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Corn dogs entertain, satisfy kids' tempermental taste buds

Food held a strong presence in Amy Thielen's family while she was growing up. "If you cook well, you live well." (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

I think it is time to devote some space to kid food - seeing that a 2-year-old is my most constant, devoted and demanding customer.

Seriously - and this is classic 2-year-old stuff - he sits at the counter and orders. As if there were a menu.

"I want tatos!

And trees! (Broccoli.)

I want fries!"

I know I'm not the only mom of a 2-year-old who experiences this. As soon as you teach them to express themselves they turn into little, articulate dictators.

For example, last week we drove through the bank drive through and he yelled, "Fries! I want a big fries!" The teller smiled; that was good for two tootsie rolls.

Yesterday I introduced him to a pot of corn grits with cheddar cheese and after a few bites he said, "what's this name?"


"I like grits. Grrrr. . . . its!"

It's holy fun to say, this new thing called grits, is sufficiently porridgy enough to win his love. This is a kid who likes his mush. Mashed potatoes are the golden grail, but we are trying to branch out.

When he was a baby I fed him all kinds of interesting purees, without much resistance: smoked turkey and wild rice, squash, pineapple-oatmeal, beet-pear. (That last one was good enough that I made it later for us).

But then his mouth clamped shut and ever since I've concentrated less on the particulars of what he eats and more on just getting him to eat something. It's pure calories that concern me. I haven't stopped trying to introduce him to things, but it does grow frustrating. You would think he would like a very plain rice pudding with raisins (no) or grilled cheese sandwiches (nah) or fried fish (nope).

This week he likes pears and hot dogs and meatballs - and fries, the only constant in our lives - and when he was a baby he loved kimchi (the spicy fermented Korean cabbage), which is a wild card. I've come to understand that kids are exploratory beings and prone to waffling - then again, maybe only by making such radical choices can you discover what you like.

Not a lot of vegetables in this line-up, you notice, but it's not from lack of trying. (What we lose in veggies we try to make up in fruit.) Broccoli, he likes, if you call them trees. An attempt to pass off cauliflower as a white tree was not successful. He is just one of those kids who likes pale, starchy food. Something about it appeals to him, and to most kids. As his 5-year-old friend says when she comes to lunch, "I like paste. Things like bread and noodles."

So I figured that the pasty cornbread batter would reel him into liking corndogs. I like them, although they're often a little greasy for me. Then I remembered a recipe for corndogs that I had bookmarked a long time ago but which I had hoped, for the sake of my health, I never got around to making at home. But then one Sunday recently we woke up and it seemed like a good idea for brunch. Kind of like a corn muffin and a sausage, right?

Not really. They were delicious - far better than anything you can pick up on the fly - but still deep-fried. It was little heavy before noon. You know the breakfast is too heavy if the acidic bite of strong coffee doesn't cut it. I'd try them again, but for dinner.

The boy, characteristically, was more interested in the shape than the taste. He nibbled a bit, but did a lot of waving in the air, conducted a little fanfare for paste on sticks. I guess I'll take it for now.

Corn Dogs

Recipe from Gourmet Magazine

This recipe calls for grilling the dogs before cooking them in the batter, but I boiled mine and they were good.

8 hot dogs

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided

About 8 cups vegetable oil, divided

1 1/2 cups cornmeal

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

2 large eggs

1 1/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk

Equipment: A grill pan; eight wooden ice-pop sticks; a deep-fat thermometer

Oil grill pan, then grill hot dogs over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly charred on all sides, about five minutes total. Transfer to a plate and cool slightly, then insert a wooden stick into each hot dog. Put 3 tbsp flour on another plate and roll hot dogs in flour to coat, shaking off excess.

Heat three inches oil to 350°F in a deep three-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, whisk together cornmeal, remaining 1/2 cup flour, 2 tbsp vegetable oil, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, cayenne, and 3/4 tsp salt in a medium bowl. Add eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in buttermilk.

Transfer some of batter to a tall glass, filling it almost to the top.

Working in batches of two or three, dip hot dogs, one at a time, into glass of batter to coat (add more batter to glass if necessary), then fry, turning occasionally, until batter is cooked through and golden-brown all over, about three minutes. Transfer corn dogs to paper towels to drain. Return oil to 350°F and refill glass with batter between batches.