Julee Rosso lives as she writes: in chapters.
She has been, in turn, an advertising executive, a food entrepreneur, a wildly successful cookbook author, a wife, an innkeeper and, these days, an impassioned advocate of a style of eating she calls "lower-fat and luscious."
Ms. Rosso's first three cookbooks -- based on her experiences with partner Sheila Lukins in The Silver Palate, one of the country's first (and perhaps its most famous) gourmet take-out shops -- have sold nearly 5 million copies. They introduced the cooking public to a whole new range of tasty ingredients: balsamic vinegar and raspberry puree, goat cheese and fennel, prosciutto and pesto, bittersweet chocolate and chestnut puree.
"We were all into the age of discovery," she says, "looking for tastes that were richer, heavier, lusher."
Now, says Ms. Rosso, like many people, she is realizing the importance of a more healthful diet. "It's so clear to me that this is the way I have to eat for the rest of my life, and the way I used to eat, I can do only occasionally."
And so her latest literary chapter is a new book titled "Great Good Food: Luscious Lower-Fat Food" (Crown/Turtle Bay Books, paperback). It's not a "diet" book, she says, but a no-nonsense, common-sense plan that follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture's guidelines for healthy eating -- in a delicious way. The book contains nearly 900 recipes for seasonal dishes ranging from big breakfast cookies to zucchini blossom pasta, from black Angus & black beans to new Spanish rice.
In its 600 pages is a wealth of information -- about nutrition, ingredients, preparations, berries, gardening, mushrooms and decorating.
"It was not my intention to do this BIG book," says Ms. Rosso. "I really just set out to prove to people that you can lose the fat and the cholesterol and still have very tasty food."
Fans of "The Silver Palate Cookbook," "The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook" and "The New Basics" cookbook -- all of which are still in print from Workman Publishing -- already know she prefers "magnificent, intense flavors," she says. "And I'm not willing to sacrifice those for anything." Instead, she says, "it's a matter of balance, of making choices."
One of the most important choices, she believes, is the emphasis on vegetables, fruits and grains at the expense of fats, oils and meat. She says she once heard someone refer to "the quiet corner of the plate" -- meaning vegetables. Now, she says, vegetables, fruits and grains "are the parts that should be loud."
It's not that hard to accomplish, she says. "I didn't work any magic -- these are all normal ingredients." Living in a small town in Michigan, where she and her husband Bill Miller run the Wickwood Inn, she doesn't have access to specialty stores for hard-to-find items.
Dishes don't have to be complicated "just because you want a little more interest." After all, beans can be enlivened with balsamic vinegar or with peppers and salsa, for example, and rice with oranges and leeks or with cinnamon and lentils. "And that lamb chop is still pretty much the same old lamb chop."
People tell her, she says, that they read her cookbooks as they would any other book. It's a practice she recommends with "Great Good Food."
"I would encourage them to read through and sort of get an overview,"
she says. "You need to see where the surprises are for you" in terms of what's in the foods you think you know."
For instance, a fruit salad will still have a little fat: fruits such as strawberries and raspberries have seeds, and the seeds contain fat. Even rice has a little fat, she notes.
While she believes people are generally more aware of healthful habits than in the past, she says, "I think the age of enlightenment for most of us has only been the last three or four years.
"One thing I've always felt -- one reason I think our books are so well-liked -- is that I didn't start out with an educated palate. I'm insatiably curious. I just want to learn everything there is to learn. And then, since the other part of me is . . . a teacher, as soon as I learn something I want to tell it. I think I'm just a mini-step ahead of where the rest of the country is."
There's no need to catch up all at once, she says. Just do one thing at a time until you have a new repertoire of dishes.
"Great Good Food" begins with sections on pantry stocking and basic recipes -- such as yogurt cheese, chicken broth, pie crust and bread -- that although made infrequently, are pure gold for busy cook.
"I cook every day for my husband," she says, "and usually there are other people at lunch -- and I really don't want to spend my entire life doing this. Sometimes I'll be doing something, testing souffles, and I look up and it's 6:30 and I say, 'Oh -- dinner!' Sometimes it's a surprise to me."
Having things in the house to cook makes all the difference, she hTC says. "Having to go to the market to get something to cook is why we end up with take-out food." If you have to plan and shop before cooking, "it takes two hours, which nobody has."
Food and cooking should be a focal point of the day, she says. "In so many ways we've all taken charge of our lives -- and yet we allow this to just be happenstance. There's some therapy in cooking that doesn't have to be time-consuming -- just mincing garlic, or chopping tomatoes. I like the tone it sets in my day, it's my nice little segue into the evening."
* Here are some of Ms. Rosso's recipes from "Great Good Food."
Grilled Tarragon Tenderloin
3 pounds beef tenderloin
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
4 tablespoons finely minced fresh tarragon
bearnaise sauce (recipe below)
Prepare grill for cooking, or heat broiler.
Roll beef in crushed pepper and then tarragon. Place tenderloin about 4 inches from the heat and grill, covered with foil, turning frequently with tongs, for 25 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing.
Then serve immediately, with sauce, if desired.
Makes 1 cup
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
Liberal grinding of white pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/8 teaspoon dried chervil
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup water
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided use)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a small non-reactive saucepan, combine wine, vinegar, shallot, white pepper, tarragon, chervil and parsley over medium-high heat. Bring to a low boil, reduce to 2 tablespoons and strain. Discard the solids.
In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, whisk the cornstarch and 3/4 cup of water. Stir until thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the reduced vinegar mixture.
Remove the double boiler from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks and 1 tablespoon of butter. Place back over hot water and stir constantly until thickened, about 4 more minutes. Do not overcook or let the mixture come close to a boil or it will curdle.
Whisk in the butter and salt and pepper to taste. The sauce can be allowed to cool, and gently reheated in a double boiler.
2 pounds russet new potatoes, quartered or left whole
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 head garlic, cloves peeled off and left whole
2 cups minced mixed fresh herbs (such as parsley, basil, sage, chives, oregano, mint)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the potatoes, oil, garlic and 1/2 cup mixed herbs in shallow baking dish.
Place in the oven and roast until golden brown, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven and toss with remaining herbs. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Goat cheese in tomatoes
1/3 cup low-fat goat cheese
2 tablespoons basil pesto (recipe below)
4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh minced basil
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, mix goat cheese and pesto; set aside.
Cut a thin slice off each tomato and discard. Drizzle the expose top of each tomato with olive oil. Season
with salt and pepper.
Place tomatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until they are soft but not collapsed. Remove from oven.
Spread a spoonful of goat-cheese mixture over the top of each tomato.
Sprinkle with basil and place under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbly.
Remove and serve immediately.
Makes 1 cup
6 garlic cloves, peeled
L 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed, washed, dried and stemmed
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
With food processor motor running, drop garlic into workin bowl.
Process until finely chopped, scraping down sides twice. Add basil and process until smooth. Add pine nuts and cheese and process until smooth.
With motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil.
With spatula, scrape pesto into a container, cover and refrigerate or freeze until needed.