Scott and I love to play games, and when you live in New England in the winter time, inviting neighbors over on a cold night beats the bar any day (not like we go to the bar in good weather, but you get the point). I love to entertain, but a lot people shy away because they believe you have to go all out and produce a 5-course French menu any time you have guests. That is simply not the case. Casual entertaining is a whole other ball game. With less fussy menus (however not less tasty) and more do-ahead friendly dishes, not only are you guests at ease with a casual atmosphere, but more importantly, you the host are relaxed.
For our last game night, I decided to serve Chicken Fajitas. I love all Mexican food, but I especially love to serve fajitas. Whenever I have a big crowd to feed (I made these for a Superbowl party one year) I turn to buffet style. Buffets are usually easier when entertaining and fajitas are great because they also offer “make your own” component to the evening. Its a great way to get your guests up and moving, talking and mingling. Also, most people enjoy participating in dinner and feel like they are “helping” by simply being able to create their own plates – they aren’t being waited on and again the atmosphere is taken down a notch.
So here’s how I make my fajitas:
All good chicken fajitas start with a great chicken. I use a great Tequila-Lime marinade and buy chicken tenderloins (the tenderloins are the perfect “Strip” size for fajitas). The marinade is easy to make and tastes best when you let it sit over night. This forces me to get the chicken going the night before, therefore one less thing off my plate the day of. When my guests arrive, I just pull the chicken out and it goes right on the grill.
Once the chicken is done, there is not much left to do. The beauty of fajitas is that a lot of things are store bought. I offer shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, and of course tortillas (all store bought) and then make pico de gallo, sauteed onions and peppers, and guacamole. Pico de gallo is a simple fresh salsa… a mixture of tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeno and lime juice – nothing a couple of quick chops of the knife can’t take care of. I make the guacamole and pico de gallo a couple of hours before the party. When its time to eat, I saute the onions and peppers while the chicken is grilling and before you know it – your fabulously casual meal is done!
I like to grill my chicken once my guests arrive. Not only are you ensuring hot chicken, but I also think that guests like to help and see their food being prepared. Waiting to grill also helps to keep the time line relaxed…if you want to mingle for a couple of minutes before starting diner, you can go ahead and enjoy yourself. (This way, there is no fussy time line to follow and no chance of a ruined meal because your guests are running late) Plus, grilling is always a good task to assign to a friend who wants to help. With only 15 minutes of easy cooking required once the guests arrive, you can prepare dinner and still entertain at the same time. Don’t be afraid to get your guests involved and let them help.
Once everything is ready, I set out a bunch of small bowls with all the tasty toppings and let my guests go to town building their fajitas.
Fajita Time Line:
Make marinade and add chicken.
Two hours before the party:
Make Pico de Gallo.
Fill bowls with cheese, salsa, and sour cream. Cover with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated.
Wrap tortillas with plastic wrap on a dinner plate. Let sit at room temperature.
30 Minutes before guests arrive:
Set up buffet with all the toppings.
When guests arrive:
Saute onions and peppers.
Recipe: Chicken Fajitas