Monday, November 26, 2012

Favorites Recipes--Homemade Canine Holiday Treats

A Guest Post from Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

I'm back!   And I've been dreaming of dog biscuits.  I had a flash of inspiration this past long weekend:  wouldn't it be great for all our humans to meet-up for a canine cookie exchange?  Attention humans with dogs--no need to worry about ramping up your blood sugar or adding pounds with this treat exchange.  And what better way to unplug the constant consumer demand to spend, spend, spend this season?  

Why not bake, then get together and share for your canine friends.  Call me self-centered (and frankly I find that a compliment)  but I can't think of a better way to spend the holidays.

Before we started this weekend baking spree, Management had planning a trip to the beach. They talked it up too--the beach romps, the fireplace, the sound of the ocean. . . . But for some reason plans got waylaid.  Don't ask me why, I'm only along for the ride, but I do know when plans get rearranged, good things can happen.  

But wait--before the trip was cancelled, I spotted this celebrity memoir. 

Finally, a memoir I can relate to.  The book must have also impressed Management, because we spent some quality time watching The Artist, which starred Uggie as Jack the Dog.  And I mean quality time, on the sofa with extra blankets! The movie was almost entirely silent except for a few barks in the middle which woke me from my nap. 

No this isn't your place, I've been here all along, I'm just stretching out.
I love a good nap as much as the next lazy hound, but when the scents and sounds in the kitchen call my name, I'm there.   

This is the kind of Christmas dough I'm talking about!
We've been collecting links to blogs for dog treats for some time now, and since this is the season of sharing here's a link list for some cool treats:

Pupcakes--from Best Bully Sticks.  This is an adapted recipe from Three Dog Bakery

Sweet Potato Chews--From 17 Apart.  Who doesn't like sweet potato chews? This is awesome!

Peanut Butter-Banana treats--from Sweet Pea's Kitchen.  Wasn't that Elvis Presley's favorite flavor combination?  You can't go wrong here!

Parsley-Mint dog biscuits--from Epicurious.  Most reviews said dogs liked these better when peanut butter was substituted for the butter.  For canines peanut butter gets 4 paws up.  But honestly I can't think why you'd add so much brown sugar, we left it out.  

All these recipes from the Daily Drool, my favorite Internet dream site.  Find your fantasy biscuit here.

Management adds, "Make it local."   Fresh locally ground flours and local squash and yams make the best ingredients, and of course, you want the best because the time has come for the canine holiday cookie exchange. 

It's a puzzle--find the Christams wolf cookie cutter!

This is how we have tweaked this recipe that we posted not long ago:

Peanut Butter-Molasses-Pumpkin Dog Biscuits
(Makes 30 to 60 biscuits, depending on size)

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs (or use 1/2 cup mashed banana, or egg replacer)
1 cup cooked pumpkin
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup molasses

Preheat oven to 325F.  

Blend flour, cinnamon and baking soda together.   In a blender, combine eggs, pumpkin, peanut butter and molasses.  Blend until smooth.  Stir into the flour, adding enough flour for a stiff dough.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Flour a cutting board and pat dough out.  Roll dough 1/4-to 1/8-inch thick. (The thinner you cut these biscuits the less time for baking.) Cut with any kind of cookie cutters.  Place on a parchment lined sheet.

Bake for 25 to 40 minutes.  Turn off oven and allow biscuits to crisp. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Memorable Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Side dishes made and served by Carol Boutard at Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon

Thanksgiving is all about vegetarian side dishes for us. It's not uncommon in other parts of the world to create meals composed of appetizers and side dishes and even if you aren't a vegetarian, check out this excellent list of ideas for side dishes I wrote last Thanksgiving.

We're lucky to have two hungry hounds who love vegetables as much as we do.

Finn my Cooking Assistant, dog picker, checking out  produce from the Hillsdale farmers' market
If a side dish only menu isn't your cup of tea, you aren't a turkey fan, and want a whole menu of  recipes, check out Nancy Ging's Northwest locavore holiday menus.    Nancy offers three selections, two animal main dishes and one vegetarian.

Also, this week from 101 Cookbooks, Heidi Swanson listed her favorite Thanksgiving recipe ideas.  As I perused her list, I spotted a great green bean recipe.  It's simple and though green beans aren't in season now, I wanted some as soon as I saw it.  I have to admit, I'm a vegaholic and I think sometimes people try too hard with recipes that are too fussy or too rich, which detracts from wonderful vegetable flavors.  I saw a few recipes like this one for creamed kale like this one from Guy Fieri, the spiky white-haired guy from the Food Network.  This recipe came from an episode called Steak Night with Dad, which included bacon-wrapped beef and portobello fries.

Give Guy the Paula Dean super-rich food award for this one.  Guy--seriously, I'm not surprised you got hammered by critics recently.  Go home and learn how to cook a few vegetables!  And maybe loose a few pounds while you're at it!!

If you're into soup, I found this very cool soup from Tom at Tall Clover Farm.  I liked it because it uses coconut soup instead of same old boring cream and he adds a Thai curry for a unique flavor.  I can't wait to try this one.   You may decide to give your whole meal a Thai twist, this year.

If you're still into scoping out ideas, check out some of your favorite cookbooks.  Warning--here's a bit of shameless promotion coming because I use my own cookbooks for inspiration all the time.

Check out this cool review of my recent book in the Bellingham Herald.

I do want to add--why not make this Thanksgiving a GMO-free meal. Check out my article in Marlene's Sound Consumer this month with 5 reasons for a GMO-free Thanksgiving.

And don't forget salads.  They're often the featured dish at our house.

Why not go beyond your usual green salad.   I got some fennel at the market this past weekend and plan to make this fennel-orange salad with avocado.  You can add gorgonzola or walnuts.  Though it tastes good either way, I like a dairy-free salad and I'm using walnuts since they're in season now.  Thanks to Grouse Mountain Farm, I've stocked walnuts in our pantry for the winter.

Tom voted for potato salad, so I got three different types and colors of potatoes to make this cool potato salad. 

Here's the recipe:

Perfect Potato Salad
(Serves 4 to 6)

2 pounds potatoes (waxy yellow, red, or purple)
1/4 to 1/2 cup garlic aioli spread or mayonnaise 
2 tablespoons white miso
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
2 tabelespoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup chopped pickles
1 1/2 cups pepper (green, yellow, or red)
1/4 cup sliced green onions (optional)
2 stalks celery, diced
Smoked paprika
Handful of parsley (curly or flat)

1. Wash and cut potatoes into bite size pieces.  Place in a saucepan with a little water and steam on medium until tender, about 5 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Drain, rise with cold water and set aside.

2. In a small bowl blend aioli spread, miso, celery seed, raspberry vinegar, mustard, garlic and cayenne.  Whisk until well blended. Stir in pickles. 

3. Place potatoes, pepper, green onion and celery in a salad bowl.  Pour dressing and pickles over vegetables and gently mix until dressing coats all the potatoes.  Sprinkle with smoked paprika and garnish with a handful of fresh parsley.

Stuffed pumpkin could be another side dish or your might label it a main dish.  This vegan version of stuffed pumpkin looks pretty cool to me.

For dessert a berry crisp.  I'm dipping into my freezer for Chester blackberries from Ayers Creek Farm.  Here's the recipe I use year-round.  I've tried other recipes but always go back to this one that I've been making for over 30 years.

Whatever you do, save a few leftovers for your canine friends:)  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Cookies

It's cookie season, and we all wanted something old-fashioned, something that said "pure comfort."  So I decided to shuffle through some of the cookbooks taking up space on my shelves.  I focused on some of the oldest books that get little use.   Were they even worth keeping around anymore?

I had all my old books spread around me.  I picked this book up first.  It was my mom's favorite cookbook.  I remember the day she got this book when I was very young.  "This is the book for me," she'd declared.  I gazed at it sadly when realized our family was doomed to a lifetime of boring dinners.

I love those people who wax on about what great cooks their parents were and how their lives have always revolved around food, but the truth is my mother hated cooking. She'd rather spend her time drawing or sewing.  In fact when I gave my first book to an editor, she said, "I sense a conflict between you and your mom."  We were different, that's all.  It used to be hard to accept that cooking was not one of mom's favorite activities.  

 Mom made no secret about her feelings and spent as little time in the kitchen as possible.  Meals were mostly boring.  I hate the little pieces of meat leather, served in the same boring way.   By the time I got to high school, mom was an outspoken proponent of Dr. Stillman's low-carb diet, and she refused to serve anything more than a slab of meat and a green salad for dinner.  Spaghetti was too fattening, and rice, potatoes and homey casseroles were also dropped from her recipe index.   

It was with reluctance that I opened this book.  I only keep it because it was Mom's favorite.

But I've got to admit, Peg Bracken is funny.  Sometimes laugh out loud funny.  I love the disclamer on the book flap:  "A hint for cooks who love to cook: this book isn't supposed to be for you, but you ought to have a copy.  The recipes are excellent, and Peg Bracken is very funny.  I'll admit she's funny, but the recipes, well,  whoever the editor was, she's entitled to her opinon of the recipes.

The term  Foodie hadn't been invented in the 1960s.  It was a time of big change, and American women were encourage to work and were pushed into accepting all manner of convenience foods. Sandara Lee's Semi-Homemade tips can't really hold a candle to the all the tips women passed around to cut time in the kitchen in the1960s.  Plus this book game my mom a reason to get out of the kitchen.  It was finally okay for women to admit cooking was not their primary interest in life.

Howeer, most of the recipes in the I Hate to Cookbook, involve meat or dairy and most of them include cans of this or that or packaged mixes, which definitely saves time.  When I was learning to cook, I discovered the limitations of packaged soup stock, boullion cubes, cans of various products.   The end result always tastes a little off, and it's definitely not as healthy as when you use natural products.  I'm not against canned tomatoes, or even canned olives, pickles and some vegetables, but many of these processed foods are too sodium laden and contain questionable ingredients. 

I guess the kitchen is where Mom and I parted ways in terms of our interests.  I learned most of my cooking skills from early cooking shows on TV and talking with friends who liked to cook.  I also picked up tips in many of the vegetarian cookbooks, like Laurel's Kitchen.   Early on, I choose a vegetarian path (perhaps I'd just had it with low carb this and that dreary hunk of meat on the plate).  Plus the idea of eating animals has never appealed to me.

I feel lucky to have found one good recipe in this book.   

Feel free to source as much as you can from local farms.   Your cookies will have lots more flavor with fresh foods, including local flour.   Often we don't realize just how stale grocery store food until you try local options and compare the flavors.

Every year we get a big box of walnuts from Grouse Mountain Farm to carry us through to spring. It's hard to resist baking with these  nuts.

This machine, made by a farmer, winnows the wheat from the field, separating it from the shaft before grinding it.

My Cooking Assistant wasn't very happy to wake up from his nap to pose with a stupid book.
A note before you begin:

This is an old-fashioned recipe that calls for eggs and butter, but if you want to try to veganize this recipe, use about 1/4 cup mashed banana or flax seed egg replacer for the egg, and use vegan replacements for butter.  Using oil changes the texture of these cookies.  Also, if you're sharing with your pooch, omit the mini chips and don't use raisins.

We get all our eggs from River Farm near Ellensburg.  River Farm chickens forage in the forest and the yolks are the deepest yellow I've ever seen.   The only thing you can't do with these eggs is hard boil them until they are a few weeks old.  They are simply too fresh!  We use them sparingly.

Here's the recipe:

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Cookies
(Makes 2 1/2 to 3 dozen cookies)

1/2 to 3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, beaten (from River Farm) or  use a flax seed egg-replacer 
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (from Nash's Organic Produce)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup thick, old fashioned oats
1 cup lightly toasted, chopped walnuts (from Grouse Mountain Farm)
1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (nectarines from Rama Farm) or chocolate chips (optional)

1. Cream together butter or oil and brown sugar.  Stir in vanilla and the beaten egg.   In another bowl combine all dry ingredients except walnuts and dried fruit.   When mixture is blended, stir in nuts and fruit.

2. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or place in the freezer for 1/2 hour.  

3. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Roll dough into small walnut-sized balls.  Press down with a glass dipped in cinnamon sugar.  Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove to a cooling rack.

Now this is the way I want to wake up!  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pumpkin-Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

The breakfast cookie has arrived.   Well, actually it's been here, but I've seen so many recipes for them lately it's hard to resist making one myself.

This is not a breakfast cookie, but check out how an enterprising coffee shop is capitalizing on the tight political race this year--it's so American.  I'm not sure what this says about the election except that Romney supporters are fueling up on sugar, and you know what too much sugar can do to your brain.

Any cookie worth eating in the morning begins its life in the field not a factory.  And since this recipe is about pumpkin cookies, all you have to do it go to a natural foods store or farmers' market and get a sugar pie pumpkin.  Make sure your purchase comes from small sustainable farms like Blue Heron Farm, near Rockport, Washington. (These are destined for Skagit Valley Co-op in Mount Vernon.)

Just about any winter squash will do (except spaghetti squash and decorative squash), so take your pick.

We usually bake winter squash whole.  Poke a fork in it, set the oven to 350F., and put it on a baking sheet. Stick it in the oven, close the door and wait for about 45 minutes.  Check to see if it's done by sticking a fork in and if it pulls out easily, it's done.  Let it cool a bit before letting your Cooking Assistant examine it.

This pumpkin was supposed to go for dog biscuits, which are a big hit, especially when I add a bit of molasses.  It's the best dog biscuit recipe ever, so it was hard to part with some of the pumpkin for an experimental recipe.  I'd picked the smallest pumpkin at the market for $4.00.  The pumpkin inside was about 2 to 3 cups worth, once I'd pureed it.   Exactly enough for breakfast cookies and dog biscuits.

After baking the pumpkin, I checked out recipes.  First I found these pumpkin-oatmeal cookies.  And they initially looked good--oats and oat flour, pumpkin puree--very healthy ingredients.  Then I found these breakfast cookies done two ways.  Genius--or so I thought.  But on closer examination I didn't have some of the ingredients (almond meal, coconut flour, oat flour, spelt flakes) and they're kind of expensive to buy.  Also I didn't want to use agave nectar. (It's not really a healthy ingredient.

The one thing I didn't notice until the last minute was all the recipes contained no oil at all.   And no oil in a cookie or muffin can seriously make baked goods have a texture like hockey pucks.  

Even my Cooking Assistant agrees; if you're going to make cookies or muffins, don't forget the oil.  Sure they contained nut butter, but in my baking experience, it is not the same.  Who wants a hocky puck cookie?

Also when it came to adding things, I had to use walnuts from Grouse Mountain farm and dried fruit (cherries, apples and nectarines) that I'd dehydrated this past summer.

Here's the recipe:

Pumpkin-Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
(Makes 2 1/2 to 3 dozen)

1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten (or use flax seed egg replacer for vegan cookies)
1/3 cup butter or oil
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (I used Nash's Organic flour)
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup lightly toasted walnuts
1 cup dried chopped fruit 

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine pumpkin puree, maple syrup, vanilla, eggs (or egg replacer) and butter or oil in a mixer or blender.  Blend until smooth and creamy.

Combine flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in another bowl.  Mix until well blended.  Then combine pumpkin mixture and flour, adding more flour to make a fairly stiff dough. Blend in walnuts and chopped fruit. 

Drop by spoonful onto prepared baking sheets.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove entire parchment paper to cooling rack.

They came out a tiny bit dry, but not as bad as if I'd used no oil at all.  

Somebody can sniff out a good cookie anywhere.   He loves his pirate hat.