Friday, February 25, 2011

Chile Vodka Cappellini al Gamberi

Peeled shrimp ready to de-vein 
After making some delicious smokey chile pastes, I wanted to cook something right away that prominently featured my new ingredient!

I love tomato vodka cream sauce for it's bite and wondered if cutting back on the tomato and adding in plenty of smokey chile paste would work. I had some bacon that Josh and I made a couple weeks ago that would be a delicious addition to the sauce, and I also had some frozen shrimp that could definitely perch atop a pile of delicious pasta, so I set to work creating this recipe.

It wasn't difficult (great week night food) and the smokiness of the chiles really complimented the bite from the vodka in the sauce.
Mise En Place
Chile Vodka Cappellini al Gamberi
angel hair pasta with shrimp

1/4 lb. Bacon
small yellow onion, diced
4 Garlic cloves minced/pressed through a garlic press
28 oz can of whole tomatoes
1/2 c. Pasilla chile paste (Ancho would work too)
1/2 c. cream
1/2 c. vodka
1 Tbsp olive oil
raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb. angel hair pasta
Basil chiffonade for garnish

Oh, bacon lardons! Delicious house-cured pork bellies! 

Rendering the bacon fat to saute the veggies in
Set a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

Cut the bacon into 1/2" rectangular pieces (lardons) and add to a cold saute pan. Turn on the heat to medium, and allow the fat to melt, being careful not to burn the lardons.

Add the diced onion and saute until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the whole tomatoes, squishing them in your hands as you remove them to the can/add them to the pan, then dump in the juice from the can. Add the chile paste and increase heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring frequently.

Sauce ready to go in the blender
Turn off the heat and add the sauce to the blender, buzzing until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan over low heat and add the cream and vodka. Stir to combine and set aside while you prepare the pasta and shrimp.

Heat grill or grill pan to medium heat.

Add pasta to boiling water.

Toss the shrimp with olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the shrimp, let cook for 2 or 3 minutes, until tails turn pink and meat starts to lose it's translucency. Flip each shrimp and cook another minute. Remove pan from heat.

Tails turning pink and meat just beginning to become opaque. Time to flip! Elapsed time on the pan: 2 minutes.
 Drain pasta when done (just about 6 minutes) and add to the sauce, tossing to combine.  Taste for seasoning, plate pasta, add shrimp, garnish & serve!
Chile Vodka Cappellini al Gamberi

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Adventures in Arthropods

Lobsters. I’ve never been brave enough to cook live lobster at home- I was afraid of them screaming. I was afraid of them being expensive to ruin in my experimentation. I was afraid of them being a production. I am allergic to them. They are probably my favorite food next to avocados, so it is an allergy I ignore, they just screw with my sinuses for a couple days, it’s worth it. A boyfriend once got me a book called Lobster at Home, to try to help me over my fear and it just made it worse, so the book has been carted with the rest of my cookbook collection from house to house and I’ve never made a single recipe in it.

Mr. Crankypants out of the tank
I’m lucky to live near many ethnic markets and in particular, a great Vietnamese supermarket called World Foods and so I can overcome the expensive issue. The live lobsters at this place are fresh and feisty and are $9.99 a pound this time of year. Not terrible for such a delicacy. The stars aligned and the big pot I use to brew in was already out from brewing last weekend, so I figured, what the hell, I’ll buy a couple lobsters and we’ll conquer this thing once and for all.

They ended up being enormous though, so when I got home, called a couple of friends over to help eat them/beat them into submission. Also the dog thought the lobster was awesome. After some sniffing and poking with her nose, she tentatively bit the lobster’s head and looked up at me for further instruction. I put the lobster back in the sink with his buddy instead. Ain’t no dog of mine eating a $30 lobster.

All 4 of us were involved in the epic adventure that was cooking lobster, and it did wind up being quite a messy and absurd production, but overall, it was relatively easy and we wound up with a delicious dinner.
Mr. Crankypants visits the sink

Things I learned:

  • 6 lbs of lobster takes about 20 minutes to cook in boiling water. 
  • Leave the rubber bands on the claws until they come out of the pot. 
  • Put the lobsters in head first to kill them quickly. 
  • They don’t scream, whistle or otherwise put up a fuss. 

I worked myself into quite the tizzy before putting them in but that part was pretty uneventful- you just pick them up by the body piece, behind their big claws and drop them in.

Not so tough now, are you?
There’s a zillion ways to deconstruct the things after they come out, but we didn’t do anything terribly fancy. I clipped the rubber bands off and then, per Lobster at Home, stuck a knife in the thing’s head between the eyes and held it by the tail over the sink to drain the excess water out to make the rest of the process less watery/messy. We tore the tail off the body (wow are there some crazy things in there- one was a female, full of roe), then tore the tail flipper fan part off. This gave us the ability to jam in the handle of a spoon into that opening and push out the tail meat through the bigger hole where the tail used to be connected to the body. So we had one huge chunk of meat, YAY! It gets deveined at that point, just like a shrimp (I had no idea why this surprised me, but it did). Then we tore the big claws off and I had the guys whack at them with the back of the cleaver. Holy crap was that shell big and hard. Lobster bits got everywhere during this part of the procedure and it was a fair bit of work to get in there and get to the meat. Then we got the meat out of the big knuckles/legs that those claws were attached to. We snapped off all the other legs and started to roll them with a rolling pin to get the meat out, but that turned out to be a pain in the ass so we gave up (I kinda wish I’d come back to do it time) because we had a whole other lobster to dismantle. It wound up being plenty of food and provided plenty of leftovers, which you’ll see below turned into one of the best leftover nights in the history of man.

That night, however, I served the lobster simply with butter that I clarified in the microwave (nuke until melted and starting to foam, fish out the foam and white solids with a spoon so all that’s left is clear yellow butter), baked russet potatoes with sour cream, and tender young asparagus steamed in the microwave.

So this is what we did with the leftovers on Monday night (after a whole day of work, I might add)...

Lobster Ravioli with Champagne Cream Sauce 
Make the filling first.

Filling Ingredients
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp. finely minced shallots
1 big garlic clove, minced/pressed through a garlic press
~8 oz. lobster meat
zest from 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. finely minced fennel (fronds and/or stalks)
1/4 c. ricotta cheese
sea salt
white pepper

Filling Procedure
Pick through the lobster meat and pull out the nicest, reddest chunks to use for garnish and set them aside.
Pretty claw and leg meat set aside for garnish

Then chop the rest of the meat very finely, chunks are the enemy of ravioli filling, so you're going for something like coarse sausage consistency.
Mincing the remaining lobster meat
Lemon zest, garlic, minced shallot & chopped fennel fronds

Heat a saute pan big enough to hold all of your ravioli over medium heat. Add butter and olive oil until melted. Add shallots and cook for 2 minutes. Mix in garlic, then add lobster, lemon zest, and fennel.
Cook until heated through and add ricotta cheese, mixing until evenly distributed.
Ricotta added & ready to be stirred in

Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
A damp paper towel draped over the filling keeps it from getting crusty while it sits

Next, make the pasta dough and assemble ravioli, but before you start, set a BIG pot of water on to boil and add a bunch of sea salt so it tastes oceany. 

Pasta Dough Ingredients
2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 egg + 1 Tbsp. water mixed together to form an egg wash
Pasta Procedure

Directions if you’re using a stand mixer 
Put eggs, salt & flour in the bowl of your stand mixer in that order. Mix with paddle attachment on low until combined, increase speed to medium until the dough comes together and looks smooth and uniform throughout. It should not be dry nor sticky.

Directions by hand
Pile flour on a smooth board or countertop and create an indentation, or well, in the top of the mound. Crack the eggs into the well and sprinkle salt on top. Using a fork, beat the eggs, breaking up the yolks into the whites, while trying not to disturb the flour walls of the well.
Scrambling the egg without disturbing the flour

Gradually start incorporating the flour into the eggs by increasing the boundary of the well with your fork as you beat- the circle where you’re beating with the fork becoming bigger and bigger across. Try not to dig the well too deep though, you want to keep everything contained in the well as it gets thicker and thicker.
Progress incorporating flour into the egg, notice how the well got wider and shallower

Eventually (it doesn’t take long) you’ll have incorporated most of the flour and have something more doughy than liquid in the center of your well. This is when I switch to using my hands and knead in the rest of the flour. The dough should be smooth and not dry or sticky.

Rolling the dough into sheets:
Next your pasta dough will go through the final kneading in the pasta machine. Form the dough into an oblong rectangle an inch or two narrower than your pasta machine. Pass the dough through the widest setting on your machine, fold it back on itself and pass it through again. My dough was a little too wet and was coming out all raggedy still after 6 passes, so I dusted both sides lightly with flour, passed it through again and it came out beautifully.

When it looks like a sheet of pasta, start cranking down the opening, one level at a time, until it gets too long to handle, and cut it into pieces. The pieces you’re not working with can be stored under a damp paper towel until you need them. Ravioli needs to be as thin as possible so that when it doubles over onto itself at the seams, it’s not too doughy- on my machine that means level 6.

Assembling the ravioli:
Once your dough is all rolled out, cut it into manageable sheets and lay them out on a floured board (otherwise your ravioli will stick). Mound teaspoons of filling down one side of the dough rectangle, about an inch apart, being careful not to use too much- it’s tempting to overfill.

Brush a little egg wash between each mound and down the long side of the sheet of pasta- remember egg wash doesn’t stick well to egg wash, it sticks to the pasta, so be aware of where you’re brushing that stuff. Fold over the other half of the pasta sheet and gently press the dough together between the filling, trying not to trap any air in there (it can cause the ravioli to burst when you boil them). Use a sharp knife or a fancy pants ravioli cutter to trim the edges and cut into individual ravioli. Repeat until you’re out of filling or pasta or decide you have enough and are over it.
Ravioli waiting to go in the jacuzzi

Next make the sauce. 

Sauce Ingredients
6 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. finely minced shallots
4 Tbsp. flour
3/4 c. champagne
juice from 1 lemon
3/4 c. cream
white pepper

Sauce Procedure

Melt butter over medium heat, add shallots and cook for a minute. Add flour and cook 3 or 4 minutes until the raw flour taste has been mostly cooked out. Add the champagne and lemon juice, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook another couple of minutes. Stir in the cream, bring up to almost a boil and taste for seasonings. Add salt and pepper if needed and reduce heat to low.
The finished champagne cream sauce, being kept warm on the stove

Finish the dish.

Lifting the lid for a couple seconds will deflate any ravioli threatening to pop as they cook

Add the ravioli to rapidly boiling water and cover. Cook for 3 minutes. Fish out the ravioli with a spider or slotted spoon and add to the pan of sauce.

Out of the water, into the sauce

Toss to coat and serve in a warmed bowl, garnished with red lobster chunks and chopped fennel fronds.
Lobster Ravioli with Champagne Cream Sauce

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yogurt at Home

Yogurt is one of those things that I hate buying now that I know how easy it is to make at home. Yogurt is just milk that's been lived in by bacteria, so all you need to do is make the milk very habitable for the right bacteria, introduce the right bacteria, and let them reproduce. They do all the work, just give them a happy home!

Yogurt cheese made with this contraption
I usually do a gallon at a time, so that I've got plenty to use plain, pack into little containers with fruit jam to take to work with me, and also strain to make yogurt cheese (a great substitute for sour cream and cream cheese that is an awesome base for dips), but there's no reason you need to make that much- quantities mean very little in this "recipe."

One thing to be careful of is that you want anything that's going to come in contact with your milk/yogurt to be clean so that you're growing the bacteria you want, not some nasty bacteria that came riding in on the wind. Collecting a spoon, 1 cup dry measuring cup, glass bowl, and your thermometer and pouring boiling water over them into a bigger bowl does the trick for me.

Turn on your oven to it's lowest temp setting (mine goes as low as 180) and let it preheat.

First, pour your milk (I use whole milk because it's delicious) into a big pot and heat slowly to 180 degrees,  not letting the bottom scorch by stirring every once in a while.

A binder clip helps hold the thermometer away from the pot, leftover homemade yogurt ready to populate the new milk

Then let the milk cool to 120 degrees (you can speed this up with an ice bath, but I just go do something else for a while).

Take a small container of leftover homemade yogurt or store bought yogurt with LIVE ACTIVE CULTURES <-- those are the bacteria you need so they won't help you if they're dead, and pour into your clean glass bowl. Use the clean 1 cup dry measuring cup as a ladle to dip into your 120 degree milk and ladle onto the store bought yogurt in the bowl. Mix that together so they blend into a smoothie consistency and then pour it into the big pot of milk.

At this point, you can pop a lid on your big pot of inoculated warm milk, turn off your warm oven and pop the whole thing in for 6 hours or more, but you can also portion it out at this'll see what I mean below.

The idea is to give the bacteria a warm place to multiply and do their work- hence the warm oven. Just be sure you don't leave the oven on, that would be too hot. So turn it off, and put the covered, soon-to-be-yogurt in until it's tart enough for you. After 6 hours it should be solidified like yogurt, but will be very mild in flavor, with almost no tartness at all. If you leave it overnight for 8 or 9 hours, it will be more tart, like commercial yogurt.

Recently I bought some glass jelly jars with the intention of making fruit on the bottom yogurt to take into work for lunch and that wound up being a little extra work, but very delicious and pretty!
I made the strawberry jam recipe that came with the package of pectin, using frozen strawberries and adding a pinch of salt, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and a few grinds of white pepper to zing it up a bit.

Once the jam was done, I poured a little into the bottoms of the clean jars and popped them in the fridge to firm up for a few minutes, but took them out so they could warm back up to room temperature while I made the yogurt (I didn't want cold glass jars sucking all the heat out of my warm milk mixture when I poured it in).
Jam firming up in the fridge so the second layer wouldn't disturb the pretty layer too much

Once the milk was mixed with the commercial yogurt and ready to firm up, instead of leaving it all in the big pot, I poured it gently, using a funnel, over the now firmer jelly  in the jars. Then I screwed on the lids loosely and popped them into the warmed oven to sit overnight and turn into fruit on the bottom yogurt. I can't wait to do other flavors next time!
Strawberry Balsamic Fruit on the Bottom Yogurt

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bay Park Fish Co.

Luna Oysters from North SD County
One of my favorite places to eat lunch in San Diego is Bay Park Fish Co., conveniently located next to Seisel's in Bay Park. The Fish Co. serves dinner too, but I enjoy sitting out on the (dog friendly) patio in the sunshine. Supporting local fishermen is what this place is all about but they supplement with fish from elsewhere to keep the menu consistent. Sunday turned out to be gorgeous after an unusual San Diego storm and Fish Co.'s patio was where we could be found for beers and beautiful fresh food.

We started with a half dozen local oysters from Carlsbad AquaFarm that were spectacular. Small and reminiscent of Kumamotos, these were Luna oysters and had the most pure, clean flavor that I have ever had. They serve them with lime and lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, and prepared horseradish, but I didn't put anything on the first few just to taste them properly. I admit I squeezed a little lime and dripped a drop of Tapatio (the condiment caddies on the tables are well stocked with Tabasco too) on a couple others, just to mix it up. Lance had ordered clam chowder (New England style) that I was ignoring, so was lucky to get one of my precious oysters; and while intended to share one with my spoiled dog, she merely got to gnaw a shell. I should have gotten another 6. Damn.

Lance had perfectly grilled Mahi tacos, (panko crusted and fried is another option, and they also let you choose between flour and corn tortillas). They're served 2 to an order, with very tasty rice and beans, house made hot sauce that I love on the side, a big roasted jalapeno, lime wedges, and all the fixin's (pico de gallo, cabbage & crema) inside. Avocado and cheese can be added optionally. The generous portion of fish in each taco was juicy and not over-seasoned. The taco plate is $10.
Grilled Mahi Taco
 Even though I came here with the intention of eating a few oysters, having a beer and a taco or two, I am a sucker for the smoked fish plate. It's on the menu as a starter, but it's a sizable lunch for me. Think smoked tuna salad- they add corn, which really add nice sweetness and crunch, and don't add too much mayo. It's served on Romaine with tasty corn chips to scoop the smoked fish onto, and I ask for extra romaine to try to tone down my chip consumption. Didn't work, I ate all the lettuce AND all the chips. I also dig that they serve the smoked fish with a big pile of perfect plain avocado sliced on top. The smoked fish plate is $9.
Smoked Fish Plate
They have a few taps that are either local or Mexican, and we had Pacifico with our starters (a refreshing beer that paired nicely with the oysters without overpowering) and Calico, a local amber ale from Ballast Point, with our mains. Perfect perfect perfect.

Fish and Shellfish for sale at the counter
Bay Park Fish Co. also has a fresh fish counter and a leetle tiny sushi bar inside. I often pick up tortillas at Siesel's next door and fresh Mahi from the counter at Fish Co. to grill up my own tacos at home and I'm never disappointed in the quality of their fish. The selection isn't huge, and it ain't cheap, but I'll trade that for great quality any day.

The Fish Co. is the perfect casual place to take out of town guests who want to experience San Diego's fresh mexican inspired local cuisine, but it's definitely not a tourist spot. Flip-flops are practically required.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chile Paste

Inside an Ancho Chile
I saw another great idea in Mike & Sherry's Menu In Progress blog that I knew I had to try when I saw that huge bags of dried chiles were on sale at the store. Chile paste could definitely come in handy around the house. I picked up big bags of Anchos (smoked Poblanos that have a raisiny sweetness to compliment their smokiness) and Guajillos (dried Mirasol chiles that are mild and toasty) that were so cheap, they were practically free. I spread them out on their own sheet pans and toasted them for 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven first, let them cool, and then seeded them half-assedly- a few seeds are not worth worrying about, so whatever came out when I ripped off their stems and shook them, was good enough for me.

Next I soaked the chiles in very hot water from the tap for as long as it took to watch a couple episodes of 30 Rock. Half an hour probably would have been enough. I scooped them out of the water and into the blender, then added about a cup of the soaking water (now very dark brown) so that the puree would not be too thick and the blender would blend nicely.
Will It Blend?!

Smooth, but not too smooth Ancho chile paste
Without salt or vinegar, this isn't really a condiment so much as an ingredient- an easy way to pre-process dried chile pods so they're ready to go when you need them in a recipe- but I bet they could morph into some pretty great sauces with just a few extra additions.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sandwich Loaf

While I love me an authentic crusty baguette, most weeks a sandwich loaf is in order. It's obviously great for sandwiches, but also makes damn delicious toast with butter and jam.

My recipe is simple and doesn't require a stand mixer but if you have one and want to use it, I won't begrudge you the convenience and the recipe will turn out just fine. I happen to like kneading dough by hand. It doesn't take much longer than if you did it in a mixer, and I feel....I don't know...a little more connected to the bread. I also find it rather soothing.

After it's risen in the loaf pan, right before it goes into the oven, I like to brush it with whole milk and sprinkle it with something, here I did sesame seeds.

Sandwich loaf ready for the oven 
Don't be tempted to slice it before it's totally cooled or it will dry out quickly
Everyday White Sandwich Loaf

3 c. all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. sugar
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

1/2 c. cold whole milk
2/3 c. hot water
4 Tbsp. melted butter
2 tsp. Kosher salt
non-stick cooking spray
milk for brushing the top of the loaf
seeds for the top of the loaf (optional)

8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan
Flexible dough scraper (recommended)
bread knife (recommended)
big flat surface for kneading, like a granite counter or slab of heavy wood or marble

Mix the flour and sugar together. 

Make a little well in the flour mixture and add the yeast, rubbing it into the flour mixture with your fingers, until the yeast has "disappeared." 

Add the cold milk, hot water and warm melted butter and mix with a spatula or, ideally, a flexible dough scraper, until the ingredients are incorporated. 

Turn the dough onto your kneading surface and knead the dough without beating the crap out of it. Incorporate air, turn, fold, but don't punch or smash. 

After a minute of kneading, add the salt and knead to incorporate. The dough will be sticky at first, but will come together into a supple dough after about 8-10 minutes of kneading. 

Form the dough into a ball and put it into a clean bowl that's been greased with non-stick spray, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for an hour or two in a draft-free place in your kitchen, until it's almost doubled in size. 

Use your dough scraper to encourage the dough out onto your kneading surface and press the dough out with your fingertips, roughly into a 7"-8" long rectangle. 

Fold the dough down it's length and press the seam closed with your fingertips. Do this again, so you've got an 8" long log of dough. Roll the log so the seam side is facing up, then press the seam down toward your kneading surface.  All this folding and pressing gives structure to the way the dough rises, and will ensure your bread will have an even, orderly crumb. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the log into a greased pan and cover lightly with a greased piece of plastic wrap (give it room to rise up out of the pan) and allow to rise for another hour until it's up out of the pan. 

Remove the plastic, brush with milk, and if you'd like to sprinkle on seeds, now's the time. 

Bake for 35 minutes, until it looks and acts like bread. Be sure to let it cool before you slice into it- it will dry out more quickly if you cut it while it's still warm. Store at room temp in a big ziploc, remembering that it's going to get stale more quickly than store bought bread with all those creepy preservatives in it, so EAT IT!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hungry Like a Wolf

I don't plan on making posts about dog food a frequent occurrence on the blog, but the way I feed my dog is a little unusual in this country and I get a lot of questions about it. I'd like to use this space today to try and address them. There's so much information scattered around the internet and some of it gets a little preachy and weird, and a lot of it is outdated or outright wrong. This is all about raw feeding from my perspective and my experience- there are plenty of people who disagree with me, this is the internet, after all.

What do you mean, you don't feed your dog kibble? What does she eat?!
Kira is raw fed. Which means she eats a blend of raw muscle meat, fat, bone, and organs from animals as her main source of food.

Kira with a pork picnic bone/meat (foreleg of a pig) on her towel in the kitchen
Why do you choose to feed her this way? 
Like all domestic dogs, Kira is genetically a gray wolf. Do you have a Chihuahua? It's a gray wolf. Pretty badass, no?

So what do wolves eat? Raw prey that they hunt, kill and sit around a campfire cooking eat raw. Wolves eat almost every part of an animal; the bones, organs, meat and a little of whatever else they encounter (maybe their prey ate some awesome berries that are still in it's digestive system...bonus!). Dogs are carnivores, not omnivores, like us. Our teeth are omnivore teeth, pretty all purpose tools to eat whatever our environment provides us with. Dogs' teeth are carnivore teeth, take a look at your little Chihuahua's teeth- they're shaped to rip and shear meat, and crush bones. I'm feeding her what she's born to eat, so I have reason to believe she'll be healthier throughout her life.

Why don't you cook the food?
Because that's just weird. Why would you do that? Besides altering the proteins and essentially changing the food, cooking bones makes them dangerously brittle. All that you've heard about chicken bones being dangerous to dogs is true...about COOKED chicken bones.

Does she eat any vegetable matter or grains?

Raw Chicken Egg
She nibbles grass from the lawn from time to time, enjoys a nice carrot from the garden now and again, and is terribly fond of the strawberries, but I don't *feed* her those things as part of her diet. It's like candy to her. A good treat, but not a major source of nutrition. Also, she likes raw eggs for a treat- shell and all. She does get dog cookies too and they often are grain based. I even bake her treats out of peanut butter and spent grains leftover from homebrewing. As a side note, she's never fed from the table or when she's begging, and so she doesn't beg or swipe food that doesn't belong to her. It's awesome.

Where does she eat?
She eats outside in a spot she's chosen in the yard. No matter where I put down her food, she'll pick it up gingerly and bring it to that spot to eat it. I've also taught her to stay on a beach towel on the floor of the kitchen to eat. Very handy for when it's raining. She caught on pretty quickly that she needed to stay on the towel. It gets washed when I feel like it's dirty, about a week. After she's done eating inside, it gets folded up and tucked away for the next feeding.

How much does she eat?
Kira is 10 months old, 62 lbs and eats 2 lbs of food every day.

The guideline is to feed 2%-3% of your dogs IDEAL weight every day. So if your dog is overweight, talk with your vet about what your dog's healthy weight is and calculate from that number, not their actual weight. I feel like you should be able to see (if your dog has a short coat) or feel the last couple ribs on your dog. If your dog is active, aim for 3% if your dog is a couch potato, aim for 2%.

Kira's ideal adult body weight (I'm just guessing, she's still growing a little at 10 months old) is 65 lbs. and she's a very active dog, so I aim for 3% of that per day, which is 1.95 lbs. I round up to 2 pounds and break that up into 2 feedings per day. So she eats one pound in the morning and one pound at night. Easy peasy.

How do you know how much to give her of each thing?
Animals are made up of about 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, and 10% organs (half of the organ meat should be liver) and I try to mimic that in her diet, feeding this way is sometimes called the "Whole Prey Model." It's not something to get all worked up about, just make sure they're getting mostly meat, some bone and a little organ meat, mostly liver. With a little practice, you'll be able to eyeball all this pretty well.

Where do you buy her food?
Mostly at an ethnic market near me. They have great variety (whole goat legs, hooray!) and excellent prices (Chicken leg quarters (drumstick + thigh all still in one piece) are 79 cents per pound there when they're not on sale).

Sometimes the grocery store has sales that I take advantage of, too, and the grocery store is where most raw feeders that live in the city get their meat from. If you live near hunters or ranchers though, you can sometimes score beautiful meat for cheap for your dog.

Is it expensive?
I aim to feed Kira for about a dollar a pound. I feel that over her lifetime, she'll be healthier, which means fewer vi$it$ to the vet. Premium dog food, which is what she was eating before, was about the same price.

Are there any meats I should avoid feeding my dog? 
Fresh fish from the salmonid family (salmon & others). They have a parasite that is killed by freezing, so salmonids that have been frozen for a while are safe for your dog to eat.

You should also avoid meat that has been "enhanced", flavored, brined or in any way screwed around with. If it's packaged, it's often enough to check the sodium content- if it's under 100mg, you're looking at un-enhanced meat, and if it comes from the butcher counter, just ask. If you can afford hormone-free, pasture-raised, locally butchered meat for your pet, more power to you. I compromise and get her the best stuff I can afford, but it's rarely to that level of awesome.

What about all that bacteria and stuff? Won't the dog get sick? Can the dog get people sick?
Your dog is made to eat this stuff, even after days of sitting outside without refrigeration, and in fact, some dogs like their meat a little "ripe." Their digestive system can handily deal with the bacteria and most parasites found in raw meat. When Kira gets a bug, it's invariably Giardia from San Diego Bay, not her food, and it's very common around here.

I handle the raw meat for her just like I handle the rest of the raw meat in my kitchen; using normal sanitation practices and common sense.

I think that raw fed dogs' mouths are cleaner than other dogs I encounter. A lot of that has to do with having nice clean teeth from raw feeding, so there's fewer places for bacteria to cling and multiply, spreading infection. Additionally, the meat "products" in dog food is usually pretty nasty stuff from sick and dying animals, so I know what I'm giving her is a hell of a lot less contaminated than that. There's just not a lot of solid research available though, so my common sense plus all the other anecdotal evidence from the web tells me that your dog will not get you sick if it licks you or anything like that. Now, if I had a long haired dog that liked to get it's paws and face all over it's food, I'd wipe them down after each meal. Kira hates to touch her food (as you can see from her funny wide stance in all the pics where she's eating) and is immaculate when she's finished, so I've stopped stressing over it.

What should I expect when I make the switch to raw?
The Good

  • Smaller, less stinky, more compact & easier to pick up poops. You'll be AMAZED. Commercial dog food is filled with stuff your dog can't really digest properly, which means big, stinky, sloppy poop. 
  • Clean teeth & nice breath. All that chewing of bone and tearing of meat really leaves their teeth white and beautiful and healthy. You will probably never have to brush your dog's teeth again or take them to have them cleaned professionally.
  • Shinier coat & less "doggie" smell. She's definitely shinier, and though some people report having a less stinky dog, she smells about the same to me.
  • If your dog has food allergies, limiting ingredients is a great way to avoid reactions. You can start with chicken for a month or two, then introduce beef for a month or two, then introduce the next meat, and so on. You can pull whatever your dog reacts to out of the rotation and really hone in on what they're allergic to.
  • Your dog will require less water to drink because their food is now full of water, unlike dry kibble.
  • No more need to express anal glands. Gross. Your dog's new diet will take care of this naturally when they strain a little more to poop. Again, gross.

The Bad

  • During the first week or two, runny poop might be a problem. As their system adjusts, their poops might be loose and almost look like diarrhea. This happened to Kira and I started pulling the skin off of the chicken leg quarters I was feeding her and it seemed to help. Once her poops firmed up for a week, I started leaving the skin on again and she adjusted fine.
  • Raw meat and bones can take up a lot of fridge and freezer space
  • Slightly more prep work required than opening a bag of kibble (I buy 2 weeks of food at a time and portion it out when I get home from the store, which takes about 10 minutes, tops). On the other hand, no more food bowls to wash!
  • If you travel with your dog you can't just pack up some kibble. (I usually just get where I'm going, find a grocery store, and get her food then.)

Any other tips?
Don't defrost meat with bone in it in the microwave because you might accidentally cook the bones, making a nasty choking hazard. Most dogs don't care if their food is still frozen, but if you need to defrost it, just soak in warm/room temp water in a ziploc bag.

Leave the meat/ bones as whole as possible. One chicken leg quarter is better than a separate thigh and drumstick for a number of reasons. It slows their eating down so they can't gobble down little pieces, and it gives them something to work on, kinda like Sudoku. Seriously, taking apart a roast with bones and fat is stimulating for your dog. Chewing like that triggers their digestive system and tearing apart meat and crunching bone is a very enriching activity for their brains too! A big pile of ground beef doesn't have that same benefit.

Some dogs may look at you like you're nuts the first time you feed them like this. It's ok, just be persistent and don't cave. Dogs won't starve themselves to death. Thankfully, Kira took to it quickly and has only refused one food, (I eventually caved because I'm a pushover) and that was a ginormous 3lb. Tilapia with scales, fins, etc. still on.

Watch your dog when it eats. This goes for all dogs, not just raw fed dogs. Animals choke to death sometimes. It's that simple. Wouldn't you rather be there to help your dog if it needed you?

How should I get started?

Raw Feeding Day 1 - Chicken Leg Quarter
Just quit feeding kibble one day; it's that simple. Go out to the store and buy a bunch of Chicken Leg Quarters. They are a good beginner food because they are a big chunk of meat, have plenty of easy to crush bone (more than the requisite 10%) and are readily available. If your dog gets loose stool, pull off the chicken skin first. Once they seem regular again, you can leave it on.

Don't be in a rush. You can feed the same thing for a few months with no ill effects. Introducing too many new things at once is a common mistake- it may be fun for you to go pick up a buffalo head & some alligator meat, but your dog's digestive system might want to take it a little slower. I didn't start feeding organs for a month either. One new meat a month is a good guideline. And you may find the first month or two will be fine tuning how much of what you feed.

Remember: Feed mostly meat and then adjust with more bone for firmer stools, more fat for slippery stools, and more organs looser stools.

Do I need to cut up the food or anything?
Nope. Try to give your dog the amount of food it needs for a meal in as few pieces as possible. And don't panic when you hear the crunch of the first chicken bone. Everything's fine. I know they look sharp, but they get digested and turn almost rubbery by the time they make it out the other end. They'll get better and better at eating raw, so if they look confused and awkward at first, don't worry, it will pass.

Anything special I need?
A kitchen scale is helpful, especially as you get started.

My vet says this is bad for my dog! WTF?!
When a vet hears that people are raw feeding their dog its because most people cannot even be trusted to provide themselves with proper nutrition (McDonald's anyone?) and so kibble/commercial dog food at least is a known quantity for your vet. Your vet also may have been trained about pet nutrition through courses sponsored by pet food companies that want to sell pet food. It's not rocket science to see that there may be a conflict of interest there. Combine that with a fear that you may be raw feeding your dog nasty bloated roadkill you found in an alley, and your vet has every reason to be cautious.

One fact I found enlightening is that commercial dog food has only existed since the 1950s. Clearly dogs can thrive without it. I haven't told my vet my dog eats raw because we haven't seen her in ages (Kira is healthy as a horse) but if I did, I would let her know that she eats a whole prey model diet of unscrewed around with animals (you might be surprised that a pork roast at the store often has ingredients other than pork), and if she was unfamiliar with that, I'd talk to her about her meat/bone/organ percentages and her animal sources (Chicken is about 75% of Kira's diet because that's what's cheap and easy to feed here, the rest is cow, fish, pork, buffalo, goat...whatever we can get our hands on). Hopefully it will be clear that my dog gets a more ideal diet than I feed myself- I love her an awful lot and want her to live a long and healthy life.

So to sum up, my dog eats raw animals, like nature intended. She's happy, healthy, and that's all that matters to me.

Kira at 10 months at OB Pier

Actual Garden Salad

I truly love growing food at home. I get to choose to grow weird stuff I couldn't find at the store (many of the best tasting fruits and veggies are delicate so they don't ship well, or quickly go downhill after they're picked), I get to triumphantly watch seeds sprout, and I can run outside and collect ingredients for a meal, working with what's ready to eat- nothing could be fresher or more delicious.

I planted a patch of 25 "Berri Basket" everbearing strawberry plants (one of the few things that I was too impatient to plant from seed and is not an heirloom variety) in one of my 3' x 3' raised beds last spring and they really do produce throughout the year thanks to the gorgeous weather we enjoy in San Diego.

Berri Basket Everbearing Strawberry

The lettuces that I grow are a colorful heirloom mix from Seed Savers Exchange, and I sprinkle down a bit of extra butter lettuce because I love it. Lettuce is easy to grow and I sow it in succession, sprinkling a quadrant of the bed every two weeks, to ensure that I don't have too much lettuce all at once. I find it's best to pick it early here, before it gets mature and tough from any hot days.

Seed Savers Exchange Lettuce Mixture

The strawberries are amazing sliced in half and tossed with a little balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper and besides being great on a salad, are wonderful on ice cream too. (yes, with the pepper!) My go to vinaigrette involves extra virgin olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar, a tiny dab of dijon, some salt and a dash of Sunny Paris seasoning from Penzey's.

Actual Garden Salad, the berries were still warm from the sun

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Meatstravaganza 2009

New Year's Day is the traditional day for Tristan's Meatstravaganza and it's my homage to the traditional meal my parents made for the new year. It's the day I bust out the white tablecloth and the whole 9 yards, and this year's feast marked the 13th annual Meatstravaganza. Whether it's been on folding card tables and BYOC (bring your own chair), or in a real dining room with enough chairs for everyone, this is one meal that I. Will. Cook. every year come hell or high water in my life (lord knows 2008 and 2009 almost didn't happen).

The star of the show is the Prime rib roast, which is backed up with all the traditional English fixins'- au jus, horseradish cream, yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and roasted carrots and parsnips with gremolata. Dessert is chocolate souffle.

In today's post, I'll focus on documenting the roast, jus and horseradish cream.
Plan for 20ish mins per pound for medium rare, and if you want anything other than medium rare, you're nuts. Aim for 130 degrees when you pull it out of the oven. I like to roast it super duper slow- in a 300 degree oven. I don't brown it all over in a skillet first because its an unwieldy monster, so for the last 20 mins or so of roasting I up the heat to 400 to brown it and also get the oven hot for the next stuff to go in (Yorkshire Pudding and roasted carrots).

This roast was from Da-Le Ranch in Lake Elsinore. It was 4 ribs and little over ten pounds. It would have served 10 or 11 people with no leftovers, but that would just be tragic for the morning's hash. It was cut from the small end of the roast and was tied and dry aged. 

For the roast
  • 4 rib standing roast (~10 lbs.)
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. Kosher salt or sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cracked pepper
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  • 4 sprigs rosemary

For the jus
  • ~2 c. Red wine
  • ~2 c. Beef stock

For the horseradish cream
  • 1 c. whipping cream
  • 1 horseradish root
  • 2 tsp. cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • salt & white pepper to taste

  • Roasting pan
  • Roasting rack (you can substitute old vegetables like onions, carrots & celery to set the meat on top of out of it's juices)
  • Carving board with a well to catch juices
  • Food processor if using fresh horseradish root

Ready to rock-n-roast

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Smash 10 cloves of garlic with the heel of your chef's knife or something heavy. Cut up 3 Tbsps of butter into half inch cubes. 

To prepare the beef for roasting, cover it in a couple tablespoons of Fleur de Sel (French Sea Salt) and cracked black pepper all over it. Don't go too crazy on the cut ends because then the end pieces will be too seasoned. Place on an adjustable rack in the roasting pan and top with thyme and rosemary and dot the top with the garlic and butter.
Put the probe thermometer in the center of the roast and pop the thing in the oven.

Don't baste it. Don't keep looking at it. Yes, the garlic smells like its burning. Its OK.

Remember to turn up the heat to 400 during the last 20 mins until the meat gets to 130 degrees.

Take it out of the oven and transfer the roast to a carving board to rest, preferably on something that will catch the juices. When you are ready to serve it, make sure everything else is already on the table before you carve the roast. It should be the last thing to happen and allows you time to seat everyone, parade around with your meat on display, then carve and serve.

After taking the roast out and transferring it to a carving board, take the rack out of the pan, dump whatever is in there into a fat separator (I pretty much got 100% fat with burnt garlic bobbing around in it) and set the pan on the stove so it spans 2 burners. Turn both burners to medium high and throw a nearby glass of red wine at the pan to deglaze it. Use a spatula to scrape up all the goodies stuck to the bottom of the pan. Slosh in some beef broth and reduce for a few minutes. Keep throwing wine and broth into the pan and reducing until you're ready to serve or you feel like it tastes good and you've got enough jus. Add any collected juices from the resting roast, strain with a sieve and pour into a serving thing to pass at the table.

Fresh Horseradish Whipped Cream

This works just as well with prepared horseradish in a jar, but there were fresh roots available, so I picked one up. While reading up on preparing fresh horseradish, I came across a tip: if you grate the horseradish in the food processor, don't stick your face over the bowl when you take the lid off. Good advice. Did I follow it? No.
OMG, it burns.

Grate horseradish, then process fine in food processor. Combine 3 Tbsps of horseradish with 2 tsp cider vinegar, 1 tsp honey and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whip some whipping cream and mix in horseradish mixture. Season and add more horseradish if necessary.

One last tip...when you run out of wine at your house and the Meatstravaganza runs long, this could happen:
Please don't ask why I had a 40 of Colt 45 in the fridge- it was a rough year.
Also, it really classes it up by pouring it into the Riedel crystal stemware, no?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Malt Balls for Mutts

Malt Balls ready for baking at 250 degrees overnight
After brewing a nice batch of Mike & Sherry's Piggish IPA from, there was a big ol' pile of soggy grains that I figured the dog might enjoy baked into cookies. They're very simple to make, and judging by the dog's reaction to me mixing up this batch, there's apparently an invisible ingredient in there: doggie crack. 

I cook in the kitchen with my "Little Chef" all the time and she usually ignores me- mind you, the dog eats raw meat and bones and offal as her actual diet, so she's usually unimpressed with whatever the people have going. Not this time. She promptly set down her pork leg and rammed into my legs while I opened the ziploc with the grain in it. Good thing I didn't put it in the compost or I suspect the whole thing would have been dug up.

This recipe made a lot of dough, so I froze half to thaw and bake up later. 

Malt Balls for Mutts Recipe

  • 8 c.  GRAINS left over from your brew (No hops!)
  • 4 c. All-purpose flour
  • 2 c. Unsalted smooth peanut butter
  • 4 large eggs

  • Big mixing bowl
  • 2 or 4 sheet pans (a half batch of 1" balls makes 144, which fills 2 sheet pans)
  • Parchment or Silicone Baking Mats


Mix the ingredients well using your hands (the dough is a little stiff to work with an electric mixer or a spoon). It shouldn't really be sticky and should hold together easily when squeezed. Since your grains may be drier or wetter than the ones I used, feel free to add stock, water or whatever liquid you want (I had recently made a batch of yogurt and would have used the whey if I'd needed any, but I didn't) if you to get the dough to the right consistency.
Dough mixed and ready to portion

Use a teaspoon or a disher to form the dough into balls onto parchment or silicone lined baking sheets. There's not enough fat in this recipe for the cookies to spread at all, so whatever shape they go in as, that's the shape they're coming out as, so be sure to smooth any rough edges from the disher or teaspoon by rolling each portion in your hands to form the balls.
Be sure to smooth the rough edges by rolling the balls in your hands

144 malt balls ready for baking

Bake overnight in a 250 degree oven until the malt balls are completely dried out (moisture means mold) and store in an airtight container.
I can't look at the camera, my cookies might get away!