Cashew Mac + Cheese

Cashew Mac and Cheese - Under the Monkey Bars

This recipe is magical. It’s mac and cheese, without any cheese. I’m serious — no cheese! You have to try it to believe it. When I stopped eating dairy, I craved cheese like you wouldn’t believe. It’s unbelievable how cheesy this Cashew Mac + Cheese tastes! I swear it tastes even better than the real thing, and it’s super good for you!

Why would you want to make mac and cheese without actual cheese?
1. Dairy should be eaten in condiment servings, and most of us consume far more cheese than we should.
2. The “cheese” sauce is made of veggies. We could all use more veggies in our diet, am I right?
3. The cashews pack in extra protein, fiber, and healthy fats to fill you up and provide energy.
4. When you have a cold or seasonal allergies, avoiding dairy is really smart. So, therefore, this recipe for Cashew Mac + Cheese is brilliant!

Bean requested Cashew Mac + Cheese for her 10th birthday dinner two weeks ago. The monkeys love this dish so much that they actually jump up and down when I make it. High fives all around. After sharing the recipe with many friends, every single person has raved about it — from toddlers to teenagers. It’s especially great for kids on a veggie strike. Another way to get veggies into little monkeys is a winner for sure!

I double the “cheese” sauce recipe every time I make Cashew Mac + Cheese because it freezes really well. Why not make extra for another day? Doubling the recipe makes about 35 ounces of “cheese” sauce. The whole meal takes about 45 minutes from start to finish including sautéing some extra veggies to mix in (peas, zucchini, broccoli), and sometimes cooking up meat like bacon or sausage too (sorry vegan friends!).

Cashew Mac + Cheese is one of those dishes you can tailor to suit your dietary needs or the needs of your friends with food allergies! We’ve never been into breadcrumb toppings for mac and cheese, but if you like breadcrumbs, head over to the original recipe for that version.

Give it a try. I can practically promise you’ll love it. Cómelo todo!

Cashew Mac + Cheese
Serves 6
Write a review
  1. 8 ounces pasta
  2. 1 cup red or yellow potatoes, peeled and chopped
  3. 1/4 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
  4. 1/3 cup onion, peeled and chopped
  5. 1 cup water
  6. 1/4 cup raw cashews
  7. 2 teaspoons sea salt
  8. 1/4 teaspoon garlic
  9. 1/3 cup butter (or non-hydrogenated margarine if you’re vegan)
  10. 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  11. 1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  12. 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  13. less than 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (see notes)
  1. Cook your pasta according to the instructions on the box. Set aside.
  2. After chopping your potatoes, carrots, and onion, put the veggies and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover the pan and simmer for 15 minutes, or until veggies are really soft.
  3. In a blender, process the cashews, salt, garlic, butter, mustard, lemon juice, black pepper, cayenne, softened veggies, and cooking water until perfectly smooth.
  4. In a large bowl, toss the cooked pasta and blended cheese sauce until completely coated. Or, add the sauce to individual bowls and store the left overs in a glass container or mason jar.
  5. You do not need a high speed blender for this recipe.
  1. Choose organic ingredients when possible.
  2. I usually throw in extra veggies and it always tastes great.
  3. Leftover cheese sauce can be frozen (in glass ideally). Add a teaspoon of extra butter and and a tablespoon of water to reheat. Warm on low heat and stir frequently.
  4. Use left over cheese sauce to dip veggies or stir it into plain risotto with some veggies.
  5. If you're gluten free, we love Jovial or Andean Dream GF pasta. Also make sure your mustard is GF; we like Annie’s.
  6. When cooking for little ones, be mindful of the cayenne. I started with just two tiny shakes and worked my way up to 1/8 teaspoon for a double batch!
Adapted from VegNews
Adapted from VegNews
Under the Monkey Bars

Terragon Chicken Salad

Terragon Chicken Salad Recipe from Under the Monkey Bars

I worked at an Advertising agency in Boston one summer during college. When we ate lunch at the little cafe near the office, I always ordered a tarragon chicken salad sandwich. I ate something recently with a similar flavor and thought, why haven’t I made this?

Must. Find. Terragon. Chicken. Salad. Recipe!

Here it is, friends. You are going to love it! It’s an easy make-ahead meal that works for anything except breakfast. For an appetizer, try serving this chicken salad on a granny smith apple slice. It’s a little tricky to eat but really fun. This recipe is naturally gluten free, soy free, dairy free, nut free, and paleo friendly.

I’ve used both left over grilled chicken and roasted chicken for this recipe; both work great. You could also try using this crock-pot chicken recipe. Make sure you zest your lemon before you squeeze out the juice — much easier. When I don’t make my own mayonnaise, we love the brand Just Mayo; check your label since most brands contain genetically modified canola oil and many additives.

We mostly eat Terragon Chicken Salad for a weeknight dinner when I’m not home to cook a full meal. Move over kale, the monkeys have a new favorite salad green. Have you tried watercress? It’s uber fresh because it comes from the store alive with roots and dirt! Watercress is full of antioxidants and adds a peppery bite to the chicken salad. I wrap the dirty roots (it’s literally a live plant) in a bag while I rinse the watercress leaves. Then just chop off the ends with a big knife and call it done. Whole Foods and our local Natural Grocer both keep watercress stocked. Definitely try it!


Terragon Chicken Salad with Watercress
Write a review
  1. 3 cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  2. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  3. 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  4. 1/4 cup chopped tarragon
  5. 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  6. 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  7. 2 sliced scallions
  8. 2 sliced celery stalks
  9. ¾ teaspoon salt
  10. ½ teaspoon black pepper
  11. 1 pound watercress, thick stems removed
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, tarragon, lemon zest, and lemon juice.
  2. Fold in the chicken, scallions, and celery.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve over watercress.
  1. Tip for Kids: I serve the scallions and celery on the side. The monkeys have been adding a little more each time, but they never would have touched it if I started with the scallions and celery in there!
Adapted from Real Simple
Adapted from Real Simple
Under the Monkey Bars

Saturday in the City


Our vacation got a bit de-railed with Knight’s donut (appointment on Wednesday thankfully).  The girls really wanted to spend a day in Boston so we headed in early on Saturday morning with a stop at Longleaf Lumber in Cambridge to pick out reclaimed wood flooring and a countertop for our currently under construction pantry.  What a cool place!  Bean was super interested, obviously with her nose in a book.  Sweet Pea danced around the shop with a nickel she found.  We hemmed and hawed, ultimately choosing chestnut floors and white oak counters…check!

Next stop: Back Bay for a little shopping and lunch.  Newbury Street wasn’t too busy and there were so many sales!  I haven’t been shopping since the holidays (gasp!).  Who knew blogging would save me money?!?  We always stop at Zara, one of my favorite tiendas from my days in Madrid (translation: stores).   The monkeys love Zara’s kids line but they weren’t in the mood to shop.  We agreed to head back for a girls’ shopping day when the snow melts.


I managed to squeeze in a quick swoop through the Zara sale section.  I found a simple charcoal sweater dress for our upcoming Stowe trip.  It was $19 marked down from $79.  Score!  Don replaced his lost merino hat at Ibex.  And then I finally picked out my leather high tops at Frye.  I’ve been crushing on them since the Fall…completely in love with the soft leather and style of these sneakers.  Looking forward to cruising around Newburyport in the new kicks when the snow melts.

And then little tummies started rumbling.  We always pack tons of snacks when we go out for the day.  But we eat A LOT so unless I pack a huge cooler and a picnic — which is not happening in this weather — we have to find somewhere to eat lunch.  As much as we plan ahead, sometimes things don’t work out.  Like lunch on Saturday, for example.

We went to a new place that was recommended by a friend.  The menu looked healthy with lots of gluten free options and no peanuts.  We walked in and walked right out.  Contamination city.  Bean can’t eat even a crumb of wheat/gluten, which many restaurants just can’t handle and many people don’t understand.

Most restaurants in the city serve brunch on the weekends.  Eating breakfast and brunch out is really tough for us.  The meats are usually not gluten free.  We obviously can’t have pancakes or french toast.  It’s hard for the girls if we say, you can order a burger with no bun.  That’s it.  Literally the only safe option at two restaurants.  It’s just not fair.


If you don’t have allergies, you can’t imagine how hard it is when your kids are hungry for lunch and you can’t find anywhere to eat.  After stopping at three places, we gave up and went to our safety: Legal Seafoods.  They consistently excel with allergies and the girls can order french fries, a rarity since most restaurants fry breaded foods in with the french fries (ah, contamination).  Don is not a fish lover, so as you can imagine, Legals isn’t his favorite.  But it’s safe; and it works.

After lunch we had a beautiful moment on Newbury Street.  Sweet Pea walked by a man asking for change.  She stopped, fished around in her pockets, and gave him the nickel she found earlier in the day.   The nickel that she played with for an hour at the flooring store.  Her one and only nickel.  She dropped it in his cup without a second thought.  Pure generosity.  It’s hard for little ones to understand why this man was asking for money.  We did what we could and we helped him.


It started to snow, because the snow was getting dirty and we needed a fresh coat, right?  Before heading home, we grabbed some toasty warm drinks at our absolute favorite coffee shop: the Thinking Cup.  Decaf English Breakfast lattes for the monkeys, chai latte with almond milk for me (I dream of its frothy earthiness), and a double espresso for Don.  What’s your favorite cup of happy?

Until next time, Boston.  When you’re a little greener, and we can have a picnic in the gahden.

Easy Back-to-Back Dinners

I love my crock-pot.  We’ve been inseparable since the first time it had a hot meal waiting for me after work years ago.  Simple stews and soups are my go-to recipes for my magic pot.  I’d never cooked plain old chicken in there until I found this recipe for Crock-Pot Chicken from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen.  It’s a healthy, easy way to prep cooked chicken for any recipe.

One of our family’s favorite dinners is Against All Grain’s Leftover Chicken Soup with Roasted Vegetables.  It’s a stove top recipe and you know I love my crock-pot.  The first time I made the soup I used chicken that I had roasted the day before, and it just wasn’t enough meat.  My crock-pot brain started thinking…I could make the chicken for the soup in the crock-pot using Lexi’s recipe.  Serve Crock-Pot Pesto Chicken Salad one night, and Leftover Chicken Soup the next.  It’s such a great weeknight back-to-back dinner combination.  Both recipes are naturally gluten free, paleo, dairy free, and can be made vegan (yes, I know they are chicken recipes but keep reading).

Here’s what you’ll do….

Wednesday morning: Do you have chicken in the freezer?  You can totally make this tonight!  Follow Lexi’s recipe for Crock-Pot Chicken.  Use a lot of chicken breasts so that there’s enough for both recipes;  this will depend on your family size (I use 6 for the 4 of us).  When it’s cooked, take the chicken out and pour the broth through a mesh strainer to remove the onions from the broth.  Discard the onions and SAVE the broth!  It’s much more flavorful and nutrient rich than the broth you started with and you can use it again (my home made crock-pot broth recipe coming soon!).

Wednesday night’s dinner: Follow Lexi’s recipe to make the Pesto Sauce.  We like raw cashews but you can use almost any kind of nut.  I double the pesto ingredients and add a little water when I throw it in the blender.  Shred half of the chicken breasts and mix them with the pesto sauce.  This dish can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  My girls like their “green chicken” served over risotto with sautéed peppers, but the possibilities are endless.  If you’re vegan (and you’re still reading), the pesto would be delicious tossed with pasta.


Thursday night’s dinner: Use the broth you saved from the night before plus the extra chicken to make Leftover Chicken Soup.  Try roasting some extra veggies when you make this soup.  Roasted veggies are perfect for lunch!  You could also set aside some of the pureed veggie mix for the baby (if you have one, of course).  I made most of Bean and Sweet Pea’s baby food, and would have loved this recipe so that they could eat what we were having.  If you’re vegan, try making the soup with vegetable broth and omit the chicken all together.


The Leftover Chicken Soup can be frozen.  Use a Pyrex 6-Cup glass container for the family, or mason jars for individual portions (no plastic!).  Have you tried heating up left overs in your crock-pot?  It is so easy.  Thaw the container in your refrigerator over night.  In the afternoon (2:30pm-ish), put the half frozen soup in the crock-pot on warm and it will be ready at dinner time.

If you haven’t poked around on Lexi’s Clean Kitchen or Against All Grain, I highly recommend both blogs.  I’ve made many of their recipes and we always love them.  Add the ingredients to your grocery list and give these two recipes a try!

Cómelo todo!*

For the Pesto Chicken Salad recipe, go to Lexi’s Clean Kitchen.

For the Leftover Chicken Soup recipe, go to Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain.


*Translation :: Eat it all!
When I studied abroad in Madrid during college, my Señora Encarna would say, “Cómelo todo!” when she brought dinner to the table.  I sometimes say it to my monkeys at dinnertime with a smile, remembering that incredible experience.  You can expect to see “Cómelo todo!” at the end of my recipe posts as a tribute to the lovely lady who made sure I was well fed all those years ago in Spain.

Super Chili + Cornbread

cooking chili

Chili and cornbread go hand in hand with football.  Check out these killer recipes that are sure to please any Super Bowl crowd.


We have been making this recipe for Turkey Chili with White Beans from Epicurious for years.  The girls call it “Chocolate Chili” and they are always part of the Clean Plate Club when I make it.  The chocolate elevates the flavor, complimented by cinnamon and chili powder.  This chili comes together quickly, especially when you measure the spices into prep bowls.  We decided to make it for the blizzard, but our local farm and grocery stores were out (turkey must be up there with bread and milk!).  Luckily, ground beef was just as tasty.  It’s a versatile recipe and a real crowd pleaser – especially for your gluten free and paleo friends.


When we went gluten free, I couldn’t believe that most cornbread recipes call for wheat flour.  Shouldn’t cornbread be made of corn?  It took a few recipe fails until I found this keeper.  Toss your old cornbread recipes and replace them with Gluten Free on a Shoestring’s recipe for Old Fashioned Gluten Free Cornbread.  It is super moist and reminiscent of what cornbread should taste like.

No matter who you’re cheering for this Super Bowl, you will cheer for this yummy combo.  We will be rooting for the Pates (as Bean called the Patriots when she was three).  GO PATES!

 Here are my notes on the recipes:

Turkey Chili with White Beans

  • Vegetable oil is not good for you.  Try olive oil for this recipe.
  • We absolutely love the flavor of the turkey in this chili.  However, you can substitute beef or whatever ground meat you have on hand.
  • Use raw cacao powder instead of unsweetened cocoa powder.  Raw cacao is a good source of fiber and contains minerals like potassium, iron, and calcium.
  • Chopped tomatoes are easier than whole.
  • Add one yellow or orange pepper after you sauté the onions.
  • Chili freezes great.  Use a Pyrex glass storage container for the family, or mason jars for individual portions.  Please no plastic!
  • For this paleo and gluten free chili recipe, go to Epicurious.

 Old Fashioned Gluten Free Cornbread

  • Local raw honey makes a difference in taste and flavor for this recipe.
  • I use Stonyfield whole milk plain yogurt and Kerrygold butter.
  • Definitely use organic cornmeal because most corn is genetically modified (GMO).  I like Arrowhead Mills.
  • Crisp up leftover cornbread with some butter in a pan.  Serve with eggs, veggies, and meats for breakfast.
  • It’s gluten free, vegetarian, and has no refined sugar.
  • For the cornbread recipe, go to Gluten Free on a Shoestring.

Cómelo todo!*


*Translation :: Eat it all!

When I studied abroad in Madrid during college, my Señora Encarna would say, “Cómelo todo!” when she brought dinner to the table.  I sometimes say it to my monkeys at dinnertime with a smile, remembering that incredible experience.  You can expect to see “Cómelo todo!” at the end of my recipe posts as a tribute to the lovely lady who made sure I was well fed all those years ago in Spain.