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Clean cooking Mother-daughter team turns love of healthy food into blog

Killian Cardinali in her kitchen with protein pancakes and blueberry sauce. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KAHN)

Jillian Cardinali in her kitchen with protein pancakes and blueberry sauce. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KAHN)


A lifelong interest in fresh, healthy food and a love of cooking together inspired an Upstate physical therapist and her mother to launch a food blog in their spare time.

Jillian Cardinali, DPT, of Liverpool, grew up on a farm in Fredonia, south of Buffalo, where her mother, Michelle Johnson, still lives. Together, they started The Clean Cooks blog in 2014. “Clean” means not processed. Their recipes avoid white sugars and highly processed grains.

“We‘ve always loved to cook, and then when I moved away, I missed cooking with my mom,” Cardinali explains. “We still call each other to share recipes. The blog evolved from there.”

Much of the blog is devoted to advance preparation.

“Because we both work full time, meal prep is a huge part of our blog,” says Cardinali. “A lot of people say, ‘I want to eat healthy, but I don‘t have time.‘ If you prepare ahead of time what you want, what your diet is going to be, then you have more control.”

For someone just starting out with meal prep, Cardinali suggests preparing a week‘s worth of snacks, and then building up to the larger meals.

She spends part of each weekend making a list for the week of the foods she plans to eat for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Typically she cranks a Taylor Swift album while cooking.

Cardinali is known for her mason jar salads, wide-mouthed jars containing all the makings of a green salad.

“If you build your salad with your heaviest ingredients on the bottom and your light greens on top, I have successfully eaten salads that are made eight days prior. No one believes me until they do it.”

Meats, cheeses or croutons can be kept atop the salad in a zip-lock bag or small recycled fruit cup.

Cardinali and Johnson aim to post one new recipe each week. Most are original, although they choose some recipes from elsewhere and “clean” them to eliminate sugar or gluten.

Protein pancakes with blueberry sauce

From The Clean Cooks

Pancake ingredients:

1 cup egg whites

1 cup cottage cheese

1 cup old-fashioned oats

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)

1 teaspoon baking powder (optional)

¼ cup coconut flour (optional)

Coconut oil for griddle

Note: The lemon juice, baking powder and coconut flour can be omitted without affecting the recipe, but adding them will bring depth to the flavor.


Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Cook on a griddle with coconut oil. Flip pancakes when bubbles appear and edges are slightly dry. Serve with Blueberry Sauce. Makes 15 pancakes (3 pancakes per serving).

Blueberry sauce ingredients:

1 cup blueberries

1 cup raspberries

1 cinnamon stick

1-inch piece of fresh ginger

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon honey

¼ teaspoon vanilla powder (ground vanilla bean)


Bring all ingredients to a boil in a saucepan. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cinnamon stick and ginger.

Nutritional information


Serving size: 3 pancakes

173 calories

16.7 grams protein

19.2 grams carbohydrates

3.1 grams sugar

2.7 grams total fat

2.3 milligrams cholesterol

448.4 milligrams sodium

4.2 grams fiber

Nutritional information

Blueberry sauce:

Serving size: 2 tablespoons

11 calories

3 grams carbohydrates

2 grams sugar

1 gram fiber

zero protein

zero fat

zero cholesterol

zero sodium

Layout 1 finalThis article appears in the spring 2016 issue of Upstate Health magazine.