Fajitas, (10-step Saturday)

Summer has definitely arrived!  Temperatures are reaching into the 90’s daily and the high humidity makes it swelteringly hot.  I spend most of my time going from one air conditioned environment to the next.  Saturdays are the exception. 

My yard is loving this hot, muggy weather.  If I don’t cut the grass every week I wind up with a jungle on my hands.  So, I psyche myself up and devote an entire day to yard work.  There’s grass to cut and bushes to trim.  The vegetable garden needs weeding and harvesting.  I try to cram it all into one day’s work, which doesn’t always happen.

The thing that motivates me to do all of this is the promise of an ice-cold beer and a delicious dinner from the grill, when the work is done. 

Step One:  put a beer, or two, in the refrigerator.

Step Two:  marinate some meat and refrigerate until needed.

Step Three:  Chop vegetables and fruit for the dinner and keep cool. 

Step Four:  Clean and prepare an outdoor grill.  Have tools and charcoal ready when they’re needed.

Step Five:  Do the yard work.  Get hot, sweaty, thirsty and hungry.

Step Six:  Take a long cool shower. 

Step Seven:  Open the beer.  Take a sip.  Take the beer with you for the next few steps.

Step Eight:  Start the coals for the grill.

Step Nine:  Grill the meat.

Step Ten:  Relax and celebrate your hard work with a cold beer, good food and good friends.

Saturday Fajitas (Fajitas para el sábado)

Skirt steak has become ridiculously overpriced during the last several years.  Beef, in general is sky-rocketing in price, due to the demand.  Skirt steak is a tough, albeit tasty, cut of beef.  It is comes from the diaphragm of cattle and therefore is muscular and tough.  A marinade that contains citrus will help tenderize and flavor the beef. 

Today, I am using a top round steak.  Top round is another a muscular cut of beef and is more lean than skirt steak but I like to use it as a substitute for skirt steak, when the price is right. 

Ingredients:

2 lbs top round steak

Juice of 1 lime

1 Tbs red chile powder (polvo de chile rojo)

2 tsp cumin powder (comino en povo)

1 cup salsa (tomato, onion, chiles, etc.)

1 yellow onion (cebolla amarilla)

1 red bell pepper (pimiento roja)

1 green bell pepper (pimeinto verde)

2 fresh jalapeños

2 cups freshly made guacamole a la Mexicana (ingredients below)

½ cup sour cream (crema fresca)

2 cups chopped lettuce (lechuga cortada)

1 cup chopped cilantro (cilantro cortada)

Soft corn or flour tortillas (tortillas suaves de maíz o harina)

Directions:

Apply lime juice to the beef.  Dust the beef with chile powder and cumin.  Slather salsa across both sides of the beef.  Cover and refrigerate until it’s time to grill.

Slice onions and peppers into rings.  Store in refrigerator.  Leave the jalapeños whole.  They will be grilled, later.

Prepare the guacamole:  The ingredients and the amounts of the ingredients should suit your personal taste.  I used 3 avocados, 1 chopped Roma tomato, ¼ cup chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, ½ teaspoon garlic salt, ½ teaspoon oregano and the juice of ½ lemon.  Mix gently to combine.  Cover and refrigerate.

At this point you can clean and prepare the grill and set about to the yard work.  Before you head outside to prepare the grill, remove the beef from the refrigerator so that it can warm to room temperature.

After a cool shower and a sip of cold beer, start the coals for the grill.  Don’t be shy with the coals.  High heat is needed for medium rare beef!

As the coals heat, return to the kitchen and pan fry the onion and bell pepper rings in a skillet.  Add a tablespoon of oil to the skillet and then add the vegetables.  Stir for a few minutes, remove and keep warm.

Now, back to the grill.  Lay the strips of beef on the grill.  Find room for the jalapeños and lay them on the grill.  Turn the jalapeños frequently to produce a slight char on each side.  Turn the steaks after three minutes and grill for another two minutes. 

Remove everything from the grill and head back to the kitchen.

Set the jalapeños aside. 

Let the steaks rest for five minutes.  While the steaks rest, arrange the vegetables on a platter.  Add the lettuce, sour cream and grilled jalapeños to the platter. 

Cut the steak into ¼” slices and arrange the strips on the platter.

Serve with warm tortillas (and that second beer!)

Fill your days with hard work and reward yourself for a job well done. Cook your steaks with love but don’t cook your steaks well done!

Yin and Yang Chicken Wraps

Sometimes I crave very spicy food.  And by sometimes, I mean about once a week.  I don’t always act on the impulse but when I do, I go all out.

I’m not the kind of person that goes around bragging about eating super-hot-spicy peppers and I’m not the kind of guy that likes to trick people with wickedly spicy food.  I just like the stuff.  Spicy food makes me happy.  It brings me peace when I need it.  I tend to crave very spicy food after a stressful day at work.  I feel as though I can burn away a bad day with blistering hot food.  Sometimes I just want something very spicy for no reason at all.  Like I said, I just like the stuff.

I call this Yin and Yang Chicken Wraps because it exists in perfect balance.  Admittedly, it contains things that are not so healthy yet, it contains things that are very healthy for you.  Think of it as the dichotomy of Good and Evil.

Good:  mango, chilis, lettuce, carrots, onions, cilantro, garlic and sour cream.

Evil: fried chicken, flour tortillas and mayonnaise.

Without evil, could we appreciate good?  Without good, could we perceive evil?  Oh yes, this is going to be some very philosophical food!

Another aspect of yin and yang provided by this recipe relates to taste sensations.  Spicy and Soothing. 

Spicy: all of the peppers and hot sauces

Soothing: mango, lettuce, sour cream and cilantro.

This recipe is relatively quick and easy to make.  In fact, if you pare it down to the core, it’s really just fried chicken strips with hot sauce and some vegetables, wrapped into a large burrito.  The ingredients may change, based upon what I have at hand.  Since I am growing chili peppers in my garden, I have lots of ways to bring spicy heat and bold flavors. 

red habaneros

Habaneros are the key in this particular recipe.  If  you have never tried fresh habanero, you should try them.  Be careful, though.  Habaneros are VERY spicy.  Slice a tiny sliver from a fresh habanero and pop it into your mouth.  Bite once and spit it out.  You will get a big dose of heat from the spice but not so much to knock you down.  You will also get to experience a most unique chili flavor.  There’s no other chili pepper like the habanero.  The taste is vibrant and unlike any other chili I have tasted.

If you want to try cooking with habanero but are concerned about being blown away by the excessive heat, try adding a slice or two to a stir fry.  Stir it with other items in the wok and pull it out after 10 or 15 seconds.  You will get the flavor and some of the heat.  If you like it, add a little more but beware, you can always add more habanero to a dish but you can never take it away.  Once it imparts its heat, you can’t undo it.

Notice that I also use ghost pepper powder.  Ghost pepper (Bhut jolokia) makes the habanero seem sweet and innocent, by comparison.  Ghost peppers provide extreme heat and very little flavor.  Any flavor a ghost pepper might provide is hidden behind screaming fire.  I grow ghost peppers and dehydrate them and grind them into a powder. 

A word of warning:  set your dehydrator outdoors or in a ventilated, open garage.  The fumes are practically lethal.  And, once in powder form, the ghost pepper is as strong as mace.  I’m serious.  You should use latex gloves and a mask and goggles when working with dried ghost pepper.  I don’t, but I should.

The way I use ghost pepper in this recipe gives some spice to the chicken but, after frying, the spiciness dissipates remarkably.  You will get a bigger kick from the habanero and jalapeño…believe me. 

If you want to make a tame version of this, skip all of the peppers and hot sauce and use everything else.

Ingredients:

3 chicken breasts

2 Tbs garlic powder

2 Tbs paprika

2 cups flour

3 Tbs cornstarch

2 eggs

1/3 cup cooking oil

1 mango, peeled and chopped

3 habanero chilis, thinly sliced

3 jalapeños, sliced

1 tsp ghost pepper powder (optional)

¼ onion, thinly sliced

½ cup cilantro

½ cup carrots, sliced

1 cup lettuce, julienne sliced

1 Tbs Salt

4 burrito sized flour tortillas

Ingredients for the sauce:

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup sour cream

3 Tbs sriracha hot sauce

Mix the sauce (mayonnaise, sour cream and sriracha).  Set aside

Additional sauces (for adventuresome risk takers):

Louisiana hot sauce

Habanero hot sauce

Directions:

Prepare the vegetables and set aside.

Lay the chicken breasts on a cutting board and slice them scallopini-style.  Hold the chicken breast in place with the palm of your hand.  Slice the breast in half horizontally, starting at the thickest end and work your way to the thinner end.  Dust the chicken with paprika and ghost pepper powder.

Prepare the flour dredge by whisking the flour and cornstarch in a large mixing bowl. 

Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture and let the chicken rest in the bowl for 10 or 15 minutes.  The flour will mix with the moisture on the surface of the chicken and the chicken will become tacky, to the touch. 

While the chicken rests, add the cooking oil to a skillet and set the heat to medium. 

Mix the eggs in a shallow dish.

Dip the chicken in the egg and then dredge the chicken in the flour mixture again.  Shake off excess flour and lay the chicken in the hot oil.  Do not crowd in the pan.  You will probably need to fry in two batches.

Since the chicken has been sliced in half, it will cook quickly.  Turn the chicken after a few minutes and turn again.  Keep turning the chicken every few minutes until the chicken is crisps and becomes golden brown.  Remove to a paper towel lined plate.  Sprinkle a little salt on the chicken.  Slice the chicken into ½“ strips.

Warm the burrito sized tortillas in a microwave oven until they are soft and pliable. 

Lay a tortilla on a clean work surface.  As you prepare the wrap you will want to lay everything down horizontally.  Smear some of the sauce in the center of tortilla.  Lay the vegetables, herbs and mango down on top of the sauce.  Lay some chicken on top of the vegetables.

Add hot sauce, if desired.

Wrap the tortilla by folding the sides inward, toward the middle and roll the tortilla.

Serve with your favorite drink.  Milk, if you want some relief from the heat.  Beer, if you’ve had a particularly rough day.