Summer Eats: 7 Carnival-Themed Recipes

carnival recipes

Photos: Ashley Corbin-Teich/Getty Images

Summer is the season of carnivals and country fairs. So bring a taste of the fun home this summer with recipes that harken back to the midway.


1. Texas Chili Cheese Fries

How do you take a food truck and carnival classic and transform it into home fare? Simple. You put Chef Lisa on it and she creates these off-the-charts delicious Texas Chili Cheese Fries, a meal in itself. Spice-coated, crispy baked (not fried!) French fries are smothered in a ribbon-winning, hearty homemade chili, sprinkled with sharp cheddar cheese and finished with a spicy pico de gallo (tomatoes and jalapeños and parsley!) fresh salsa.


Beef Chili

2 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1½ lbs ground beef
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
¼ cup tomato paste
1 (28oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup salsa
1 (19oz) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Oven-Baked Fries

6 large russet potatoes, skin on, scrubbed clean
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Pico De Gallo

4 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
½ tsp kosher salt

1 cup grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese


1) For the chili, in a small bowl, mix together chili powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne. Set aside. In a large pot, brown ground beef over medium-high heat, stirring to break up the meat. Drain off the fat and set beef aside. Using the same pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, red and green peppers, stirring about 5-6 minutes, until vegetables are softened. Add tomato paste and the seasoning mix and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add canned tomatoes, salsa, kidney beans and browned beef. Lower heat to a simmer and cook covered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

2) For the fries, preheat oven to 425ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut baking potatoes into ½-inch thick matchsticks. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with olive oil, salt, chili powder, paprika and pepper. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheets. Bake 30-40 minutes, until golden and crisp, tossing a few times during cooking.

3) For the pico de gallo, combine tomatoes, jalapeno, parsley, lime juice and salt in a small bowl. Toss to combine and refrigerate until ready to use.

4) To assemble, preheat broiler to high. Place fries on an oven safe dish, top with chili and sprinkle grated cheddar cheese over top. Place under the broiler to melt cheese. Remove from oven, top with pico de gallo and serve immediately.

Serves 6-8Ribs

2. Saucy Oven-Baked BBQ Ribs

We wish we had written the Chili’s baby back rib anthem. You see, these easy oven-baked, tender and flavorful ribs make us want to sing. Marinated in a sweet and spicy dry rub and baked low and slow, the meat on these baby back ribs is so tender it falls off the bone. We want our baby back, baby back, baby back ribs…


2 (2 lb. each) racks baby back ribs

Rib Rub

½ cup brown sugar
2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

½ cup beef broth

¾ cup of your favorite barbecue sauce


1) To prepare the ribs, remove membrane from the underside of the ribs. In a medium bowl, mix together brown sugar, paprika, salt, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin and pepper. Generously rub ribs with spice mixture until evenly coated on all sides. Wrap ribs tightly in aluminum foil and marinate in the refrigerator anywhere from 6 hours to overnight.

2) Remove ribs from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat oven to 275ºF and line a shallow roasting pan with aluminum foil. Pour beef broth into the bottom of the roasting pan. Unwrap ribs from aluminum foil and place, meaty side up over broth. Cover pan tightly with 2 sheets of aluminum foil and bake 3 ½ hours until the meat falls easily from the bone. Remove from oven and carefully unwrap foil. Coat ribs with your favorite barbeque sauce and continue to bake uncovered 20 minutes more.

Serves 4-6


3. Roasted Vegetable & Ricotta Pizza

Forget wishing for Wolfgang (Puck, that is) to walk through the door – with this easy pizza recipe, you can whip up your own scrumptious pie in a snap. Nothing can beat (especially take-out) the wonder of a tender homemade pizza crust loaded up with roasted vegetables and dollops of creamy ricotta cheese.


Homemade Pizza Crust

1 cup warm water
1 tbsp honey
1 pkg (2 ¼ tsp) active dry yeast
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp olive oil

Roasted Vegetable Topping

8 small red potatoes, washed and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large zucchini, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 yellow pepper, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp dried rosemary
¼ tsp dried oregano

¼ cup pizza sauce
½ cup ricotta cheese
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Olive oil
Kosher salt


1) For the dough, place warm water in a small bowl and dissolve honey in it. Sprinkle yeast over water, cover and let stand 10 minutes. In the bowl of an electric mixer, add flour, salt and olive oil. Using the dough hook attachment, add the yeast mixture on low speed. Turn speed to medium and continue to mix for 4 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and knead by hand on a lightly floured surface for 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. Place in a large bowl that has been coated with non-stick cooking spray. Cover and let rise in a warm area for 1 hour.

2) Meanwhile, for the roasted vegetable topping, preheat oven to 450ºF. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss potatoes, zucchini, peppers, olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary and oregano together. Place vegetables on baking sheet and cook 15-20 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Remove from oven and set aside. Increase oven temperature to 475ºF.

3) After the dough has doubled in size, knead it for 1 minute. Spread dough into a lightly oiled 14-inch pizza pan. Spread pizza sauce onto dough and evenly sprinkle roasted vegetables over sauce. Using a tablespoon, drop dollops of ricotta cheese on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Lightly brush around the edges of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake 12-14 minutes, until edges are golden. Let pizza rest 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Yield: 8-10 slices


4. Quick Beer-Braised Chicken Sliders

Holy BBQ sauced sliders! This quick and easy recipe is for all pulled chicken lovers out there, especially those who don’t have hours to spare. Within a half hour, you can have shredded beer-braised chicken, tossed in zesty, flavorful barbecue sauce and stacked in soft slider buns.


Beer-Braised Chicken

1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups lager beer
1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp whiskey

Zesty Barbecue Sauce

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup chopped white onion
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 cup chili sauce
1 cup dark beer
¼ cup honey
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

12 slider Buns


1) For the braised chicken, heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Brown chicken breasts 2 minutes per side. Add beer, chicken broth and whiskey to the skillet bring to a boil. Lower heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Prepare barbeque sauce while chicken is cooking.

2) For the barbecue beer sauce, In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender 2-3 minutes. Add chili sauce, beer, honey and Worcestershire and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and set aside.

3) When chicken is cooked through, remove from heat and cool covered for 10 minutes. Remove from skillet and using 2 forks or your hands, shred chicken finely. Toss with prepared barbeque sauce and serve on slider buns.

Serves 6Popsicle5. Sprinkle Cake Pops

Visit any fair or carnival and you’re guaranteed to find everything served on a stick, from fried butter to spaghetti and meatballs. Who are we to buck the trend? We bring you individual moist vanilla birthday cakes, iced with creamy vanilla frosting and coated in candy. Step right up because Lisa’s creative cake pops(icles) are tops at every concession stand!


Vanilla Birthday Cake

½ cup vegetable shortening
1¼ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup buttermilk
2 tbsp lemon juice

Vanilla Frosting

1 cup butter
½ cup vegetable shortening
5 cups icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp whole milk

Popsicle sticks


1) Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 13×9-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place parchment paper along the bottom for easy removal of the cake.

2) For the cake, using an electric mixer, cream together vegetable shortening and sugar for 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time and add vanilla extract and lemon zest. Continue to beat for 2 minutes more. Add flour, baking soda, salt, buttermilk and lemon juice. Beat for 2 minutes more on medium speed. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 22 minutes, until cake springs back when gently touched. Cool completely before cutting into shapes and frosting.

3) For the frosting, using an electric mixer, cream together butter and shortening. Add icing sugar on low speed until well combined. Add vanilla extract and milk, mix until smooth and desired spreading consistency.

4) To assemble, cut cake into the shape of a Popsicle. You should be able to get 5 or 6 popsicles depending how large you want them. Cut each Popsicle in half vertically (from top to bottom) and fill with vanilla frosting. Replace the top half of the cake onto the frosted cake. Ice the top and sides with vanilla frosting. Place a wooden Popsicle stick into the bottom of each cake and cover each one entirely with sprinkles.

Yield: 5-6 Popsicle-shaped cakesMilkshake6. Cotton Candy Milkshake

Nothing brings out our inner kid more than fluffy, sweet spun sugar known as cotton candy, so it shouldn’t surprise you that we begged and whined until Chef Lisa whipped up this easy, fantastically creamy Cotton Candy Milkshake. Hooray!


2 cups cotton candy ice cream
½ cup cotton candy
¼ cup whole milk

Cotton candy, for garnish


Using a blender, combine cotton candy ice cream, cotton candy and milk. Blend until smooth and pour into a milkshake glass.

Serves 1Popcorn7. Chocolate Pretzel Caramel Popcorn

The secret is out of the bag – you can finally stop buying overpriced and stale candied popcorn! Lisa has created a recipe that allows you to easily and expertly whip up batch after batch of this incredible Chocolate Caramel Popcorn & Pretzels. In this sweet and salty treat (and amazing edible gift!), popcorn and pretzels are tossed with a homemade caramel sauce, baked and then drizzled with melted chocolate.


12 cups unsalted popped popcorn
2½ cups mini pretzels

1 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter, cubed
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp baking soda

4 oz white chocolate, melted
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted


1) Preheat oven to 250ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Coat a large mixing bowl with non-stick cooking spray and place popcorn and pretzels in the bowl. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil without stirring for 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (mixture will bubble up a little). Quickly and carefully pour over the popcorn and pretzels and toss using wooden spoons to mix. Spread over prepared baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

2) Remove from oven and transfer popcorn mixture to parchment paper to cool. Drizzle with melted white chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate. Cool completely to let chocolate set. Store in an airtight container.

Serves 8-10


Authors of bestselling cookbooks Bite Me, Bite Me Too and Lick Your Plate, saucy sisters Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat love eating, feeding, entertaining and dishing up easy recipes at