BOSTON — y cat watches me cook. My dog watches the oven.
They're both "chow hounds," though my cat, Tyra, takes offense when associated with anything canine. She thinks she's queen of the counter top, always beside me when I measure, sift, and stir. Not far away waits my dog Maddie. At the first scent of food, she's underfoot, at her post in the middle of the kitchen.
Breakfast, lunch, or dinner time, the "Is-it-ready-yet?" look in their eyes is as predictable as a two-minute egg.
To satisfy my pets' cravings for oven-fresh morsels, (and to assuage my guilt for saying "no" to people food), I've begun baking snacks for them. I started with simple treats, adapted from a recipe I found on the back of an old dog-bone cookie cutter acquired in a Yankee swap. After some experimentation - and the help of two very willing taste tasters - I graduated to main course meals.
While the ingredients in these pet recipes are some of the same you'd put in goodies for yourself, the nutrient proportions are higher.
The aroma of sizzling fresh chicken livers and hamburg energizes pets' taste buds, too. Cats and dogs have a sense of taste and smell at least three times as great as their owners. Cats, in fact, have a highly sensitive nerve patch on the roofs of their mouths that controls taste and smell. Food left out for even an hour may not please the keen feline or canine nose.
Do-it-yourself pet baking is not as novel as you might think. Fifty years ago before commercial pet food, people cooked for their pets not out of a desire but out of need. And although recipes for pets are now more sophisticated, preparation is still fairly simple.
Next time you're at the market, buy the basic ingredients for Quick Dog and Crunchy Cat Treats - whole wheat flour, brewer's yeast, powdered milk, cornmeal, and wheat germ. You'll have the basics on hand when you're ready to pick up the chicken livers, hamburg, and vegetables. Then when you're faced with hungry "kitchen helpers," try your hand at homemade cat or dog treats. But just because home-cooked pet food is made with love does not mean it's okay to feed your animals as much as they beg for. Moderation is the key. Homemade treats are meant to supplement your pet's regular diet, not replace it.
Fantastic Fried Chicken Livers
(For cats only!)
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tablespoon melted butter
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 egg white, beaten into peaks
1/2 pound chicken livers
Vegetable oil for frying
In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour, butter, and egg yolk. Cover and refrigerate for at least three hours. Slice the liver into small pieces (about the size of a quarter).
To make batter, fold the beaten egg white into the yolk, flour, and butter mixture. Dip liver into batter.
Pour about 2 to 3 inches of oil into fryer or medium-sized saucepan; heat to 375 degrees F. Using a slotted spoon, lower liver pieces into oil. Fry until golden; drain on paper towels. Let cool for at least 15 minutes. Break pieces into pea-sized bites for kitty to gobble easily.
Leftover fried livers may be frozen or stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Quick Dog Treats
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup nonfat dry powdered milk
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons margarine
1/2 beaten egg
1/4 to 1/2 cup milk or cold water
1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons of any of these flavorings: dry or crushed raw garlic; liver powder (sold in pet stores); powdered chicken, beef bouillon, dried onion, or vegetable soup mix.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and lightly grease a cookie sheet.
Mix flour, powdered milk, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized bowl and stir in milk.
Add margarine and sprinkle the desired flavorings into the bowl.
Knead dough for 3 minutes (dough is sticky so you may want to dust your hands with flour before kneading.)
Using a spoon or your fingers, form little round balls - the size of a quarter - of dough and drop on to cookie sheet.
Bake treats for 10-12 minutes until golden brown, turning once. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before giving to your dog.
Wrap treats in foil and store at room temperature for three days.
After three days, extra treats must be stored in an airtight container in the freezer. They will keep for two weeks.
Makes about 50 treats.
Crunchy Cat Treats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup nonfat dry powdered milk
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 tablespoon brewer's yeast
5 ounces boneless mackerel or canned tuna, packed in oil or 5 ounces cooked chicken, finely chopped
1/2 of a beaten egg
1 teaspoon vegetable or cod liver oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 to 2 tablespoons catnip (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.; lightly grease a cookie sheet.
In a small bowl, mash mackerel, tuna, or chicken with a fork.
In another medium-sized bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add egg, oil, and chicken stock. Mix well and add fish or chicken mixture.
Knead dough until all ingredients are blended well. (It will be sticky so you may want to flour your hands to prevent sticking)
Use a spoon or your fingers and form dime-sized balls of dough. Place onto cookie sheet and press to flatten.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown, turning once.
Let treats cool for at least 15 minutes before serving to your cat.
Store extra treats in foil for three days. After three days, cat treats should be kept in an airtight container in the freezer for no longer than two weeks.
Makes about 70 treats.