Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Food, Glorious Food! Chicken Fajita Recipe #food #recipes #sgp

Being half-Italian has its advantages. One is growing up with a bunch of Italian women who argued constantly during church spaghetti dinners whether the sauce was good enough or not. Of course it fell short of "their" sauce. I laughed when my grandmother slowly took a bite of a meatball at one church dinner, and declared it substandard. Although her words were more like, "Uh. Too tough. Overcooked." And she'd shake her head to the side with a wrinkled nose as though being served skunk as the main dish.

I learned to appreciate the joy of making a meal while watching my Italian mother, her mother, her grandmother, her sister and cousins buzz about my great-grandmother's kitchen like dedicated bees around a hive. Few things were measured. A whole lotta spoon action went on as my great-grandmother would taste the sauce and then perhaps sprinkle something in the pot, and wait some more. Then the final taste from the spoon, a curt nod of approval, and dinner would be served. It was from them I gained a mysterious sense of understanding about cooking food that couldn't quite be put into words. But it was the food that bonded us and brought us a sense of pride that we were able to provide for one of our most basic instincts - the need to eat. The big kitchen that hustled and bustled with activity during the holidays is now one of my most cherished memories of growing up with first-generation Italian-American women.

It took me awhile to take to my cooking heritage. I was single for many years and as anyone who enjoys cooking knows, it isn't very fun to cook for one. Still, I soldiered on with a few daring attempts. Once while living in Charlotte, I decided to buy an Indian cookbook. One of my favorite dishes is Sag Paneer, a creamy spiced spinach curry with fried cubes of cheese. I was determined to make it myself. I spent an entire Sunday making the cheese, refrigerating it, and then gently removing it from the cheesecloth and cutting it into little cubes for the frying pan. In addition to the spinach, I made Rice Pea Pilaf and a potato dish. Seven hours later, I was exhausted but victorious. I had made a delicious, authentic Indian meal and my little cottage reeked of onions. Such is the life of a cook adventurer.

When I finally married at the age of 39, I was thrilled by the realization that finally, I'd have someone to cook for, not just me. I surprised my family by baking homemade breads, which I'd carefully wrap and bring with me on my visits back home. I could tell that my mother was slightly relieved that she didn't raise a kitchen lightweight and would proudly tell me that my grandmother really enjoyed the bread, as did she and my father. My brother joked around by saying he didn't know I could cook. Very funny. It certainly wasn't him lollygagging about in my great-grandmother's kitchen all those years.

When my mother passed away, one of the first things I did was raid her cookbook treasure trove. They are still like secret riches for me to this day. I gave her a decorative recipe file that for years, she'd stuff recipe cards from friends and family and cut-out recipes from the paper. The little file bulged until it finally tore and had to be held together by a large red rubber-band. Eventually, my father found a short little box to put everything in. That box now has a proud position in my own kitchen. My mother would gather recipes from all types of places. One of my favorite stories is how she got the recipe for her grandmother's sauce. She followed the tiny woman around the kitchen and each time my great-grandmother would throw something in her hand, my mother would say "Stop!" and then measure what was in her hand with tablespoons and teaspoons. My great-grandmother would use eggshells, cans, and her hands as her tools of measurement. Thank God my mother realized I would need something a little more precise.

I also found several thin recipe books from food manufacturers, such as Campbell's and Hershey's. If there was a collection of recipes to be had for only a few "proofs of purchase" and a couple bucks, my mom was there. She treated recipes as though they were a treasure hunt, and often she was right. The few that passed muster would find themselves in a rotating schedule of delectable offerings during the week or holidays.

So, I suppose it isn't surprising that I've taken after her by hunting for my own treasures except this time I have a great little helper called the Internet. I just told my husband last night that if my mom was still alive, she'd get a kick out of some of the sites I've visited and I have no doubt that if she had been in better health, she'd be testing the recipes on her own. There are so many great recipe sites, but I admit my ultimate "go to" site is AllRecipes.com. Not only do they have delicious recipes, but the reviews really make it worthwhile. You can also find recipes according to what you're making and how you want to make it - for instance: say you want to make a chicken dish for dinner. You can find the recipes under chicken, but then also according to cooking style such as recipes for baked chicken, grilled, boiled, fried, etc. etc.

Lately, I've been on the hunt for a good recipe for Chicken Fajitas. My husband and I love T.G.I.F.'s Sizzling Chicken Fajitas that I find in the frozen food section at the grocery store, but at $8 a bag, I know I can do better by making my own. However, I haven't been able to get the seasonings right. So last night I tested a recipe from AllRecipes for a Chicken Fajita Marinade. I remembered my last attempt to make fajitas had the chicken tasting a little bitter. There is a slight sweetness to the T.G.I.F.'s version I couldn't quite place. When I looked at the recipe below, I was happy to see a little brown sugar was included.

The marinade turned out wonderfully! I did alter the recipe slightly since I didn't have all the ingredients. Instead of using beer, I decided to try ginger ale. (I figured hey, it was tangy and bubbly...kind of like beer!) I also only had lemon juice on hand instead of lime (and it was short of 1/3 cup by about two tablespoons, but it worked.) Finally, my husband doesn't care for cilantro (but I love it) so I decided to use oregano based on another reviewer's suggestion.

I used two boneless, skinless chicken breasts (frozen), thawed and cut into slices. The chicken was marinated for 2 1/2 hours. I heated a grill pan on medium-high and grilled the chicken for about 9 minutes. I then removed the chicken from the pan and added sliced red onions and half a bag of frozen red/yellow/green peppers from Trader Joe's. I poured the marinade over the vegetables and grilled on high heat for about 4 minutes, and then turned the heat to medium-high and continued for 2 more minutes, I then added the chicken to the mix to heat for one minute, then removed the mixture to a bowl. I heated 5 soft flour tortillas and wrapped the mixture in them, added some cheddar cheese and voila - chicken fajitas! They were delish!

Bon Appetit!

Chicken Fajita Marinade


1/4 cup beer
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
salt to taste


To prepare the marinade, stir together beer, lime juice, olive oil, garlic, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, cilantro, cumin, and salt; mix well.

To use marinade, pour into a resealable plastic bag, add up to 1 1/2 pounds of chicken breast, and mix until chicken is well coated. Marinate for 1 to 3 hours in the refrigerator.

Serving: 6

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