Penne with Vodka Sauce

This pasta tastes like you cooked up a storm, but it really couldn’t be easier.

Penne with Vodka Sauce | A Nerd Cooks

I originally intended to post this on Valentine’s Day, but then again I intend to do a great many things and never get around to it. Also this recipe doesn’t requires the occurrence of a Hallmark holiday for you to make it.

This pasta is very simple to make, requiring not much more than a bit of chopping and stirring. Despite its simplicity, it’s delicious and tastes like you made a real fuss.Penne with Vodka Sauce | A Nerd Cooks

I originally blogged about Penne with Vodka Sauce about 3 years ago, here. I’ve updated the recipe (and photos!) pretty significantly.

You’ll need:

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium-sizes shallot, minced
  • 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 cup plain vodka
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • cooked shrimp, scallops, or chicken (optional)

Add the olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the garlic and shallots, and sauté until the shallots are translucent.

Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute, stirring it around a bit. Add the crushed tomatoes, basil, oregano, sugar, and vodka, stirring to combine.

Turn the heat heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce reduces by about 1/4; about 20 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to directions on the package. Strain and set aside.

Add the cream, stir to combine, and simmer until heated through. Add the Parmesan cheese, stir, and heat until melted.

Add the cooked pasta, stir to coat all noodles with sauce, and serve. Top with additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Add some protein, too, if you’d like. Shrimp, scallops, or chicken would all be very good.

Penne with Vodka Sauce | A Nerd Cooks
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Beet Risotto with Goat Cheese

Shredded beets lend an earthy sweetness and vibrant color to this risotto. Honey goat cheese is the perfect tangy complement.

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By now, you all know that my love of risotto runs deep. I’ve shared varieties with sweet corn and roasted tomatoes, beer, cheese and sausage, pumpkin, as well as avocado and corn.

But this risotto? This risotto is full of bright red beets.

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I don’t know when it began, but I’m in the midst of a real love affair with beets. They taste like dirt, but in the absolute best way possible: sweet and earthy. I love to prepare them in many different ways: pickled; raw and sliced thinly in a salad; chopped and roasted with salt, pepper, and honey… and now, cooked into a creamy risotto.

beet_risotto6-2

You’ll need (yields 4-5 servings):

  • 3 medium-sized red beets
  • 5 cups broth (vegetable or chicken) and/or water
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 medium-sized shallot or onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles (preferably honey goat cheese)

Start out by peeling and rinsing your beets. Given that they grow in the ground, they can be quite dirty, so a quick rinse after peeling keeps you from biting down on any kind of unpleasant grittiness later on. Grate/shred them using either a box grater or the shredder blade in a food processor. If you go the box grater route, bear in mind that the beets will stain, well, everything. Consider wearing a pair of rubber gloves while you grate by hand. Set the shredded beets aside.

Heat the 5 cups of broth and/or water in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Bring it to a simmer and then turn it to low.

In a heavy-bottomed pan or dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter until the butter melts. Add the shallot and garlic. Sauté until the garlic is very fragrant.

Add the arborio rice to the pot and stir so that every grain gets coated in the olive oil and butter.  Allow the rice to toast a bit, stirring occasionally. Once the rice starts to smell nutty, add the shredded beets, and stir to combine.

Turn the heat off under the broth, and add a couple of ladles of broth to the rice. Stir pretty much continuously until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Add more liquid, continue stirring, and repeat the process until the risotto is creamy and the rice is no longer al dente (take a bite or two!). You may or may not use absolutely all of the broth.

Add the Parmesan cheese, stirring until it has been incorporated. Taste, and add salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and top with crumbled goat cheese.

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Beet Risotto with Goat Cheese | A Nerd Cooks

Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats

Healthy, filling, make-ahead breakfast for the entire week!

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Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal | A Nerd Cooks

I have good intentions. I really do.

Like, every weekday I intend to get up early enough to make myself a healthy breakfast before running out the door. Does this always happen? Definitely not.

Meal prepping really helps with this issue. I make a big batch of something on Sunday afternoons (like these Make-Ahead Omelet Muffins), portion it out, and then all I have to do is grab something from the fridge on my way out the door.

This winter, slow cooker oatmeal has been my go-to. Mix some ingredients up in the slow cooker, set it, and forget it. And you can change up the flavors however you see fit, which helps to prevent breakfast boredom. Plus, it’s healthy. Win-win-win. Just heat the oatmeal up in the microwave and you’re off and running.

Before making this for the first time, I had concerns about how the consistency of the oatmeal would hold up over the course of a work week. No need to worry, though! Because the steel cut oats retain their slightly chewy texture, rather than just turning to mush.
Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal | A Nerd Cooks

To make the most basic form of slow cooker steel cut oatmeal, you’ll need (yields 6 servings):

  • 1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 cups milk and/or water (cow’s milk, almond milk, water, and a combination of any of those 3 work well*)

Optional add-ins:

  • Spices: cinnamon, pumpkin spice, etc.
  • Sweeteners: maple syrup (the real stuff, please!), agave nectar, honey, brown sugar
  • Toppings: nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit

For the basic version, place the steel cut oats, salt, and milk/water in a greased (either butter or cooking spray) slow cooker and whisk to combine. Cook for 2-3 hours on high or 4-6 hours on low. Stir everything around once or twice during the cooking process.

If you’d like to dress this oatmeal up a bit, feel free to add spices and/or sweeteners of your choice along with all of the other ingredients. I generally don’t add any of the suggested toppings until I’m ready to eat.

*Other non-dairy milks–such as coconut–may also work, though I haven’t tried using them

Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal | A Nerd Cooks

Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal | A Nerd Cooks

Double Chocolate M&M Cookies

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These cookies are chewy, chocolaty, and can be easily dressed up for any holiday or occasion.

Chocolate M&M Cookies | A Nerd Cooks

Since it’s February, I can share these now, right? Right.

Truthfully, I’m not very big on Valentine’s Day. Never have been. My idea of a nice Valentine’s Day is staying in, ordering takeout, and watching a movie in our PJs. I don’t want or need much more than that.Chocolate M&M Cookies | A Nerd Cooks

However, I can’t really resist an excuse to bake cookies. And these little chocolate numbers are all dressed for Valentine’s Day. Though you could easily swap out the red/pink/white M&Ms for red/green for Christmas, your team colors for the Super Bowl, and so on.Chocolate M&M Cookies | A Nerd Cooks

This recipe is an adaptation of the one used for these Peppermint Mocha Cookies, originally found on Sally’s Baking Addiction.

You’ll need (makes ~24 cookies):

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups cocoa powder (I used half regular and half dark, but use whatever you have)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 cup M&Ms candy, for pressing into tops of cookies (I went with the Valentine’s Day variety M&Ms)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set the bowl aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars together for a few minutes, until they are light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and add the vanilla extract.

Little by little, add the dry ingredients to the wet, on low speed.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the mini chocolate chips.  Turning the speed up a bit higher helps to incorporate them throughout the thick dough.

Next, you’re going to want to scoop and chill the cookie  dough. Scoop and roll the cookie dough into 1.5 tbs-sized balls. Place them on the prepared cookie sheet. Cover the dough balls tightly with plastic wrap and chill it for at least 3 hours, and up to overnight.  I opted for overnight.

Once you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line another baking sheet with parchment paper. Move half of the dough balls over to the other cookie sheet and re-position all of the dough so that it is evenly spaced, leaving a couple of inches between each dough ball.

Bake the cookies for 9-10 minutes.  The cookies will look pretty soft in the middle, and that’s okay.  Remove them from the oven and gently press the M&Ms into the warm cookies. Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes or so before removing them to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Chocolate M&M Cookies | A Nerd Cooks

Chocolate M&M Cookies | A Nerd Cooks<div?

Pressure Cooker Green Chicken Chili

This soup is flavorful and a little spicy. Best of all, it comes together quickly in the pressure cooker!

Pressure Cooker Green Chicken Chili | A Nerd Cooks

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Like so many others out there, I received an electric pressure cooker for Christmas! Based on my observations on various social media channels, I know that the Instant Pot was a very popular present to give and receive. My parents picked up this Farberware model for me.

I’m just a little bummed that I waited this long to start using an electric pressure cooker. They’re so convenient! I love that you can throw an entire meal in there and have it on the table in like half an hour, with hardly any effort on your part.

This chili is as convenient as that, too. Just sauté some vegetables right in the pressure cooker before adding the rest of the ingredients, locking the lid, and stepping away. A little more than half an hour later and you have a seriously delicious chili. I’ve made it twice in the past two weeks. And since there are only two of us in the house, we get to have leftovers throughout the week. Perfect.

Pressure Cooker Green Chicken Chili | A Nerd Cooks

You’ll need (yields 6-8 servings):

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced, seeds and ribs removed (leave the seeds and ribs for a spicier chili)
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 4.5 oz can diced green chiles (I used mild, but use whatever you prefer)
  • 15 oz can green enchilada sauce (I used medium, but again, use whatever you prefer)
  • 15.5 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken broth (reduce to 2 cups if you prefer a thicker chili*)
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream/Greek yogurt, multigrain tortilla chips (for topping)

Add the olive oil to your electric pressure cooker (PC). Using the sauté/brown function, heat the oil and cook the onions, garlic, and jalapeño for 3-4 minutes. Add the cumin and oregano and sauté for another minute or two.

Add the chicken thighs, diced green chiles, enchilada sauce, cannellini beans, chicken broth, and frozen corn to the PC. Place the lid on and lock it. Depending on what kind of PC you have, you’ll want to do a couple of different things. If you have an Instant Pot: Cook for 25 minutes on high pressure. If you have one without the high/low pressure manual options (like mine): select the “chicken/poultry” menu and cook for 25 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally.

Open the PC and remove the cooked chicken thighs to a plate. Shred with two forks and return to the PC. Taste, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into bowls and top with cheese, sour cream/Greek yogurt, and crushed tortilla chips (we like multigrain), if desired.

*A few readers have mentioned, via Facebook and Reddit, that this chili is a bit on the thin side. As noted above, you can feel free to reduce the amount of chicken broth that you use if you prefer a thicker chicken chili.

Pressure Cooker Green Chicken Chili | A Nerd Cooks

Pressure Cooker Green Chicken Chili | A Nerd Cooks

Italian Wedding Soup

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Classic Italian Wedding soup complete with spinach, tiny pasta, shredded chicken, and meatballs

Italian Wedding Soup | A Nerd Cooks

This past weekend was quite dreary and rainy. Perfect soup weather, in my opinion. Not that one needs an excuse to eat soup. Because, soup.

I made a big pot of this on Sunday and we’ve been eating the leftovers throughout the week. However, if you’re not into eating the same meal multiple times throughout the week, this soup freezes well, too.

At its most basic, Wedding Soup is made up of greens, pasta, meatballs, and a clear broth. And according to Wikipedia, it gets its name from an Italian phrase that means “marriage soup,” referring to the flavor produced by the “marriage” of the ingredients. Fun fact. This recipe beefs things up a little bit by adding some vegetables and shredded chicken.

Looking for more soup recipes? How about Mexican Chicken Soup, Chicken Tikka Masala Soup, or Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Soup?

Italian Wedding Soup | A Nerd Cooks

This recipe is based heavily on the recipe from Brown Eyed Baker.

You’ll need:

For the meatballs (yields ~36 1-inch meatballs)-

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • 4 tbs Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2-3 tbs Italian bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 egg

For the soup – 

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
  • 4 ribs celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup acini di pepe pasta
  • 8 oz baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 lb chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (rotisserie chicken can be used here, too)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, shredded (optional)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. To make the meatballs, place all ingredients in a medium to large bowl. Get your hands dirty and mix everything together until just combined. Shape the meat mixture into 1/2- to 1-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

While the meatballs chill for a bit, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent.

Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the meatballs and simmer for 7 minutes. Add the pasta and simmer for 6 more minutes. Add the spinach and simmer for an additional 3 minutes. Next, add the shredded chicken and simmer for approximately 30 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into bowls and top with a bit of Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Italian Wedding Soup | A Nerd Cooks

PF Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps

These lettuce wraps are easy and fast to whip up and taste just like the ones from PF Chang’s!

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PF Chang's Chicken Lettuce Wraps | A Nerd Cooks

You know the chicken lettuce wrap appetizers you can get at PF Chang’s, right? They’re addictive. Well, it turns out that you can make them at home very easily, and they come together quickly, too!

These lettuce wraps are savory, with a bit of crunch from the water chestnuts and lettuce leaves. The quickness with which you can throw these together makes them perfect for a light weeknight dinner. Plus, something about eating food out of a lettuce leaf makes me feel like I’m being healthy.

PF Chang's Chicken Lettuce Wraps | A Nerd Cooks

This recipe comes from the blog Damn Delicious.

You’ll need:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tbs rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs freshly grated ginger (or 1 tbs of ginger paste)
  • 8 oz. water chestnuts, minced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 head butter lettuce

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned, crumbling as it cooks. Drain excess fat.

Add the garlic, onions, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and ginger. Cook until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the water chestnuts and green onions and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon a bit of the chicken mixture into each leaf of butter lettuce, using the lettuce like you would a soft taco shell.

PF Chang's Chicken Lettuce Wraps | A Nerd Cooks

PF Chang's Chicken Lettuce Wraps | A Nerd CooksThis recipe comes from the blog Damn Delicious