Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Five Reasons Why We No Longer Watch Food Network

Chef Tory McPhail, executive chef of Commander's Palace in New Orleans, won the $25,000 prize on Food Network's Kitchen Inferno. 

We are breaking up with the Food Network. We are not breaking up with some of our favorite food gurus, just from the channel in general. It has been a slow separation, because we really loved Food Network. There was a time when we couldn't get enough of our favorite shows and there were many of them, Barefoot Contessa, Boy Meets Grill, Tyler's Ultimate... But, unfortunately, we've come to the conclusion that we have irreconcilable differences with Food Network. We've come to a parting of the ways and here are the reasons why.

1. Too many competition and hidden camera type shows...
We liked the competitions. We loved The Next Food Network Star, Iron Chef and Dinner Impossible. But now everything is a competition and some of them are just sad. And those shows where they try to catch restaurant employees doing bad things just don't make us feel good. We don't like to watch shows that try to entertain us in unsavory ways. It is like watching Hoarders or Anna Nicole Smith's descent into addiction. We don't enjoy other people's misery even if they bring it on themselves. Additionally, many of the competition shows keep recycling the same old people over and over again. It's ok sometimes, but again...too much of the same, Food Network.

2. Too much Triple D...
We used to like Triple D. We are fans of Guy Fieri. How do you not like him? He's friendly, nice, energetic, but Food Network has ruined Triple D for us. How? Too much exposure. Triple D is no longer entertaining. It is just too much.

3. Next Food Network Star just isn't...
As we said before, we were huge fans of The Next Food Network Star. After all, look what happened to Guy Fieri after he won. We cheered him on! He was a success story. That is why we watched, to see someone achieve their dream and get their own show. But then along Justin Warner. He won The Next Food Network Star competition and the promise of his own show on the Food Network. Sadly, Justin never got that show and we all ended up feeling a little gipped. And it wasn't because Justin was the one we were pulling for. It's just that he won fair and square and a promise is a promise.

4. Too many repeats...
This is an extension of the Triple D problem, only it isn't just Triple D. Shows on Food Network are shown ad nauseum. We are tired of turning on the television to see Giada whip up Nonna Luna's savory broiled artichokes for the 500th time. Again, we like Giada, but enough is enough.

5. There is more to learn on Create TV...
We have discovered Create TV. It is more like Food Network used to be before the network executives quit seeing whisks and started seeing dollar signs. We love Cook's Country from America's Test Kitchen. You can really learn something from that show, like the best way to get that crispy brown crust on your salmon without overcooking the fish or a really great knife to add to your collection (http://threefriendsandafork.blogspot.com/2014/12/how-do-you-cut-it.html). Everything on Create TV is more real, none of the glitz and glitter and used car salesman pushiness of Food Network. We can feel our blood pressure going down when we switch the channel from Food Network to Create TV.

Does this mean we will never again tune in to another competition show on Food Network? No! We were right there glued to the television when our favorite chef, Tory McPhail, beat Iron Chef Geoffery Zakarian to win the $25,000 prize on Kitchen Inferno. But what it does mean is we will be tuning in much less often and it's probably going to take something (or somebody) really special to get us to flip the channel back to Food Network.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

No Holes Barred Shrimp, Sausage and Grits

Alrighty...before we give you this next recipe, we are going to tell you straight up...We do not want to hear from any health food gurus telling us how seriously bad it is. We know that. It is bad...so bad you will want to punish yourself for eating it! But don't! Just enjoy it and promise to do better tomorrow. We do not recommend making this dish once a week or even once a month, but once a year, if you want to pull out all the stops and assuming you have been squeaky clean the rest of the year, we say go for it. And remember, we just gave you a recipe for kale slaw, so don't judge us too harshly! What is it? Shrimp, sausage and grits and it hits all the danger notes: bacon, butter, cream and sausage. Seriously, can it get any worse? And, yes, we thought about lightening it up, but since we had never before attempted shrimp and grits on our own, we decided to go full throttle and try it with all the flavor and fat. Maybe next time we will try to come up with a lighter version, but for now this is it...No Holes Barred Shrimp, Sausage and Grits. Oh, and lest we look bad all by ourselves, you should know that our sweet friend, Deborah G., inspired this recipe and she is one of the healthiest people we know. She truly knows how to balance her life and this is one example. Recently at a beautiful brunch at her home, she created a wonderful grits bar with all kinds of toppings and one of the toppings was a tomato gravy with Andouille sausage. It was divine and the inspiration for this recipe. Try it (just once) and let us know what you think.

Here's what you will need:

1 lb. large fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined and grilled
1 lb. Andouille or smoked Conecuh sausage
2 cans fire roasted tomatoes
6 slices of bacon, chopped into pieces
1 small onion, diced
2 T. flour
3 cups beef broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream

For the grits:
1 c. quick grits
4 c. water
1 stick butter
1 t. salt
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream

Brown the bacon and sausage in a large Dutch oven. Remove the bacon and sausage when the bacon is browned and completely cooked. Drain on paper towels to remove excess grease. Pour all of the grease out of the pot except for 2 tablespoons. Add the diced onion to the pot and cook until the onion becomes translucent. Stir in the 2 tablespoons of flour. Put the bacon and sausage back in the pan along with the tomatoes and beef broth. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. Then add whipping cream, grilled shrimp, salt and pepper. Serve over creamy grits.

Slowly cook 1 c. grits in 4 c. salted water until grits are thick and creamy. Add butter and whipping cream and stir well.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Home Grown Revival

Several months ago a small group of Facebook users in Scottsboro, AL began tossing around ideas of ways to breathe life back into the small town. The conversation started when residents received news that Scottsboro and surrounding Jackson County had been awarded grants in the range of one million dollars to renovate the downtown square.  Suddenly, people began imagining a change in the town and there was reason to believe some of the ideas could become reality. A million dollars was a tangible hook on which hopes and dreams could hang. One of those citizens, Nat Cisco, was inspired to form a Facebook page called, Revive, which had the express purpose of generating positive ideas for improving the local economy and supporting the town's businesses. From Revive, a second group, Downtown Scottsboro, was created. Downtown Scottsboro's mission is to establish an arts and entertainment district around the historic old downtown square. While Revive has fueled ideas for the improvement of all areas of the town, Downtown Scottsboro has a more narrow focus. The idea was to start in the heart of the city and grow the economy from the inside out, to encourage shopping, dining and entertainment around the square and bring people back to the city's roots. Now Revive and Downtown Scottsboro have been the impetus behind the formation of Scottsboro's Downtown Redevelopment Authority. The Downtown Redevelopment Authority is a government entity that can search for and accept grants to be used for downtown revitalization. So, while Revive and Downtown Scottsboro can come up with ideas and ways to put those plans into action, the Redevelopment Authority can actually generate the money needed to make the ideas come to life.  The DRA has already acquired property on the square. After a fire had destroyed a narrow building, leaving a burned out alleyway, a false front had been added to improve the appearance of the charred hull, but nothing else had been done with the property. This alleyway was given to the DRA to be used to to the benefit of the downtown area. Ideas for the best use of this property are still being discussed.

This is a true grassroots movement at its best and social media has given it wheels. But, it all still boils down to the heart of the local citizens. Any movement is only as good as the commitment, drive, support and determination of the residents. In that regard, Scottsboro is showing itself to be blessed. In just a few short months, since the birth of Revive, it is evident that change is afoot in the city of Scottsboro. 

The change began to become noticeable when one concerned resident, Richard Matthews, offered to give the beloved Variety Bake Shop a facelift. As you can see from the photos above, the change is dramatic and graphic evidence of the ability of one person to make a difference. 

Not only has Scottsboro welcomed a brand new business, Nerdtopia, to the downtown area, we've noticed a brightening of other buildings around the square. A little paint here, a little repairing there...each and every bit beginning to make a difference, and all of this before even one penny of the million dollar grant money has been used.

Additionally, Downtown Scottsboro has thrown a downtown Movie Night on the Square and is currently working on a Christmas extravaganza, Jingle Bell Square. Both of these events were designed to give the local citizens a reason to come together and enjoy themselves in the city's historic downtown. The group plans to host more downtown events with the hope that these events will give the current businesses on the square a boost and help encourage the growth of new businesses in the area. 

Change is not immediate and growth takes time, but all it takes is for one tiny spark to take hold and the people of the town to fan the flames for that spark to turn into a blaze. We will be watching to see if Scottsboro can make good things happen, but right now, the signs are looking bright. Three Friends and a Fork will be cheering the progress every step of the way. Light the fires, Scottsboro! Fan the flames, Jackson County!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Colorful Kale Slaw

I have never had a green thumb. If something grows in the ground, I can usually find a way to kill it. I cannot grow a tomato to save my life and my spinach plants sprouted like they were going to do something and then got a glimpse of their gardener and curled up and died. So the only explanation I have for the beautiful kale I grew this year is that the stuff cannot be murdered. Seriously, if I can grow kale, anyone can grow kale. The problem is, I grew gorgeous kale and then had absolutely no idea what to do with it. I mean, I want to add kale to my repertoire, but it isn't something that comes naturally for me. I can't remember ever having kale as a child and I can barely get my own kids to eat turnip greens, so kale has been a bit of a challenge. I think it is quite ironic that the most successful plant I grew in my garden this year was the one I knew the least about. I've tried making kale chips, which did not meet with much enthusiasm from my family at all. While I kept searching for kale recipes to try, my kale kept growing, getting bigger, curlier and greener, taunting me make something with it.

So, I was quite interested when I happened to see Ina Garten on her show making a winter slaw with kale. Ina used kale, radicchio, and Brussels sprouts, finely chopped and topped with a lemony vinaigrette. I decided to try a kale slaw for myself, but I needed to make a few changes from Ina's recipe. First, I am not a fan of radicchio, so I traded it for some purple cabbage. Taking Ina's advice, I finely shredded the kale, cabbage and the Brussels sprouts. The purple cabbage and the dark green kale were absolutely beautiful together. Also, my family thought the lemony vinaigrette was a little tart for their tastes, so I made some changes to the dressing. I chose to eliminate the parmesan cheese that Ina added to her slaw. Additionally, Ina's recipe called for dried cranberries, which I used, but I thought it could use something nutty. I just happened to have a bag of sweetened, orange flavored almonds and cranberries that my friend Merri introduced me to when we went to the beach last year.

Merri is one of the best cooks I know and she has lots of good food ideas. She told me she often adds these flavorful almonds and cranberries to her salads. After one taste, I was hooked, so I keep a bag of them in my pantry at all times. I thought the orange flavor would be a great addition to the kale.

Here is what I ended up with. A sweeter version of Ina's kale slaw. I just love the purple and green together. Just looking at this pretty slaw makes me happy. I am also thrilled to be actually using my beautiful kale in a dish.  Here's the recipe. Be forewarned...it makes a huge bowl of slaw. See what you think!

6 large leaves of kale with the center spines removed
1/2 head of purple cabbage
8 Brussels sprouts, with the stems trimmed and cored.
1 bag of orange cranberry almondine
1 c. dried cranberries
Juice of 1 lemon
2/3 c. olive oil
1/4 c. sugar
3 T. water
2 T. white wine vinegar
1 T. Grey Poupon Dijon mustard
2 t. lime juice
2 t. fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 t. dried basil
1/4 t. dried oregano
1/4 t. salt
Freshly cracked black pepper

Finely shred cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts and put in large bowl. Add the orange cranberry almondine and dried cranberries to the shredded vegetables. In a separate bowl whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over the slaw.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How Do You Cut It?

The most important piece of equipment in my kitchen happens to one of the most basic. It is my chef's knife and since Christmas is upon us and this knife would make a wonderful, affordable gift for any foodie on your Christmas list, I thought I would share. I actually have several different knives, but the one I use the most is probably the least expensive. It is my Victorinox Fibrox Swiss 8" Chef's Knife. This is the same famous Swiss company that produces Swiss army knives. I am not kidding when I say it is affordable. It sells for $34.50 on Amazon, but it works like a far more expensive knife. When I tell you I use it everyday, I am not kidding about that either, because I happen to have three of these knives. I bought one and liked it so much, I went out and got myself two more. I like everything about it, the size the, shape and the quality.

This knife first came to my attention when I read a review in America's Test Kitchen magazine. In a comparison of several well known chef's knives, the Victorinox got high marks in every single category from handle and blade to various uses, such as chopping, mincing and butchering. I love the way the knife fits in my hand, it isn't too big or too small and the 8" length is just right for almost any job. Additionally, the Victorinox comes with a lifetime warranty. If you are looking for a great, inexpensive gift for any cooks on your gift list, take a look at the Victorinox Fibrox.  Here's a link...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Barbecue in the 'Boro

I recently came across an article which ranked each state in the country according to how much the citizens of the states love barbecue. Estately, a national real estate search site, ranked the states by looking at five different sets of criteria: 1) Barbecue restaurants per capita, 2) Facebook interest in barbecue, 3) Percentage of restaurants that are barbecue, 4) Google searches for barbecue, and 5) Barbecue accessory stores and charcoal producers. After compiling all the data, the states were ranked from Barbecue Hell, those states where barbecue is a rarity, to Barbecue Heaven, where barbecue is treated with reverence. And that stairway to barbecue heaven? Well it leads right up to the state that reveres barbecue more than any other. Yep! Alabama is right at the top of the stairway, number one in barbecue enthusiasts.

 When Relay Rides, a peer to peer car sharing company that seeks to connect those who need transportation with those who have vehicles they are willing to rent, contacted me again to write a second post about another local hidden gem, I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on. If Alabama is the king of barbecue, Scottsboro is the diamond in the king's crown. In our small town, we have no fewer than six barbecue joints. Here they are!

1. Tate's Barbecue
This little shack, and it really is a shack, serves up some tasty, smoky pulled pork. There is no indoor seating at Tate's. You walk up to a window, place your order and either take your food with you or sit at one of the two picnic tables in front of the tiny building. I suggest you try Tate's pulled pork sandwich or get a family pack to take home.

Rob Carlile smokes his wonderful chicken on Friday nights.
Carlile's offers a Sunday buffet.
Carlile's salad bar has lots of tasty options and wonderful homemade sauces.
The grilled and fried shrimp at Carlile's are fresh and wonderful.
Cobblers are always on the buffet at Carlile's.

2. Carlile's
Carlile's is way more than a barbecue joint, but smoked meats are an important part of their menu. They have an extensive salad bar and Sunday buffet. One of the things I especially love about Carlile's is all of their homemade sauces and dressings. Their tartar sauce, blue cheese and thousand island dressings are delicious. If you visit Carlile's on Friday night, you can order Rob Carlile's
delicious smoked chicken with white sauce. Yum!

3. Triple R Barbecue
Triple R is in a large building cobbled together from the logs of some old cabins from around Scottsboro, so it has lots of down home ambience. The menu features all sorts of grilled and smoked items, including all the sides. In addition to all the smoked choices, try the fried catfish with hushpuppies and mustard slaw. Delish!

4. 50 Taters
If you happen to be cruising through Scottsboro from Wednesday through Sunday, stop by 50 Taters. It is conveniently located near Walmart, so you know it is easy to find. As the name implies, potatoes feature prominently on the menu. The pork barbecue stuffed potato is fully loaded and gigantic!

The ribs from Holy Smokes are tender and delicious.

5. Holy Smokes
The newest barbecue joint in Scottsboro is Holy Smokes. This little upstart began life in a trailer and recently moved to a renovated building just across the railroad tracks. The owner has taken a run down shack and created a darling restaurant. The pork ribs at Holy Smokes are fall apart tender, too.

Here is the view from the restaurant overlooking Mud Creek.
Mud Creek pulled pork
Grilled tilapia with Greek seasoning.
Smoked chicken with mustard slaw, fries and baked beans

6. Mud Creek Barbecue
Ok, technically Mud Creek is not in Scottsboro. It is down the road a bit in nearby Hollywood, but it is such an institution for Scottsboro locals,  it has to be included on any list of local barbecue joints. Mud Creek sits right on the banks of Mud Creek, hence the name. Like the other restaurants on this list, there are all the usual barbecue suspects from pulled pork to chicken to ribs. Additionally, I happen to like the grilled tilapia with greek seasoning. The hush puppies are a favorite, too.

So, if you want good barbecue, come to Alabama where barbecue is truly appreciated. And if you want great barbecue, follow the pig tracks to tiny Scottsboro in the northeast corner of barbecue heaven. Try one or take the Scottsboro barbecue tour and try them all. In Scottsboro, we're smokin'!

(By the way, do not go to Connecticut looking for barbecue. Connecticut came in 51st place in Estately's ranking. Maybe we should send barbecue care packages to our Connecticut friends, bless their hearts!)

Carlile's Restaurant on Urbanspoon 50 Taters on Urbanspoon Mud Creek Fishing Camp Restaurant on Urbanspoon Tate's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon Triple R BBQ on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 3, 2014

Time for Turnip Greens!

When that first little nip of fall is in the air, I start thinking about warm, hearty, comfort food. I especially love dishes that can be thrown in the slow cooker. What can be better than coming home on a chilly night to savory aromas from the slow cooker?

This week, when temperatures dipped for the first time of the season into the 40's, I decided to pull out the slow cooker and start a pot of turnip green soup. My grandmother always said the turnip greens were sweeter after the first frost, so technically I was a bit early, but since I was not using fresh turnip greens I ignored this bit of grandmotherly advice.

Throw in a couple of hot peppers at the beginning of cooking for extra spiciness!

This recipe is so simple! With just 6 ingredients, you can have dinner started in no time. Here's what you need:

First, 1  (16 oz.) pkg. frozen turnip greens. I have made this with a large (27 oz.) can of turnip greens, but unless you can find salt-free turnip greens in a can, I think it is better to use the frozen ones. This soup has plenty of salt from ham, sausage, and soup mix, so it really doesn't need any more.

Next, a bone in ham hock or a ham steak. If you can't find a piece of ham with a bone, don't worry. The bone just adds a little more flavor, but this soup is plenty flavorful without it, so don't fret if you end up with boneless piece of ham. Do not use country ham. It is way too salty. And do not, for the love of everything southern, use canned ham! I cannot even bear to think about that! At the end of cooking, take your spoon and break the ham up. It will be easy to do after it has cooked for several hours.

The third ingredient is a one pound pkg. of Conecuh sausage, sliced. I used the original smoked sausage, but I feel sure the hickory smoked or hot and spicy would work well, too. Conecuh is a true Alabama brand of sausage and while it is easy to find in any store in the south, I realize folks in other parts of the country might have a hard time finding that brand. If you can't find Conecuh where you live, substitute any good brand of smoked sausage. Or go online and order some from Conecuh Sausage.

Great Northern Beans are the next essential ingredient in this recipe. I vary between 2 and 4 (16 oz.) cans. Usually I start with two cans. Sometimes those two cans will cook to bits in the slow cooker and I will add another can or two shortly before serving. I also vary this depending on the people for whom I am cooking. My husband and I like more beans, my boys like fewer.

The last two ingredients are one pack of Knorr Vegetable Soup Mix and one (32 oz.) box of sodium-free chicken stock. You can use homemade chicken stock as long as it doesn't have too much salt.

That's it! Dump everything in the slow cooker and turn it on low for 6-8 hours depending on your slow cooker. If you like things spicier, you can toss a couple of hot peppers into the pot with the other ingredients. I like to serve my turnip green soup with corn bread sticks and sweet tea. It is so good! Try it and let me know if you agree! If you have Our Table, the Reynolds' Family Cookbook, this recipe can be found on page 24.