Welcome to Fish Fridays!

The alliteration was irresistible. So stop by here every Friday for the next eight weeks as I offer tips, hints and information that will help you overcome any “fear of fish” in your kitchen.

I found out a lot in working on my new cookbook, “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” (UNC Press). “Carolina Catch” features more than 90 recipes plus a guide to the state’s fish and shellfish – freshwater, saltwater, wild-caught and farmed. Turn to the Best Basics section  for detailed information on selecting, storing and preparing fish.

Let’s start with three kitchen tools for cooking fish and shellfish that will change your world.  These are all indispensable in my kitchen.

1. Instant-read thermometer. Many people overcook fish, end up with a wad of sandpaper and declare they don’t like fish. Wrong – you just messed up in cooking it. A simple instant-read thermometer, plus the exact temperatures and times in Best Basics, will help you stop guessing and have great fish.

fish spatula

fish spatula

2. Grill pan. In the summer, I like to cook everything on the grill (I’ve even grilled salads). A grill pan with a perforated bottom ensures against shrimp or fish falling through the grill grates, and is easy to clean. I usually spray mine with cooking spray before grilling even if the pan claims to be nonstick.

3. Fish spatula. This tool is great for everything, from turning fish to lifting frittatas or omelets from the frying pan. I hardly use my regular spatulas anymore. It’s thin, slotted, has a slanted edge and is wide enough that you can lift fish without breaking up the filet.

Now, go fish!

To learn even more, take at look at “Carolina Catch.” And the Moose is loose! Visit Events at debbiemoose.com to find a cooking class or signing I’m doing near you.

Day 4: Three great stocking stuffers

Every kitchen needs those little things that make life easier, and those are the items that I put in gift baskets or carry along for gifts at dinners or parties. Here are my three favorites. Two are old stand-bys and the third is a new one I was introduced to this year and now use several times a week.

All of these are available at kitchen stores, such as Southern Season in Chapel Hill or Whisk in Cary, and at variety stores.

Long-handled locking tongs: The locking function is key. It allows the handle to fold up tight for storage. I use these sturdy tongs to turn food on the grill, toss greens for salads or stir-frys, lift roasted meats and a number of other things. Mine are about 14-inches long. Oxo/Good Grips makes a good pair.

Mini angled measuring cup: I use this small plastic cup with a spout, which is marked off in tablespoons and ounces, for just about everything. It’s a jigger for cocktails or a scoop for sugar, holds soy sauce or other liquids at the ready to add quickly to a dish (try propping up a regular tablespoon and disaster will ensue). I have to frisk people when they leave my house to be sure they don’t pocket it. Also made by Oxo/Good Grips.

Charles Viancin silicone bowl lid: I received this as a gift earlier this year and it has become a kitchen staple. The surface seals to the lip of most bowls. Environmentally conscious friends will love it because it can replace plastic wrap or foil for storing food in the refrigerator. It’s heat tolerant, so it can go in the oven. It’s great for steaming  foods and is easily washable. And it’s just pretty. You can see what it looks like here.  Although the photos show lifting bowls with the lid, I would not attempt that. Find it at kitchen and specialty stores.

Dining with Rob and Laura

The Hub is a big fan of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” from the ’60s. For Christmas, I gave him a DVD set of all five seasons of the show, and I’ve noticed something as we’ve been watching those old episodes. Most of them include at least one scene in the Petries’ kitchen – usually breakfast or dinner. And Rob and Laura are really interacting with their food. Snappy dialogue is flying around, and Laura (played by the saucy  Mary Tyler Moore) is frosting cakes, simmering sauces, tossing salad or mixing meatloaf with both hands in a bowl of hamburger. She’s actually cooking – I could see steam rising up from pots on the stove. She was spreading real icing on a real cake as she talked to neighbor Millie.

I admit that I don’t watch a lot of sitcoms, but I can’t remember the last time I saw someone actually cook on one. On “The Cosby Show” in the ’80s, Cliff was famous for his creatively bad cooking, but it was done as a gag bit – those pots on the stove were empty. I see an occasional pizza box or already set tables with indistinguishable food on “Suburgatory,” but no cake decorating.

Also, when Rob, Laura and little Ritchie sit down to eat, they actually eat the food. I mean, bite and chew. While still shooting out fast-paced dialogue.  In the first-season episode we watched last night, Laura finishes preparing a meal, Rob helps put it on the table, Laura serves him some vegetables and Rob serves her some meat, they each cut and nibble – while their hilarious argument over Rob’s absence from Ritchie’s school play goes on.

In the scene, preparing and sitting down to dinner was shown as simply a part of their life together. Something about these scenes reinforces their characters without a word being said, and shows the closeness of their marriage even in the midst of a disagreement. Was all this cooking and eating intentional, or just to show life at the time? I don’t know, but it certainly gives another dimension to the characters.

Learning to cook

My husband drew my attention to a cartoon on a site called XKCD today. Unless you’re a geek, or married to one, as I am, you have no idea what most of the cartoons there could possibly be about. Today’s is different. It documents the endless loop of the inexperienced cook. It’s here, and see how true you think it is.