Pet birthday cakes

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I have a feeling Chewy got his name, not just from the Star Wars character who looks like him, but also from his favorite pastime.

I live in a third world country where a huge chunk of the workforce are below-minimum wage earners, but somehow some of us still manage to have birthday celebrations for our dogs. Don’t get me wrong here, we as a society are nothing like the Japanese who love their dogs so much, it just puts those damn Americans to shame. For liking dogs, I have had to put up with a lot of crap from my own family (among other personal differences). We are actually a dog-eating culture, especially in the northern parts of the country. Recently a movie ended up being controversial not by actors doing something stupid like they normally do for publicity, but for a brutal dog-killing scene. It turns out a real dog was killed, gutted and eaten, and the filmmakers lied about it to avoid getting disqualified from a film festival. Friends got unfriended and I imagine couples broke up over this issue. But the vast majority of people here are barbaric bastards and couldn’t care less if the same thing happened to their grandmothers.

I’m one of those people who would have paid to watch the movie, but who has now resolved to get ahold of a pirated copy so as not to support the maker of the film.

The cake pictured above is a Chicken Cheesecake for a dog named Chewy (whose hoomans Jin and Luna are among those upset by that movie.)

We were commissioned to make that cake for the pup, but Jin, the dog daddy, seemed to want a piece of it very badly. So we had to warn him that it was made specifically for dogs. We all know that most humans have a different taste palette from dogs, right? Plus we skipped some completely unnecessary ingredients, like baking soda. And salt. Like us, too much salt is bad for their kidneys. Anyway, the mommy informed us that none of them humans got to try the cake because their pets ate it all up.

Chewy and his birthday cake

We haven’t mastered the art of cake decorating, which is of course for the benefit of the doting dog parents–we know it’s the meeeeaty goodness that the pups are crazy about–but that’s actually what they pay us for. You can buy a burger (or a steak if you can afford it–which I can’t) and your dog will be perfectly happy with it.

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This was a rush job that Maverick’s dad commissioned us to do. He ordered it after lunch and by dinnertime he met with us to pick it up.
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Lots of dog food on top of Amber’s cake, reminds me of the first dog’s cake I ever made. At that time, I had no tools, and very little skill in decorating. Now I have plenty of tools and…still very little skill. I know I’ve improved but I still got a long way to go O_O

When I made my first pet birthday cake, I gave out a few pieces to some of my dog’s friends, and they all liked it. The only instance that I know of, that a dog refused to eat one of my cakes, was a pug named Vayne, and she wasn’t feeling well at the time. Even my boyfriend said he liked it, but he has weird taste in food, so I don’t know if his opinion counts.

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That first cake wasn’t very pretty and neither was the poster we put up to let people know that we got their pet’s birthdays covered, for a very reasonable price. I know we’ve still got a long way to go in terms of how fancy-looking our cakes are; I’ve heard of other, more expensive cakes made for pets made by more established shops, and those probably look better than ours. But, basically dogs and cats seem to enjoy our pet cakes, and they’re more affordable than others.

I think it’s awful that goods and services for pets are overpriced, like most veterinary clinics and grooming salons here where I live. It takes a human with a real love for pets to understand others who likewise love their furry friends. Despite family members urging me to charge a small fortune for my pet cakes, since the nearest competitor is two municipalities away, I just know in my heart that I can’t be greedy when it comes to helping others give their babies some love.

I’m even happy to help those who can’t buy from me. PHP300 converts to more or less $6, and for some that isn’t much but for many here that’s more than a whole day’s wages. So if you’re low on cash but huge on lovin’ your babies, why not DIY it?

Pet cakes are  easy to make! Just google any recipe for a burger or meatball batter, skip the ingredients you don’t hae, add in ingredients your dog likes, put it in a cake pan and stick it in the oven. It’s pretty much just a huge patty, except that it’s shaped, decorated and packaged as a cake. Like most birthday cakes, about 90% of the effort goes into making it look awesome.

I have several recipes, and I’m sharing one of these with you, Chicken Cheesecake. A few ingredients need to be prepared beforehand, such as the chicken oil and chicken meat. It would be best to use fatty parts like the butt/thigh of the chicken. Just boil it for about 20 minutes and let it cool down for a bit. Skim the oil off of the top, and shred the meat.

Nikki’s Chicken Cake

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1/2 cup chicken oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup shredded boiled chicken meat
  • 1/2 cup flour

Directions

  1. Combine cake ingredients in a bowl.
  2. oil a small cake pan (I use a 4 and 1/2 inch by 2 1/2 inch pan) and cut some wax paper to fit the bottom. pour the batter up to about 1/2 of the pan. Cover with foil
  3. Stick it in the oven on low heat. No need to pre-heat, just let it sit there for about 30 minutes or do the toothpick test* to see if it’s done.

If you don’t have a cake pan, you can use an aluminum leche flan pan or a muffin pan. You can do this on a regular oven or a toaster oven, just keep an eye and adjust the cooking time. Using a muffin pan means it will cook faster; generally the more hot metal surface touching the batter, the faster it will cook.

Let the cake or muffins cool before decorating.

I’m doing separate posts on making icing and decoratig pet cakes, including an icing recipe that dogs can safely eat!

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Sweet, sour and baked.

Ever since I learned how to bake, I have always preferred baked over fried.

Sweet and sour type dishes are popular menu entries in Chinese restaurants, along with the noodles and dumplings. It’s also a fairly common entry in the carinderia, which is the Filipino version of a diner. Bola-bola which is a kind of meatball eaten with rice or as a filling in siopao or steamed dumpling, is often accompanied by this sauce.

Whenever I make anything sweet and sour, it never stays with us for long. My favorite veggie dishes often end up spoiling in a food container at the back of the fridge, even when I cook only in small batches. Anything that has meat in it often fares better, but even favorites like adobo or fried chicken always end up as leftovers that nobody wants to eat. If it doesn’t look new, I almost always end up having to eat it myself, giving it to the dog, or forgetting about it until I rediscover it as something moldy and almost unrecognizable taking up space in the refrigerator. I tell you, that never happens with sweet and sour.

Sweet and sour sauce is one of the easiest to make, it almost feels like cheating, except that it’s not. Of course most of us don’t have the time and prefer to just buy it ready-made or as a powder that you mix with water. But if you’re the kind that likes to control exactly how your dishes turn out–or if you’re trying to save money–you make it out of scratch. This you can practically do even with your eyes closed. Just throw in some ketchup, soy sauce, salt and pepper, and some kalamansi or lemon juice or a bit of vinegar and you’re all good to go. You can even mix it up right on the meat, and it can also serve as your marinade.

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Boneless bangus marinating…that’s how you use marinade as a verb, right?

There is almost zero chance of failure here–unless you have shaky hands and pour in too much vinegar. Which can easily be avoided by measuring it out beforehand–yes, I know some people hate measuring ingredients– or otherwise using lemons or kalamansi, which you can just squeeze off of a strainer on top of the meat. You can’t go wrong with lemons, since they’re a bit more expensive, plus they’re more difficult to squeeze than kalamansi, so you tend to use them sparingly. I prefer to use lemons, because they smell so good and because I use the lemon skin for baking, although kalamansi fruit works great as well and is often readily available here in the Philippines. Here you can literally pluck that off of some neighbor’s potted kalamansi plant if you don’t have your own.

DATU PUTI Mukhasim2
Too much vinegar can result in this

Use vinegar if you’re saving the sauce for future use, since vinegar acts as a preservative. But like I said, take care not to pour in too much of it. With all the other ingredients there is no need to measure things out unless you want to be consistent in your output (for example, if you’re using it commercially or if your people don’t like variety). The following recipe is really just a guide, it is best to do it to taste (unless you’re making it directly on raw meat–never ever taste anything with raw meat in it).


Basic sweet and sour sauce recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar or 2 pcs lemons or 8 pcs kalamansi, or any combination of these
  • chili powder, to taste (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch (optional)

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients except for the cornstarch) in any clean container you can fit it all into. If you prefer a more dilute sort of sauce, just add water to it.
  2. If you prefer a thicker sauce, use the cornstarch. In a small pan, mix the cornstarch with the room temperature water, and stir to get rid of any lumps. Heat on low fire. Add in the sauce, and bring to a boil while stirring. It is best to use vinegar in this case, to make the sauce last longer since cornstarch tends to spoil easily (I learned the hard way), and like I said earlier, vinegar is a preservative.
  3. Adjust to your taste. What works for me might not work for you. Use immediately or store in a clean, sealed container in the fridge.

ULAMBAKES sweet sour sauce

Sweet and sour sauce can be added to pretty much anything that would otherwise be uninteresting to younger people. I often do chicken this way, for the sake of those picky eaters in the family. I can make the sauce in advance and just pour it on the chicken, but mixing it up on the chicken saves me from having to wash an extra bowl.

Sweet and sour dish 1: Sweet and sour chicken

Ingredients

  • Sweet and sour sauce
  • Chicken (as much as the sauce can take)

Directions

  1. Boil the chicken for about 10 minutes and place in a clean baking tray. you can use the chicken stock for something else. You can let it cool and put it in the fridge in a clean container. I like to boil it with about one cup of rice in the water, (or left over rice from the previous meal) then I just wash the rice off the chicken. That way I end up with two dishes. It kind of saves energy when you think about it.
  2. Add the sweet and sour sauce. If you don’t have the sauce proceed to step 3.
  3. Pour the ketchup, the soy sauce, pepper, and other sweet and sour sauce ingredients (except for the cornstarch, you have to do that separately) on the chicken. Spread it as uniformly as you can using a brush.

BAKED ULAM - sweet and sour chicken8


Mix and match

You can do this with pretty much anything you can think of. I haven’t tried to use exotic meat like snake or frog meat, but I’m pretty sure somebody somewhere has. I’d even use this on plain veggies. I know it’s used in street food like  fish/squid/chicken balls, stir-fried noodles, and even instant noodles.

If you’re low on funds like me–or if you want to get creative and force feed your kids veggies without them even realizing it– you can use a mixture of ground meat and finely chopped veggies instead of slices of meat. The vegetables and herbs add to the flavor and texture, but more importantly to us with a tight budget, it makes for more “meat.” If you would normally use a kilo of meat, you can instead use half a kilo and let the vegetables take up the bulk that would otherwise have come from the meat.

It doesn’t hurt that it has fiber and other nutrients in in, not just protein and fat. Sweet and sour sauce isn’t exactly healthy, but it can make healthy stuff tastier.

ULAMBAKES mixing it up

Enough said already, this is what this really long post has been leadng to: the following recipes incorporate vegetables in the mixture and substitute bangus meat for ground pork. Seaking Bangus Meat is much cheaper than ground pork at P36 per 300g pack. I think they might have raised the price to about P42 recently, but that’s still much cheaper than 300g of lean ground pork or beef which is at least P50 per 300g, usually more. It’s also cheaper than a big hospital bill from a lifestyle of consistently eating food that clog up your arteries.

Sweet and sour dish 2: Fried bangus meatballs in sweet and sour sauce

For the meatball mixture:

  • 1 pack Seaking Bangus meatbangus
  • Your choice of herbs (parsley, basil, etc) or veggies available in the fridge such as carrots, petsay, onion leeks, etc, anything as long as it’s finely chopped. In the picturebove I used 4 tomatoes, 1 small onion and 3 cloves garlic, parsley and basil. All of these should be diced as finely as possible.
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons flour

Other ingredients

  • 1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons extra flour
  • oil, as much as it takes to submerge half of each meatball
  • sweet and sour sauce

Directions

  1. combine all of the ingredients for the meatball mixture in a bowl.
  2. Use a spoon to scoop up a small amount (1 meatball) which you roll  in the extra flour and deep fry in a pan. If you want big meatballs, use a big spoon or use your hand.
  3. Cook for about 3 minutes per meatball or until golden brown.
  4. Top with the sweet and sour sauce.

ULAMBAKES sweet sour bangus meatballs


The baked version uses pretty much the same ingredients for the mixture but takes less time and effort to prepare. The truth is, I absolutely hate frying anything except sunny-side up eggs. In my opinion it is a messy, wasteful procedure. I think it’s better if you bake it because it’s easier, it uses a lot less oil and thus is healthier and cheaper. If you’re using a big oven, you can stick those egg muffins in while preheating the oven for something else. Ever since I learned how to bake, I have always preferred baked over fried.

Sweet and sour dish 3: Bangus toaster muffins in sweet and sour sauce

for the muffin mixture

  • 1 pack Seaking Bangus meat
  • Your choice of herbs (parsley, basil, etc) or veggies available in the fridge such as carrots, petsay, onion leeks, etc, anything as long as it’s finely chopped. I used 4 tomatoes, 1 small onion and 3 cloves garlic, parsley and basil. All of these should be diced as finely as possible.
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 egg
  • 3 extra eggs (optional)

Sauce

  • sweet and sour sauce

directions : muffins

  1. combine all of the muffin mixture ingredients except for the 3 extra eggs, in a bowl.
  2. Brush a bit of oil on the muffin trays. Use a pair of spoons to scoop small amounts into muffin trays. Distribute evenly among the muffin cups in the trays.
  3. If you’re using the extra eggs, beat them in a bowl and distribute evenly among the muffin cups, on top of the mixture
  4. put in oven toaster and heat in medium for about 5-10 minutes. If you take it out and you’re not satisfied, just put it back in and heat it for a couple more minutes.
  5. Serve with the sweet and sour sauce.

ULAMBAKES sweet sour bangus muffins top

I actually don’t have an oven toaster and i did these in a real oven, but a lot of people don’t have access to an oven or don’t know how to use one.

My son has again been very helpful. He served as photographer, critic and oven checker for this blog post.

 

Bangus Baked Mac

A recipe and a story

baked mac2For about 1-3 hours a day, we sat and sold our product along with their stuff. That was our deal with the people who lived there–we sell their Kettle Corn, they let us sell our Baked Mac, without paying rent. The  most we sold was 32 servings or 4 trays, and that batch was gone in about 1 hour. People were in the mood for pasta that time, I guess. At around P60 per tray, divided into 8 servings, each serving costing around P8 to produce, we kind of earned some money. Not a lot, but some. In theory, since each serving sold at P15, the cost vs profit ratio is at about 60% to 40%.

My very short stint in making and selling baked mac was not without challenges, with the limited resources we had. I would start cooking in the morning, but not as soon as I was up, and I had to get up everyday at 6:00 am. I could not start cooking too early because I wanted the food to get to the customers as fresh as possible. By 2:00 pm, just as it is starting to get brown on top–the cheese or white sauce–we pack it in a cooler to keep it warm. We couldn’t use plastic wrap or foil; it had to be ventilated enough to keep it from spoiling. Just unsealed metal serving trays.

We use glass covers to keep the Baked Mac clean while on display, but the ones we have look brittle. We had to be careful in handling the cooler, as well as the glass covers, which we pack separately. This is all very tricky, especially in a Jeepney full of passengers. Me and my son carried the huge cooler from our home to the selling area, which was about one tricycle and one jeepney ride away.

We did everything we could to shell out as little cash as possible, and one of the extremes we went to was manually making our own packaging–which was pretty normal when I was younger, but which is unheard of in this day and age of instant everything. May 2016 was a pretty hectic month for us. But we both had fun.

It’s far from over, but right now we are in a hiatus. We’ve lost the location (which was borrowed, to begin with) plus I have other things to attend to. I like to think of that month as a sort of soft opening period, although the location was temporary and the set-up was makeshift. A lot of the future expenses were not accounted for. No rent was paid for the selling area. For the sake of simplicity, we didn’t include everything in the calculations–things like electricity, jeepney fare, snacks (like the Kettle Corn my son would munch on while selling our baked mac). I know the initial computation I made will deviate a lot from the real thing once we’ve got it all figured out. But still, it won’t take much to get this small business started, and by design it is physically portable, meaning if it doesn’t work out well in one location, I can easily move to another one.

Even though this is a very small enterprise, I am very confident that there is a huge potential for this to work out well, in the financial sense, and also in the sense that it is going to help improve my emotional well-being. All of this has helped keep me from falling into depression. There is satisfaction to be derived from the sort of human contact that results from selling my own product, something I myself created. Though not a revolutionary product—I am pretty sure somebody else has made something similar—there is definitely some innovation involved, and I believe that some people have come to recognize and appreciate this as such: something different. Unlike other pasta products in nearby establishments, mine is made using Bangus meat.

The creative process behind how I formulated it was definitely sparked by the huge amount of feedback. The recipe is very simple but I had to tweak it to make it affordable yet appeal to a wide enough range of Filipinos. It has to be distinct enough from the rest, but it has to have that Pinoy sort of flavor that people here are familiar with. My customers appear to be from all walks of life–employees in nearby shops, young people coming home from school or work, mothers with children, and of course, senior citizens. The lolos and lolas in particular seem to like the idea of substituting Bangus for ground pork.

I have mastered the use of Bangus meat, long before I started this project. My Dad, a retired government employee, long ago decided to eliminate all meat from his diet save for fish, and will not touch anything that he believes is made of meat, be it chicken or pork or beef. Yet he is also a picky eater who refuses to eat veggies, or at least pure veggies. When you cook for him–and by this I mean really cook, no shortcuts like instant seasonings or pre-seasoned meat–you either use meat broth and lie about it, or you use something else.

bangus

One time, a pair of hipster-ish looking young men got off a vehicle and started to walk away, then went back and asked me how much it was.

“P50?” one of them asked, to confirm if he heard correctly. “P15,” I corrected him. They tried it and we had a little chat. I couldn’t remember everything, but they complimented me on the taste, and I guess the price. It kind of crossed my head that these men must have been expecting something made of ketchup. It was, after all, just across the street from the wet market–the kind of place where a lot of people see Jollibee as an expensive restaurant where you eat during special occasions.

I mentioned that I was just testing the waters and that I was fairly new in this sort of thing. They wished me luck. They  didn’t seem to be from around the area, and looked pretty fascinated with the street food. I kind of wish I had taken videos, or even just pics, but at that time, I was more concerned about running my tiny business, making sure everything is in order. Plus I wasn’t really comfortable with bringing gadgets with me, doing that would be like asking to be followed home and mugged at one point. More on that in another post, for another day.

“Masarap. Hindi tinipid,” according to my hubby’s boss. A pretty little lady, she knows food, baking cakes being one of her hobbies.  She should, of course, know better. At only P36 per pack–and half a pack is enough to make a tasty, meaty sauce good for 1 tray (or 8 servings), I completely disagree with her. “Tipid na tipid ‘to,” I smugly reply–silently, of course. Plus, it cooks faster than pork, therefore saving gas as well.

In this attempt to run a business, I have made it one of my top priorities to learn as much as I can from this experience. The same goes for my son, who has in fact been very helpful. The two of us have done all of the selling, cooking and the heavy lifting. More importantly, his feedback has proven to be very valuable, and he has helped shape the recipe. He also does most of the eating, he really does seem to like this recipe, which I will share below.

Bangus Baked Mac Recipe

Pasta

  • 1/2 kilo elbow macaroni (or any other pasta of your choice)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon oil (I prefer olive oil but you can coconut or canola oil will do)
  1. In a big cauldron, heat about 2 liters of water (or enough to submerge your pasta). Immediately put the salt in, to make it boil faster. As soon as it reaches a boil, add in the pasta.
  2. Let the pasta cook for about 10 minutes, or until it passes the pasta test (using a fork or a pair of tongs, take a small piece out of the water and try to take a bite out of it. If you like it, then it’s done. If it’s still too firm, then let it cook for a couple more minutes then test again.
  3. Drain the water out. I like to use a pasta strainer, but if you don’t have one, you can use a fork or a pair of tongs to transfer it to a clean container. Drain as much of the water as possible, because those parts that remain soaked in water will get soggy and will be more likely too clump together.
  4. Grease the now empty cauldron with about 1/2 of the tablespoon of the oil, and put half of the pasta back in. Carefully mix using a big spoon. Add in the rest of the pasta and the rest of the oil, and mix again.
  5. Set aside.

Red Sauce

  • 1 pack Seaking Bangus Meat (300g)
  • Coconut or canola oil
  • 1 Pack Tomato Paste (my preference), or a 500g pack of Tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce
  • 1 cup water if you are using tomato paste
  • 1 small onion, 3 cloves of garlic, minced (optional if you’re using spaghetti sauce rather than Tomato paste, since these are blended with seasonings)
  • 1/2 tsp salt if you are using tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper powder if you are using tomato paste
  • optional: any other seasoning you like (oregano, parsley, basil, etc), chopped mushrooms
  1. Saute onion and garlic in oil. add in the Bangus Meat. Stir it up to get the meat to cook evenly and to separate the bigger chunks into smaller ones, to make it look more like ground meat.
  2. Add in the tomato paste + water, or tomato sauce/spaghetti sauce
  3. Add in other seasonings. Don’t overcook. Set aside

White Sauce

  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • optional: grated cheese, extra eggs/ egg yolks, chopped mushrooms
  1. Heat small pan and add in oil.
  2. Add in evaporated milk, and simmer for about 1 minute, stirring constantly
  3. In a small bowl, beat the egg. slowly add it to the simmering milk, while stirring constantly. do not add it all at once, the whole thing might cook too fast and the egg won’t incorporate well into the milk.
  4. Add in salt, optional ingredients while stirring constantly. Let it simmer for at least 3 minutes, but do not overcook. Set aside.

Putting together

  1. Add sauce to the pasta in the large cauldron, and mix until pasta and sauce are evenly combined.
  2. Transfer to a large baking pan or 2 medium baking pans (if you have a big oven), or several small pans (if you are using a small oven toaster), and distribute evenly. Top with white sauce. If you like, you can add more cheese or chopped mushrooms, but you don’t have to.
  3. Put in oven. No need to preheat, just put it in there and cook for a minimum of 5-15 minutes, depending on your preference. If you like it a little crisp at the sides, like my son does, you can let it sit in there for as long as 20 minutes.

Next

I also believe that his participation in this project has been a good experience for my kid, a kind of peek into how a small business might work, and a character-building activity. I myself had a similar brief stint in the past, and though at the time my experience produced in me a very different reaction, I have come to realize that I gained so much more from those months than my 10+ years of being pushed to focus solely on academics.

My next post is going to be about what I found out about small businesses and how I plan to bring mine to life.