not so lucky during the very first challenge when, despite the high caliber of talent this season, several of the chicken-and-potato dishes were undercooked. I certainly wasn’t envious of all that raw chicken.
But let’s focus on the good stuff—every week, we’re cooking and blogging the winning Star recipes. Aria’s chicken breast stuffed with a date-walnut-grape mixture wasn’t raw at all—in fact, Bobby pronounced it moist and well-seasoned, and all of the judges seemed to enjoy digging in.
The premiere had not one but three winning dishes, and two of them belonged to Aria. I decided to try out her chicken—I’m always looking for new ways to jazz up a chicken breast. Hers sounded interesting and not super-complicated, perfect for a weeknight dinner.
First step was the side dish of roasted potatoes and cauliflower. I did some quick chopping and tossed the veggies on a sheet pan with a big handful of raisins, olive oil, salt and pepper. My grocery store didn't have any chervil, but I wanted a little green mixed in, so I sliced some scallions and added those.
That went into the oven for 25 minutes, per Aria’s instructions. Meanwhile...