Meatless Monday - Greek Stuffed Peppers (Yemista Orphana)

>> Monday, February 14, 2011

My husband and I love Greek food.  We've been enthralled with Greek flavors for years now, but enthrallment turned to obsession after eating at a fabulous little Greek restaurant in Salt Lake City.  The only thing that keeps me from cooking Greek food more is time.  When I do make a Greek meal, we savor every morsel.

Last night I made an early Valentine meal for my husband - yemista, aka Greek Stuffed Peppers.  My husband and I both really enjoyed these stuffed peppers.  The kids thought this dish was only so-so.  They both ate the stuffing without complaint, but neither were thrilled with the dish.  I'm ok with that.  Their little taste buds were challenged with something new, and they didn't balk at it - a success in itself.  We will have this meal again (and again), and hopefully the kids will warm up to it.

This dish takes a little time, but it is really very easy to prepare.  I stuffed bell peppers exclusively, but you could also stuff tomatoes, zucchini, or eggplant.  If you stuff a vegetable with an edible inside (like a tomato), save the scooped out pulp and add it to your stuffing.

Enjoy and happy Valentine's day!

Yemista with a light Greek side salad

Greek Stuffed Peppers (Yemista Orphana)
adapted from Greek Meze Cooking - Tapas of the Aegean

8 bell peppers
2 TBSP olive oil
6 green onions, finely chopped
1 1/3 cup long grain white rice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup seedless raisins
1/2 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup diced tomato (canned or fresh)
about 2 1/2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
4 TBSP chopped parsley
3 TBSP chopped fresh mint

To prepare the bell peppers, slice off the tops and scoop out and discard the seeds and ribs.  Save the top; it will be a lid for the peppers after stuffing.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large skillet, heat 1 TBSP of the olive oil and add the onions.  Cook for about a minute, then stir in the rice, garlic, cinnamon, raisins, pine nuts, and the tomatoes.  (If you're using vegetables other than bell peppers, stir in the reserved scooped out insides now.)  Add enough water to cover the rice and simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes or until the rice is tender and the majority of the liquid has been absorbed.  You can add more water while the rice is cooking if necessary.

Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the parsley and mint.  Remove the filling from the heat.  Stuff the bell peppers with the rice filling and place the tops on each pepper.  Arrange the vegetables in a large roasting pan and pour in enough water to just cover the base of the pan.

Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the peppers and back for 50-60 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.  Serve warm or cold.

Serves 8

If you ever have the opportunity to eat at Aristo's in Salt Lake City, jump on it!  Don't be afraid to take the kids.  They are family friendly with a nice kid's menu with kid-friendly Greek fare.  My daughter loves their kephtedes (aka Greek meatballs) and my son loves their pasta with feta cheese.  Your kids will expand their taste horizons without even knowing it!


Go Red for Women!

>> Friday, February 11, 2011

Many thanks to Sahar at Fatfighter TV for inviting me to be a part of Blog Your Heart Out.  This is a cause that is close to Sahar's heart.  Please take the time to read Sahar's post for today - I miss you, mommy.

Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the US?  It's a statistic that I've heard before, but it always catches me a bit by surprise.  Heart disease is stereotypically associated with men, but it's as big a problem - maybe bigger because the awareness still isn't there - for women.  The American Heart Association started the program Go Red for Women in 2004 to raise awareness that heart disease is a killer for women too.

How can you be an advocate for change?  Whether you're a man or a woman, the initial steps are the same, and if you're at this blog, it's likely that you're already starting to think about the food you eat - a big first step!  The American Heart Association has lots of great looking heart-healthy recipes on their website.  As a side note, the first recipe book that I remember actually spending money on was the American Heart Association Cookbook way back in the early '90s, long before I was really thinking about what foods I put into my body.  Healthy food is still tasty food, folks! 

Exercise regularly - even if all you can fit in is a walk around the block or set of jumping jacks in your cubicle - do what you can!  Regular checkups and blood screenings can help alert you to problems early.  Many communities - mine included - offer a complete blood screening at a manageable, reduced price at certain times of the year.  Take advantage of this service if it's available!  Find out what your cholesterol is and take steps to get it to an acceptable level. If you have high blood pressure or almost high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about how to manage it.  Take control of your health before it takes control of you!

Go Red for Women!  Become a member of the AHA's Go Read for Women campaign and take advantage of all they have to offer.  Membership is free, and members receive a newsletter, a red dress pin, a 12-week BetterU nutrition and fitness program makeover, an online heart checkup, and the chance to share your own story with others.


Equal Exchange Chocolate Giveaway!

>> Friday, February 4, 2011

I love Equal Exchange chocolates, so I was thrilled when they asked if I would like to review their new chocolate bars and hold a chocolate giveaway.  Click over to A Life Less Sweet Reviews to read about these two new chocolate offerings from Equal Exchange (I like one so much I refused to share) and to enter to win a box of assorted Equal Exchange chocolate bars.  Entries will be accepted until 11:59 pm Saturday, February 5, so don't delay! 


Flavored Milk vs Veggies for Calcium

>> Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Like to curl up with a nice cup of hot tea on these cold winter days?  I've got a great Celestial Seasonings tea giveaway on A Life Less Sweet Reviews!  Read about their new green teas and enter to win a box of each of the new teas!

Today I'm pleased to publish a guest post by Jenna Pepper.  Jenna is a recovering picky eater and real food advocate sharing with parents the truth; kids can transform their taste buds.  Whether you have a reluctant eater or a snack fiend on your hands, there is hope.  She is involved in school food reform in Houston, TX Spring Branch ISD.  Jenna is the author of the Eat to Learn program, which is in the first year of implementation at Sherwood Elementary.  Fruit and vegetable consumption at school lunches is up 10% since the program began.  Check out her blog Food with Kid Appeal where she can help you grow good eaters.

Questioning the belief that sugars in flavored milk are a necessary evil to get calcium in kids

Fear that kids won’t get enough calcium if they don’t drink daily milk is pretty common.  Parents would fear this without marketing from the dairy industry because “growing bones” is mission critical for short people.  The dairy industry makes this fear even worse by convincing school districts to serve flavored milk to students, so that kids don’t miss out on the calcium they need.  If that practice wasn’t enough, the milk industry started its Raise Your Hand for Chocolate milk campaign to keep parents believing that flavored milk - with added sugar, usually high fructose corn syrup - is a necessity for a growing child.  They play on a parents fear that their child’s growth will not be optimized unless milk is consumed daily.

Add to that the fact that most school food programs have removed a lot of the real food that contains naturally contains calcium from the menu, replacing it with factory food of little or no nutritional value.  The nutritional value of the factory food is usually in the form of vitamin or mineral enrichment, versus naturally occurring nutrients in whole real food.  In districts where greens are served in the hot lunch line, they are often overcooked unpalatable blobs of green that no child or adult would find appealing. 

Is it accurate?  Are most kids in need of extra calcium?
As Ed Burske reports in an article summarizing the findings by a panel of medical authorities regarding calcium intake among children, most children are not in need of extra calcium as the dairy industry has brain-washed parents into believing.  Chairman of school nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, Dr Walter Willet says that milk is not an essential nutrient.  “We aren’t seeing a lot of children with factures,” he said citing lack of evidence suggesting children’s bone growth is impaired by lack of calcium.

What some parents might not know is that while milk contains more calcium than a serving of calcium containing vegetables, the calcium in some vegetables is more readily absorbed and utilized for bone health than it is from milk or other calcium enhanced products.  That means that a serving of broccoli may do your child as much or more good as the milk.  Last time I checked there is no high fructose corn syrup in broccoli.  The question isn’t "is dairy a good source of calcium for bone health."  The question is calcium from dairy essential?  I’m not convinced.  Animals in nature seem to get enough calcium to support their bone health from their diet, which doesn’t include dairy products past weaning from mother’s milk.  If animals can get enough calcium from leaves, as Annemarie Colbin, author of The Whole Food Guide to Strong Bones suggests, perhaps humans can too.  Exercise too is critical for bone health.  I guess animals get plenty of exercise in their daily quest for food in the wild.  Less so for humans who drive to the store and pick up a week’s worth of groceries in an hour or less.

But Kids Don’t Like Vegetables
Nope.  Not true.  I put this myth to the test in a Houston, TX elementary school.  400 students tasted 9 different vegetables and fruits including calcium containing broccoli and spinach.  And do you know what happened?  4,951 tastes later the punch cards revealed that 82% of students from Pre-Kinder through 5th Grade tasted all 9 items.  Many kids asked for more spinach and broccoli.  25% of students voted a green vegetable as their favorite produce tasted, even when up against orange and pear.

Tasting spinach at a school Taste Off Competition.
I’m not asserting that kids prefer vegetables. Most kids would still pick chocolate milk over broccoli as their favorite.  I’m saying that kids will eat vegetables.  Parents, teachers, school food service professionals listen up.  Kids will eat vegetables. 

Step One:  Serve vegetables in a palatable way - raw on a salad bar. 
Step Two:  Get the sugared-up and packaged stuff off the menu. 
Step Three:  Teach students that vegetables fuel their brain
Step Four:  Watch veggies (and calcium) go down the hatch.

It took me two years to fall in love with kale.  My mistake?  Cooking it.  It is so much better chopped in thin slices added to other greens in a salad. Varieties other than curly kale work best raw in salads.  Don’t believe me? Try leafy greens like kale raw in your next green salad.  See what the kids think. 

Thanks so much, Jenna!  Great information and food for thought.  At my son's school, they offer chocolate milk, 2% plain milk, or a small cup of juice (half the amount of the milk cartons!) for their lunch.  While I wish that they would also provide an easy source of water with their lunches, I've been pleasantly surprised this year that the majority of the kids choose the unflavored milk!  The kids also happily get veggies from the salad bar (the first thing in the food line) and eat them.  Small steps, but important ones!


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