Sit. Stay. Cook.

Cook to live. Live to cook.

Last week was snowy.

Really, really snowy. So snowy, we’re still digging out.

Finnie doesn’t really know what to think:

Snow dog.

She seems intrigued by the stuff, but after a couple of minutes, wants to return to the snuggly warmth of our house. I don’t blame her one little bit.

In honor of snow dogs everywhere, I’ve got mush on the mind.

Corn mush. Grits.

One of my favorites – polenta.

I’m a big fan of polenta. If you can serve something over rice or pasta, you can probably serve it over creamy, soft polenta.

My favorite polenta recipe uses skim milk and chicken broth. You can eat it as-is, or as a base for other flavors by mixing in roasted red pepper coulis or pureed tomatoes.

Parmesan Polenta
Servings: about 3
WW Points: 5 per serving

1 c. skim milk
1 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. yellow cornmeal
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. olive oil
Salt, to taste

Bring milk and broth to a boil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Slowly stir in cornmeal, reduce heat to low, and simmer until thick, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Season with salt.

This polenta is so delicious, you won’t know it’s not terrible for you. It’s creamy, comforting and satisfying.

While I could eat a whole pot of this by itself, my current favorite thing to serve over polenta is chicken cacciatore. Our healthy version uses boneless, skinless chicken breast, lots of vegetables, and a little bit of prosciutto for extra zing.

Chicken Cacciatore with Red Pepper Tomato Sauce
Servings: 4
WW Points: 8 per serving

1 oz. prosciutto, cut into strips
1 Tbsp. + 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 c. button mushrooms, halved
1 medium onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 tsp. garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 c. dry white wine
1 can (14.5 ounce) whole tomatoes
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped

Fry prosciutto in 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat until crisp, about 2 minutes. Add chicken and sear 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken and prosciutto to a plate.

Saute mushrooms, onion and bell pepper in 2 Tbsp. olive oil in same pan over medium high heat until onion softens, 3 – 4 minutes. Stir in garlic, oregano and pepper flakes; cook 30 seconds.

Deglaze with wine, scraping bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the wine is nearly evaporated. Add tomatoes, crushing slightly, and bring to a boil. Return chicken and prosciutto to the pan, reduce heat to low, cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir in parsley. Serve over Parmesan Polenta.

I don’t have a picture to share with you of this dish, so here’s a picture of Grizz mid-yawn:

After a big meal, Grizz gets sleepy.

Next time I make chicken cacciatore with polenta, which won’t be too long from now, I’ll take a picture. But you really should make this for yourself. It’s absolutely delicious and perfect for a chilly day.

I have a camera full of pictures of the cookies I made last night, but I haven’t unloaded them and won’t until maybe tomorrow. Normally, I’d post about something else, but these cookies are so good, I have to share them with you right now!

Instead of a picture of the cookies, here’s Grizz’s cute little Grizzlepuss nose.

It's smooch-worthy.

How cute is that? I mean, doesn’t it just make you want to fall over from the cuteness?

Grizz loves helping with projects. He oversees cooking projects from his place in a dining room chair. Sometimes, he gets more involved. He especially likes embroidery:

He's so helpful.

Once you get off the floor, you should replenish yourself by making my ginger molasses cookies. They’re a little sweet, a little spicy, a little crisp (around the edges) and a little chewy (in the middle). Even better, they’re not terrible for you – I just had one, and I’m considering having another!

…considering…

…considering…

It’s been decided. Another one will be consumed very soon.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
Servings: about 20 cookies
WW Points: 1.5 per cookie

1 1/4 c. flour
1 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/3 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1 Egg
2 Tbsp. molasses
1 1/2 Tbsp. crystallized ginger, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. white sugar (for rolling cookies)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, blend flour, baking soda and spices together and set aside.
In another bowl, cream together butter and 1/2 cup of sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg until well mixed. Then add the molasses and mix to combine.

Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix to combine, then stir in the crystallized ginger until blended into the dough

Using rounded teaspoonfuls (or not quite full tablespoons), form dough into balls and roll them in the extra 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet, lightly flatten with the bottom of a glass and bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

Allow to cool on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

Some things to keep in mind as you make these. One, feel free to adjust the spices to your own tastes. I like the clove flavor, so there’s a bit of it in here. Two, rolling the cookies in sugar, then flattening the cookies with something flat (like the bottom of a drinking glass) are very important for the texture and appearance of these cookies. Take the time and you will not be disappointed!

So… you’ve me the cats and (what’s left of) the fish, but there’s one more family member I need to introduce.

Meet Finnie.

Hi there.

A couple of years ago, on the way back from a trip to Charleston, North Carolina (which is a beautiful place that I hope to visit again), Frank and I succumbed to our desire for a red merle Australian Shepherd and picked up the cutest little ball fluff from a small town in the middle of nowhere, Missouri.

When I say cute, I’m talking ridiculously cute. Puppy magazine cover cute:

Finn Supercute.

And:

Closeup cute.

One more:

Cuteness is coming to get you.

See what  I mean? We saw that face and fell in L.O.V.E.

Two and a half years later, we’re more in love than ever. Finnie is beautiful, smart, funny and lovable. She makes every day an adventure, in a good way.

She can fly, too.

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned her before. She’s one of the best parts of every day.

So we have some sad news to report – two of our fish, Coco and Mr. Plecopostamus, have passed on and are now swimming in the big ocean in the sky.

We’re not sure what took them down, but Jack is still faring well. One might say he’s thriving. I haven’t completely ruled him out as a suspect, but I have no proof of any wrongdoing on his part.

Even in the midst of this tragedy, we still can find some humor. Case in point:

A couple of days after Coco went belly up (not literally – he just sort of sank), we noticed Pleco wasn’t looking so hot. Knowing that the inevitable was upon us, but not wanting to prolong the likely suffering of our finned friend, we came to the realization that we needed to put Pleco out of his misery. But how?

He was too big to flush down the toilet.

I wasn’t going to put him in the garbage disposal. That seemed cruel. Besides, have you ever put a relatively large fish in the garbage disposal? It’s not fun for anyone.

Then we remembered that a friend of ours had once told us how to humanely euthanize a fish. So, we grabbed a large bowl from the cabinet, filled it with mixture of 1 part water to 1 part vodka, and added one ailing Pleco, who soon drank himself into a peaceful, fishy forever sleep.

Then we had to figure out what to do with a dead Plecopostamus.

He was too big to flush down the toilet.

I wasn’t going to put him in the garbage disposal. He’d get stuck, then someone would have to reach in there and pull out what was left. I was not doing that again.

We could put him in a baggie in the freezer until trash day, but we both knew we’d forget he was there and months later come across a frozen fish while looking for pork chops. I was not doing that again.

We decided to throw Mr. Plecopostamus into the field behind our house. And by “we” I mean Frank, who is the only person in our house who doesn’t throw like a girl.

Mr. Awesome carried Pleco’s lifeless, alcohol-leaden body onto the deck and flung him hard and fast into the field.

Pleco soared off the deck…

He sailed over the deck railing…

He practically flew across the yard…

Just as he was about to clear the fence and make his final stop in the field…

Our neighbor’s tabby cat, Leo, who was walking nonchalantly along the fence, minding his own kitty business, stepped headlong into the path of a flying Pleco.

*THWACK*

Leo got smacked, right in the side of his kitty face, with a dead, vodka-soaked fish.

I don’t know if it was the best day, or the worst day, of his kitty life.

Leo has been seen since patrolling the same stretch of fence, so it must not have been that traumatic. Maybe he hopes vodka-soaked lightening will strike twice in the same place.

You’ve already met Jack and Coco (Mr. Plecopostamous is still too shy to allow for a photo), so now it’s time for you to meet two other members of our family.

This is Ralphie.

Ralphie.

We got him eight years ago from an ad in the paper advertising kittens. We drove out to a bar and picked him out of a box under the counter. Ralphie is the perfect cat for someone who wants a cat, but doesn’t want to know they have a cat. That is, he’s aloof and is fine spending days – weeks – in another room as long as there’s and adequate amount of food and water available. However, if you want him to sit on your lap he will, it’s just that when you get up, he doesn’t care one way or another.

This is Grizwald. We call him Griz.

Grizwald.

In November of 2009, we were walking through a mall and stopped by a store set up as an adoption center. In the last cage in the back was this guy. He’s about seven years old and loves nothing more than to snuggle and sleep on my keyboard. Just like he’s doing right now (okay, he’s just to the left of my keyboard). He’s wonderful. I don’t know what the first few years of his life were like, but we’ve got the pleasure of sharing the rest of it with him.

Both Ralphie and Griz are so dignified in those photos, aren’t they?

They’re not always so proper.

For example, Ralphie loves to do yoga in the hallway:

Kitty yoga.

And Griz likes to help with the laundry:

I should have checked my pockets.

They are both excellent family members. So helpful, these two.

Occasionally, they help out in the kitchen. Ralphie lets me know when birds are near the grill. Griz helps clear off the table by knocking stuff off with his tail.

I don’t know what we’d do without them.

What does this have to do with healthy living? Not much, I guess, other than I think part of my own mental well-being involves having one or two cats around. I don’t know if I could live in a house without at least one cat.

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!