healthy recipes

easiest, cheesiest, somewhat healthy-siest stovetop shells

Stovetop chickpea shells and cheeseI am a sucker for mac & cheese – pasta with a bite, creamy cheese sauce – need I say more? Comfort, nostalgia, simplicity. The best mac & cheese dishes I’ve made have involved multiple cheeses (my favorite employs a blend of gouda, fontina, and white cheddar), traditional noodles like elbows or shells, and have been made over the course of about an hour or so – spending time on both the stovetop and in the oven.

Organized spice drawerTonight though, I really wanted mac & cheese, but I wanted it pronto. I only had one cheese on hand – a Cotswold (double gloucester with chive and onions), courtesy of the outstanding cheese selection at Dorothy Lane Market, and the only shells in my pantry were chickpea shells (more on those later). I was also craving a little spice and happened to have a heaping pile of jalapenos from this week’s Green Bean Delivery, just begging to be blistered and piled on top of anything and everything. More importantly, I needed to not make a bigger mess of my kitchen. The one thing I have going for me is that my spice drawer is hella organized. I’ve been “spring cleaning” because AB has been swamped with schoolwork after work, and “spring cleaning” for me means “pulling everything out of every drawer, cabinet, closet, and crevice and making an enormous mess that wasn’t there before in the name of organizing and deep cleaning”.  I’ve been doing this all over the house and not finishing in one room before starting in another. So, amidst all the chaos, I wanted to dirty exactly one pan, a small handful of tools, and one bowl. Nothing more.

With all of these requirements, I took to the kitchen armed with my trusty box grater, and grated up my Cotswold, being sure to taste a bit of it prior to melting, to confirm its perfection. I thinly sliced a jalapeno and did a quick saute of the slices in a tiny pool of olive oil. In the same stainless medium pot, I then boiled my chickpea shells for an easy 8 minutes. After removing those shells, I then made a roux, and within 10 more minutes, I had a sumptuous cheese sauce and a big smile on my face. I want you to know the feeling that comes from a perfect dinner made in under 30 minutes with very few ingredients and minimal clean-up. I ate this dish on its own, but it could easily accompany a grilled chicken breast or a heaping pile of broccoli.

In my version, the Cotswold can easily be swapped for cheddar – I recommend a sharp one – or just a normal double gloucester.

Real pasta could also be used in place of the Banza chickpea shells, but let me talk about Banza for a moment because their chickpea pastas are some of the worthiest pasta substitutes I’ve tried. The shells have an extremely satisfying bite to them, comparable to traditional pasta, served al dente. They cook up quickly, and leftovers reheat fairly well (though, the texture is definitely better if served immediately). The big heart-winning fact for me is that they are made with chickpeas and only three other recognizable ingredients. Compared to normal pasta, a serving size has half the carbohydrates if you’re worried about carbs. If you like protein and fiber – and you should – double the protein, and FOUR TIMES the fiber. Weeeee! Locally, I’ve found Banza at Whole Foods, Dorothy Lane Market, and sometimes in the health foods area in Kroger.

Ari ready to play outsideThis recipe will make enough for four large servings. It could be stretched if served with anything else (again, grilled chicken or broccoli or both would be worthy companions). Also, while definitely healthier than most mac & cheese recipes (if using the Banza shells), this isn’t a super clean eats kind of dish. After all, we’re still smothering stuff in cheese sauce here. Enjoying a small portion alongside a veggie definitely ups the healthy cred. And again, it’s fast and simple, so you can spend just a little time in the kitchen and a lot of time outside with your pleading dog…


  • 2 jalapenos, thinly
  • Extra virgin olive oil*
  • Banza chickpea shells (8 oz.)
  • 3 TBS unsalted butter
  • 3 TBS AP flour
  • 2 cups skim or 2% milk
  • 8 oz. cheese, freshly grated
    • (I used Cotswold double gloucester, and it was a damn good decision – cheddar would work though)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

*Omit the jalapeno and olive oil, if you’re a pansy if you wish.


  • In a medium saucepot, add about a dime-sized splash of olive oil and heat over medium. Add sliced jalapenos, and cook for 3-4 minutes. (This will bring the heat of the jalapenos down considerably.) Remove jalapeno slices and set aside for later.
  • Fill same pot with water, bring to a boil, and cook Banza chickpea shells as directed on box.
  • Strain cooked shells and set aside. Return pot to cooktop.
  • Melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk constantly for about 2 minutes until roux is golden brown and smooth.
  • Reduce heat to low, and whisk in milk until combined.
  • Simmer for about 5 minutes, until slightly thickened.
  • Add grated cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the cheese is melty and the sauce is gorgeous. (If the sauce is looking runny at this point, you can add a bit more cheese or a little cornstarch slurry.)
  • Add shells to the cheese sauce. Serve immediately with jalapenos on top.

Go forth and enjoy.

healthy indulgence

With New Year’s Eve right around the corner, many people are already pondering resolutions – promises they’ll make to themselves to be better. Oftentimes, these promises revolve around improving physical well-being and health, for good reason. A shiny, new year is a golden opportunity to make a change for the better, and although a lot of resolutions don’t make it past the final days of the frigid month of January, they’re still made with the best of intentions at heart.

I’ve always been a petite and small person, but during my final months of college and my short time in law school, I put on a lot of weight, nearly 70 lbs to be exact. Yikes. I used my grandpa’s death and mom’s illness as an excuse, and I do think the stress and turmoil of the time did contribute. However, stress alone doesn’t cause weight gain, and lots of laziness and poor food choices resulted in me being overweight and super unhappy.

Thankfully, the New Year’s resolution I made to myself to ring in 2013 was one I actually kept. I  lost the weight that I’d been meaning to lose. Initially, I would try depriving myself of all delicious foods which is really tough for someone like me who LOVES food – preparing it, taking pictures of it, reading about it, writing about it, trying new forms of it, eating it. Finally, per my resolution, starting the new year out by consuming more whole foods, eating out less, and limiting pastas/breads helped me shed the weight fairly quickly – and as I was relieved to discover, cooking and eating healthier didn’t mean cutting out all things indulgent altogether. It just meant striking a more sensible balance between clean foods and foods like dairy and fats – crafting healthy indulgences.

And the recipe below is just that. I made it for the first time last week for AB and one of my dear friends. It is brimming with spinach and butternut squash, two ingredients with laundry lists of health benefits. Just enough parmesan cheese adds saltiness without tons of sodium. Garlic, onion, freshly cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes, and fresh basil marry to lend this dish a TON of flavor. It was creamy, hearty, and warm – perfect for a winter meal. The recipe below includes chorizo, but AB and I both agreed, it could easily be made without the chorizo and be just as delicious.

Gnocchi with butternut squash, spinach, and chorizo

(serves 2-4)


  • 1 package gnocchi (I used a whole grain option as opposed to the full potato gnocchi version to lighten it up – found in the pasta aisle, NOT frozen)
  • 3 links of chorizo (omit for vegetarian dish)
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped in 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 6-8 cups baby spinach
  • 2 TBS fresh basil (or 1 TBS dried)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 c. skim milk (can use full fat milk or 1/2 and 1/2 if you want more indulgence and less lightness)
  • 1 c. chicken broth (I used low sodium)
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper


  • Heat oil over medium-high heat. (use an ovenproof skillet.)
  • Add squash and onions – season with salt and pepper to taste. (pinch of salt and about a 1/2 tsp of pepper is my preference!)
  • Reduce heat to medium and stir every once in a while until squash is soft and edges are golden brown (about 10-12 minutes).
  • Add fresh garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and cook for just a minute or so more until garlic is fragrant but not burned!
  • Add chicken broth and skim milk, and give it a good stir.
  • Let simmer for a few minutes, and add the gnocchi (if more liquid is required to just cover the gnocchi, add a little more broth).
  • Add spinach, and stir slowly to wilt the leaves.
  • Cover and let simmer over medium heat to tenderize the gnocchi (about 7-8 minutes).
  • While the gnocchi cooks, cook chorizo in a pan over medium-high heat – I cook it by browning it covered, then slicing it before adding it back to the pan to cook all the way. (omit this step for vegetarian rendition.)
  • Preheat your oven broiler.
  • Stir in fresh (or dry) basil, most of parmesan cheese. Save a little to sprinkle over the top.
  • Add cooked chorizo.
  • Pop the pan in the oven for 3 minutes, careful not to burn, but allowing the top of the dish to become golden and sizzley (not a word, but I want it to be).
  • ENJOY.

**Butternut squash can be very difficult to peel. If you are not good with a knife, consider perusing the produce department to find pre-peeled and cut butternut squash, which is often available.

Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!