Take your party south of the border

20 Jul Take your party south of the border

Summer in Montana is one of the last best places to gather  with family and friends.  If you find your weekends filling up with guests and are in need of an easy crowd-pleaser, take your party-planning south of the border for a fun-filled Fajita-Margarita Night sometime soon.

Having a signature drink to go with your menu is always festive and a great way to please the amigos. And what goes better with spicy Mexican food than a frosty blended margarita, especially in the heat of the summer?

                A few years ago our friend Brett Haverlandt introduced us to his family’s famous margaritas, which we have been enjoying as a summer special ever since.

                The recipe comes from Brett’s sister, Amy Haverlandt who is graciously sharing it with us this week and gave me the story on the origin of her concoction.

                Years ago, Amy’s family was celebrating Father’s Day in Augusta.  They had brought up a special blender and all the fixings because her dad’s favorite drink happens to be the margarita.  Amy’s mom had heard about using beer in frozen margaritas, so Amy began creating in the kitchen while her brother Brett and her dad relaxed outside by the fire pit. Amy brought out a pitcher of her blended margaritas with beer. Within 20 minutes, they were gone, and her dad and brother were telling her to put some tequila in the margaritas, thinking she hadn’t put any in the first batch, proof of the smoothness that the addition of her secret ingredient adds to the cocktail.

                That’s the thing with the recipe, Amy says, they’re so smooth, you don’t taste the tequila. Oh sure, they’re delicious, but be careful. They’ve been known to sneak up on people in the past.

                Get your own Fajita-Margarita party started by blending up a batch (or two) of Amy’s blended margaritas.

                As soon as everyone has a frosty beverage in hand, they’re more than happy to jump in and help get the fajita bar set up.  Or that was the case at our house recently with my husband Mike in charge of margaritas, and friends Karen Harant grilling peppers, Tom Harant grating towers of cheese, my brother’s girlfriend Amy Evans warming tortillas and my brother Tyler setting the table for us. Everyone milling about in the kitchen helping made for a participation party atmosphere and left little more than grilling the meat items for me. Muy bueno, I say.

                I skipped the lengthy marinade process and opted for a last minute spice rub which delivered a delicious kick of flavor and simplified the grilling on the barbecue. A few minutes to rest and the meat was ready to slice and serve, along with all of the other fajita components, generously prepared by the crew in the kitchen.

                Setting out a buffet allowed everyone to customize their fajita to their own likeness and minimized leftover ingredients. Because the grilled meat, vegetables and condiments were arranged on platters and people helped themselves, it was possible to bag up the leftovers for a party platter of nachos the next day. But if you’re not a nacho fan, you could always use extra tortillas, cheese and grilled meat to make quick quesadillas, too.

                Celebrating summer in Montana and guests galore is this week’s Special of the Day: Fajita-Margarita Night. Enjoy!

Fajitas and Margaritas

                Amy Haverlandt’s Blended Margaritas

                Fill up blender ¾ way up with ice.

                Add a 12-ounce can frozen limeade concentrate and save the can for measuring.

                Add 1 whole can Jose Cuervo tequila, ½ can triple sec and the secret ingredient: ½ a beer, which takes the   tart tang away and masks the bite of the tequila, making the margaritas frothy and smooth. 

Karen Harant customizing a fajita for dinner

Fajitas with Grilled Chicken, Steak and Shrimp

Serves 8 for dinner, with leftovers for nachos or quesadillas the next day

                4 large boneless skinless chicken breasts

                2 pounds sirloin steaks, about 1 inch thick

                1 pound large frozen shrimp, thawed and peeled

                Spice rub

                ¼ cup chili powder

                3 tablespoons dried oregano

                1 teaspoon salt

                ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

                Grilled peppers and onions

                1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut in thin strips

                1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut in thin strips

                1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut in thin strips

                2 large sweet onions, cut in thin rings

                3 tablespoons oil

                1 tablespoon chili powder

                ½ teaspoon salt

               1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

                1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese

                24 tortillas (we used plain flour, sundried tomato and whole grain)

 Preheat barbecue to medium high.

Combine spice rub ingredients.

Place shrimp in large plastic baggie and add 2-3 tablespoons spice rub. Toss to cover.

Place grill basket on preheated barbecue.

Arrange shrimp in grill basket and grill until pink on one side. Turn with tongs and cook until other side is pink.

Remove from heat, tent with foil.

Put chicken and steak on barbecue, directly on the grill.

Cover one side of each steak and each chicken breast with spice rub.

Cook about 5 minutes on a side, and turn.

Cover other side with spice rub and continue cooking until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear, about 6 more minutes. Cook steak another 5 minutes (for medium well), until steak feels semi-firm when pressed with tongs.

Remove grilled chicken and streak from barbecue, tent with foil and let rest briefly.

Meanwhile, have someone grill the peppers and onions.

In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat until hot.

Add pepper strips and onions and cook until softened.

Wrap tortillas in foil and warm on preheated barbecue.

 Slice grilled chicken and steak into thin slices and arrange on large platter with grilled shrimp.

Set out platters of shredded cheese, grilled onions and peppers and a basket of warmed tortillas.

Serve with bowls of salsa, sour cream and guacamole for guests to custom-make their own fajitas. 

                Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at  sydnegeorge@hotmail.com .

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