Tracy Pikhart Ritter has looked at cooking from both sides now.
She has whisked up velvety beurre blanc sauces and baked rich eclairs, oozing cholesterol. She also has whipped up oat bran- and almond-crusted chicken roulade with spaghetti squash, carrots and julienned wild mushrooms, bursting with healthfulness.
Ms. Ritter trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York, and after working as chef for 12 years in fine New York restaurants, wound up as executive chef at the most low-caloried of places: the Golden Door Spa in San Marcos, Calif., where well-heeled patrons drop $3,750 for a week of heavy pampering, moderate exercise and light gourmet cuisine. She was head chef for 3 1/2 years.
Ms. Ritter left the spa earlier this year. She's now a food consultant and instructor and recently completed what she calls the Banana Project, a series of recipes that promote good health through cooking with bananas. (The project was sponsored by -- surprise! -- Chiquita.) Thirteen of Ms. Ritter's recipes make up "Spa Chiquita," a free brochure.
Ms. Ritter now realizes that at the spa, she was doing a lot of the dirty work for the Banana Project. Bananas are a good spa choice. They are 99.5 percent fat-free and are rich in potassium and vitamins. In Ms. Ritter's spa cooking, she found that "when you blend bananas with a little liquid, after a minute or so you come upwith something similar to oil, in viscosity," she said.
Ms. Ritter took her pureed-bananas-as-oil-substitute concept and applied it to the good old fudge brownie, which, besides oil, contains whole eggs, flour, chocolate and sugar -- a dietitian's nightmare.
Ms. Ritter's version, which Chiquita has lovingly dubbed Chiquita Chocolate Brownies, has mainly egg whites, chocolate extract, comparatively healthful cocoa powder, apple juice and much less flour and sugar. The result is more cake-like but not nearly as unctuous -- and contains half the calories and about a quarter of the fat as its high-cal cousin. If you eliminate the 1/2 cup of chopped pecans from Ms. Ritter's recipe, the fat content of these banana based brownies nose-dives to 2 percent.
At the spa, Ms. Ritter developed her menus based on a rough formula of 65 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent protein and 15 percent to 20 percent fat. Dietary guidelines suggest that people eat no more than 30 percent of their calories from fat.
Aside from the brownies, Ms. Ritter's favorite recipe in the brochure is Basil Grilled Shrimp with Red Pepper Banana Sauce -- a mouthful in every sense of the word.
"You get the spice, and you get the sweetness of the banana. It's a nice blend," said Ms. Ritter, who is preparing to open a restaurant in San Diego that will serve dishes for the health conscious.
Here are two of Ms. Ritter's favorite recipes from the brochure:
Basil grilled shrimp with red pepper banana sauce
Makes six servings, each 114 calories and 21 percent fat.
36 large shrimp
1 bunch basil leaves
1 jalapeno, seeded
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 inch cube fresh ginger or 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup nonfat chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup fine chopped red onion
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 large bananas, chopped
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 red peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
1/2 cup nonfat chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Clean and devein shrimp. Blend all marinade ingredients on high for one minute. Pour over shrimp, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate two to four hours. (After marinating, dispose of marinade.)
Saute onion in olive oil for three minutes over medium-low heat. Add bananas, garlic, peppers and stock. Saute over low heat for eight minutes. Transfer to blender. Add lime juice, salt and cayenne. Blend for one minute until smooth and creamy. Grill or broil shrimp for two minutes per side. Serve with sauce.
Chiquita chocolate brownies
Makes 12 brownies, each 128 calories and 22 percent fat.
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon chocolate extract
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 egg whites
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Combine banana, sugar, juice and extracts in blender until smooth and creamy. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Combine with banana mixture. Beat egg whites until frothy but not peaked. Fold into brownie mixture. Add nuts. Bake in a lightly oiled or sprayed 8-inch square pan for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove and cool.
For the free brochure, write: Spa Chiquita, c/o Bratskeir & Co., 419 Park Ave. South, 10th floor, New York, N.Y. 10016.