How to Relish the Good Life

by Kasey Caminiti | September 1, 2012 12:00 am

When Daphne Oz was a sophomore at Dwight-Englewood School in northern New Jersey, a cute guy walked up to her in the cafeteria and said, “I hear your parents have sex four times a day.” Not only was the moment absolutely mortifying—she calls it “probably the worst day of my existence”— but it was also when she realized that her father had gone from being Dr. Mehmet Oz, cardiothoracic surgeon, to the Dr. Oz, the Oprah-endorsed wellness expert worshipped by women all over the country.

Daphne asked her classmate what he was talking about, and he replied, “That’s what your dad said to People.” It turned out the magazine had included him in its “sexiest man alive” issue, and he’d accidentally told the reporter that he and his wife, Lisa, had sex four times a day—he’d meant to say four times a week.

Daphne Oz, now 27, still cringes about the encounter, but she’s definitely inherited her father’s candor. In her new book, Relish[1], she shares her own confessional narrative—of what it was like to be “the only heavy girl in a family of health nuts.” Today, of course, she’s a household name in her own right. As a co-host of ABC’s daytime talk show The Chew (like The View, but for cooking), she serves as the young, health-conscious foil to the other hosts: superstar chefs Mario Batali and Michael Symon, former Top Chef contestant Carla Hall, and What Not to Wear‘s Clinton Kelly.

In person, Oz is as articulate as she is beautiful—she resembles a young Christie Brinkley. But more than anything, she’s genuinely likeable. “I still look like a fool eating on television,” she laughs. “We spill on ourselves, and we talk with our mouths full. I chew ridiculously, but what are you going to do?”

This relaxed attitude is in sharp contrast to her earlier complicated relationship to food and to her appearance. Through most of her teen years, she tried fad diet after fad diet in a desperate attempt to lose weight. “I was 180 pounds when I was 17,” Oz says. She’s grateful to her parents for offering her support in a way that was free of judgment. “There was never a question that my dad didn’t love me or that he wanted me to change my habits for any reason other than it would make me healthier and happier. He was always reminding me of the toll my weight was taking on my health,” she recalls. “But nothing changed until I had the emotional realization that I needed to do something to change.”

Oz had that epiphany when she was a freshman at Princeton. “Cooking became the tool I used to lose weight. I realized I could take elements of pre-prepared food and put them together with things I made myself and create these great meals that were filling and good for me at the same time.” She lost 30 pounds, and out of those experiences came her first book, 2006’s The Dorm Room Diet[2]. “I wanted a healthy lifestyle that would still make room for all the things I wanted to be eating. I’m not a skinny girl; I never have been and I never plan to be. Life is short, food makes it really rich, and I’m not going to skip that to be a size smaller.”

Her new book, Relish, was inspired by another major change—getting married (she and John Jovanovic, a Princeton classmate and energy analyst, wed in 2010) and setting up a home. But even though Relish covers topics like jobs, decorating and relationships, its main theme is Oz’s love of food. The recipes, like Banana Pecan Buttermilk Pancakes and Moroccan Lentil Soup with Sweet Potato, represent the mélange of her culinary influences as part of an Italian-Swedish-Turkish family. The eldest of four children—she has two sisters, Arabella and Zoe, and a brother, Oliver—Oz grew up hovering around the stove. “Love happened at the kitchen table. If you weren’t standing over the pot, you missed everything,” she says. “My best memories are of sitting down for a huge Italian feast with 30 people at my grandma’s house. It was amazing.” After graduating from Princeton, Oz received a chef’s degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City and then did a 100-hour internship at the Porter House restaurant.

“Food interweaves itself throughout every aspect our lives—it’s the lubricant for great conversation,” she says. Oz and her husband enjoy hosting dinner parties in their apartment. “I love to entertain. I usually make a kale salad with pine nuts and currants to start, and if I’m with adventurous eaters who don’t mind having a fish head on the table, I love whole branzino. It’s hard to mess up, and it’s such an easy, beautiful fish,” she explains. “I prepare it with fresh sliced lemons, smashed garlic, fresh rosemary, tons of olive oil and salt in the oven. Then I serve a caramelized carrot dish with ginger ale and fresh ginger on the side.”

In Relish, Oz writes that she doesn’t believe in “perfectly plated” food—she’d rather her dishes look real and approachable. And in a way, that’s a metaphor for the way she lives her life. “It’s not that I have everything figured out. So much of this book is about things I messed up and messed up and finally got right after trial and error. Life isn’t always perfect,” she says. “Oprah always talks about your best life. I just think you should focus on your better life.”

 

Keep reading for some of Daphne Oz’s favorite recipes:

 

Kale Salad 

Serves 4 generously

Note: The longer this salad sits, the more flavor it picks up—I like to make a big bowl to enjoy for dinner and then pack the leftovers for lunch at work the next day. Keep covered in the fridge for up to 3 days, giving it a toss now and then to make sure the bottom layer doesn’t get soggy.

1 large bunch of kale, thick stems removed, washed, and cut or torn into bite-size pieces (about 12 cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Large pinch of coarse sea salt
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup dried currants
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
 
Place the kale in a large bowl. Pour the oil on top and sprinkle with the grated Parmesan and coarse sea salt. Using your fingertips, massage the kale thoroughly for 5 minutes, until the leaves start to soften; the kale will reduce to about half its original volume—it will keep reducing the longer you massage. Drizzle it with the lemon juice, top with the currants and pine nuts, and toss to combine. Just before serving, sprinkle with grated Parmesan.
   

Branzino 

Serves 2 

Note: The benefit of cooking branzino whole—although it might seem intimidating at first—is that it’s virtually impossible to end up with dry, overcooked fish since the bones infuse flavor, stabilize cooking temperature and provide a good buffer by adding moisture.

2 cleaned and descaled branzino/striped bass (about 1 – 1 1/2 lb each)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to drizzle before serving 
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 lemon, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
4 sprigs fresh rosemary (pound each sprig a few times with the back of your knife to release oils)
4 sprigs fresh thyme (bruise as with rosemary)
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Sea salt to taste 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Bring the fish to room temperature and pat dry with paper towels. Open fish like a book and place skin side down in a lightly oiled glass baking dish; drizzle inside with half the olive oil and season with salt. Press two garlic cloves, 2-3 lemon slices and 2 rosemary and 2 thyme sprigs into the belly opening of each fish and fold closed. Drizzle with remaining olive oil.  

Bake uncovered 15-20 minutes depending on preferred doneness. (The less you cook fish, the less fishy it will taste, so try to cook to the point that most of the flesh has just turned from translucent to opaque.) After removing from the oven, let rest 5 minutes. Serve whole or filleted with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, plus cracked black pepper and salt as desired.

Ginger Glazed Carrots 

Serves 6

1 1/2 pounds peeled baby carrots (trim the greens, leaving about 1 inch of the green tops)
olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 oranges (zested and juiced; divided)
2 smashed cloves garlic
1/2 cup ginger ale
1 tablespoon ginger (finely minced)
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts (toasted)
1/4 cup chopped parsley (divided) 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the carrots with 4-5 tablespoons of the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Put the zest and juice from one orange over the carrots, add the garlic cloves and toss to coat.

Put the carrots into a large sauté pan that has been heating over medium high heat. Arrange in an even layer. Pour in the ginger ale and cook the carrots on the stove top until they begin to change color, and then transfer to the oven and cook for about 25-30 minutes, or until fork tender. 

Once the carrots are cooked and the glaze is reduced, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the remaining orange zest, orange juice, ginger, hazelnuts, parsley, salt and pepper. Garnish the carrots with the hazelnut mixture and serve.

Endnotes:
  1. Relish: http://www.amazon.com/Relish-Adventure-Food-Style-Everyday/dp/0062196863
  2. The Dorm Room Diet: http://www.amazon.com/Dorm-Room-Diet-Creating-Lifestyle/dp/1557049157

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