Monday, March 09, 2015

Pasta Dishes, version 2.0

I'm recovering from an exhausting and exhilarating week. My quilt guild had its biennial quilt show from Friday through Sunday. It is an ambitious project for a small guild like ours and takes months of preparation and hundreds of hours of volunteer work. The show kicked off on Thursday when we transformed a large and completely empty hall into an exhibit of 200 quilts- starting from the ground up, building frames, putting up sheets and then hanging the quilts. It took all day. It was an amazing experience to be part of the team working on such an event.

And to my surprise, my quilt even won a ribbon- third place in the novice category. I'm officially a quilter, y'all. I may not ever progress beyond the novice stage (let's be honest) but I get to play with the big kids and that's a lot of fun.

Between spending long hours at work the first half of the week to make up for being at the quilt show the latter half of the week, my schedule was upside down. I didn't get to the gym at all and missed my favorite classes. But there was plenty of physical labor involved in hoisting around blocks and poles and assembling the show, then walking around for hours greeting visitors to the show.

Things were different on the food front too. Every day at the show, we pitched in and set up a potluck breakfast and lunch- and you should see what amazing food Southern ladies dish up at a potluck. Vegetarian chili served on fritos, carrot pecan sandwiches, olive salad, pimento cheese, lemon pound cake- I enjoyed it all, in modest portions. I'm changing my eating habits, but when I give myself permission to enjoy eating whatever I want once in a while, I find that it makes it very easy to stick to my plan the rest of the time.

In the same vein of choosing the middle path, I'm trying to modify rather than abandon some of my family's favorite dishes. Every evening, Lila asks me what's for dinner, and she's always hoping to hear the answer "pasta". Carb heavy pasta is no longer something I want to eat very much of but I'm not throwing it out altogether.

I would use an entire box of pasta (say, macaroni or shells) in 1 recipe- 6 to 8 servings, and we'd eat the meal for dinner and then leftovers for lunch the next day. Not any more. These days, I use a single box of pasta over 3 or 4 recipes, using a whole lot of vegetables to make up for the balance of the pasta in the dish. Here are three examples.

Macaroni and cheese is a favorite in many homes, and definitely in ours. We enjoy the same bechamel (white) sauce in a baked vegetables casserole. I put the two dishes together to make what I'm calling Macaroni and Cheese and Peas and Trees. Trees being the little broccoli florets. Here is an outline of the recipe:
-Make 2 cups white sauce and stir in some cheddar and lots of pepper. Set aside.
-Roast a tray (half sheet size) of broccoli and cauliflower florets until tender.
-Measure out a cup of uncooked pasta and boil it until tender, add a cup of frozen peas to the boiling pasta to blanch them. Drain the pasta and peas.
-Combine pasta, peas and vegetables in a baking dish. Pour on the white sauce. Bake.

Spinach lasagna- a recipe I first saw on the Cook's Country TV show on PBS- is a keeper. I've made it for dozens of guests to rave reviews. This time, I used 3 lasagna sheets for the entire tray rather than the usual 10-12. For the rest of the lasagna sheets, I used slices of roasted eggplant to make an eggplant spinach lasagna. The result is something like a mash up between spinach lasagna and eggplant parmesan- how could you go wrong?

Pesto pasta salad is another favorite, and a convenient make-ahead dish. This time, I used only 1/4 of the pasta, the rest was made up of mixed roasted vegetables- peppers, cauliflower, zucchini to make a vegetable pesto pasta salad. To make it even more of a main dish, I'd be tempted to add cooked white beans next time.


In each of these dishes, the pasta could certainly be left out altogether. But putting in just a bit of pasta is a good compromise to give enough of the bite and "feel" of pasta while still cutting down drastically on the carbs, especially if you serve these meals with a good salad or soup on the side. The funny thing is that each of the dishes is made much tastier with the addition of those veggies, so far from sacrificing anything, you're in fact gaining flavor. And that's my little tip for today- pasta can stay on the menu, only less frequently and in a much smaller quantity.

What have you been cooking and eating these days? 

43 comments:

  1. I am sure my wife who is big pasta lover, would love this url being forwarded by me :-)

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    1. Even better, cook her a meal :)

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  2. Congratulations on your prize-winning quilt! I made your overnight waffles for guests this weekend -- a hit as always. I've also enjoyed making this roasted corn and zucchini taco filling (http://www.budgetbytes.com/2013/12/roasted-corn-zucchini-tacos/) and mixing it with romaine lettuce and avocado for a hearty salad.

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    1. So glad you're enjoying the waffles- we haven't made those in a while. The taco filling sounds wonderful, I'll have to try that in summer.

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  3. Congratulations on becoming a quilter Nupur.
    Inspired by your post on Dosas, I made them myself, on three consecutive days! Made “Indian Chinese”, pasta and potato bake in the last couple of weeks.
    At night we have a huge salad, the works, I even add nectarines and grapes and have cut out dressing altogether

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    1. The salad sounds delicious! It is interesting that you're cutting out the dressing. I love dressing on salads, not only because it makes them tasty, but also because I love getting in those fats which help absorb some of the nutrients in the salad and keep me satisfied longer.

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  4. That's amazing! I'm loving all your recipe ideas on cutting out carbs and replacing them with veggies. Mac n cheese and peas and trees just sounds so cute! :)

    I'm hoping you could help me out with something here. Yesterday, a friend moved to another apartment and I inherited 6 pizza bases from her. You know, the ones you get in India, pre-baked, where you slather the sauce, cheese and veggies and bake them. Pizza is the obvious option, but since I'm trying to eat healthier, cheese is really not up my alley right now. Is there any new/healthy way I can use up the pizza base? I was thinking cutting them into triangles, toasting them slightly and serving with hummus. Will that work?

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    1. Oh I totally know those disc-like pizza bases you're talking about. And yes, turning them into crackers would totally work. They are just made with a maida dough, very similar to how one would make pita or crackers.

      Again though, it is so interesting what different people choose to cut out when they're eating healthier. I would be much more concerned about the refined carbs in the pizza base, which a lot more fattening than the cheese sprinkled on the pizza. I personally would invite some friends and neighbors over for a pizza party, serving pizza (loaded with veggies) and a big salad. That way, the bases will be used up and consumed by a number of people rather than by one person/one family. Whatever you choose to do, enjoy the pizza bases! They do bring back memories :)

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    2. Oh I'm so sorry. I should have mentioned that they are 100% whole wheat atta. No maida involved :)

      The pizza party idea sounds great. Will see if I can work that out.

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  5. These are great ideas! When I make pasta now, I just make a pan of roasted cauliflower as well and that's what I have my sauce with. It's really good and my son now mixes his pasta with the cauliflower. Then I have leftover cauliflower to add to lots of different things the following days. I like your changes to the pesto salad. Anything that can be made ahead is always a bonus to me. That way I know I'm definitely getting out for my daily walk. Keep posting these great suggestions! And congratulations on your quilt! That's a huge undertaking!

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    1. Thanks Michelle! That's what I have been doing too- roasting big trays of veggies which I can eat as the base for the main dish and others in the family can eat as a side. All three of these dishes can be made ahead of time. The two casseroles can be heated for a minute or two in the microwave oven and the pasta salad can be eaten cold/at room temp. Kudos to you on the daily walk :)

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  6. Congratulations on the prize Nupur! I must say that the way you balance your life and creative pursuits is very inspiring. I've always found it hard to make time for things other than work. The past year has brought home to me in a big, big way that (1) I am a creative being (2) unused creativity is not benign (I'm quoting my favorite author Brene Brown here). Thank you for being a good role model in this regard. :)

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    1. Thanks for this nice note! I hope you find time to be creative- even 10-15 minutes a day is a good start. "Unused creativity is not benign"- I just love that!

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  7. Congratulations Nupur!! That is great news. I would love to see a picture of your award winning quilt. The potluck spread sounds so delicious, I am glad you enjoyed it. I loved how you have modified the pasta dishes, the Mac'n' cheese peas and trees is especially cute!! :-) You are one smart mommy.

    - Priti

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    1. OK pic posted as requested :) Mommy may or may not be smart but kid is smarter for sure- she picked out all the peas :0

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  8. Hi Nupur, so happy that you are making these changes. I laugh when I read your posts because you seem to be describing me - I am exactly like how you were - you old you is the me! I use an entire box of pasta to be split into dinner and lunch leftovers, multiple sheets of lasagna and cannot understand how salad (even with lots of fruits/ nuts/ dressing etc) can be considered "dinner." I am hoping to slowly change those habits to eat fewer carbs (I am fairly healthy and not obese) and your posts give me hope that I can change this mindset I have. Drastically changing how I eat, I know, will not work for me. I now cut 10-15% of the carbs in each meal and slowly increase that %.
    BTW, I love your broccoli slaw recipe - I never knew what broccoli slaw was until I saw your post, and now we love that recipe (of course with pasta added) ;)

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    1. Good for you for knowing yourself and working with yourself- why says changes have to be drastic- slow and steady changes feel painless and stick for life. Good luck to you!

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  9. Carrot pecan sandwiches? I know of the southern partiality for pecans, but I've never heard of this. Do you have a recipe you might share?
    Oh, and seconding the request for a picture of that quilt!

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    1. I'm definitely planning on asking my quilter friend for the recipe for the carrot sandwiches, so stay tuned! Oh and since you asked I posted a pic of the quilt :)

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  10. Congratulations Nupur! Your quilt is beautiful!!

    We eat pasta at least once a week in our home and love all the ideas in this post.
    By the way, I made the lemon tahini dressing from a couple of posts back yesterday and served it as dipping sauce for whole artichokes. Cooked them for the first time, have you tried them before? They're so easy to prepare and were so delicious with the dressing.

    -Anu

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    1. Anu- I love artichokes but I always buy the frozen or canned hearts. Haven't ever worked with whole artichokes. Glad the dressing worked for you!

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  11. That quilt looks lovely, Nupur!

    I'd say you are well past the novice stage.

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    1. Thanks Radhika! If you saw the other quilts, you could tell that mine is definitely novice :) especially when you look closer at the technical mistakes. Ah well I am learning.

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  12. Congratulations on the quilt ribbon Nupur! The quilt looks beautiful :)
    I love the idea of using veggies to bulk up pasta...I do the same for vegetable pulav too ... A little brown rice, a bunch of roasted veggies and spices and lunch is served! I also tried adding broccoli slaw to this mix after reading about it on your blog and its a staple in my fridge now..thanks!

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    1. Thanks Pooja! Great idea for veg pulao that's very heavy on the veg.

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  13. Congrats on winning the prize - the quilt looks beautiful.

    We are not huge pasta lovers in my house. But when I make pasta, I use whole wheat pasta with home-made pesto and lots of veggies. Sometimes I make salads and add pasta as one of the ingredients - kinda like an inverted pasta salad where veggies and greens are in bigger proportion.

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    1. Thanks Snehal! Inverted pasta salad is a good way to think of it! That's what I have been doing too- adding pasta as a minor ingredient rather than the bulk of the dish.

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  14. Hey lovely quilt! My one regret - that I hope to rectify in the next decade! ;-) - is that I didnt learn to sew from my mother. She made all our clothes till I went to college and beyond.

    In our office, we have been eating salad 3 days a week for lunch with the help of a salad club. There is about 10 of us - we each bring in about $10 worth of ingredients prepped and ready to go. Then Tue through Thu, we set out the ingredients like a salad bar and make salads for lunch.

    It has now been running for over 6 months - we took a break for the holidays - there were too many office parties ;-).


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    1. Vishakha- I do hope you learn to sew from your mom. A lot of my quilter friends started sewing/quilting only in their 50s and 60s. So it is clearly never too late.

      Your salad club is an amazing idea! Very progressive- bringing co-workers together while eating something nutritious and delicious. Good for you guys.

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  15. Nupur - I sent you an email with a low carb recipe that I am sure you will love. Check it out!

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    1. Thanks for that- can't wait to try it!

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  16. Hey Nupur...love the healthy eating posts. I have been using zucchini for pasta and pad thai noodle recipes using Kuhn Rikon Julienne Peeler. It is easy to use and everyone in my family now loves the no carb pasta/noodles!

    Monica

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    1. Monica- great idea, I'll definitely have to try that in summer when zucchini is abundant.

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  17. Nupur, it is your super and silent reader again. Though I have been reading your blog since ages - I found the posts and insights on pre-diabetes God sent as I was diagnosed to be one in Aug 2014. I read all your posts - the books and blogs they referred to - even the comments on the posts. Now, I has my test results yesterday and I am no longer pre-diabetic! I am eight kgs lighter and my H1Abc is 5.3 from 6.3 in Aug 2014! Now, a lot of closeted pre-diabetics are coming out (friends and their firends) and want me to tell them about how i did it. I will be pointing all of them to your blog! Thanks so much and keep up the good work! - Mansi

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    1. Mansi- I can't tell you how thrilled I am to read your comment. Congrats on all these great changes. Tell me- how did you do it? And how do you feel? And best wishes on keeping up the new you.

      I'm about 11 lbs lighter myself since I started making these changes in December/Jan, and should really call my doc and go for a check up to see what my HbA1C is like.

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  18. Wow - the quilt! That is a HUGE achievement, not the mention the ribbon for it!

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  19. Another silent-ish reader here Nupur. I had to comment after reading your comment that you were 11 lbs lighter since making lifestyle changes for the past few months. I will definitely benefit by losing extra weight as I have PCOS and have been trying to conceive for around a year and half. So is it just eating less carbs? Being the cook in the house I do feel responsible for both TH and I. So any changes in food I cook will benefit both of us greatly. How much do you exercise? I'm always sitting at work and just do a walk of 2km everyday to and from trains. Any tips on that? Thank you so much Nupur.

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    1. Cutting down on carbs was probably the biggest change I made- and it has led to me not being constantly hungry and snacking every couple of hours which I think has directly led to shedding excess weight. For every meal, I just try and think of what the big carb source is (rice/tortillas/pasta/noodles) and try to either replace some or all of it with vegetables- both raw and cooked.

      I go to exercise classes 3 hours a week (1 hour of zumba, 1 hour of stretching, 1 hour of mild strength training), plus I swim for an hour every week and I stand at my desk at work. I didn't start out wanting to do so much but I'm really enjoying it so I am sticking to it.

      Tips for you: Try standing at work instead of sitting, or leaving your desk for 5 minutes every hour to walk up and down stairs briskly. Find some activity that you enjoy and just start with that.

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    2. Thanks Nupur for writing back. I'll start making small changes and try to stick to it.

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    3. Happened to come across this recipe from one of my favorite blogs and thought you'd like it - http://www.melskitchencafe.com/zucchini-pizza-crust/

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  20. hello Nupur,
    Love this post :-) I love art in all forms and shapes. How fun and exciting to setup an exhibit from empty walls and build it all up. This experience will surely help all appreciate what amount of effort it takes to host such exhibitons !!!! Congrats for the ribbon...you're quite a quilter now :-)
    On missing the gym, wondering how many steps you'd have added had you tagged a pedometer along :-)

    Love all your recipe ideas. We love pasta at home but haven't been making it in a while due to excess carbs. But I kinda like your idea of subbing more veggies to less pasta. I'll give it a try soon...

    Take care and enjoy the spring :-)
    Meena.

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  21. Hi Nupur,

    Till now I was not a big fan of Broccoli, but your pasta recipe got me to try it and I have to say it is yummy. Though I have not gone to loving Broccoli, I am certainly game to experiment with this vegetable. All thanks to you :). And congratulations on winning :)

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