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What's cooking in '06: seafood, tea and more

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Tiptoeing on eggshells, are you? In these dieting days of early January, total victory over vice still seems possible, but you're already wary of the R-word. (Hint: It rhymes with dissolution.)

I won't eat this. ... I won't drink that. Fine. Flagellate away. But while you're at it, remember: You can resolve to eat differently, not only less. It's possible to add, not just subtract.

With this in mind, here are a few tasty tips from chefs, culinary experts and other gourmands about foods that are brand-new, newly popular or that you'll be hearing more about in 2006.

Bacon is sizzling --At a recent lecture on "The Changing American Table," three renowned chefs - Ruth Reichl, editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine; Paula Deen, cookbook author and Food Network personality; and Mexican cuisine aficionado Rick Bayless - were all asked to name six foods they couldn't live without. The only item all three mentioned was bacon.

Even an ounce or two of bacon in a pasta sauce or vegetable saute, they agreed, adds a dense, comforting flavor. And, it's not just pork anymore, either. There are turkey, duck and wild boar bacon, just to name a few.

Finally, if you've ever savored jamon iberico, the distinctively flavored meat of the Spanish black-foot pigs who dine mostly on acorns, you'll be delighted to know that a family-owned Spanish food retailer based in Williamsburg, Va. (latienda.com), soon will start importing the first iberico products available in America, such as pork loin, chorizo and other sausages.

Feast on seafood --There's a growing consensus that fish consumption is crucial for neurological health. "Last century, the dietary focus was on protein and calcium, both vital to the development of strong bones and strong bodies. The 21st century, however, needs to focus on seafood's vital role in nutrition for brain growth," said Dr. Michael Crawford, director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University.

Seafood is rich in iodine, vitamin A and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), all of which are vital to healthy brains and well-functioning eyesight. Crawford, who has done extensive research on the subject, says, "Eat as much seafood as you can enjoy, and eat a great variety of it. Mussels, crabs, squid, octopus - you name it, not just oily fish like salmon. There is such a great variety of fish in the sea, you'll never get bored."

It's tea time --Green tea was big last year, but expect to see the popularity of white tea, as well as "estate" teas from India, China, Japan and Taiwan. And it's not just for drinking, either. According to the World Tea Expo, based in Las Vegas in 2004, 269 new beverages came out with tea listed as an ingredient.

Of them, 114 were hair-care products and 83 were for skin care. "There was a moment recently where everyone was discovering that wine was good for you. Now it's tea's turn," says Stephanie Teuwen, a New York City food consultant.

Sauerkraut --It's being touted as everything from a way to ward off avian flu to a cancer preventive to a libido booster. Shredded cabbage, the basis of sauerkraut, is not only an excellent source of vitamins C and K, but is being newly proclaimed chic by such celebrity advocates as Heidi Klum and Bruce Willis.

Whole grains --Before your eyes glaze over at thoughts of thudding, thick breads, consider that whole grains are expanding into more "indulgent" food categories, like cookies, cake, pies and pastries.

"For years, there was the perception that people would eat whole grains somewhat dutifully. Now, they can be delicious," says Cynthia Harriman, a spokeswoman for the Whole Grains Council in Boston. She mentions King Arthur Flour Co., in Norwich, Vt., (kingarthur flour.com), which is selling a line of whole-grain-enhanced bake mixes for items such as cinnamon buns and pumpkin-seed scones.

Resistant starch --A component of cooked potatoes, pasta, vegetables and fruit, resistant starch is being developed as a natural add-in that can be substituted for up to 25 percent of flour in recipes. Breaking down more slowly and lower in the digestive system than other starches (hence, the resistant), it is thought to help prevent colo-rectal cancer.

Salt caramel --Fed up with the blather about artisanal and dark chocolates? The newest sweet treat is caramel, especially caramel that's been sprinkled with flavored and smoked salts. Traditionally, a more popular confection in Europe than in the United States, salted caramels are gaining in popularity and 2006 may be their biggest year yet. "The combination of sweet and savory is relatively new here," says food consultant Teuwen. "But, in France, it's a candy children grow up with."

Yearlong grilling --Barbecuing is not just for summer anymore, says Nancy Cohen, president and owner of Eddie's of Roland Park. When Cohen discovered recently that her clientele was buying charcoal and other grilling supplies long past Labor Day, a light when off in her head. For the first time ever, this month Eddie's will print a circular promoting the store's grilling supplies (as well as prepared items like marinated meats). "When it snows," she says, "I know people who shovel a path to the grill before they clear their sidewalks."

Customizing --Sure, a fully home-cooked meal is divine. Failing this, however, a few simple spices can add enormous zing to semi-prepared entrees.

You've doubtless already mastered salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce. Branch out! Play around with other flavors like cumin, ginger root, cinnamon sticks, chopped cilantro, mango or jalapeno peppers. Even a simple spritz of fresh lemon, orange or lime juice can make an enormous difference. Experiment and learn what spices and flavors most please your palate.

You might want to dabble in the Asian flavors that are exploding in popularity. Rick Vach, owner of Avalon Market in Ocean City, encourages shoppers to customize dishes with ingredients such as fish sauce (nam pla in Thai), rice vinegar, white soy sauce, wasabi and Thai chili sauces - which are being touted as the new ketchup.

Guavas --The Citrus and Subtropical Products Lab of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service recently put guavas in the same "super antioxidant" league as blueberries, broccoli, spinach and sweet potatoes.

Maybe the best resolution you can make in 2006 is to remember that variety is the spice of life.

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