As one of those single women who lives with a bunch of cats (three at the moment), it only makes sense that I cook for my four-legged companions.
I eat the meat off the roasting chicken, then boil the neck and sauté the livers in a little margarine for the cats. (OK, so I slip them slivers of chicken breast, too.) My first cat, Sebastien, dragged the necks about for a few hours, undoubtedly pretending that she had killed the bird all by herself.
Sebastien and I also split meals when my bank account was low, something I still do with my current gang of fur: Big Boy, 16; Henry, 6; and Nathaniel Hawthorne, 6 months. We share a bowl of pasta, heavy on the Prego and cheese. Bags of Carl Buddig lunchmeats are a huge hit, torn into strips (for them) and stacked between bread slices (for me).
And in the most appalling display of cat love, for breakfast, Nathaniel Hawthorne and I both sit at the table (he sits on it, actually). I eat cereal, and he drinks the leftover milk in the bowl. Ditto for ice cream.
These are treats, mind you, served in addition to a steady diet of wet and dry cat food. Cats have very specific nutritional needs that would be tough to meet in any home-cooked diet. First and foremost, they’re obligate carnivores and need loads of protein- more than twice as much as dogs and as much as 60 to 80 times as much as we need on a pound-per-pound basis. A cat’s diet also must include the amino acid taurine and vitamin A. Getting the right amount of the latter is especially crucial; too little vitamin A can affect the eyes, skin and the reproductive system, while too much can damage the skeletal system.
Cooking meals for dogs is easier, in part because they can survive on plants as well as meat. In fact, one could conceivably prepare everything a dog needs at home, provided one had the time, the dietary supplements and a decent stash of cookbooks. The best one I’ve seen for canines is “Better Food for Dogs,” by David Bastin, Jennifer Ashton and Dr. Grant Nixon (Robert Rose, 2002). The two dog owners and the vet have concocted recipes based on weight for every kind of pooch imaginable- from Paris Hilton’s teeny Chihuahua to a 150-pound bruiser. Some I was ready to make for myself, such as stir-fried beef with greens and lamb souvlaki.
For cats, I’ve found only one book: “Cat Treats,” by Kim Campbell Thornton and Jane Calloway (Doubleday, 1997). The writers, like all the vets I’ve talked to about this, stress that their recipes are for snacks only, which should comprise between 5 percent and 10 percent of a cat’s diet.
And they’re mighty good snacks. Every dish I’ve made from “Cat Treats” has gotten a paws-up response from at least one cat and one human. I ate my portion of the Manhattan chopped chicken liver riddled with chopped apple on crackers, and the cats ate theirs out of bowls. The chilled chicken-avocado soup would make the perfect first course for any dinner party. Nathaniel lapped up three helpings (Henry and Big Boy were less enthusiastic). A sweet potato casserole went over big with humans and, of course, with Nathaniel Hawthorne.
People like me who cook for their pets represent a meager 1 percent of the pet-owning population, says Tony Buffington, a professor of veterinary science at Ohio State University in Columbus and chairman of the board of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, but statistics also show that pet owners are increasingly interested in their pets’ nutrition. So, who knows? Maybe home-cooked pet meals will be the new territory for personal chefs. To Liz Price, owner of Shear Grace in Roland Park and breeder of champion poodles, the ideal diet combines a little over-the-counter and a little homemade. “I leave the question of what vitamins and minerals to give my dogs to the dog food companies,” she says. “But I cook for my gang because I’m a nurturing mother, and it tastes so much better.”
Based on just the smell of Max Cat or Friskies Buffet, I have to agree with Price. So a few times each month, Big Boy, Henry, Nathaniel Hawthorne and I gather ‘round- or under, or on- the kitchen table and sit down to a nice home-cooked meal.
Manhattan Chopped Chicken Liver
From “Cat Treats”
1 pound chicken livers
1 hard-boiled egg
1/4 cup chopped apple
Remove connective tissues from chicken livers and rinse. Place livers in a single layer on a microwave-safe dish and cover tightly with microwave-safe plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and stir; replace plastic wrap and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Put livers in food processor, add egg and apple, and chop coarsely. Serves 3 cats and 2 humans.
From “Cat Treats”
1 avocado, mashed
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup plain yogurt or tofu
1 cup water
Place all ingredients in blender or food processor and mix well. Serves 2 cats and 3 humans. (You may prefer your portion chilled.)
Mom’s Famous Pumpkin Biscotti
From “Better Food for Dogs”
1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, honey, water, oil, egg and vanilla. Stir in flour, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda until well-mixed.
Use hands to knead the dough in the bowl until it holds together. Transfer to lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a log. Flatten the logs to make about 4 inches wide.
With a fork, poke holes all over the surface of the logs. Place about 4 inches apart on a nonstick baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until firm. Place pan on rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.
With a sharp knife, cut each log into 1/4 inch-thick slices. Place, cut-side down, about 1/2 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes longer until hard. Transfer cookies to a rack and let cool completely. Store in a tightly sealed container for up to 30 days. Makes about 1 pound of biscotti.