Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Festive Fajitas

Good evening everyone! As Maggie mentioned yesterday, we sort of stumbled upon a theme week here on the blog. It wasn't intentional, but after we both came up with our recipes for the week and discovered they were from the same vein (Mexican cuisine) we decided to run with it. So, welcome to day 2 of Mexican week!

My dish today has been featured at least two times on the blog already, but I'm not the type of person who likes to settle on one recipe as the be all, end all for that dish. In fact, even though the basic concept of tonight's dish, chicken fajitas, seems fairly straightforward, I've found there are a multitude of ways you can prepare and enjoy this tasty Mexican treat. Let's try out a new way tonight!

The Recipe: Chicken Fajitas
Recipe Inspired By: Food Network Magazine March 2013 Issue

What You'll Need:
(Serves 4)

1 Teaspoon of Chili Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1 Pound Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breasts
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Large Bell Peppers (Any color) Sliced*
1 Red Onion, Sliced
2 Garlic Cloves, Chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Lime Zest (Reserve wedges for serving)
8 Corn Tortillas
1/2 Cup Prepared Pico De Gallo (Or fresh salsa)
1/2 Cup Crumbled Cotija Cheese**

* Try to select two different color peppers, not only will it add visual appeal to your dish, the contrasting heat levels of the peppers will add another layer of flavor and complexity to the final dish.

** Cotija cheese is a spanish cheese made from cow's milk. It's a thicker cheese, often served shaved or grated (like parmesan). It turns out, it's also HIGHLY seasonal. Since the cows that make this cheese have to be fed a certain kind of grass, their ability to produce this cheese only lasts from July through October. That means finding this cheese in your grocery store come February (like we were trying to do) is darn near impossible. As such, be prepared to adapt to another kind of Mexican cheese (such as Queso Fresco or another cheese from the Mexican cuisine section of your local grocery store).

There are two ways you can prepare the chicken for this recipe, by the original instructions, or by the method I decided to use today.

For the original instructions, season the chicken with the chili powder, cumin and a pinch of salt and pepper. Next, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and cook the chicken for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until the breasts are golden brown.

Pop the browned breasts into a 435 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes to allow them to cook through. Allow the breasts to rest for 5 minutes prior to slicing the meat.

I opted to follow my own path. I really enjoy the flavor of a slow roasted chicken breast - but I didn't exactly want to babysit the chicken all day to achieve this result. Instead, I broke out our smallest slow cooker.

For this method, simply season the breasts as described above, then add them to the slow cooker along with just enough chicken broth to cover the breasts. Set the slow cooker on low and let it cook for 5 to 8 hours.

Once the chicken has spent a good portion of the day roasting, simply shred the breasts with a fork, and remove the chicken with a slotted spoon (you don't want the liquid - it'll ruin your fajita). This method really boosts the flavor of the chicken and allows you to have dinner on the table even faster if you're working all day.

To prepare the vegetables, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large non stick skillet on medium high heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add the bell pepper, onion, garlic, a pinch of cumin and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook until the veggies have softened and are lightly browned. This takes about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the lime zest and add a tablespoon or two of water if the mixture is looking especially dry.

While your veggies are cooking, wrap your tortillas in aluminum foil and stick them in a 200 degree oven for 5 minutes. This softens the tortillas up and makes them less likely to crumble while you're eating.

Right before serving, combine your sliced or shredded chicken with the veggies and spoon this mixture onto the center of your warmed tortillas. Top with the fresh salsa and a few crumbles of cheese. Enjoy!

The Results:

When it comes to quick and healthy Mexican cuisine, it doesn't get much better than the fajita. I'm glad I decided to slow cook our chicken as it imparted a great savory flavor to the final dish that I don't know would be there had we simply grilled the breasts. The combination of red, yellow and orange bell peppers and red onion really added a nice bit of heat and bit to counter the savory chicken and cheese flavors.

Warming the tortillas in aluminum foil is a nice trick that I will certainly use again. We've had issues in the past with corn tortillas simply crumbling during the meal - making for a rather adventurous dinner time experience. Microwaving them seemed to help, but never fully alleviated the problem. This method softened them greatly without making them crunchy or crispy (or drying them out).

That's all we have for you this week. We're back next with two brand new dishes and more culinary adventures. Until then,


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