Whipping up a Father’s Day fiesta
Rustic fajita skillet meal with steak and chicken

Cocktails to dessert —and in between, fajitas, Margaritas, pronto!

By Tina Wasserman
Father’s Day is synonymous with grilling, but Dad doesn’t have to do the cooking that day. He should be sitting back, enjoying friends and family, and drinking a cold Margarita or beer. So, here I am going to give you all the tools and tidbits to make a great fajita dinner.
Traditionally, fajitas are a Southwestern/Mexican peasant food made from a cheap, but flavorful, cut of meat.The fajita meat is skirt steak, and skirt steak is the diaphragm muscle (which lies between the abdomen and chest cavity). It’s a long, flat piece of meat that’s flavorful but rather tough. Since the diaphragm is located across the belly of the cow, the cut of meat is called “fajita,” which means belt.
Growing up in New York, skirt steak was referred to as “Romanian Tenderloin.” But one thing skirt steak isn’t, is tender! The trick to making this cut a wonderful addition to your menu is to make sure you marinate the meat to tenderize it a little, and then you must slice it against the grain before serving. This task is actually quite easy, because the skirt steak is a very flat, rectangular piece of meat with a definite muscular grain going crosswise. Slicing the meat at a 45-degree angle will break the sinews and provide a much more tender chew. If you want to taste skirt steak as Romanian Tenderloin smothered with garlic, you’ll have to go to New York, where it is often served with a syrup jar filled with rendered chicken fat to pour on your steak and mashed potatoes with gribben — don’t ask!
Skirt steak is very popular in Japan, and for years a very high percentage of the U.S. supply was shipped there. As a result, it is not readily available in all markets, and when it is available, it’s not so cheap anymore (especially if it’s kosher meat). Other cuts of beef can be substituted, but it will not have the same texture or flavor, and of course, you can make chicken fajitas or vegetarian ones as well.
Many recipes are available for fajita marinades. My recipe uses the fresh flavors of Southwestern cooking, eliminating overbearing elements. Many marinades for fajitas, both homemade and store bought, use soy sauce. Avoid these products if you don’t want your finished product to taste more Teriyaki than Southwest. I prefer to use Worcestershire sauce for that additional “kick.”
11/2 pounds skirt steak or boneless chicken breast
¼ cup peanut or corn oil
3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (omit salt if using kosher meat)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin or to taste
Flour tortillas
Pico de Gallo (see recipe)
Guacamole (see recipe)

  1. Marinate the steaks or chicken breast in the oil, garlic, lime juice and seasonings, at least 4 hours or overnight. If it’s 4 hours or less, marinate at room temperature, otherwise refrigerate.
  2. A half-hour before cooking, start your grill. Soak 1/2 cup of mesquite chips in water.
  3. 15 minutes before cooking, add the mesquite chips to the fire.
    *See Tidbits
  4. Grill meat over a hot fire 3-5 minutes per side, or until medium-rare.
  5. Slice into thin strips on the diagonal and serve on flour tortillas with the Pico de Gallo and guacamole.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• The most important thing to remember when making fajitas is never buy meat that is pre-sliced. Your meat needs to be grilled whole and then sliced to preserve its flavor and moisture content. Besides, grilling little slivers of meat is a daunting task and will feed the fire gods many little morsels as you are trying to turn and retrieve the pieces off your grill grate!
• Never marinate beef and chicken in the same bowl. The flavor and color of the meat will alter the taste and color of the chicken.
• If your grill doesn’t have a wood chip pan or smoker box, place the soaked chips in a foil packet and punch holes in it to let out the smoke. Place in the far corner of your grill and proceed with the recipe. Remove when grill is cold and discard.
Portobello Mushroom Fajitas
Sometimes you need a vegetarian option that is just as meaty and delicious. Here is the answer you will love that can be eaten alone or added to the meat in your tortilla.
4 portobello mushroom caps, stems cut flush with caps
1/2 cup beer
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1. Rinse and pat dry the mushrooms. Scrape out the fins on the underside of the mushroom and discard.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a shallow, non-reactive bowl and marinate the mushrooms for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.
  3. Grill over hot coals for 4-5 minutes starting with cap side down and turning halfway through cooking time.
  4. Slice into 1/4-inch strips. Serve as above with accompaniments.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Removing the fins from the portobello prevents the mushroom from bleeding black into your dish. This is especially important when you are mixing these mushrooms into a casserole or rice dish.
Fresh Pico de Gallo
If pressed for time, you can always buy premade pico in local supermarkets, but it will not taste as fresh and vibrant.
1 pound red ripe tomatoes
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ small can of chopped green chilies
1 finely chopped jalapeno pepper (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

  1. Seed the tomatoes and chop into 1/2-inch cubes. Combine with the remaining ingredients and allow to sit for 1/2 hour before serving.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• To seed a tomato, cut in half horizontally. Hold tomato half by the skin and gently squeeze it over the sink. Give a downward shake and all the seeds should fall out.
• It is much easier to cut a tomato with a serrated knife and from the inside, rather than the skin side.
• Pico de Gallo means “comb of the rooster.” Care should be taken to cut the tomato and onion in perfect dice, as they will be visible in this uncooked salsa.
I know, it’s dangerous teaching guacamole in the Southwest, but here’s a recipe for those who generally buy the ready-made version.
2 ripe avocados
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
¼ cup canned Rotel tomatoes or picante sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 or more cloves of garlic, finely minced (or garlic powder)
½ cup finely chopped onion

  1. Mash the avocados, then stir in the remaining ingredients. Store with the avocado pit in the mixture to prevent browning.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Ideally, the avocado will be ripe when you buy it. If the little step piece comes out easily, then it is ripe.
• If avocados are not ripe enough, put them in a paper bag on your counter and within two days they will be perfect!
These are the hard, crunchy variety that you find at Mexican restaurants, rather than the soft, chewy kind.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups pecan halves

  1. Combine the sugars, butter, milk and corn syrup in a heavy 2-quart saucepan and cook at a low boil for 15-20 minutes. Stir constantly.
  2. Cook the mixture until it forms a soft ball when a small amount is dropped into a glass of water that contains a few ice cubes to make it very cold.
  3. Add the vanilla and stir to combine.
  4. Add the pecans and remove from the heat. Stir to coat the pecans.
    Pour the mixture by spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet or parchment paper and allow to cool.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Stirring a sugar mixture while it is boiling creates a crystalline structure when it cools. This is why instructions often tell you to never stir fudge while it’s cooking if you want it to be very smooth.
Frozen Margaritas
1 cup tequila
½ cup Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
1 6-ounce can frozen limeade

  1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender container and add ice cubes to fill the container. Blend until thick and smooth. Serve in salt-rimmed glasses if desired.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• If you really want your Margarita to be blue, try adding Blue Curacao instead of Grand Marnier.

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