Sunday, July 22, 2012

Next Food Network Star: Challenge #6

No, no, no... I haven't quit blogging again. We've just been a little bit busy doing a little bit of this...

And, a little bit of that...

And, this too...

But, more on that later. With all the getting hitched, family visits, and honeymoon business... I've fallen a bit behind on The Next Food Network Star challenges. Since the show is almost over, I'll finish posting the couple of challenges that I already completed, and set the project aside until next season. Next time, we'll be up and running on premiere night... not like this year's late start. Not to worry, I've been cooking up a storm since we've gotten back from Alaska. I have lots to share, and plenty of future plans for the blog to include weekly features that will debut this week. So, stay tuned! 

Tonight is the final episode of this season's Next Food Network Star. Fingers crossed, and all bets are on for my fave, Justin Warner to bring it home tonight. In the meantime... here's the first of two installments of my remaining completed challenges:

For episode 6, we tuned in while the teams competed against each other to elevate the cuisine of typical food court fare. Team Alton: an Italian-themed booth. Team Giada: a Mexican-themed service. And, Team Bobby Flay: an American deli style menu. 

According to Food Network, here is the synopsis for episode 7...

Ten finalists remain to compete for the title of Food Network Star. This week, each finalist must elevate iconic food-court food while adapting to the limitations of a kiosk. The challenge is taken to another level when they learn they'll be feeding Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian in addition to 150 hungry shoppers! Tensions mount as Zakarian provides an Iron Chef-worthy secret ingredient that the finalists will have to incorporate in their dishes.

Per our usual random selection, I came up with the challenge of creating a dish for the classic American deli. And, what deli menu would be complete without a side of fries to go with those delectable sandwiches? These are the French fries to end ALL French fries!

Inspired by a dish discovered at the Alaska State Fair many, many years ago... I present to you peanut potatoes!

I grew up mostly in Texas, having moved to Alaska only right before my sophomore year in high school. Alaska, with its breath-taking scenery, is a magnificent place to visit. Although, with its long, cold, dark winters... it is up for debate on its ranking as a desireable place to live full-time. Obviously, summer is the ideal time to visit. And, if you can manage a trip right at the end of summer, you can count yourself lucky enough to have a stab at a trip to the state fair. Living there, the state fair becomes a rather stale event year after year. Not much changes. Same food booths. Same craft vendors. Same 1,000 pound cabbage contest. But, there is one booth that made the journey worth it every time: the peanut potato food truck. This is one of the elusive booths that only graces the presence of the fairway every couple of years. It is a booth, upon which its sole participation, determines whether we even make the long trek from Anchorage to Palmer on any given year. 

Fingerling potatoes are fairly easy to come by in the south. Every summer, you will be able to find a choice of red, white, even purple fingerling potatoes up for purchase. In Alaska? Not so much. These buttery, flavorful spuds were an oddity to come across up in the last frontier. Until I moved to North Carolina, I was never able to duplicate this recipe on my own. But, now that I can... they are a regular on our summer BBQ menus. And, let me tell you... the put your run-of-the mill French fries to shame!

Peanut Potatoes
2 (1 lb) bags fingerling potatoes
Peanut oil
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
Dried parsley
1 med tub sour cream
1 (.4 oz) pkg ranch dressing mix
1 pkg real bacon bits

Fingerling potatoes, although only the length of a finger (hence the name), are fully matured when harvested. They have thin skins which are ideal to remain intact during cooking. Low in starch, with a waxy texture, they make for a smooth buttery treat once cooked. Look at these beautiful little taters...

Start by cutting up your potatoes. If the fingeling spuds are small enough, halving them is good enough. But if you end up with a bag of rather large guys, go ahead and quarter them. My selection was small enough to halve.

You'll need a deep fat fryer for these. Admittedly, I purchased mine SOLEY for making peanut potatoes. But trust me... once you have one, you won't know how you ever lived without it! Fill the fryer up with peanut oil (canola oil if you have food allergies). Heat the oil up to 375*, and begin frying the potatoes in batches. You will be able to tell when the potatoes are done frying. They will reach a nice golden brown, and float to the top of the oil.

While your potatoes are frying, go ahead and whip up your baked potato dip. Empty the sour cream into a mixing bowl. Add your ranch dressing mix and bacon bits. Stir to combine.

When the potatoes are done, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the fryer. Transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Once drained and slightly cooled, sprinkle with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper and parsley. Serve with a side of baked potato dip to scoop up with those tasty taters!

Did you know that, if Belgian hisotrians had it their way, we wouldn't even know French fries by their current moniker? The Belgians insist that originated the fried potato. They would have us believe that it was American soldiers, arriving in Belgium during WWI that accidentally branded them as "French fries" for evermore. What the Americans had sampled were actually Belgium fries, but as a result of French being the official language of the Belgian army at the time... Americans coined these tasty fried treats "French fries."

Either way, trust me when I tell you... these peanut potatoes are unlike any French fry you have ever popped in your mouth. The texture of fingerling potatoes is smooth and buttery. And, that dip... oh that dip! These are heavenly little treats! Serve up with your favorite sandwich or burger, and you'll be on the hunt for fingerling potatoes to accompany EVERY summer meal!

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