As the warmth of the summer fades, and the crisp fall air stakes its claim, Western New Yorkers prepare themselves for the cold chill of the winter. Along with the bitter air and the feet of snow which inevitably blanket the ground, winter also means large meals of comfort food, loaded with enough carbs and sugars to keep anyone warm on a cold winter night. While these comfort foods may be delicious, they can be damaging to one’s health, as well. That’s why Buffalo’s Hannah Carboni @BuffFitFoodie, has crafted three comfort food recipes to ward off the winter chills that are both delicious and healthy.
Hannah Carboni wasn’t always the food expert she is now, despite what her recipes may suggest. Her parents never really taught her much about cooking when she was a child. In fact, twice while attending the University of Buffalo, she set a microwave she was using on fire. However, after going on a mission to lose some weight and with some guidance from her sister, Hannah moved past her microwave-igniting days and became the food connoisseur she is now.
It was in college that Carboni made it a priority to shed some pounds and live a healthier lifestyle. That was easier said than done. Being a full-time student and working at Wegmans on the side meant Hannah only had a limited amount of time to work on her health. However, she learned a few tips and tricks that helped her reach her goals.
Carboni said many of these came from her sister who worked in a kitchen at a restaurant out-of-state. When she had the time, Carboni would go out and visit her sister to learn more about cooking and becoming a better cook herself. As she got older, and she improved her cooking skills, she decided it was time to show her love of cooking to the world. That’s when she started her BuffFitFoodie Instagram page.
Originally, most of the food that Carboni posted was food that she ate at restaurants. This was important to her because she very rarely went out to eat when she was younger. However, one decision changed her page and helped her become more well-known in the Buffalo area.
“My Instagram page didn’t really blow up until one day when I put a poll about whether to put my own food on it,” Hannah said. “I got a lot of positive responses on my poll, with people wanting to see my own food. So, I started doing that, and then my page really started to grow. From that point, I focused on putting more of my own food on BuffFitFoodie.”
Even though she has grown into an excellent cook, Carboni still enjoys going out to eat, and two Buffalo restaurants have caught her attention right now. The first is Cafe 59 on Allen Street. She can’t get enough of their soups, salads, sandwiches, fish fry, and chicken finger sub which, Hannah contends, is the best chicken finger sub in Buffalo. Carboni also can’t stay away from Inizio in Elmwood Village. Their scratch-made pasta and their reasonable portions are perfect for a satisfying “cheat day.”
Looking to start and maintain a healthy diet? Hannah Carboni gives this great advice from experience.
“You know, there is always a time and place to have a giant meal,” she said. “However, you can’t have a large meal all the time, and that’s why it’s so important to eat healthy. It can have a positive impact on your mental and physical health, and it can help prevent overeating. It’s all about maintaining a balance.”
Ready to cook healthy meals but don’t know where to start? No problem! Three of Carboni’s favorite winter comfort food recipes—with a healthy twist—will give you a boost in the right direction!
Not Your Typical Shepherd's Pie
In a large pot of boiling water, add cauliflower florets and boil for about 10 minutes, or until soft.
In a blender or food processor, add drained cauliflower, cream cheese, ½ cup of your milk of choice, salt, pepper, and garlic to taste. Add any other seasonings you would normally add to mashed potatoes – I added chives! Blend until smooth. If it is extremely thick, you may need to add a tad bit more of milk.
Heat oil on stove in large skillet, add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add chopped onions, peppers, and celery, and cook until onions are translucent.
Add ground meat to pan, along with parsley, thyme, and rosemary. Cook until almost browned.
Add Worcestershire and tomato paste; stir to coat
Add flour and stir again until evenly coated, add ¾ cup of milk of choice, stir, and let sit for a minute. The meat mixture will begin to thicken. If ¾ cup of milk was not enough, add another ¼ of a cup.
Once thickened, add frozen vegetables, stir to combine, and remove from stove.
Add filling to a greased casserole dish and top with cauliflower puree.
Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cauliflower begins to turn golden brown.
A healthy alternative to Shepherd’s Pie, this savory dish replaces the ground beef traditionally found in Shepherd’s Pie with ground turkey to make the meal less greasy and the mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower to give it a healthy kick and lessen its caloric content.
This lip-smacking White Chicken Chili involves a three-bean dip, chicken, and a light dash of cream, keeping the dish is easy on the stomach. It also includes reduced fat half and half and reduced fat cream cheese in a broth to help lessen its gastrointestinal impact.
Cheesy White Chicken Chili
Place chicken breast in crockpot, add cumin, chili, oregano, salt, pepper, cilantro, lime juice, onions, and garlic, and pour chicken broth over.
Finely chop half the can of chipotle peppers in adobo; add to pot.
Drain and add all beans, corn, green chilis.
Stir and cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 7 to 8 hours.
Within a half hour of eating, melt cream cheese and ½ and ½ on stove in a pot over low to medium heat, whisking constantly until combined. Once cream cheese and ½ and ½ are completely combined, stir into crockpot until the chili is combined with the melted cheese mixture.
Ladle into bowls and top with additional items of choice including avocado, cheese, tortilla chips, jalapeño, and plain greek yogurt.
Still hungry? Try Hannah’s Big Burger Casserole recipe
Start off with a base of ground turkey and potatoes (Ribeye and sirloin steak can both be used as alternatives). Cover with cheese and 1,000 Island dressing. Bake. Finally, top with typical burger ingredients like lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. Carboni likes to add Greek yogurt and more 1,000 Island dressing for some extra flavor!