Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rigley's Birthday

Rigley celebrating his third birthday
 This blog is entirely dedicated to my wonderful dog Rigley. He is more than a dog he is a member of the family. It is Rigley’s Birthday on Thursday and we are going to Aruba so I wanted to celebrate early this year. He will be turning three and those are some of the best years of my life. He truly is our best friend and we love him. The following are recipes for dog cookies, dog cupcakes and human cupcakes, in celebration of his birthday.
Last year I made dog cookies for Rigley and Teddy for Christmas. So I figured I would make some more cookies for his birthday. The reason I love these cookies is that they are 100% natural and I don’t have to feel guilty for giving them to him. They are so simple to make and they actually smell wonderful! I honestly don’t remember where I discovered this recipe but I actually altered it a bit so now it’s my recipe! If you have a dog or you ever need to get someone’s dog a gift these are perfect.
Rigley’s Peanut Butter Cookies
2 Cups of whole wheat flour (I used organic 365 brand)
1 tbs of baking powder
1 cup of room temperature peanut butter (I used unsalted creamy organic 365 brand)
1 cup of skim milk, almond milk, coconut milk, or water (I used organic almond milk)
Preheat the oven to 375. In a bowl combine flour and baking soda and in another bowl combine the PB and milk. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. It is much easier to mix with your hands considering you have to knead the dough with them. I do this in a bowl, but you can also do it on a floured work surface.  Once mixed and kneaded the dough will be like a biscuit consistency. Make sure you have a large floured work space where you can roll the dough; I used a large sil pad (silicone baking sheet). Next take about ¼ or a 1/3 of the dough depending on the surface area of your floured work space. Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness and cut into shapes. I used a medium and small dog bone cookie cutter but any cookie cutter will do. This takes some time and energy and if you just want it to be a quick process I would suggest just rolling out the dough and cutting it into squares using a pizza cutter. Place your cookies on a greased baking sheet and bake twenty minutes or until light brown; you do not want to burn these. Cool on a baking rack and store in an air tight container. It makes about 30 cookies depending on the size you make them.

Medium cookies ready to be baked

Small cookies baked
You may want to modify the recipe depending on the size of your dog. If you have a small dog you may want to roll the dough a little thinner and use a smaller cookie cutter. If you have a large dog you make want to use a large cookie cutter and roll out the dough even thicker. These cookies have no preservatives so if you have a small dog I suggest cutting down the batch, freezing them, or sharing them.
Since many pet parents do not cook or bake for pets I feel there is a great need for me to explain the ingredients. The reason I used whole wheat flour is that it is better for your dog than refined white flour and will keep your dog fuller longer. Also, dogs aren’t supposed to have dairy so I normally research what is safe for dogs before I cook or bake. Here is a helpful website http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/people-foods.html.  If you do not see a particular item that you are interested in feeding your dog just look up the ingredient and see if it is safe. I know almonds and coconut are safe so their milk is safe to dog consumption, if you are worried I would just use water, which is cheaper and easier! Trust me your dog will love them for you and they are so much cheaper to make than buying good natural dog treats.
I knew I wanted to make Rigley cupcakes for his birthday so I decided to research recipes on the internet. In the past for his birthday I have bought him a large dog cookie or dog cookies that look like cupcakes but they take him a long time to eat because they are hard and made for larger dogs. Plus he tends to make a mess because they are always decorated with carob. There were a ton of choices for dog cupcakes, some with meat products, some with carrots, they all sounded “good” for a dog, but one that caught my eye was made with bananas.  I know Rigley loves bananas so I figured they would be a great for him.
Rigley’s Banana Birthday Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
2 cups skim milk, almond milk, coconut milk or water (the original recipe uses water but I used almond milk since I had opened it for the cookies)
2 overripe mashed bananas
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 egg
3 tbsp honey
Heat oven 350 degrees. In the bowl that you mashed the bananas add the vanilla, honey and egg and beat. Then add your dry ingredients and mix well. This dough is a little runny so do not add more flour, it is supposed to look runny. Scoop into cupcake pans, I used mini cupcake pans because I have a small dog but you can use the large ones if you have a big dog. If you are using mini pans bake for 10 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. If you are using large tins bake for 20 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean.
For presentation, warm up a a little of the organic unsalted PB (it needs to be refrigerated and will not spread at that temperature) and ice the top of your dogs cupcake, then place a small bone PB cookie on top. 
Rigley eating his birthday cupcake
 Since Domenick and I wanted to join in on the celebration I decided to make cupcakes for us too.  The cupcakes I made have got to be my favorite cupcakes of all time, which is bizarre because they are so simple to make. They are so delicious and the batter only makes 6-7 extra large cupcakes, which is good because I could eat a lot more of them. The way I discovered these cupcakes is ironic. My mom told me she didn’t want cake for her birthday last year. I knew she meant she didn’t want any baked goods, but since my mom does so much for me I could not let her go without something sweet on her birthday. I searched my cookbooks and looked for a recipe that would only make a few cupcakes so that my mom couldn’t get too mad at and I found them. The book is Cupcakes by Pamela Clark. They are actually called ice-cream cone cupcakes because they are supposed to be put into waffle cones and decorated to look like ice cream, but I didn’t do that so I adapted the recipe. Anyway, when we tried them on my mom’s birthday (hence the name) we were all so disappointed that it only made 6 cupcakes because they were amazing. Moral of the story, double the recipe and everyone will be happy.
Mary Ann’s Birthday Cupcakes
6 tbs of softened unsalted butter
½ tsp of vanilla
½ cup of raw organic sugar
2 eggs
1 cup of flour
1 ½ tsp of baking soda
½ tsp of salt
3 tbs of milk
Preheat oven to 350. Line 6-7 holes in a large cupcake tin or 12 in a medium cupcake tin. Beat butter, sugar, eggs, flour and milk in a small bowl, either by hand or with an electric mixer on low and then increase speed to medium. I mixed all this dough by hand but just a warning it is thick heavy dough so if you have a hand mixer use it. It is not enough batter for a standard standup mixer. Next scoop the dough into the tins and smooth the surface of the cupcakes. Bake large cupcakes for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean (I believe they may take less time so keep an eye on them). If you are using a medium tin bake for about 20 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean. They should be a blonde color when pulled out of the oven. Next place a cake rack on the top if the cupcakes and invert to get the cupcakes out. Then use another rack to turn the cupcakes right side up to cool.
Butter Cream Frosting
1 stick of softened unsalted butter
1 tbs of vanilla
1 ½ cups of powdered sugar
3 tbs of milk
Beat butter in a small bowl using an electric mixer, or electric whisk until the butter is light and fluffy. I feel the electric whisk makes the frosting lighter and fluffier. Then add the vanilla, milk and powdered sugar. Add the milk and sifted powdered sugar in three batches and mix until all ingredients are incorporated. I ended up using about a tbs more of powdered sugar because my kitchen was warm from baking all night long, but you may have to adjust the liquid and sugar ratio depending on the temperature and humidity.
Mary Ann's Birthday Cupcakes
It was wonderful to celebrate Rigley’s birthday together as a family and we all enjoyed our treats. Happy Birthday Rigley we love you!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sauce Blog

Jarred tomato sauce
Sauce, Tomato Sauce, Gravy, Pasta Sauce, Spaghetti Sauce, Broth, Salsa or whatever you call it is one of the best creations in the world, at least in my opinion. Especially, when it’s homemade from fresh tomatoes.  

I’ve my hands in making sauce (what I call it) as far back as I can remember. My parents and I would get out a hand crank mill and adhere it to the table or counter sometime in august when our garden was producing more tomatoes than we could give away and/or use. After milling the tomatoes my parents would freeze some just like that to make sauce after they ran out. They would make sauce from the rest of the milled tomatoes. My parents never jarred or canned their sauce but with a large stand-up freezer they didn’t have to. They would take the pureed tomatoes (what you get when you mill them) add garlic, onion, evoo, fresh herbs (also from their garden) and a ton of meat products: sausage from Ruggiero’s Italian Market in Rosetto, homemade meatballs, and other parts of pig and cow, sometimes rib meat, sometimes, butt, shoulder, or whatever we had, and sometimes my parents would make briscole with skirt steak (a favorite of mine). Making sauce is a cherished memory of mine but the best part was when the sauce was finished, normally around lunch time because we started so early in the morning, I would get a heaping bowl of sauce, some meat products, and a couple slices of bread and just dig in. Yumm! Once the sauce cooled they put it in containers and froze the sauce so my mom could just take it out the morning she needed it and it tasted as fresh as the day they made it.
When I met my husband over 6 years ago I found out that his family was Italian and made sauce too. I was so happy that we shared this in common because it is one of my favorite things to make. I also discovered that his parents jarred their sauce, which is quite different than they way my parents do it. When I finally tried their sauce I liked it because it reminded me of my parents. The thing I liked about it is that both families keep it simple and pure, no carrots or celery, no sugar or corn syrup, YUCK! Sweet sauces suck! If you don’t like the acid in a tomato sauce use less acidic tomatoes or take a damn Tums!
I’m going to go off in a tangent here. After I started writing this blog, I wondered why people and companies put sugar/corn syrup in their sauce so I decided to ask good old google. Apparently it is to balance out the acidity, but it only does so flavor wise, it doesn’t actually change the acid content. So its not going to stop you from having acid reflux (see Tums note above). People and companies probably started adding sugar of corn syrup to sauce because Americans tend to like things on the sweet side and may not like the true acidic flavor of tomato sauce. I doubt any real Italian would add sugar to their sauce, I’ve never heard of one doing so. If they wanted a sweeter sauce they would have just added carrots, but never sugar. So if you can do me one favor, please leave sugar and corn syrup for baking and keep it out of your sauce.
I began making sauce with my in-laws a few years ago. They make what they call Salsa Pronte which is just the cooked pureed tomatoes with salt added to a jar with a few sprigs of basil. Initially when Domenick and I made sauce with them, we made ours with onions, garlic, basil, salt, pepper, and evoo, but found that you had to add to add some more garlic, seasonings and evoo to taste when preparing the sauce anyway so this year we decided to make Salsa Pronte.
It was a very long process and took 10.5 hrs which didn’t include clean up and final canning time. I eventually did EVERY task for the first time and it was a wonderful experience.
First make sure your tomatoes are clean by washing them in buckets of water. We put the dirty tomatoes in a bucket fill it with water wash the tomatoes, then use a second bucket with clean water to make sure they’re extra clean. Then we put the freshly washed tomatoes in another bucket.
My niece Sabrina was a big help with washing the tomatoes

Washing the tomatoes and basil

 Next you boil the tomatoes.

Once the tomatoes are boiled add them to a bowl so you can mill them.
Then make sure to get rid of the excess tomato juice and water and add the tomatoes to the mill.

 Then mill the tomatoes and mill the rinds another two times to make the sauce thicker. 

Tomatoes in the hopper

Pushing the tomatoes through the mill

Sauce coming out on the right, the seeds and skins coming out on the left

Then add the basil to the clean mason jars (sorry no picture)
Fresh Basil
Then add the sauce to a big bowl and salt to taste. Next add the sauce to the jars and top the jars with their lids and rings. Then boil until jars are sealed.

The beautiful finished product

The difference I see between jarring and freezing.
Freezing sauce
Pros: You can add meat, herbs and spices and it will taste almost as good as the day you made it. It tastes fresher than jarred sauce. You only make in smaller batches so it takes less time to make it. You can use your own home grown tomatoes since you are using a smaller batch. You can literally take the sauce out, defrost it, heat it and eat it.
Con’s: It only last about 6mos maybe a year if you are lucky, but the sauce will begin to crystallize and loose flavor if you keep it too long. Since you are making a smaller batch you will need to do it every 6 months. You’ll also need a lot of freezer space.
Jarring Sauce
Pros: You can store it for years and it won’t spoil. You can make a large amount at a time. No need to defrost and no chance of freezer burn. Only need to make it every few years.
Cons: Glass jars break easily. It takes a lot longer to make and jar because of the quantity. Need a ton of cool dark storage space, (ie a decent size basement pantry). It needs to be spruced up with garlic, herbs, spices and meats.
In conclusion it doesn’t matter how you make or keep sauce, the point is to just get out there and do it! I still to this day cannot understand how people eat supermarket jarred sauce when it’s so easy and so delicious to make your own!