Starting off on healthful, planet-wise new strategy

Here I sit on the brink of a new year, knife and fork in hand, resolving to spend the next 12 months eating wiser, while saving money and doing my part to rescue the planet.

Tomorrow I confront this burden, a contest that begins every Jan. 1 and that I attempt to disguise as an enticing challenge.

This is a game of strategy, not luck; therefore, it's important to get off on the right foot.

But luck was the point of the New Year's dinners of my youth. They specified fatty and delicious pork shoulder with sausages, sauerkraut, and caraway seeds.

The guidelines I am setting for tomorrow's dinner don't ignore the superstition that eating pork on Jan. 1 guarantees good fortune for a year.

So, without being too rigid, my plan is to eat less red meat and dairy products, more fruit and vegetables.

The centerpiece of my New Year's Day meal will be a soup made up of various types of fish, which nutritionists say should account for a more significant part of the American diet.

Warming on a wintry day, this soup is simply prepared, but fit for company - especially because it includes saffron and is poured over a raft of bread spread with a bit of garlicky mayonnaise.

I'm talking bouillabaisse, the French dish born of the daily leftovers of fishermen's catches in Provence.

These days, with the year-round international importation of seafood, there's much from which to choose. But with my new resolutions of saving myself and my planet, I'm going to try to stick with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's "best choices" and "good alternatives" in its downloadable Seafood Watch Pocket Guide (www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx).

Where we live, these fortunately include certain types of firm fish - tuna, swordfish, and salmon, among others - and clams and mussels, whose shells poke out of the soup. They add color, shape, and the need to slow down to pick meat out of their shells.

And because bouillabaisse doesn't require specific types of fish, it can incorporate those that are most economical whenever it is made.

The soup begs for an off-the-beaten-track green salad made of seasonal (read: less expensive than out-of-season) ingredients. I discovered one recently, but it has a problem: I could eat eight servings of it at one sitting.

Raw Kale Salad with Dried Cranberries and Pine Nuts is an adaptation of a recipe by Dan Barber, whose Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan is an outgrowth of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

Barber, who was named a James Beard Outstanding Chef in 2009, is known for his creative takes on vegetables, often surprisingly served raw.

Kale, a mild member of the cabbage family, is a dark, leafy, cruciferous green recommended by nutritionists for its significant amounts of vitamins A and C, folic acid, calcium, and iron.

Dessert isn't in my plan for everyday dining, but New Year's Day does deserve something extra.

A seasonal, uncooked pear looks like a cat viewed from behind as it sits in a window.

Poached pears are somehow even lovelier. Tender and glistening from their bath in sugar syrup, they satisfy a desire to end a meal with sweetness, but do not contain the fat and heaviness of, say, cake, pie, or other baked goods.

But what about that essential lucky pork?

It will be present in appetizer size, by adding bits of bacon to fairly traditional guacamole, the traditional food served when viewing football - another staple of the day.

Or maybe I'll fill store-bought hors d'oeuvres shells (frozen or shelf-stable) with a dab of goat cheese (or lower-fat cream cheese) and fig jam topped with a crisp square of bacon. This combination of savory, sweet, and salty works just as well on a baguette slice or cracker.

I'm counting on the luck of those bacon shards and the strategy of the day's menu to set a tone of good fortune and good health for the next 12 months.

If I stick to the plan, I won't find myself with half a ham; a big crock of mashed potatoes made of equal parts spuds, butter, and sour cream; or an entire rack of baby back ribs on my plate.

I'll be healthier and a better citizen of the world come 2010, but I can't say I won't be more than a little homesick for the good old days of 2009.


Kale, Cranberry, and Parmesan Salad

Serves 4 to 6

For the dressing:

About 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

About 2 tablespoons unsea-

soned rice vinegar

1 to 2 tablespoons honey

About 2 tablespoons extra

virgin olive oil

3/4 teaspoon salt, or less to taste

For the salad:

2 bunches young, crisp kale (about 1 pound) center ribs and stems removed, leaves very thinly sliced into ribbons

About 4 tablespoons, or to taste, dried cranberries

About 4 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted in a skillet or in the oven

About ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shaved, or shred-

ded, or more to taste

   1. Whisk the vinegars with the honey, oil and salt. Set aside.

   2. To make this in a salad bowl, toss the kale with the cranberries, pine nuts, and Parmesan. Drizzle in the dressing, tossing as you go, until the salad is lightly coated. Do not overdress. You may have extra dressing.

   3. To make individual salads, divide the kale among four to six salad bowls. Then divide the cranberries and pine nuts in the same manner. Top each salad with Parmesan shavings. Drizzle each with dressing, or serve the dressing separately.

Notes: The cranberries may be first soaked for about 15 minutes in an additional 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Barber specifies "black" or Tuscan kale, but I've had great results with the run-of-the-mill variety.

- Adapted from a recipe by Dan Barber,

chef of Blue Hill restaurants in New York state

Per serving (based on 6): 160 calories, 5 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams sugar, 10 grams fat, 3 milligrams cholesterol, 374 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber


Saffron-Poached Pears

Makes 4 to 8 servings

1 cup sugar

6 whole cardamom pods

¼ teaspoon good-quality saffron threads

3 tablespoons lemon juice

4 firm pears, such as

Bartlett

1. Combine the sugar, 2 cups of water, cardamom pods, saffron, and lemon juice, and put it in a shallow, wide pot. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the sugar melts.

2. Peel the pears, halve them and core them. As you finish cutting them, put them into the simmering syrup. Cover and cook gently for 25 minutes. Every now and then, turn them gently or spoon syrup over them.

3.    Carefully take the pears out of the liquid and arrange them in a serving dish in a single layer, cut side down. Cook the syrup down until it is reduced to about 1 cup. Pour this over the pears. Cool and refrigerate until serving.

- from Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook (Harper & Row, 1987)


Bouillabaisse

Makes 6-8 servings

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 leeks, thinly sliced

1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced, reserve about 4 tablespoons of fronds for garnish

2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely chipped

4 fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (or

2 cups canned, diced tomatoes with juices)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup dry white wine

1½ quarts fish stock

Pinch of saffron threads

Strip of orange zest

Bouquet garni (sprigs of parsley, thyme, and bay

leaf tied in a bundle)

Salt, fresh ground pepper

2 tablespoons Pernod

3 pounds mixed white and oily fish and shellfish: monkfish, salmon, red mullet, shrimp, mussels

8 slices baguette, cut on a slant

For the rouille:

About 1 cup mayonnaise

½ bird's-eye chile, seeded

and coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ teaspoon salt

1. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion, leeks, fennel, and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft but not colored. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and wine.

2. Add the stock, saffron, zest, and bouquet garni. Season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Process the rouille ingredients in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill until needed.

3. Just before the liquid finishes simmering, cut the fish into chunks. Remove the zest and bouquet garni, and add the firm fish. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the delicate fish, and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes up or until cooked through and flakes easily. Stir in the Pernod and season to taste. To serve, spread the baguette slices with rouille and place 2 in the bottom of each bowl. Ladle the soup on top. Garnish with a few fennel fronds, and serve hot.

-
Adapted from Soup (Dorling Kindersley, 2009)

Per serving (based on 8): 636 calories, 38 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar, 37 grams fat, 113 milligrams cholesterol, 1,027 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber


Guacamole and Bacon Canapes

Makes about 15 servings

1 ripe avocado, peeled and seeded

1/2 small ripe tomato, chopped

3 tablespoons minced green onions, white parts only

2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

1 small chile pepper, minced

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

8 slices lean slab bacon

12 thin slices pumpernickel bread, crusts removed; sliced, toasted French bread; or corn chips

   1. In a bowl, mash the avocado with a wooden spoon until lumpy. Add the tomato, scallions, coriander, chile pepper, lime juice, and salt and pepper. Mix until well blended.

2.   Cover the guacamole with plastic wrap pressed to its surface, and chill briefly.

3. In a large skillet, fry the bacon over moderate heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels and crumble. Stir bacon into the guacamole right before serving.

4. Spread the guacamole on the bread or place in a bowl to serve with corn chips.

- Adapted from The Bacon Cookbook

by James Villas (Wiley, 2007)

Per serving: 103 calories, 4 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 1 grams sugar, 5 grams fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 243 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.