Lean Cuisine

By Caroline Dipping

December 7, 2007 9 min read


Keys to re-creating the resort dining experience

By Caroline Dipping

Copley News Service

Your pampered week of mud wraps, massages and meticulously prepared, perfectly portioned meals is over. You're back home now and you're on your own.

How do you keep the glow and momentum of your week at the spa alive? Do you revert back to type and eat Rice-a-Roni in bed or do you vow to make some of those light and lovely recipes you had at the spa?

Executive chef Steve Pernetti of Cal-a-Vie Spa in Vista, Calif., says it does take a little effort to plan menus and get your home pantry and kitchen into spa shape by weeding out the salt and fat, but then it's just a matter of sticking to it. And keeping your face out of the trough.

"That's the big thing. People don't realize how much they overeat," said Pernetti from his Cal-a-Vie kitchen, where he has been at the helm for the past 15 years. "Especially around the dinner table when all of a sudden, you are picking at a little bit of this from the platter, a bite of that. Before you know it, you've added another 300 calories."

Pernetti teaches two low-fat, low-sodium, low-cholesterol classes a week to spa guests. He talks of the importance of using free-range meats and organic produce whenever possible. And, again, the planning.

"A lot of what we do here at the spa is very doable in a home kitchen," Pernetti said. "It just takes a little more shopping and prep work. I always tell people to try new dishes and make them a few times to get comfortable with them."

Chef Michel Stroot, who worked at the Golden Door in San Marcos, Calif., for 25 years before retiring and now works occasionally at Rancho La Puerta in Baja California, sings a similar refrain.

"Spa cuisine is not such a mystery. It's really about going back to basics," Stroot said. "And small portions."

His formula: No more than four ounces of lean protein, lots of greens, and whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice. Stay away from fried foods and anything heavy on the flour and salt.

Above all, Stroot says, for a truly appreciative mealtime experience, look at your plate before diving in.

"Visually divide your plate in fourths," Stroot said. "Half the plate should be covered in greens, your protein should be the size of a small handful, and one-third of your plate should be complex carbohydrates such as the lentils or yams or even a small potato if you want. Then look at your plate and be satisfied."


1 (750 milliliter) bottle of inexpensive port

1 cup fresh basil leaves

1 cup fresh Italian parsley

1/4 cup fresh tarragon

1/4 cup fresh dill weed

1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper to taste

6 (4-ounce) center-cut salmon fillets, skinned and deboned

White pepper to taste

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Saffron Risotto (see accompanying recipe on the next page)

Yields 6 servings.

Bring port to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat; the mixture will ignite when it gets very hot, but the flames will die down as it continues to cook. Cook for about 20 minutes or until thickened. Keep warm to serve with the salmon or store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month to serve later. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the basil, parsley,

tarragon and dill weed in a food processor and process for 30 seconds. Add the panko, olive oil, salt and black pepper and mix well.

Rinse the salmon and season on both sides with salt and white pepper. Spray a nonstick ovenproof saute pan with nonstick cooking spray and heat until smoking. Add the salmon and sear for 45 seconds on each side or until golden brown. Remove to a work surface and coat both sides lightly with the Dijon mustard. Coat with the herbed crumb mixture.

Return the salmon to the saute pan. Place in the oven and bake for about 8 minutes or until medium. Place on 6 serving plates and drizzle with the port reduction. Serve with Saffron Risotto.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 350 calories, 21 g carbohydrates, 26 g protein, 11 g fat, 1 g fiber, 62 mg cholesterol, 343 mg sodium.


8 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

Salt and white pepper, to taste

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon saffron threads

2 fresh thyme sprigs

2 cups uncooked arborio rice

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1/4 cup light coconut milk

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Yields 8 servings.

Bring chicken stock to a boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat and add salt and white pepper; maintain at a simmer.

Saute onion in olive oil in saucepan over low heat for 5 minutes or until tender but not brown. Add saffron, thyme sprigs and rice and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring to coat evenly. Add wine.

Add enough hot stock to cover rice and cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Repeat the process until the stock is absorbed and the rice is nearly tender. Add coconut milk and cheese; adjust seasonings to taste. Cook until rice is creamy but not runny. Remove and discard thyme sprigs and serve.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 247 calories, 45 g carbohydrates, 7 g protein, 5 g fat, 1 g fiber, 2 mg cholesterol, 661 mg sodium



2 tablespoons dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

2 tablespoons sugar or Splenda

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt, to taste

2 1/2 cups unbleached flour

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour


6 (4-ounce) chicken breasts, cooked and finely chopped

1 cup thinly sliced scallions

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 cups barbecue sauce

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese

Yields 12 servings.

For crust: Combine yeast, water, sugar, olive oil and salt in a bowl and let stand until foamy. Add the unbleached flour and whole-wheat flour and mix to form a firm dough. Knead well on a lightly floured surface. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat the surface. Cover with a towel and let rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Spray 3 (12-inch) pizza pans lightly with olive oil cooking spray and sprinkle with cornmeal. Roll dough on lightly floured surface and fit into pans. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

For pizza: Preheat oven to 500 F. Combine chicken, scallions and cilantro with 1 cup of barbecue sauce in bowl and toss to mix well. Spread remaining 2 cups barbecue sauce over pizza dough. Layer chicken mixture over sauce and top with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 466 calories, 62 g carbohydrates, 29 g protein, 11 g fat, 4 g fiber, 54 mg cholesterol, 844 mg sodium


2 tablespoons Kahlua

1 tablespoon instant coffee granules

2 (12-ounce) packages light extra-firm silken tofu

1/2 cup baking cocoa

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Raspberries, for garnish, optional

Fresh mint leaves, for garnish, optional

Yields 6 servings.

Heat Kahlua in small saucepan. Add coffee granules and stir to dissolve completely. Combine tofu with baking cocoa, maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon in food processor fitted with metal blade. Add coffee mixture and process for 7 to 10 minutes or until thickened and smooth. Spoon into bowl and chill for 20 minutes or longer. Garnish with raspberries and fresh mint, if desired.

For a nice presentation, alternate layers of the mousse with freshly whipped cream in wine glasses.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 149 calories, 26 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein, 2 g fat, 2 g fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 104 mg sodium

- Recipes from "Cal-a-Vie Living Gourmet Spa Cuisine" published by Cal-a-Vie, The Spa Havens.

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