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We interrupt this stream of tomato chatter to bring you an ingenious solution to a problem that seems unavoidable this time of year. Well, only if you keep boatloads of sweet summer produce on your counters.

You may currently be suffering from fruit flies. Symptoms include: seeing tiny specks in front of your eyes, feelings of severe irritation and annoyance, excessive cleaning of the kitchen, and the absolute worst: finding larvae crawling on your precious hand picked fruits.

Shudder. Even the word larvae gives me the heebie jeebies. When it gets to this point, you know you have a problem.

Every August these little pests start buzzing around, and if left to their own devices, start making themselves at home real quick. In just a few days, hotel fruit fly can be booked to capacity. They start overstaying their welcome almost immediately.

As I mentioned in this post, it’s best to keep your tomatoes out at room temperature in order to to achieve optimal flavor and texture. But the problem with that, is their inherent sweetness attracts these little buggers like nobody’s business. That’s why I owe it to you guys to share my method for eliminating fruit flies once and for all.

Chaser and I have been searching for the ultimate fruit fly trap for years, and this one has by far been the best. We’ve tried using rotting fruit, different vinegars, dish soap, inverted soda bottles… you name it, we’ve tried it.

This guy trumps all others, and you probably have everything to make it right now. This is all you need:

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A clear glass, some apple cider vinegar, and plastic wrap. Your plastic wrap doesn’t need to be professional and your ACV doesn’t need to be organic. Your glass however, does need to be clear.

I assume you have plastic wrap and a clear glass on hand, but if you don’t have the ACV you should absolutely go out and buy a bottle. It’s cheap, hosts a slew of health benefits, and makes an awesome vinaigrette for fall salads (hint: it goes great with APPLES!).

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Making this thing will only take you a few minutes, and it’s so worth it. Pour the ACV into a clear glass that’s not too tall.  A shorter glass will help the scent of the ACV more easily entice the fruit flies, and a clear glass will make it more difficult for them to find their way out. You want to pour in a few tablespoons or so, about this much:

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Then, top it with clear plastic wrap, making sure it’s tight and flush to the glass.  So flush, you can see the reflection of the camera you’re using to take the picture.

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Then, secure the wrap to the sides of the glass. I only had a massive sized roll of plastic wrap at my house, so I used scissors to cut off some of the excess first.

I know, this is difficult stuff. Are you still following along?

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Use a toothpick or a fork to poke a few holes into the plastic. This is where it can be a little tricky. You want to make the holes big enough so the flies can get in, but not so big that they can find their way out. About 10-15 holes should do.

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Put your nifty little fly trap right next to your fruit bowl, and give it a day or so to work it’s magic. Just look at the results!

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I get such a kick out of watching them crawl around in there, trying to find their way out. But they can’t!

Ok, maybe that sounded mildly sadistic. It’s not that I get pleasure out of seeing living things suffer and die…

It’s just that anyone who puts their paws on my precious tomatoes without permission is asking for it.

Consider yourself warned.

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It’s official: I no longer have a kitchen.

I know, man. It’s a lot to wrap my head around.

Last week, I woke up dreaming about this beautiful French tomato tart that I had made a few years ago. You guys dream about food, too, don’t you?

It had a crispy, buttery crust, tangy Dijon mustard, perfectly ripe tomatoes, and big rounds of creamy goat cheese – that to the unknowing eye looked a little more like seared scallops than cheese (oops, sorry Chaser).

I’ve been harvesting an insane bounty of tomatoes out of my garden lately, and I knew this would be the PERFECT way to use them up. I hopped out of bed and started making a mental list of all the ingredients I’d need. Flour, check… butter, check… tomatoes, check… Yep, got it all.

I pulled out the flour and was ready to start the crust, when Chaser walked in and asked me what I was doing. “Remember that awesome tomato and goat cheese tart I made a few years ago?” I said.

“Sure… You’re making that now?

I looked at him, excited, “Yeah!!”

He scratched his head, puzzled, and said… “Uhhhh…. ok. Well, do you need to use the oven?” And I said, “Uhhh….. yeah?

Cole, we’re ripping out the kitchen today. We’re not going to have an oven…  Like, for a while. You do realize that… Right?

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Ok, sure. Perhaps I hadn’t really thought this whole “new kitchen” thing through. Of course, I’m really excited about replacing my old dingy kitchen. But I guess I hadn’t really considered the fact that I’ll be without one during the whole renovation process. A few days is one thing. That’s totally doable. But weeks… possibly months? This is a big deal.

Luckily, Chaser allowed me to follow through with my plan and make the tart anyway.  He waited until after it was finished to start demoing the kitchen. He’s a good guy like that. But deep down, I’m pretty sure he just wanted to eat it too.

The tart starts with a simple Pâte Brisée, or an all-butter pastry crust. It sounds fancy, but it’s really just a humble little dough. Pastry crust can be one of those things that makes people want to claw their eyes out. But don’t do that, you guys. Seriously, it’s only pie.

If you’ve struggled to make pastry crust in the past, give it another go. Don’t get discouraged if it hasn’t always turned out perfect. It takes some practice to master, which is exactly why you should get back in the saddle and try again.

Now, this isn’t my grandma’s pie crust (we’ll get to that another time), it’s a classic French dough that can be adapted to many recipes. But if you wanted to sub in your favorite crust recipe (I’m lookin’ at you, Grandma), I bet it would work out just fine. Just be sure to omit any sugar in the recipe, as this here is a savory pie.

There are a few things to keep in mind when making this dough, or any short pastry crust for that matter. You want to be sure the dough is cold at all times. This is especially important if it’s warm or humid in the house. Placing bowls and ingredients in the freezer for a few minutes can make all the difference in the world.

You really want the dough to be cold when it goes into the oven, so I like to place the whole rolled out crust into the freezer prior to assembling the tart. This will help make the crust extra flaky, and keep it from shrinking while it bakes.

I like to mix the dough by hand, but many prefer to do it in a food processor. You do whatever makes you comfortable. The food processor works faster, which is a plus in and of itself, but it also helps keep the ingredients from getting too warm. However, because it works so fast, it can make over-mixing happen a lot easier. You want the dough to just come together. The more you mix, the tougher it will become.

The only other important element to this tart is to use really good, ripe, in-season, NEVER REFRIGERATED tomatoes. Don’t try pulling this recipe out in the dead of winter when the tomatoes are blah at best. It will be a major disappointment, and then you’ll be all mad that you wasted the time and effort.

Make this tart right now.

After all, You do have a fully functional kitchen, don’t you?


 

French Tomato Tart

Makes one 9- or 10-inch tart

Adapted from David Lebovitz, one of my favorite food bloggers, instagrammers, and ice cream gurus.

I’ve found that depending on the variety of tomatoes you use, they might contain a bit too much liquid. If your tomatoes are very ripe and juicy (which is a good thing), try removing some of the seeds before slicing, and allow the slices to drain on paper towels prior to assembling. This way, you’ll avoid winding up with a soggy crust and watery filling. That’s not a good look on anybody.

No tart pan? No problem. You can make a free form tart, which is just as good, and even adds an extra hunk of crust around the edges. And hey, that’s never a bad thing. I saved the extra scraps of dough and made a mini free form tart that I hoarded and ate by myself over the sink while the other one baked. I guess you could share yours if you wanted, but hey, I was hungry.

Crust
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 1/2 ounces COLD unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water

Filling
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2-3 large ripe tomatoes (more, if using smaller tomatoes)
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
8 ounces (250 g) fresh or slightly aged goat cheese, sliced into rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon roughly chopped chives

To make the dough, start by mixing the flour and salt together in a bowl. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or a fork to cut the butter into the flour. Do this for about two minutes, until the butter is broken into pea sized pieces.

Whisk together the egg and two tablespoons of cold water, then pour it into the flour mixture. Use a fork to stir the mixture until it comes together, adding one to two additional tablespoons of water until it forms a ball. Do not knead the dough or mix any further. Wrap the ball in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to rolling out.

When ready to assemble the tart, roll out the dough on a floured surface until it is about ¼ inch thick. Transfer the rolled out dough to a tart pan (or straight to a baking sheet if making a free form tart). Use the rolling pin to roll over the top edges of the pan in order to cut the excess dough. Save the scraps and roll out to make a mini tart if desired.

Spread the Dijon mustard on the bottom of the tart to form a nice even coat. Transfer the prepared tart dough in the freezer until ready to assemble (or at least 15 minutes). Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Slice the tomatoes into ½ inch thick slices. Remove some of the seeds and drain on paper towels if they are very juicy. Arrange tomatoes around the tart in a nice even layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and half of the thyme. Arrange the slices of goat cheese evenly on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the remaining thyme, then drizzle all over with olive oil.

If you’re baking a free-form tart, gather and fold over the edges to envelope the filling.

Pop it in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the dough is cooked and the cheese is nicely browned. This may take more or less time, depending on your oven, so be sure to keep an eye on it. Sprinkle with chopped chives after removing from the oven.

Allow the tart to cool for at least another 30 minutes before slicing. I know, this is going to be tough. But trust me, the wait is essential, as if you cut into it too soon, the crust will fall apart and the tomato juice will go all over the place.

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the tart that started it all, circa 2011

 

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tomato love.

A little over one year ago, I started this blog as an outlet to write about my ridiculous fascination with food.

Then, I took a brief hiatus to film a little show called Food Network Star, and spent the last 11 weeks writing recaps about each episode. That was cool and all, but I’m really excited to get back to writing about what this blog was originally intended for: FOOD!

Oh, but wait!

I think it would be rude to continue on without first wishing somebody a belated Happy Birthday. On August  2nd, this blog turned a whole year old. Happy Birthday, TooFullForSchool.com!

You can take a peek at my very first post here. (And you should make that open-face tomato feta sandwich, like, yesterday.)

It’s really no secret that I have a borderline “unhealthy” obsession with tomatoes. If you follow me on social media, or if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you probably already caught on.

Soo… What better time to start writing about food again than smack dab in the middle of my favorite season!?

No, dummy, not summer.  Tomato season!

Sorry. I shouldn’t have called you a dummy. But tomato season is my favorite time of year for so many reasons. Late summer, in general, is just magic.

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a recent harvest.

Humidity drops, but warm temperatures, long days, and sunshine stick around. The ocean stays warm too, and hurricane season brings in lots of fun swell, with – hopefully – no actual hurricanes. Tourists go back home, kids go back to school, and beaches go back to being the quiet peaceful places they are the other 9 months of the year. Open windows keep electric bills low, and make sleeping dreamy with gentle breezes and cricket lullabies. In August I get to celebrate my anniversary, and in September, my birthday.

But the best part about this time of year, HANDS DOWN, is the produce.

June brings greens and peas, and yeah, July has summer squash, berries and beans… but August is when the farms and gardens really start putting their best feet forward.

New Jersey is called the Garden State for a reason!

Ugh…No.

NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!

That’s all stereotype.

THIS is the real New Jersey:

Believe it or not, New Jersey is actually loaded with farmland, beautiful beaches, and wildlife reserves. And our rich, sandy soil allows us to grow the best damn tomatoes in the universe.

That’s right, the universe.

But tomatoes are good this time of year no matter where you live. So now that these babies are in their prime, I think it’s appropriate to discuss the best ways to select and store tomatoes.

Sounds boring, I know. But, you might have been doing it wrong this whole time! And I just want to see you get the most enjoyment possible out of these precious gems.

Read over the following suggestions, and hopefully it will change your tomato game forever.

Selecting

Follow your nose! This applies to lots of fruits and veg. If they don’t smell like anything, they probably don’t taste like anything. Smell the blossom end of the tomato- that’s the bottom – not the stem end (top). They should smell bright and fragrant- like tomatoes!

Don’t be put off by odd shapes or small cracks on the tops. The ugliest tomatoes tend to be the tastiest. Do, however, be mindful of any bruising or torn skin. This will affect the texture and cause your tomatoes to spoil faster.

Different colors, sizes, and shapes will vary in flavor and texture, so try them all out and pick your favorite. Yellow tomatoes tend to be lower in acid than their red counterparts, but there are always exceptions to the rule.

This year in my garden I’m growing sungolds & a sun sugar hybrid, a green zebra, a big zebra, a pineapple tomato, a Oaxacan jewel, a big pink & white stripe, a purple Cherokee, two UglyRipe’s, and an Aunt Ruby’s German Green. They each have their own unique flavor, and make for one colorful salad.

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2010 mid September harvest. My garden in Atlantic City grew the best tomatoes.

Another rule of thumb, which applies to other fruits as well, is to choose tomatoes that are heavy for their size. I use this especially when selecting citrus. Why? Because the heavier they are, the more juice they contain. Juicy fruits = good fruits!

Storage:

So you got carried away at the farmer’s market and bought so many gorgeous heirlooms, you’re not sure how you could possibly eat them all.

I’ve been there. Trust me. But, don’t be tempted to refrigerate them. You’ll be doing yourself, and your tomatoes, a massive disservice.

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT store your tomatoes in the refrigerator.

Ever.

Got it? Good. Now, lets talk about why.

The cold destroys both the flavor AND the texture. You’re left with bland, off-tasting, mealy disappointments.

According to king of the food nerds, Alton Brown, “If they drop below 50 degrees F, a flavor compound called (Z)-3-hexenal is just going to flip itself off like a chemical switch … permanently.”

Ever meet someone who says they don’t like tomatoes? They’ve probably been eating them out of the refrigerator their whole life (or, they’re just plain crazy).

So then, what DO you do with all of the quickly ripening tomatoes sitting on your counter? Well, you have a few options. But first, flip them over and store upside down!

That’s right, stem end down, like this:

Cooks Illustrated magazine performed a test in which they left tomatoes out at room temperature, one batch stored stem-end up, and the other stem-end down. The stem-down tomatoes lasted for over a week into the experiment, while the stem-up tomatoes rotted much more quickly.

Why?

Cook’s Illustrated states that, “storing a tomato stem-end down prevents air from entering and moisture from exiting its scar, prolonging shelf life.”

Which, might be true, but I have my own theory. The tops (stem-end) of tomatoes always tend to be firmer, and less ripe than the bottom (blossom end). When the tomatoes are stored with the less-ripe side down, gravity forces the juices to settle away from the blossom end, keeping it from over-ripening, while helping the stem-end catch up.

How it works doesn’t really matter. What matters is, it works.

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tomato, tomahto

But ok, you still have tomatoes sitting on your counter about to go bad. I have a few solutions.

Slightly overripe tomatoes (not rotten) are perfect for making delicious Spanish tomato bread (pan con tomate). 

If you have lots of tomatoes to use up, your best bet is to make a simple sauce. Seed the tomatoes and pulse in a food processor until pureed but still chunky. Saute chopped garlic in olive oil, pour in the tomatoes, season with plenty of salt and pepper, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Toss with pasta, freshly torn basil and grated pecorino for some real good summer eatin’.

I like to make a big batch of sauce and freeze it in smaller portions (ice cube trays work great). Sure, canning is an option, but freezing’s easier. That way, you can indulge yourself on a frigid winter night when you just can’t seem to get tomatoes off the brain.

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I love my garden.

Of course, the best thing to do is eat up as many fresh, juicy tomatoes as you can while they’re still in season. Get your fill now, because in a few months, they’ll go back to being blah.

I’m working on lots of tasty tomato recipes to keep you guys happy for the rest of tomato season. Check back often in the next few weeks for lots of tomato love coming your way.

In the meantime, give these recipes from last season a try:

Pan Con Tomate

Grilled Panzanella

Open Face Tomato Feta Sandwich

Fairy tale Eggplant Pasta

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turn around, stick it out, show em whatchu got

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the band is back together. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Well, it’s all over. And, I didn’t win. Womp, womp.

But, hey, it’s ok!

When Bob Tuschman opened the red envelope and announced that I had come in third, Emma immediately ran over and threw her arms around me. If you watch my lips closely, you can see me whisper to her, “It’s all good!”

Because, it really is.

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It’s ALL Good. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

If you asked me a few weeks ago how I would feel coming in third place, my answer would have probably been “devastated.”

But surprisingly to myself, and to many others, I’m not.

Not even close.

Going through this competition was incredibly challenging, and watching the events unfold again each week was just as hard. Which is exactly why now that it’s over, all I feel is a beaming sense of pride and gratitude.

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When life gives you lemons, squeeze ‘em over seafood. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

There is just so much for me to be proud of, and grateful for.

Like, dude, I made a PILOT! And it wasn’t half bad!

I’m proud of how I threw caution to the wind, made an audition video, and actually got on the show in the first place.

I’m proud of how I handled myself, and how I brought positive attention to the Jersey shore, Atlantic City, Coastal Cuisine and girls everywhere who suffer from resting bitch face.

I’m proud of how I looked my fears in the eye, faced them, and overcame.

I’m proud of how much I’ve grown, and how much I’ve learned, in such a short amount of time.

I’m proud of how I stayed true to myself, and how I was able to put aside the competition in order to form true, meaningful friendships.

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She’s my FNS lobster. Photocred: emmafrisch.com

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to present myself and my food to the world.

And I am so unbelievably grateful for all of my friends, family, fans, clients and community for supporting me all along the way.

How you climb up the mountain is just as important as how you get down the mountain, and, so it is with life, which for many of us becomes one big gigantic test followed by one big gigantic lesson. In the end it all comes down to one word, Grace. It’s how you accept winning and losing, good luck and bad luck, the darkness and the light.

In case you were wondering, yes, that came straight from a perfume bottle.

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Bronze, baby. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Philosophy released their fragrance, Amazing Grace, right around the time my mom passed away, and my Aunt Angela, her only sister, gave me a bottle as a gift.

My mom’s name was Grace, and it was fitting, because she was the most graceful woman on the planet. And she was totally amazing, to boot.

The perfume is gentle, elegant and light, just like her. I wear it all the time, and the quote on the bottle is a constant reminder of how to carry one’s self when situations don’t always go in your favor.

Always move forward with Grace.

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The amazing and graceful ladies of Food Network Star Season 10. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Losing my mom to ALS was the biggest, most difficult test in my life, but it was followed by the greatest lesson. A lesson that so many people are never fortunate enough to learn:

Life can be gone in a second. So take risks, face fears, and always find the good in everything.

I looked in the mirror Sunday night and asked myself, “Am I better off now than I would have been if I had never done this show?”

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Never be afraid to get a little weird. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

The answer, without question, is yes. There is so much good that has come out of this whole thing already, and I am beyond grateful to have had the experience.

Food Network Star was just another test in my life, appropriately followed by yet another life-changing lesson:

Always be yourself, no matter who’s watching. Never be afraid to mess up, or to show your flaws. It’s what makes us human.

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Cowboy, UP! Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

And that’s exactly why the gourmet cowboy was able to take this one home. He didn’t win because he was perfect. He won because he allowed America to see his goofy side, his flaws, and his bare, “creamy” chest.  Perhaps, if only I had only shown my bare chest, I might have won instead. Sadly, we’ll never know.

But seriously, my cowgirl hat is off to Lenny for winning this whole thing. He is a born entertainer, and a very talented chef. He gave this grueling competition his absolute all, and I couldn’t be happier for him. Congratulations buddy!!

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Luca, quit being a Donkey! Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

As for Mr. Della Casa, he should be incredibly proud of himself, too. Having been eliminated early on, then battling through Star Salvation, and coming back stronger than ever, Luca proved to everyone that he was more than just dimples and an accent. He is as genuinely charming in person as he is on TV. And his “good guy’ factor goes up even more when he starts talking about how much he loves his wife and 4 dogs at home. And after finally meeting his wife Marcella in person last week, I can totally see why.

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So you’re sayin’ I get to eat the whole sundae?? Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

So, what’s next for me…

Well, first? A little break. I’m taking some much needed time for myself.

That’s right! Me time = good time, and it’s long overdue. Summers spent working at the Jersey shore are ALWAYS busy, but this summer has been especially nutty. I’m taking some time to center myself, tend to my garden, get back on my paddle board, and spend a few lazy days on the beach with friends.

But after that, I can’t wait to get back to creating new recipes, and of course, sharing them all here on toofullforschool.com. I would love to write a series of cook books, and heck, maybe even one day still land my own show. I have so many ideas and tips that I’m just dying to share. Stay tuned!

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Did Lenny really just refer to his chest as “creamy?” Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

But perhaps the most exciting project on the immediate horizon, is our kitchen. In just a few days, my hubs and I will be ripping out all the cabinets, floors, appliances and counter tops that haven’t been updated since 1987. And we’ll be replacing them all with a Chaser Gaffney Architecture design that’s gonna be straight up baller status. I’m pumped.

When the whole project is finished, it’s going to be the perfect back-drop for filming fun and informative how-to cooking videos. And who knows, maybe even Emma Frisch will stop by to cohost.

In the meantime, keep up with me by following this blog, and all of my social media accounts: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

To all of my fans that have supported me along the way, you know who you are, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Don’t be sad! This is only the beginning, and I can’t wait to see what other tests and lessons life has in store.

It’s ALL Good.

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Catch ya on the flip side. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Watch the finale

Watch my pilot- My Coastal Kitchen! 

View my Star Scrapbook

Top Moments of the Finale

Read Emma Frisch’s Recap

Watch our behind-the-scenes antics

Hear from myself, Luca and the mentors

A Letter to Lenny, From the Rebel (Justin Warner)

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thank you to superficialgallery.com for making this!

HOLY MACKEREL! (coastal pun completely intended.) I MADE IT TO THE TOP 3!!!!!!

All I can say is, WOW! What a crazy, crazy ride this has been.

Getting up in front of iconic celebrity chefs plus 2.5 million viewers to essentially make a fool out of yourself in pursuit of a life long dream takes, well.. It takes some cojones. (wink wink, that was for you, Reuben!)

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A cowboy, a texan, and Italian, and a Jersey girl. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Cooking and presenting on a reality tv show is a world different from doing it in real life.

The idea of being vulnerable, in front of millions of people, on national TV… It’s scary.

And there were times when I totally let that fear get the better of me. Remember this precious moment?!

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Howdy, y’all. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

But by the time I got to New York, I was just so sick and tired of being afraid.

My favorite quote of all time is this one from Eleanor Roosevelt:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Feeling inferior, just like being afraid, is a choice.

No one tells us to be afraid of heights, spiders, people, organ meats, or public speaking. We choose to do it ourselves, whether we realize it or not.

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Hips jutting out, hands moving like crazy. Yep, classic Coley Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

I had some rather irrational fears as a child, which you can read about in a post I wrote last October (killer recipe there, too!). But when you think about it, aren’t all fears irrational?

It’s scary having to make mistakes in front of the world, for everyone to see, judge, and ridicule. But I was tired of letting my fears consume me.  I made the choice to rise above, and just go for it. To just let go, relax, and be myself.

And guess what? It worked.

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Top 3, baby!! Owwwwwwwlllllllllllllll!!!!! Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

I’ve made a lot of mistakes – on this show, for sure – but also in real life. I mean, LOTS of them.

And really, who hasn’t?

But I’ve learned from those mistakes, and I’ve grown immensely as a result.

If we never made mistakes in life, would we ever learn anything at all?

Making mistakes is essentially how I taught myself to cook, and I always encourage new cooks to not be afraid of making mistakes. Chances are, if you make a mistake and royally screw up dinner, you will be SURE to never do it again. After hundreds of mistakes, just think about how great of a cook you’d be!

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The way you squeeze those lemons, babe. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Overall, I’m just really proud of how far I’ve come. It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago, I was down and out trying to find my way in the world.

During college, my mom was suffering with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and she passed away two weeks after my graduation, at only 48 years young.

I had no idea what to do with myself. I was completely lost.

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My Coastal Mama- see where I get my smile, and my love of seafood!

But Mom knew I had a profound love of food, and for Christmas the year before she died, she gave me one gift. It was the Culinary Institute of America text book, and she encouraged me to pursue my dream. I read that book cover to cover, and practiced the techniques at home. It took me a few years before I was able to muster up the courage to actually give cooking professionally a shot.

But one day, I decided to face my fear, and just go for it. And look at how far I’ve come.

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Pilot, Possible! Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

I can’t help but think about my Mom right now, and just how incredibly proud she would be.

She was the best, most loving, and supportive Mom you could ask for, and I’m so lucky to have had her in my life as long as I did. It’s crazy to think it’s been seven years since she’s been gone, but I feel her watching over me every day.

I have learned so much throughout this process, and I’ve grown immensely. For that experience alone, I am so grateful.

It isn’t over yet, but it’s out of my hands now. It’s now up to YOU, the viewers, to vote for who you want to be the winner.

And hopefully, that winner is ME!

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Geaux Nicole and Geaux Tigers!

But first, we said goodbye this episode to my beautiful friend Sarah. She made a killer run on the show, and should be equally as proud to have finished where she did.

Sarah seems to have gotten more harsh criticism during our run on FNS than anyone else, so I’d just like to say for the record, that she is one pretty awesome chick. Sarah is a wife, an amazing mom to two adorable boys, a bubbly, fun person to be around, and one hell of a cook. This girl was a private chef for some pretty high profile celebrities, so you know she has some tricks up her sleeve.

Looking forward to reconnecting with Sarah and my 10 other new friends over salted caramel affogatos and cronuts this week during the finale. This girl loves to eat just as much as I do, and that’s precisely why I like her so much.

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So long sweet Sarah. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

You can vote two ways, by going to  (Facebook log-in is required, I believe)

OR dial 855-547-8273.

Each way, you can vote up to 10 times a day, so if you have facebook AND a phone, that’s 20 times! Voting ends Wednesday August 6th at 11am, so get ‘em in while you can!

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drawn by my amazing friend and comic artist, @Drewtoonz, follow him on Instagram for some laughs

And while your at it, share this with your cousins, your grandma, your best friend, your mom’s best friend, your dad’s drinking buddies, your annoying coworkers, your weird neighbors, your goofy uncle… even your exboyfriends!

I’ve got some tough competition, and can use all the votes I can get!

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drawn by my incredibly talented brother and comic book artist! That’s The Invisible Robot, his girlfriend Daisy, and Lady Robotta- aka ME- in the back!

Tune in next Sunday at the same time, same place, to see if I make it all the way! Food Network, 9pm/8c. Be there!

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Rachael’s the boss, but I brought the hot sauce. Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

We started in LA, then conquered Vegas, and now it’s on to the Big Apple. This competition has taken me to a lot of places, but it’s great to finally be back on the east coast.

When we arrived in New York, I stepped off the plane and took a deep breath of the brisk, humid air. I immediately felt like I was home, and boy did it feel good.

First order of business: Eat more ice cream.

I’m noticing a trend in this competition lately, and I like it. I am totally cool with starting each day with ice cream.

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This milkshake brought all the boys to the yard. Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

The ice cream at Ronnybrook Milk Bar is a bargain compared to the last sundae I ate. But to tell ya the truth, this stuff actually tasted a little better. Maybe it’s because of the locally sourced dairy and fresh ingredients. But the fact is, the flavor of a creamsicle will beat out the flavor of edible gold leaf any day.

To my surprise, both Bobby and Giada had never heard of Philadelphia style ice cream before (Alton, of course, had).  How cool to be able to teach these cats something new! I actually hadn’t heard the term until I got really into ice cream making a few years ago.

See, I do this thing when I get obsessed with a certain ingredient or food. I’ll go through a period where I become completely consumed with learning about, creating and eating it. It’s happened with pizza, tomatoes, waffles, pad Thai, blts, browines, gnocchi, clafoutis, ravioli, chocolate chip cookies, pies, gratins, kale, seriously, the list goes on and on…

When I was going through my ice cream phase (which, lets face it, I’m still in), I learned that the two main types of ice cream were custard style and Philadelphia style. Philly style means there’s just cream, milk, sugar and flavorings. That’s it.  Custard style includes all of the same stuff, plus the addition of egg yolks. Because, you know, custard has eggs. Gelato, in case you were wondering, is usually made with even more yolks, and has a higher ratio of milk to cream.

Luckily, my goofy food obsession actually helped me win this challenge, giving me an “advantage” in the next one. And that next one, was something I never saw coming: The Rachael freaking Ray show!!

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Hey, Rachael, Heeyyyyy! source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

Rachael Ray, like her or not, is an inspiration to anyone wanting to become the next Food Network Star. I always love hearing about people who come from nothing, make themselves into something, and continue to be kind-hearted and generous people. That’s what I always hear about Rachael. She is an absolute pro at what she does, and her poise and humility are something I try to emulate in my life.

I watched Rachael on the Food Network with my mom back when I was in high school. She taught me so many unique little tricks and tips. My grandfather was a big fan of her’s too, and one year he gave me a 30 Minute Meals cook book for Christmas.

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I miss Pop-Pop Genovese AND his pizzas

Actually, I’m pretty sure it was a regift. As much as he liked her, he just wasn’t the type to ever use a cookbook.

Anyway, he wanted me to have it because he saw my excitement for food, and wanted to encourage me to cook as much as possible. I remember him telling me one day that I could grow up to be the next Rachael Ray.

So to be here, in the final four on Food Network Star, is just…

Man, it’s just really crazy.

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“I’m really not sure why she would give sriracha sauce to a baby?” Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

But lately I seem to be on this roll where I have a  pretty decent performance and the judges like my food, but then I make some boneheaded move to mess it all up.

When I found out we would be making dishes to help out families, my first thought was, “Oh, we’re cooking for kids? Perfect. I can poison the little ones with a fiery hot sauce. Maybe, just maybe, one will even spit it out!!”

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Thank you @MaryMcG257 for making this .gif, so I can relive this moment over, and over again forever.

No! Come on, that wasn’t what I was really thinking!

What I was thinking, was about how Bethann is exactly like all the moms that come to me for help. They want easy, fun, healthy meals, that will be something both parents and kids can enjoy. Which is exactly why my lettuce wraps have become my most popular dish!

Now, I know better than to serve sriracha to a two year old. The sauce is actually meant to be served on the side, which I mention in the full video on Rachael’s site.

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my signature “large mouth bass” face. Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

Yet as a result, the dish had a little kick, and both Rachel and Giada said it wasn’t right for the Flagg family.

Womp! Womp!

But, after stumbling upon this comment, from Mama Flagg herself, on the Food Network Star Blog (umm, yep. I totally read that), I’m not so sure I agree.

Bethann:

My was the Mom of the Flaggs. I want to just say to Nicole, the spicyness for my 2yr old of course didn’t work well, but if they moved the camera over to my 5yr old. He REALLY LIKED it. He likes when I put spicy mustard on his cheese sandwiches and hamburgers. My husband and I loved the dish and I will try it at home, I’ll just keep the spicy stuff out for my yongest.

I was so happy to read this, because I honestly thought I had not only given them a crap solution to their problem, but also killed their poor baby’s taste buds. And while the latter may have been true, I’m really stoked to hear they actually liked the dish enough to want to recreate it at home.

All in all, I’m happy with my performance and the dish I made. It was an absolute honor to be able to cook for such a sweet family on such a highly acclaimed show, and with such a big Food Network Star!

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In the hot seat. Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

But once again, someone had to be sent home this week, and as usual, it was emotional.

What can I say, except, dang?!

Loreal is a force to be reckoned with. She’s chock full of personality, and is an artist both in and out of the kitchen. Loreal is an old soul with a child’s spirit, and even though she puts on a “tough girl” act, she is really just a sweet, vulnerable little lady inside. Loreal is always going to be who Loreal wants to be, whether you like it or not. And that has inspired me to try to ease up a little and try to show more of my true self to the world.

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The Butcher Babe in her natural habitat. Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

Be sure to tune in to next week’s episode, when 3 contestants  move on to create a PILOT for their own show!

And then YOU, the viewer, will get a chance to VOTE for who you want to be THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR!

You don’t want to miss it!

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We were greeted in NYC by Kenny, who took us on an EPIC walking food tour of the east village

Read Loreal’s Exit Interview

Vote for me for Fan Favorite!

Top moments from this Episode

Watch a video recap of Episode 9 and a sneak peak of Episode 10!

Read Season 8 winner Justin Warner’s Rebel Recap

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Viewing Party with the Genovese and Curcuru Cousins- so much fun!!

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Is picking teams ever really an advantage? Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Another episode of Food Network Star is under my belt, and I can’t believe I made it through.

This was easily the most difficult episode of the season, on so many different levels.

Welllllllll, except for that one part where I got to eat a bowl of ice cream that cost about as much as my car is currently worth. There was nothing difficult about that.

Walking into the poker room and standing in front of the mentors, I was gearing up for yet another tough challenge. But instead, this happened!? It’s no wonder I was giddy.

Seriously, when I heard I was getting to eat a $1,000 sundae I about lost my mind.

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Just hit the foodie jackpot. Source: http://bit.ly/1AbRSyn

It’s sort of hard to tell by my reaction, but I loooove ice cream.

I was whisked away to Serendipity III and sat solo at a table, sipped a glass of prosecco (NOT cava), and feasted on an ice cream sundae adorned with real edible gold. When else would you ever get a chance to do this?

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I scream, you scream, I can’t believe I’m eating a $1,000 bowl of ice cream. Source: http://bit.ly/1AbRSyn

In Food Network Star, and in life, there’s almost always a catch. Seldom are things so good they’re actually true. Of course, in this case, there was a grueling challenge right around the corner.

I could go on about the difficulty of cooking an unfamiliar ingredient, about how I was in the weeds making ice cream, or about how I gave a shout out to my husband and the ACFD instead of connecting my dish to Thailand.

But, instead, I’m going to talk about something else.

Food Network Star has given me so many opportunities to do things I would never have a chance to do in my real life, and that is really, really cool.

I’ve not only had the opportunity to cook for celebrities and eat expensive desserts, but also to form friendships- real, actual friendships – with the 11 other contestants.

It is truly emotional and legitimately difficult to see a person go home each week. And the longer the show goes on, the harder it gets.

Of course this is a competition, and we all want to win. But we spend so much darn time together that it’s impossible not to get close. Especially when you all share so much in common.

It’s no secret that Emma and I have formed a pretty strong friendship as a result of being on the show together. Sometimes people just click, and Emma and I did right from the start. We are the same age. We both grew up in the northeast, but spent a good chunk of time during college in Louisiana. We listen to a lot of the same music.

We’re both recently married to two amazing guys. No, we don’t have two husbands each, I mean we both have husbands that are great.  But only one each. Never mind.

We both do yoga. We’re both half Italian. We both garden. We both blog. We’re both type A personalities. And although I have a little formal training, we both consider ourselves to be mostly self-taught cooks, inspired by our families, our travels and the people we’ve met along the way.

But as similar as we are, we’re still very different, and that’s exactly what you want in a friend. Similar enough to “get you,” but different enough to provide another outlook on life.

Emma is one of the smartest, friendliest and most thoughtful gals I’ve ever met. She is the kind of person I want to be more like, and I bet everyone that meets her feels the same way. Whenever I get caught up in the drama of the show, Emma is always there to remind me about what matters most in life (hint: its not a cooking show competition).

I was pretty hard on myself for not doing so hot in the past few episodes. I saw a little bit of negative feedback online and I beat myself up over it.

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Hand on the hip, RBF, you know I mean business. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Emma has helped me to work through a lot of those weird emotions. And she taught me, through both pep-talks and example, that at the end of the day, none of that stuff matters. 

And she’s right.

What matters in life are the people, places and experiences that make us happy and whole. That’s it.

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Ribbit. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

I so admire how Emma has handled her exit from Food Network Star with the utmost grace and class. She has no regrets, and stands confident in her decisions to put on a Parisian accent, make interactive party food, and remind the world that we oftentimes sacrifice a life in order to satisfy a craving (see also The Importance of Rabbits by Thomas Keller).

She went home for being the leader of a team that came up short. But the bottom line is that she was the leader. She took the bull by the horns, and went for it, because that’s just how Emma rolls. She looks forward to the future, and pays no attention to the silly commentary from the peanut gallery.

Because, it doesn’t matter.

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The droves of friends, family, and community that have come out of the woodwork to show their support. THEY matter.

The little girls who look up at me wide-eyed and star struck, exclaiming how they want to cook just like me when they grow up. THEY matter.

The husband who reminds me EVERY DAY how cool this is and what a wonderful and blessed REAL life we have together. HE matters.

Walking away from this experience with solid friendships and important life lessons. THAT really matters.

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Headed to the city where dreams are made of. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

So as sad as I am to see my friend go, I can’t contain my excitement to be moving on to New York City, where we get to visit Food Network Studios, and go on the Rachel Ray Show.

I am still living out my biggest lifelong dream.

And THAT, right there, matters.

Read Emma Frisch’s Blog Recap & find out what her future holds!

Read Emma’s Exit Interview

Vote for me for Fan Favorite!

Top moments from this Episode

Watch a video recap of Episode 8 and a sneak peak of Episode 9!

Read Season 8 winner Justin Warner’s Rebel Recap

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