Tidewater Kitchen - April 2008

Spa Cooking


Pamela Meredith-Doyle

    Many of us have heard about the innovative, low fat cooking at the country’s finest spas that is full of satisfying flavor. Unfortunately, it is not something many of us get to enjoy first hand. The recipes included here will be light, healthful and made from fresh ingredients. The key is to get your flavor from places other than fat.
     Spas are famous for their beautiful locations, luxurious treatments, fitness programs and fresh and healthy cooking. Some spas have gardens that produce the foods that they serve guests. Others focus on maximizing the flavors of fresh and locally grown produce in creative combinations. With the emphasis on healthy living, chefs have ample inspiration to create lighter dishes with great flavor.
     Here are some tips for spa eating, and cooking it.
     Begin with foods that are in season and think creatively. Beautiful strawberries can be eaten as a dessert with just a dusting of sugar, or they can sweeten the greens in a salad.
     Make sure you buy your vegetables and meats whole and prepare them yourself. Although the packages of sliced, diced and chopped veggies or cubed meat are enticing, it is likely that they have lost flavor, moisture and sometimes texture.
Choose cooking techniques that are naturally light. Grilling is one and roasting is another. Broiling will caramelize vegetables quickly and makes them delicious.
     Buy a heavy-duty grill pan or a nonstick pan. Pans that conduct heat really well require less fat for cooking. Food will also stick in a cold pan, so heat it properly. Foods brown without losing juice in a hot pan. When the food is cooking in its own juices it is called steaming. This can leave food like chicken breast dry, tough and bland.
     Try not to turn the food too much. Ideally, brown one side, then the other. My theory is, once you put your tongs down, step away from the pan. The more you turn it, the cooler the food gets and the more juice it looses.
     Always make sure your food is at room temperature before you cook it, for quicker cooking and more even heating. Fish can be cooked cold, because it will cook so quickly, but everything else needs to be at room temperature to avoid cooling the pan when the food is added.
     Cut the fat in your recipes at the beginning, rather than the end. Many people tend to cut the fat at the end of the recipe. By that I mean cook foods in their own juices whenever possible and add the olive oil or butter at the end. You may not even need it.
     Enhance the flavors of your foods with mustards, chutneys and vinegars. I always have several kinds of each in my pantry or refrigerator at all times. Chutneys can be heated and then brushed on fish; mustards can be blended together to baste chicken.    The better the vinegar, the lass fat you will need in your salad dressing. I sometimes mix balsamic, mustard and water to make a great salad dressing.
     Skip low-fat and nonfat alternatives for foods. I think they have a lot less flavor and I would rather just not use them at all. I like to use foods with full flavor such as cheeses, butter in small portions or substitute creatively, like mustard with a yogurt sauce or chutney instead of a full fat mayonnaise.
     Food will taste better and be more satisfying if you sit down at the table and eat them. Cooking and eating are soul which is also nourishment. If you enjoy what you cook and eat, you won’t feel like you’re sacrificing anything.

Lox and Cream Cheese

1 whole egg
5 egg whites
Pinch salt
1 T. chopped chives
½ cup 2% milk
1 t. olive oil
½ cup Neufchatel cheese
2 oz. diced lox

    Preheat oven to 400°. In a large bowl, combine eggs, egg whites, salt, chives and milk and mix well.
     Place olive oil in a nonstick, oven proof sauté pan. Swirl to distribute the oil as you heat pan over medium for 30 seconds. Add egg mixture. Using a spatula, move egg mixture so that it cooks evenly for about 30 seconds, or until eggs begin to set. Remove from heat.
     Spoon Neufchatel cheese by tablespoons evenly over egg mixture. Top with diced lox.
     Place pan in oven and bake until slightly browned all over, about 15-20 minutes.
     Remove from oven and cut into 4 equal wedges.

Sweet Potato Pancakes
1 cup cooled, mashed sweet potatoes
1½ t. melted butter
1 medium egg white, lightly beaten
¾ cup low fat milk
¼ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all purpose flour
½ t. baking powder
¼ t. salt


    In a medium bowl, combine cooled sweet potatoes, butter, egg white and milk. Beat until blended. Add flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until smooth.
     Lightly coat a griddle or large sauté pan with canola oil. Place on burner over medium heat until hot. Pour ¼ cup of batter onto griddle. Cook until the top of each pancake is covered with tiny bubbles and the bottom is golden brown. Turn and brown the other side.

Eggs Spinach Benedict
8 cups fresh spinach leaves, washed and drained well, (I also love to use asparagus)
1½ t. salt alternative seasoning
4 whole grain English muffins

For the Hollandaise Sauce:
3 egg yolks
1 t. fresh lemon juice
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch of salt
4 T. melted butter
3 egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar

For the Poached Eggs:
1 T. white vinegar
4 cups water
8 whole eggs

    Lightly coat a large sauté pan with canola oil and sauté spinach over medium heat until wilted. Season with Mrs. Dash, cover and set aside.
     Split English muffins in half and toast.
     Bring a large saucepan of water to boil. In a medium stainless steel mixing bowl, combine egg yolk, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and salt. Place stainless steel bowl over (not touching) boiling water in pan and whisk egg mixture with a wire whip until thickened. Place mixture in blender container and blend at high speed for 5 seconds. Reduce to medium speed and slowly add butter.
     In a medium bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until mixture forms stiff peaks. Fold egg yolk mixture into egg white mixture until blended. Set aside.
     Add vinegar to water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil again and reduce to simmer. To poach eggs, gently crack each shell just above the surface and let the egg slip into the water. As eggs cook, use a spoon to corral whites around the yolks. Cook until whites are firm and opaque, but yolk is still soft. As you lift each egg from the pot with a slotted spoon, let it drip for a second or two.
     For each serving, place an English muffin half on a plate and top with ¼ cup spinach, one poached eggs and 2 T. hollandaise sauce.

Vegetable Quiche
This also great as appetizers baked in a 8 x 8 inch pan.

Pie Dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 t. sugar
¼ t. salt
3 T. butter
4 T. cold water

½ cup diced shallots
1 cup shredded spinach
1 cup shredded arugula
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 T. olive oil
¾ cup low fat milk
¾ cup half & half
1 whole egg
3 egg whites
¾ t. salt
1 t. black pepper
½ t. nutmeg
1 t. lemon zest
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

    Preheat the oven to 350°. In a small bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Mix well. Using a pastry cutter, blend in butter until mixture is crumbly and pea sized. Add cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time and mix gently and briefly with a fork after each addition. Mixture should begin to bind together after the last tablespoon of water is added. If too dry, add 1 more tablespoon water. Gather mixture into a ball and let rest for 5 minutes in the refrigerator.
     Lightly flour a flat surface and roll dough into a large circle, 12-14 inches in diameter. Gently press into a 9” pie pan and flute edges. Bake for 10 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden brown.
     In a large sauté pan, sauté shallots, spinach, arugula and mushrooms in olive oil over medium heat until tender about 2 minutes. Set aside.
     In a large bowl, combine milk, half and half and eggs and beat until well combined. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon peel, cheeses, bread crumbs and sautéed vegetables.
     Pour into baked pie shell and bake for 30 minutes or until filling is set. A knife inserted in the center will come out clean. Let cool slightly and cut into 8 slices.

Trio of Peppers with Couscous and Mustard Chicken
     This dish has a lot of flavor and is very beautiful to serve. With a very hot pan and a little bit of oil, you caramelize the chicken when you sear it, which gives you a lot of taste. I always like to add some more chicken so you can eat it tomorrow on a salad. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled.

1 8 oz. small boneless skinless chicken breast
Salt and pepper to taste
1 t. mustard seeds
1 T. fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
¾ cup water
¼ t. salt
½ cup instant couscous
2 t. unsalted butter
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1½ cups seeded deveined and thinly sliced red bell pepper
1½ cups seeded deveined and thinly sliced orange pepper
1½ cups seeded deveined and thinly sliced yellow pepper
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. balsamic vinegar

    Season the chicken on both sides and salt and pepper. Combine the mustard seeds and parsley on a plate, and then press the seasoned chicken into the seed mixture, coating both sides.
     Bring ¾ cup water and salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in the couscous; remove from the heat and let stand, covered 5 minutes.
     Heat the butter in a grill pan or a nonstick skillet over medium heat until the foam subsides. Grill or sear the chicken on one side until golden about 5 minutes. Turn the cutlets and cook, covered, over medium-low heat for about 4-5 minutes more, until just cooked through.
     Slice the chicken diagonally across into ¾-inch slices. Fluff the couscous with a fork and divide between 2 plates. Top couscous with chicken. Add the lemon juice and remaining tablespoon water to the skillet and simmer scraping up brown bits on the bottom of the pan for 1 minute. Pour the sauce over the chicken.
     Combine the peppers in a medium bowl. Toss with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then season with salt and pepper. Serve the chicken on top of the crunchy peppers.

Game Hens with Wild Rice and Grape Stuffing
Serves 4
This elegant recipe is simple to prepare.

1/3 cup uncooked wild rice
1 cup water
Pinch salt
1 cup Madeira
½ cup sliced shiitake mushroom
Salt and pepper
1 cup seedless grapes
2 T. olive oil
2 T. chopped fresh Italian flat parsley
¼ t. dried thyme leaves
2 Cornish game hens

    In a small saucepan, combine the wild rice, water, and salt. Cover tightly and simmer for 25 minutes; the rice will still be firm when you bite it. Drain well.
     Preheat the oven to 350°. Bring the Madeira to a boil in a small saucepan.
     Add the shiitake mushrooms to the Madeira and boil until the liquid reduces by half, 3-4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside. Season with salt and pepper.
     In a mixing bowl, combine the grapes, olive oil, wild rice, parsley, and thyme and toss well.
     Rinse the hens well and pat them dry. To split the hens, use poultry shears or scissors and starting at the back of the hen, where the neck is, cut down both sides of the backbone from the top to bottom. Discard the backbone. Carefully snip between the breasts, separating the hen into halves. Repeat with the other hen.
     Gently loosen the skin from the meat on the breast and legs, breaking the membrane that holds the skin on the meat. Do not tear the skin. Carefully remove any visible fat.
     Line a jellyroll pan with aluminum foil. Lace one quarter of the stuffing inside each game hen half, and gently put the game hen halves breast side up on the pan (the stuffing will be on the jellyroll pan with the game hen on top). Brush a small amount of the  Madeira-mushroom glaze under the skin and on top of the breasts.
     Pour a small amount of the reserved Madeira mushroom glaze into the pan around the birds, reserving at least half of the recipe. Bake the halves 50-60 minutes basting occasionally. The hens are done when a meat thermometer registers 160° when inserted in the thickest part of the breast, and the juices run clear.
     Remove the pan from the oven. To serve transfer the hens and stuffing to the individual plates. Add the remaining mushroom sauce to the pan and cook over low heat until the heat is reduced a bit a for about 4 minutes. Pour the sauce over the hens and serve.

Roasted Vegetables with Horseradish Sauce on Salmon
Serves 4
This is a very easy and different dish, that will definitely make you feel as if you are at the spa. I like to cook the salmon and the vegetables at the same time, but you can also cook them separately.

¼ cup of citrus marmalade
3 T. of horseradish
2 t. apple cider vinegar
Four 5 oz. center cut salmon filets
3 T. fresh parsley, chopped

    Prepare the roasted vegetables. Preheat the oven to 425°.
     In a small bowl combine the marmalade and the horseradish and vinegar. Mix this together well and spread over the salmon.
     Arrange the salmon on a jellyroll pan or dish with sides on it that is oven proof. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the fish is opaque in the center.
     Divide the roasted vegetables among the plates and top with a piece of salmon with fresh parsley chopped on top.

Roasted Vegetables
2 T. unsalted butter
3 T. brown sugar
1 cup cleaned and thinly sliced potatoes
1 cup carrots, cleaned and very thinly sliced
1 cup broccoli, cut into pieces
1 cup parsnips, cleaned and very thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

    Preheat the oven to 375°. In a jellyroll pan or baking sheet with a raised edge, toss the butter, salt and pepper and brown sugar with the vegetables.
     Spread the vegetables in 1 layer and roast them, tossing with a spatula several times while they are roasting, 15-20 minutes until they are golden brown and tender. These are best served hot, but they are also yummy cold as a side dish in the summer.

Fennel Sauce over Angel Hair Pasta
Fennel is a sweet herb that makes a sauce taste very unique. For an even more intense flavor use the dried fennel. This is great with a salad and some crusty bread.

2 cups chopped onion
1 cup sliced fennel
2 t. finely chopped garlic
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 cup canned tomato sauce
½ cup canned tomato paste
2 t. dried basil
1 t. dried sage
1 t. salt
¼ t. ground pepper
1 pound angel hair pasta or your favorite pasta
½ cup Parmesan cheese

    Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel and garlic. Cook until the vegetables are softened, but not browned about 15 minutes, reducing the heat as necessary. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, sage, salt and pepper.     Simmer for at least 15 minutes.
     In the meantime, cook the pasta in 6 quarts of water with salt. Cook until al dente, according to the directions on the package. Drain the pasta, and return it to the pot. Add about 1 cup of the sauce and toss it thoroughly.
     Pile the pasta in a bowl or on a warm platter and pour the rest of the sauce over it. Garnish with the cheese, and pass more at the table.

Noodle Lettuce Vegetable Wrap with Sauce
I enjoy using lettuce as a wrap and they are very popular with my friends. Use your favorite vegetables and you may also add your favorite left over meat or fish as well.

½ cup peeled and very thinly sliced carrots
1 cup red bell pepper
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage
½ cup mushrooms, rinsed
1 Serrano chile, seeded and diced
3 ounces rice noodles, softened water and drained
3 T. sesame oil
2 T. olive oil
1 T. fresh lime juice
½ cup fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper
16 butter leafs lettuce
½ cup Hoisin sauce for dipping

    In a large bowl, combine the carrots, red bell pepper, cabbage, mushrooms, chile and noodles. Add the sesame oil, olive oil, lime juice and cilantro to the bowl and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Allow the flavors to blend for about 15 minutes or more.
     Lay the lettuce leaves out flat, and fill each one with a spoonful of the vegetable mixture. Roll the lettuce leaves to close them slightly. These wraps are not tightly closed like burritos and a spring roll, so the lettuce stays crisp.
     Place the wraps on a platter and serve. Pass a dish of Hoisin sauce for dipping.