Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nature's 10 Most Perfect Foods

Today instead of 3 things that make me happy, I'm upping the ante and going for 10. 

Back in college, whenever someone mentioned Twinkies, my dorm mates would chime in with, "Nature's Most Perfect Food!"  I've given an inordinate amount of thought over the years to what would follow Twinkies on this list, and recently decided I have a stable top 6 or so, and rounded it out with other favorites. It's late; I'm awake.  So without further ado, I bring you:

Nature's Most Perfect Foods

1) Twinkies
Definitionally, these Hostess snack cakes top the list. 

2) Hot Pockets with the crisper sleeve.
Without the sleeve they slide to 6th place. Lean Pockets count - I like the artichoke chicken.  Every omnivorous culture has an iconic meat pie, but one that can be microwaved to crispy in 2 minutes makes this ours.  Great for breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner.

3) Easy Mac
Loved Mac & Cheese growing up. As a single adult, I don't keep much milk on hand & a box makes too much, so I rarely ate any.  Finally tried Easy Mac at a house party overrun with kids, and it was like the heavens opened up. Don't need to keep perishables, and it makes only enough for 1 serving. It tastes and feels exactly like I need it to.  What's not to love?

4) Doritos
A case could be made for Cheetos here, but Taco Bell partnering to make a Doritos taco shell brought these into the top 5.  Again, childhood food memories, this time of taco salad at church potluck chock full of chips gets evoked by the Doritos Loco Taco. Doritos are delicious, every chip. 

5) Ramen Noodles
The classic college staple, dried packs of ramen have a nearly infinite shelf life, cost almost nothing, and can partner up with all manner of steamed veggies or eggs & meat or stand alone. I posit that a third of my generation (X) owes their continued existence to access to cheap ramen at some point in their lives. 

6) Chicken Nuggets
These started in my generation, but really took off as a primary foundational food in the kids I babysat. They're now nearly universal & almost universally tasty. What kicks them out of the top 5, aside from my age, is that the best ones come from a drive thru, but the rest of the list can be made at home - or dorm or work or convenience store or...  Probably half the millennials subsisted on chicken nuggets for a good portion of their childhood.  

7) Lucky Charms
They're magically delicious

8) Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
How can you not love exploding rolls of bread? I load them up with bacon or ham & shredded cheese (sharp cheddar, mozzarella, & Trader Joe's Parmesan if you must know), give 'em a little salt & pepper to gild the lily just a bit, then roll & bake. This treat is amazingly filling & sticks to my ribs so well that I usually make a batch for traveling. I eat one or two & can go for hours. 

9) Jell-O, along with shelf stable tapioca pudding. 
With jello, most desserts are possible. Ask me about my crowd pleasing jello mold of the United States. (Alaska & Hawaii did not make the cut but it's all good.) I, myself, being a fan of stirring things, make a mean tapioca pudding, but having it on demand in single servings makes me happy. 

10) Maraschino Cherries
I love these fool things. They're peppy and sweet and always accompany something happy and fun. (Note: this is how I slyly sneak alcohol into the food list, kind of. Mmm... amaretto.)

There you have it!  Nature's 10 most perfect foods, as scientifically decided by Cranky Otter. All of them are engineered to be tasty, most have a substantial shelf life which adds to how easy they are to make & consume.  Clearly part of the selection criteria is a high degree of manufacturing in the creation of these foods, because sarcasm is also delicious.   I stuck with foods rather than beverages or condiments - which I may do another day. I may redo the list with pictures; this list cries out for pictures, but if I put that on the critical path, it could take about 3 months to get it down & I'm awake now. 

Tell me how right I am in the comments, and let me know what you would add to the list - I'll cede spots 11-20 to y'all. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

LifeHack: Dog Pill Pockets

My dog has some persistent skin infections which require me to give him antibiotics. (I then have to add <a href=http://www.Nzymes.com>Nzymes Probiotics</a> to his food to aid digestion and hair growth, but I digress.)

At first, Bruno was so eager to please that all things I tossed at him were *treats!* and I could just toss him pills to swallow. He started to realize there was something hinky about certain "treats", and implemented a new policy. He would not catch the first thing I tossed him, but would let it fall and investigate before committing. Raw Pills no longer made the cut. 

I tried stuffing them in cheese, specifically cut up string cheese, but larger pills would split the cheese and Bruno would spit out pills if he noticed them.  I tried hot dogs, but they had similar flaws to cheese, and both were pricey in volume. I tried stuffing them in hunks of Natural Balance sausage, but that doesn't mold or stick well. Ordinarily those are attributes, but are not consistent with disguising pills.  My dog weighs a hundred pounds. His pills can be large and/or numerous. I needed a cheaper, easier option. 

I'm not sure why I bought braunschweiger at the grocery store one day, but I did. I like it a little, but not usually enough to eat the whole package. I had the notion that I could buy it for me and give the rest to the pooch. I'm less fond of it than I remember being. I like the smell fine but the texture gets to me. But Bruno? He thinks Braunschweiger is The. Best. Treat. Ever. He likes it more than marrow, his previous favorite. 

And somehow I got the notion to hide his pills in the braunschweiger. Even knowing there is something hinky with this treat, he will still eat it without question. Success!

After some trial and error, I settled on a method to form these homemade pill pockets.

I scoop a lump of braunschweiger onto a dessert spoon (from Ikea, also used in Rainbow Cake post). I place the pills on it then squish them in, covering them and making a oval shaped lump to facilitate easy swallowing. This works a treat!

But I didn't want to be scooping strong smelling liver sausage twice a day so I started making them ahead and freezing them. This works best if I make a trough in some foil to hold them during assembly, then wrapping the foil into a tube when full. This gets frozen overnight, then twisted between each pill to make counting and retrieval easier. Like so:

Again, make them bullet shaped rather than round to reduce the risk of choking. (These look round due to reflection.) Not that my dog chokes on anything smaller than a charcoal briquette but still, caution seems prudent. If you don't agree that braunschweiger smells nice enough, other options are goat cheese or maybe hummus - if your dog likes either of those things - or anything of similar consistency. The Kroger brand of liver sausage is $2.49/ 8 oz, though, so it's hard to beat on cost and doggie desirability. 

After a while without meds, he's now on 2 antibiotics (poor boy's got methicillin resistant staph that flared up after a steroid treatment, and 4 other opportunistic bugs to add insult to injury). Each dose is given twice a day. Each dose is 3 pills. This would be fine if it was just the small pills. Three small pills fit easily into one sausage pellet. But the second pill is large and slippery. I can't fit 3 of those in one pellet without it being too large. I thought of various combinations to prep - 3A+1B & 2B was the front runner until I realized it would be hard to manage when they all looked the same. I finally settled on one of each pill per pellet / pocket. 

Doing the math, that's 42 pill pockets for a one week supply. He has to take these for a month, which makes 180. Making them all individually as above, with slippery pills, was going to be a pain in the tuchus and take forever. I decided I needed to mass produce them. I looked around for a half pipe shape of a diameter to be useful and enough and found nothing. I did have a notion of what I wanted, though: a tray that I could smear wholesale with braunschweiger. So I made one out of clay. I had to make the clay, too. This is also cheap and easy if you have standard pantry goods. 

Roughly 2 scoops flour to one scoop salt, water to mix, and a drop of food coloring to make it less repulsive looking. I also added some guar gum and xantham gum thickener because I have it and I could. I rolled the dough into a long log about 3/4" diameter or so. Then I placed it on parchment paper and sliced part way through, down the length of the log, and pressed the back of the spoon into the crevice as many times as I could fit. This gave me connected but individual shapes with a slightly crisp upper edge. I then used a rounded plastic clip to enhance the boundary between spoon presses. Realizing these boundaries would be hidden when filling, I made marks on the outside of the mold to indicate placement. (whew! Failure avoided.) I dried it in the oven in low heat (170F, chosen to be <200 & >150) for several hours while I did other stuff. Ta-da! 18 pill pocket molds!

To assemble, I lined the mold with plastic wrap, cut long and gathered slightly to allow some slack. I cut slabs of braunschweiger and pressed them I to the bottom. Between my marks, I placed one of each pill, then went back and smooshed the pills in a bit more.

 I wound up rolling out thin, flattened logs of the braunschweigher to place on top. At this point I closed the plastic wrap over the top and smoothed the top surface, trying to fully cover all pills. I then flipped over the mold to remove to log of sausage pills. To ensure proper distribution and ease of use, I pressed a dull edge into the separation marks, then re-rounded the sides. You can see the plastic wrapped log before enhancing the separation, and the mold showing pocket size relative to pills. 

In not too terribly long, I made 54 "treats", which will last a bit longer than a week. I then formed a few more by my usual method to get pictures and use up the remainder of the braunschweiger.   Now they're in the freezer, ready to start using tomorrow. 

I'll keep the mold until I can make all 180 pellets, then throw it out. But just so I wouldn't forget, I wrote this here helpful post. 

Please feel free to use any of these ideas, but know your dog's limits and use at your own risk. If choking is a concern, thaw the pellets before use. (Freezing only needed if more than a couple days supply is made ahead.) Choose a pellet making medium that is safe for your sick dog to eat.  Make sure, if you make the salty salty mold, to line it with plastic wrap. Otherwise, ick!  Don't let the parchment paper touch the heater elements in your oven, do not poke your eye out, or use my advice to perpetrate any other avoidable tragedy. Because this is the easiest way I know of to give pills to dogs and I want to share it in good faith. Good luck!