Tips & Tricks

This journey into canine cuisine is a learn as I go journey so this page will help clarify how I prepare or use certain ingredients, the products I rely on, basically those little tips and tricks I've learned to use in my kitchen preparing homemade dog treats and dog food meals.  I'll add more as I think of them or discover them...  Any suggestions are greatly appreciated! 

Adding Water

When cooking a soup or stew and you find you need to add more water during the cooking process, use hot water since adding cold water will slow down the whole cooking process.

Bananas - Storing

Most recipes require ripe bananas but there are times I have really ripe bananas sitting on my counter when I’m not ready to use them.  I freeze them, still in the peel, for several months by placing them in freezer bags.  

Dough - Chilling

After mixing my dough, I almost always set the covered bowl in the refrigerator to let it chill which firms up the fat and gives the flour time to absorb the liquid evenly. This makes the dough much less sticky, roll out more evenly, and hold its shape while being cut and transferred to a baking sheet.

Dough - Freezing

Most of my recipes make way more than Kirby can eat before they spoil which means I sometimes freeze the baked treats or the uncooked dough for later.  Dough can be frozen for up to three months. There are several ways to do this just be sure to label the name of the treat and the date made.

The method I prefer is to place the dough in a large ziplock freezer bag and roll it out like a pie crust. When ready to use, let thaw, roll out to desired thickness, and cut out the cookies with cookie cutters.

Another way is to form the dough into logs for slice-and-bake cookies. Form the dough into a log with the help of parchment or waxed paper and store the logs in a large zip-lock freezer bag. Don’t thaw the dough before baking, use a sharp knife to cut as few or as many as you want, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet, and let them thaw while the oven is heating up.

A final trick is to prepare your balled or drop cookies up until the point of baking them, freeze them on a baking sheet, and then place in zip-lock freezer bags. This way you can get as few or as many as you want out of the freezer and let them thaw on the cookie sheet while your oven is heating up. 

Use a drinking straw to suck the air out of the bags before closing.

Dough - Mixing

I use my Kithenaid mixer but if you don't have one, whisk together the dry ingredients, then add them to the wet ones, stirring until the mixture is evenly combined.

Dough - Rolling

I adore my Silpat Roller and non-stick mat since nothing is sticking to those babies!  Before I would place the dough on a lightly floured surface, place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough, and then roll. I would also use the same paper as the liner on my cookie sheet.

Another trick I've learned is to place the dough inside a large ziplock bag, roll it to the thickness you want, then cut open the sides, remove the top, and use your cookie cutters right on the bag. No flour needed.

Dough - Scooping

(1) Fill a spoon halfway with a stiff dough or icing. Using another spoon of the same size, scrape the dough off the first spoon onto the baking sheet.

(2)  I like using my plastic cookie scoop which has a rubber top.  Scoop the dough against the side of the bowl using the lip of the bowl to level off the bottom then press the rubber top of the scoop to release the dough. This results in a more consistent size and it’s a quicker way to get the job done.

Eggs - Boiled

(1) Place eggs in a pot and cover with an inch of water. (2) Bring the water to a boil over high heat (3) Remove from heat, cover, and let rest for 15 to 17 minutes (4) Pour out hot water and fill with enough cold tap water to cover the eggs (5) Gently crack each egg against the side of the pot (6) Let rest in the water for about an hour so the water can seep in between the shell and egg for easy peeling. Boiled eggs can be kept in the refrigerator for about 7 days.

Eggs - Fresh Test

Egg shells are porous so over time the liquid in the egg evaporates and is replaced by outside air resulting in more buoyant eggs. Test your eggs by filling a bowl with cold water and placing the egg in it. If it sinks to the bottom, it's fresh. If it sinks to the bottom but stands on its point, it's still good but needs to be used soon. If it floats to the top, toss it.

Egg Shells - Ground

Wash the empty eggshells in warm water until all of the egg white is removed being careful not to remove the papery thin membrane attached to the inside of the shell since it contains important nutrients for your pet's joints that help with arthritis.

Lay the broken shells out on paper towels and allow them to air dry thoroughly. I then store them in an extra egg carton in the cabinet until I have enough to grind. Break the eggshells up into small pieces and grind them into a fine powder in a coffee grinder you have NOT ground coffee in.  I have a grinder specifically for Kirby so I don’t have to worry about what might have been left behind that can harm him. You can put the egg shells in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to grind them. Store in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid in a dry place like a kitchen cabinet for up to two months. Add 1/2 teaspoon per pound of meat in a recipe or 1/4 teaspoon per cup of prepared food. 1 medium sized eggshell equals 1 teaspoon of powder.

Egg Shells - Removing

Once the eggs are boiled, its time to place them in a bowl of cold water to let them set. An easy way to remove the shell is to gently crack the egg and then re-submerge it into the cold water for about an hour. This will allow the water to get in between the shell and the egg making it easier to peel.

Egg Replacements

Use any of the following for one egg keeping in mind the flavor you want to maintain:

  • Combine 1 tablespoon of flax meal in 1/4 cup very hot water. Let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The flax meal creates a gooey, eggy, fatty feel  just like real eggs in recipes but does have a nutty taste.
  • 2 tablespoons potato starch
  • 1/4 cup mashed banana
  • 1/4 cup Applesauce plus 1 tsp Baking Powder 
  • 1/4 cup Yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons of pureed fruit

Flax Meal

Whole flax seed will stay fresh for up to a year if stored correctly.  Purchase from a source where you’re sure there is rapid turnover. Ideally the meal should be refrigerated at the store. The bag should be opaque since light will accelerate the meal going rancid.  Vacuum-packed packaging is the best because it prevents the meal from having contact with oxygen before opening.

Whole flax seed should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place preferably in the refrigerator or freezer to be on the safe side. Flax meal should be stored in the freezer and used up within a few weeks. 

Since flax seed will go rancid more quickly after being ground up into meal it's safer to buy whole flax seed and grind it into meal in a coffee grinder (set aside one that is NOT used to grind coffee beans which are toxic to dogs).  It should have a mildly nutty taste so if it is at all bitter, throw it away. A ¾ cup of whole flax seed yields 1 cup of flax meal.

Grains - Soaking 

Soaking grains before cooking makes them easier to digest, releases the needed enzymes to be more nutritionally available, and removes a lot of the starch. Measure out 1 cup of grain and pour into a glass jar or other container with a lid. Add 2 cups of water.  Let it soak for 8-12 hours or overnight at room temperature.  It is not necessary to refrigerate the grain while it is soaking. Drain the grain in a large colander and rinse, rinse, rinse with cool water. The grain is now ready to be cooked. It can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator until the next day. Grains can include brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole oats, steel cut oats, quinoa, wheat.

Nuts, seeds, legumes and grains contain “phytic acid,” which is present largely in the bran. This binds to minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc, thus making them unavailable for absorption in the intestine.  A diet high in improperly prepared whole grains, seeds and nuts may lead to digestive problems, allergies, serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss.

Soaking nuts and seeds in water activates germination, which is thought to reduce the enzyme inhibitors. For example, soaking activates the enzyme phytase, which then neutralizes phytic acid. Through the soaking process, the enzyme inhibitors are ‘neutralized,’ other beneficial enzymes are activated and the vitamin content increases, especially the B vitamins, vitamin C and Carotene. Soaking makes seeds, nuts, legumes and grains easier to digest and the nutrients are more easily absorbed.

Honey

Many recipes you already use can be adjusted for your dog by omitting or replacing ingredients that aren't dog friendly. One replacement for sugar is natural honey. Because of its high fructose content, honey has a higher sweetening power than sugar. This means you can use less honey than sugar to achieve the desired sweetness. A trick is to coat the measuring cup with non-stick cooking spray or oil before adding the honey so it will slide right out. A 12-ounce jar of honey equals 1 cup.

Liver - Removing Toxins

To release any toxins that were stored in the liver and remove some of the pungent smell, place the thawed and drained liver in a covered container with about 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and refrigerate overnight.

Meat -  Cutting

Cutting or slicing meat to grind or cook can be tricky even with a sharp knife. To make it easier, place the meat in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes to stiffen it up.

Oat Flour

You can always buy oat flour in the grocery store.  However, for a cheaper and healthier version make your own.  I purchase old fashioned rolled oats such as Quaker or the store brand.

Pour the rolled oats into a food processor or blender and secure the lid in place. Blend or process on low speed in 30-second increments stirring to remove any oats that may be stuck to the sides or bottom of the container. Continue blending or processing until the oats are the same consistency as flour. Once ground the oats can become rancid more quickly so store any extra in an airtight container in the refrigerated for up to one month.  Don’t use quick oats which are precooked since cooking them again will create a mushy texture.  Steel cut oats can be ground but will result in a coarser flour. 1 ¼ cups rolled oats yields 1 cup oat flour.

Potato Flour

Potato flour, ground from peeled, dried potatoes provides a soft, moist texture, makes dough easier to shape and handle and increases its shelf life. Add potato flour to the dry ingredients in your recipe and whisk together before adding directly to liquid or it can clump and make lumps. 

You can grind instant mashed potato flakes to make your own potato flour in a food processor or blender. Read the ingredients in order to choose an all natural or organic brand to avoid extra additives your dog doesn't need.  When baking breads it's recommended to replace 1/4 cup of regular flour with potato flour.  Making Kirby's treats I've successfully used just potato flour since he enjoys the dense, chewy texture which lets the main flavors come through. 2 cups potato flakes yields 1 cup potato flour

Shipping Treats

Treats that have a crunchy or hard texture make excellent choices for mail delivery. They tend to be fairly sturdy so you don't have to worry too much about breakage and since they already have a fairly dry texture, drying out isn't much of an issue.

The trick to shipping treats is to pack them snugly in an airtight container.  They should be well packed in an inner box (I like to layer the treats between paper inside the container), then well packed in a second outer box. Choose a box that is appropriate in size to the airtight container you are using. This will help keep the container from shifting and the treats from breaking. The ideal cushion is 2 to 3 inches of packing material on all sides. Use packing peanuts or Bubble Wrap to reduce rattling and any breakage. Used wrapping paper can be shredded and used for lining the boxes. 

Storing Treats

First make sure they are completely cooled, otherwise they’ll steam, soften up, and stick to each other. Treats can usually be stored at room temperature in airtight containers for up to a week, however, I like to keep them in the refrigerator. Appropriate containers can be cookie jars or tins, screw top plastic jars or snap-top plastic boxes, or a tightly closed ziplock bags.  If you plan to store treats for more than a week, wrap them so air can’t get to them and freeze for up to 3 months.

Use A Straw

I store Kirby's treats in zip lock bags. I can write the name and date on the front and they don't take up much room in the freezer. However, all that air in there can cause ice crystals to form which in turn affects the food. That's why I use a straw! Slide the end of a straw into the baggie and zip shut as close as possible. Suck out the air, carefully remove the straw and zip the rest of the way shut. Not as good as a machine but close enough!

Vegetables - Cutting Wobbly Ones

To safely cut wobbly vegetables like potatoes, squash, and beets, with a sharp knife, cut a thin slice along the length of the vegetable to create a flat side. Then turn the vegetable cut-side down on the cutting board. This will make it stable so it won’t wobble. Slice until it becomes unsteady and hard to grip. Then turn the vegetable so that the broad, flat side from which you made the last cut is face down on the cutting board and finish slicing.

 

A wire whisk, not a spatula, is the best tool to use when you need to "fold in" something delicate like egg whites into a batter without losing air.