Sit. Stay. Cook.

Cook to live. Live to cook.

I love seafood. I love cooking it, I love eating it, I love looking at it all laid out in a fish counter. Seafood can be temperamental, if not treated right. But when you do get it right – and it’s not hard, once you have a little practice under your belt and know some basics – it’s divine.

We pan-sear lots of salmon in our house, because we love salmon, because pan-searing is easy, it’s versatile, and it’s a great way to get stunning results with little effort. You’ll need a good, non-stick skillet, and we’ve found that a cast-iron skillet works the best. So long as you use the minimal amount of oil possible to cook with – cooking spray is perfect to help monitor oil use – you’ll end up with a beautiful, healthful, delicious piece of cooked protein.

To perfectly pan-sear salmon fillets, pre-heat a cast-iron skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Pat the fillets dry and season with a little salt and pepper about 1 minute before they are ready to go in the pan. Spritz a little cooking spray in the skillet and immediately lay the fillets in the pan. Set a timer for 3 minutes, and leave the fillets alone until the timer goes off. After three minutes, flip the fillets over, set at timer for 2 minutes and leave the fish alone again. Remove from the skillet to whatever plate you’re eating on and admire that gorgeous, golden crust.

This will cook your salmon to medium doneness. I prefer mine a little on the less-done than more-done side, so adjust your time by about 30 seconds either way for each level of doneness you prefer.

We usually cook some rice, make some sort of sauce and serve our fillets on the rice with sauce and veggies, like so – Red Curry Salmon with Peppers and Bok Choy:

A meal like this, if you have some Trader Joe’s frozen rice, can take about 15 minutes to put together, from the time you open the fridge to get the salmon, to the time you sit down and take your first, luscious bite. So quick. So easy. So, so mouthwateringly good.

To find more recipes with salmon you can in Marky's Gourmet blog

A couple of weeks ago I found a recipe at Annie’s Eats, and knew immediately that I had to make it ASAP.  Many of my favorites were there: salmon, strawberries, balsamic vinegar, cilantro. I was intrigued. The idea of salmon and strawberries had never crossed my mind, but seeing it there seemed so… so… right.

And what do you know? Earlier this week I found myself with an abundance of strawberries. Frank would have macerated them all and gobbled them up on shortcakes with whipped topping, but I had other plans for some of them.

Almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Plans that included him dicing them and a bunch of veggies so we could have what would likely be, if nothing else, a unique meal.

Strawberry salsa? Who'da thunk?

I tweaked the original recipe to my own liking and the result was spectacular – so fresh and sweet and savory and light.  Strawberries and salmon. Who knew?

Salmon with Strawberry Salsa
Servings: 4
Weight Watchers Points: 6 per serving

For the salsa:
2 c. fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and diced
1 c. cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 Tbsp. red onion, minced
4 green onions, white and green portions, sliced thin
1 tsp. fresh cilantro, minced
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. honey
Salt and pepper, to taste

4 salmon fillets (about 6 oz. each)
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

To make the salsa, combine the strawberries, tomatoes, onion, green onions, cilantro, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl.  Mix well to blend, then cover and refrigerate while you prepare the salmon.

Spray a non-stick skillet with cooking spray and heat to medium-high. Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice over each salmon fillet, and season with salt and pepper. Add salmon to skillet and cook until desired doneness, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the salmon to serving plates and top with strawberry salsa.

And now, the reveal!

We served it over Cheesy Herb Couscous (I swear, that stuff goes with ANYTHING) and a side of sauteed spinach. Beautiful, delicious, and healthy. What more could you ask for?

Maybe some respite from 90+ degree heat. That would be nice. Then again, that heat has made for some tasty tomatoes and strawberries this year, so I really shouldn’t complain.

I’ll just savor the bounty of summer while it lasts. It will be cold enough before we know it.

Oh my goodness, it’s hot in Kansas City. I mean, it’s been hot here before, but this has been a day-after-day-after-day onslaught of hellish heat that doesn’t quit. The good news is that, since I’ve lost weight, this is the first summer in I don’t know how long that I have worn shorts. I just felt too self-conscious in the past to dare leaving the house in anything shorter than below-the-knee capris. But about a month ago, I bought a pair of shorts at Costco.

At first, I was really nervous. It was so strange having what felt like so little on my legs. But, after Mr. Awesome told me that I didn’t have anything to worry about and that they looked good, I dared to leave the house in shorts and a t-shirt and I haven’t looked back since. I even bought another pair from Costco last week.

I’m still adjusting to the way my body looks and feels minus all the weight I carried for years. I’ll probably be adjusting to that for a long time.

Anyway, the heat makes me think of tropical locales, and that makes me think of food one eats in tropical locales. So, the other night I thawed some mahi mahi fillets and put together some grilled fish taco-type things. I can’t call them tacos because I used tortillas that were a little large, so they were more like open-faced burritos. Whatever they were, they were delicious.

We started by slicing the mahi mahi into strips, seasoning it with Old Bay and grilling it for a couple of minutes on each side:

Next, we made some of my favorite salsa:

Cilantro-Cucumber Salsa
Servings: 4
Weight Watchers Points:  1 per serving

1/2 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 c. cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 Tbsp. red onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. Canola oil
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt

In a bowl, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion and cilantro. Toss gently to mix. In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, Canola oil, the honey, red pepper flakes and salt. Pour the lime juice mixture over the cucumber mixture and toss gently to coat evenly.

While the salsa sat there mingling all it’s good flavors, we made some sauce:

I call this Pink Sauce. Clever, right?

Pink Sauce
Servings: 4
Weight Watchers Points: 1 per serving

2 Tbsp. reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. fat-free sour cream
1 1/2 tsp. adobo sauce (from canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce)
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients until well-combined and smooth.

We also made some white rice in the rice cooker, and mixed in some fresh chopped cilantro and lime juice just before serving.

The result…

Wowee.

Now with a bit of cheese and Pink Sauce:

Woweewowee.

As long as we can eat like this, bring on the heat!

What are your favorite hot weather foods?

When I started cooking in earnest a couple of years ago, I thought about what types of food I like to go out for, and how I could make some of those dishes at home. My thoughts immediately turned to Vietnamese cuisine, so I bought a Vietnamese cookbook called Vietnamese Cooking Made Easy and dove right in.

Cut to today, and one of my favorite meals to put together is Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce. I keep most of the ingredients on hand all the time, and I love finding new ways to fill them. They’re a great way to use up veggies that are about to go south, too.

I love eating these spring rolls, but I love making them, too. It’s a bit of a process, but there’s a rhythm to it and once you get going, you fly right through them. Frank and I make them together – he dips the rice paper sheets in warm water for a few seconds to soften them up, and adds rice noodles to the rolls, and I add the other ingredients and roll them up.

There’s really no recipe for these, because they are completely up to your imagination. Use what you like and what’s on hand. Try adding lettuce, pork, chicken, fruit, crushed peanuts – whatever suits your fancy. That’s the great thing about this type of spring rolls – you can make them your own.

The other night, we put some spring rolls together with shrimp, cucumber, carrots and cilantro. We started by cooking some dried rice noodles. While those were boiling, we set up our spring roll station:

Just to the left, where you can’t see, Frank had a shallow bowl filled with warm water. He dipped a piece of rice paper into the water, and held it there for about 10 seconds until the paper was soft and pliable. Then, he passed the softened rice paper over to me and the spring roll station, where I then started filling the spring roll with sliced cucumber:

You want to position the filling just a bit below center.

Next, Frank added some rice noodles, and I added some more fillings:

Once the filling is in place, it’s time to roll. Lift the edge closest to you to start the roll-up:

Then, tuck that edge over the top of and then back under the far side if the filling and pull the filling towards you:

Next, fold in the sides, and keep rolling:

All done! Set your finished spring roll aside and start again until you have enough.

Once you have all your spring rolls made, you need to make some dipping sauce. My favorite is peanut sauce, but Vietnamese fish sauce is good, too. I really like this peanut sauce recipe, because it’s sweet and savory and salty all at once.

Peanut Sauce
Servings: 8
WW Points: 1 per serving

3 Tbsp. reduced-fat creamy peanut butter
2 tsp. sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. water
1 1/4 tsp. rice-wine vinegar
1 tsp. Sriracha sauce
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped

In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter, sugar, and garlic until smooth. Add the soy sauce, water, vinegar, sriracha and cilantro and stir until combined.

What are your favorite fillings for spring rolls?

I love fish. I love looking at them and eating them.

There are three fish living in our house. In a tank. We won’t eat them. That would be weird.

This is Jack. Or is it Jackie?

Jack.

Jack or Jackie?

Jack is a Jack Dempsey. We’ve had him since he was a wee tadpole.

We also have Coco.

Coco.

Team Coco.

Coco is a Midas cichlid. He’s fiesty.

Jack and Coco share their tank with a plecostomus (aka sucker fish) who we’ve dubbed Mr. Plecopostamus. Pleco is shy, so I don’t have a photo for you. Yet.

The fish tank is in our kitchen. The three guys don’t really seem to mind when we cook up some of their cousins, which we do often.

Like last night.

One of the easiest meals you can throw together is pan-seared fish, some sautéed veggies, some sauce and some couscous. The meal literally comes together in 15 minutes. One of my favorite versions of this is a pan-seared salmon with sautéed leeks, honey-balsamic sauce and couscous with herbs and Parmesan cheese. It’s so ridiculously easy, and tastes like something you’d pay big bucks for in a fancy restaurant. If I could eat only one salmon dish for the rest of my life, this would probably be it.

But more than just being easy. More than just being delicious. This meal isn’t terrible for you. It’s low in fat, and has lots of good stuff in the form of omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains and veggies.

Pan-Seared Salmon with Honey-Balsamic Sauce and Cheesy Herb Couscous
Servings: 4
WW Points: 11 per serving

For the salmon, leeks and sauce:
Cooking spray
1/4 tsp. olive oil
4 leeks, chopped, white and light green parts only
4 6-oz salmon fillets, with or without skin
1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1/4 tsp. pepper, divided
3/4 c. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. honey

Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; add oil. Place over medium-high heat; add leeks, and sauté 3 to 4 minutes or until soft. Remove from pan and set aside.

Sprinkle fish with 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and 1⁄8 teaspoon pepper. Add fish to pan; cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned and fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove from pan; set aside, and keep warm.

Add vinegar, honey, 1⁄4 teaspoon salt, and 1⁄8 teaspoon pepper to pan. Cook over medium-high heat 3 to 4 minutes or until reduced by half.

For the couscous:
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. light butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium green onions, chopped, white and green parts separated
2/3 c. whole-wheat couscous, uncooked
1 1/3 c. chicken broth
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Warm olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook garlic and white parts of the onion for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth and salt and bring to a boil. Stir in couscous, remove from heat and cover. Let stand 5 minutes, then stir in basil, thyme, green parts of the onion and cheese.

To serve:
Divide the couscous evenly among four plates. Top with the salmon, some of the leeks and drizzle with sauce.

This couscous goes really well with all sorts of dishes, and the salmon can be swapped out easily for other fish you might prefer. Experiment!