If you're head over heels in love your dog -- and these days in pet-obsessed America, who isn't? -- bet you won't be afraid to show it on Friday.
One in five Americans will show their four-legged best friends some love on Feb. 14, spending, according to a National Retail Federation survey, a collective $817 million on Valentine's Day goodies for their pets.
Dogs don't appreciate flowers or dinner reservations, so many of those gifts will come in the form of packaged doggie treats, either commercially prepared ones or those made in small, gourmet batches by artisan bakers, such as Sarah Lavery of The Pet Bakery of Oakmont (see accompanying story). But if you're even the tiniest bit comfortable in the kitchen, you can make some dog-gone good pet cuisine yourself at home, in some cases at a fraction of the cost with ingredients you already have in your pantry.
It's almost as easy as ripping open a bag of Snausages, and a heck of a lot healthier for your dog, whose nutritional needs are important, too. Besides, it's fun, especially if you get the kids involved.
You do have to be extremely careful about the ingredients. Tempting as it is to simply scrape what's left of tonight's dinner into the dog dish, not all leftovers are created equal. Onions, for example, can make dogs anemic, while even a single serving of grapes or raisins can lead to rapid renal (kidney) failure. Fat trimmings can cause pancreatitis, while raw yeast dough could expand in your pet's digestive system, causing pain and possible rupture of the stomach or intestines. Chocolate can make dogs extremely sick.
With help from three new cookbooks geared toward pets, we've come up with a few treats -- all made with "people food" -- that you can feel good about feeding your dog and that won't gross out your kids while making them.
"A balanced, homemade varied diet for your dog keeps your dog healthy, happy, and out of the veterinarian's office," writes Gayle Pruitt in "Dog-Gone Good Cuisine: More Healthy, Fast and Easy Recipes for You and Your Pooch" (St. Martin's Griffin; Feb. 18, 2014; $21.99). "Plus, they deserve it."
The treats just might appeal to the two-legged loves of your life, too. I know this because after I tried to sweet-talk my daughters into sampling the goods (pretty unsuccessfully, I might add), I taste-tested all three myself. They weren't terrible, just on the bland side -- the type of cookie you'd reach for only when there absolutely wasn't anything else to eat in the house.
An entire section of "Dog-Gone Good Cuisine," in fact, is devoted to equal-opportunity recipes the entire family can share. Case in point is the Salmon Florentine I made the other night for my parents. They thought it was delicious, and you would, too. Other drool-inspiring, human-friendly dishes include Classic Chicken Soup, Cinnamon Chicken and Lamb Burgers with Cucumber Sauce. It's a dog's life, indeed.
But that's more about dinner; on Valentine's Day, it's enough to show your love with a homemade treat.
Beefy Red Hearts
Plain, unflavored gelatin can help to prevent arthritis, arthrosis and other degenerative joint disorders in dogs.
2 cups Lakewood Organic Super Veggie Juice, or other organic vegetable juice
3 or 4 ice cubes
7 envelopes Knox gelatin
1 pint beef broth (no onions)
Pour the juice into a bowl and add ice cubes. Sprinkle gelatin over the juice; stir until gelatin has dissolved, about 5 minutes.
In a saucepan, bring beef broth to a boil. Add gelatin mixture and stir until gelatin has dissolved, about 5 minutes.
Place in a rectangular glass baking dish and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.
Cut into squares or use a heart-shaped cookie cutter.
Makes 2 dozen squares.
-- "Dog-Gone Good Cuisine" by Gayle Pruitt (St. Martin's; Feb. 18, 2014; $21.99)
Peanut Butter and Buckwheat kisses
Peanut butter is a good source of protein, vitamins and healthy fats. As anyone who's ever had to sneak a pill into their dog's mouth with a spoonful of the stuff knows, it also tastes good. Just be sure to choose an all-natural brand without added sugar or salt.
Vegetable oil for greasing
1¾ cups buckwheat flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon steel-cut oats
1 heaping teaspoon blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup boiling water
1/3 cup unsweetened creamy peanut butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.
Put buckwheat flour and oats into a bowl.
Measure blackstrap molasses into a small bowl. Pour boiling water over molasses and stir until dissolved. Add peanut butter and stir. Add to bowl with the flour and oats and mix together to form a soft dough. (If it is a little dry, add a few tablespoons of water.)
Lightly flour a clean work surface with additional buckwheat flour and turn out the dough onto it. Roll small pieces of dough into balls about half the size of golf balls. Put them on the prepared cookie sheet and press down gently on each ball with your thumb. Bake for 25 minutes.
Let the kisses cool (they should be quite hard), then store them in a sealed container. They should keep for at least a week.
-- "Dinner for Dogs: 50 Home-Cooked Recipes for a Happy, Healthy Dog" by Henrietta Morrison (The Experiment, June 2013, $15.95)
Sweet Potato Biscuits
A good source of dietary fiber and vitamins B6 and C, sweet potatoes make a great base for great doggie treats. These easy biscuits get extra crunch from oatmeal. I cut them into star shapes.
1 large sweet potato, baked and mashed
1½ cups all-purpose flour (I used whole-wheat)
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix all the ingredients together and knead a few times. Roll the dough into a thick sheet and cut out desired shape of biscuits.
Arrange all the biscuits on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and cook in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, until crunchy and golden brown.
Store them in an airtight container or sealed jar for up to 2 weeks.
Makes 1 dozen biscuits.
-- Adapted from "Dog Treat Cookbook: 20 Homemade Recipes Your Dog Will Love" by Wendy Wright (Amazon Digital Services, Jan. 2014, $2.99 on Kindle)
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.