When my daughter got a puppy a couple of years ago—and a second a few months later—we knew there would be expenses. Food, veterinary bills, medications, vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and other things added up. Some non-essential things, like toys and rain coats, brought the bills even higher. What we had not considered in all of this was the cost of puppy treats, which may not be essential, but which are enormously helpful in training dogs.
We checked retail stores, including those specializing in pets. We looked online. There were plenty of puppy treats available. Using them with any frequency, though, would have gotten expensive. What we wanted was a very small, inexpensive treat that the dogs loved enough to perform.
One day, I bought a tub of chicken livers in a marked-down meat bin at a local grocery store. I was feeling run-down, and hoped they would help. I soon remembered, though, that I did not like chicken livers. Calf liver, beef liver, even pork liver I had always been able to manage—and enjoy, if there were enough onions to go with it. Chicken livers, not so much. I chopped them up and fed them to the dogs. They were thrilled. I was inspired.
The next time chicken livers turned up in the marked-down meat bin (it doesn’t happen often) I snatched them up. At home, I began to experiment. Some of my attempts were more successful than others. I thought about just dicing the livers, and that would have worked. I just didn’t want to spend the time handling them all that much.
Pureeing the livers seemed like an option, so I tried that. The first time, I pureed them raw, and that was horrible. Not only was the puree a terrible pinkish color, it was far too thin to be manageable. After that, I learned to saute the chicken livers. Sometimes I added a little bacon grease, because who doesn’t like bacon?
Once the livers were fully cooked, I put them into my blender. Although I didn’t add any spices or herbs, I did throw in a couple of eggs. It gave me a better texture of paste, and I figured it added a little more protein at the same time. I ended up with a puree that looked a lot like milk chocolate pudding. The smell was the only thing that gave it away.
Shaping the liver treats was a whole different challenge. The first few times I made them, I used a food storage bag as a pastry bag, cutting off a tiny corner. Then I used the bag to make dozens and dozens of tiny dots on a baking pan. I wasn’t sure if they were going to stick, so I played it safe and sprayed the cookie sheet with pan spray. The treats looked for all the world like milk chocolate chips. After I baked them for an hour or more at 200 degrees, so they were completely dry and hard, they looked even more like chocolate chips.
The only problem was that making the chocolate chip style treats took a huge amount of time. I spent too many hours squeezing the small drops out of my plastic bag/pastry bag. I had to find an easier way.
My next step was suggested by my daughter. She had several ice trays that consisted of a large number of ½ inch hearts. Instead of piping out all those tiny drops, I spooned dollops of the liver puree into the ice trays. Of course, then I had to use a rubber spatula to scrape off the excess so that the hearts would be separate, with nice flat tops. It worked. We even learned that if we baked them for a while on a low heat, they would firm up and we could take them out of the molds and put them onto trays in the food dehydrator to finish drying.
It all sounded very good, but the scraping off of the excess puree was more annoying and time consuming than I had expected. I didn’t like doing it. Not only that, but because there was a limited number of molds, it took me even more days to get all the liver treats dried to a hard, solid consistency so I could feel safe with them. I kept thinking.
I went back to my version of a pastry bag, only this time I piped long lines across my cookie sheet. After the puree had baked for a while, I sliced it into pieces. I tried different sizes of piping, and I tried different knives, until I found a method that worked for me.
Half-inch strips of the puree were too big. After slicing them, I had to cut each slice into quarters to get the tiny size I wanted for dogs the size of ours. People who owned a Great Dane, or a Newfoundland, might have been happy with the thicker strips. For my daughter’s small dogs, though, a strip about a quarter of an inch wide was perfect. It became clear along the way that I was not going to win any awards for my piping skills. The lines broke, wobbled, and wandered around on the baking pan. Still, they did the job.
I slid the baking pan into the oven, and baked the strips for about half an hour. That gve me firm, but not hard, lines of liver paste.
When I cut them into quarter inch lengths, I had a nice, tiny treat for tiny dogs. It was just enough for them to get excited about.
I had to experiment with knives, as well. I thought the sharpest knives would be the best, but that didn’t end up being the case. Anything that was serrated got clogged up with bits of liver paste. Sharp knives ended up with slices of the puree stuck to them. A plain old table knife worked the best. I was able to slice the strips, spread them out evenly on the pan, and bake them again, until they were dry and hard as rocks. It was the only way I felt safe keeping liver out of the freezer.
My little dog treats were incredibly cheap. They lasted a long time, and the dogs seemed to love them more than anything else in the world. If I had a treat in my hand, both dogs would happily spin, lie down, and dance just for the chance of getting one. Now if only that worked with my cats!
These are not my dogs. I don’t walk them. I don’t clean up after their accidents, or take them to the veterinarian, or even feed them. As the unofficial doggy grandma, though, I do make them treats. Apparently, for them, that is enough.