This may be the year you'll shop a farmers' market for its wholesome freshness, try Martha Stewart's oven-roasted root vegetables or conjure up a couscous.
Then again, you're just as likely to spend a happy hour over a couple of vodka martinis, zip through a salad bar or grab a prepared meatloaf with mashed potatoes.
The 1997 food forecast is a little schizophrenic.
With folks so health-conscious, it's a safe bet that we'll continue to guzzle water -- bottled or, increasingly, purified at the tap. We'll crunch baby carrots and pretzels, and snack on fruit-filled cereal bars. But if the recent trends are an indicator, we'll also indulge in a highball before dinner, a juicy steak, even a slice of cheesecake.
For each of us who buys "Jane Fonda: Cooking for Healthy Living" (Turner), another is scarfing up William Rice's "Steak Lover's Cookbook" (Workman). Someone's chuckling over Richard Klein's "Eat Fat" (Pantheon Books), an ode to sumo wrestlers and Santa Claus.
Is this a backlash against the food police? Is it a return to simpler fare as we brace for the next century? Or, is it a simple attempt at all things in moderation?
Whatever, a query of experts suggests that in 1997 we'll alternate eating what's good for us with eating what feels good.
Good idea, says Christina Baxter, vice president of marketing for Sutton Place Gourmet.
"If you have a little bit of cheese, put a little mayonnaise on your sandwich and don't deprive yourself of all those good-tasting things, you're not going to want to hurl yourself into a double chocolate mousse cake," she says.
Watch for these trends in 1997:
Beef will continue its comeback.
Steak is selling well nightly, reports Don McCafferty, owner of McCafferty's restaurant, predicting a steady rise.
Joe Bollinger, a chef at Harvey's at Greenspring Station, agrees. Harvey's, known for its spa menu, added a beef tenderloin and portobello mushroom dish in September to rave reviews, he says.
Rubbery lean cuts won't do, says Dana Spatafore, general manager at Graul's Market in Ruxton. Customers who allow themselves some beef want only excess fat removed. They like marbling for that hearty taste they've been denied.
"They want a good quality steak for a Saturday night special," Spatafore says.
Vegetarian entrees will continue to become more mainstream.
"There's a positive trend toward meatless entrees that don't necessarily seem like any sort of deprivation," says Barbara Fairchild, executive editor of Bon Appetit magazine. January's issue features recipes for a polenta lasagna with escarole and three types of cheese and a shepherd's pie made with porcini mushrooms.
Spatafore reports that sales of pasta and bean salads are booming, because they pass this year's litmus test for low-fat fare; they taste good.
Cooking will be cool, but nobody will have time to cook.
According to Bon Appetit magazine, we're resorting to "creative convenience."
"People are taking quality shortcuts," says Fairchild. "They're doing sophisticated foods they can make in very little time." Foods like paella -- a rice dish from this year's red-hot Mediterranean Rim -- fit the bill.
Even busy people like the comfort of entertaining in their homes, says Nancy Cohen, chief executive officer of Eddie's of Roland ++ Park.
"People are enjoying the therapeutic value of cooking, but they're actually using partly prepared foods."
Pair a stuffed pork chop or beef pinwheel from the store with your own side salad or pasta, and voila. Cohen foresees more business entertaining at home, increasingly with a fancy takeout breakfast buffet.
We're also discovering the simple beauty of "peasant food," says Lex Alexander, a spokesman for Whole Foods Market, parent company of Fresh Fields. We're building easy meals around a loaf of hearth-baked bread and pairing cheaper cuts of meat, like brisket, with grains or potatoes. Led by restaurateurs, we're turning to root vegetables -- parsnips, turnips, rutabagas.
We'll go out of our way for the freshest produce.
As we cook more ethnic cuisines, we're starting to shop like Europeans. We're going to market daily to buy what's fresh, says Cohen of Eddie's of Roland Park.
That's just one reason farmers' markets are booming in Maryland, says Tony Evans, farmers' markets coordinator for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. There are 64 farmers' markets in the state -- up from 30 in 1990 -- and 20 in the Baltimore area. Today's customers want to ask growers about varieties of vegetables and pesticides.
"Food is more personal than sex," says Evans. "All of us ingest [food] numerous times a day."
Nutritious drinks will gain popularity.
We're drinking fruit juices as one of our five fruits and vegetables a day, says Baxter, of Sutton Place Gourmet. Watch for gains in fortified juices and an influx of juice bars from the West Coast.
Coffee holds its own, but tea carves a niche for itself.