Guilt-Free Alfredo Sauce


Once in a meeting at work, we were talking about eating healthy. (Okay, this has happened more than once – but I’m writing about one particular instance.) My coworker, Miranda, referenced her then-fiance-now-husband, Henry. “When I met him,” she said, “He thought fettuccine alfredo was healthy if it had broccoli in it.”

For whatever reason, this exchange stuck with me. I’m trained in health education, so I’m intrigued by what people do and don’t know about health (and, ultimately, helping them to better understand how to be and stay healthy).

In this case, Henry was acting on what he knew: broccoli is healthy, broccoli is in my fettuccine alfredo, therefore fettuccine alfredo is healthy. Also, fettuccine alfredo is creamy and delicious – why avoid it? For all you Henrys out there, here’s a heads up: alfredo sauce is usually made with loads of butter, heavy cream, and cheese, leading it to be pretty high in fat. That’s why it tastes so good. You’d need to eat a LOT of broccoli to balance that out.

Or, you could find a way to have your fettuccine alfredo and eat it too – without all the calories. I’ve always liked to live in a world where the tastiest, most delicious foods can be good for you too. Enter this recipe for a guilt-free alfredo sauce (inspired by Gimme Some Oven).

So what would Henry have done had he not met Miranda? Hopefully started reading nutrition labels. A serving of Bertolli Alfredo Sauce is 110 calories per quarter cup – this recipe is just 68. Enjoy!

Guilt-Free Alfredo Sauce

Yield: 10 servings. Serving size: ¼ cup. Per Serving: $0.31, 68 calories, 5g fat, 3g carbs, 4g protein.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium-low heat in a large saute pan. Make sure not to burn the butter or your sauce will end up an unappetizing brown/gray color – I learned this the hard way! Add 1 garlic clove, minced and cook for about 1 minute until garlic becomes fragrant. (Again, be careful not to burn it!) Whisk in 2 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Whisk in 1 cup of chicken broth. Let the mixture come to a low simmer. Add 1 cup of low fat milk when it starts to bubble at the sides. Continue to whisk and stir, letting the sauce come to a consistency you like. Add ½ cup grated fresh parmesan cheese to finish.


To serve as pictured, slice cherry tomatoes in half and saute over high heat in a non stick pan until charred. Chop the broccoli and coat with olive oil, salt, and pper and saute over high heat in non stick pan until charred. Peel shrimp, coat with olive oil, salt and papper, and saute over high heat until pink. Toss with pasta and sauce and serve warm.

Mac & Squash


Comfort foods – I’ve written about them before. I’ve stated my oldies but goodies (mashed potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs) and new ones I’ve come to love (miso soup, shakshuka, polenta). Over time, my comfort foods have become lower in calories as I, apparently, learn what’s good for me.

Here’s another to add to the list: what I’ve come to call “Mac & Squash”. It’s deceptively similar to your favorite homemade mac and cheese, without all of the cheese (and calories). The cheese is replaced with a squash sauce with a creamy consistency, and you still get some cheese melted on top. Here I used acorn squash, but you can really use any squash that you prefer.

I have to be honest – this is a multi-pot recipe, which isn’t my favorite way to cook. I used two saute pans, two pots, and a baking dish. If you have a limited pantry, do this in shifts and set aside each item as it is finished. The plus side? It’s easy to make a large batch, freeze some, and reheat later when that mac and cheese craving hits you out of nowhere!

Mac & Squash: Squash Baked Pasta

Yield: 8 servings. Per Serving: $2.29, 374 calories, 12g fat, 49g carbs, 21g protein.

Cook 1 pound of large shells according to package directions. Meanwhile, chop 2 acorn squash into one inch pieces. Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove. When boiling, add squash and boil until fork tender, about 12 minutes. Drain the squash and add back to the pot. Add ½ cup milk and blend using a hand blender.

While the pasta and squash are boiling, brown 1 pound of ground turkey in a medium saute pan in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper. Also saute one bunch of spinach in a medium saute pan in 1 tablespoon olive oil, with salt and pepper.

Combine the turkey, shells, squash, and spinach, and ½ cup ricotta in a large bowl. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray, put in the pasta mixture, and top with ¼ cup of mozzarella. Additionally, you could divide the pasta into two 9×9 pans and freeze one before baking for later.

Cover with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes.

Polenta with Sauteed Chard and Mushrooms


Everyone has those dishes that taste like home. For me, it’s a big bowl of spaghetti and tomato sauce, doused with parmesan cheese. Another favorite is a pile of mashed potatoes with a deep hole in the middle filled with brown gravy. (If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll top that with corn – a mini shepherd’s pie.

I ate these dishes a lot as a kid, and they have become my comfort foods: easy to make, warming from the inside out, and nostalgic. As an adult, I’ve grown accustomed to some new comfort foods: scrambled eggs with caramelized onions, miso soup with tofu and roasted bok choy, and shakshuka with crusty, buttered bread. They’re my new (and healthier) comfort foods.

The newest of my comfort foods is polenta. Polenta is mashed-potato-esque, made from cornmeal and water. For a long time, polenta was a black box to me. We never ate it growing up, so I didn’t have much exposure. I first learned of it through my college roommate – she made it a few times from the tubes you can but at the grocery store. Until this year I hadn’t even tried it. Change is hard.

Now that I know how easy it is to make, it’s a regular part of my dinner line up. This time of year, when the air is getting colder, it’s an extremely warming, feel-good meal. It’s also very inexpensive: a 24-ounce bag of cornmeal cost me less than $2 at the grocery store. As a starch it’s high in calories, so go easy on it as you’re dishing it up (if you can). It’s very versatile and I like to serve it with sautéed vegetables, as in this recipe.

This dish comes together very quickly, but requires that you pay attention to three pots at once. To make it easier to read, I separated the directions for each ingredient. If you start the mushrooms first, then the chard, and end with the polenta, they should all finish around the same time for a delicious meal in less than 20 minutes.

Polenta with Sauteed Chard and Mushrooms

Yield: 2 servings. Per Serving: $2.43, 364 calories, 12g fat, 87g carbs, 11g protein.

Mushrooms: Wipe 1 container (8 ounces) of baby portobella mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel and slice into ¼ inch pieces. Melt ½ tablespoon butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until brown.

Chard: Cut 2 garlic cloves in half and place in a cold sauté pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Put on low heat and cook slowly until the garlic turns slightly brown, then remove the garlic. Clean and chop 1 bunch green chard and add to the garlic oil with ½ teaspoon salt. Toss the chard occasionally over medium heat until wilted.

Polenta: Bring 1 ¼ cup water to boil in a small sauce pan. Turn to low heat and whisk in ½ cup fine yellow cornmeal, adding slowly. Add ½ teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon cheddar cheese. If the polenta becomes too thick, add more water. Cook for about 5 minutes on very low heat, stirring frequently.



Shakshuka – Eggs Baked in Tomato Sauce


Food trend alert: shakshuka. I’ve seen this traditionally Middle Eastern egg dish popping up everywhere. I first laid eyes on it on Instagram; someone leaning over the stove, wearing an apron, cracking eggs into a pan of tomato sauce. I was insta-trigued – what was this mystery dish? Then I spotted it again, this time on Plated’s Instagram feed, and finally learned what the dish actually was. Then, a girlfriend forwarded me this New York Time’s article, saying that she and her boyfriend had made it over the weekend (while reading the Financial Times and drinking mimosas – so posh). I was convinced – had to try it. Because I hate following recipes, I made my own version.

Since I was in tomato overload last week, I had a low bar for giving this recipe a try – what else was I to do with all of that tomato sauce? I instantly realized that the hype was real. This dish is easy to prepare, hearty, and can hold up at any time of day. I made it for dinner last night and it was great. I have no idea what a traditional Shakshuka chef would say about this recipe, but it worked for me. (According to Wikipedia, variations of this dish are popular in Moroccan, Algerian, Israeli, Egyptian, Libya, and Tunisian cuisines. As described in the New York Times article, it’s often served at Passover.) The feta added a saltiness to the tomato sauce that was countered perfectly by the cilantro, and the eggs melted in my mouth since they were poached slowly in the sauce. YUM.

As proven by it’s popularity in many different cuisines, this dish is easy to adapt based on your taste. You could add some spices, like cinnamon or cumin, to the tomato sauce and get a totally different flavor profile. Add some different vegetables to the tomato sauce, or try a different cheese – there are all sorts of options here to customize this to your preference. Then have your friends over and impress them with your new favorite dish. (Don’t forget the mimosas!)

Shakshuka – Eggs Baked in Tomato Sauce

Yield: 1 serving. Per Serving: $5.88, 362 calories, 13g fat, 27g carbs, 16g protein.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat up 1.5 cups of tomato sauce (I used my basic tomato sauce made with farm fresh heirloom tomatoes) in an oven proof saute pan (I used cast iron, but a stainless steel can work too). Use a smaller sized pan so the tomato sauce is at least half an inch deep and fills the bottom of the pan. If you don’t have a smaller pan, double the recipe (the more, the merrier). When the sauce is warm and starts to bubble, crack two eggs into opposite sides of the pan Turn off the heat and top with 2 ounces crumbled feta cheese.

Put the pan in the oven and bake for 7-10 minutes. Keep an eye on it and take it out when the eggs are cooked to your liking (I like medium cooked yolks, so I took it out around 9 minutes). Let cool for 5-10 minutes, top with 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, and serve with crusty bread or a toasted English muffin.

Kale Caesar Salad & Raw Chocolate Pudding

Hello! I’m so honored to be the first guest-poster on Cook Like Kayla. As Kayla’s former work twin (no joke- our colleagues would get us confused) it seems fitting that I would be subbing in for her today. I’ve enjoyed watching this blog grow and I’m excited to be sharing with you today my two new favorite comfort foods turned healthy recipes.

As a background note, these recipes came from a place of pure desperation- crawling into my apartment after a long day in the hospital and wanting nothing more than to just stuff my face full of goodies and collapse into bed.  What’s amazing about these recipes is that they not only fill that comfort food craving but are also incredibly healthy and take only about 15 minutes to blend up in your Vitamix or blender. Say hello to your new long day pick me up.

Kale Caesar Salad

If you have any kale skeptics in your life, try this recipe on them. I guarantee they’ll change their minds.


Place 1 garlic clove, 3/4 cup olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and 2-4 anchovies (optional) into your Vitamix or other high-powered blender. Blend until fully emulsified, about 30 to 45 seconds.

Pour dressing over 1 head of kale, center stalks removed and sliced crosswise into fine ribbons. (Lacinato, also known as dinosaur kale, works best but any type of kale will do. Sprinkle 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and 1/2 preserved lemon (optional) on top of the salad and toss to combine. Enjoy!

Raw Chocolate Pudding

I know, avocado and pudding don’t sound like they should even be in the same sentence. Trust me, the avocado gives the pudding its texture, not its taste. Plus, what’s better than healthy chocolate pudding?!  Not too much.


Place 1 avocado (seed and skin removed), 1 ripe banana4 tablespoons dark cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons liquid sweetener (agave, honey, brown rice syrup, etc.), 1/4 cup coconut flakes, 1/2 cup water1 teaspoon sea salt, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract into your Vitamix or blender. Blend to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. Add more water as needed for consistency.

Chill until cold (or approximately the amount of time it takes you to eat your salad, if you’re me). If you’re really feeling ambitious, garnish with fresh berries.



Italian Sausage & Quinoa Stuffed Summer Squash


If you are trying to eat the rainbow in fruits and vegetables (as they say you should, every day, to get the nutritents and vitamins you need), yellow is a tough color to find. There’s corn, but that’s basically a carb and probably doesn’t count. There are yellow peppers, but they’re usually more expensive than green peppers (and really, do they taste any different?) so I’m usually unlikely to buy them unless they’re on sale (enough so to be cheaper than green peppers). There are a few yellow fruit to choose from – pineapple, bananas, lemons – but if you’re looking for a yellow vegetable, you’re pretty much stuck with summer squash. They probably didn’t take this into consideration when they decided to encourage eating the rainbow.

I’ve always thought of summer squash as the lesser relative of zucchini. Zucchini is green, which, in my book quates to a higher status in the vegetable hierarchy. Summer squash has a high water content (apparently right up there with cucumbers) meaning it gets mushy fast. It also has a waxy consistency (has anyone else noticed that?). So, whenever faced with an option to use summer squash or zucchini, I choose zucchini. It’s not that I don’t like summer squash, I just feel like zucchini is better.

However, “Oh, I’m sorry, I prefer zucchini” was not an option last week, when I received five (yes, five) whole summer squash in my box. Enter this stuffed summer squash recipe. Summer squash, I’ll give you another chance.

Italian Sausage & Quinoa Stuffed Summer Squash

4 servings. Serving size: 1 whole squash. Per Serving: $3.11, 284 calories, 13g fat, 30g carbs, 16g protein.

Cook 1/2 cup quinoa according to package direction. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Put 4 medium sized squash in a sauce pan and fill halfway with water. Bring to a simmer and boil for 6 minutes, then set aside to cool.

Saute 1/2 diced onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 2 Italian sausage without the casing and cook until browned. Add 3 diced roma tomatoes and 2 cloves minced garlic. Cook until tomatoes are soft and remove from heat. Add quinoa, salt, and pepper.

Cut squash in half lengthwise and spoon out seeds, then place upside down on a paper towel to drain. Fill with stuffing and top with 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese. Bake in oven for 25 minutes.

If you like this recipe and feel adventourous, you could use the same stuffing in different vegetables – try green peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, or mushrooms. All you need to do is adjust the cooking time based on the density of the vegetable. For example, tomatoes are more delicate and require less time to cook (so don’t par cook them to begin with) and keep an eye on them as they bake in the oven.