Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nuts and Bolts: Dog Stew

I cook for my dogs.

I cook for myself too, obviously, and on rare occasion I even cook for my husband, but people only seem to think you're weird if you cook for your dogs. Pssh to that, I say. Dogs like a good home-cooked meal as much as anyone else.

Of course, what counts as "good" from a dog's perspective may not line up perfectly with our ideas. Most people don't much care for pureed chicken bones in their soup, and it's generally accepted that a little spice improves people-food... but dogs have different notions. Bland and meaty works for them.

Here's the simplified version of my dog stew recipe. The full version takes two to three days to prepare (instead of about 20-30 minutes for this one) and may get you in trouble with your neighbors*, so in the interest of not coming off as completely insane, I'll just post this. I normally serve it mixed half-and-half with a good quality kibble like Acana or Orijen.


-- 1 can chicken or beef broth or stock (or consomme, or whatever you have on hand -- low sodium is preferable when available, but it's not of huge importance)
-- 3 pounds of ground meat (85% lean beef, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, or any mixture thereof)
-- 1 and 1/2 cups of finely diced vegetables (equal parts carrots, yellow squash or zucchini, and green beans)
-- generous handful of quick-cooking or rolled oats (probably about 1/3 cup but I've never measured)
-- 6 eggs, whisked together

Cook the meat in the broth over medium to low-medium heat until the meat is thoroughly browned, stirring occasionally to break up big chunks. You want lots of little pieces, like in chili or spaghetti sauce.

Add the rolled oats, cook on low-medium heat about 5 minutes or until the oats are done.

Add the vegetables and cook another few minutes, then add the eggs and stir a few times to break up any big chunks (ideally you want little pieces of egg throughout, kinda like egg drop soup). Remove from heat as soon as the eggs are cooked through and visibly white instead of clear. The vegetables should still be somewhat crisp.

Easy variations: replace some or all of the oats with red lentils, quinoa, or rice (be sure to increase cooking time accordingly!); replace 1/2 pound of the ground meat with an equal amount of diced organ meats (chicken and beef livers are easy to find in most supermarkets); use yellow (or purple!) beans instead of green ones; use different types of summer squash in place of the zucchini or yellow squash. I'm of the opinion that variety in a dog's diet is a good thing, both for improved nutrition and just for the sake of keeping things interesting.

If you don't give your dog bones to chew on regularly, then calcium deficiency may become an issue. You can remedy this by powdering cleaned and dried eggshells in a spice or coffee grinder (or just crushing them with a hammer or rolling pin -- the point is that they have to be reduced to powder, however you do it), then mixing them in with the oats. 3 eggshells is a good amount for one batch of dog stew using the quantities listed above. Then you get calcium and don't annoy your neighbors!

A caution: Not all dogs tolerate all foods equally well. There are dogs who are allergic to some kinds of protein and can, for example, eat chicken but not beef. Some dogs have grain allergies (although these are mostly related to corn and wheat; oats and rice tend to be pretty well tolerated). I once tried adding cottage cheese for the calcium but that didn't work out too well for Gremlin, who turned out to have problems digesting dairy.

The above recipe is pretty safely middle-of-the-road and I've never had problems with it, but that's no guarantee that your dog will automatically have the same experience. Try it with my blessing, but be sensitive to what your dog is telling you: if she doesn't want to eat it, there may be something in that particular combination that doesn't work for her.

(* -- The full dog stew recipe involves boiling down bones until they're soft enough to be pureed in a blender. This takes DAYS. It is also a very fragrant process that caused our neighbors to think that the sewage pipes were leaking inside the building, resulting in confusion and embarrassment for all. I now do my bone-boiling outdoors on the windiest days I can manage, and do not recommend it for anyone else because, while I am completely bonkers, I'd like to think you aren't.

Besides, you can always just give your dog a bone to chew separately.)

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