Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Picnic Lunch Menu: Cashew-Chicken Rotini Salad

When I have a picnic, I want foods that mimic the moods the outdoors inspire: simplicity, freshness, lightness, and vibrancy. There should be a healthy dose of unadulterated, natural foods as if you could be eating what you just picked from a nearby garden. Don't you think?? Nobody wants to leave a picnic feeling weighed down, just pleasantly satisfied.

I mentioned that my friend, Shauna, and I served this for a casual baby shower, but this could just as appropriately be served for any kind of outdoor (or indoor) social gathering this Summer. We received so many compliments from our guests and many of them thanked us for not serving heavy foods. You betcha, ladies!

The Menu:
Main Dish: Cashew-Chicken Rotini Salad
Side Dishes: Wedge Vine Tomato and Avocado Salad, Fresh Berries, Kettle Chips
Beverage: Lemon & Mint Ice Water
Dessert: Caramel Apple Kits

The Cashew-Chicken Rotini Salad is a recipe that my mother found from Taste of Home and made for me while she was visiting after Kate's arrival last year. I pretty much never, ever, ever cook using prepared foods like ranch dressing, but almost everything else on the menu is so light and fresh, and the pasta is so delicious that I made an exception. With just a few adaptations, here's the recipe!

Cashew-Chicken Rotini Salad from Taste of Home
Prep Time: 30 Min
Chill Time: 1 hour
Serves 12

1 package (16 ounces) spiral or rotini pasta
4 cups cubed cooked chicken
1-1/2 cups sliced celery
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 cup seedless red grapes
1 cup seedless green grapes (I used 2 cups of only red grapes to make my life easier, but having both does add a little extra variety to the dish.)
1 package (5 ounces) dried cranberries
1 cup ranch salad dressing
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 cups salted cashews

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the chicken, celery, onions, grapes and cranberries. Drain pasta and rinse in cold water; stir into chicken mixture.
In a small bowl, whisk the ranch dressing and mayonnaise. Pour desired amount over salad and toss to coat. (The original recipe calls for all of the dressing/mayo combo, but I thought it was overkill. Adjust it to suit your individual preference!) Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Just before serving, stir in cashews. Stirring in the cashews any earlier will make them lose their texture. If you think you'll end up with leftovers, you may want to serve the cashews in a separate dish.

And a big "CONGRATULATIONS" to the expectant mother of the baby shower who welcomed baby Alison into the world on Monday! I got to visit her just 6 or 7 hours after she was born and she is one of the most beautiful newborns I've ever seen. We love you already, baby girl! 


  1. I have to say, this is seriously one of the best pasta salads ever! Don't double the recipe, there is PLENTY to go around.

  2. I make a pasta salad super similar to this one, really just adding a drained can of pineapple tidbits and decorating the top with mandarin oranges. It's SO good!

    1. Alison, this one originally calls for pineapple tidbits, so you're definitely onto something! I can imagine that the citrus of the oranges and pineapple would add a nice kick!

  3. Looks delicious! Missing those lush Virginian summer nights...but missing my favorite Virginians more! Wonderful job! (Mindy)

  4. Hey girl- I remembered you have a food blog, did some Google searching and found it. And yum, this looks good. Can't wait to look through archives and get great recipe ideas.

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