Saturday, November 13, 2010

DIY Gifting- for Fido with Love

Most pet owners see their pets as members of the family. And at the holidays, and year round, you want to do something special for your furry family members, but many of the products available at pet stores and discount stores are not only expensive, but sometimes questionable as to how healthy some of these "treats" really are.

The solution? To make your own, of course. That way you can determine the quality of the ingredients, control fat and protein content, and so on. And it goes without saying that homemade treats are going to be not just healthier, but tastier too! From my own experience, your pets will also really enjoy treats made by you with love too!

Here I'll share my two favorite recipes for dog treats. You can make cat treats yourself, and there are recipes out there, but frankly cats are so picky that it's probably easier to just open a can of tuna for them than it is to try to pick out a recipe that they will enjoy. Ask my friend Becky...She spent hours one year making treats for her cats that they turned their noses up at. She sent them to work with her hubby to give to his friend's sister for her cat and another co-worker found the bag first. He declared them delicious. I rest my case. Dogs- not so finicky.

This first recipe really is my favorite. Yeah, sure, I try to feed my dogs mostly grain free foods- but these biscuits are a real winner. I've never had a dog yet that wouldn't run the Boston Marathon for one, they're easy to make, the ingredients are healthy and when I tasted one myself, they are frankly pretty darn tasty. (Yes, I tasted one myself- I wasn't going to feed something questionable to my dogs). In fact, for a very long time neither one of my dogs would eat a biscuit or treat that WASN'T one of these! Yup, biscuits so good that they turned the dogs into biscuit snobs. Good stuff.

The original recipe was called "Big Barbecue Biscuits". I made a few small changes, and here is my end product. First, you'll need to lay in your ingredients. Whole wheat flour, bulgur wheat (which is a coarse cracked wheat available at most grocery stores where they sell their hot cereal or with their "whole foods"), brewer's yeast (available at brewery supply stores and health food stores- it's wonderful for your dog's skin and coat), beef broth, vegetable oil, and chopped garlic (also good for skin and coat, and a natural flea repellent). That's for the biscuits. For the optional "glaze", you'll need an egg, ketchup, and Worchestershire sauce. Honestly, usually I don't bother with the glaze. The glaze doesn't add anything important in particular, it primarily just looks nice. And was the reason they were called "barbecue."

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, I use my stand mixer, combine 2 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup bulgur, 2 Tablespoons brewer's yeast, 2 cloves minced garlic (I use the stuff in the jar). Add 3/4 cup beef broth (warm) and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. (Here, you could use half vegetable oil and half flax oil, hemp oil, emu oil or whatever other good for their coat oil you like- but don't substitute the whole amount. A lot of those heart/skin healthy oils break down when cooked and can make for a "not quite right" final product, and it's been my experience that too much cooked flax seed oil smells gross when cooked. But I digress.) Mix well. The dough will be quite stiff- add a bit of water if it's too dry, or a bit of flour if it's too wet.

Turn the dough out onto your counter. I lightly flour the counter first, and if you need to knead the dough a little to make it hold together it won't stick to the counter. The warm broth makes this dough very nice to work with. It just feels good in your hands. Generally if it's the right consistency, you should be able to just roll it out. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to your desired thickness- I roll it out to between 1/8" and 1/4". You can go thick or thin depending on the size of your dog, just bear in mind that the thickness will change the cooking time a bit. My little chihuahua has bad teeth in a small mouth so he needs a thinner biscuit (another advantage to these biscuits is that they will actually clean your dog's teeth, rather than rot them worse like come commercial treats). For the Mastiff, I make much bigger biscuits!

Now for the fun part: cutting them out. These biscuits are all that is good about making cookies without the trouble of requiring exacting measurements (baking is chemistry, remember?) and worrying about having 40 dozen cookies to add to your waistline. I like to use bone shaped cookie cutters for my biscuits, as they just seem right to me. But really, the sky is the limit. If you're making these for gifting, by all means use cookie cutters that fit with the holiday at hand. In this batch I made some turkeys, large and small Christmas trees, candy canes, and stars. Also, for giggles, I made some BIG mean kitties, medium sized non-threatening kitties, and little tiny friendly a certain local pet bakery. :) Really, you can use anything. If by some chance you don't have any cookie cutters, you can use a biscuit cutter or even just a cleaned out soup or tomato paste can to cut circles. I even tried poking a hole with a chopstick in one of the Christmas trees so it could be hung by a ribbon on the tree as an ornament and it worked just fine.

After you've got your shapes all cut out you'll want to place them on a cookie sheet. If you don't plan to do the bbq glaze, just put them on your cookie sheet- no need to grease or anything. If you do plan to use the glaze, I'd recommend lining your baking sheet with some foil or parchment. The glaze, being egg based, bakes on pretty hard an can be a bit of a pain to scrape off your cookie sheet. As I mentioned, I don't usually bother with the glaze, but for gifting, it DOES look nice. For the glaze, mix one beaten egg, 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce and 1 Tablespoon ketchup in a small bowl. You can brush the mixture onto the biscuits, or I just use a spoon to dab a little on and then use the back of the spoon to spread it around. Here is a picture of what the unbasted biscuits look like, along with some that are already basted:
Then bake the biscuits for about 35 minutes in the 350 degree oven. If the biscuits still feel a little soft, turn the heat off and leave the biscuits in the oven to dry out and cool for several hours. If they are already crisp you can pull them out and let them cool at room temperature. They are now ready to package for gifting or just give to your dog to enjoy!

Recipe #2- Doggie Bagels. This second recipe for crunchy little bagels is another "go-to" recipe for me because they're also super easy. They would be a great recipe for kids to make as the shape is fun to make. Unlike the above recipe where there was some "hardware" required, this recipe requires almost no equipment to make. Again, I let my stand mixer do the work, but all you really need is a bowl and a spoon.
You will need:

1 cup whole wheat or other whole grain flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 package dry yeast (1/4 oz)
1 tablespoon honey
2/3 cup chicken stock, warmed (so that the yeast will rise). I've found that the dough is frequently too stiff with this amount of stock and use 3/4 cup instead.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, yeast, and honey. Add the chicken stock and beat for about 3 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour and mix. Knead for a few minutes until smooth, form into a ball, cover and let rest for about 5 minutes. (I let it rest on top of the stove where it is warm) Then divide the dough into about 25 pieces, roll each piece into a smooth ball, punch a hole into each ball with your finger and gently pull into a bagel shape. The hole should be about an 1/2 inch to 1 inch wide. Again, if you have a small dog, you could make the bagels half this size. You don't need to make them perfect- they will rise into shape as they bake. Place all of the bagels on a greased cookie sheet and allow to rise for 5 minutes. Bake for 20 minutes, flip over the bagels, turn off heat and replace them into the oven to dry out and cool.

I hope you will share these delightful treats with your dogs this holiday season and year round!

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