Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Down on the....Sandwich Farm?

Recently on a Costco run to Huntsville, my friend, Hope, and I stopped for lunch at clever little establishment on Cleveland Avenue called Sandwich Farm. I've told you about Luanne's food quirks, namely her "no condiment" rule. Well, Luanne is Andrew Zimmerman compared to Hope! Hope's food groups are chocolate, sugar, cookies and, did I mention, chocolate? So you see, choosing a place to eat with Hope in tow can be a bit challenging.

I talked Hope into Sandwich Farm for a couple of reasons. First, my friend, Dawn, keeps sending me pictures of Sandwich Farm and her food from Sandwich Farm, but she has yet to ask me to go to Sandwich Farm with her! And, secondly, it looked like the kind of place picky Hope could pick and choose and leave off ingredients that offend her. 

Located in an old lumberyard, Sandwich Farm is pretty unassuming and even finding it is a bit of a trick. Right where Cleveland Avenue crosses over the railroad tracks, there is a large gravel parking lot for the patrons of Sandwich Farm and other businesses located in Park Place Plaza, kind of a fancy name for an old lumberyard.  Sandwich Farm is sandwiched between two other businesses, The Lone Goose Saloon and The Soundcell Recording Studios. I absolutely love the way Huntsville is bringing new life to old buildings. Lately, it seems that every old cotton mill, factory or warehouse in town is being converted to house a new restaurant, entertainment venue or arts district. I find that very exciting and such a great way to incorporate history and commerce. 

Hope and I peeled into the gravel parking lot, made our way across the street and dove right into the Sandwich Farm. The first thing we noticed was a huge chalkboard with illustrated menu choices. The creative illustrations are very helpful to folks like me who are visual diners. I like to see what I am ordering.  We were right at the height of the lunch rush and had to wait a bit, so we had time to study the chalkboard menu. The sandwiches were broken down by protein, so there was bacon, smoked turkey, hamburger, smoked fish and pot roast. There were also some vegetarian options, falafel, avocado, and veggie.  

As soon as we were seated, we were given menus and our drink orders were taken. Our drinks were served in blue mason jars and the tea was really good and freshly brewed. We checked out the menus and also had time to look around the room. There were more sandwich art boards posted near the ceiling. These boards had different sandwich combinations, such as duck comfit, lamb, ham, apple, mushroom, barbecue and crab cake. We were a bit confused because the sandwiches on the signs above the windows were not on the menu, so we asked our server. She explained the signs were sandwiches that had been on the menu at one time or another, but were not currently on the menu. We then noticed that some of the same type of signs were on the chalkboard, so we assumed those signs get rotated depending on what fresh produce and meats are available. Since the philosophy of Sandwich Farm is one of using farm to table ingredients and local whenever possible, this made sense. One other thing we noticed, Sandwich Farm not only serves lunch, breakfast items were on the menu. That made me look up the hours of operation. Sandwich Farm is open from 8:00-3:00 Tuesday-Friday, Saturday 8:00-8:00, Sunday 8:00-3:00 and Monday 7:00-3:00. With breakfast items like pancakes, Eggs Benedict and biscuits on the menu, Sunday brunch might warrant another visit to Sandwich Farm very soon.

Anyway, I digress! Back to the problem at hand, making our lunch choices. You might think it would be easier for me to choose because I am a more adventurous eater, but you would be wrong. Everything sounded good to me! Hope sort of narrowed her options down to either the hamburger or turkey sandwich. She settled on the turkey, but made sure all weird ingredients, like avocado or sprouts, were left off her sandwich. Bravely, she did not eliminate the garlicky mayo, but she still worried about whether she should have omitted it. For a side, she chose pasta salad after confirming that it didn't contain anything objectionable. Dear heavens!

I wavered between the smoked fish, the peach bbq chicken or the falafel. The smoked fish with red pepper cream cheese, avocado and tomato sounded wonderful, as did the  peach bbq chicken served on a brioche bun with onion straws, pickled jalapenos, and potato salad. I love brioche, so this was tough, but I finally decided on the falafel with feta, tomatoes, red onions and tzatziki sauce. Falafels are one of my favorite things, especially when homemade tzatziki sauce is involved and falafels are hard to come by around here, so that helped seal the deal. I chose potato salad as my side and it was very good, more vinegary than mayonnaisy. I noticed another diner with the sweet potato fries and decided next time I would get those. They looked so good.

So, what was our verdict? We both loved our sandwiches. Hope really liked the garlicky mayo (thank goodness!) and she said the turkey was delicious. She wasn't as wild about the pasta salad because she was used to a creamier pasta salad and Sandwich Farm's pasta salad is thicker and cheesier. I tasted it and thought it was very good. 

My falafel was so fresh and so tasty. The falafels themselves were chunky with lots of texture, not smooth and pureed like some I have had. You could see all the fresh ingredients. Also, the tzatziki sauce was flavorful and cool. Falafel success! We will be back!

If Sandwich Farm can please a picky eater like Hope, it definitely deserves
3 Yums UP!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fall for Apple Pie

I love the fall of the year! I love the cooler weather, the crispness in the air and the spicy smells of autumn. One of my favorite things to bake during the fall is apple pie. The warm aroma of apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice wafting from my kitchen is heavenly. Today was not only the first day of fall, it was fallish...crisp and cool.  I found myself with a basket of delicious Jazz apples, so what else could I do but welcome fall with a sweet apple pie.

Normally, I use Granny Smith apples in my apple pie, but I decided to give the Jazz apples a try. I thought they would work well because they are crunchy and effervescent. Jazz apples are the result of a cross between Royal Gala and Braeburn apples and originated in New Zealand. Though they are sweeter than Granny Smith apples, I thought they had enough tanginess and crispness to hold up in the baking process, so I got to peeling!

Then I cored and sliced the apples and put them in a large pot with 1 stick of butter, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1/2 c. white sugar, 3 T. all purpose flour, 1 and 1/2 t. apple pie spice, and 1/4 c. water. I cooked the whole mixture over medium heat until the butter melted and the apples were slightly cooked, still holding their shape, but beginning to change color.  

I then poured the apples into a chilled pie crust and added a top crust. I make my own crust, but you can use the store bought kind that you roll out, if you like. At this point you should cut vents into your top crust after placing it on the pie. I am telling you this because I forgot that step! The hot liquid will find a way out as the steam builds up inside, so you want to prevent this by cutting some small vents in the top crust.  I added a little pastry decoration, brushed the top crust with some milk and sprinkled some sugar over the top. The pie went into a preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. Then, I cut the temperature down to 350 degrees and continued cooking for 30 minutes.

The Jazz apples were perfect! I knew I had a hit when my husband said, "What kind of apples did you use? They are really good!" They held their shape and still had a bit of toothiness to them, but were still completely cooked. They were sweet, but with enough tang to keep the sweetness from being overpowering. So good, so jazzy! Here is the finished pie. I wish you could smell the sweet, spicy aroma coming from my kitchen! It smells like fall, y'all!

We couldn't resist adding a little ice cream!

Here's the recipe:

Jazzy Apple Pie 

8 Jazz apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 pie crust recipe for top and bottom crust
1 stick of butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 and 1/2 t. apple pie spice
3 T. all purpose flour
1/4 c. water

Place apples, sugars, butter, flour, apple pie spice and water into a large pot and cook over medium heat until butter melts and apples begin to change color. Pour mixture into chilled pie shell and add top crust. Cut vents in top crust and brush with the top crust with milk. Sprinkle sugar lightly over the top of the pie. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and bake pie for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue cooking for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before cutting. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Digging Up Memories

Way back in August of 2012, before Sherri, Lu and I had even had the idea of starting a blog, Sherri and I had taken a trip to Atlanta. Luanne would have been with us on this trip, but it was right after Sherri and I had retired and Luanne had gone back to work for one more year, so it was just the two of us. While we were in Georgia, we strolled around nearby Decatur and found a cozy little restaurant called The Iberian Pig. Neither of us had ever heard of it before, but because we have always been adventurers at heart and because anything involving a pig sounds tasty to us, we decided to give The Iberian Pig a try.

Since this was in our pre-blogging era, my photographs are not too comprehensive, and my memory has faded on the details of the meal except for a couple of things. Sherri and I had pork cheek tacos and they were fabulous. You are shocked, right...that I had tacos? 

We also had a tray of cured meats and cheeses that included the meat from the famous black footed Iberian pigs of Spain. Jamón Ibérico is considered one of the most prized cured meats in the world. The cheeses on the platter were amazing as well. For dessert we couldn't resist cinnamon sugar dusted churros served with a chili infused chocolate sauce for dipping. Altogether the meal was outstanding and we were so happy that we had chosen The Iberian Pig for our dinner that day. 

As we left The Iberian Pig, we checked out all the cute shops nearby. This nearby restaurant caught Parker's eye and she had me snap a picture. You see Parker standing there under her name, of course, but if you look closely at the reflection in the glass, you can see me taking the picture. It was a fun day of sweet memories. If you have a chance, head for Decatur, GA and drop into The Iberian Pig for a full on pork experience. Then stop by Parker's on Ponce and take a picture in honor of Parker.

Three Friends and a Fork gives The Iberian Pig 3 Porky Yums UP!

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thanks to Parker, A Blog Was Born

When school ended at the end of May 2013, Sherri and I had been retired for one year. Luanne had just finished up yet another year of teaching kindergarten. Having spent the majority of our careers together, we were missing one another. When Sherri called and suggested we get together, Luanne and I were ready to go, so we hopped in the car and headed to Fayetteville, TN to a quaint little place called Okra. As we sat at the table enjoying our yummy lunches, we all began to reminisce about all the fun times we had together. Sherri, who had been battling multiple myeloma for nearly five years at that time, told Lu and me how important it was to her to spend time with us. She said she didn't know how much time she had or how long she would feel good, but while she was able, she wanted us to make spending time together a priority. Luanne and I were very much in agreement and that is when Luanne said the words that started it all. She said we should set definite dates for getting together to go new places and "we should blog about the places we visit and the food we eat".  That was it! Sherri and I were all in! We pulled out one of the paper napkins on the table and begin trying to think of a name for our new blog. After throwing out a dozen ideas, one of us, and I am not really sure which one, said, "How about Three Friends and a Fork"? That was the name, we all agreed. I offered to set up the blog, because I was the only one who had ever set one up before. Little did I know, setting it up would also mean, do all the writing!

It has been 15 months since that first blog. In those 15 months, the three of us managed to get together for a blog post, all three of us at the same time, 10 times. Some of those outings resulted in more than one blog post. Many times we couldn't all three get together because Sherri was just too sick. Other times, it would be only Sherri and one of us taking Sherri to the doctor. Or sometimes we were all together, but we were in a hospital room somewhere. Many times we got together when she really didn't feel like going, but she was determined, so we went. It wasn't enough and now it is too late. Our friend lost her battle with multiple myeloma this morning. Our hearts are broken and we know nothing will ever be the same. 
Parker could make a party out of getting our hair done!
Parker was full of surprises and she loved them, too!

Here is Sherri administering a kindergarten screener to my little Rob. She was a wonderfully gifted teacher and she had the best disciplined class of anyone.

Working with Parker was always fun and funny!

Sherri was tough, funny, irreverent, witty and observant. She was like George Carlin, she just looked at the world in a humorous and perceptive way. Her dry sense of humor and ability to cut through the nonsense and get right to the heart of the matter combined to make her one of the funniest people we have ever known. She was famously impatient and incredibly stubborn. She hated glitter and was super organized. She was never late and she didn't like to wait around. She loved to line dance, but she hated country music. She was something of a Rain Man when it came to music. She could tell you the name of any song, who wrote it, the year it was written and all the lyrics. Sherri was Bruce Springsteen's biggest fan. She never missed a concert if there was one nearby and last April, as she put it, 

"Well I got another Springsteen concert under my belt and indeed , tramps like us, baby, we were born to to run." 

Bruce, you will always have other fans, but you will never have another like Sherri.

I was looking back at some of the things she has written and I had to smile. They are so Sherri. One Facebook post that made me bust out laughing at the time and is classic Sherri, is this one about a time when she went to visit her mom in the nursing home. Sherri loved her visits to the nursing home and she liked to talk to all the residents and sometimes she would play games with them. On this particular day, she had been batting a balloon back and forth with her mom and some of the other residents and had placed her car keys on a table while the game was going on. Here is the story in her words:

Went to visit my Mom yesterday at the nursing home and I learned an important lesson. Never leave your car keys unattended as most of the residents are planning an escape. My keys were sanitized and returned to me after being found down Mildred's pants.

The next time she went:

I am going to visit Mom. I am wearing pockets .

And finally:

I had a good visit with Mom. I think Mildred gave me the evil eye.

On another day, she was wishing Mick Jagger a happy birthday:

Happy 70th, Mick, the original "Prancerciser".

And finally, Sherri, the ultimate people watcher, overheard this conversation at a gas station and, in true Sherri form, had to add her own commentary:

Overheard in a gas station a minute ago, " My forehead got sunburned yesterday. My part got blistered too." I didn't ask what part. I was laughing inside.

Parker, Three Friends and a Fork will never be the same, but it will always be in your honor. God speed, my friend. We love you. 

Three Friends and a Fork give our friend Sherri and all the fun times we had 3 Heavenly Yums UP!

Old Cookstove

If  you should find yourself in Danville, AL, do yourself a favor and plan to head to the Mennonite owned Old Cookstove and eat lunch with Grandma Yoder. You won't be sorry, because this grandma knows how to cook up a spread.

Recently we drove to Oakville to the Chickasaw Trails cross country meet at the Jesse Owens Park and Oakville Indian Mounds. On the way home, we took a little detour in Danville to visit Grandma Yoder. We were just a few minutes before opening, so we waited on the wide porch for Grandma to let us in.

When she did, we went straight to the front counter to pay and be seated.  At the Old Cookstove, you pay before you are seated. For adults the cost is $11.99 and includes an all you can eat hot buffet, salad bar, dessert bar and homemade ice cream.  If you are lucky, you might get treated to some Mennonite tunes while you eat. Occasionally Grandma Yoder and family get together and entertain their guests with a few acapella hymns.

On the hot buffet, I counted at least 20 items, including meatloaf, fried fish, chicken wings, chicken livers, mashed potatoes, gravy, fried okra, field peas, carrots, lima beans, corn, homemade breads and more. My personal favorite is the chicken wings. I don't know what herbs and spices they put on their wings, but they are yummy. I also love the mashed potatoes and gravy. The potatoes are smooth and creamy, just like I like them. Another one of my favorites is a pickled item on the salad bar. I don't know if it is pickled green tomatoes or something else, but I love it. Since the Old Cookstove sells canned jams, relishes and jellies, I thought they might also sell these pickles, but I didn't see them on the shelf. Too bad! I was ready to bring some home. Old Cookstove also has a cookbook for purchase. I think I will pick one of those up on my next visit, especially if the chicken wing recipe is in there.

The dessert bar includes cakes, cobblers, dessert sauces, brownies, trifles, banana pudding and the aforementioned homemade ice cream, still in the churn. You can fill up on sweets, assuming you have any room left after hitting the hot bar and the salad bar.

The cakes look wonderful and I have been told that the coconut cake is particularly delicious, but I can't seem to get past the chocolate cobbler with homemade ice cream and homemade hot fudge sauce. Talk about a chocolate coma!

Chocolate cobbler with homemade ice cream and hot fudge sauce

Homemade ice cream with strawberry sauce

Old Cookstove's famous coconut cake

If you find yourself in Danville, or near Danville or even in north Alabama, make a beeline to Grandma Yoder's. You will not be sorry and you will not be hungry when you leave.

Three Friends and a Fork gives Old Cookstove 3 Righteous Yums UP!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cake Decorating: Part 2

 I told you about some cake decorating kits from DeAgostini that I have had the opportunity to check out. Last week I focused on the first kit. Now I get to tell you about the second kit. 

Cake Decorating kit two came with three guides, plus two star cookie cutters, a modeling tool, three reusable piping bags, a decorating tip and coupler set, a set of alphabet embossers and the previously mentioned binder. That's lots of cool equipment and there are also tons of recipes and techniques, so let's check it out.

The Mini Cakes for lessons two, three and four are iced petit fours, monogram cookies, and rose topped cupcakes. Essential Equipment included decorating tips, embossing tools, and modeling tools. Classic Recipes were carrot cake, New York style cheesecake, and Chocolate Marble cake, while the Special Occasions cakes were a Blossom cake, India inspired swirl cakes, and a Big Bow cake. The Cakes for Kids included farm animal cupcakes, a Patchwork ABC cake, and Rainbow Whoopie Pies. Finally, the Decorating Masterclass focused on piping basics, leveling, trimming and layering cakes, and working with fondant. As I said, that's a lot! Other recipes included chocolate cookies, cinnamon cake, Madeira cake, almond buttercream, banana cupcakes, and rosewater cupcakes. Whew! Are you tired yet?

The very first mini cakes lesson involves making petit fours. My parents had a cake and catering shop for years and the one thing I remember is how much my daddy hated making petit fours. People loved them however, and kept ordering them. So he decided to raise the price in the hopes that  people would quit ordering the hateful little cakes. But, no! They kept right on ordering! No matter how many times he raised the prices, he could not get people to quit ordering petit fours. You might think I would skip right over this section, but my curiosity has gotten the better of me. Here is my chance to find out what it was about petit fours that made my daddy despise them so much.  I can't wait to try the petit fours out! I will be sure to let you know how it works out for me and if I hate petit fours as much as my daddy!

As you can see, there is a lot packed into kit number two. I would think this kit would keep you busy with new tips, recipes and techniques for weeks!

This Cake Decorating Kit was provided by Learn how to create beautiful cakes for testing purposes through ALWB. No other compensation was given.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cake Decorating

Here's a disclaimer: I am not a cake decorator. My mom is a cake decorator. She supplies the whole family with cakes for every occasion, so there really has been little need for me to hone my cake decorating skills. When I was given the opportunity to check out some new cake decorating kits by DeAgostini, I realized I would probably not be their most talented customer when it came to decorating. I have, however, made more than my share of cakes, so I felt a bit qualified to offer an opinion from that perspective.

My first two kits arrived together in a box with a binder for all current and future guides. Also, in the box for the first kit was a cookie press gun set with interchangeable tips, two butterfly cookie cutters in different sizes, a checkered cardboard cupcake stand, and the first guide. Actually, I believe the binder accompanies the second kit, but since I had it I decided to go ahead and put the guides into the binder and describe that process here.

Each guide is divided into 6 sections: Mini Cakes, Essential Equipment, Classic Recipes, Special Occasions, Decorating Masterclass and Cakes for Kids. Recipes included and skills covered are also neatly outlined in the beginning of the guide. 

The first guide includes the following recipes: Sugar Cookies, Buttery Yellow Cake, White Chocolate Cupcakes, Royal Icing, and Classic Chocolate Cake.

See the little white plastic pins in the center of the divider. Each one pops out and gets inserted into holes at the top and bottom of the binder. The pins are what hold the issues in the binder.

My first challenge was figuring out how to put volume 1 into the binder. After puzzling for several long minutes as to how on earth the thing worked and asking my family for suggestions, I realized the directions were included in the box. Duh! I hope other customers are more observant than I. In my defense, the binder is not a simple three-ring binder. There is some rigging involved. 

Once I had the binder sorted out, I looked through the first issue. It began with a lesson on frosted sugar cookies using the large butterfly cookie cutter. Three icing techniques are covered in this section: outlining, flooding and dotting.  The cookies looked beautiful and I may put these lessons to use at another time. Since we are getting ready for all things fall right now and since I live in a family full of males, I decided to forego the butterfly cookies and move on to the other sections.

The next section, Essential Equipment, focused on the pros and cons of different kinds of cookie cutters and the ways in which they can be used. It did not, however, mention the cookie press gun, which surprised me.

Section 3, Classic Recipes, was devoted to baking a buttery yellow cake, along with a recipe and tips and techniques. I decided this might be a good section for me to try out. The recipe promised to be simple, foolproof and moist, so I gathered my ingredients and equipment and set out to make the perfect moist yellow cake. One thing i noticed about the recipe right off the bat was that there was no flavoring of any kind in the cake. I have never made a cake without the addition of some type of flavoring so I decided to make that change to the recipe. The cake pictured in the guide was topped with whipped cream and raspberries and had a layer of raspberry filling between the layers, but the guide also offered alternatives to these. Since peaches are in season right now, I decided to top my cake with peaches and fill between the layers with peach preserves. Also, because I like the flavors of peaches and almonds, I decided to flavor my batter with almond flavoring and to add a splash of amaretto to my whipping cream.

The directions said to use two (8 inch) springform pans and to line them with parchment paper. Already I was questioning the simplicity of this recipe, because lining springform pans with parchment is not as simple as it sounds. I wondered why I wasn't just using round cake pans and greasing and flouring them, but I soldiered on, doing as I was instructed.  So much for simplicity.

The recipe also suggested adding up to 2T of milk if the batter looked dry. My batter did not look dry at all, but I added 1T of milk just in case.

When my cakes were done baking and had cooled enough to remove them from the springform pans, I finished them off with the peaches and cream and served myself up a slice. The cake looked good, but when I cut into it, I knew something was wrong. My cake was dry...very dry. I have a convection oven, which I have used to bake many cakes that have turned out moist and delicious, so I am not sure if that played a part in this dry cake, but clearly something went wrong. Ok, so much for foolproof and moist. The flavors were good, but in order to make the cake edible, I would have to add a juicy topping of muddled peaches to soak into the dry cake, similar to strawberries served over shortbread. I decided it was time to move on to another section.

Section 4 of the guide was devoted to making cupcakes with little fondant butterflies using the small butterfly cookie cutter. It included recipes for white chocolate cupcakes and buttercream icing, as well as tips for presentation and packaging.

The Decorating Masterclass section was a lesson in icing, the kinds of icing and how to use them. Six different icings, glacé, royal, fondant, fondant icing, gum paste and buttercream, were described. A recipe for royal icing and the different consistencies and uses of royal icing was included.

The final section, Cakes for Kids, described how to make a Fun Circles Cake, using fondant. I am not a fan of fondant, but it does make pretty cakes. The Fun Circles Cake was smooth and colorful. This section also offered variations on the Fun Circles Cake using M&M like candies or white chocolate buttons. I would be interested in how to get results like this using buttercream instead of fondant.

All in all, this kit covered several basic techniques for decorating cakes, cookies and cupcakes. Next week, I will tell you about the goodies in kit number two.

This Cake Decorating Kit was provided by Learn how to create beautiful cakes for testing purposes through ALWB. No other compensation was given.