Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 119.5 - Homemade Dog Biscuits - Rock Your K9-Companion's World

This is my dog. I love him. I-love-him. He's the only male in my house (and I'm out-numbered 7-to-1- including the leopard gecko and turtle) who does exactly what I ask him to without whining about it. Not only that, but he does it for the purest reason: to please me. Every girl should be so doggone lucky.

Since I started this cooking project, he has been by my side every step of the way. He accompanies me everywhere I go, and gives me mad props when I'm cooking something he likes. In fact, as I write, he's sitting by  my feet giving me unfailing moral support. Working as I do from home, I could feel isolated, but not so. My Buddy Boy (that's his name), hangs out all day in my office, looks interested when I talk to him and remains calm when mayhem reigns supreme. All he asks for is a few nice long walks in the woods, 2 meals a day and a good belly rub now and then. I could never repay him his loyalty.

Original Painting, Chris Harford
It seemed only right, then, that I cook something special for him. No more of those dry and boring dog biscuits for my boy. These are healthy, relatively tasty (of course I sampled one), and contain no preservatives, chemicals or fillers. And really, how would you feel if you had to eat the same thing every day of your life, twice a day, out of a metal bowl on the floor -  point taken?

For a little added detail, I used rubber stamps and pressed names into some of the biscuits, because I'm pretty sure my dog can read.

Buddy Boy Biscuits (Adapted from

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup dry milk
1 Tbsp. wheat germ
1 tsp. beef or chicken bouillon or soup base
pinch of powdered garlic
1 tsp. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. bacon fat or peanut butter
3 Tbsp. canola oil
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup ice water

Mix together flour, dry milk, wheat germ, bouillon, garlic powder, and brown sugar until well combined. Add bacon fat (or peanut butter) and canola oil and mix, then add egg and water and continue mixing until mixture forms a ball.

Roll dough out on an oiled surface to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into doggy bone or any shape you like using a cookie cutter. Reform scraps and cut again until all the dough is used.

Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 25-30 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Store in an air-tight container or tin.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 119! Namibia - Fillet of Alligator Skewers with Peanut Satay and Couscous - Up Next, Nauru

Well...when a girl comes across a Namibian recipe that calls for alligator and ostrich, it's simply impossible to walk away.  And, as anyone who knows me can testify to, the challenge of locating hard to find ingredients simply ups the excitement factor exponentially.

So, after doing a little foodie sleuthing, I found ostrich, which although available, was waaaaayyyyy out of my price $39.99 per pound too rich for my blood. Alligator, on the other hand, was right in the ballpark. To get the stuff, I headed over to Savanor's in Cambridge after work, where they totally hooked me up. Although I had to pass up the ostrich (hey, I needed gas!), I left with 2 pounds of alligator fillet that had just come in earlier that morning. Seriously, I had a bag of freakin' alligator in hand cruising down the street...and I'll bet I was the only ex-Cambridge townie who did - now that's boss.

Located in southern Africa, south of the equator, Namibia sits on the Atlantic Ocean and borders Angola, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. The country gained independence from South Africa in 1990 following the Namibian War of Independence. Prior to South Africa's colonization, Namibia had been colonized by the Germans. The country's name comes from the Namib Desert, thought to be the oldest in the world.
Bushmeat, along with fish is an important part of the Namibian diet.

Food in Namibia is varied according to region, but overall, the cuisine is based on fresh seafood, chicken and bushmeats, crocodile and ostrich. Rice, beans, millet, corn, tomatoes and couscous along with a thick porridge are all commonly eaten. Fresh oranges, bananas, pineapples, kiwi, avocados and peanuts round out the diverse culinary choices. For the most part, food is cooked outside on a fire pit or using a three legged pot, so that's what I did, stoking up the fire pit I dug last year for the first time this spring.

Bushmeat Skewers with Peanut Satay (Adapted from Celtnet)

2 lbs alligator fillet
(or 1 pound of ostrich and 1pound of alligator)
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 red chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 Tbsp. crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup cashew nuts, roasted and crushed
juice of 1 lime
7/8 cup coconut milk
4 fresh chilis chopped
1/2 tsp. soy sauce
light brown sugar to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper

You will need 15 bamboo skewers soaked in water for 15 minutes, or metal skewers.
Meanwhile, cut the meat into strips and season liberally with salt and freshly-ground pepper. Mix together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, finely-chopped chili and soy sauce. our this over the meat marinate for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer.

While the meat is marinating, prepare the satay sauce by incorporating the remaining ingredients together in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer, add sugar to taste and cook gently for 5 minutes. Prepare the meat by threading two or three strips onto the skewers. Brush with any remaining marinade and place on grill (or under broiler).

Grill for a few minutes on each side until the meat is just done. Do not over cook as the meat does not have a lot of fat.

Serve on a bed of couscous accompanied by hot satay sauce.

Final Assessment: Awesomeness! Alligator tastes kind of like chicken (really), but with a much gamier, somewhat swampy flavor. The marinate tenderized it, and the grilling brought out the flavor and gave it such a wonderful crispy texture. I served with couscous and spinach, which we all loved. I'd love to experiment more with this wonderful meat.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day 118.5 - Homemade Cheez-It Crackers (USA)

I'm quite certain that Andy Rooney (60 Minutes) has never done a satirical commentary on Cheez-It Baked Snacks, but if he did, this is how I imagine it would go:

"Have you ever wondered what's really in a Cheez-It? I mean, sure, the box says they're baked cheese snacks, and the quote on the back of the box under this giant wheel of bright orange cheddar says "wholly" cheese",  but what's really in them? And what do they mean by "wholly"?  

Then he'd continue for another 3 minutes, holding the box for the camera, maybe eating one or two crackers, talking all about truth in advertising, junk food, or the cost of food when he was a kid. He'd make you laugh, and he'd make you think. For the record, I think Andy Rooney is the man -- one of the few remaining old school newsmen of his time and a colleague of my wonderful grandfather, John Gude, with whom he worked in radio and television, long before Fox "news" infiltrated the airwaves.

Like the venerable Mr. Rooney, a recent trip down the cracker and cookie isle of my local grocery store got me to wondering what really is in a Cheez-It? After all, the familiar red, yellow and orange box has been a staple in our pantry forever and makes regular appearances in lunch boxes. What would a long car trip be without a box of Cheez-Its? And besides, the seagulls on the Martha's Vineyard ferry seem to dig them too. Uhhhh....well, upon closer inspection, it turns out that Cheez-It crackers have 21+ ingredients, including MSG. Now, I'm not above eating or feeding my kids store bought anything, but at $3.50 per box, surely I could do better?

So, here's the straight-up, additive, preservative, MSG and food coloring free version, using a grand total of  only 6 ingredients - 5 if you want to omit the cayenne for a milder flavor - which I don't think you ever should, but that's just me.

Homemade Cheez-It Crackers (Adapted from a recipe I found on the cool thethinchef blog)

2 cups all-purpose flour
8 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
14 ounces grated cheddar cheese
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cayenne powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder, for color
10 Tbsp. chilled ice water

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, butter, cheese, salt, cayenne and turmeric. Pulse until mixture becomes crumbly and gravely looking (about the size of peas).
One tablespoon at a time, add the water and continue pulsing until the dough comes together (you may not need to use all the water).

Divide the dough into two, and wrap in plastic wrap to form two disks.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Place dough between two pieces of waxed paper - dough is sticky!
Roll to 1/8-inch thickness. This takes a little time, as the dough is thick, but try to get it as close to 1/8-thick as possible. Carefully flip dough in parchment over, and gently peel off the top layer. Using a pizza cutter (I used a fluted pie wheel), trim dough into rectangles, then cut into 2-inch squares. Carefully transfer squares onto baking sheets, using a spatula if needed. Using a toothpick, prick each square in the center (you can omit this step, but if you want them to look like the real deal...)

Bake for 22-25 minutes, until crackers are just slightly turning light brown, and are crisp. Quickly cool and taste for proper crispiness. If they aren't crisp enough, bake for another few minutes. The first batch I made were not quite crispy enough, so I'm inclined to opt for the slightly longer baking time.
Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
If crackers get soggy in storage, they can be re-crisped in a preheated 400F oven for 3-5 minutes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 118 - Myanmar (Burma) Brown Rice with Sesame Stir Fried Vegetables and Spinach - Up Next, Nambia

So......after my Hostess Hoedown, I am atoning for my sugary sins by cooking a lovely vegetarian meal from Myanmar (formerly Burma). Anchored by brown rice, topped with a variety of unlikely (at least to me) stir fried vegetables and a side of stir fried spinach from Hopestill Farm, an organic farm in town that supplies me with a spectacular weekly cornucopia of leafy greens, this meal was satisfying and healthy. Forgive and bless me Green Goddess, I promise to change my pastry-lovin' ways...until the next time.

Located in southeast Asia, Myanmar (Burma) is bordered by the People's Republic of China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh, India and the Bay of Bengal with the Andaman Sea on the southern coast. The name Myanmar is promoted by the military which strictly governs the country. Although the name has not been approved by the legislature or the U.S., it is generally accepted by many countries and the U.N. Mainly Buddhist, the country was conquered by the British in the 19 century, finally gaining independence from the Indian Empire in 1948. Along with abundant natural resources, this beautiful country is notable for it's golden pagodas.

Myanmar Food Vendor
Original Photograph, Troy Whitaker
Owing to it's proximity to China, India and Thailand, Myanmar's food reflects these rich culinary traditions. Extensive use of fish sauce and fish paste, seafood (on the coast), meat, poultry, fresh water fish, salads (thoke), noodles, rice, potato, ginger and kaffir lime are just some of the staples and seasonings typical of Myanmar's cooking.

Hand-Milled Bowl by Andrew Cox

Brown Rice with Sesame Stir Fried Vegetables and Spinach

2 cups brown rice
1 tsp. sea salt
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 cup radishes, quartered
2 carrots, cut in sections, then strips
1/2 cucumber, peeled and cut into quarters
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. Sesame tahini
Soy sauce
Lemon juice
Basil for garnish

Cook rice in 4 cups of water until tender.
While rice is cooking, prepare vegetables.
Heat oil in wok and stir fry the garlic for a about 30 seconds.
Add the prepared vegetables and stir-fry for 3 minutes.
Add the sesame seeds after 2 minutes.
When the rice is tender, stir in the sesame paste, and vegetables.
Sprinkle with a little soy sauce and lemon juice and serve hot with sesame tahini to taste.

Stir Fried Spinach and Garlic

1 pound fresh spinach, washed
1 Tbsp. garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp. Sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. oil

Heat oil in wok.
Add garlic and stir fry for 30 seconds.
Add spinach and saute until wilted (but not soggy).
Add sesame seeds and toss.
Serve with a little soy sauce (to taste)

Final Assessment: This was a wonderful, simple and satisfying dish. I've never stir-fried cucumbers or radishes, but they were excellent! The addition of tahini, lemon juice and basil added flavor and fragrance to the meal - a little dash of low sodium soy sauce, a pair of chop sticks, and we were all happy, happy, happy....and healthy!