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Chipotle Fig Glazed Chicken & Fajita Fiesta – Olé!

Chipotle Fig Glazed Chicken & Fajita Fiesta – Olé!

Hand holding a fig marinated chicken fajita with avocado, garnished with lime and cilantro

If it’s summer, it’s grilling time and what better way to get a little entertaining help than a Pot Lucky. After the success of last year’s Slider Grill-a-thon, I picked Fajita Fiesta for a theme.  I also had a brand new jar of Balsamic Pepper Fig Spread land on my doorstep and immediately thought of chipotle. To be specific, Chipotle Fig Glazed Chicken Thighs! Are you feeling me? On a grilled tortilla with some refried beans, maybe a little guacamole, pineapple salsa, cilantro sprigs and perhaps a grilled veg or two?  Well don’t stop there! We got so many wonderful contributions that the pairings and combos of flavors were virtually endless.

Margaritas in a large jar

But let’s get this party started properly. Normally my potlucks are a BYO event (leaving me time to focus energy on coordinating culinary contributions, trying to weed out duplicates). But this time one couple decided to bring her dad’s signature and award-winning margarita in lieu of food. Score! They also brought that darling baby that appears further down this post. The cocktail recipe itself is a secret, but I have it on good authority that there is a certain blue collar beer in the mix. Nobody seemed to remember Hop Skip & Go Naked, but that was one of my earliest (college) blender memories. Starting with frozen lemon or limeade, all other “liquids” added used the juice-can-as-measure technique. Beer was definitely in the mix. Anybody?

Dinner\'s Done - condiments for fajita party - lime, guacamole, cilantro, sour cream, queso, salsa served on a serape

Readers have asked how to host a Pot Lucky, as I have taken to calling the Curated Pot Luck. ICYMI, I have a deep-seeded fear of pot lucks. Shivvvvvvvvvvver. One too many frilly picks atop Velveeta cubes atop Slim Jims. True fact: I ate that last summer. I was THAT hungry. So it occurred to me a couple years ago to help people help themselves. By creating a theme (which makes it easier for guests to focus on their contribution to the menu), suggesting categories, and having a Sign Up for Your Dish List, you can create an amazing feast.  We’re pushing our tenth Pot Lucky, all covered in this blog, but a few of my favorites are sliders, pizza, meatloaf, and nautical style.  Like any good mother, I can’t really choose.

Here’s the 101 Crash Course on how to host a Pot Lucky. Doubtless there will be additional thoughts coming in subsequent posts, but let’s start with the basics.

The 411 on Pot Lucky 101

Like most things in life, the devil is in the details, and I am a firm believer in plan, plan, planning. Make a master list for any gathering and create sections for who is coming, what they are bringing, your shopping, prep, and set up.

Create a Theme

Creating a theme to curate your Pot Luck around is step one to giving menu directions. This is the best possible insurance against Velveeta with a frilly pick on a Slim Jim. Because unless your theme is Junk Food (I actually did that theme for a Chefs’ Night Out after the James Beard Awards, because let’s get real – that’s what chefs crave) or White Trash, there is a high likelihood you can avoid this culinary treasure. I have done sausage making, pizza toppings, soup swaps, sliders, nautically themed, Thanksgiving family treasures, meat loaf and more. What about a clam bake? Salad Palooza (my next Pot Lucky), American BBQ classics, fondue, Chinese New Year’s, Indian street food? So many possibilities.

Who is Game?

Most times when you entertain, the cast of characters is pre-ordained. An office party? Family gathering? School reunion? But if this is just a time to pull folks together around this menu, consider who would enjoy it. I’m all about being inclusive and fully believe everyone can whip together something using ready-made components – I have offered to give tutorials to those that might feel a teeny twinge of stress over this – but what you don’t want is take-out. That is a whole other party. Calvin Trillin used to host an annual dinner in NYC to benefit the NY Public Library and he had minions scattered all over Chinatown to scoop up and swoop in with military precision, delivering NY’s Best Chinese Take Out.

Look for people that think this is fun. It might not be everyone you know, but you might be surprised how many people jump on the bandwagon and show up with papier mâché marionettes wearing sombreros.  Be prepared to yield a wide berth for exceptions and provide a hall pass to anyone happy to pitch in in other ways. Do you do dishes? You are absolutely most welcome!

Set Expectations

I always provide detailed descriptions of the evening’s flow from arrival time to what to bring (already plated with serving spoon).  I also like to include a list of everything I am providing.  And then I plan for contingencies for that one person that shows up with the bowl, the ice, the cocktail sauce and no shrimp. I might not have shrimp to make that dish whole, but I will have a backup appetizer to fill the void.  A day or two before, I provide a general head count for everyone so they know how much to bring. Nobody has to make enough to feed the total crowd because there will be so much food. 2 or 3 cups of a salsa goes a long way when sprinkled on a fajita. But I usually specify quantity on proteins (2-3 pounds each for the fajita mains; 2 dozen 2-ounce sliders for the burger party) and ask the people bringing lower priced or less time-intensive items to bring 2 or 3 items. And, some Pot Luckys are geared toward sharing the food beyond the night. So make sure folks bring containers to nab portions of the many meatloaves that were sampled, but not finished.   

Provide Sample Menu with Categories

I put some time into coming up with categories and then list a smattering of ideas under each category.  Don’t assign particular dishes to guests, unless it’s their signature and you must have it (Deb’s shrimp burger as a slider is an example.)  Everyone comes from different places – work, home, yet another soccer game – so let them figure out what they are comfortable with making that fits their skills, palate, schedule, and budget.

Track the Menu

As much as I would like to say your job is done, I want you to avoid the all-pork-tenderloin dinner party. Every Pot Lucky has one item that is the highly coveted I MUST MAKE THAT. For fajitas, it was pork tenderloin. By asking guests to reply to you directly (no need to clog everyone’s inbox), you can track what is already taken. And if you got this email and want to bring one particular thing, reply ASAP!! You can also set up a private event page online and let people sift through all the comments to see what is already nabbed, or better yet, use an app that tracks commitments by whatever categories you specify.

Set the Table

Whether the event is at my house, on a boat, or at the park, I always pack extra serving spoons and forks, some condiments and seasonings, and plates, silverware, and napkins.  For smaller groups, it may be a sit down with linens and table décor. For portable events, I try to consolidate, but still throw in a tablecloth and a pot of herbs for décor. Sometimes people show up with their own decor ideas, and you might turn around to find a prayer candle for the Virgin of Guadalupe and a big sombrero right where you left your chip basket. Get creative, but be organized with a master list of what you will need.

Organize Arriving Food 

Once the food starts arriving, try to categorize it by how it will be used. For pizzas, that means putting all the sauces in one area, the cheeses in another, the scattering-type toppings in yet a third. For fajitas, put the tortillas at one end of the table and the cilantro sprigs at the other. This is your chance to be restaurateur for the day, so make a plan to lay out all contributions in a logical order. There may be some things that are for noshing now, so you can stage them in a separate area to clear space for working and setting up your buffet.

Be Flexible

This is like point number 7 on every Girl Scout badge – after Be Prepared, there is Be Flexible. Even the best planning will go off the rails at some point or in some way, but just roll with it. Extra people? No problem because I have extra plates! Forgot your spoon? Got it handled – because I pulled out extras. Didn’t read the part about having the soups to swap in individual containers for take away? Done and done! We will wash all the containers from the tasting portion and repackage with the soup that needs to be portioned.  At the end of the day, this is a party and the only rule is to have fun. Be inclusive. Be gracious. Share! Generosity of spirit covers a multitude of mistakes (that nobody but you needs know about).

Zero Footprint

Let’s leave this place better than we found it.  That goes for the host and also the participants. Whether the party is in your own home, someone else’s or at the park, enlist help to return to pre-party conditions. Too often we don’t want to break the spell by doing the mundane, but many hands make light work. Don’t be a martyr – this is a community party so it’s a great time to get some extra hands to hand back platters and serving utensils, pack up the dirty things and make a trip to the recycle bin. That leaves you free to wake up tomorrow and bask in the memory of a great party, not to face a mound o’ mess!  

Meanwhile back at the fiesta….

here are some of the amazing dishes that arrived for the Fajita Fiesta. One section of the table was reserved for the more app-type contributions to nosh on while the grill was firing up – chips & salsas: pineapple, pico and mango, and guacamole. 

Pineapple Salsa in a pineapple half, on a pewter tray shaped like a pineapple

And there were so many toppings, among them grilled onions, squashes, and peppers. Pickled and fresh jalapenos, cilantro & lime, tomatoes, scallions, lettuce & arugula, sautéed mushrooms.  Oh my! Cheeses ranged from goat to queso fresco, and Monterey Jack to habanero cheddar. Corn and flour tortillas were given a quick pass on the grill to warm up and slightly char. Dan brought his legendary refried beans and there was a tomatillo cilantro rice.

Surveying the Feast overhead shot of the sides for the fajita bar

I kind of left Sauces & Salsas open, with only a few ideas offered, and the range of things that came in did not disappoint. A red chili sauce, the roasted Hatch chili salsa verde, a yogurt cumin sauce and several chunky salsas, including black bean & corn, mango coconut and pineapple.  Lots and lots of guacamole.

What I love is that everyone is into working the theme into the décor. Props showed up by the boat load (literally – across the lake by boat with a serape and maracas). Look how great these sauces are in the Mexican terracotta.

Fiesta Party Decor - Virgen of Guadalupe candle, mexican marionettes, maracas, mexican pottery

Salsa Verde and Salsa Roja in pitchers in a mexican terracotta tray

Next up the mains: In addition to the chipotle fig glazed chicken thighs, the main event included pork tenderloin, fish, shrimp, sirloin, chorizo, pulled brisket and shredded pork.

Give me some meat! overhead shot of all the accoutrement to accompany grilled fiesta meats - refried beans, salsa, etc

Chipotle Fig Chicken Fajitas

My contribution was this sweet heat chipotle and fig glazed chicken thighs. The chipotle fig marriage lands this chicken dish squarely in Mexican territory and the sweet and heat combo makes it a fiesta! Olé! Throw some tortillas on the grill, stuff with chicken, avocado, cilantro and a big squeeze of lime and you are on your way to a party in your mouth. 

Grilled tortillas wrapped in a tea towel

Balsamic Pepper Fig Spread in a jar with a wooden spoon on burlap

Grilled Chicken in Chipotle Fig Sauce

Grilled Veg in Salsa Verde

 

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Hand holding a fig marinated chicken fajita with avocado, garnished with lime and cilantro

Chipotle Fig Glazed Chicken & Fajita Fiesta


  • Author: Katy Keck
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 8 as a main, more if making fajitas 1x

Description

The marriage of figs and chipotle lands this dish squarely in Mexican territory and the sweet and heat combo makes it a fiesta! Olé!


Ingredients

Scale

Marinade:

  • 10 ounce jar Balsamic Pepper Fig Spread
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce
  • Juice of two limes
  • 1 Tablespoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 pounds boneless chicken thighs


Instructions

Make the marinade:

Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine. Makes 1 2/3 cups.

Prepare chicken:

Using about 1/4 of the marinade, combine with chicken and refrigerate, covered, for 1-2 hours, up to overnight. The remaining marinade will keep, refrigerated and covered, for several weeks.

Remove the thighs from the marinade, shaking off any excess marinade. Grill over a medium-hot fire (or bake the chicken at 350oF) until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Internal temperature should reach 165oF.

Let the chicken rest for ten minutes, then cut in strips if making fajitas.

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes (plus marinating time)
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Mains
  • Method: Grilling
  • Cuisine: Mexican

 

Baby Young

At first I thought this little doll was eyeing the margaritas, but I realize now she was on to the cake. The cake on the left – Feliz Cumpleaños – was brought because, yes!, there has been yet another spin around the sun, and the other lovely was a wonderful Tres Leches.

Considering having a Pot Lucky of your own? Let me know in the comments or pick my brain at [email protected].

Cake! Birthday Cake and Tres Leches cake

Lighting the candles on the birthday cake

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2017. All rights reserved.

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Ethical Farming: Behind the Scenes at Wise Family Farm Eggstravaganza Part 1

Ethical Farming: Behind the Scenes at Wise Family Farm Eggstravaganza Part 1

Eggs of Every Size and ColorHow many times have you reached for that egg caddy in the fridge and not thought a whip about where those eggs came from or how their mothers have been treated. I was making a roasted poblano strata (recipe in the next post) for some house guests one weekend and decided it was high time to take a deeper dive.  An NPR interview with  the very funny Mardi Jo Link discussing her book Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm piqued my interest.   And then I became friends with the chicken whisperer Tracy Wise, often seeing her three times a week at several local farmers’ markets. While I had already made the conscious decision to exclusively buy her eggs and chickens, I knew very little about what set them apart or why ethical farming mattered.

Feeding the GoatsThis summer I paid a visit to Wise Family Farm, the ten-acre plot owned by Tracy and Brad in Robinson Township (Michigan).  Brad has spent nearly three decades with the US Coast Guard and they arrived with the family, including kids Jaycee, Garett and Annaliese, from Alaska only five years ago. Looking ahead to their next chapter, the family Wise opted to try their hand at farming. And a family affair it is.  Not just adults, and not just eggs and chickens.  As the photos proudly displayed at market show, all the kids are also involved  – via 4H  – and are responsible for calves, pigs, goats, and more.  While chickens, eggs, and turkeys are the primary focus, the farm is home to many more.  The cows, ranging from Jersey, to Holstein, to Maine-Anjou, are a real commitment to a traditional farming process that is increasingly harder to source. Because the Wises raise growth-hormone-free and non-GMO fed animals, they must source their calves at birth.  They are quick to buy back the 4H winners because they are fully aware of the animal’s quality.  More modern farming techniques may rely on growth hormone implants, but those committed to old-school techniques showcase both their labor of love and commitment to quality, a technique that is both time-consuming and expensive.  When I asked Brad how they mastered this immense operation with no previous experience while he is holding down a full time job, he said “some trial, mostly error.”  #Inspired!

Jax and friendsTheir menagerie also includes pets, as well as friends and family of the animal variety.  There’s a Welsh Harlequin duck by the name of Cheese & Quackers.  A pig named Petunia.  A small flock of guinea fowl, roaming off by themselves.  A South-African breed of goats, name for the Afrikaans word Boer, meaning farmer. Some small mini lops rabbits (including one named Rose) and some very large Flemish Giants – which gave me a whole new perspective on where the term fluffy bunny slippers came from.    They even have bees.

Tracy, Brad and Petunia

Bunnies!

Flemish GiantBut for me the main draw was the ladies, as Tracy calls them.  I was intrigued by the fact that despite chicks and turkeys being hatched at a nearby farm, the hatch-lings are shipped day-old via the US Post office.  This follows best practices targeted at preventing the spread of avian flu.  There will be no cross-contamination by setting foot on another’s farm. Currently the Wises have some 65 turkeys – in preparation for this year’s Thanksgiving – and 700-800 laying Leghorn (I say, I say, boy – is that a chicken hawk?) hens.   While all birds have access to the local non-gmo high quality feed provided, they love to roam and munch on fresh clover.

Non-GMO Feed from Local ProducerI visited the turkeys (still quite young) in a 10×10 foot partially covered pen.  The chickens were in a large corral with a sort of covered wagon (the nesting box) within.  Both are moved daily to a fresh patch with new grasses, clover, and grasshoppers. This has the added benefit of leaving behind yesterday’s droppings to fertilize the soil for future use.  The nesting box or laying house is moved by tractor, but the smaller turkey pen is wheeled by hand to an adjacent patch daily. What alot of work.Talking Turkey

Sustainable and Ethical Farming of Laying HensThe ladies get a lot of daily attention and are much more demanding than say a meat bird.  In addition to providing food and water, the Wises must open the nesting box each morning, collected eggs twice daily, and finally close the box at night. Owls and hawks (yes, chicken hawks) are the biggest threat.  And don’t forget the whole witness relocation program – hitching the tractor and pulling the nesting box over a few feet to its next resting spot.

Egg CollectionOnce collected, eggs are run through an egg washing machine, as required by the State.  Trust me I had more than a small “I Love Lucy” moment, but Tracy’s deft hand racked them and transferred as fast as they came through the washer.   Then again the woman has practice – she washes from 100-200 DOZEN eggs each week.Washing EggsIt’s not too late to order this year’s Thanksgiving turkey. By this time last year, it was. So I placed my 2016 turkey order in August of 2015. See below for details on placing your order.

Not Eggsactly as Eggspected

– Or things you had no idea you needed to know about yard birds and ethical farming:

Did you know hens like to “go outside and play in the dirt til dinner” – just like we did.  It’s called dirting or a dirt bath.  Very cool, as in built in air-conditioner.

Dirt Bath

Did you know Tom turkeys strutting their stuff are called “Tomming Out”? When it’s time to be big man on campus, it turns out they can ruffle their own feathers.

Did you know an egg can be laid without a shell?  Sometimes called Jelly Eggs, these are laid shell-free for a variety of reasons – very hot day, less than 24 hours between laying (insufficient time to form shell), or diet (unlikely at Wise Farms because they are so well tended and have access to quite the feast).

Jelly eggDid you know all hens (like humans) are born with all the eggs they will drop throughout their laying life-cycle?  The reason a hen can lay almost daily is that the ova are in a continuous chain, in various stages of development . In general, it takes 25 hours to form a shell and lay an egg, and they are laid normally during daylight hours, so each day they are laid a bit later until its too dark, and then they skip to the next day.  Here is a diagram of the 25 hour journey.

Do you know the difference in free-range, cage-free, and pastured?  You may be impressed by the wrong terms.  Wise animals are pastured – and that means so much more than free-range which doesn’t guarantee that animals leave their sheds since food and water are generally kept inside.  It only means they have the option to range freely. When you think of chickens living the good life, roaming in a wide open clover-filled field, you are thinking of Wise Family Farm. But in many places that is not what you get.

Chix on the flyEver wonder why fresh hard boiled eggs are impossible to peel?   Remember how that egg and its shell were literally just created in 25 hours?  That means the membrane (the outside on the jelly egg or that white thin layer just inside the shell on a boiled egg) and shell are very much integrated and the white (albumen) with its fresh acidic pH is attached to them both. Once the egg has been washed (before it ever gets near your kitchen), the shell becomes more permeable and the albumen loses some of its carbon dioxide, which in turn reduces the acidity of the egg white.  Lower acidity egg whites means easier to peel since there is further separation between the albumen and membrane. Concurrently, as the egg ages, it will dehydrate and shrink, creating a bigger air pocket between the shell and the membrane. More separation equals easier to peel.

Wait – do I have to choose between easy to peel and fresh?? No you do not. Before you settle for supermarket eggs that are allowed a full 45 days from packing to use-by date, consider this. Tracy suggests putting a rack or steamer basket over boiling water and steaming rather than immersing in boiling water. 12 minutes for hard boiled – 6-9 for soft boiled with a somewhat runny yolk. You may also try taking the egg from the steamer or boiling water and immediately running it under cold water. While holding the egg under the running water, peel, starting at the rounded end where there is an air pocket, .

Get to know your farmers and once you know their passions, it’s easy to be more mindful in your buying choices.   Local farmers work incredibly hard to bring you quality produce, so what’s say we show them some love??

Tracy and Brad Wise

Wise Family Farm is on Facebook! Like! Like! Like!

Grand Haven Markets: til noon Wednesday and Saturday (through October) Shop! Shop! Shop!

Spring Lake Market: til two Thursday (through mid-October) Shop more!

For orders: 616-499-5662 (if you are not in range for Wise turkeys, think now about finding a source near you. It’s later than you think when it comes to planning for your holiday bird. #EatLocal #EatEthical)

I’m traveling and have split this post into two parts.  Stay tuned for Eggstravaganza Part 2 featuring my  Roasted Poblano Strata recipe –  using Wise Family Farm eggs, of course!

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2016. All rights reserved.

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