My family refers to me as a “social beast”. I happily agree I’m social, but I regret admitting the beast often emerges 45 minutes prior to hosting a dinner party. My husband keeps a wary distance during this crunch time, biting his tongue only because he knows the beast retreats once the guests arrive. I don’t like this personal trait. I admire hosts who entertain with a smile and aplomb set against a backdrop of dirty dishes and a half-set table. Guests never seem to mind and it may even contribute to creating a relaxed, party atmosphere.
I love entertaining so I’ve had to develop tactics through the years to calm my pre-party, “everything has to be perfect”, jitters. I invited 14 people over for dinner last night. I minimized party nerves with a thorough check-list and as much advance-preparation as possible. The relaxed casual days of August certainly helped. So did a popular and easy, mostly make-ahead dinner I’ve perfected through the years: Grilled Fajita Bar
A fajita bar is fun and the best part is your guests build their own fajitas saving you the last-minute hassle of assembling plates. Picky guests can avoid items they don’t like and I can include some seasonal treats from my garden. Last night I grilled chicken breasts as the centerpiece for the fajitas but in the past I’ve grilled flank, skirt steak or shrimp. If I’m feeling really ambitious, or entertaining more guests, I’ll make all three of these proteins. Though most work is completed in advance, I always enjoy the last-minute culinary drama that a 20-minute sizzling grill provides.
Advance Optional Prep: Several days ago I cleaned my grill and organized my grilling utensils. If you use a gas grill make sure you have a full back-up tank of gas in reserve. If you’re grilling over charcoal, double check to insure you are stocked with coals. I smoked my chicken breasts so I checked to make sure I had enough wood chips. I organized plates, glasses, serving utensils, lots of bowls, platters and baskets for the fajita bar. I also chilled beverages, purchased ice, and set up my bar in advance. I purchased my avocados to insure they would be slightly soft to the touch and ripened for the guacamole.
Short Cuts: You can substitute the rub (the first four ingredients) with a packaged fajita rub. Making guacamole is so easy I’ve never purchased pre-packs, but I’ve seen it packaged at many groceries around town. I have also seen jars of Delallo roasted red peppers at Hillers and Busch’s.