Sunday, May 17, 2015

Margaritas Mexican Restaurant and Cantina

It is no secret that I love Mexican food. Seriously, if my penchant for fish and shrimp tacos didn't give it away, my love of chips and salsa would. I have said many times that if I had to choose a last meal, it would involve chips and salsa.A good day is one that starts with salsa for breakfast. 

Lucky for me, we have a couple of really good Mexican restaurants in Scottsboro, Alabama. Margaritas Mexican Restaurant and Cantina is one of them. Located near Foodland in the County Park Plaza Shopping Center on the John T. Reid Parkway, Margaritas is one of my favorite places to get my Mexican food fix and it is (for me) conveniently located. There are several reasons why I love Margaritas.

First of all, Margaritas has excellent salsa, cheese dip and guacamole. I could make a meal with these three dips and a basket of Margaritas' salty tortilla chips. The only thing that could make these better would be if Margaritas started making the guacamole table side. I do love that little ritual of ordering guacamole and having it made right before my eyes. But I am still happy with the freshly made dips at Margaritas. The cheese is white and velvety, the salsa, spicy and smooth and the guacamole is creamy but still with chunks of avocado, peppers and cilantro. 

One thing that Margaritas has that my family really enjoys is a huge buffet. The bountiful buffet includes everything from sauces, salads and fresh fruits to entrees, sides and desserts. We often hit up the buffet at Margaritas on Sunday after church. We know we can get in, choose from a wide array of dishes, eat, and still get out quickly to enjoy the rest of our Sunday afternoon. I don't know what half the dishes on the buffet are called, but I have enjoyed every single one I have tasted. I especially love the churros, sopapillas, and cinnamony Mexican donuts.

The other thing I love about Margaritas is the staff's willingness to accommodate special requests whenever possible. For instance, they have never batted an eye when I ask them to make my grilled shrimp taco with only lettuce, pico de gallo and sliced avocado. And they always get it right, no matter how odd my request might be. 

Finally, for those of you who think you can't get a Mexican dish to fit with your low carb diet, you obviously have not seen this beautiful creation from Margaritas. It is called Guacamole Margarita and is made with grilled jumbo shrimp, chopped and combined with shredded pork, avocado slices, and pico de gallo. I even asked if I could have it with lettuce and they graciously served it all on a bed of chopped lettuce. The dish was then topped off with fresh slices of lime and orange. It was gorgeous and healthy. 

If you happen to be near Scottsboro and have a hankering for some delicious Mexican food, I urge you to give Margaritas a try. I think you will be happy you did. 

Three Friends and a Fork gives Margaritas Mexican Restaurant and Cantina 
3 Muy Delicioso Yums UP!

Margaritas Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon buzzoole code

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Menopause the Musical!

Have you ever seen Menopause, the Musical? If not, you are in luck, because the hysterical musical romp through menopause is making it's way to Birmingham, Alabama and, good news, Three Friends and a Fork has four tickets to give away! That's right...FOUR! You and three of your best girls can make plans for a fun night in the Magic City. I promise you, it will be one of the most therapeutic nights of your life. If laughter is the best medicine, Menopause the Musical is a miracle drug! 

Don't get me wrong, you can take your man if you like, but, unless he is a gynecologist, he is probably not going to be able to "get it" like your sisters will. 

A few years ago, some of my best friends and I had the opportunity to see this ingenious production and it is no exaggeration when I say that we laughed until we cried. The tale of four middle-aged, menopausal women on a shopping trip to Bloomingdale's hits all the low points of menopause in the most hilarious way possible. As the four baby boomers, the Housewife, the Soap Star, the Earth Mother and the Professional Woman, plow through the department store in search of lingerie deals, they cover everything from hot flashes to low libido. The musical numbers are even more fun because they incorporate familiar tunes with new words and meanings. For instance, the old Bee Gee's song Stayin' Alive becomes Stayin' Awake as the cast of women commiserate about the difficulties of getting a good night's sleep. The old Peter, Paul and Mary folk song, Puff the Magic Dragon becomes a side-splitting rendition of the lack of energy some menopausal women face in Puff, My God, I'm Draggin'. One of the funniest scenes in the entire play is when the ladies turnTina Turner's classic, What's Love Got to Do With It, into an insanely funny acknowledgement of the helpfulness of certain devices in dealing with lagging libido. Let's just say the "microphone" is quite a prop in this number. 

There are three ways to enter the contest and score tickets to a hilarious girl's night out. You have between May 13 and June 8 to enter the contest by, (1)visiting our Three Friends and a Fork Facebook page and (2) following us on Google + and/or (3) leaving us a comment below telling us where you plan to eat out in Birmingham if you win the tickets (you know, we are always wanting to hear about dining adventures). The more you do, the better your chances of winning. We have set up Rafflecopter to help us manage the whole process and we will have the name of the winner on June 8. So, good luck and mark your calendars! Our tickets are for Friday, June 12 at 8:00 pm. We can't wait to announce our winner!

You are going to love it!

Three Friends and a Fork give Menopause the Musical 3 Side-Splitting Yums UP!

Menopause the Musical will play the BJCC Theatre in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North) for three shows only. Tickets are on sale now for performances on Friday, June 12 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, June 13 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are available at,, or by calling 800­745­3000. Groups of 10 or more can save $10 by calling  (205) 458-8449.

The contest is also listed at Online Sweepstakes.

a Rafflecopter giveaway buzzoole code

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Want One of the Best Burgers in Alabama? Try Niffer's Place

Last year, set out to find the best cheeseburger in the state. A pretty daunting task, much like trying to find the best barbecue in the state...there is just so much good to choose from. With suggestions from readers, they narrowed the search down to the top fifteen.  One of those fifteen was in Auburn at Niffer's Place. With twenty burgers on the menu, choosing one had to be hard, but choose they did. The bacon cheddar burger at Niffer's is one of the top fifteen burgers in the state according to 
These two!
Rob, the boys' buddy, Heath, and I took a trip to Auburn recently to begin moving my older son, JD,  back home for the summer. While we were there, we decided to stop by Niffer's Place to check out the burger situation on our own. The restaurant is conveniently located on Opelika Road about five minutes from Auburn University, so it was a quick trip from JD's residence hall. We picked up JD's friend, Jordan on the way and headed toward Niffer's Place. 

The day was stunningly beautiful, so we asked for an outside table on Niffer's large deck. After our drink orders were taken, the kids decided to share an appetizer of corn nuggets and fried pickles, with ranch dressing and honey mustard for dipping. I didn't sample any, but based on how quickly they disappeared and the nods of approval, those fried goodies must have been delicious.

Then, we were on to the entrees. All the kids ordered burgers, but only one of them, Heath, ordered the bacon cheddar burger and he ordered it plain, devoid of anything but meat and cheese, no toppings, no condiments. He's a simple guy! He did get thick cut steak fries as an accompaniment. 

Two, Rob and Jordan, ordered the Rancher, which had bacon, mozzarella and ranch dressing. Rob got some of the thick fries with his, but Jordan got homemade potato chips.

 JD settled on the Buffalo Cheese with gooey cheese and buffalo sauce. Then he ordered some ranch dressing on the side, so his burger was well covered in dressing. He also chose fries. Every one of them liked their burgers. They were all thick and juicy and the toppings were fresh. The only problem I saw was the slice of tomato on JD's Buffalo Cheese. It was the end piece of the tomato with a large, white core in the center. It really should not have been put on a plate. 

That leaves me. Can you guess what I had? Here's a hint: it was not a burger and I have ordered many versions of them throughout the life of this blog. Three guesses...Yep! I got fish tacos! I hate to be so predictable, but I couldn't resist. The menu described them this way: Shredded tilapia with our house-made pico de gallo, lettuce and cheddar jack cheese nestled inside warm tortillas. Served with salsa ranch on the side. The pico was different from any I have had before. It had corn and black beans mixed in with the usual tomatoes, peppers and onions. I asked for some sliced avocados and the server was happy to oblige. I actually liked the shredded fish. It made eating the tacos easy. I wish I had asked for the cheese to be left off. Weird, I know, but I am not a big fan of cheese on my tacos. Maybe it is because I am always getting seafood tacos and I really don't care for cheese and fish together. In spite of the cheese, I did enjoy the tacos. The fish was very well cooked and I liked the pico and avocado. 

We enjoyed our visit to Niffer's Place. It is a great place for a college crowd. The prices are reasonable, the food is well prepared and the staff is attentive. We also enjoyed our visit to the Loveliest Village. After packing my car full of JD's stuff, we made time to run by and see Rob and JD's cousin, Sam. We don't get to see his smiling face often enough!

What a crew!

Three Friends and a Fork and these Plainsmen give Niffer's 3 hearty Yums UP!
Niffer's Place on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zest

One of the most potent flavors a cook can employ comes in the form of citrus fruit. The flavor of citrus can brighten up bland savory dishes, tone down sweet desserts and cut through oily dressings and marinades. But it isn't just citrus juice that works this magic.  Powerful flavor is in the skin of the citrus fruit. When that skin is finely grated and added to a recipe, the whole dish POPS! It is where the word ZESTY comes from. If a recipe calls for citrus juice, consider adding a little zest, too. It just punches up the flavor. I always add lime zest to my key lime pie and I love pairing orange zest with chocolate desserts. Lemon zest works wonders with broccoli or asparagus. The possibilities are endless. The zest of other citrus fruits, like grapefruit, blood orange, and tangerine can also be great flavor boosters.  

Generally, citrus zest is very finely grated and the reason is simple. The flavor in the zest is so potent, it must be used judiciously. Larger slices of zest can be added to soups for a more flavorful stock. You would just need to remove them before serving. Lemon zest is a perfect partner for chicken soup and for a Mexican flavored chicken tortilla soup, lime zest would be a great addition. I have a recipe for orange scented tomato soup that is unusual and delicious. The flavor of the orange, juice and zest, just adds a depth of flavor to the tomato and makes the whole dish more interesting and complex. It adds umami to the soup. You can't tell what it is, but you notice the deeper flavor. 

When you are zesting your fruit, be sure to get only the colorful outer layer of the skin. Avoid the white pith. It is bitter and will not enhance your dishes. 

So, the next time you are preparing a dish that calls for citrus juice, think about using some of the zest. Every time you juice a lemon or lime and throw the peeling in the garbage, you are throwing out flavor. Don't waste flavor! Get ZESTY!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y is for Yood

There's a new food app in your town and my town...everybody's town! It is Nick Jonas' new free app called Yood. The purpose of the app is to help you find the single best place to eat where ever you may be. That's right, single. There are no decisions to be made with Yood. The decision is already made for you. Well, there is one decision you need to make. You decide what KIND of food you want to eat. Yood breaks it down into food categories, so if you have a hankering for pizza, you can click on the pizza bar and, Bingo! You have one pizza restaurant suggestion. Yood starts out with eight categories: Pizza, Chinese, Sushi, Thai, Indian, Mexican, American and Coffee Shop But you can also add categories. For instance, there was no barbecue bar, so I added that. I also added Greek, Breakfast, Bakery and Italian. If you want Moroccan or French or Vegan, you could add those. It is up to you and then it isn't. Yood takes over from there and gives you driving directions.

I clicked on each of the categories to see what came up in my small town. Here is what I got.

Pizza...Papa John's
Chinese...New China Buffet
Sushi...Rice Box (in Huntsville)
Thai...Cashew (in Chattanooga)
Indian...The Camp House (in Chattanooga)
Mexican...Tenda Mexicana Vallarta
American...Huddle House
Coffee Shop...Northtown Shoppe Coffee Bar (Guntersville)
Barbecue...Holy Smokes
Greek...Mykonos Greek Grill (Chattanooga)
Bakery...Cashew (Chattanooga)
Breakfast...Y'all Come Back (Rainsville)

But then I noticed, if you click on a category again, you get a different suggestion. So, if you get a suggestion you know you aren't interested in, you can get a different choice. Let's say, you really want Mexican, but you want a nice, sit down restaurant, not fast food, but Yood gives you Taco Bell or Chipotle. You can click again until you get a suggestion that fulfills your criteria. I tried all the categories again and this is what I came up with.

Chinese...Chow King (Fort Payne)
Sushi...Sakura Sushi Steakhouse & Bar (in Guntersville)
Thai...Kati Thai Cuisine (in Gadsden)
Indian...Sluggo's Vegetarian Cafe (in Chattanooga)
Mexican...Margarita Mexican Restaurant
American...McCutchen's Magnolia House
Coffee Shop...Jamoka's Coffee Company (Guntersville)
Barbecue...Big Marv's BBQ
Greek...What's For Supper (Huntsville)
Italian...Buenavista Mexican Cantina
Bakery...Dutch Maid Bakery & Cafe (Tracy City, TN)
Breakfast...Gorham's Bluff(Pisgah)

This time a couple of the app's weaknesses came to light. First, it pulled up Big Marv's BBQ in Scottsboro. Big Marv is no longer in Scottsboro. The business has changed locations and is now in Tennessee. Second. Buenavista is a wonderful place for Mexican, but I have never gotten nor seen any Italian food there. I am not familiar with Cashew, but unless it is both a Thai restaurant and a bakery, Yood may have made another mistake. Also, when I first installed the app and clicked on the bakery category, I did get our local bakery, The Variety Bake Shop, so don't think the app did not pull it up first. I am not sure how often it takes for a restaurant to come around again, but the Variety did not pop up when I was getting these two lists, so apparently the app is thinking, "I already suggested that and she is still asking, so she must want something else".

I did hear Nick Jonas say the app uses Yelp and other sources to determine which restaurants to suggest. That means if a lot of people in your town go to Yelp and Urban Spoon and rate your restaurants, you can help determine the choices. It also means higher end restaurants might not get suggested over more economical ones because people tend to rate a little harsher when they are spending more money. Expectations rise with the price. The app throws all the restaurants into the same pot, so you may have the best seafood restaurant ever, but it is a little on the high end side. That restaurant is thrown into the same category as Captain D's, which may be rated higher because the prices and expectations are not the same as they are for the higher end restaurant.  Even though they are both seafood restaurants, Yood is not really comparing apples to apples. On the upside, you may learn about some restaurants you have never heard of before. In the two lists above, there are 13 restaurants of which I have never heard. That means I will be asking around, getting more information and perhaps checking a few out for myself. 

So, the bottom line for Yood? If you are in a strange town, it can help you make a choice about where to eat, but it may pull up a fast food establishment when what you are searching for is a little more upscale or vice versa. It is possible it may give you a suggestion farther away when there is a really good choice that is closer. You can offset that by customizing Yood to find suggestions based on location rather than rating. If you don't want to have to think, Yood may be the perfect app for you. And you can always click again for another suggestion, if you want a little more control over the situation. Finally, because Yood is free, you do get to watch a riveting advertisement every now and then. It is not perfect, but definitely worth checking out and adding to your other restaurant apps.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for Dos Equis XX Bread and Onion Rings

I'm not going to lie. X was a challenge. Seriously, unless you speak Chinese, there are just not many foods that begin with X. I was strolling through the grocery store, looking for anything that would fill the bill, when I happened to walk near the beer coolers. And what did I see? Not one X, but two! Dos Equis XX. I felt like a chef on Chopped! How can I use this ingredient? Then I remembered beer makes a great batter, so I decided to offer you two recipes for the two X's, first a beer bread and then some crunchy beer battered onion rings. Try one or both!

  XX Beer Bread

3 cups self rising flour (sifted)
1/2 cup sugar
12 oz. beer (XX or beer of your choice)
1/4 cup butter (melted)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a loaf pan. In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, and beer. Pour into loaf pan.

Pour melted butter over batter and bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour.  

Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes before serving. 

XX Battered Onion Rings

2 large onions, sliced into rings
1 cup all purpose flour + a little extra
1 cup beer 

Toss sliced onions in a small amount of flour and set aside.
Combine 1 cup beer and 1 cup flour in a separate bowl, cover and let rest for 1 hour.
Dip onion rings in batter and fry in hot oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.

So, there you have it...two X-tra easy recipes! Enjoy!

Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for Watermelon Mango Salsa

No fruit is more associated with summer fun than watermelon. Show up with an ice cold watermelon and just watch people gather round. The cheery red fruit makes people happy. We haven't even made it to the first day of summer and I am already working on my second watermelon.  Our brand new farmer's market has had some sweet little sugar babies. These small watermelons are round and seedless and mighty sweet. I have sliced and eaten the watermelon by itself, but I've also been making a delicious watermelon and mango salsa. This salsa is super easy. It has only 4 ingredients, so the quality of the ingredients is really important. In other words, your fruits need to be ripe and sweet. And Watermelon Mango Salsa pairs wonderfully with grilled fish.

If you would like to make your own Watermelon Mango Salsa, gather these ingredients:

 mango (I found champagne mangos at Costco. They are so good!)
1 jalapÄ“no 
1 lime

 Dice 1 cup of mango and 1 cup of watermelon and place in a bowl. Finely dice the jalapÄ“no and add to the fruit. Squeeze the juice of 1 lime over the fruit and stir to distribute throughout the fruit.  

Give this bright salsa a try and get a jump start on summer!