Guilt-Free Alfredo Sauce

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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.

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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.

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Mac & Squash

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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.

Ricotta Gnocchi

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Despite owning a pasta maker, I’ve never made my own homemade pasta. It’s more than a little intimidating. I did it once with my dad when I was a kid, but remember it taking a really, really long time. To face my fear, I signed up for a pasta making class in February. I’m hoping my Italian roots make me a natural.

In the meantime I tried out this gnocchi recipe that I adapted from a recipe I learned at a food festival in Boston. For all of you who are afraid of making pasta at home (like me), this is a perfect starter recipe. It’s also great for date night – it’s hands on, takes less than 45 minutes to prepare, and is easy enough that you can make a protein or side dish at the same time.

I don’t eat a lot of gnocchi, but thought these were good enough to share. Luckily I made this meal with a self-proclaimed gnocchi enthusiast – and he gave these the stamp of approval. Buon appetito!

Ricotta Gnocchi

Combine 1.5 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup part-skim ricotta, 1 egg, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter for 30 minutes. Roll into logs and cut into 1 inch pieces. Heat a pot of water to a slow boil and cook gnocchi in small batches for about 5 minutes, or until they float to the top. sauté in a large pan in 1 tablespoon of butter. Pictured above with hot Italian sausage and sautéed spinach.

Yield: 4 servings. Serving size: 1/3 cup. Per serving (gnocchi only): $0.43, 253 calories, 8g fat, 36.5g carbs, 10.5g protein.

Green Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Peas

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Nachos, chocolate fondue, and this green mac and cheese were on the menu for a Halloween-themed gathering my roommates and I hosted at our apartment last week. The objective of the night was simple: get our favorite girlfriends together to eat, drink, and chat. The fact that it was Halloween was, frankly, unimportant and apparent only by the décor and Hocus Pocus playing in the background. Sometimes we need a simple excuse to get together in the same room to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. Sadly, it doesn’t happen often enough! The night was a success and this dish was the star of the menu – everyone kept going back for more!

Green Mac & Cheese

Cook 1 pound of pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, sauté 1/2 cup onion in 1 tablespoon butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the onions are translucent, add a 6 ounce bag baby spinach and a 16 ounce bag frozen peas. Cook until spinach is wilted and peas are cooked through, stirring frequently.

Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper and reduce heat to low. Add 2 cups low-fat milk and heat until warm. Remove from heat and blend (preferably using a hand blender) the mixture until smooth.

Slowly add the pasta and 1.5 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, stirring frequently to combine. Spray a 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray and head oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour the mac and cheese mixture into the baking pan and top with ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese and 3 tablespoons panko bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes or until top starts to brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 8 servings. Serving size: 1¼ cups. Per Serving: $1.31, 409 calories, 12g fat, 56g carbs, 19g protein.

Butternut Squash & Kale Lasagna Rolls

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Anything served in a pan (brownies, casserole, and, in this instance, lasagna) comes with risk of overeating. You start by cutting yourself a reasonably sized piece and enjoy every last cheesy, saucy bite… and just want one more taste. So you go back to the pan and cut yourself a tiny little sliver more just so you can have one more bite. And then you have one more tiny little piece, and another, and another… and by the end you’ve had three times as much as you first put on your plate. It’s inevitable.

To save yourself from over-indulging, try this creative take on lasagna; rather than layering everything in the pan, the lasagna noodles are rolled up with the filling inside. For this reason, you need to use traditional lasagna noodles rather than the ready-to-bake version. It’s a little messier to prepare, but much easier to serve (and control) – just portion out 2 rolls per person.

This is a perfect recipe for entertaining. Not only will it impress your friends, it’s easy to prepare in advance.  Assemble the rolls but instead of baking, pop them in the fridge. 45 minutes before dinner – while your guests are enjoying wine and apps – throw the lasagna in the oven. You can also prepare this recipe up to a month in advance and freeze it, defrosting it in the fridge the night before you’re expecting guests.

Serve with a fresh side salad, sautéed asparagus, or all alone. If you end up with too much filling and not enough noodles, whip up some eggs for a high-end scramble!

Butternut Squash, Kale and Turkey Lasagna Rolls

Cook 6 lasagna noodles according to package directions. When done, lay the noodles on greased cookie sheets so that they are not touching to avoid sticking together.

Steam 2 ½ cups of diced butternut squash until soft, about 10 minutes, and set aside. Steam 4 cups of kale until dark green, about 15 minutes. Sauté ½ cup diced onions in ½ tablespoon olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ½ pound ground turkey and saute until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mash squash and mix with ½ cup ricotta cheese and 1 egg until smooth.  Roughly chop kale.  Spray two bread pans with cooking spray.  Spread ricotta-squash mixture onto cooked lasagne rolls, top with kale, and then ground turkey-onion mixture.  Roll along the short side and place in pan with the open end down.  Repeat with remaining noodles, placing three rolls in each pan.  Top each bread pan with 6 tablespoons tomato sauce and ¼ cup of mozzarella cheese, divided between the two pans.

Cover with tin foil and bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, remove tin foil and bake for another 10 minutes. If preparing from frozen, defrost the lasagna in the fridge overnight before baking.

Yield: 3 servings. Serving size: 2 rolls. Per Serving: $3.39, 506 calories, 15g fat, 77g carbs, 32g protein.

Pasta with White Wine & Fresh Tomatoes

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Some of my favorite meals aren’t planned at all. I came home from work today and didn’t have any plan for dinner. I opened the fridge and found grape tomatoes, half a red onion, and an open bottle of white wine. Fifteen minutes later, this dish was on the table. It’s such a good feeling when your leftovers come together beautifully!

Pasta with White Wine & Fresh Tomatoes

Prepare one serving of pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. When the oil is warm, add ¼ cup diced red onion.  Saute for about 2 minutes then add 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise. Cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add ½ cup white wine and simmer. When the pasta is done, add it to the white wine and tomatoes with a pinch of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook for another 2 minutes, and serve warm.

Yield: 1 servings. Per Serving: $3.43, 455 calories, 7g fat, 77g carbs, 11g protein.

Linguine with Salmon and Peas

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A lot of people cut carbs in an attempt to eat healthy. Breads and pastas are seen as the enemy, to be avoided at all costs. In my (non-professional) opinion, avoiding any food is a bad idea. Moderation is key. I eat a piece of chocolate every day after lunch and I don’t feel bad about it because it’s just one piece. It curbs my craving and I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself.

It’s also very important to pay attention to serving sizes. Most meals where pasta is the main dish include multiple servings – and that’s where you can get into trouble. However, if you pair pasta with vegetables and protein, like in this linguine recipe, you can curb your cravings and still enjoy it!

This recipe is also a great way to use leftover salmon, which can be hard to reheat because it dries out. The moisture from the sauce – made from reserved starchy pasta water, a small amount of butter, and lemon juice – keeps the salmon from drying out when it’s reheated.

Linguine with Salmon and Peas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a baking pan with cooking spray and place ½ pound filet of salmon skin side down on the pan. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and ¼ teaspoon lemon zest. Bake in oven for 20 minutes or until the fish is flaky. Meanwhile, cook ½ pound linguine according to package direction, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.

When salmon and pasta are done, heat 1/3 cup pasta water in a medium sauté pan. Add the linguine, 1 tablespoon butter, juice of ½ a lemon, and 1 ½ cups frozen peas. Sauté, stirring frequently, until peas are bright green and cooked, about 2 minutes. Add the salmon, breaking into small pieces, and serve warm.

Yield: 3 servings. Per Serving: $1.75, 418 calories, 8g fat, 63g carbs, 23g protein.

Spinach Tomato Baked Mac & Cheese

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A few things to love about Fall: foliage, apple picking, sweaters, and pumpkin flavored everything. Although the days are shorter and the air is cooler, it is my favorite season. I only wish it would last longer!

In addition to the aforementioned reasons, Fall is great because with it signifies the ability to use the oven guilt-free. There are few things worse than trying to bake or roast in the oven in 95 degree weather – which is why most summer recipes involve very little stove or oven time. Now that the seasons are changing, the possibilities are endless. Bring on the casseroles, muffins, breads, roasted root vegetables, and lasagnas (oh my!).

Homemade baked macaroni and cheese is perfect for cooler weather – it’s warm, gooey, and cheesy. This recipe is also light and colorful with tomatoes and spinach so you can get your serving of vegetables. You could eat it as your main meal, or serve it up as a side to a protein. Something roasted would be fitting – like chicken, perhaps?

Spinach Tomato Baked Mac & Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook 3 cups penne according to package directions. Saute ¼ cup diced onion in 1 teaspoon olive oil for 4 minutes until translucent. Add 3 cups baby spinach and cook until wilted. Meanwhile, slice 2 roma tomatoes into ¼ inch slices and toast 1 slice whole wheat bread. When the bread is toasted, dice into ¼ inch squares. In a large mixing bowl, combine penne, spinach mixture, ¼ cup part skim ricotta cheese, ¼ cup part skim shredded mozzarella cheese, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Spray a 9×9 or equivalent baking dish with cooking spray and add pasta mixture. Top with tomato slices, toasted bread pieces, and 1 tablespoon part skim shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in oven for 25 minutes.

Yield: 3 servings. Per Serving: $1.89, 306 calories, 7g fat, 53g carbs, 13g protein.

Crispy Pepperoni Pasta

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It took me a while to decide what to post for my first official recipe on Cook Like Kayla. There’s a lot of (self-inflicted) pressure involved with writing a blog. I wanted my first post to be meaningful – but also interesting and true to what I hope to share with all of you here in the future – simple, healthy recipes. It’s all about a good first impression, right? I also didn’t want to write a “welcome-to-cook-like-kayla” post or a “this-is-my-first-post” post without sharing a recipe.

When it dawned upon me that I should share my Pepperoni Pasta recipe, there was no looking back. It was an a-ha moment; after all, pepperoni pasta was my first original dish, concocted over 10 years ago in the cafeteria of my elementary school. It was quite different when I first made it at 12 years old, but it – like me – has changed over time.

I am so extremely excited to launch Cook Like Kayla with this delicious recipe. Enjoy!

Prepare veggie marinara sauce (recipe below) or your favorite pasta sauce. Cook ½ pound angel hair pasta according to package directions. Sauté 15 slices turkey pepperoni in medium pan on medium heat, about 8 minutes, flipping halfway through. Heat 1.5 cups sauce and pasta over low heat in medium saucepan. Add 3 cups chopped spinach and sauté until wilted, about 5 minutes. Top with pepperoni and 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese. Yield: 3 servings. Per Serving: $1.96, 336 calories, 7g fat, 58g carbs, 15g protein.

Veggie Marinara Sauce – Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice 1 medium eggplant and 1 medium zucchini in half lengthwise. Pierce 3-4 holes in 1 red bell pepper with a knife. Cut the top off of 1 head of garlic. Brush vegetables and garlic with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Wrap the garlic in tin foil and place the vegetables on a tin foil lined baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 1 hour, flipping once halfway through. Let cool and cut vegetables into 2 inch pieces, removing the seeds and stem from the bell pepper. Remove garlic cloves from head by squeezing. Saute 1 cup diced onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add vegetables, garlic cloves, 1 can (14 ounces) low-sodium chicken broth and 1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes. Cook until warmed through, about 10 minutes, over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and blend to desired consistency. Yield: 20 servings. Serving size: ½ cup. Per Serving: $0.69, 46 calories, 2g fat, 8g carbs, 1g protein.