Thursday, May 31, 2012

Spicy BBQ Chicken Salad

One night last week (the week that I didn't cook), we had dinner at Bob Evans. I'm not gonna lie, Bob Evans doesn't usually excite me. I'm sure that Bob's a great cook and all, but I'd rather go somewhere else. 

But, they were having a fundraiser where a certain percentage of the proceeds went to the rescue mission here in the Bean Town - a great cause - so we decided to go. Plus, we had the opportunity to dine and catch up with some friends. It turned out to be a great night.

It took me awhile to decide what to order, but I eventually settled on the Wildfire Chicken Salad. (Mostly so I could also get a side of banana nut bread... mmmm.)

Seriously, one of the best salads I've ever had. And at Bob Evans of all places.

It was loaded with romaine lettuce, bbq grilled chicken, corn, tomatoes, cheese, and crunchy BBQ tortilla chips. (And TONS of them. Like chili cheese Fritos, but way better.) It came with a BBQ ranch dressing that was just perfect.

Thus began my love affair with the bbq chicken salad. We went to Red Robin on Saturday with T & T, and I had to order their version, the Whiskey River BBQ Chicken Salad. This one had some of the same ingredients, with the addition of black beans, jicama, avocado, and frizzled onions! Seriously. Nothing can make a salad better than topping it with deep-fried onions. (And it's gotta be healthy, right? It's a salad!)

So I set out to combine the two into a salad of my own.

I started with the tortilla strips. I sliced some corn tortillas into thin strips, sprayed them with cooking spray, and sprinkled them with our favorite BBQ seasoning. 

Get another use out of your pizza cutter!

We got this in Saugatuck, MI at the best little spice shop. It's wonderful.

After a quick trip in the oven, they were crispy, crunchy, and perfect for snacking salad topping.

Just try not to eat them all before you have the salads ready.  Or if you're like me, just make extra to account for the snack-age that will surely occur.

For the chicken, I just seasoned some chicken breast tenders with the same BBQ seasoning, and threw them on the grill. When they were done, I drizzled it with a bit of BBQ sauce.

Now for the fun part, the toppings. Black beans, corn, and avocado. Those are easy. But jicama. I'd never had it before Saturday. I learned that it's some sort of Mexican potato... and it is delicious. It's very crunchy and almost a bit sweet. It reminded me of a water chestnut, but not so Asian-y. (I know, that is such a great description.)

Introducing... the jicama.
How do you cut up a jicama? Well, first, you peel it. Which can be rather challenging. Then, you slice it down the center, and then into strips. And then, cut the strips into little cubes.

Naked jicama.

Halfway through the cutting process.

LOTS of jicama!
And then you will have a butt-load of jicama, and you only need a cup for the salads. (Any ideas on what to do with the extras?)

Now for the super-secret (from scratch) BBQ ranch dressing. It's really hard to make. 

BBQ sauce + ranch + a pinch of cayenne. In a bowl. I think you can handle it. ;)

Just make sure you remember to stir it up. I didn't get a pic of the end product.

Now for the salad assembly. First, the veggies.

Chopped romaine, black beans, corn, avocado, the beloved jicama, and a few grape tomatoes for aesthetics. Then comes the cheese, spicy pepper jack. The perfect kick of heat.

Now, just top off the salad with the fresh grilled chicken tenders and BBQ tortilla strips, and you're ready to eat! Serve with the BBQ ranch. This salad is so good. So many different flavors and textures. Sweet BBQ chicken, crisp jicama, cool avocado, spicy cheese. And it was even Business Man approved.

Is it bad that I'm already looking forward to lunch leftovers?

Spicy BBQ Chicken Salad

4 servings

  • For the tortilla strips
    • 4 corn tortillas
    • 1 tablespoon bbq rub
  • For the chicken
    • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast tenders
    • 1 tablespoon bbq rub
    • 2 tablespoons bbq sauce
  • For the salads
    • 3 heads romaine, chopped
    • 1 cup black beans
    • 1 cup corn
    • 1 cup diced jicama
    • 1 avocado, diced
    • 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
  • For the BBQ ranch dressing
    • ½ cup ranch dressing
    • ¼ cup bbq sauce
    • pinch cayenne pepper


For the tortilla strips, preheat oven to 425*F. Slice tortillas into thin strips and spread onto a baking stone. Spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon bbq seasoning. Bake 15-18 minutes, until golden and crispy, stirring halfway.

While the tortilla strips bake, prepare chicken. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Sprinkle bbq seasoning over chicken breast tenders. Grill 4-5 minutes on each side, or until juices run clear. Remove to a plate and drizzle with bbq sauce.

For the BBQ ranch dressing, mix ranch, bbq sauce, and cayenne pepper until thoroughly combined.

For the salads, layer romaine, black beans, corn, jicama, avocado, and shredded pepper jack. Top with 2-3 chicken breast tenders per salad. Top with crispy tortilla strips and serve with BBQ ranch dressing.

Source: original recipe, inspired by Bob Evans & Red Robin

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Weekend Shenanigans

School is officially out for summer! We had our last teacher workday yesterday, so I was all sorts of excited to sleep in this morning. What time did I wake up? Oh, ya know just 5:41am. So I ended up lacing up the shoes and meeting the running group down in the park for 8 sets of hills. Perfect way to kick off summer! (Well, maybe not more perfect than our ice cream trip last night...)

Anyway, this past weekend my BFF Talen and her boyfriend Tim came to the Bean Town for the first time and it was such a blast. I love when friends come to visit, especially when we haven't seen each other in forever!

Talen & Tim
Saturday night we headed down to Cincinnati to catch a Reds' game. Fitting with the theme of the night, we stopped at Red Robin for dinner. (Hehe... that's a stretch.) The game was a bit roasty-toasty, but once the sun dipped below the buildings, it was quite enjoyable. Plus, we won!

Proof we were actually there.

Sorry Mr. Unsuspecting Man in the background.

Of course, we indulged in some $5 ice cream. It totally hit the spot.

Chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, and sprinkles. Yum!
The rest of the weekend was spent hanging out, catching up on life, and cooking (and eating) tasty food. Talen's never been much of a cook/baker, but she has come a long way from back in the day. In college, some of our meals were quite... interesting to say the least. ;)

Talen loves to cook. Don't let that look on her face fool you.
This weekend we prepared some absolutely delicious eats - orange cinnamon rolls, bacon balsamic burgers on homemade (!!) sesame seed buns, bbq jalapeno poppers, monte cristo sandwiches. All super fab. 

Orange cinnamon rolls.

Sesame seed buns... post coming soon.

Bacon balsamic onion burgers.

Monte cristo sandwich.

Monday morning, we took Talen & Tim to the fabulous downtown to watch the Memorial Day parade. Unfortunately, we were only tossed a few pieces of candy, no more coming home with plastic bags full. I guess that comes with the territory of getting older... (Thanks to my friend Amber for having pity on us and tossing us a few tootsie rolls. Heh.) 

The highlight of the parade was probably this nifty tank.

All in all - awesome weekend. I didn't want it to end. Hopefully we were entertaining enough that they will want to come back sometime. :)

And now? Gotta figure out what to do with myself! I'm thinking a second cup of iced coffee on the couch with the Today Show might be just the thing.

Pssst... go check out my latest post for the Rays & Chiefs Market Blog.

Raspberry Lemonade Bars are a fun twist on a classic. Lemon bars with the zing of raspberries added, on a crispy shortbread crust. Yum!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Summer is [unofficially] here

What a whirlwind of a week! The last week of school is always busy... throw on top of that two big dessert/cupcake orders and you have one jam-packed schedule! But I love it.

Yesterday I got out of school at 2pm, woot woot for summer break! Although I do have to go back Tuesday for a few hours to check out and clean up my classroom. But what better way to kick off the summer than to bake 10 dozen cupcakes? Hehe... 

I headed straight home and got to work in the kitchen. 10 dozen wedding cupcakes plus an 8-inch topper cake all done in less than 5 hours. I was pretty impressed... I was fully expecting to stay up super late to get it done.

I realized last night as we dined on leftovers from my Business Man's bbq lunch that I hadn't cooked dinner once all week. Well, unless you count the Little Caesar's pizza fundraiser kit we had on Tuesday. I finally understand when people say they are too busy to cook! We are desperately in need of a grocery stock-up. That is, as soon as I get these cupcakes out of my fridge. :)

In other random news, I got in a great long run this morning! My body unnaturally woke up at 6am (yes, on the first day of summer break), so I got in about 12 miles. I'm feeling great and hope to put together some sort of training plan soon.

Also - my BFF Talen is coming to the Bean Town this weekend!! I am so very excited to spend time with her and her boyfriend Tim. What better way to kick off the summer?!

Me & Talen, in one of our better-looking moments. ;)

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's so close I can almost taste it

My Business Man and I had quite the relaxing weekend. Running, good eats, and QT with my best friend... what more could a girl ask for?

Saturday night we got a lil' crazy and lit a fire in our fire pit. We didn't have any hot dogs, but threw together a fabulous snacky dinner. (Love snacky dinners. What is it that makes appetizers so much fun?) We had some fabulous Spinach, Kale, & Greek yogurt dip from Trader Joe's, pita chips, cheddar cheese, nuts, and grapes. 

[Side note: The grapes looked so good at the grocery store this weekend. Without thinking, I picked up a bag, threw it in the cart. Turns out, I must have picked the biggest bag because it was $8.13 worth of grapes! But so totally worth it. Heh.]

We bought the stuff for s'mores, too, but the fire died out before we remembered to roast the marshmallows. Duh. So I ended up with a microwave s'mores. (With Reese's instead of Hershey's chocolate. Best idea ever.)

We also played a couple hands of rummy, and I have to say I kicked my Business Man's patootie. This might become a weekly summer ritual, rummy and s'mores.

Anyone care to join? Don't worry, I'll go easy on ya. The first round anyways. ;-)

We wrapped up the weekend with a trip to my favorite - Pete's. No pic, but I got the usual cookie-dough Oreo avalanche and it was fantastic.

I'm pretty giddy this week because we have just *4* days of school left. I don't know where this school year went, but I'm happy that summer is just around the corner! It'll be crazy busy, but loads of fun.

Before I go, make sure you check out my lastest recipe at the Rays Market blog... Dr. Pepper Beef Brisket! Mmmm.... some of the best beef I have ever had, if I do say so myself. :)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Life lately

Remember when you were a student how the end of the school year was always spent running around like a crazy person trying to get projects finished, study for tests, and wrap up all the little loose ends? Wel, it's like that for teachers, too, except maybe worse... the month of May is over halfway done, and I don't know where it has gone!

And they brought this precious one.

Last weekend, my parents came out to visit. While my Business Man and dad worked on some house projects, my mom and I (naturally) headed down to Columbus for some shopping and girly time. It's always best to leave the mess at home. Plus, we were celebrating both our birthdays and Mother's Day, so it was definitely necessary.

Trying to self-photo with the iPhone. Not so successful.

The best part? We were both equipped with lots of gift cards and birthday money, so very little spending was done from our own pockets. Gotta love it.

The other best part? These chocolates they were handing out at Coldwater Creek. For free. (I knew we went into the old lady store for a reason. Just kidding Mom.)

We lunched at the Cheesecake Factory. It was a beautiful day, and we only waited 5 minutes for a table outside in the sunshine. Such great time spent with my momma.

Sunday, we spent a lot of time gardening, and enjoyed a nice Mother's Day lunch of beef brisket, fruit, and potato salad before my parents had to leave to go back to Illinois. 

Unfortunately, I developed a cold pretty much as soon as they left, and have been battling it ever since. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were pretty rough. Today I have finally started to feel better. You know you're starting to feel better when food actually sounds good and tastes good again!

I did spend some time baking this week... I just had to try out my new batter bowl from Sur La Table. (Thanks Uncle Joe & Aunt Shannon!)

My students and I were brainstorming cupcake recipes earlier this week (isn't that a regular topic of converation at your job?) when one of them suggested a Heath Bar Cupcake. Ummm, yes! So I found this Toffee Crunch recipe and did a little adaptation. 

It calls for two frostings - a ring of chocolate ganache (my fav) and then a caramel swiss meringue buttercream piped in the middle. 

My new bowl plus the luscious swiss meringue.
This was my first time making swiss meringue buttercream, and WOW! It is so silky smooth and sweet. (Who cares that it has one whole pound of butter in just the frosting recipe? That only frosts 24 cupcakes... which averages out to be approximately 1.25 tablespoons of butter per cupcake, in just the frosting. Sometimes it's not so fun being a math teacher... but these are TOTALLY worth it. And that's why we share with our friends, hehe.)

And that's about all that's new... cupcakes are the biggest excitement of this week. And the fact that we're down to just 6 (!) days of school! Ahhh... summer is so close I can taste it. All the more time for cupcake baking and running, my two favorite things. :)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thursday Things, round #2

Just some things... and today is Thursday. Thus, Thursday Things!

1. My birthday present from my Business Man came in the mail this week. And I am so excited... they are so comfy. And now I want a pair in every color.

2. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, if you haven't heard. Yesterday, my Seminar kids and I had a little fun decorating cupcakes for all the teachers in our school. I found this super cute printable cupcake wrapper, and then we frosted the cupcakes and covered them in red sanding sugar. A little piece of a pretzel rod and half a green candy coating disc, and we had 4 dozen miniature apples to give away!

3. Because of Teacher Appreciation Week, our principal bought us all lunch today from Lee's Chicken. Oh my... it had been almost 2 years since the last time I had eaten fried chicken. And it was bangin'. I was a little nervous to go running this afternoon because I usually have a pretty sensitive stomach, but I was juuuust fine. (Note to self: Fried chicken = good pre-run fuel.)

4. I have been to the grocery store 4 times in the last 72 hours. That's normal, right? While there, I noticed this sign by the check-out. Makes me feel like a celebrity! :-P

Check it out here!

5. It's getting to be that time of year to make the switch over to iced coffee. Last summer, I was obsessed with Green Mountain French Vanilla iced coffee. Well... move over French Vanilla because Hazelnut has taken your place. So good.

6. Due to above iced coffee addiction, I might have accumulated 4 travel mugs in my classroom at school. Which means none at home. So I kept it classy this morning with a handmade iced coffee tumbler. Crafty, right? I think it's genius.

7. I was planning these awesome Island Jerk Burgers with zesty lime coleslaw for dinner, but didn't realize that ground beef doesn't last 5 days in the fridge. Gross. So, despite being at the grocery store so much this week, we just had turkey sandwiches for dinner. But I did still make the coleslaw! (So gourmet, I know.) 

8. My running group is now running HILLS on Friday mornings. I really don't like running hills and don't want to go tomorrow. But I just realized today that my 15km in June is super hilly (like 6 huge steep climbs) so I suppose I will make myself go. At least I'll get to see people??

9. My mom & dad are coming to visit this weekend. And I am SO EXCITED! On Saturday, my mom & I are having a girly day and going shopping down in Columbus. And perhaps Cheesecake Factory. And definitely Trader Joe's. While the boys stay home and work on the house. Bwa haha...

Me & Mom
10. Oh... and just 11 more days of school! yea baby!

TGI(A)F!! :)

Past Thursday Things:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Post-marathon boredom leads to awesome things like PF Chang's Lettuce Wraps!

Life since the marathon has been pretty uneventful. I've been taking it pretty easy, with some R & R. I did get in a few easy runs late last week, and I even ran 8 miles on Sunday, where I felt great. I'm amazed at how fast I am recovering from this marathon compared to the Flying Pig last year! 

This past weekend, I turned 24... yikes! As I tell my students, I'm just getting so old. ;) My Business Man and I celebrated with a trip to Indian Lake for a hike and a picnic. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and 75*F, and I couldn't have asked for anything better. (Except maybe a brand-new kitchen with butcher block countertops, subway tile, and stainless steel appliances... a girl can dream, right?) But the picnic was lots of fun! We also went to my favorite ice cream shop that night for my favorite treat - an Oreo-cookie dough avalanche. Yum.

Since the marathon, I've had a little extra time on my hands. Which means naturally I have spent more time in the kitchen. I was in a dinner rut for awhile, cooking the same type of meals over and over again. (Pretty sure we've all been there at some point or another.) So after a couple hours on Pinterest researching recipes and compiling grocery lists, I've broken out of the rut!

First, was Saturday night, with these fabulous Buffalo Chicken Tacos for Cinco de Mayo. Man, these were delicious. Crispy buffalo chicken, with co-jack cheese, gorgonzola, green onions, cilantro, and ranch. The flavor combination was out of this world. Between me, my Business Man, and his brother, we nearly finished off the entire batch. Go check out the recipe at the Rays & Chiefs Market blog!

Second, was tonight's dinner. PF Chang's Lettuce Wraps. Way back in September, when my Business Man and I were in Vegas, we stopped at PF Chang's for lunch on the patio. I wasn't too hungry, so I just ordered the lettuce wraps. (Because really, who wraps something in lettuce and calls it a full meal?) I loved them, but since there's no PF Chang's near us, I figured I'd have to wait awhile to try them again.

However, while Pinterest-ing, I discovered a knock-off recipe! So I knew it had to be on the meal plan for this week. And they might have just been better than the real thing. (Or else my memory's a little foggy since my PF Chang's visit was 8+ months ago... can you really remember what something tastes like 8 months later?) Either way, these were excellent!

The filling is made up of seasoned ground turkey and crisp veggies combined with a tangy-spicy-sweet sauce with just a hint of peanut butter. Wrapped up in cool, crisp lettuce leaves, the texture is just perfect! My favorite part was probably the water chestnuts. What is it about those things? So good!

Never would I have thought that lettuce wraps would be a satisfying meal, (where's the carbs?!), but these definitely fit the bill. Although that didn't stop me from eating five just a few crab rangoons on the side. 

PF Chang's Lettuce Wraps

  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • ½ medium onion, finely diced
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • ½ tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha chili sauce
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 8-oz. cans sliced water chestnuts, drained & chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped peanuts
  • 10-12 large outer lettuce leaves, rinsed & patted dry


Heat a large non-stick skillet on high. Add turkey, onion, and a dash each of salt and pepper. Cook until almost done, stirring frequently to break up the meat. (You want the pieces to be really small!) Add minced garlic and cook 1-2 minutes longer, until turkey is no longer pink.

Meanwhile, in a small microwaveable bowl, combine sesame oil, soy sauce, water, peanut butter, vinegar, and sriracha. Microwave for 30 seconds; stir until smooth. Add to skillet and stir to combine.

Add green onion and water chestnuts to skillet and cook 1-2 minutes until they are heated through.

Serve mixture in cold lettuce leaves and top with chopped peanuts.

Source: adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies

Ever since the marathon, I have been eating peanut butter like it's my job. I don't know what the deal is, but it is just so good! (Maybe my body is craving a combination of sweet/salty/fat/protein? Who knows?)

Between my puppy chow wizard, peanut butter in my oatmeal, peanut butter crackers, and peanut butter buckeye ice cream in my freezer, you'd think that I would be on peanut butter overload. But yesterday I found myself in the kitchen whipping up some peanut butter cookies.

And not just any peanut butter cookies. Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies. These cookies are a recipe from the 2008 Pillsbury bake-off. I made them once before, in 2008, right after they were announced the winner of the million dollar prize. And I haven't forgot about them since! 

It's a chewy peanut butter cookie wrapped around a sweet gooey peanut butter surprise filling. Yum. The outside is rolled in a mixture of cinnamon-sugar and chopped peanuts for that extra crunch. 

If you are a peanut butter lover like myself, you have to make these. They're like little peanut butter clouds of goodness. If you know what I mean.

Start with the peanut butter filling. (Just a mixture of powdered sugar & peanut butter.) Roll it into little balls, and set aside.

Then you have the peanut butter cookie dough. It must be chilled, so you do have to think a little in advance. Wrap the dough around each ball of filling, and roll into a smooth ball.

Then, roll it in a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, and chopped peanuts. This'll give the cookies a shimmery, crunchy exterior.

Place the dough balls on a baking sheet, and flatten with the bottom of a glass so they're about a half-inch thick.

Pop 'em in the oven, and minutes later you have fresh, warm peanut butter cookies with an irresistible peanut butter filling! 

Whatcha waiting for? Get baking! :)

Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies

  • For the cookies
    • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
    • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
    • 6 tablespoons packed brown sugar
    • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 egg
    • ¾ cup creamy peanut butter
    • 1 cup flour
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • For the gooey peanut butter filling
    • ½ cup powdered sugar
    • ½ cup creamy peanut butter
  • For the sugar coating
    • ¼ cup finely chopped peanuts
    • ¼ cup granulated sugar
    • ½ teaspoon cinnamon


For the cookie dough, beat butter, sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and egg; beat until smooth. Beat in peanut butter. Add flour, baking soda, and salt; beat until combined. Refrigerate at least 1 hour until firm.

For gooey peanut butter filling, combine powdered sugar and peanut butter until smooth. Roll into 24 3/4-inch balls; set on baking sheet.

For sugar coating, combine chopped peanuts, sugar, and cinnamon in a shallow bowl.

When dough has chilled, divide into 24 pieces. Flatten a piece of dough and wrap around peanut butter filling, pinching to seal and rolling into a smooth ball. Roll each dough ball in sugar coating and place on baking sheet. Flatten to about 1/2-inch thick with the bottom of a smooth glass.

Bake in 375*F 8-11 minutes until edges are set and cookies are just golden. Let cool 5 minutes before removing to wire rack. Enjoy!

Source: idea from Pillsbury Bake-off

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