Rainbow Chicken Salad with Almond Honey Mustard Dressing – Updated

This salad is equal parts sweet and savory, and entirely delicious.

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Rainbow Chicken Salad with Almond Honey Mustard Dressing | A Nerd Cooks

I know that some people automatically think of salads as being “sad desk lunches.” While this certainly can be true, this particular salad definitely does not conform to that stereotype.

This salad has a little bit of everything: fresh greens, sweet red grapes and blueberries, filling chicken, and a savory dressing. The sweet freshness of the salad and savory dressing play really well together. Plus, while it doesn’t have all of the colors of the rainbow, it’s also very colorful and pretty.

Rainbow Chicken Salad with Almond Honey Mustard Dressing | A Nerd Cooks

Along these lines, I’ve shared a few savory-sweet salads with you in the past. See the Strawberry Pecan Salad with Beets, Watermelon Avocado Salad, or Strawberry Balsamic Salad for other delicious examples.

Sad desk lunch be gone!

Rainbow Chicken Salad with Almond Honey Mustard Dressing | A Nerd Cooks

This salad is based on a recipe from Pinch of Yum. I blogged about it almost 3 years ago exactly (original post found here), but tinkered with the proportions for the dressing a little bit.

You’ll need:

For the salad (makes 1 salad) –

  • 2 oz. cooked chicken, shredded or cut into bite-sized pieces (rotisserie chicken is a time-saver)
  • 1 cup red grapes, halved
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup almonds, slivered or sliced
  • lettuces/greens of your choice (I used a combination of spring mix greens and baby arugula)

For the dressing (makes enough for 4-5 salads) –

  • 4 tbs almond butter (sub peanut butter if desired)
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 3 tbs water
  • 2 tbs stoneground mustard
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 garlic clove

Assemble the salad in whatever vessel you choose. I prefer a bowl. Set it aside while you make the dressing.

Combine all dressing ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Blitz until smooth. Taste and add more salt as needed.

Pour the dressing over the salad and enjoy.

Rainbow Chicken Salad with Almond Honey Mustard Dressing | A Nerd Cooks
Rainbow Chicken Salad with Almond Honey Mustard Dressing | A Nerd Cooks

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

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.


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.


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.



Beet Risotto with Goat Cheese | A Nerd Cooks

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


Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Soup – Updated!

This soup is healthy, delicious, and filling.  A vegetarian recipe that’s easily made vegan by omitting the cheese!Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Soup | A Nerd CooksThis post may contain affiliate links.

It’s cold and rainy today in Durham.  And by “cold” I mean “in the 50s.”  Because evidently living here for a year has drastically altered my perception of the temperature outside.Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Soup | A Nerd CooksAt any rate, it’s the perfect day for soup.  Soup + snuggling up on the couch with your favorite furry friend.

Kale and butternut squash are so, so good together.  Check out this healthy Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale Salad, along with these cute Butternut Squash, Kale, and Feta Hand Pies for more delicious examples.

I’ve made this soup many times before, and blogged about it way back when.  It’s so delicious that I felt it was deserving of a facelift.  In addition to being very good, it’s pretty healthy, too.  So don’t feel bad about going back for a second bowl.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Soup | A Nerd Cooks

You’ll need:

  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tbs fresh rosemary, minced
  • 8 to 10 oz. kale, de-stemmed and cut into ribbons
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 6 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 15 oz. can white beans (cannellini or great northern), drained
  • parmesan cheese, grated (optional, but highly recommended)

Add the olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven (I have one just like this, and it’s been great over the past 5 years) over medium-high heat.  Cook the onions, garlic, and rosemary until the onions are translucent.

Add the kale and cook until it begins to wilt.  Add the cubed squash and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Add the broth, salt, and pepper.  Bring the soup to a simmer and simmer 20-30 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Once the squash is tender, use a spoon to smash some of the squash against the side of the pot.  This will help thicken the soup.  Add the can of beans and simmer for 5-10 minutes more.

Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings as necessary.  Ladle into bowls and top with grated parmesan cheese, if desired.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Bean Soup | A Nerd Cooks


Butternut Squash, Kale, & White Bean Soup is healthy, filling, and delicious!