Tips for Healthier Cooking (Without Sacrificing Flavor)

August 30, 2012 | By | Comments (0)

Deconstructed Blueberry Cheesecake

Where can you drizzle prickly pear syrup on your morning oatmeal, spread carrot peanut butter on your toast, or feast on grilled quail with peach chutney and desert sage rice pilaf? The breathtaking Red Mountain Resort in Ivins, Utah. In between hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, and massages, you can also dine deliciously on surprisingly healthful cuisine (all the menu items have calorie counts, and there are several detox-friendly, gluten-free, and dairy-free options as well).  Inspired by a rejuvenating trip to the resort, I asked the property’s sous chef, Seth McKee, to share some of the kitchen’s tricks for making healthy five-star food.

Real Simple: What are your favorite healthy ingredients that you use in the kitchen?

Seth McKee: I like tofu a lot, that’s one of my favorites. It’s a great ingredient because it is kind of a blank canvas—if you can imagine a painting—because it will take anything you give it and amplify the flavor times a hundred. So, if you take a piece of tofu and grill it you get the most intense grill flavor from it.

I also like edamame beans, which are a soy product as well. They just have wonderful flavor, they’re a great vegetable, and you can eat them like a snack, whether you just eat them raw or eat them roasted like peanuts. They are pretty healthy for you. It’s one other really nice ingredient I like, it’s fun to play with. You can mix it with different vegetables for a hash or  mix with corn and peas and other vegetables to get a roasty flavor out of them, which is kind of nice to jazz up boring vegetables.

There are a lot of really healthy ingredients that I like, but one of the ingredients that I really enjoy—that we actually have right now, it’s in season—is heirloom tomatoes. I have always loved those because you can…eat them raw. When I have an heirloom tomato, I don’t want to have another tomato until they come back in season because of how much flavor they have.

RS: And are there ingredients you don’t use when you are trying to cook healthy?

SM:  This is my personal style, but I don’t like trying to put a lot of flavors in things when there doesn’t need to be. I try to stay with salt and pepper. I think that’s a good basis. I am kind of a classical type of chef, so I don’t like to put in a lot of things that aren’t necessary. I don’t like to mess around with things too much to try to take something and make it too healthy by adding stuff to it. Simple is best, I think. I don’t like anything that’s fake: fake cheese, fake butter, margarine. Anything that is fake shouldn’t be used. I think when you take food and you modify it, it’s not food anymore. It’s something totally unusable, in my opinion.

RS: Is there anything that is banned from the kitchen at the resort?

SM:  We don’t use anything processed, like processed cheeses or processed meats or anything like that. But I would say we don’t ban; we just wouldn’t use it. You don’t see margarine here, you don’t see any cheap…butter in a box, that’s like this liquid butter product that Denny’s uses. It’s something we never use here.

We use a lot of healthy flours. We don’t use any bleached flour, or flour that has been messed with. We like to say, “The most healthy ingredients possible, the most healthy preparation.”

RS: Do you use any other unique ingredients?

SM: We have 800 different ingredients that I had never seen before when I first got here. We have kamut, which is a unique relative of wheat. It’s a very old grain…We have all kinds of different flours. We have brown rice flour for people who are gluten-free. If we’re going to make a soup that needs a roux, we will use a brown rice flour because we do have a lot of people who come here that can’t have any kind of gluten. So we have spelt flour, rice flour. We do have wheat flour and white flour, but we have a lot of ingredients that most restaurants wouldn’t even think to carry.

We use forbidden black rice, which is a rice that’s all black—I think it makes a great rice pudding—but we will cook it with coconut milk and serve it with some of our market fishes.

RS: So how do you maximize flavor in dishes without adding a lot of butter, salt, or sugar?

SM: One thing I have done here is I have been trying to teach some of the cooks how to use salt properly. And if you use it properly, it’ll give you good flavor. It’s not going to put a lot of sodium in things. Butter is better for you than margarine, and if you use it right it’s not bad for you. We like to use ingredients with lots of flavor, so if we’re going to make a dish like our black forbidden rice, instead of using water to steam the rice, we use coconut milk. So we can put the flavor in there—with the coconut milk, which is really good for you and is also non-dairy and healthier—without adding sugar or anything to it.

I would say one of the best tricks to make things taste good is just use the natural stuff—like the heirloom tomatoes. Don’t mess with it if you don’t have to. We have an elk dish on our menu that we coat with porcini mushroom powder to give it that mushroom flavor, that rich flavor. So you’re almost intensifying the elk—a piece of meat—with even meatier flavor from the mushrooms without having to put anything [unhealthy] into it. We use a lot of the flavor that’s already there. We use sweet potatoes to add some sweetness to a potato dish. We like to try to use what we have to flavor the dish to bring lots of flavor out from it.

RS: One last question: When I was at the resort everybody’s favorite dessert was the deconstructed blueberry cheesecake. Is that still on your menu?

SM: No, it is not, we’ve actually gone through too many [menu] changes since that. Everyone always asks for it…but it’s something we are going to take a look at, because at least once a week somebody asks about it. We try to keep [the menu] different as we go…but I think it’s something we should probably bring back because we’ve had a lot of requests for it. Everyone loves the dish.

The resort was kind enough to share the recipe with me, so I can make it at home anytime I get the craving. Enjoy!

Deconstructed Blueberry Cheesecake
Recipe courtesy of Red Mountain Resort
Serves 4

8 oz. low fat cream cheese
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
4 Tbsp. thawed blueberries
4 Tbsp. graham cracker crumbs

1. Blend cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice until smooth and creamy.
2. Refrigerate until set.
3. Once cheesecake mixture is set, divide into four portions onto plates.
2. Sprinkle each portion with 1 Tbsp. thawed blueberries and 1 Tbsp. graham cracker crumbs.

(photo: Red Mountain Resort)