Veggie of the Week Challenge: 3 Ways to Fight a Dinner-Isn’t-Ready-Crisis

Homemade pumpkin pie with puffs of whipped cream
It’s a vegetable, right? © Jan Decher, 2018.

I’ve missed a few posts, so I thought I’d write about three panicky dinners and the tricks I used to get something half-way healthy with vegetables on the table in a hurry.

The good news: my family has noticed that I’m remembering to cook for them every once in a while. Even though I’m working on a new story. Families tend to be much more supportive of writers when they aren’t hungry.

Each week, I’ve been celebrating a vegetable in a Half-way Healthy supper.

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The Veggie of the Week Challenge

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No recipes will appear here in their entirety.

No holds barred. If the crew orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

Half-way healthy. An attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

 

Red Russian Kale

 

Half-way healthy: Inspired by the local Christmas market, I made a quick supper of sautéed kale, onions, garlic, rosemary, potatoes (and the inevitable kielbasa.)

Cheap: In German grocery stores, you can buy inexpensive kale and spinach chopped and frozen into Tator-Tot-sized “pellets”. (I know, it sounds like guinea pig food, but it’s really convenient.)

Vote: The family liked the kale the first night, but I needed a change for the second dinner with the same thing. *cough*

Three Ways to Conquer Dinner:

Use meat as seasoning. I’m sure you noticed how often the kielbasa sausage kept showing up. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t post–I could hear the groans! But one of the key techniques for “half-way healthy” dinners is to use meats as seasoning. This means that when you buy a “regular” size package of sausages (especially in Germany!), it’s going to make a LOT of meals.

Cook under pressure. Many people swear by slow cookers or crockpots, but I’ve always had uneven results with them. From a public health standpoint, it’s unwise to re-heat frozen soups in a slow cooker, so they aren’t useful in that way. When dinner is endangered, what I want is a Fast Cooker. People around the world have been using pressure cookers to save cooking fuel and, judging from the new books at the library, they are coming back into fashion in other parts of the world. Here’s my favorite Pressure Cooker Cooking Times chart. I just bought an electric pressure cooker because it was on sale and I needed a quick way to cook at my mother-in-law’s house when the whole gang was in the kitchen. See one in action with French Chef Jacques Pepín making Game Day Chili in this video.

Cloak your leftovers. My Fannie Farmer Cookbook talks about having frozen crepes in the freezer (as if!! Do you ever have leftover crepes??) so you can re-dress your leftovers, like adding an elegant cape to a simple dress. For example:

  • Transform leftover chili in a baking pan by adding spoonfuls of cornbread batter on top and baking it.
  • Quiche or even simpler–add a fried or boiled egg.
  • Put leftovers in a tortilla or flatbread.
  • Make “pies”
  • Fill cannelloni pasta or make the easy-to-fill big stuffed shells. (Speedy Tip: Fill them uncooked and bake them covered with extra water and tomato puree until tender. You don’t have to buy the “special” pasta for this. Just don’t tell my Italian friends!)
Meat pies with leftover kale, potato, sausage stir-fry filling
If life gives you leftovers, make pies. I added a few slices of fresh mozzarella to the leftover kale, potato, sausage stir fry and pretended that these were our beloved Kale Calzones.

–Make the Fastest Soup Possible:

Red lentils are the fastest protein in the West (and maybe in the East).

  • Sauté onions, garlic, and a generous hunk of ginger, peeled and minced, and sliced mushrooms in a couple tablespoons of oil (if your family likes them–they add a great flavor to the soup so consider a stick blender if you have people who don’t like “pieces” in their soups).
  • Slice carrots thin so they cook fast. Toss in the pot.
  • I added a quart of frozen chicken stock and a healthiest-possible bouillion cube.
  • The lentils will cook quickly–5 minutes or so–so if you want pasta, add it in EARLY. (Up to 1/2 Cup of rotini or a handful of spaghetti broken in half.)

Hope you and your families are staying healthy during the holidays!

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Another Veggie of the Week Challenge: Romanesco to the Rescue! Plus A Giveaway!

metal wok on table with butterfly pasta, red peppers, romanesco cauliflower that looks like tiny green Christmas trees
Red Pepper, Romanesco, Leek, and English Bacon Pasta. © Jan Decher, 2018.

After years of studying chronic disease epidemiology, I’m convinced that vegetables are hugely important (And delicious.)

But. . . .when I’m writing a story, I forget how much I like healthy food. Soooooooo. . . .

Each week, I’ve been celebrating a vegetable in a Half-way Healthy supper.

GIVEAWAY NEWSFLASH

Until December 3rd, you can sign up here for my email newsletter and get  TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS free (ebook or Kindle). Unsubscribe at any time.

Note: This is the complete book, not just the preview.

Why? PARSNIPS are humble root vegetables. This short giveaway is a little pizzazz to help make friends with new readers.

 

Back to our regularly scheduled program: (TA-DAAA!)

*****************************************************

The Veggie of the Week Challenge

*****************************************************

No recipes will appear here in their entirety.

No holds barred. If the crew orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

Half-way healthy. An attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

It’s a cauliflower! It’s a broccoli! No, it’s . . .

Romanesco

Whole head of pale green cauliflower with green minarets on a red napkin
I’m sure aliens must eat Romanesco. *makes note for sci-fi novel* © Jan Decher, 2018.

Half-way healthy: This supper starts off with a leek.

If you aren’t used to leeks, slice off the roots on the white end, and any wilty or tough parts on the green top. Lay it down and slice the whole thing length-wise. Wash each half well under the faucet (or you’ll have grit). After it’s washed, slice it thin across the grain. It is worth it–leeks have a nice mild-but-interesting flavor. (You can use an onion, if you don’t have a leek.)

Sauté: Sliced leek with a few chopped slices of English bacon (looked leaner than the American kind) in olive oil.

Core: Take off the outside leaves and core the Romanesco. My sous-chef a.k.a. photographer cut it into small pieces (Thanks sous-chef!). The florets don’t break off like regular cauliflower.

Even with the cover on, the Romanesco took longer to cook than I expected–about 15 minutes. It’s not as fast as broccoli. Red pepper wedges went in as the Romanesco was getting tender. I turned the heat down to keep the pepper peel tender.

Sauce: A spoonful of cornstarch dissolved in a cup or two of cold water plus a healthy bouillion cube. Add to stir-fry and heat gently until thickened.

Cooked separately: Cooked whole wheat pasta went in after the Romanesco was tender. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

Cheap: I splurged on the Romanesco because I thought you’d enjoy how it looks. So, not cheap (under $5 or 5 Euros). But it makes a lot of food–easily supper for six adults.

Oddly, there was one head of Romanesco in the middle of a box of normal cauliflower at the local discounter (Aldi). So, it could have been cheap. If I hadn’t already splurged. Yes, I know, I’m weasel-ling.

Vote: Needs more pep. The Christmas-tree shape of the Romanesco is charming. Overall, the team went along with it, but they prefer “normal” cauliflower for flavor.

We all wished for the Chili-Garlic Puree from our grocery store in Vermont to pep things up. If you can get some, try it. 1/2 teaspoon would be perfect in this supper.

Years ago, I read in a library book (natch!) that Chili-Garlic Puree is the key to authentic Chinese cooking, but I can’t give you the source. 😦

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Until December 3rd, use this link to sign up, so you get your free copy of TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS. Thanks for your interest!

The Reading Wonder Giveaway for Middle Grade eBooks includes LOTS of middle grade authors, check it the whole giveaway here.

Veggie of the Week Challenge: The Colors of Italy Pizza

pizza baked on a stone with pepper and zucchini length-wise slices, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and an Italian flag toothpick in the center.
Red pepper and zucchini pizza. © Jan Decher, 2018.

This summer, my brand-new middle grade book, TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS, took up the vegetable portion of my brain (I heard that) so dinner was often shoot-your-own-sandwich.

We interrupt our veggie challenge for a moment to bring you a word from our sponsor:

If you’d like to try TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS at your local library, you can recommend it on Overdrive. (See image below.) Thanks for the veggie boost!

screenshot of Trouble With Parsnips bookcover and Recommend button and Read a Sample button

Back to our regularly scheduled veggie: To celebrate (and thank the long-suffering locals), I bring you (TA-DAAA!):

*****************************************************

The Veggie of the Week Challenge

*****************************************************

No recipes will appear here in their entirety.

No holds barred. If the crew orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

Half-way healthy. An attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

Without further ado, this week’s vegetable is:

Ace Pepper

We grew a variety called “Liebesäpfel” (love apple) that were very small this year because of the drought. Small green peppers are on this pizza along with the red pepper from the store (on sale this week even though it’s November!) and zucchini. “Ace” is a favorite pepper variety that we grew both in Minnesota and in Vermont.

Pizza dough: our favorite recipe is from the KitchenAid mixer cookbook with 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups of flour. If you have a good mixer, you can easily double the recipe. (We left our mixer behind when we changed countries and electrical systems. Even if you use a good mixer, DO let the dough take up all the flour before you add more. Stroll by the working mixer and put a little more in every once in a while. You and the dough will be happier.)

2 1/2 tsp dried yeast, 1 c water (the same temp as your hand–it should feel like nothing), 2 tsps olive oil (the freshest you can afford), 1 tsp salt.

If you mix up the first 2 cups of flour with a big spoon in a bowl, your fingers don’t get sticky. Dump it out on a floured board and add the rest, little by little, until you like the way the dough looks. German flour has more protein than American flour so the dough won’t take as much.

IMHO, the key to EASY home-made pizza dough is adding a LITTLE flour at a time.

Pour a little olive oil in the bowl, turn the dough all around in the bowl so it’s shiny. Cover it with a kitchen towel and leave it on the counter all afternoon to get nice and puffy while you do other stuff.

Treat it like a slow-cooker meal and make it in the morning. Or the day before. (If you refrigerate pizza dough overnight, it comes out even tastier. I cover it with plastic in the fridge.)

Half-way healthy: 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of white flour keeps the half-way healthy dough from being too heavy. Or add a little toasted wheat-germ for more B-vitamins. Fresh mozzarella is inexpensive here and lets you use a bit less cheese. Tomato puree (not sauce) keeps the salt reasonable and the pizza juicy.

To anchovy or not to anchovy? A friend of mine always puts anchovy paste in the dough, but I haven’t done that for a while. Not sure if it adds more protein than salt and fat. Does anyone know?

Cheap: Red peppers were on sale, maybe because it’s still quite warm weather for November. We used to buy a bushel of each color pepper at the end of the season from the Farmer’s Market in St. Paul (Minnesota) and then they were quite reasonable. If you freeze them ready to use (washed, seeded, and sliced), dinner is half-made.

Vote: Murmurs of mutiny! Oh no! The pizza stone method is too advanced for us. We have to wait between small pizzas because our pizza peel isn’t big. Making pizza on a huge cookie sheet makes it’s sturdy enough to pile on more veggies.

As people filled up with pizza . . . questions about possible pepperoni died away. A close call, but success!

I wish I knew how to make these pesto, tomato, mozzarella boats. We ate them in the Cinque Terre and they were marvelous:

baked boats of bread filled with pesto, tomato sauce and mozzarella.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Veggie of the Week: Tendersweet Cabbage + Sausage Stir Fry

wok with sliced cabbage, carrots and kielbasa sausage next to a pot of brown rice and a flat variety cabbage cut in half
Germany is the land of sausage. Half-way healthy version. Photo ©Jan Decher

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The Veggie of the Week Challenge

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In case you missed last week, this’ll catch you up:

In short, cooking went on the back, back burner, while I published my first book, TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS, so dinner was unimaginative for a few months.

hardcover of TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS standing amidst cups on breakfast table.
Hardcover invades table set for breakfast. © Laurel Decher.
Mild-mannered hardcover disguised by breakfast dishes. © Laurel Decher

By the way, I got to see the hardcover for the first time today! Yippeeeee!

*cough* Writer folk are easily distracted from the important work of feeding people.

 

Hence the Challenge:

No recipes will appear here in their entirety.

No holds barred. If the crew orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

Half-way healthy. An attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

Without further ado, this week’s vegetable is:

Tendersweet Cabbage

The grocery store had a variety called “Jaroma” that’s supposed to have a less “cabbage-y” odor. Not sure we noticed the difference, but the shape was like the Tendersweet. Another milder variety of green cabbage is the “point-y” one. (“Murdoc” looks like a 1920’s skirt, very flirty for a cabbage.)

The stir fry is very simple: onion, a generous hunk of fresh ginger, chopped, a few garlic cloves with the center sprout removed, 3 sausages, sliced thin and 2 carrots. When that looks sautéed, I add 1/2 a cabbage, sliced and chopped through a few times in the other direction, turn the heat down and let the cabbage slowly melt into tenderness.

A little cornstarch dissolved in cold water with the healthiest bouillon cube I could find made the sauce. 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper added a bit of zip.

Half-way healthy: I like to “cancel out” the sausage with cabbage family vegetables and I slice the sausage as thin as possible to get the flavor. Brown rice balances this stir-fry nicely.

Cheap: The cabbage was on sale for under $2 and I only used half. If you were cooking for a mob, you could use the whole thing with another carrot and onion for balance. I froze the rest of the sausages in the package.

Vote: Thumbs up! “It would have been too sweet without the brown rice.”

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

The Veggie of the Week Challenge is Back: Ruby Chard

garden bed in early spring, no weeds, but red poppies blooming
My garden last May. © Laurel Decher.

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The Veggie of the Week Challenge

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And we’re back! In case you missed last week, this’ll catch you up:

My family endured, uh,  . . . minimalist cooking during the publishing of my first book, TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS. But they need vitamins and writers can’t run on chocolate forever.

Hence the Challenge:

No recipes will appear here in their entirety.

No holds barred. If the crew orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

Half-way healthy. An attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

Without further ado, this week’s vegetable is:

Ruby Chard!

(Spinach would work here too, but Ruby Chard grows all season long. Healthy, cheap, and tasty.)

Mean Mac & Cheese adds a vegetable to a kid favorite. Purists can eat noodles from the middle. (Epidemiologists aren’t heartless.)

I fold ruby chard leaves in half, rip off the center rib and slice the stacked leaves nice and thin. The chiffonaded ruby chard gets tucked into the corners of a 9″ x 13″ pan or around the edges of my only big casserole dish.

pasta casserole with chiffonaded ruby chard on the edges on checked tablecloth
Mean Mac & Cheese with Ruby Chard. (Same dish, different veggie.)

Anna Thomas’s The Vegetarian Epicure* is the Béchamel sauce we use for Mean Mac & Cheese. (Sounds so much fancier than white sauce with thyme, bay leaf, cayenne pepper and salt. We’re all about the words.)

*We have the German translation of both Vegetarian Epicure volumes bound into one: Das große Buch der vegetarischen Küche.

Half-way healthy:

  • If you have people who balk at whole wheat pasta, try “hay and straw” (half “regular” pasta and half whole wheat.) Or try a different brand (or shape) of whole wheat pasta. (Some brands really do taste like cardboard. Persist! 🙂
  • Béchamel sauce can be lower in fat than whipping cream, if you use lowfat or skim milk and actually measure the butter. It helps to add extra milk to the sauce to make sure the ruby chard doesn’t dry out.
  • Sharp cheddar cheese has more flavor per serving of fat than mild cheddar so you can get away with a little less cheese. Adding a small amount to the top during the last few minutes of baking makes the whole thing seem cheesier (in the best possible way).

Cheap: I had a whole salad spinner full of ruby chard from the garden, so I didn’t buy my veggies. You can spend as much or as little as you like for whole wheat pasta and cheese.

The vote: Another thumbs up!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing–I know, you’re all about the veggies–you can unsubscribe at any time.

Too much cuteness: foals in springtime

Two foals with white blazes on their foreheads, making friends in a green meadow
Who can get writing done when there are foals to visit in the neighborhood? ©Laurel Decher, 2018.

I haven’t been posting because I’m working madly (*cough* in between visits to these beauties) on a revision of my bonkers fairy tale for middle grade readers.

It’s been called “delightfully silly” and I’m trying to finish it soon so readers can see if they like it too.

I hope they like reading this as much as I’m enjoying writing it!!

Foal nibbles on the cheek of another foal
I rest my case. ©Laurel Decher, 2018.

 

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Things keep falling down. . .and then the harvest comes.

Broken and fallen pine trees in the forest after extreme winds
Pines downed by strong winds in Kottenforst forest. ©Jan Decher, 2018

In January, we had heavy winds for this area. They were impressive, but I think winds are much stronger in other, drier parts of the world. The trees here don’t seem to have deep roots, considering their size. It rains constantly. Trees don’t have to work for water, growing down deep to find it during a drought. So when the winds come, even the oaks topple.

There’s a lot of bad news floating around and winter is dark, so January needed a lot of persistence.

person walking across downed oak log like a natural bridge
Walking on a downed oak tree. © Jan Decher, 2018.
pine tree lying across road after windstorm
Sometimes there’s a road block. © Laurel Decher, 2018
Huge oak and other trees fallen after the storm and tangled together. The root ball from the oak is visible and taller than a man.
When the tree falls, it’s over. © Laurel Decher, 2018

This month, we went walking in the forest again. This harvest of logs made me see the forest damage in a different way.

What is ready to harvest in our lives that we haven’t noticed? What (who :)) has grown up in our lives that we are grateful for?

We don’t have to wait for a “storm” to point it out.

  • What do you want to do?
  • Who do you want to love?
  • What do you want to make?
  • What do you want to see or hear or touch or taste?

We can be grateful for it now. I think being ‘grateful’ is like visiting a garden, checking on the chickens, and fixing the family credenza so it lasts a little longer. Gratitude is a way of nurturing something while it’s still small, so it can grow up.

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn had a recent interview called Balancing Craft and Commerce. Some of it was about programmer and author Nathan Barry’s ConvertKit e-mail marketing service, but the part that resonated with me was this:

We didn’t sign up to be writers or creators or entrepreneurs to get to a certain income level and then check out. You’ve got to keep pushing those limits and you have to keep learning but at the same time, you have to do it with gratitude. Ambition and gratitude together, I think, are really, really powerful and then you don’t get trapped in a frustrating cycle.

Five piles of freshly cut logs lining the side of the road to the vanishing point.
A storm turns into harvest. © Laurel Decher, 2018

How has your winter been so far? Does it feel like trees are falling everywhere? Or can you see signs of hope?

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.