Tuesday, June 24, 2014


It’s been over a year since I resumed a five-days-a-week-in-the-office job after several blissful years of working partly from home, but I’m still struggling to strike the right balance in my weeknight cooking plans. On the one hand I have my hankering to experiment with new techniques and ingredients, make everything from scratch, and add content to my blog, and on the other I have my yearning for easy, quick, reliable recipes that allow me to have a little bit of evening free time left over when they’re done. For the most part, simplicity is winning. Baking, long braises, and instructions longer than 10 steps are out, old standbys are in, and at least one night a week I feel like just throwing something on a tortilla and calling it good.

Fajitas aren’t something I’ve routinely craved before now—they’re fun to order in a restaurant now and then, with the loudly sizzling pan and the extra joy of assembling them as you please—but quickly stir-fried and served with whatever fixings you have on hand, they make an excellent speedy dinner that doesn’t require too much thought. I tried a recipe sometime last year but it was lackluster, so I promptly forgot about the idea until this version appeared at Smitten Kitchen. It’s a little more effort because it involves a marinade—which you really should start the night before, if you think of it—but it delivers a lot more flavor and keeps the chicken deliciously tender. Prep all the toppings in advance of even turning on the stove, because the cooking itself is so fast you’ll be eating before you know it. I know the recipe doesn’t look like much, but it magically transforms into a perfect post-work meal.

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons lime juice
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra to taste
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 garlic clove, minced
Small flour or corn tortillas
Olive oil
2 large bell peppers, cut into thin strips
1 large yellow or sweet onion, halved and sliced thinly
Toppings as desired (e.g., salsa, pico de gallo, sliced avocado, guacamole, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro, pickled onions or jalapenos, lime wedges)
  1. To prepare the chicken, slice into thin strips (¼ to ½ inch wide). Place in a bowl or freezer bag. Add lime juice, 1½ teaspoon salt, oregano, cumin, chili powder, paprika and garlic and mix together. Let marinate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days in the fridge.
  2. 20 to 25 minutes before you’re ready to eat, heat the oven to 250 and wrap tortillas in foil. Set on oven rack to warm. Set out fixings of your choice.
  3. Heat a large skillet over high heat. When very hot, drizzle in some olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. When this is nearly smoking hot, add the peppers in a single layer. Wait. Try to get them a little charred underneath before you move them around. Once they’ve begun to brown, add the onions, plus some salt to taste. Wait again for some color to develop before you move them. When peppers are nicely charred in spots and onions have softened and sweetened, scrape mixture onto a plate or bowl to clear the skillet.
  4. Heat skillet again on a very high heat with a thin slick of olive oil. Spread chicken strips in as much of a single layer as you can. Wait until they brown underneath to move them. Saute strips, regularly pausing so that they can get some color, until cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Return peppers and onions to skillet. Heat again until everything is sizzling.
  5. Spoon chicken mixture onto warm tortillas and add toppings of your choice.
Serves: 4-6
Time: 45 minutes, plus 30 minutes to 2 days of marinating
Leftover potential: Great; store chicken-pepper mixture, tortillas, and toppings separately.

Friday, June 13, 2014


After the smashing success of carnitas, I looked around eagerly for something else I could braise and stuff in a taco, and beef was the next logical choice. I remembered seeing (and bookmarking and unbookmarking a few times over the years) this recipe at The Way the Cookie Crumbles, and followed it back to its source at Use Real Butter. It’s only marginally more difficult than the carnitas: marinate the meat with vinegar, lime, garlic and spices; add liquid; bake the heck out of it until it falls apart in shreds; pile on tortillas and gorge.

The only challenge was finding “eye of chuck,” the cut particularly specified in the original recipe. This is where having access to an actual butcher would come in handy, especially if you are incapable of learning cuts of meat (as I seem to be, no matter how many times I look at those cow diagrams). I did the best I could and went to Whole Foods, where of course there was nothing actually labeled “eye of chuck,” but the very helpful man behind the counter immediately consulted his supervisor, who told us that it was a certain portion of the chuck roast closest to the rib, and instructed his employee exactly where to cut it off for me. Customer service at its finest!

Unsurprisingly, these tacos were as succulent and flavorful as I’d imagined, another “I can’t believe I just made that” hit. The beef would be just as good in a burrito, quesadilla, tostada, nachos or any other tortilla-related format. Now I just need to figure out a good braised-chicken taco and I’ll be set.

1½ pounds eye of chuck (chuck eye steak or chuck eye roast)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup beef stock
Corn or flour tortillas
Toppings of your choice, such as salsa, guacamole, lettuce, cheese, etc.

1. Trim the fat off the beef and cut the meat into 1-inch-thick slices. In a zip-top bag, combine the oil, vinegar, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, salt, and garlic. Place the meat slices in the bag, seal, mix it around and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Bring the meat to room temperature and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place all contents from the bag in a baking dish (a Dutch oven works well) with the beef stock. Cover the dish and bake for 1½ to 2½ hours. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes, then shred it with two forks.

3. Serve beef on tortillas with toppings of your choice.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 2-3 hours, plus marinating time
Leftover potential: Good.