Here we are again, beginning a new year with resolutions rather than sugar plums dancing in our heads, with good intentions rampant but implementation uncertain. Eating a healthy diet, lowering fat intake and losing some of that holiday-weight gain often tops the list of resolves. Sally Schneider's A New Way to Cook not only makes those promised self-improvements possible, it offers a truly intelligent, wholly doable approach to lean but intensely flavorful cooking. Schneider does not believe in a rigid focus on numbers calories or fat grams nor in prohibitions against butter, cream and sugar. She excludes nothing (except highly processed foods and trans fats) from her cooking, explaining that "a little fat can make the difference between really enjoying eating and enduring austerity." And that austerity, that missing sense of well-being, can cause you to overeat in compensation and give up on low-fat foods altogether.

To that end, Schneider has devised new cooking techniques and revised old ones that enhance flavor and pleasure, pare down fats and calories and encourage you to cook creatively. A section on Essential Techniques leads into core techniques which are used here and are usable in almost any you recipe you come across or improvise. There are more than 600 recipes included in 10 food category chapters vegetables, grains, fish, meat, desserts, etc. and four chapters devoted to what Schneider so aptly calls "Flavor Catalysts" fresh and cooked sauces, salsas and chutneys, rubs, marinades, broths and fabulous flavored oils that transform simple foods into something more. Intriguingly, these chapters are arranged by technique, followed by the recipes that illustrate them. Many of these recipes can be used as component parts to build more elaborate dishes: crispy, pan-seared salmon, delicious without embellishment, is served on a bed of warm, wonderfully seasoned lentils and bound together with a sauce of reduced balsamic vinegar and a little butter. It's great tasting, good for you, inventive and enticing, as are all the recipes and ideas in this fabulous guide to a truly new way to cook.

Sybil Pratt has been cooking up this column for more than five years.

 

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