Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pasta for the Men

Just the word pasta makes me hungry. I could eat it 3 times a week easily. I like almost anything with pasta in it. Somehow, though, the men in my family have gotten it in their heads that pasta isn't quite manly enough for them. And don't even try suggesting a meatless sauce. It's basically revived as if I said we just were skipping dinner all together.
They all eat it by the way. They even like it. But they groan when I say we're having it. Probably more to make my voice get squeaky than to voice real feelings. 
So one day I'm flipping through one of the billions of magazines I get with recipes in them.
This is just from the past 2 weeks...

I saw this recipe and thought..hmmm..maybe the food critics will like this one. It didn't seem like something I would necessarily love, but but I was willing to give it a shot. WOW. I could not have been more wrong. Delicious. Zero leftovers delicious. Did I mention it takes like 18 minutes to make? Holy cow.

1 package of smoked sausage, diagonally cut into 1/4" thick slices
12 oz. pasta
1 onion, diced
2 cups heavy cream
Cajun seasoning
1 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package.  Saute the onion and sausage in a large (I use non stick) skillet over medium high heat until onions are tender, stirring occasionally.  Add cream and Cajun seasoning. Okay here's where it gets tricky. The original recipe called for 2 teaspoons. Y'all. No. That sounds like a way for my insides to light themselves on fire while my esophagus fills with lava. Can't do it. Some of you love spicy food, put as much as you want. However, if you, like me, also have a volcano instead of a digestive system, then just sprinkle some in there, wait, and taste. If it tastes like plain cream, sprinkle more. I did this three times before I could even taste it. But I would always rather be careful than make something so hot I can't even enjoy it. If everything in italics is unbelievable madness to you, you're probably safe with the 2 teaspoons. Excuse me while I take Tums just thinking about it. Bring cream sauce to a boil, then reduce heat ad gently simmer until it begins to thicken. Remove from heat, stir in Parmesan. Please not from a green bottle. This should be refrigerated when you buy it. Stir in your cooked pasta and sprinkle some dried parsley on top if you feel fancy.

What is your family picky finicky particular about?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Summer Carbonara

This is a repost from 2011..I still LOVE to make this one. I thought it would be a good time to introduce it to you guys who are new to the blog since summer is upon us.

I've said it before, Rachael Ray is one of my favorite sources for new recipe ideas. I found a great summery pasta recipe I wanted to try, but as usual I had to do my own little switches and changes to make it my own. So here is my first ever carbonara! One piece of advice, chop everything before you start, especially the first time you make it. It isn't overly complicated, but it will help with the timing to have everything ready to go. I think it will be a lot faster the second time now that I know what I'm doing but either way I'll probably keep making it, because I have to say, it is YUMMY!

1lb fettucine
few tbsps of olive oil
1/2 package of turkey bacon, finely diced
12 oz bag of frozen corn, thawed(or canned corn)
1 small jalapeno, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp thyme
2 tbsp parsley
1/2 cup white wine
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup of pecorino romano cheese
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup of chives, chopped

Start by putting a large pot of water over high heat, and boil the pasta according to the instructions on the box.

Right before you put the pasta in the water, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy.

Then add the corn and cook until it's lightly browned.

Once that the corn gets a little color, add the garlic, thyme and jalapeno. At this point I would recommend turning the heat down a little, and you may have to add a little more olive oil. Cook that for a couple of minutes and then add the parsley and white wine, reducing the heat to low. Simmer on low until the other components are ready.

When the pasta is done, get a cup of the cooking water out and reserve. Drain the pasta. While it is draining, use that water to temper the egg yolks. I had never done this before, but it is pretty easy! Basically you slowly beat the water into the egg yolks to bring the temperature up without scrambling the eggs.

Combine the pasta, the corn mixture, and egg yolks, and remove from heat. Add in about a handful of each cheese and start tossing the pasta. In about 2 minutes, the liquids will start to form a wonderful silky sauce.

You can top with more cheese and chives if desired! I'd love to hear how yours turns out!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

My First Huntsville Food Truck

A few weeks ago, my team at work got this idea that we wanted to go eat at a food truck. We checked Facebook and realized there was one that wouldn't be too far from our office. So we piled up in my boss' 4Runner and went on an adventure.

What we found was Crave Heat. A super cute bright blue truck with a giant gorilla painted on the side. After chatting with the guys who run it, we all made our choices. While we waited, we played some crazy video game on a TV built into the side of the truck. I tasted so many things and most of them were excellent, but here are the two that I'm still craving this many days later:

Fish Tacos-I'm a pretty big fish taco fan anyway, but these were exceptionally good. The thing that made them so awesome was the pineapple sauce on top. A little tangy, a teensy bit of heat to it (not too much people, trust me, I'm the biggest baby on the planet about spicy things). It was a wonderfully island-y combination
Quesadillas-So the tacos are more like an appetizer. If you want them, I'd get a double order. Or get three orders for two people. Just a little more than one order is perfect. After we ate our tacos and realized we were still hungry, we went back and got more food. Quesadillas this time. They are the opposite in portion sizing. One is PLENTY. Especially if you've already had an order of tacos. Cheesy goodness with delicious marinated meat. We just kept eating and kept eating and kept eating until it got embarrassing for everyone involved. And by "we" and "everyone" I mean me.

I can't wait to go to the Food Truck events downtown this summer! What's your favorite portable eatery in Huntsville?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Poor Food

When I was growing up, my mom and I lived with my grandparents. They still had a house in Florida and we were living with them in their new house in Huntsville. This two house/freshly moved scenario had happened to them many times before because Papaw was transferred often for his job. Mamaw knew from her own childhood and young adult life how to stretch a she had her go-tos when things were tight. But when you're 6, you don't really know what's poor food and what isn't. So I would beg for things like chicken and rice, and I just couldn't understand why they thought it was so funny! Tonight I made one of my favorite poor foods, fried potatoes and smoked sausage. Pretty easy, really cheap, feeds a lot of people AND it's amazingly delicious. Not much falls into all those categories. Here's what to do when you're over budget:

Fried Potatoes 
Ingredients: Potatoes (about one big one per person or two littles), one package of smoked sausage, 1-2 onions depending on how big of a batch you are making

Peel your potatoes. Congratulations, that's literally the most difficult step.You are now halfway done. Cube your potatoes-I normally cut them in quarters long ways, then slice those strips into cubes. But it's really not that important as long as they are about the same size/thickness. Dice up an onion. Slice your smoked sausage into about 1/2 inch thick chunks. The thinner you slice them the more pieces you get so it's really up to you.

Put a little oil in a non stick skillet over medium high heat. Let it get hot for a minute or two, then throw in all of your ingredients. Salt and pepper them. The potatoes can take a good bit of salt, but just taste as you go to check. Once you have it in the skillet, don't stir it too much. Let a little golden brown color develop on everything. Stir and cook for about 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Remember, just taste as you go so you can adjust your salt/pepper. You're done! One skillet to wash, not very many dollars spent, delicious flavors produced.

I love this meal. Mamaw and I especially like greens and cornbread with it, if you're into that I'd recommend it. Otherwise any veggie will do.

What does your family make when you're pinching pennies?

Friday, June 13, 2014


One of my favorite things about food is that there's always more to try. New flavors to taste, new ingredients to learn about, new recipes to try. It's never-ending in the best way possible. The vastness of it all means that if you cook a somewhat significant amount, you're going to have things that don't turn out to be your favorite. In fact, you may even have a complete and total fail every now and again. The kind you just throw out. Some of my most notable fails along the way include butternut squash soup (better known as the most expensive baby food ever made and immediately poured down the garbage disposal), mint and cream pasta (the flavors sounded so good in the cookbook but toothpaste would've been better on bowtie noodles). Oh and when I was 5 I tried to make soup with my cousin out of everything in the the door of my Nannie's refrigerator. She loves to tell that story.

But my most recent failure involves trying to get homemade flavor from a premade product. A few months ago, I made a homemade biscuit recipe out of one of my grandmother's cookbook. The kind you roll out and everything. They had 7up in them, which is bizarre to me but apparently its like a thing. Baking is NOT my strong suit, but they turned out great. You melted butter in the bottom of the pan you baked them in and so they were just soft buttery fluffiness when they came out of the oven.

This past week I wanted to take biscuits to a dinner with some friends, but I didn't have enough of all the ingredients to make those. I thought to myself, I bet the butter in the pan is what made them so special! Maybe I can just make canned biscuits and melt butter in the pan first! I knew they wouldn't be as good as homemade, but I thought at least maybe they'd be more exciting than old boring canned biscuits.


They weren't just not boring, they were gross. I don't know if there was some weird chemical reaction or something (I didn't really do that well in chemistry, my friend's mom was our teacher and asked me often if I was "sure about number 3" when I'd hand things in), but they tasted funky. Like I-checked-the-expiration-date-after-that funky. I ended up throwing an entire can of biscuits away!

What's your most laughed about epic fail in the kitchen?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Most Frequently Given Recipe-Cream Cheese & Salsa Chicken

Once upon a time, there lived a silly girl who volunteered to make roll ups for a wedding reception. Don't judge her, she was much younger than you and not as wise, and had absolutely ZERO idea how long it would take. The roll ups were delicious, and she wanted them again a few weeks later, but who has that kind of time? So I did the girl did something very smart. She turned the filling from the roll ups into a dip. The dip is just a block of softened cream cheese and approximately one cup of your favorite salsa (green lid Pace-it's the only way to go in my opinion). Mix them together until you get a creamy pink mixture, and then get a bag of your favorite tortilla chips! Its like chips and salsa, only filling, and with calcium, which means it's good for you so just shut up about cream cheese. Sometimes I obsess too much over snack foods, but in this case I think I pretty much nailed it. I decided if I could turn the dip into a meal, it would be really great. So I did. I mean, the girl did. Whatever. 

1 lb of chicken breasts or tenderloins
1 jar of salsa-again, green lid Pace is where it's at
1 block of cream cheese

Start out with a pound or so of chicken breasts or tenderloins, and put in a crockpot. You must own crockpot liners. If you don't I'm not sure how you resist the urge to just throw your crockpot away every time you use it. It's like a garbage bag for your crock pot. Don't make anything else until you buy some. Cover the chicken in salsa. It may not take the whole jar, and that's fine, you will use it again later most likely. You can add a little water to it the salsa if you will be gone for a very long time. Turn on low and let it cook all day. About 30 minutes before you want to eat, make 4-6 servings of rice, following the directions on the bag of rice. Next, remove the chicken from the crock pot, leaving the salsa liquid in the crock pot. Add a softened block of cream cheese to the salsa in the crock pot and stir in. It should end up a pinkish/orange color and taste amazing. If it doesn't, keep adding either salsa or cream cheese until it does. Use your judgement here people. You don't need much experience in the kitchen for a taste test, so don't panic on me about my lack of exact amounts. While it is combining, pull apart the chicken with two forks or just coarsely chop it. Then, add the chicken back into the salsa cream cheese mixture.
Serve over rice.

Anytime someone posts on facebook that they need a fast recipe, an easy recipe, a simple recipe, a new recipe, a crock pot recipe, a chicken recipe..I give them this one. What do you tell people to cook who are in a rut?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Guest Post Friday: The Best Chicken in the World

This is my friend Robin's recipe for the world's greatest chicken. I HATE chicken. Except this chicken. You're going to LOOOOOVE it. Welcome to the first ever guest post on Carrots and Ranch. 

The greatest chicken you’ll ever eat. Like, ever.

Nobody really likes to eat chicken. People eat chicken because it’s healthier than eating red meat, but when taking a poll of favorite foods, exactly zero people say “Ohhhh, I LOVE CHICKEN!” Chicken WINGS, maybe. But never any kind of chicken that isn’t fried.  

Until now.

I am about to change your entire attitude about chicken. This will revolutionize your menu planning. No longer will you feel the need to drown bland chicken in some type of sauce (Although who can resist a really nice marinara or cream sauce? Not me.) You can eat the chicken - are you ready for this? - PLAIN. But before I totally rock your world with the how-to part of this, let me tell you a quick story:

A few months ago, I was trying really hard to drop some pounds that I had gained during pregnancy number 2. Anyone who has had a second child really knows that you get fat real quick the weight really comes on you much sooner than it did with child number one. So, needless to say, I needed to do something quick to get myself back into my pre-baby jeans. My husband and I (because he is that supportive kind of guy) decided to try out the DASH diet. You need to check it out if you are interested in trying to drop some weight and make some dietary adjustments. It is a not a very limiting eating plan and is really easy to stick to. Read this book if you are interested in trying out this eating plan.

Anyway, when we started looking at what food we can eat, chicken kept coming up. I wanted to gag. I decided I better learn how to cook chicken if I was going to be able to stick to this diet, so I turned to…wait for it…GOOGLE to learn how to cook chicken. Honestly, I can’t remember where I found these cooking instructions. But, I’ve made my own adjustments to this to suit my palette. 

Here’s what you’ll need:
2 Chicken breasts
About 1 tbs olive oil
An oven safe skillet

The flavor that you are going for in your chicken will determine what kind of seasoning you’re going to use - but for this example, we’ll go with just regular chicken and I’ll explain your variations at the end.

Here’s how you cook the chicken:
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Season the top side of your chicken breasts. I use kosher salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.
After you have coated the bottom of your skillet with the olive oil and heated your skillet (careful not to burn your oil, because YUCK), place the chicken breasts, top side down, into a hot skillet for 2-3 minutes. The chicken should be brown on the top before turning over.
While the top side is cooking in the skillet, season the bottom side with the same ingredients. 
After 2-3 minutes, flip the chicken breasts over in the skillet and put the whole skillet into your preheated oven for 15 minutes. 
After 15 minutes, take the chicken out of the oven and check internal temperature (if you have a meat thermometer). Internal temperature should be 165 degrees. 
Let the chicken rest on a cutting board for about 5 minutes before enjoying the best chicken you will ever eat.

You can serve this chicken, as is, with some type of veggies and absolutely blow peoples’ minds that you can make chicken that is moist and flavorful (and not dry and disgusting). I also like to prepare the chicken this way and then slice it up and serve on top of a salad as a “grilled chicken salad.” The trick is, after you slice the chicken put it back in your skillet, toss it in the pan drippings, and then serve. 

Barbecue Chicken: season with a dry rub and during the last 5 minutes of cook time, brush the top side of your chicken breast with your favorite barbecue sauce. Serve with slaw, baked beans, or potato salad for a healthier alternative to pulled pork barbecue.

Italian Chicken: season with italian seasoning (plus salt and pepper) and during the last 5 minutes of cook time, top with slices of mozzarella cheese. Serve topped with marinara sauce for an “unbreaded” chicken parmesan knock-off. 

Mexican Chicken: season with Adobo seasoning (found in the ethnic food section of your local supermarket). Adobo seasoning contains salt, granulated garlic, oregano, turmeric, and black pepper. After the chicken rests, I slice it into strips and put it back in the skillet to toss in the drippings and soak up all of that glorious flavor. Then, serve with cooked fajita veggies (also sprinkled with Adobo seasoning) and make the best chicken fajitas in the world. 

So there you have it. You never have to eat disgusting plain chicken that is dried out because it got left on the grill for a few extra minutes. You can actually make chicken taste good. You can leave your people asking for seconds. So get to it, and enjoy!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

First Ever Restaurant Review: Saffron

Some friends of mine recently traveled to South Asia. They got a big group of us together to try an Indian restaurant in Madison called Saffron. I was so excited to try it, and it definitely didn't disappoint.
Sidebar-I've never reviewed a restaurant before. I have zero clue what I'm doing. Am I supposed to rate this thing? Like 3 out of 5 carrots? Who decides these things? I wish there were rules. 

Our party had 11 adults and 3 kids under 3, so we weren't the easiest table ever.  We started with bread-Cheese Naan, Paneer Naan, and Garlic Naan. I thought I would like the garlic version the best because let me tell you-I LOVE garlic. I generally double what any recipe calls for without even thinking about it. I can never have enough.
Except on Naan.
The Garlic Naan had raw garlic on it, which is an altogether different flavor that sauteed or roasted garlic. It's much sharper and spicier. Not my favorite.
The Cheese and Paneer tasted pretty similar to me, and were both great. Go with the Cheese Naan-everyone, even the pickiest eater at the table that didn't order an entree, liked it. We ended up getting extra baskets of it.

For my entree, I ordered Chicken Curry-mild (you can order anything with curry mild, medium, or spicy). I thought it was delicious! They served me a beautiful plate of basmati rice, which I can't WAIT to try and recreate now. It had flecks of brightly colored herbs in it, and I could've just eaten a whole plate of it plain! Then I spooned my chicken curry on top of it and ate until I couldn't eat anymore! It was exactly what I wanted-plenty of curry flavor with no heat. The mild was perfect! As full as I was from that, I still made room to sample some of my friends' entrees too:

Chicken Tikka Masala- My friend Laurie ordered this medium. It was the best thing I tried there. She kept dipping her naan in the deep orange sauce she had left in the bowl!

Lamb Shish Kebab-This was the only food on the table everyone didn't love. It came out on a sizzling pan like fajitas, but the flavor and texture on the lamb were very odd. If you're thinking you are ordering skewered chunks of lamb meat, you aren't.  Don't get this.

We had a very sweet team of waitresses. They were patient with our crazy table and our dozens of questions. My meal was about $15 before tip. Worth every penny!  I will definitely be visiting Saffron again. My recommendation is to go with the Tikka Masala! I absolutely will be ordering it on my second visit

I give it 4 out of 5 carrots or something less cheesy..stars just seem so overdone.The only thing that could've improved was service time. We had a reservation or I wouldn't have even thought about it taking a little while to feed that cray cray group.

PS You probably already know, but you're gonna want to wash all of your clothes immediately. The smell of curry sort of sticks with you. I wouldn't wear anything dry clean only.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Just Don't Read This

I'm really sorry. In advance. This post will absolutely ruin the chances of you getting $4 Chinese food ever again. No more swinging by on your way home, no more calling for delivery. It just won't seem like an appealing option anymore. Whew. Glad I got that out of the way. I'm kind of pessimistic by nature so I like to get all the bad news out up front. No surprises later.

On to the good news. This recipe is not at all difficult. I'm pretty sure my 11 year old brother who doesn't even like food could make it if I trusted him with a knife. It also doesn't take long. More good news. So much good news right now it almost makes me suspicious. I may have issues.

Originally I found this on, but I've made it so many times now that it's completely different. Most things I cook evolve over time. This is homemade fried rice. I feel so much better when I eat this than takeout. To clarify, I'm not one of those people who's worried about preservatives, MSG, blah blah blah. I don't try to go organic. I'm not like anti-those things but I just don't stress about I that much. In fact, I'm probably worry way too little about all those things. BUT I do like fresh ingredients. I like how they taste. I like cooking my food because then I know exactly what goes in it, and that it isn't terrible for me. And I like that I don't feel disgusting and greasy after eating this, which I normally do from take out.

Enough rambling from your favorite internet crazy, let's get to the food.

2 onions, chopped (they don't need to be super small)
Vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Sesame Oil (if this your first time using it-store in refrigerator afterwards)
Soy Sauce
2 carrots finely chopped
6 cups cold cooked rice (just cook it the night before or something)

Possible Add Ins:
3/4 cup frozen peas (GROSS NEVER-English peas are one of two foods I won't put in my mouth. Bananas are the other)
Green onions (highly recommend this one)
Canned chicken (I'll explain in a minute)

You'll need two non stick skillets if you've got them. That's what I use anyway. First, stir fry onions and carrots over medium high heat until you get a brown color on the onions. I use vegetable oil for this step. It normally takes about 10 minutes.

While those are cooking, put 5 drops of sesame oil and 5 drops of soy in the bowl with the eggs. Lightly beat them, and then pour them in your second skillet with 1/2 tbsp of oil. Let the skillet get hot before you pour in the eggs. Then swirl the egg around in that skillet until it sets. Just don't mess with it. Wait until it starts puffing up, then flip it over with a spatula. It won't take long at all once you flip it. Once the other side is done, remove it from the skillet and chop it up into small pieces. Just hold onto them for a while.
Pre flip
Post flip

At this point, you can add the canned chicken if you want. It won't be gross. I promise. I know canned meat is weird sometimes, but this isn't. Douse it all with soy and let some flavor from the soy soak in the chicken while its all getting hot. Stir fry that for about 5 minutes. Then, add in your cold rice, green onions if you go that route, and any other add ins. Mix it well and stir fry for another 5 minutes or so. Add in eggs and 3 tbsps of soy sauce. Keep adding soy sauce until it tastes like you'd like. Remember you can always add more to individual plates.

Get ready to get your socks knocked off. One day I'll post the recipe for Yum Yum sauce like they serve at hibachi places, which I like on top of my rice. For now, just enjoy your triumph.

Sorry China Dragon.

What takeout do you wish you could make at home?