Stuffed Tomatoes & Peppers – Gemista

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Olympic Palace Hotel on the beautiful Greek island of Rhodes.  The Executive Chef and his team, were working tirelessly to produce utterly delicious food, day after day.  It is certainly no easy task producing this level of food constantly, add in the hot climate and long hours and I think many of us would be exhausted.  To work at this level you have to have skill and dedication to your work. Eating Gemista in Rhodes

Maybe the answer lies in the fact that they must have a real enthusiasm and passion, for the food and ingredients they were using. It was a true pleasure to see!  Being a person who loves to immerse herself in the culture of a country, I could not resist getting the opportunity to meet with the food and beverage team, and find out more about their superb Greek dishes.  I managed to get a recipe from them too, so if you fancy trying their “Gemista” pronounced yemista then scroll down.

Gemista - Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers

Still to this day, it never ceases to amaze me at how many tourists go to a country, and yet do not try the national dishes?  To me, the whole point of visiting a country is to explore not just the surroundings, but their way of life.  So I urge you to be a little more adventurous and head to the specialist food sections and restaurants, where local and national cuisine is on offer.  Great food is worth exploring!  For more information on the Olympic Palace Hotel (which is a super place to stay by the way) go to:-

www.olympicpalacehotel.com

 

Greek Feta CheeseEmily at workExecutive Chef and the Food & Beverage Manager of the Olympic Palace Hotel With Emily

Ingredients

6 large tomatoes
3 Green Peppers
1 Egg plant chopped small dice (Aubergine in the UK)
1 Pumpkin chopped small dice (Small Butternut Squash in the UK)
12 Tbl of Carolina Rice (Long Grain Rice in UK)
1 White onion finely chopped
Salt & Ground Pepper
1 1/2 Cups of Olive Oil
1 Leek
Handful of fresh parsley finely chopped
Handful of fish mint finely chopped
1kg Potatoes, peeled and cut into chunky moon shape

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.

Wash the vegetables.  Slice a 1cm layer from the top of the tomatoes and peppers.  This makes a lid, so keep them for later.  Remove the inside of the tomato (carefully so you do not split the skin) and reserve the insides for the next step.  Discard the inside of the peppers.

Sprinkle each tomato with a little salt and turn upside down on a tray so that any excess liquid can come out.

In a deep pan take 1\2 cup of olive oil and fry the chopped onion and leek for around 2-3 minutes.  Then add the aubergine and butternut squash and cook for a further 3 minutes.  Add the rice and combine all together well.  With a hand blender, blitz half of the insides of the tomatoes.  Add this puree to the pan, along with 1 cup of water.  Add some salt and pepper for seasoning, and continue cooking on a gentle simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and add in the chopped herbs.  The filling will be quite loose and juicy.

Place the mixture to 3/4 height of the tomatoes and peppers.  You need a little room at the top, as when the rice cooks it will expand.  Place the lids on the peppers and tomatoes, and place in a deep baking dish close to each other.  Place the potatoes around the edge.

Blend the other half of the tomato insides with the remaining cup of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper, and then place over the potatoes.

Cover the baking dish with tin foil and place into the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.  Then remove the tin foil and continue cooking in the oven for a further 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Check that it is cooked by gently prodding the potatoes with a knife.

This dish is served both hot and cold in Greece.  In fact they often like it at room temperature the following day.  This will intensify the flavour even more.

Needless to say it is delicious with feta cheese, but another way is to remove the tops and add a slice of mozzarella, then place under the grill until it melts.  However if you are vegan then you can take away any cheese.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cauliflower Curry Recipe

This may sound unappetising but trust me, those curry spices get right into the cauliflower, making a bland vegetable into something super tasty.  It serves 2 and is approx 354 calories per serving, so not bad!

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Ingredients:-

Approx half a medium sized cauliflower broken into segments par boiled for about 6 minutes until still slightly firm but starting to cook. Drain off properly.
Olive Oil
1 Large onion chopped
2 Good handfuls of chopped mushrooms
2 Cloves of Garlic chopped
1 Red/Green Pepper chopped
100ml of chicken/vegetable stock
15g of Medium curry powder (or hotter if you wish)
40ml of double light cream (or substitute accordingly)
120g of Wholegrain brown basmati rice.
Salt

Start cooking your rice as per the pack instructions.  Brown rice usually takes longer than white, so its worth getting it on early.

In a large heavy bottomed pan add a good couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Then add in the onion, mushrooms, pepper and garlic.  Place on a low-medium heat until the onion starts to soften.  Add the curry powder, then the stock and mix well. Place in the drained cauliflower,  and gently turn it into the mixture so that it gets coated in the sauce.  Cook for a few minutes and then add the cream, making sure you are gentle around the cauliflower.  Make sure you add the cream on a low heat otherwise it will split.  Continue gently cooking until the desired consistency with the sauce is reached.  Sometimes you may need a little extra water to loosen, or cook a little longer to thicken.  Test for seasoning.

Serve on brown rice and with mango chutney of you have it.

 

 

 

 

Garlic Chicken & Mushroom Pasta

This is a real tasty dish which is surprisingly good on the calories at approx 540 calories per person.  This may be because it’s not swimming in cream like I often find so many pasta dishes!  This recipe serves two adults.

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Ingredients:-

150g Wholewheat Spaghetti
1 tsp Fresh lemon zest plus half a lemon juice.
1 tbsp of Olive Oil
200g Chestnut Mushrooms sliced
4 Spring Onions sliced
2 Cloves of Garlic sliced
30g Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese grated
6 Sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
150g cooked chicken breast
Optional (2 tbsp) of single cream

Begin to cook your spaghetti as per the instructions.  In a large wok or frying pan place the olive oil, mushrooms, onions, garlic and cook for about 5 minutes on a low-medium heat.  Add in the cooked chicken breast, lemon zest and juice, 2/3rds of the Parmigiano cheese, a ladle full of water from the spaghetti which is cooking, and stir round to heat through and combine.  If using the cream add this now too.  Taste to see if you want to add any salt and pepper.

You can either add the spaghetti to the pan once it has cooked, or place the spaghetti in the dish and add the chicken and mushroom mixture on top.  I like to do the latter, as then you get more equal amounts of the chicken and mushroom mix.  I then combine the spaghetti and chicken and mushroom mix whilst in the bowl.  Then sprinkle over the remaining 1/3rd Parmigiano cheese over both bowls along with the flat leaf parsley.

 

 

Portion Control

A major issue (in my eyes) concerning weight loss and health, is the subject of portion control. Once upon a time I was guilty of this. I mean why have a slice of cake, when you can have a dirty big wedge? Why have a scoop of mashed potato, when you can have something resembling a volcano on your plate? And why have a grating of cheese, when a slab is better on a cracker? When it came to portion control, I was ridiculously off the scale. Not only was I generous to myself, but to others including my family who were lured to my food. The problem was, that once I started my healthy eating regime and actually weighing stuff, my stomach and brain had some serious shrinkage to do.

As I discovered more on my journey, I realised I was not the only one with a warped sense of portion control. I would ask random people, what they thought a portion was, and they too were guilty as charged. In fact they were so shocked that one woman immediately went out and bought a set of scales. Like many others, she just went along with what her parents had put on her plate, and carried on the way she was brought up. Another startling fact was that many people felt they had to clear their dinner plates. This is another habit from their childhood. Phrases from their parents like  “don’t you leave any food on your plate or it will block my sink” and “you won’t get any after’s (dessert) unless you finish every mouthful.” It appears that many people were influenced by their parents.  The notion of stopping when they were full, did not come to mind.

One group of people who spring to my mind was the school dinner ladies.  My goodness, they were cracking cooks, and I shall fondly remember the Manchester Tart and custard, which was definitely adult sized portions than that for a child.  Was I going to complain? Was I heck as like! School dinners especially in primary school (before they were stopped) were so delicious.  I’ve always had a healthy appetite, and will pretty much eat anything.  So the generous school dinner lady portions of dinner were given a big thumbs up from me.  In fact, one lady was so wonderful that she would always give me a little bit more.  I liked her a lot!  The only time I wasn’t keen on the dinner ladies, was when we were given bottles of milk to drink with straws at morning break time.  It was full cream milk, and when the bottles were warm in the summer, I could positively feel my stomach lurching.  It is one food memory I would have happily had no portion of!

So what is a portion?  How do you know what amounts you should eat?  Most foods have a guideline on the packaging.  This gives you all the details such as what qualifies as a portion, along with calories, fats, sugars etc.  Not enough people pay attention to this.  However turning to portion control, I wanted to do an experiment.  Below is a photo of two bowls of shreddies.  The one on the left is how many people fill the bowl at 80g.  The one on the right is the correct 40g portion.IMG_1302.jpg

The next photo shows a 75g uncooked portion of whole-wheat pasta.  Most people eat double this amount.  Taking calories from what should be around 257 calories (75g) to 514 calories (150g).

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You can begin to see, that if we keep doubling up portions at each meal, how we can be overeating and soon have weight issues.  When on my “Health Is Your Wealth” eating regime, the first thing I suggest to people is to actually weigh out what they are eating.  This can be a real shock at first, but a real benefit as to how weight has been added without much thought.

I remember the first time I decided to weigh out guideline amounts of for food myself.  I must have spent ten minutes shaking the scales, hoping and praying that there was some mistake and fault with them.  There wasn’t.  The scales were accurate, it was my head not wanting to accept what a correct portion amount was, that was wrong.  Interestingly,  once my body adjusted to the proper portion amount, I no longer felt hungry.  Although at the beginning of my regime and exercising portion control, I could have easily snapped.  Willpower is vital, but if you crack it, you will feel the benefits.  It is all about removing the previous habits of portion size, and replacing those habits with your new lifestyle.  It isn’t easy, because over generous amounts seem to be woven into us.  I can only encourage you by saying that once you do get used to it, your body feels less burdened with the digestion of food, and you end up feeling more comfortable.

Most people are not good with portion control, when it comes to healthy stuff either.  They think 3 peas on a plate is a portion, and one sprig of broccoli is another.  I shall be looking at getting more than your 5 a day later on in this journey, but what is noted, is that we are more generous with naughty food than the truly good stuff.

Making sure you eat enough and don’t starve yourself is another subject.  People crash diet and this sends the body into chaos.  It doesn’t work long-term ladies and gents.  This is a whole subject of its own, which again, I shall be writing about very soon.  Your first goal at present, is to modify your current amounts of food you are eating.  So if say your cereal bowl is overflowing, start with altering that.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Win over small changes, and you are more likely to continue the plan and make other positive steps.

The information that you should look out for on the packaging is similar to below.  Some food companies are extremely good, and give even greater detail.  Make yourself familiar with these boxes of information.  Check the calorie content.  Even some healthy foods have a high calorie content, so it is then that you need to check how much saturated fats, and everything else there is.  Not all fats are bad, but this is another subject which will be covered in future.  It is about striking balances and making better choices for you and your body.

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When Junk Food Sprung Up

Junk food is practically everywhere.  Such is our appetite for fast food to go with our fast living, that it is rare now to find a location, that does not have a takeaway or fast food joint in it.

What is interesting was that growing up as a child in the 70’s, we would have the local chip shop and the odd Chinese takeaway business, but ready meals to buy in shops were so extortionate, that only the “well off” people could afford it.  Fast forward to today, and you now find the opposite.  Ready meals are geared towards those with a limited income, plus there are so many takeaway options which can be ordered from your sofa, without having to move a muscle.

There is no doubt in my mind, that this junk food explosion is going to have a damaging effect especially on this young generation.  Food laden with fats, sugars, salt and additives are like a killer cocktail, because people cannot seem to stop their constant desire for it.

person holding doughnut with sprinkles
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

So how do you stop this junk food epidemic?  The simple answer is,  with great difficulty.  The people I have helped have had one thing in common, and that is that they are addicted.  I have noticed with many of them, that their taste buds seem unable to pick up delicate flavours, and they seem only excited by bad ingredients.

The answer is a complicated one, which has had many a person scratching their heads for many years.  Is better education in schools the answer?  To some degree it is.  Although the lure of teenagers going with their mates to the burger bars is always going to be there.  Is taxing such establishments the answer?  I have found that if someone wants to eat it, then they will find the money to buy it no matter what.  What about the traffic light and calorie info on foods?  Yes it is useful to the people who understand it, but to many it still appears confusing.  Plus some just don’t care.  They could have a set of red traffic lights and warnings, and still eat it no matter what.

For me and why I am not a fast food fan, has been all about having the knowledge of what some of the ingredients used can do to your body.  This information has to some degree helped people get on a healthier eating regime.  However, they have got to want to know.  Like the old saying says, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot force it to drink.  I like to use simple ABC language too.  Nothing over medical which is not easy to understand.  For example with diabetics, many do not know the problems they could face, so I just lay it bare to them, that they could go blind and have limbs removed.  It is less about dancing around the bush and more laying it down straight.  I am never sure as to why in the UK we faff about with getting to the facts.  Maybe more hard-hitting campaigns is one of the answers.  I think there will be  proportion of people who want to be helped, but sadly a massive section of society that don’t.  Cheap, convenient and quick will always be the way for them.  That is a real problem.  However, the more people engage with healthy eating the more I find jump on the band wagon.  Surely that can only be a good thing?