Tag Archives: cooking

Healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free sweet potato mac-n-cheese

Healthy, Gluten-free, Dairy-free Sweet Potato Mac-N-Cheese

Today hubby and I were very busy in the kitchen.  This is the second new recipe we made– I guess we were on a roll!

When I was in college, I became lactose intolerant.  It was a major bummer for someone whose favorite foods included mozzarella sticks, fettuccine alfredo, and ice cream.  But what I missed the most was mac-n-cheese.  I used to eat it almost every other day.  Now, out of necessity, it was banned from my diet.

I’ve tried various dairy-free (I use this term to mean lactose-free…butter doesn’t have lactose, and therefore is not a dangerous food for me) recipes throughout the years, but they just weren’t tasty.  At all.  I pretty much gave up on being able to have my once-favorite food, and settled into a life devoid of mac-n-cheese.  Until today.

While on an airplane recently, I read an article which featured a spicy and smoky vegan mac-n-cheese recipe made with sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes?  Mind blown!  Of course as soon as I got home I gave hubby instructions to create his own gluten-free AND dairy free sweet potato mac-n-cheese, minus the smoke and the spicy-ness (so the kiddos could have some too.)

Healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free, sweet potato mac-n-cheese

Hubby suggested adding a little bit of bacon, because everything is better with bacon right?  I went back and forth on it– should I stick with vegan or go with bacon…mmmm, bacon.  So it was settled– bacon it is!  (Note– you could definitely leave out the bacon and use a butter substitute and it will be a vegan dish.)

I think I made the right decision– the finished product was not only good, it was out of this world!  It was rich, creamy, and bacon-y.  It tasted like there was NO way it could be good for you, but it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, and each helping has two servings of veggies.  It’s totally good for you!  In moderation of course…don’t forget about the bacon! 🙂

Here’s what you need:


  • 1 box gluten-free pasta elbows (we had quinoa pasta on hand, but brown rice pasta would work well too)
  • 1 large sweet potato (use two if your potatoes are on the smaller side)
  • 1 package (7oz) of shredded cheddar “veggie” cheese (soy-based cheese)
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup butter (technically, this counts as dairy, but it’s safe for lactose intolerant peeps like me)
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped (we like a lot, but you can use as much or as little as you please)
  • juice of half a lemon

STEP 1: Prepare pasta according to directions on package.

STEP 2: Cook bacon and set aside.

STEP 3: Bake sweet potato (or microwave) until soft.  Remove skin and add potato to mixing bowl.  Mash well.

STEP 4: Roast sliced mushrooms for 10 minutes at 350° with a little salt and oil of your choice.  Add to mixing bowl with sweet potatoes.

STEP 5:  Add cheese, butter, onion powder, almond milk, lemon juice, and 1 cup of the water in which the pasta was cooked.  Mix well.  (We used a stand mixer on low.)

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STEP 6:  Add pasta to mixing bowl and stir by hand until well combined.


STEP 7:  Pour entire mixture into 9×12 glass casserole dish.  Coat with chopped bacon and green onions.  Cover and bake for 30 minutes at 350°.  Uncover and bake for 10 additional minutes.


This stuff is soooo good, it’s addicting!  I’m definitely not missing out anymore!

Healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free sweet potato mac-n-cheese Healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free sweet potato mac-n-cheese

Marbled Chocolate Avocado Brownie Bars

Healthy Marbled Chocolate Avocado Brownie Bars

Hubby and I have been on a healthy baking kick as of late– well, he bakes while I photograph and eat!  His latest creation may be the best yet– insanely rich and gooey marbled chocolate brownie bars– with no flour!  Seriously, this guy is amazing– he scours the internet for ideas and tries different combinations of ingredients until he finds something that is both healthy and decadent.  MY talents are taste-testing and documenting–not a bad gig!

These brownie bars are incredibly easy, which is definitely something I look for in a recipe (just in case I ever attempt it myself while hubby is at work.)  I won’t even try something that looks the slightest bit confusing or time-consuming– who has hours to spend in the kitchen with two kids running (and crawling) around??  The marbling is caused by the candy coating melting into the brownie batter while cooking– you don’t have to make a separate batter, or swirl anything. And did I mention these are delicious?

Healthy Marbled Chocolate Avocado Brownie Bars -- No flour!

Here’s what you need:


  • 2 large avocados
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup natural chocolate candies (the natural food coloring is essential for the marbling effect)

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STEP 1: Add the flesh of two avocados to food processor with 1/2 cup coconut sugar and 1 cup cocoa powder.  Blend until smooth.

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STEP 2: Add eggs and baking soda.  Pulse until eggs are just mixed into batter– you don’t want to over-beat them.

STEP 3: Fold chocolate candies into batter.

Marbled Chocolate Avocado Brownie Bars

STEP 4: Spread batter into 8×10 baking pan (8×8 would also work well for slightly thicker brownies.) Bake at 350° for 15 minutes.  Cool thoroughly before cutting and serving.  Keep refrigerated.

Marbled Chocolate Avocado Brownie Bars

Side Dish in a Snap! — Savory Sausage & Spinach Skillet

Hubby whipped up this side dish on the fly today and it was so beautiful that I had to take some photos– look at those colors!  This is such a simple recipe, yet the end result is bursting with flavor!

Savory Sausage and Spinach

You only need four ingredients:

  • 1 sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1lb mild Italian sausage
  • 3 cups chopped baby spinach

Savory Sausage & Spinach Skillet

STEP 1: Sauté onions (we use coconut oil) in large skillet on medium heat for about five minutes until they start to caramelize.

STEP 2: Add bell pepper and continue to sauté until the pepper slices soften.

STEP 3: Add sausage; use wooden spoon or spatula to chop in pan.  (Optional: add a splash of Mirin, Japanese cooking wine, for a touch of sweetness.)

STEP 4: Once sausage is fully cooked, remove pan from heat. Add spinach and stir into cooked ingredients.  The steam alone will lightly wilt the spinach to the perfect consistency.

This easy side is as delicious as it is beautiful– we will definitely be adding it to our regular rotation!

**BONUS: You could even serve with a fried egg for a hearty and healthy breakfast option.

Authentic Pad Thai Noodles at Home

How to Make Authentic Pad Thai at Home

I’ve been dying to share this recipe with you guys!  Today hubby patiently obliged for me to photograph the process.

Authentic Pad Thai Noodle Recipe

Pad Thai is one of my favorite meals– in fact, in was one of the only foods I could tolerate while pregnant.  Since our go-to Thai restaurant is a little out of the way, hubby created his own version that can stand up to authentic take-out.

The key to making Pad Thai possible at home without taking a long time is knowing when to take shortcuts and when to use fresh ingredients.  Pre-made sauce shortens time spent in the kitchen as well as your shopping list, but be sure to combine with fresh veggies and protein for the best flavor.

This recipe is actually very easy– it’s mostly prep (cutting, chopping, etc) and then putting together the ingredients.  You can use one sauté pan to cook everything aside from the noodles.

pad thai ingredients

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 box Pad Thai style rice noodles
  • 1 jar Pad Thai sauce
  • 1lb chicken, cubed
  • 1lb shrimp, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 small yellow onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts (may substitute with canned)
  • 1-2 bunches of green onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1TB soy sauce
  • 1TB Mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (we used cashews, though peanuts are traditional)

Prepare noodles according to instructions on package and set aside.  (You can do this while you are cooking the other ingredients.)

STEP 1: Saute onions until brown. Set aside in large mixing bowl.

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STEP 2: Saute chicken (may use the same pan in which you cooked the onions) with soy sauce and mirin.  When chicken is partially cooked, add shrimp, 1 cup of mung bean sprouts (they will cook down– this is a great way to hide more veggies for the kids), and mushrooms.

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STEP 3: When mushrooms start to soften, remove all ingredients from pan and add to large mixing bowl with the sautéed onions.  Scramble eggs and add to mixing bowl.

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STEP 4: Add noodles, green onions, remaining cup of mung bean sprouts, and sauce.  Stir until ingredients are well-combined.

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STEP 5: Add cilantro and nuts to garnish.  That’s it–easy right?  Enjoy!

Authentic Pad Thai Noodles at Home Authentic Pad Thai Noodles at Home

cookies and cream ice cream cake

Easy 3-Ingredient Cookies & Cream Ice Cream Cake

Though our family generally has very healthy eating habits, every now and then we just have to splurge.  Hubby made a cookies and cream ice cream cake for a party a while back and it didn’t last long!  I decided to prepare one myself today and share the steps because this dessert is so easy, fast, and delicious that I know many of you would enjoy.  And if I can make it anyone can!

Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Cake

You only need three ingredients:

  • 12 ice cream sandwiches
  • 1/2 regular size pack of Oreos
  • 2 cups Cool Whip

**BONUS: This recipe can be made gluten free and/or dairy free by substituting the type of “ice cream” sandwiches and cookies used.  

STEP 1: Chop 1/2 pack of Oreos in food processor until finely ground.

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STEP 2: Add ground Oreos to mixing bowl containing 2 cups Cool Whip.

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STEP 3: Fold ground Oreos into Cool Whip until well combined– this is the frosting.

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STEP 4: Place silicon baking sheet over a cookie pan.

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STEP 5: Place four ice cream sandwiches together in center of baking sheet.  Spread a layer of frosting on top.

ice cream cake IMG_3244 ice cream cake

STEP 6: Repeat with two more layers of ice cream sandwiches.

ice cream cake ice cream cake

STEP 7: Frost the top and sides of cake.

ice cream cake ice cream cake

STEP 8: Allow cake to set in freezer for 1-2 hours.  Remove from baking sheet.  Slice and enjoy!

ice cream cake ice cream cake

The one lifestyle change that allowed me to be a stay at home mom

The One Lifestyle Change That Allowed Me to be a Stay at Home Mom

As a member of mommy support groups, I frequently see the question posed: how can I afford to be a stay at home mom?  I’ve been a working mom, so I get it that some of us crave “adult time” and enjoy career accomplishments.  But I also know what a crappy feeling it is to leave your kids in the care of someone else all day.  Ultimately, I made the choice to leave the corporate world, and I wanted to share the one lifestyle change that made it possible.

This past November, I quit my job.  The plan was for me to enjoy the holidays with my family and start the search for a better employer in the new year.  I did that, and things went so wonderfully that hubby and I decided it would be best for our family (and my health) if I stayed home indefinitely.  There was just one problem– we were cutting our income in half.

While I was working, I always stressed about money.  Even with two solid paychecks, it never felt like enough.  How would we be able to make it on just my husband’s income?

Aside from monthly non-negotiables (housing, utilities, insurance), there was one expense that dwarfed them all. Once we seriously reevaluated our spending in this area, it freed up a huge chunk of our budget.  I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t our cable bill.

It was FOOD.  Hubby has always loved to cook, and did so on a regular basis.  However, we never planned out meals for the week.  As a result, we were forced to pop in to the grocery store on multiple occasions throughout the week for whatever he decided to fix on a whim, or pick up take-out when we were short on time.

It seems hard to believe that food could have such an impact on the budget, so to prove it, I’ll show you what we used to spend:

$240 – We made at least 3 grocery trips every week, spending about $80 each time.  Going to the grocery store without a list means you’re likely to forget items and end up having to return later.  Multiple visits make it easier to succumb to impulse buys, as you are tempted over and over.

$160 – We ordered take-out about four times a week.  Whether for lunch or dinner, with tax and tip it’s about $40 for our family.

$50 – While working, I spent about $10 per day on lunch.

$50 – Hubby also would order out food at work.

Add that up and you get $500 in one week!  That’s $2000 every month — insane!  This doesn’t even take into account any occasions where we would go out to eat in a restaurant.  It was money we spent without even thinking– we had to eat, right?

It was actually hubby’s idea to start weekly meal planning.  Amazingly, a commitment to this one concept was the key to a budget that worked.

On Sunday evenings, hubby and I sit down and talk about what we’d like to eat for dinner each night.  To make it easier, we’ve designated days such as “Salmon Mondays,” so all we have to decide is sauce and sides.  Other days, hubby might have a new recipe he wants to sample.  When the week’s menu is determined, we make the grocery list so we know exactly what needs to be bought.

Having everything figured out in advance allows us to only have to grocery shop one time.  We go in with a plan and don’t end up buying things that aren’t on our list.  Impulse buys are a thing of the past.  Since we’ve got a meal for each night of the week, we don’t need to order take-out.  Hubby cooks for an army, so there are always plenty of leftovers for lunch as well.

Here’s a look at our weekly food budget now:

$150-200: One grocery shopping trip for the ingredients needed for dinner every night of the week.

That’s it.  We’ve gone from spending $2000 a month on food to no more than $800.  It’s an incredible change and all it took was setting aside 30 minutes on Sunday night to create a meal plan.  If you think about all the time saved by consolidating grocery trips, it might actually be less time to meal plan than to try to go through the week without one.

Of course, we’ve made other adjustments to our lifestyle since I left my job, but none as significant as the meal plan.  Maybe it sounds overwhelming to cook every single night, but just look at how much money you can save (for us it was $1200 a month!)  An added bonus is that when you cook your own dinners, you know exactly what you’re getting– it’s healthier!

Even if you don’t aspire to be a stay at home mom, you could put an extra thousand dollars in the bank every month.  That’s a weekend vacation!  If you take a realistic look at what you’re spending on food, you might find that you don’t want to “eat up” a large portion your income any more.

hearty calabaza stew

A One Pot Meal: Hearty Calabaza Stew

This might be Lilu’s favorite meal of all.  Whenever we tell her to come eat dinner, at least 80 percent of the time she will ask “is it calabaza?!”  Calabaza is Spanish for “squash” or “pumpkin;” this recipe features a type of Mexican squash similar to zucchini.  (You actually can substitute zucchini and/or yellow squash depending on what is available at your grocer.)

Here’s the how-to in less than five seconds:

making calabaza stew

Now here’s the full recipe.  The beauty of this meal is that it can be made in one pot– no piles of dishes to worry about after dinner!  Mateo likes to cook enough for ten people, so he does the noodles separately (they won’t fit in the calabaza pot), but I will make a note of when to add the noodles for those of you who will be preparing a more normal-sized portion.

You will need:


  • 1-2lbs ground chuck
  • 1 green and 1 red bell pepper
  • 2-4 calabaza (squash)
  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 ears of corn (may substitute 1 can of corn)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 2 cup beef broth
  • 1 tsp diced garlic
  • 1 tsp garlic powder (if all you have is powdered, just double this amount)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 package pasta (we used quinoa pasta– elbows, spirals,or shells work well)

Remember, Mateo makes enough for ten people (literally), so use the lower end of these measurements and ingredient amounts for a normal sized meal.

Start by prepping the veggies. Devein and dice peppers. Dice onions.


Shuck corn and then remove kernels from the cobs.  It’s easiest to do this over a bowl to avoid corn going everywhere.  Cut the cobs in half and set aside.  Don’t throw them away yet!


Cut the ends off the calabaza.  Cut each squash in half lengthwise; chop into 1/2 inch slices.


Now it’s time to put everything in the pot!  Add onions, peppers, and diced garlic; sauté in olive oil until soft.


Add ground beef, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, smoked paprika and cook until beef starts to brown.  (For a lighter version, pause here to drain the oil from the beef.)  Add canned tomatoes and tomato paste.


Add calabaza, corn cobs and bay leaves.  Cover and reduce heat to a simmer.  This is also where you would add the pasta.  Leave covered and cook for 20-30 minutes.  The longer everything stews together, the more intense the flavors will be.


Remove corn cobs and bay leaves before serving.  If you cooked the pasta separately (like Mateo), this is where you would add it to the pot.


Now you have the perfect meal to warm up with during these last few weeks of winter…and a super easy clean-up!