Category Archives: budget

Hail to Watermelon and Its Rind


‘I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin vines and “simblins”; I know how to tell when it is ripe without “plugging” it; I know how inviting it looks when it is cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting; I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering; I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front if the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end; I can see its halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect; I know how a boy looks behind a yard-long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels; for I have been there. I know the taste of the watermelon which has been honestly come by, and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art. Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best.’- Mark Twain

What can I say? For such a poetic admiration and knowledge of citrullus lanatus, I’d like Mark Twain’s spirit to guide me through my next watermelon picking, ‘cause those knocking tips never work for me. Which is why I liked the idea to make some watermelon pickles. I didn’t have to make a lot of research – the Bon Appétitmagazine has already hooked me on it last summer.

There were some red flags about the recipe including only 3 stars reviews, copious amount of sugar, zero water added, etc. You can find the recipe here.

Despite the flags, my loyalty to Bon Appétit has won. I enthusiastically worked the watermelon rinds  into the wonderful pickles while taking these pictures.

They smelled wonderful and turned out to be exactly like the ones on the BA images. I was anxious to try them next day.

The day after I took the first bite. Hmm. How should I describe it? You know those exotic chutneys you sometimes buy on liquidation that inevitably end up in the garbage after sitting in the fridge for 6 months? It was worse. The watermelon rind juicy freshness was completely gone – buried in sugar, salt and spice like a mummy. I can almost guarantee this listless thing could last in a jar for a century. Well, I still gave it a chance with a few more days in the fridge and a small tapas party. People would take a bite, but it would be the last one. It followed the destiny of the exotic chutney. Fortunately, I cut the recipe in half, so I had only two jars to throw out. I did made a note though about adding the ginger and anise star, because both sounded refreshing in the pickle recipe.

I started looking for the real authentic recipe of a watermelon pickle: the one that would put a smile on those faces surviving the great depression a century ago. I found a great one (with good reviews this time) in the “Root to Stalk Cooking – The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable” book by Tara Duggan (recipe follows).  I could finally get what was the fuss about the old-fashion treat (with much less sugar and prominent lemon flavor). Sorry, no pictures for obvious reason (I wasn’t sure it would work). People at the next tapas party had it with much more enthusiasm. I started adding it to salads and cold soups.

Still, as good as a classic watermelon rind pickle can be, as a great connoisseur of kosher pickles I insisted on finding some other trick that would keep that feeling of freshness of a watermelon and all its vital nutriments intact without boiling the rind.   

I came up with geniusly simple solution: chop the peeled watermelon rind (along with the chunks of watermelon) (2 cups); sprinkle it with quality salt (1/4 tablespoon); add a few slices of ginger and the anise star. Mix a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with the same amount of honey (preferably spiced) and add the liquid to the watermelon rind mix. Cool in the fridge for just 10-15 minutes and off you go (discard the anise star)! Incredibly fresh, youthful and invigorating! I use it now almost daily added to de-puffing shakes, soups, salads, salsas and relishes. I just love this simple healing mix.


Finally, my favorite, watermelon gazpacho with macerated rind: I call it ‘hangover shots’ (huge party pleaser (before or after). The watermelon and honey-cider macerated rind add delectable sweetness and balance to tomatoes. The apple cider vinegar works magic with the glycemic index making it very good for health (if you are into these things) while lifting the umami of the tomatoes and watermelon. This soup is hydrating, rejuvenating and healing. By virtue of having the watermelon and tomatoes together, it doubles the amount of lycopene thus hugely boosting the immune system. Did I say it tastes amazing? The mint gives that pick-me-up finish to help bring you back to life along with the soup itself whether it from the heat, exhaustion or hangover. Gosh, it’s incredible how easy it is at times to make yourself happy.
Enjoy!
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LEMONY WATERMELON RIND PICKLES
Yields: 2 to 3 pints
Ingredients:
Rind from 3 pounds seedless watermelon
7 cups water, divided
5 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
Zest (in large strips) and juice from 1 large lemon
Instructions:
Cut the rind into 1-inch cubes to make around 4 cups.
Combine6 cups of the water and 3 tablespoons of the salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer to dissolve the salt, then add the watermelon rind and cook until fork tender, about 8 minutes. Drain the watermelon rind and divide among the pint jars.
In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1 cup water with the remaining 2 tablespoons salt, the sugar, vinegar, cinnamon stick, peppercorns and cloves. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
Stir the lemon zest and juice into the pickle brine. Pour the brine over the watermelon rind, distributing the spices and lemon zest evenly among the jars. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight before serving. (The pickles will taste very salty at first, but the flavor mellows overnight.)
Note: You will need two to three pint jars and canning lids and rings, cleaned well in soapy water. Because this doesn’t make a huge amount, you can store the finished product in the refrigerator for one to two months rather than canning it. You may have some extra brine, so feel free to add more rind if you have it.
Adapted from: “Root to Stalk Cooking – The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable” book by Tara Duggan, 13/08/2013
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MACERATED WATERMELON RIND CONCENTRATE
3 cups water
1 tablespoon quality sea salt (Maldon, fleur de sel, etc.)
1 cup honey (quickly made spice infused honey is the best for this recipe)
2 anise stars
1 knob of ginger, thinly sliced
Few lemon peels (optional)
6 cups peeled watermelon rind, half and half pink and white parts, coarsely chopped
1 cup cider vinegar
Instructions:
Bring the water and the salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add the honey and stir to dissolve. Add anise star, ginger and lemon peel to the honey water and stir. Pour the honey-water over the watermelon rind in a large ceramic bowl. Let cool to room temperature. Add apple cider vinegar and mix. Steep the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours or up to overnight. When ready, use the macerated watermelon chunks and the liquid in salads/dressings, cold soups, smoothies, tonic drinks, etc. The mixture can be store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
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MACERATED WATERMELON RIND SUMMER TONIC
Strain the amount of liquid required from the macerated watermelon rind mixture. Pour 1/4 cup of the concentrate into a glass over ice and dilute with 3/4 cup water. Garnish with the cubes of watermelon, cucumber, and mint. 

***


WATERMELON GAZPACHO WITH MACERATED RIND
Yields: 2 to 4 portions
Ingredients:
1 pound tomatoes, diced
1 pound seeded and cubed watermelon
½ cup macerated watermelon rind with liquid (see the recipe in the post above), OR 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
1 small to medium size cucumber, diced (peeled and de-seeded if necessary)
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher, Maldon, fleur de sel, or any other quality salt (add more according to your taste)
Feta cheese, crumbled
5 to 10 spearmint leaves for garnish
Instructions:
Combine tomatoes, watermelon, rind, cucumber and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Give it a few pulses until chunky-smooth, but not too smooth. Let cool in the fridge if necessary. Garnish with crumbled feta and chopped mint. Enjoy!

Energizing Rainbow Vegetable Broth Recipe


‘Eat a Rainbow’ we hear more and more often from doctors when they refer to the variety of vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables to include in our diets to give our immune system the benefit of a range of antioxidants. This simple rainbow broth that you can start or finish your day with or just drink throughout the day will for sure help to strengthen the immune system and help combat winter fatigue and melancholy.  With this year’s never-ending severe winter, I am taken by Japanese traditional types of breakfast, which has actually led to many experiments with different kind of stocks and broths, hence this particular post is all about starting your day with a trendy sip of warm broth (with uber healthy alkalizing and anti-inflammatory properties) instead of the usual and boring bowl of cold cereal. Most importantly, a few sips of this broth fill you up so well, the ”Hara Hachi Bu” (eat until you are 80 percent full), a famous Okinawans principle becomes really easy to follow…

This is our next morning Sunday Brunch photo: Rainbow Broth & Fried Sushi – What a Wonderful Marriage!

Well, may be except for this case, although the broth does help to stop devouring the sushi a bit earlier…

Another upside of this broth is that its vegan, easy to pull off and/or modify to your taste, and can be made either from scratch (on a budget) or to recycle the collection of the quality veggie’s scrap assuring a great range of essential nutrients. Excellent recipe to take a note of if you are going to detox, to fast during the lent, or to start taking better care of your lunches (absolutely awesome in combination with classic egg or tuna salad sandwich, for example). It is also a wonderful starting point for further interesting layering with other ingredients: from hot noodle/dumpling soups to cold soups with fresh veggies additions. 
The humble rainbow ingredients are: potato, leek, radish, celery, carrot, scallion, ginger, and beet: 
For and extra detox properties, flavor and kick, I also added kombu (kelp) seaweed, jalapeno, coriander and black peppercorn seeds:

And the last, but not least: cover the veggies with quality mineral/spring water.
The unusual variety of the stock ingredients gives it a unique light flavor with some Asian notes of ginger, seaweed and coriander. Radish makes definitely lighter touch than usual rutabaga/turnips while beet gives the broth a radiant ruby color and agreeable sweetness. The reconstituted wakame seaweed adds an extra comfort touch bringing the taste of broth closer to that of the Miso soup.
Stir in some quality fermented Miso paste and you are one step closer to the Japanese heaven:
 KILLER APP: Alternatively, collect the variety of any best quality vegetable scraps in your freezer (in Ziploc bag) until ready to use to make a stock.
For more further applications, feel free to exclude the beet ingredient and you will have a perfect vegan stock full of goodness, that you can bring to the next level as per my next post. In fact, this post was a prelude to the mystery dish I’m going to offer you next based on the vegan stock. Here’s the hint. Stay tuned.
Speaking of, Happy Chinese New Year, dear readers!

PS: SATURDAY AFTERNOON REPORT. This is what we just had (a day after me featuring the proverbial broth): the out of this world fried sushi I made last night on a wing, but was too tired to eat at midnight to avoid having my next visceral cauchemar… We just had them now for brunch, and LIFE CAN’T BE ANY MORE BEAUTIFUL. Viva Japanese breakfast!

  PS2: God, I need to start Instagram!

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Two other major vegetarian must try recipes for this time of the year:
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RAINBOW VEGETABLE BROTH
Yields: 2 generous or 4 small portions
Ingredients:
1 potato with skin on, chopped
½ leek, chopped
1 carrot with skin on, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 beet with skin on, chopped*
1 radish with skin on, sliced
2 slices of fresh ginger
1 scallion, quartered
1 spring of parsley
1-2 pieces of dried kombu (kelp) seaweed (optional)
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (optional)
1 tsp coriander seeds
8 black peppercorns (optional)
31/2 cups quality mineral/spring water
1 tbsp dried wakame seaweed to garnish (optional)
Instructions:
Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan, add the mineral water and bring to boil. Cover and simmer for 1 ½-2 hours over low heat.
Remove the pan from the heat and strain the liquid. Discard the vegetables. Pour the broth into a heatproof resealable container. Add dried wakame seaweed and seal. Drink glassfuls of the broth throughout the day.
*Excluding the beet from the list of ingredients will deliver classic looking vegetarian stock as opposed to red-colored stock.
Adapted from: Healing Foods, DK Publishing, 2013

Art and Science of Perfect Banana Bread


Moist, moist, moist! Freshly baked banana bread based on a recipe of a true bread artist is something to behold. Utterly aromatic, comforting and delicious, what can taste better or be a better gift on the Hugging Day (today), or the Hunt for Happiness week (this week)? There are thousands recipes of banana bread, but this particular one stood the test of time in our family. 
Photo of Peter Reinhart credit: Ron Manville
The recipe comes from Peter Reinhart, one of the world’s leading authorities of bread, author of nine books on bread baking and multiple James Beard Award winner. To call his book ‘Crust and Crumb’ a bread-making bible in our house wouldn’t be an exaggeration (fyi, his most recent ‘Bread Revolution’is currently undergoing lots of testing chez nous). Every recipe from it is a hit, so when it came to banana bread recipe few years ago, Reinhart’s book was undoubtedly our first reference.  
My grandfather in law was pioneering in bananas import to Quebec about a century ago in hunt for his own happiness. I’m not sure if an idea of making banana bread from some of his perished goods ever crossed his mind, but the fact remains: bananas were then very expensive. The first recipes of banana bread started appearing in the cookbooks around the Great Depression when some entrepreneurial housewives hustled on recycling overripe bananas into baking goods and popularizing baking soda and baking powder. The two latter ingredients were chemically leavening breads rather than natural yeast. Banana bread spearheaded the revolution of breads from other leavens. Quick breads became a new American staple.
Here’s Peter Reinhart’s Banana bread master formula: ‘Banana bread is the standard by which quick-bread artists are judged. The criteria for great quick breads are simple: They must be moist; They must be delicious. The way to accomplish this is by using plenty of ripe fruit and the proper proportion of supporting ingredients. Tenderness is produced by fat, which means butter, though canola, corn, and other oils can be substituted if cholesterol is a concern. The rest is just flavor blending, the eternal balancing act among sugar, fat and starch.’
The exact banana’s condition is crucial for the bread’s quality. The more overripe is the banana, the more flavor, aroma, sweetness and moist texture it will add to the bread. That said, the slightly greenish or perfectly all-yellow banana will not add any flavor to the bread. 
Example.These are no-goes (the last one is close, but still not enough blackened):
The naturally overripe banana will have much more of brown and black spots. 
For the successful loaf bananas have to be absolutely, perfectly OVER-RIPE! There are two ways to speed up banana’s over-ripe: by hot or cold temperatures.
1. Preheat the oven to 300F. Place unpeeled bananas on the baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes. Let cool completely before peeling and mashing.
2. Place bananas in the freezer for 3 hours. Or, heck, if you are in Montreal right now where the frostbite has reached its peak, just put them outside for an hour.  Let bananas thaw completely  and discard any liquids before peeling and mashing.
This is how the banana will look like after:
Yes, ROTTEN would be the right word. Which brings me back to the ‘Rotten’ episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘The Mind of a Chef’ series featuring Chef Chang and Christina Tosi (from Momofuku Milk Bar) making a wondrous banana cream pie from limp blackened thawed bananas.
True: ‘some foods are better rotten…’ to attain the best results in the recipe.
I hope you’ll have a blast making this bread.  Keep it in the fridge, so you can slice it and toast it and have an incredible breakfast, snack or dessert at any time you feel like going bananas.
Enjoy!
***
Two years ago: King Cake
***
BANANA BREAD (Peter Reinhart’s Master Formula)
Yields: two large or three small loaves
Ingredients:
3 ½ cups (16 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp (0.5 ounce) baking powder
½ tbsp (0.64 ounce) baking soda
1 tsp (0.25 ounce) salt
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 ½ cups (20 ounces) brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs (6.65 ounces) at room temperature
2 tsp (0.2 ounce) vanilla extract
1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk
2 ½ cups (20 ounces) ripe bananas, mashed (3-4 bananas)
1 ½ cups (9 ounces) walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
Vegetable oil cooking spray
Instructions:
Position a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350F. Spray two 9x5x3 loaf pans with non-stick spray.
Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Using a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or using a hand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy – about 2 minutes.
Mix in eggs one at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. Mix in vanilla and continue beating for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
Mix in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then 1/3 of buttermilk, then 1/3 of mashed bananas. Continue in this manner until all the ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth. Stir in walnuts.
Fill the pans 2/3 full with batter. Bake for 45 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake for additional 15 minutes, or until baked through. The safest way of knowing if they are finished is to test them with a probe thermometer. The internal temperature should be 180-185F.
Let the loaves cool in the pans for 10 minutes then turn them out carefully on a rack to cool for at least one hour before slicing.
Adapted from ‘’Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers’’ by Peter Reinhart, The Speed Press 2006

In Juniper Spirit: Ham in Pastry Crust (Jambon en Croute) Recipe

“All right, all right, I’ll give you a break for now, but we’ll have a serious conversation in January,” I promised my protruding belly’s mirror reflection a week ago.  Christmas is about tradition and comfort food, so it’s OK to feel or look a little pudgy…  Soon I will have all the time needed to martyr myself with celery and quinoa salad and the ideas of how to “look great in a minivan,” I thought to myself later that day, buying a naughty chunk of a Christmas ham to cook for the family dinner…
And what a dinner it was!  Even our most ferocious calorie-count members admired it. Not only that centerpiece ham expressed and celebrated Quebec’s oldest Christmas tradition, it tasted better, than ever and not just because of the wine was on a table. One secret ingredient made that magic. It was neither the ham itself, nor a crust, but a little crushed juniper berry I added to the mustard rub in between.  It infused the ham and crust with the touch of piney Christmas spirit and balanced the flavors wonderfully.
Earlier in fall we had to cut some old juniper skyrockets in our yard and I foraged an impressive quantity of juniper berries. Not that I didn’t know anything about juniper berry as a spice: it turns vodka into gin, improves the fermentation process of sauerkraut, and makes a great concoction for a hot bath…

However, that would pretty much limit my knowledge of its use. Seeing that quantity of unbelievably fragrant freshly foraged juniper berries was kind of a revelation to me. I wanted to know what else can be done with them and start experimenting right away.

Which is how the idea of using them in the rub came first and I made this little ham back in September. WHOA! It worked better than I expected.  I’m usually not a big fan of ham, reserving it to special occasions only, but this one came out really outstanding.

What a complex yet subtle flavor touch to the roasted ham in crust! It made me think of Christmas right away and so I reserved this recipe and juniper berries (both dried and frozen) for the winter holidays, and here I’m sharing it with you today.

I also researched extensively about the juniper berries and came up with this list of

What You Can Do with Juniper Berries in Your Kitchen:

  • Make spirits and bitters: primarily gin by adding juniper berries to vodka along with bunch of other botanicals (this DIY Gin recipe works great for me)
  • Infuse vinegars (bruise the berries and use this easy method): vinegars bring out the citrus element of the berries 
  • Infuse hot drinks: teas, tisanes, mulled wine, etc. with the enhanced piney juniper berries flavor (have also great medicinal effect on upset stomach, urinary tract infections, bloating, heartburn, etc.)
  • Infuse desserts, fillings, gels, creams and frostings 
  • Infuse salt or sugar
  • Use in brines for: brisket, turkey, pork, chicken or fish as flavor enhancer 
  • Add to game or venison stews and terrines (wild boar, hare, deer, etc.), as well as pork
  • Add to dressings and vinaigrette: works well with olive oil, apple cider or balsamic vinegar, horseradish, mustard, mayonnaise, ginger and garlic
  • Add to sauces and gravies: i.e. Madeira, White wine, Cranberry sauce, etc. and/or thickening dripping liquids into sauces
  • Flavor cabbage stews (German, Polish style Bigos, etc.) along with allspice berries and peppercorns
  • Use in fermenting veggies (sauerkraut, pickles, etc.):  works as stabilizer, adds crunch and flavor
  • Add to bird/meat stuffing 
  • Rub in curing meats (along with other spices) to make pancetta, pastrami, smoked meat, ham, game, etc.
  •  Add to stocks and soups included in bouquet garni: adds nutty-woodsy notes of flavor
  • Add to pasta, potato, couscous or polenta water
  • Recycle leftovers jams into glaze by mixing them with water/syrup infused with juniper berries.

Juniper berries are not exactly berries, but the tiny pine cones of the shrub that are so tightly clenched they look like blue-purple berries. They have strong tart, coniferous flavor with a hint of citrus and very small amount is used in particular recipes. If you remember, in one of the episodes of the fantastic comedy Bedazzled (with Brendan Frazer and Elizabeth Hurley) the major character is explaining at some point that the word `Gin’ is short for the French genievre or the Dutch jenever, both of which mean juniper, the main flavor in gin. Juniper berries have been used since ancient times and were especially popular in Greece, Rome and Egypt as medical remedy, to flavor dishes, or be used for spiritual rituals (some have been even found in the tomb of King Tut).

Back to our Christmas ham: this is a wonderful, festive, traditional Quebec recipe for frugal (and beyond) holidays. It keeps the meat juicy, yet well done. The juniper berries not only add flavor, but work as a natural anti-bloating agent. The juniper-mustard flavored pastry crust helps the dish taste and look elegant and exquisite.

Simply put: it’s a super easy, convenient and impressive centerpiece dish on a budget for many occasions. I do hope you will try it and like it and get back to me with your comments.

Final note: juniper berries are not hard to find on-line or in whole food/organic stores and only a small quantity is used in the recipe. The initial recipe however didn’t have juniper berries in it, so if you can’t get a hold of juniper berries, feel free to substitute with a tablespoon of crushed fennel seeds or dried tarragon.  

Happy Holidays and Enjoy Your Cooking!

***
Other Festive Recipes for Holidays:
Two years ago:  Crispy Cod Croquettes
 ***
JUNIPER INFUSED HAM IN PASTRY CRUST (JAMBON EN CROUTE)
For Ham in Crust:
3 pounds (1.5 kg) smoked ham, boneless, fully cooked
1 bouquet garni with 6-8 juniper berries added
3 tbsp (45 mL) Dijon mustard
2 tbsp yellow mustard grains, crushed
1 tbsp juniper berries (about 8-10 berries), freshly crushed
1 pound (450 g) puff pastry
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tbsp (30 mL) water for brushing the dough
For Madeira Sauce Infused with Juniper Berries:
3 tbs (45 mL) unsalted butter
½ cup (125 mL) shallot, minced
½ cup (125 mL) Madeira or Port wine
1 cup (250 mL) brown veal or beef stock
¼ cup (60 mL) 35% cream
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 juniper berries for infusion
Instructions:
Cover smoked ham with cold water in a big pot, add bouquet garni and bring to boil. Simmer the smoked ham for an hour and half to two hours to remove some salt. Let cool.
Drain the liquid and pat dry the ham carefully. Mix the Dijon, crushed mustard and juniper seeds in a small bowl.  Rub the ham with mustard-juniper mixture all over.  
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Roll out the puff pastry into a sheet/s about ¾ in (1.5 cm) thick and transfer to the baking sheet. Place ham in the center of the dough sheet and wrap the ham with the dough completely. Add patches of dough when necessary to make sure all ham is well-covered for the juices not to drain out.
Mix the egg yolk with water and brush the pastry from all sides. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and puffed. Remove ham from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes for the juices to set before carving. Cut the ham with the knife long enough to cut the entire length of it. Serve with Madeira sauce, mashed potatoes, rice or fresh pasta.
Madeira Sauce with Juniper Berries:
Melt butter in a saucepan. Add chopped shallots and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add Madeira (or Port) and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Add brown veal or beef stock. Add cream and bring to boil. Season with salt and pepper.  Add 4-5 juniper berries for infusion and set aside covered for 10 minutes. Strain the sauce from juniper berries before serving.
Adapted from: « Le cochon à son meilleur » by Philippe Mollé, Les Éditions de l’Homme, March, 1996

Doggy Dreams of Christmas: Hip Pet Bed DIY and Easy Dog Biscuits Recipe


There are 101 reasons to begin the Christmas prep odyssey with a little pet project. Our ‘old soul’ doggie is giving us so much unconditional love every day, there’s almost no more need to stencil ‘’Relax, You’re Home’’ on the walls anymore. And yet, let’s be honest, most of the times we are so much smitten by the Christmas frenzy, we barely have time to buy our pet an (often rancid) commercial treat or a stupid stuffed reindeer antlers with sparks (that would never light up, but everyone would be too busy to notice).

And so the doggy dreams that one Christmas it would be different and there will be home-made cookies and a new comfy bed, and the antlers will fly into the garbage…

This year wouldn’t probably be any different for her if I wouldn’t have had a ‘déjà vu’ experience when shopping for a pet food at Target last weekend.  This moment has led to a new gorgeous pet bed light bulb DIY project and these succulent treats our doggie can’t get enough of. Both are super-fun to make alone or with kids.

It’s Saturday morning; I’m at the Target’s pet section screening the shelves for weight control IAMS food.  My peripheral vision suddenly spots a HUGE (70%) special on hot Boots & Barkley pet duvets of a very refreshing contemporary design (as opposed to kitsch, granny or poop-looking designs we usually find in pet sections – I always wonder what kind of people design the dog beds and covers): at least 5-6 varieties in small, medium, large and ex-large sizes. One of them has this rare whimsical Christmas-y print of doggie treats on it.

In a flash, I remember: a year ago I was passing by this duvet thinking: ’It’s a pity I just bought that dreary checkered pet bed in Costco (because of the BUDGET (always that word) – but this one looks so much more festive and elegant, not to mention the colors would be perfect fit for our lady doggie…’ Then, of course, the thought was swept away by hundreds of other thoughts until now that I saw this print again for almost free. I just can’t pass by it. I buy the extra-large pet bed cover along with leak-proof undercover, both, for less than $10. No matching pet beds are left in stock, and so I bring these covers home thinking that eventually I will find a bed to fit them on (What am I thinking? It’s an almost impossible mission).

Next morning I have the light bulb moment: I will recycle the old pillows instead of tossing them and will stuff the new covers with them!

I take a pair of scissors: cut a few old pillows, take the stuffing out (I’m talking about the polyester pillow form and/or micro beads, not duvet or cotton); fill the new waterproof undercover bag with them, zip and finish with my heart- throb quirky two-sided cover. Viola, no stitching, sweating or spending… Just RECYCLE, RECYCLE, RECYCLE and my new designer print pet bed is ready in 5 minutes.  Isn’t it awesome? Plus, you can control the thickness (making it really luxurious). 

All you need to make this cool, comfy and good looking pet bed are:

          two pet bed duvets (undercover and the top plush ‘n print) cover, both washable ($10);
          one to three old pillows polyester stuffing  in foam or pellets;
          pair of scissors

A power of three (speedy, recycled, on the budget) makes us hungry to start the day. The doggie crashes happily into her new nook. OH, she glows in this bed, dreaming about the obvious…  

We are off to make our Sunday brunch B&B (bacon and beans) holiday staple and declare the holidays begun.  While cooking bacon, another great pet idea comes by: use bacon drippings to make holiday pet biscuits (along with, naturally, some healthier ingredients including: rolled oats, peanut butter, flax seed oil for that shiny coat, etc.).  Later at night we improvise with baking ingredients and deliver these aromatic treats within an hour or so.  


We proudly take the first bite ourselves. Biscuits taste pretty good and crunchy, and can easily pass for the Medieval times luxurious treat. Which means laby’s gonna be happy. As a matter of fact, she is already here banging her giant tail off the wall in anticipation.

While I’m busy taking these pictures, she comes by quietly, pretending she is a ghost, grabs one biscuit from a side (hopefully unnoticed) and trots to the other side of the kitchen drooling like a rabid beast. Then her eyes close; her head stretches up to keep the drool; the crunch breaks the silence and the treat disappears in a split second. After, she retires peacefully next to her new alcove as if nothing happened.

Needless to say, that’s a NO-GO we usually don’t practice. We both know that despite her Mona Lisa smile and heavy tail wagging, she is doomed for the ‘Denver’s’ moment:

Followed, naturally, by a ‘doggie now deserves another one’ in about one hour.

And that’s it for today. The Target special is still on (and NO, they didn’t pay me to write this column) in Montreal area (and most probably the rest of Canada) if you liked this DIY idea. 

MAKE YOUR PET KIDS LITTLE HAPPIER THIS CHRISTMAS!
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OATS PEANUT BUTTER FLAX & BACON PET BISCUITS
Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling out)
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/3 cups of water
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp flax seed oil
½ cup bacon drippings at room temperature
½ tsp salt
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Mix flour and rolled oats in a big bowl. Pour one cup of water and mix well to blend. Add peanut butter, honey, flax seed oil and bacon drippings and mix well. Add the rest of the water gradually.  Spread ½ of flour on a rolling surface, work the dough adding more flour if necessary and roll it into ¼ inch thick sheet. Cut the desired cookie shapes with a cookie cutter.  Transfer cookies to the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 45-50 minutes.  Let cool. Store biscuits in cookie jar or plastic container for up to 3 weeks.