Guiding folks into healthier lifestyles Cookbook: Author Julee Rosso wants to push you gently onto the path of low-fat foods.

July 10, 1996|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

Julee Rosso has been many things in her life: Fashion maven, advertising director, co-owner of a gourmet carryout shop in Manhattan, cookbook author, innkeeper in Michigan. But whatevers she's done, there's one thing she's always been: Busy.

So she understands how difficult it can be to change something as complicated as your eating pattern -- even when you absolutely know you should be pursuing a healthier lifestyle. So the thrust of her new book, "Fresh Start" (Crown, $30), is guidelines and tips in a menu format to coax you gently along the low-fat path.

"What I was really trying to do was not sit down and say, you will do these four weeks of menus," Rosso said on a recent trip to Baltimore to promote the new book. Instead, she said, "I wanted to give a rhythm -- it's really the context of the day. Just use the menu as a guideline."

Asking people to follow the menus rigidly would be "too much structure," she said. On the other hand, she wants people to be reassured that they don't have to give up their favorite foods to eat better. "People say, 'I don't want my chocolate cake to taste like dust.' I say, you can have your favorite foods, we're just going to moisten and crisp them differently."

Like others involved in the food world, she is concerned that American consumers no longer cook, and have lost all connection between the land and the foods they consume. She advocates gardening and buying good fresh produce from farmers' markets. But she doesn't believe in repeat trips to the supermarket to prepare a week of meals. "I'm a heretic," she said. "I go to the grocery store one time a week."

Instead she urges organization. People who rely heavily on convenience foods have forgotten how to stock a pantry, she said, and how to buy groceries for more than a day at a time. "So many people have deactivated their kitchens -- so if they want to cook, they have to shop."

But she understands about busy lives. "The older I get, the faster I want to cook," she said, laughing. "But I cook all day, every day. My husband wants a real dinner, I want to be out of the kitchen in 20 to 30 minutes."

This is Rosso's second low-fat cooking book. The first, "Great Good Food," appeared in 1993, after Rosso had stopped working with long-time Silver Palate partner Sheila Lukins. That was before virtually everyone in the cookbook business had taken a stab at a low-fat book, and some people dismissed the book, and Rosso, as lightweights. But the book went on to sell more than 400,000 copies, according to the publisher, and is listed as one of Publishers Weekly's 10 best-selling cookbooks.

Rosso has never commented publicly on the controversy, and now says only that "Time takes care of incredible things."

The new book, which has been calmly, and in some places even warmly, received, came about because, despite a plethora of low-fat books in recent years, Rosso still believed there was a void in the market for a book that had "everything in one place" on how to follow a day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year healthful diet.

"Fresh Start" is divided into 28 days' worth of menus. It has extensive nutrition breakdowns and nutritional information, tips and definitions, time-saving suggestions, a weekly pantry and farmer's market shopping list, and lots of advice ("Make small promises to yourself about healthy new habits. Then keep them.")

"I thought of this book as a primer," she said. "I try to give encouragement. Change doesn't happen over night."

To help them stay in the low-fat rhythm, she suggests people think about meals in a new way. "When I think of dinner I think of a vegetable. I think of a simple vegetable, and then I think of a vegetable dish that might take a little more time [to prepare]. Then I think of a carbohydrate, or starch. And then I think of protein -- a piece of steak, a piece of fish, something that's not humongous."

She suggests steaming vegetables in flavored water, to add taste without adding any fat. Some combinations are garlic and basil in the water, or jalapeno and lemon juice and zest.

And she doesn't advocate giving up dessert. "You have to think, 'I know this is an indulgence, I can't do it every day.' "

As your views of food and cooking change, she said, you'll be less inclined to cheat. And your family may never know they've been eating a low-fat diet.

"One of the things about changing the way you eat is telling yourself the truth," Rosso said. "But don't tell your family. Let them be satisfied with the quantity."

Here are some recipes from "Fresh Start." The first one Rosso describes as "dinner in a jiffy."

Shrimp and artichoke pasta

Serves 2

1/4 pound linguine, cooked and 1/4 cup cooking water reserved

2 tablespoons spinach pesto (recipe below)

2 tablespoons low-fat, low-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

8 large shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved lengthwise

1/2 cup frozen peas

12 frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and halved lengthwise

4 scallions, chopped, green parts only

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