Southern Cheese Straws

Cheese straws (along with Brunswick stew, grits, and Carolina pulled pork barbecue) are a Southern delicacy that I’ve really missed since moving north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Even though Virginia may not be considered the Deep South, natives to historic Richmond and the surrounding areas certainly pride themselves on their Southern heritage, and cooking plays a significant role in that identity. Growing up there, I remember cheese straws being a culinary staple at most get-togethers, pot luck dinners, and receptions. This delicious, savory finger-food is highly addictive. It’s nearly impossible to eat only one . . . or even just a handful, or two handfuls . . . you get the idea.

The traditional recipe is basically tons of cheddar cheese, tons of butter, a few spices, and a little flour to hold it all together. In my dog-friendly version, the butter and spices are gone but there is still plenty of the cheddar cheese that pooches will love. Don’t have cheddar in the fridge? You can substitute an equal amount of whatever shred-able cheese you’ve got on hand.

I had a grand vision of creating fancy, scalloped cheese straws, so I piped my dough out using a piping bag fitted with a star-shaped piping tip. The lines of dough did look beautiful before going into the oven; however, they spread out so much during baking that I might as well have used a plain, round piping tip. While much flatter than I originally envisioned and less crunchy than the original human snack, the finished dog treats still came out looking and tasting good. In fact, they got an enthusiastic A+ from all four of my taste-testers!

 Cheese Straws

Cheese Straws

Makes about 40 treats

 

15 oz fat free shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup natural applesauce

1/4 cup cold water

1 cup oat flour, or as needed

 

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF.

2. Place the cheese, applesauce, and water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until the ingredients are very well combined and the cheese shreds appear slightly mushy.

3. Gradually add the oat flour to the cheese mixture, beating well after each addition. The dough should hold together but still be soft enough to push easily through a piping tip or cookie press. (You may need a little less or more flour than the 1 cup that is called for.)

4. Transfer a portion of the dough to a cookie press or piping bag fitted with a large round piping tip. Pipe the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat® mat. It works best to pipe the dough into long, even lines that run the length of the baking sheet. The dough will spread out quite a bit as it bakes, so be sure to leave about 1 1/2 inches between the parallel lines of dough as you pipe.

5. Bake until the straws are crisp and browned on the bottom, about 20 minutes.

6. While still warm, cut the long strips into smaller pieces using a paring knife. (Pieces 2 to 3 inches in length work well for most dogs.) Transfer the pieces to a wire rack or (a piece of wax paper on a cool countertop) to allow the cheese straws to cool completely before serving. If needed, use a metal spatula to help release the cheese straws from the parchment paper.

Store in an airtight container inside the refrigerator.

NOTE:  It works better to shred your own cheese than to use the pre-shredded stuff; the slightly stickier consistency of the freshly shredded cheese helps hold the dough together.

Sweet Beet Treats

The red beet, or “beetroot” as it’s called in many parts of the world, has been touted as one of nature’s superfoods. The root vegetable is jam-packed with iron, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamins A, B, and C. The beet is also a detoxifier, which simply means that it encourages the liver to cleanse the body of toxins, and it is also thought to improve blood flow and stamina. And on top of all of these health benefits, beets have a naturally sweet flavor that most dogs will love.

The beet’s intense red pigment gives these dog treats a beautiful pinkish color, but you should promptly rinse out your blender, bowl, utensils, etc. so that the natural dye doesn’t stain your equipment. Be aware that the color can also transfer to your hands while you’re peeling and cutting the beet. But don’t panic! It will go away with a few good hand-washings. (I also recently heard a tip that washing your hands with coarse salt, in addition to soap and water, will help pull the color out of your skin more quickly.)

At this point some of you are probably wondering, “how do I shop for the perfect beet?” When in the produce aisle, look for those that are uniform in shape and medium in size. (In this case, bigger is not better. Larger beets will taste less sweet and more earthy.) You also want to find beets that feel very firm to the touch; a beet that feels soft is old and will not be the best quality.

Sweet Beet Treats

Sweet Beet Treats

Makes 50 (3-inch long) dog treats

 

1 medium-sized red beet

Natural apple juice, as needed

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup natural applesauce

3 cups whole wheat flour, plus as needed for dusting

1 teaspoon baking powder

 

1. Lightly peel the beet using a vegetable peeler and roughly chop it into pieces. Place the beet in a blender and blend until smooth. If needed, add apple juice by the tablespoonful to keep the blender moving easily. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl. Strain the pureed beet through the fine-mesh strainer, using a spoon or rubber spatula to press down on the pulp and squeeze out the maximum amount of juice into the bowl. Reserve 1/3 cup of beet juice for this recipe. You can discard the pulp, and use the remainder of the beet juice for another purpose (or just drink it up—it’s naturally sweet and healthy for you!)

2. Preheat the oven to 350F.

3. Combine the 1/3 cup of beet juice, oil, and applesauce in a bowl.

4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour with the baking powder.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing constantly. Continue mixing until a smooth, homogenous dough forms. (The dough is slightly sticky.)

6. Generously dust the countertop with flour, and roll the dough out in to a sheet about 1/4-inch thick. Use your desired cookie cutter to cut the treats out.

7. Arrange the treats on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

8. Bake until the treats are firm to the touch, about 14 minutes. Allow to cool completely before serving.

 

NOTE:  These treats bake up very soft and cakey, so they make a great choice for older dogs or any dog with dental issues.

These treats are best stored in an airtight container inside the refrigerator.

Grain Free Dog Treats

In the past few weeks I have had a handful of people ask me about making a grain free dog treat. In fact it seems like I’m encountering more and more dogs who are on a completely grain free diet. The recipe that I’m sharing today is perfectly tasty to make as-is, but it also makes a great baseline to add your own flavoring ingredients and creativity. For example it would be simple to add minced herbs or small diced veggies or to replace all or part of the broth with canned tuna water or freshly squeezed veggie juice.

It may confuse some of you that the main ingredient in a grain free recipe is buckwheat flour. Contrary to popular belief, buckwheat is NOT a type of wheat. As a matter of fact, buckwheat is not a grain or cereal of any kind. (So, yes, it is gluten free!) Buckwheat is actually a seed that is harvested from a flowering plant closely related to rhubarb. The pyramid-shaped buckwheat seeds, or “groats”, may be toasted and sold whole or may be ground into a rich, gray flour labeled as buckwheat or kasha flour. Buckwheat flour is now widely available at most grocery and health food stores, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it in your local baking aisle.

Grain Free Treats

Basic Grain Free Dog Treats

Makes 60 (2-inch) treats

 

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup chicken or beef broth

2 cups buckwheat flour

 

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.

2. Combine the olive oil, egg, and broth.

3. Slowly pour the buckwheat flour into the egg mixture, stirring constantly to incorporate.

4. Knead the mixture until it forms a smooth, homogenous dough, about 2 minutes.

5. Roll the dough out into a sheet about 1/4-inch thick. Cut the dough into pieces using your desired cookie cutter.

6. Arrange the treats on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

7. Bake for 6 minutes. Flip each of the treats over, then return to the oven and continue baking until the treats are firm to the touch, about 6 minutes more.

 

These treats are best stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

DIY Slip-On Dog Collar Bandana

Pacey looking dashing in his new Slip-On Bandana. You might notice that he does NOT look too amused . . . perhaps he’s not into preppy prints as much as I am.

While I would say that my pup Pacey has at least tolerated most of the cute (some might say silly) accessories that I’ve made him wear over the years, he never seems to keep a bandana tied on very long. Like lots of dogs out there, he wriggles and chews and usually manages to lose the bandana in a matter of mere seconds. To avoid this pesky problem, a super smart blogger over at Crafty Critique has created a bandana that slips right onto your dog’s collar so that it stays in place. And since you don’t have to tie any knots, it’s much easier for you to take off and put on. Think of all of the seasonal bandana possibilities!

I am a novice seamstress at best, and I successfully whipped this bandana up in just a few minutes using some scrap fabric that I already had sitting around. Crafty Critique’s tutorial also includes a printable pattern, but I decided to make my own. I just measured out the shape using a ruler and cut it out of construction paper. The pattern size that I used (3-inch straight sides with 5-inch angled sides) fit my 15-pound chihuahua-mix perfectly, and I think that it’ll work well for most toy breeds.

Click the link below to see Crafty Critique’s full step-by-step tutorial:

http://www.craftycritique.com/2011/06/tutorial-slide-on-dog-collar-bandana.html

 

HERE’S WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

Fabric scissors (I used pinking sheers to help keep the edges from fraying); pattern; scrap fabric; a few pins; plus, thread and a sewing machine or hand needle.

Fabric scissors (I used pinking sheers to help keep the edges of the fabric from fraying); bandana pattern; scrap fabric; a few straight pins; PLUS, an iron, some thread, and a sewing machine or hand needle.

 

Once I had the piece of fabric cut out (as you see in the photo above), I chose to hand-stitch my bandana. It’s such a small amount of sewing that I just sat and did the stitching while I watched a sit-com, but a sewing machine would be the simpler and faster way to do it. If you know that your dog is going to be really rough on the bandana, you probably want to choose to machine stitch so that the finished bandana is as sturdy and durable as can be. But whatever floats your boat.

The other place that I cut corners on the tutorial’s instructions is that I did not sew the extra line across the bandana to form a true pocket for the collar. After sewing the edges of the bandana as instructed, I flipped it right-side-out and called it a day. Again, if you want a sturdier, more professional looking product, go ahead and follow all of the steps of Crafty Critique’s tutorial. (As my blog followers may be starting to realize, I tend to be a little lazy when it comes to craft projects so I took the easy route. But I still think the bandana came out looking lovely.)

My finished Slip-On Dog Collar Bandana.

My finished Slip-On Dog Collar Bandana.

Just slide the finished bandana onto your dog's collar, and you're ready for action. No knots needed!

The finished bandana has a wide enough pocket that it should slide onto essentially any dog collar. My bandana fit easily over Pacey’s 1/2-inch wide collar with the buckle and dog tags attached too.

Now just slide the bandana onto your dog’s collar and you’re ready for action. No knots needed!