Fish Sticks and Sticking to Your Guns

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The method is working.  We have a few food rules when it comes to feeding Olive and ourselves.  All these thoughts are fueled by the game-changing book, “French Kids Eat Everything“.  I highly recommend it if you find yourself stressed that your kid eats a limited selection of foods.  Babies don’t know snacking exists.  They learn it soon enough from peers and tv and observing adults who randomly nibble throughout the day, but in the formative first couple years of life where you have most of the control over what your baby consumes, you can show them a different way.  And maybe even learn to eat better, yourself!  Olive gets one snack a day. Yes, she’s 15 months old (almost) and only snacks once a day. (And it’s a good one! Something fun and really tasty. Usually a piece of fruit or some dark chocolate and bread with milk.  You gotta make it something they look forward to.)  It’s in between lunch and dinner, because that’s the longest stretch without food.  We also have to emulate this discipline for her.  How would it be fair to snack in front of her without including her?  And if I want her to be hungry enough at a meal to be willing to try something new, well darn it, she needs to not have eaten a snack an hour before dinner!  Makes sense to me and it seems so obvious, yet so few do it.  We should all eat this way!  Hunger is a discipline that too few of us experience. And the discipline is learned before the age of two.  It can be learned if started after two, but it’s just so much harder (think: excessive whining).

We’ve even pushed dinner back to 7:30 the past few nights and she has eaten EVERYTHING.  Whereas before, I was serving dinner at 6:30 and it was a fight to get her to eat for 10 minutes straight (she’d had her snack just two hours before and had drank milk in between, so, consequently, she was only mildly interested in dinner.)  Eating an hour later has been a transformation –  she ate marvelously and ate everything from fish to broccoli to berries to a nice piece of Manchego (the King of Cheese).  So, it’s working!   The next day, she ate like a bird and acted like bananas were the devil (a  former favorite). Even if she has days like that, I try to remind myself that she will not starve and that maybe she’ll eat more at the next meal (this is SO hard.)  This structure of eating has made my days better, too.  I don’t have to constantly find something for her to eat.  Other than her snack, we’re all eating at the same time.  This will get harder as she gains the ability to ask for things and tell me she’s hungry.  I’ll tackle that problem when it gets here.  Hopefully between now and then, she’ll form the habit of knowing when food is served and being willing to wait till we can all sit at the table together for the family meal.  Also, because she eats so much quantity at each meal, she’s often not even that hungry until about 30 minutes before the next meal. So waiting for the meal is as simple as distracting her with playing in another room with Matt, or just including her in the cooking process like holding the herbs, or a peeled carrot, or whatever.  She sits on the counter a lot 🙂

The recipes today come from two cookbooks.  The fish recipe came from Tyler Florence’s book, Start Fresh, which is an absolutely wonderful book filled with recipes I would be just as happy eating as I would serving them to a toothless baby or toddler.  Toward the end of the book, there are recipes for the whole family to share.  My wonderful friend, Becky, sent this cookbook to me as a gift to me and Olive, and she put sticky notes all throughout the book with comments she made about which recipes looked good, which she wanted to try, etc.  It made me miss her so much and long for my genius-in-the-kitchen friend to be beside me, cooking and enjoying these recipes with me.  I’d recommend doing that to any cookbook you buy for someone – it just made it seem like she was here with me as I looked through it.

The tartar sauce recipe comes from the Bonne Femme cookbook and I swear to you, this is THE best tartar sauce I’ve ever had.  It puts every other tartar sauce to shame.  Makes them seem like a joke.  Like mayo with pickles.  This has tang and zip and crunch and so much flavor, I really will never feel satisfied eating any other tartar sauce, ever again.  (Dramatic, much?)  I’ve made two batches since last week and turned the latest batch into a potato salad.  Amazing.  You can’t go wrong with these recipes and I feel that this would even be an acceptable meal for a kid who does not like everything.  Surely on this plate, any kid could find SOMETHING they were happy to eat!

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Oven Baked Fish Sticks with Roasted Potatoes
serves 4

1/2 cup buttermilk
1 lb cod or tilapia fillets, cut into 1 inch wide fingers
1 cup panko breadcrumbs (I ran out of panko and used plain and it worked fine)
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb assorted baby potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
2 tbs olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Line two rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pour buttermilk into a large bowl.  Add the fish pieces and turn to coat.  In another bowl, stir together the panko, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.  Dredge each fish finger in the breadcrumbs to coat completely and arrange on a baking sheet.

Combine the potatoes (and broccoli pieces, or asparagus or green beans – whatever other green veg you want!) in a bowl and drizle with the oil.  Toss to coat thoroughly, then arrange the vegetables on the other baking sheet.  Bake the fish and vegetables, turning once, until the fish fingers are golden, about 15 minutes.  The potatoes may need longer.  If so, simply take the fish out when they’re done and tent with foil to stay warm.

Serve fish (and potatoes, really) with tartar sauce!

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Tartar Sauce
makes about a cup

3/4 cup high-quality mayonnaise (we think, aside from homemade, that Hellmans REAL mayo is the best.  No low-fat or miracle whip crap.)
2 tablespoons chopped cornichons (small sour French pickles)
1 small shallot or 1 scallion (white part and some tender green tops), minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley or fresh parsley and chives
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons capers, drained and chopped
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon or chervil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a bowl, gently fold the mayonnaise, cornichons, shallot, parsley, mustard, capers, vinegar, and tarragon together (don’t mix too vigorously, or your sauce will be too smooth). Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and preferably 2 hours, before serving. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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Potatoes Gratin

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This is such a beautifully simple dish.  It’s also quite rich and begs that you throw away your fear of dairy, potatoes and butter and embrace how amazing those ingredients, in combination, can truly be.  This is not the potatoes gratin you are used to where rather thick slices of potato are all stacked on top of each other in a huge dish, covered in cheese.  This recipe actually has no cheese.  I know I’d had the dehydrated versions of potatoes gratin out of the box, and possibly something similar at a buffet, but I’d never tried making it myself until we read the book, Must Have Been Something I Ate, by Jeffrey Steingarten. (This book will change you.)

The section of his book that this recipe comes from is entitled “There is a God in Heaven”, (I love a person as emphatic about food as I am)  with the quote beneath the section headline, “But as luck would have it, there is a God in Heaven.  Medical researchers now know that not all saturated fats are the same, and that cocoa butter does not raise our cholesterol.”  And in that section is an entire chapter dedicated to Gratin Dauphinois (the French created this dish, of course), or Potatoes Gratin.  Gratin, coming from the word “gratter”, meaning, “to scrape”  referring to the crispy bits of cream that get glued to the sides of the pan and scrape off and crunch so amazingly well.  Say no more.

We have eaten this dish as a meal, before, but it goes best as an accompaniment to a really great steak and a really fresh salad or other light side.  Also, don’t make the mistake of serving a rich dessert  after eating these potatoes.  I’m all for indulgence and you will never, ever find me saying that you should avoid entire food groups or ingredients altogether (bring on the corn, cheese, gluten, you name the poison) but I am also not dumb enough to serve a rich dessert after a dish this heavy.  You’d sink all the way to the bottom of the playa lake.  Everything in balance!

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Potatoes Gratin*
serves 6-8 as a side

4 tbs butter, softened to room temp
1 cup whole milk
1 large garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1.5 lbs baking potatoes
1.5 cups heavy cream

Preheat your oven to 425F. Place the milk, garlic clove, pepper, salt and nutmeg in a small saucepan, stir, bring to a boil and then remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, liberally butter the bottom and sides of a 9×13″ baking dish, using about half the butter.  Peel the potatoes, rinse them, and pat them dry.  Then, slice them 1/8th of an inch thick, discarding the smallest slices (This is easier with a mandoline) The cooking times really depend on this thickness, so don’t go too much thicker.  Under no circumstances should you wash the potatoes after they have been sliced — the surface starch is absolutely indispensable.

Evenly arrange the potatoes in the buttered dish in ONE LAYER of overlapping slices.  You will undoubtedly have some slices left over.  Don’t try to cram them in.  Bring the milk to a boil again and pour it over the potatoes, removing the garlic.  Cover the pan with a sheet of foil and bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes, until most of the milk has been absorbed.  Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil and remove from heat.  When the potatoes are ready, remove and discard the foil.  Bring the cream back to a boil and pour it over the potatoes, dotting the surface with the remaining butter.

Bake, uncovered, for another 20 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes have turned golden brown, spotted with darker, crisp areas.  You may need to rotate the dish halfway through cooking to ensure an even browning. We love thyme leaves in this dish and will sprinkle some on when the dish is nearly done baking.  Let the gratin settle for 10 minutes.  Then eat immediately – taste and texture suffer with each passing minute.  Cut into 6 to 8 rectangles and serve with a wide, metal slotted spatula.

*most of the text taken directly from Jeffrey Steingarten’s book.  Go get it!

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