Friday, December 31, 2010

Cooking: Waldorf Salad

Ok, not really "cooking", more just "mixing". But Waldorf Salad is awesome! I always add pomegranate seeds to mine because they are so pretty and tasty.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes out there for Waldorf Salad. Here's mine:

Salad parts:
Apples (I used 2 of each: braeburn, pink lady, honeycrisp, and granny smith)
Grapes, whatever kind are your favorite
2-3 stalks of celery
Pomegranate seeds

1 cup mayo
lemon juice, to taste
sugar, to taste

Chop up a few stalks of celery.

Cube the apples. Give them a quick dip in lemon juice to prevent browning!

A little trick I learned from Alton Brown, seed the pomegranates in a bowl of water.
1. You don't get squirted by red juice.
2. The seeds sink, the pith floats. Much easier to separate them that way!

I missed getting a photo of the dressing!

Mix everything together.

Final step: Put the yummy in the tummy!

This picture was taken 2 days after the salad was made.
Note that the apples are still almost their original
color, thanks to the lemon-juice bath!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cooking: Chicken and Fennel Stew

I know I've been posting a lot of stews lately, but it's winter! Perfect soup/stew weather!

This is a recipe I've never made before, Chicken and Fennel Stew, from the cookbook The Primal Blueprint Cookbook.

The beer almost has my name!

Break down chicken. Salt & pepper (recipe didn't call for this, but I typically season my chicken before browning). Brown for about 5 minutes in a pot.

This is how NOT to do the chicken.
I got inpatient and pulled out the chicken
too early. They should be browned more.

Remove chicken and add chopped onion, fennel bulb, and mushrooms (I used a mixture of baby portabella and shitaki). Saute until softened.

Ground fennel seed. I used a mortar & pestle, you could also use a coffee grinder or finely chop with a knife if you don't have a mortar & pestle.
Smash saffron threads with a little bit of Belgian-style beer until they dye the beer.

Yes, my mortar & pestle is pink!

Add 1 1/2 bottles of Belgian-style beer to the pot. (Drink the leftover half a bottle!) Add the ground fennel seed and the saffron mixture. Add fresh minced garlic. Bring to a boil and add the chicken.

Cover and reduce heat to a simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut milk. Add chopped kale and stir in until wilted.

Garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Yum!

Things I'll do different next time:
  • De-bone and cube chicken instead of cooking whole bone-in pieces.
  • Needs more salt. There was no salt called for in the recipe at all. (The recipe said to use either the beer or chicken stock, I obviously chose the beer; perhaps using chicken stock would have been enough salt.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cooking: Florida Seafood Casserole

This is one of my favorite casserole recipes, Florida Seafood Casserole!

And lemon juice! I missed getting it in the pic.

Saute chopped onion in butter until soft. 

Stir in 1/4 cup flour. Add half and half; cook until thick and bubbling.

Remove from heat. Stir in 1 cup cheddar cheese. (I do the cheese first because it melts in better.)

Then add:
3-4 cups cooked rice or quinoa
crab meat
cooked shrimp (I cut my shrimp in half to get more even distribution)
water chestnuts
pimentos (small jar or 1/2 a large jar)
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
lemon juice, to taste, about 3 tablespoons
salt & pepper, to taste

Mix well.

Pour into greased casserole dish. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes at 350°.

After removed from the oven, add the rest of the cheese and let it melt on top.

It sets up better if you wait about 10 minutes...
But I was hungry!

I also find this recipe makes a great brunch dish!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What My Wolves Used to Eat

I posted last month about My Pet Wolves. My dogs didn't always eat a raw diet, they used to eat kibble. And I'm aware that not everyone is wants to or is able to feed a raw diet to their dogs. So this post is about what I looked for when I fed my dogs "dog food".

Higher quality food may seem more expensive at first, but it evens out. The higher quality the food, the less fillers eaten (and therefore the less poop comes out the other end). Your dog eats more to try to get the nutrition it needs, and most of the food just passes right on through. Also, it will make your animals healthier, so you save money on vet bills in the long run.
And sometimes, the higher quality foods are actually cheaper. For example, CostCo's brand Kirkland is actually better dog food than Science Diet or Eukanuba!

Remember: There is no single food that is "best". The goal is to find high quality food(s) that your dog does well on.

Here's a short list of rules I came up with for choosing dog kibble:
  1. High meat content.

    This is first and foremost. Dogs are carnivores, carnivores eat meat.

    Preferably at least 2-3 out of the top 5 ingredients be meat or meat meal (first ingredient must be!). Don't confuse "meal" with "byproducts". Meal is simply the meat with the water weight removed. So for example, on the ingredient list, "chicken meal" is actually more quantity of chicken than "chicken".

    A dog should never be on a vegan diet. And the only time a vegetarian diet should be considered is if the dog has severe allergies and all normal and exotic protein options have been exhausted. Most kibbles are chicken, lamb, duck, or beef; but you can find exotic proteins like pheasant and kangaroo as well. Also worthy of mention is that there is a different between cooked and raw proteins, if your dog has allergies to a cooked/processed meat, it may not have a reaction to the same protein as raw meat.

  2. Higher quality grains, such as barley, brown rice, and oatmeal. No wheat or corn.
    Or an alternative starch/carbohydrate
    such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, or tapioca.

    Dogs have absolutely no need for carbs and starches. The reason these things are included in dog kibble is because a starch is required to have "kibble", it holds the pieces of food together, else it would be "crumbles".

  3. No byproducts.

    While there is nothing inherently wrong with dogs eating the things included in "by products" (organs, bones, feet, etc), the problem is that the term "byproducts" is a catch-all. You have no idea exactly what the byproducts are.
  4. Minimal fillers.

    Fillers are things like brewers rice, beet pulp, etc.; used to bulk up the food but add no benefit to either the dog's health or the manufacturing process.
  5. No carcinogenic preservatives (BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin). 

  6. No artificial colorings such as the Red, Blue, and Yellow dyes. 

    Your dog doesn't care what color the food is, dyes are only added to make it look pleasing to the human buying it. And dyes have been linked to hyperactivity and health problems.

  7. No added sugars (sugar, corn syrup). 

    Dogs don't need these. These are only included to make crappy food more palatable to the dog.

  8. No mystery meats (meats identified only as "meat" or "poultry".)

    Your dogs' food should always tell you exactly what type of meat you are feeding.

Dog Food Analysis has reviews on many different types of dog food, and the ratings are pretty much in-line with the rules I listed above. I recommend sticking to the 4, 5, and 6 star foods.

And good site to research dog food ingredients is Dog Food Project.

Stay away from grocery stores brands. They are low-quality foods chalk full of fillers, preservatives, dyes, etc.. (Grocery store foods are those like Beneful, Old Roy, Kibbles'n'Bits Alpo, Pedigree, etc.)

Also beware "premium" foods. "Premium" does not mean good nutritionally, and is not a nutritionally high quality food. It has the same types of ingredients as grocery store foods, just a bit better quality of those not-so-good ingredients. (Premium foods are those like Iams, Eukanuba, Science Diet, etc..)

Another thing to be wary of: A lot of vets will recommend what they sell in their office. They get profit from the brands they keep on their shelves, that's why they push it. Truth is, vet schools don't focus a lot on nutrition. I'm NOT saying that a vet is a bad vet because he/she recommends those foods, a lot of vets just are told "this is good food", so they pass the message along without proper nutrition knowledge. Vets are busy people! And required to deal with so many issues and so many different species! Also, some dog food brands (like Hills) support vet schools, so vets have heard of it from the time they start college, which makes them think it's good as well. Here is a quote from Hill's (makers of Science Diet) website: "Hill's scientists author more than 50 research papers and textbook chapters each year and teach at leading schools of veterinary medicine."

And don't be taken in by breed-specific foods. It's just a marketing tool. Very few breeds require different diets than the average dog. (Dalmatians come to mind, and you don't need "dalmation food" for them, you just need to know what to look for in foods that work best for a breed with specific requirements.) But in the vast majority of cases, it's pointless. And typically the brands marketing breed-specific foods are selling lower-quality foods. A chihuahua can eat the same food as a boxer, and they can both eat the same food as a cocker spaniel, a poodle, and a golden retriever.

Petco and Petsmart are slowly starting to get some of the better quality foods, but your best bets for finding quality dog food are:
  • small, locally owned petstores
  • dog boutiques
  • farm supply stores

And remember, when you switch your dog's "dog food", do it slowly. A dog's digestive flora get used to digesting only one type of food day after day after day that the gut flora needs time to adjust. Only switch about 25% at a time and feed that for a few days. If there are no issues (vomiting, loose stools, excess gas, etc) then increase another 25%. And so on. And remember, not every dog does well on every food, so if you are still having issues a couple weeks into trying to switch, that food simply may not agree with your dog.

I do not subscribe to the "feed a dog the same food until it dies" method; that is propagated by dog food companies so you'll stick with their brand and their brand only. There are also benefits to rotating a dog's food. It reduces the risk of allergies developing, and it also keeps the you on the up-and-up when formulas are changed or there are recalls. Variety is the spice of life!

Do your research, be confident in your decision, and read the back of the bag not the front!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cooking: Paleo Posole

Posole is a traditional Mexican stew. Traditionally made with hominy, this "paleo" version uses winter squash instead. Recipe from The Paleo Diet Cookbook, a Christmas present from my sister this year (she sent it a little early, so I opened it!). :-)

I've started restocking my spices from the farmers' market,
that's why the cumin is in a jar instead of a plastic bottle.

Simmer pork roast, onion, garlic, oregano, red pepper, cumin, and some water for 1 hour.

Remove pork roast. Pour liquid into bowl. Add olive oil and acorn squash to the pot and cook for 5-10 minutes.

Return everything to the pot. Add a chopped jalapeno pepper. Simmer for 90 minutes.

For any World of Warcraft players out there,
my fiance said this looks like Un'Goro Crater.

Stir in a handful of fresh cilantro. Simmer until meat falls off the bone.  (I removed the roast and chopped up the meat.)

Overall review: A little on the bland side, needs more spices next time, either additional quantity or perhaps a few different spices added.

And as an added bonus, since I couldn't let those acorn squash seeds go to waste....

Toss with olive oil, sea salt, and chipotle powder, bake for 10 minutes at 400°. Yum!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cooking: Lamb, Cabbage, and Jalapeno Stew

This is a Turkish recipe I came across while looking for lamb stew recipes. (Adapted from Classical Turkish Cooking: Traditional Turkish Food for the American Kitchen.)

I decided to give it a try, it was good. It's on my "repeat" list! One word of caution: it is spicy, so if you like food on the milder side, cut back on the crushed red pepper and jalapenos.

  • 1 lb lamb stew meat
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups beef stock or broth
  • 1 cabbage, shredded
  • 4 jalapenos, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Saute lamb in butter for 10 minutes.

2. Add onions, cook 5 minutes.
3. Add tomatoes, paprika, and crushed red pepper. Cook for another couple minutes.
4. Add 1 cup beef stock, salt & pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.

5. Add cabbage and jalapenos. Cover and cook for 5 minutes to wilt the cabbage a bit.
6. Add remaining 1 cup beef stock, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.


Not the prettiest dish in the world, but it was yummy!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cooking: Pot Roast

Pot roast: An extremely common dish that I have never cooked before!

I do a lot of cooking, but I don't typically do the "meat and potatoes" route. I used the recipe Emeril's Pot Roast.

1. Cut slits in roasts and stuff with garlic cloves.
2. Rub with olive oil, season with salt & pepper. (I tried to do the oil "nicely" using a basting brush, but ended up just using my hands.)

I happened to have had 1 corn fed and 1 grass fed roast.
Check out the difference in color & marbling!
(Grass fed roast is on the right.)

3. Sear roasts on all sides.

4. Put in dutch oven and add 4 cups beef broth/stock. Cover with lid.
5. Put in 350° oven for 4 hours.

6. Toss veggies (1 lb each carrots, potatoes, turnips, and parsnips; 2 onions) with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
7. Add to dutch oven, return to oven for 1 hour.

 Finished product!

For gravy:
Drain remaining liquid in the dutch oven into a saucepan, bring to a simmer.
Whisk together 1/4 cup flour with 1/2 cup water, whisk mixture into saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes.

What I would do different next time:
  • Deglaze the searing pan with some of the stock/broth so all those tasty bits would be in the pot and not washed down the drain.
  • Nix the potatoes and up the quantity of other veggies. Next to the other vegetables, the potatoes were rather bland.
  • Not use as much water when making the gravy, it was a tad too runny.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Restaurant Review: Blue Nile Cafe

The Blue Nile Cafe is my favorite restaurant in Kansas City, so naturally I'm doing my first restaurant review on it. Blue Nile Cafe is located in the River Market district.

If you've never had Ethiopian food before, you'll be in for a treat and a surprise.

No forks or chopsticks, you eat with your hands, using injera, which is a spongy pancake-like sourdough, to pick up the food. It's served "family style", everyone grabbing food off a platter in the middle of the table. (If this all seems overwhelming at first, yes, you can ask for a fork and individual plates.)

The food uses a lot of spices; berbere, garlic, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, cardamom, coriander, cloves, and others. It's not "hot spicy", but very intensely flavorful. It's like an orgasm for your taste buds!

We usually order the sampler platter because I can never choose just a few items! For drinks, the honey wine or the spiced ice tea are my favorites.

Sampler platter & honey wine

Friday, December 3, 2010

Meet My Meat

This week I got my first delivery from Fresh Connect KC. Locally grown, pastured livestock, no hormones or antibiotics. Dropped off right at my front door!

Here's what was in the haul:
  • 1 beef arm roast
  • 1 beef rump roast
  • 1 lb beef kabob meat
  • 1 lb beef stew meat
  • 1 pkg beef short ribs
  • 1 lamb roast
  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 1 lb lamb stew meat
  • 2 lbs ground lamb
  • 6 lbs ground bison
  • 1 pork roast
  • 1 pkg pork chops
  • 1 lb breakfast sausage

And the best part was that is was reasonably priced!  A few cents over $5/pound. I wouldn't be able buy this at the grocery store for that price; and it wouldn't be as good of quality either. I will definitely order from them again in the future!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Northwestern Kansas Pictures - Part I

I never thought I'd actually take pictures of fields and cows! I feel like such a tourist!

But I've realized those of us that grew up in the country are the minority nowadays. Most people have no connection to where their food really comes from; they just buy their food from the grocery store and really don't give a second thought to where it originated from. And many have never been out in the country or to a farm.

So while I was back in Northwestern Kansas for Thanksgiving, I snapped a few pictures. These were taken in Rooks and Ellis counties.

This is "Part I", I'll be posting more pics and little tid-bits when I got back at different times of year, so stay tuned!

Wheat field.
This wheat was planted a short while ago, it will be harvested next year.

Cows in a pasture.
Note the land is rocky and hilly, not ideal for crops.

Cows on milo stubble.
Many farmers will move cattle onto crop land temporarily after harvesting.

Hay bale.
Grass in ditches is cut & baled for animal food.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

"Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much."

That is how Michael Pollan's book "In Defense of Food" begins. A simple concept, an entire book based upon it. Michael Pollan differentiates between "food" and "edible foodlike substances". (The vast majority of products in the grocery store falling into the latter category.)

Michael Pollan discusses "nutritionalism", a trap most of my, myself included, have fallen into. But as I have learned, a food is more than just the sum of it's parts. It's not just what nutrients are in a food, but how they work together. And we as humans simply do not know enough about our bodies and the nuances of how food works for us to replicate the same nutrition in a pill.

That may sound harsh at first, but I know you've seen it: "Eggs are good for you, now eggs are bad for you, now eggs are good for you!" and "Butter is bad for you, now butter is good for you!" Our human arrogance makes us think we can outsmart nature. But in fact, the more people have tried to do things "right" and "eat well", the more unhealthy we've become.

In addition to us being flat-out misinformed (through no fault of our own, we generally think we can trust "the experts", and we've been spoon-fed incorrect information our whole lives), we also have grown up in a society where "pile it up and sell it cheap" takes precedence over quality, both in health and taste, of our food.

I really enjoyed reading "In Defense of Food"; it's packed with information to help make better dietary choices, especially if you are just starting out looking for ways to improve your diet.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Pet Wolves

Yep, you read that correctly: I have pet wolves.

Okay, so they don't look or act like wolves, but they are wolves nevertheless.

Wolf = Canis lupus
Dog = Canis lupus familiaris

What do wolves eat? Not dry kibble or mush from a can. They eat meat.

I'll admit, I was a little intimidated when I first came across the idea of a raw diet for dogs. Intimidated, but intrigued. I toyed with the idea on-and-off for nearly a year before I decided to jump in with both feet.

I was surprised at the change in my dogs after switching them to a raw diet. I was feeding top-of-the-line kibble before, but I guess even top-of-the-line kibble is still processed food! I wish I had decent before & after pictures of all of them, but I only have good comparison pictures of Stormy. The first picture was taken shortly before I switched them to raw, the second picture was taken 4 months after being on a raw diet.

The diet I feed my dogs is called "prey model". The goal is to mimic the prey that they would eat in the wild. This is accomplished by feeding a diet that is approximately 80% meat, 10% bone, 5% liver, and 5% other secreting organs.

Meat is, you got it: meat. Chicken, turkey, pork, beef, goat, lamb, ostrich, duck, salmon, venison, rabbit, pheasant, quail, kangaroo, whatever you can find. The more variety you can [slowly!] work into their diet, the better; but even if you can only get your hands on a few proteins, it's still a good diet. I try to feed at least 50% red meat; red meat being 'mammal meat', so pork, even though it's called "the other white meat", is actually red meat.

Bones are a little trickier than meat. We've all heard "don't feed the dog chicken bones!", but this actually requires more explanation. It should be "don't feed the dog cooked bones, be it chicken or beef". Raw bones (yep, even chicken bones) are soft and digestible. Cooked bones (yep, even beef bones) become brittle and can splinter into shards. That smoked ham bone at the petstore is actually more dangerous for your dog to eat than raw chicken bones. The main bones my dogs eat are chicken bones, along with a few pork and lamb bones. Note: weight-bearing bones of large herbivores are too hard for dogs, so bones like a cow femur are no-no's.

Bones are also "nature's toothbrush". Dental care is just as important for dogs as it is for people. 80% of dogs over the age of 3 have periodontal disease; which not only is a problem of unattractive teeth, it affects the internal organs of the animal.

My dogs' teeth on a raw diet

Liver is liver. Beef liver, pork liver, chicken liver, etc. That was an easy one!

Secreting organs are *drumroll* organ which secrete. Examples: kidney, spleen, pancreas, thymus, brain. The non-secreting organs, such as heart and gizzards, are fed in the "meat" portion of the dog's diet.

A raw prey model diet does not require any supplements, it supplies all the nutrients required by dogs. I do, however, give my dogs fish oil for Omega-3s to make up for the fact they do not get organic grass-fed beef or much wild game meat.

The amount to feed is based on your body's ideal adult body weight. The starting point is about 2%-3% of the dog's body weight, then adjust as necessary. (It's on a dog-by-dog basis depending on the dog's metabolism and activity level. One of my dogs eats nearly twice the recommended starting point!) I use a cheap kitchen scale to portion out my dogs' food.

Where do I get meat for my dogs?
  • Grocery store - watch those sales!
  • Expired or freezer-burned meat from family and friends
  • Hunting scraps

If you are interested in feeding your dogs (or cats or ferrets) a raw diet, here are some resources to get you started: