pomegranatemisosaladHappy New Year! It's hard after the holidays not to want to take a break from all the indulgence and make sweeping resolutions. My diet resolutions this year are simply to eat more soups and salads. Sure, I'd love to eat healthy, exercise more and lose weight but I'm trying to be realistic.

When it comes to soup, there is no problem. I probably eat soup for dinner once a week. While I grew up eating salad every night, it's just not all that popular around my dinner table. I have a couple of ideas to shake things up. I am going to try to develop more interesting salad combinations and recipes. I am going to get creative with salad dressings and I am also going to try eating more salad for lunch.

This is a salad I served on New Year's Eve. It is very festive looking, don't you think? The salad is light and healthy, but has a good variety of flavors and textures. The Napa cabbage adds color and crunch, the pomegranate adds color but also sweetness, which is balanced by the saltiness of the miso dressing.

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polentastuffedartichokesMy recipe for polenta stuffed artichokes came about thanks to winning some heirloom artichokes from Ocean Mist. When I was working on my first cookbook I needed artichokes and it wasn’t quite artichoke season. Fortunately Ocean Mist came to my rescue and kindly shipped me a whole carton full and I’ve been a fan ever since. I've found each of the varieties of artichokes they grow to be particularly plump and meaty with great flavor and not overly bitter. I'm a subscriber to their newsletter, which alerts me to when and where artichokes are on sale locally and sometimes also gives away artichokes.

Most recipes use just the artichoke hearts or they call for stuffing the whole artichoke with bread crumb stuffing. I decided to try an entirely different kind of stuffing — lemon and goat cheese polenta. Artichokes tend to make other ingredients taste sweet, so the tangy and salty flavor profile of lemon and cheese complements it perfectly. It will seem like a lot of polenta, but it's what makes the dish so hearty. Use as much or as little of the polenta as you like.

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butternutsquashsoupYou usually see this around Thanksgiving – it makes a great first course – but it’s also perfect on a cold winter day. I think the most impressed I’ve ever been with this soup was the first time I had it at Spago’s in Beverly Hills. Wolfgang Puck serves his signature soup with a cranberry relish and cardamom infused cream.

I love the taste of cardamom – though a little goes a long way – it definitely adds a new dimension to both sweet and savory dishes. When I make this at home, I skip the relish and cream, but I do garnish the soup with sugar-spiced croutons – a worthy substitution!

Spago’s recipe also uses baked squash that is then pureed, but I opted for the method in Cook’s Illustrated which uses the seeds and fibers to build flavor, then steams the squash in a flavorful liquid.

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orangearugulasaladHomemade vinaigrettes just taste better and it's really worth the extra few minutes it takes to shake up a batch in jar.

I like to use this recipe during the winter, when there are lots of great citrus fruits to choose from in the grovery store.

Blood oranges, clemetines, or any favorite orange make a nice additiion to this simple green salad and compliment the marmalade in the vinaigrette.

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mushroomsoupMushroom soup should be like a good friend -- there for you when you need it, full of understanding and comfort, and spicy enough to make you laugh. Consider this Creamy Mushroom Chestnut Soup a best friend.

We met rather informally last fall in my kitchen while I was entertaining a number of other friends including tender red bliss potatoes, earthy chestnuts, and aromatic sage. We liked each other instantly, and our friendship has continued to grow.

Meaty, smoky chestnuts and savory fresh herbs add depth to an otherwise ordinary, creamy mushroom soup. Use bottled, dried, or -- if you're up for the challenge -- freshly roasted chestnuts. For a richer soup, I suggest using cream; 2% milk is best if you're looking to save calories.

I'm not a possessive person, so I'd like to introduce you to her.  She'll be one of the truest friends you've ever had. 

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