The California Dish

Food, like love, should be entered into with abandon, or not at all

Sunday, July 3, 2011

4th of July Party Recipes - Chicken & Beef Fajitas

Well, our party was a hit. We wiggled two families into our back patio area for an afternoon of water and watermelon.

We swam, ate, talked, relaxed, and swam some more.

 The highlight was definitely when 4 little munchkins asked to be spun around on floaties in the pool. And the squirt guns. And showing off our garden. And swinging in the hammock with Becky. It was a lot of fun!

Grilled Tequila Lime Chicken Fajitas with Mango Salsa!

As promised, here are recipes for the fajitas I made last night. They were a hit. First, Chipotle Flank Steak Fajitas that I borrowed from the Pioneer Woman. Her recipe goes a little something like this.

Chipotle Marinade
  • 1/3 cup Olive Oil
  • 2 whole Limes, Juiced
  • 4 whole Canned Chipotle Peppers, With A Little Sauce
  • 4 cloves Garlic, Peeled
  • 1 whole Handful Of Cilantro
Toss these lovely ingredients into a blender and whirl for 30 seconds or until all have properly pureed together into one spicy, messy, red and green dotted soup. Then pour this mixture into a gallon-sized ziploc bag with your flank steak. (I used about 2 pounds but you could probably add up to three with this amount of marinade.) I added a teaspoon or so of salt and didn't peel the garlic (it didn't seem to matter since it was all being pureed anyway. Sometimes I'm a little lazy that way!).

***WARNING*** This marinade gives this beef a little kick, so tone down the chipotle peppers if you want it a little milder.

Grill the flank steak to your preference - rare, medium rare, or well done. We went with well done and it was mighty fine and tasty!

Tequila Lime Chicken Fajitas
This recipe is lovely. One bite and you'll know what I'm talking about. Hints of garlic and lime peak through with explosions of cilantro. Again, I borrowed this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten.

  • 1/2 cup gold tequila
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (5 to 6 limes)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno pepper (1 pepper seeded)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic (3 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 whole (6 split) boneless chicken breasts, skin on
I did a few things differently. I added an entire cup of Tequila (whoops!), replaced the orange juice with lemonade (citrus+sugar), couldn't find any chili powder so I added chili flakes (the kind you see in pizza parlors), and used boneless, skinless breasts instead. I also added a whole bunch of cilantro because it begged me to join the party. And who am I to turn down a talking herb?

If you have never marinated chicken or fish in citrus, you will notice that it changes the texture. Cooking is all about chemically altering our food. We add salt to break down cell walls so that flavors reach our tongues more quickly. Citrus will also do this (which is why lemon juice can often perk something up if you can't add more salt to something). Dry heat (ovens, grills) cooks differently than wet heat (braising, boiling).

I marinated 4 large chicken breasts in this marinade overnight. When I pulled it out, the breasts no longer looked pink but white. I wish I had taken a picture to show you. Ceviche works the same way - add a little citrus to raw fish and Presto Chango the fish starts to "cook," or more accurately, change ever so slightly on a chemical level. This is what happens when you marinate protein in citrus, so don't be alarmed if your chicken looks white instead of pink. The result is highly flavored, tender, juicy meat. Throw those breasts on the grill and pretty soon they will be white through and through.

Look at all that lovely cilantro! So glad I gave in to her!
Then slice it up!

And put it on a taco!

I also sauteed some bell peppers and onions in a skillet the night before. During the party, while heating tortillas and making quesadillas, I reheated the veggies. It went faster that way. My friend Michelle also made a fantastic bowl of Mango Salsa. I think she used this recipe. It has 5 ingredients and it tastes even better after its been sitting for a while and flavors have a chance to meld together.


Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 1, 2011

4th of July Party

I only know one thing for sure about cooking meat: slower is better. In fact, cooking any protein slowly is the way to go. Cooking protein fast makes it rubbery, which explains why scrambled eggs turn rubbery instead of light and fluffy if you coax them to the finish line with heat, and why slow roasted anything is fall-off-the-bone tender.

The only exception to this hard and fast rule is Asian stir fry. But, if you think about it, they usually slice meat in thin slivers and across the grain, which helps the fibers pull apart in your mouth faster and gives the illusion of tenderness even if it's not really there.

And then there is the possibility that they just add MSG or another flavor enhancer.

Funny story about MSG. I tutored a girl from China for a while. Wonderful gal. She told me she was very sad because she couldn't find  MSG here in the states and that it was her favorite spice. After giving her directions to the local Asian food store, I attempted to explain that Americans wouldn't consider MSG an actual spice, but rather a food additive that many avoid because of the side effects (headaches, nausea, etc.). That didn't seem to deter her one bit, as she told me that her dad had taught her how to cook with it. "But you don't put it on eggs," she explained, "my Dad said eggs have enough flavor without MSG." Ironic, since I can't stand eggs without a little dash of salt.

Tomorrow I'm hosting a 4th of July party and we're grilling fajitas. Tequila lime chicken and chipotle flank steak fajitas! And they're slowly marinating in the fridge right now. They'll cook a little faster than slow roasting, but marinating adds a lot of flavor when a dish is cooked more quickly. And we'll cut the meat cross grain to maximize tenderness. I wish I could take credit for the recipes, but I shamelessly borrowed them from the Barefoot Contessa and the Pioneer Woman, two women I have come to trust for recipes. I'll share the recipes and pictures later this weekend.

The key to successful entertaining is to be present with your guests. That's something I haven't always been good at. Sometimes, I've been so caught up in preparing a dish, that I spent more time in the kitchen than with the people I invited over. I'm learning to prep as much as I can ahead of time, so I can swim with my nieces and nephews tomorrow, which is so much more important than chopping vegetables.

Years ago, I did a little Kay Arthur Bible study about hospitality.  It was about the book of Ruth.

Somehow, Ruth's ability to uncover Boaz's feet in such a way that made him feel right at home conveyed her incredible gift of hospitality. It wasn't until much later, in an English Literature class of all places, that I heard that uncovering a man's feet is a euphemism for another kind of hospitality. Either way, uncovering a man's feet, in any sense of the phrase, didn't make a lot of sense to me in terms of entertaining.

What did stick with me is a little phrase that was buried in this booklet. It said a truly hospitable person can open a can of chicken soup and make you feel like are the most important person in the world, whereas another could spread a feast fit for kings and you could feel charmed, but not nourished. Entertained but not loved. Full but not satisfied. Since then, my goal has been to nourish people.

I probably learned the most about entertaining from a couple I went to Bible school with. They're older than I am by a few decades with just enough wisdom and experience and love that I couldn't help but spend hours at their home, nestled in their kitchen, laughing, tasting, and eating with them. We spent hours typing menus on parchment paper, collecting unique china dishes, popping into every grocery store in town on a quest for the right ingredients, dicing, simmering, and nibbling.

I learned about serving with excellence and the value of quality ingredients: imported chocolate, fresh fish and meat, organic produce. Often, the guests would have little idea that we had spent 8 hours making something they had eaten in under an hour, but we knew. And, in our own little way, it was our way to honor our guests.  Good food is a labor of love. And a smile and a compliment from our guests went a long way.

So, I ask you dear friends, how will you nourish the people you love this holiday weekend? What will you cook? What will you share? How will you honor?