pet food

i had an epiphany a few months ago when i read a fact that seattle has more dogs than we do children (no wonder i love this city)... but here are all these foodies and environmentalists and activists eating our organic produce, local fresh eggs or maybe some small-scale grass-fed beef, and what is it that we feed our pets?! most likely, some highly processed 'meat byproduct meal' crap from a bag. take a look at your pet food - if there is any vaguely labeled ingredients such as 'chicken-byproduct-meal,' you should drop the bag and go apologize to your four-legged friend for feeding it feathers and diseased meats. need more motivation to take action? check out marion nestle's book, 'pet food politics'

i could continue on this rant, or i could give you some useful suggestions of what can be done! first off, there are some very high quality foods on the market - like the honest kitchen's natural dehydrated pet foods. this is a good place to start if you don't have the time to learn more about preparing meals for animals. pet food is a science! just like us, dogs and cats require specific nutrients and ratios of protein to carbohydrates. but it is a science that can be perfected in your own home kitchen with a little bit of research and reading. i've been preparing meals for our pets based on the guidelines from a book called 'natural health for dogs & cats'

watching our cats dig their little furry faces into the first meal i prepared them gave me a surprising amount of joy. sure, i love getting to cook for and share a meal with my friends and family. but never before had i been able to do the same for our pets! i was so proud (and relieved that they actually liked my cooking!) that i think i may have scared them a bit with my enthusiasm. it's been a slow, gradual transition, but they are now on a 100% local raw foods diet!

what goes into a balanced meal for your pet? cat's are carnivores and require meat - lots of meat - and in the wild, that meat would be raw. dogs enjoy more vegetables and grains (potentially your dog could even be vegetarian if given ample supplements). our goal was to be able to track the source of the meat we feed to our pets, so we talked to the butcher at dot's delicatessen in hopes of finding some reasonably priced, lean ground meats from a local farm. for the first time in my life, i purchased beef chuck and liver and brought it home to my vegetarian kitchen.

beyond raw meat, cats and dogs also require carbs, calcium (which i learned can be supplemented by finely ground egg shells), fats and oils, omegas, various vitamins and enzymes - most of which can be sourced from natural foods or whole food supplements. oh, and nutritional yeast is the perfect meal topper for you pet (who knew??) so there is a bit of initial investment as you stock up on a few supplements and fish oils, etc. but in the end, our pet food costs have only gone up about 25% ... but it was worth it! just be patient with your pets - pet food scientists spend more time studying food additives and flavorings to make your pets addicted to their dry food than they do studying the quality and nutritional value of the food. cat's especially can be addicted to their dry food, but once they learn what real food they will love you for your efforts.

bon appetit mes chattes et mon chien! sante!

winter risotto

this risotto is full of warming seasonal flavors! creamy roasted butternut squash, sweet roasted chestnuts and savory sage folded into a slow-cooking rice risotto. delicious! risotto is fairly simple to make, but does require constant attention as you prep and cook (about 80 minutes or so). risotto is well worth the work and makes for lovely left overs too!

butternut squash & chestnut risotto:
1 1/2 cups risotto rice (arborio rice)
3 cups vegetable stock
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 small onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
4 ounces peeled and halved chestnuts (i used pre-cooked, vacuum packed chestnuts)
small bunch fresh sage
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pats of butter (optional)
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon coriander
salt & pepper
1/4 cup parmesan, finely grated (optional)
parsley, chopped for garnish

preheat oven to 400 degrees. in the mean time, prep and dice all your vegetables. combine the cubed squash with one tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with chili flakes and ground coriander and spread the squash out in a single layer in a roasting pan. bake up to 30 minutes until fork tender.
while the squash is roasting, heat 1 tablespoon oil and a pat of butter in a large skillet and sautee the onions, celery and garlic for 10 minutes at a low heat. try to avoid browning the vegetables. at the same time, heat 3 cups of broth on the stove top, letting it sit at a simmer. after 10 minutes of cooking the vegetables, add the dry rice and turn up the heat. fry the rice with the vegetables for about one minute until the rice becomes translucent. add a ladleful (1/2 cup) of broth to the rice and vegetable mixture. continue cooking at a low temperature, uncovered, until the liquid is absorbed. continue to add a ladleful at a time, giving the rice time to absorb. depending on your patience level you may find that you use less or more liquid... just continue to cook until the rice is tender but still has a bit of a bite to it.
check the squash! once it is fork tender, add the chestnuts to the roasting pan and return to the oven for about 5-10 minutes until the squash is very soft and creamy and the chestnuts are heated through. remove the squash and nuts from the oven and let sit until the risotto rice is finished. season the rice to taste.
finally, combine the squash and chestnuts in with the risotto. add a handful of torn sage leaves, an extra pat of butter and parmesan cheese. fold all together and then let sit, covered for 2 minutes off of the heat. if you really want to please your palate, in small fry pan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and fry a few extra sage leaves. once crisp, remove from oil and let sit on a paper towel. crumbled on top of the risotto, the little crisp leaves are absolutely exceptional!

i was able to fit in a tray of roasted brussel sprouts in the oven while the squash was roasting - the timing worked out just perfectly. pile your risotto high with parsley and fried sage and enjoy!