May the Best of New Year's Intentions Begin Right Here

By Walter Nicholls
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Once again, empty champagne bottles and still-tinseled Scotch pines are piled at the curb. Scraps of holiday wrap, like resolutions, swirl in an eddy. And you've joined a gym. Will you go?

At the start of a new year, thoughts often turn to fitness and healthier eating habits. But for many, the pace and balance of work and family result in little more than a few days of fewer fries. For the weak, or for anyone desiring change, support and pluck can sometimes come from a restaurant and its chef.

At health-conscious Rock Creek, in Bethesda, chef Frederic Przyborowski emphasizes smaller portions and more vegetables. He uses no sugar or butter.

Flip through the menu and there is a handy nutritional guide to the offerings. That nori-crusted tuna carpaccio has only 164 calories and a single gram of saturated fat. A three-course dinner with appetizer, entree and dessert can come in at under 750 calories.

Much of this kitchen's work has to do with substitutions, which Przyborowski suggests can work for home cooks:

· For a lighter vinaigrette, replace 1/3 of the olive oil with vegetable or chicken broth thickened with a little cornstarch or arrowroot.

· For a smooth, light whipped cream, substitute pasteurized egg whites for half of the heavy cream. Whip both separately to form stiff peaks, then combine.

· When making cold sauces or baked pie fillings that call for heavy cream, replace half the cream with plain nonfat yogurt that has been hung in cheesecloth and drained of liquid for four hours, or with Greek-style yogurt, which has already been strained.

In the months ahead, to kick off Rock Creek's third year, Przyborowski plans to "expand my horizon of fat substitutes." To that end, he's experimenting with young and mild Neufchatel cheese as well as soft, unripened goat's milk quark in place of sour cream. In the grain world, he plans to use more wheat berries and barley.

To start your 2007 cooking on a lighter note, Przyborowski suggests a celeriac puree whose only fat comes from Neufchatel, and a sweet-potato gnocchi whose only sauce is a wine glaze. Either would make an appropriate side dish after a workout at the gym. That's if you manage to get up and go.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company