A hub for all things to do with design, furniture painting, photography, style, event planning [and some foodie bits for good measure].  

Quatro, Cinco, Seis: blackened chicken tacos + a KILLER margarita recipe.

Cinco de Mayo became a three day affair in my house this year, and the results were muy delicioso! I went all out with one of my favorite meals, [and fool-proof party ideas] the taco bar. There's just something so gratifying about building your own tacos [it's like having this place in your house- if only!] and having a whole array of toppings to choose from.

Though I ventured into [grass-fed] beef and tilapia as well, my favorite taco filling had to be my blackened chicken. I made these SUPER easy by just pulling together some spices I had in my pantry.  I never really measure when cooking- I'm definitely the cook who does things by feel and taste, but I've really got to get into the habit of writing things down and testing them properly!

Jo's Blackened Chicken Tacos 

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 TBsp. olive oil [vegetable or canola work too- just not extra virgin olive oil since its burning point is too low for this recipe]
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. crushed Aleppo chili
1/4 tsp. Ancho chili powder
Coarse sea or kosher salt [to taste]
Fresh ground pepper [to taste]
Large, heavy bottomed skillet
Fresh lime juice [optional]

Combine the spices in a separate bowl and sprinkle on both sides of chicken, making sure to coat evenly [if this isn't enough, you can easily make more of this spice mixture]. Lightly season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper [you can always add more later]. Heat oil over medium-high until oil gently ripples. [if it's smoking, you've gone too far!] Cook on each side for 4-5 minutes, making sure not to move the chicken during this process- this helps ensure that nice, brown crust- the best part!]

Remove chicken from heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.  The only thing left to do is slice it crosswise, or chop into small bites like I did.  Though I love pulled chicken, this is not the time for this application, since you want to preserve the integrity of the blackened exterior, and pulling the chicken apart will only result in really tasty fingers, since the spices will end up all over you and not your chicken. Finally, squeeze fresh lime juice over the chicken for an extra bite.

This served five of us perfectly, with each of us making 2-3 tacos.

The chicken is best served a little warm, so as soon as you've sliced it, get the party started! If you've got some time to kill, just cover the chicken with foil until you're ready to serve.  The hit of lime juice should keep it moist. [This chicken is great in anything Mexican inspired- burritos, enchiladas, nachos, quesadillas, you name it.]

My taco bar consisted of: monterey jack cheese, light sour cream, sliced red onions, diced orange and yellow bell peppers, refried beans, red cabbage, salsa, guacamole

Some other great additions: green onions, cilantro, saffron rice, queso fresco, black beans

And NOW for my favorite excuse to celebrate Cinco de Mayo: the MARGARITAS.

I'm not one to have the salt on the rim of my glass, but there is something so perfect about that salty, tart bite you get from the combination of [good] tequila and fresh limes.  My neighbors joined in on our Cuatro de Mayo dinner and introduced me to what has to be the best margarita I've had, and it's so simple to make!

Danny's KILLER Blue Agave Margarita 

1/2 oz. water
1/2 oz. 100% pure Blue Agave Nectar  [we used this brand]
1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice [I bought about 24 limes for the whole weekend!]
2 oz. Tequila [I don't drink it very often, but when I do, it's Patron Silver...keepin' it classy]
Lots of ice
Cocktail Shaker

Fill the shaker halfway with ice. Combine the water and agave nectar in a jigger [shot glass] and add to the shaker, along with the lime juice and tequila.  Shake it up and strain into an ice filled glass. SO simple, but definitely not for the faint-hearted [I've been told to keep these at a maximum of two per night]

Not a fan of agave, or just in the mood for trying something different?

By the second night of festivities [on actual Cinco de Mayo], I switched things up a bit by replacing the agave with a homemade minted simple syrup.

I've got FIVE kinds of mint growing in the garden right now [spearmint, corsican mint, apple mint, orange mint,  and lemon mint- also known as bergamot or bee balm], and if you've never worked with mint in the garden, it's basically a fragrant and tasty weed- so I've got more than enough for a whole summer of mojitos, mint juleps, mint tea, etc. etc. etc.

To make a basic simple syrup, just add equal parts sugar and water to a pot and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. I just added an equal part of mint to this combination and let it steep for about 15 minutes.  Let it cool on the stovetop, and then transfer it to a glass jar and into your fridge.  The results are a slightly green, syrupy mixture that's perfect for any drink, alcoholic or not. 

Over the course of the weekend, I put back my fair share of margaritas, so I decided to opt for the mocktail version to close out the fiesta. I omitted the tequila altogether, and replaced it with a stevia based lemon-lime soda [the same brand's ginger ale also works really well here].

After such a tasty weekend, I may have to start up a monthly taco + margarita night [Cinco de Junio anyone?], since waiting until next May may just be impossible.