Monday, January 2, 2012

A "Paws"-itive Response

After all the goodies I made for the people on my holiday giving list, some may think that I forgot the four-legged furry members of the family! Fear not - not only did we bust out the catnip I dried over the summer for the felines here (apart from Dish, who is anti-drug apparently), but I sent a little "care package" of "kitty hash" and a new copy of Gourmet Gifts, since I love that book (especially the nuts!), to my animal-loving, ever-crafting aunt and uncle out west too. Some of you know that we also have an old grizzled mutt at home (and I do mean that in the nicest way possible), and my dad's the "puppy papa" of a golden retriever puppy and an adopted Labrador. My uncle has always had dogs, and his goofy black Lab is no exception. So I had at least four tails to wag this holiday!

I never actually planned on making something for the dogs' Christmas gifts, since I am in no way, shape or form skilled in what non-human systems need, want, can and cannot have. I was all prepared to pick up some rawhide chewies on the way to his place. After talking to my dad though, he told me that when a supply issue had forced them to switch the dogs to a wheat- and corn-free, low-grain formula for a short time, the instances of the dogs' ear infections dropped and they seemed a bit more attentive and energetic without being destructive. Apparently with our old Lab Brandy (RIP, old girl), the story was much the same. A pet food recall mandated a switch in diet, which led to her eyes and ears clearing up, her energy to perk up and even her digestion to improve (i.e. a lot less undigested poop!). He wanted to find out if there was a way to make less-inflammatory treats for his clan without paying the insane prices specialty pet foods often command, and asked if I had some recipes for him. Well, the extent of my pet-food knowledge was "no chocolate, no alcohol, no garlic, no onions", so I did a little digging. Lo and behold, once I started looking, I found out that there is a huge list of bad foods for dogs (including why they are, which I appreciated).

That was a lot to filter through in my "mental picture" of what dog treats are flavoured like, but at least I had my baseline of "avoids", which I added wheat and corn to to minimize the overall risk of reaction. I called on whatever skill I developed working with gluten-free recipes and although what I came up with were not gluten free (using rye, barley and uncertified oat flours), these grains are easier for canine systems to digest and provide much needed fibre and slow-release energy. Add in coat-enhancing fatty acids from natural peanut butter, olive oil, pumpkin and seeds, antioxidants from beets and apples and protein from legumes and seed flours and these became some pretty epic snacks!

Nutty Canine Cookies
Makes 35-40
2 cups chickpea flour
1 ½ cups oat flour
¼ cup rolled oats
½ cup pureed pure pumpkin
¼ cup pureed beets
½ cup water
1 tbsp oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or greased foil.
  2. Beat together all the ingredients in a large bowl until thoroughly mixed.
  3. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto cookie sheets and flatten into 1/8"-1/4" thickness.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake 5-10 minutes longer.
  6. Cool completely on the sheet.
  7. You can store these at room temperature for 2-3 weeks.
Chicken-Apple Oat Crunchies
Makes 30-35
½ cup apple juice concentrate
¾ cup prepared chicken stock
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg white
1 ½ cups rice flour
2 cups barley or oat flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 tbsp chicken broth powder
1 tsp crumbled dried sage
1 tbsp crumbled dried parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 300F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.
  2. Combine apple juice concentrate, chicken stock, applesauce and egg white in a large bowl, beating well.
  3. Mix in the flours, rolled oats, broth powder and herbs.
  4. Press evenly onto the cookie sheet.
  5. Score into bars with a knife.
  6. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes.
  7. Turn off the oven and leave the biscuits inside to harden overnight.
Flavour wise, I lucked out with a pupy and two Labradors as 3/4 of my recipients. Those pups will (and do) eat almost everything - animal, vegetable, fruit and sometimes none of the above. But nobody wants to be given just healthy stuff for the holidays, so I deliberately picked ingredients that I knew they would love. The crowning glory of it all was the last batch, a peanut butter, oatmeal and bacon concoction inspired from a photo on my FlickR stream that I affectionately termed "Better Bikkies". Our home "tester" became my new best friend while I mixed up the dough, and even though his teeth are not strong enough to chew through his old favourite Milkbones, I underbaked a few so that he could easily "gum" them down. And down them he did! The puppies at my dad's place almost didn't let the bag of them through the door before chomping down on their holiday treat. I guess they liked it - but really, peanut butter and bacon? How could you not?

You'll notice I used a touch of wheat germ in these (even though I avoided it in the last two rounds of canine cookies) because of the wealth of B vitamins, vitamin E, minerals and fatty acids it has. Besides, I figure that the dogs are not eating a whole batch of these in one sitting, and 1/3 of a cup divided between 60 treats is low enough of an inflammation factor for an occasional "good dog" goodie.

Better Bikkies (Peanut Butter Bacon Dog Cookies)
Makes 60 2" x 3/4" sized rectangles 
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup boiling water
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1 egg
½ cup rye flour
1 cup barley flour
½ cup quinoa flour
¼ cup sunflower seed flour (found at health food stores, or you can grind your own in a coffee grinder) 
¾ cup soy flour
3 tbsp teff flour
½ tsp guar gum
¼ tsp corn-free baking powder
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/3 cup wheat germ (if your dog's allergic to wheat, use rice or spelt bran, or more ground flaxseed)
½ cup quick (Minute) tapioca
¼ cup whole flaxseeds
½ cup imitation or turkey bacon bits (don’t use pork bacon, it's inflammatory and highly susceptible to rancidity) 
  1. Combine oats and boiling water, let stand 10 minutes.
  2. In a bowl, mix together stock, oil, honey, peanut butter and egg until well combined.
  3. Beat in the oats.
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the flours, guar gum, baking powder, ground flaxseed, wheat germ, tapioca, whole flaxseed and bacon bits.
  5. Slowly beat the dry mixture into the peanut butter mixture.
  6. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until no longer sticky. Wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.
  7. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 2-3 cookie sheets with parchment.
  8. Roll out the 1/2"-thickness and cut into desired shapes. 
  9. Place ½" apart on the sheets. 
  10. Bake 45 minutes, until golden brown.