Destination Sublimation (The Basics of Freeze-Drying)

As a kid growing up in the 60s, I have fond memories surrounding the USA’s first lunar landing, especially all the crazy-fun space drinks and snacks that came along with it, like Tang, Pillsbury Food Sticks and astronaut ice-cream. Although Tang and the food sticks were kinda gross, the astronaut-ice cream was the stuff of magic. It was light as a feather, crispy and didn’t melt at room temperature. Best of all, it looked just like a regular old slice of ice cream. Behold the brainy beauty of freeze-drying.

When OuttaMyKitchen! dog treats were initially developed, they were dehydrated, not baked. While both are perfectly reasonable cooking methods, the shelf-life of the finished product is limited. And, for customers and retailers alike, the shelf-life of real food, like OMK’s yummy dog treats, is a valid and important concern. After conducting some research into methods of food preservation, freeze-drying was clearly the optimal means of retaining freshness of foods without altering their appearance or nutritive value.

What makes freeze-drying so special? How is it different from dehydrating? While dehydrating use circulating heat to remove moisture by evaporation, which changes it from liquid to a gas, freeze-drying employs sublimation, whereby ice (water’s solid form) is directly transformed to its water vapor (water’s gaseous form). This transformation is a function of atmospheric pressure. At sea level, ice will melt into water before evaporating. When pressure becomes sub-atmospheric (like inside a vacuum), that same ice will sublimate directly into water vapor as it heats, bypassing the liquid phase entirely, removing water nearly completely. In freeze-drying, this is achieved by creating a vacuum, which lowers the atmospheric pressure by sucking out air. So, in short, a freeze-dryer consists of freezing and heating elements and a vacuum pump. It’s a time consuming process that cannot be rushed; each batch of treats requires 24-27 hours to dry.

Freeze-dried foods are light and crispy and look exactly the same as they did before being processed. It’s sort of Willy Wonka-esque. A strawberry looks (and tastes) exactly like a strawberry, only it’s dry, crunchy and much lighter in weight. OuttaMyKitchen’s freeze-dried treats have a pleasing tendercrisp texture, much like that of shortbread. They can be easily snapped into smaller pieces for training or for smaller dogs. Same great flavor, new texture and extended shelf-life…what’s not to love? Oh, I almost forgot to mention, they’re now grain-free!

SteveBaxter, commandeering the freeze-dryer cart.

SteveBaxter, commandeering the freeze-dryer cart.

Buckwheat: It's Not Just For Pancakes Anymore

Dogs, just like humans, are omnivores. Like humans, dogs can also have food allergies. While dog foods and treats typically contain some source of grain as an ingredient, many dog-parents today—especially those whose furbabies are on limited diets—wish to avoid giving their puppers grains altogether.

Here at OuttaMyKitchen!, we want ALL dogs to enjoy our yummy treats…that’s why we have reformulated our original recipe without grain. We’re proud to announce that our chicken, salmon, lamb and venison treats are now grain-free! Here’s a little bit of insight into what went into that decision.

First off, what exactly do grains do for our dogs and why are they included in many of the foods they consume? Just as they do for humans, whole grains, like brown rice and oatmeal, provide nutrients as well as fiber and minerals. They also assist in keeping bowel movements formed and regular. Some dogs are unable to tolerate grain, a problem typically manifested by gastrointestinal upset. Doesn’t mean whole grains aren’t good for dogs, it simply means some dogs don’t tolerate them. What to do?

After a bit of research, buckwheat came to the rescue. But, you may be saying, buckwheat has the word “wheat” in it. How is it not a grain? Buckwheat is neither a cereal nor a grain. It is a fruit seed, related to rhubarb and sorrel. Best of all, it’s a nutritional powerhouse that’s also delicious and safe for dogs.

In closing, dog treats aren’t meant to be a primary source of nutrition for any dog. However, much like humans choose snacks wisely, the same informed deliberation goes into deciding upon snacks for our beloved canine friends. OuttaMyKitchen!’s grain-free treats contain meat or fish as the first ingredient. They also contain a tasty mixture of green vegetables, pumpkin and berries. Steamed buckwheat then marries these ingredients all together, along with a touch of rosemary and a sprinkling of sweet potato powder, ready for the freeze-dryer.

SteveBaxter, our mascot and the inspiration for OuttaMyKitchen!, heartily approves of these new treats. So does his girlfriend, Miss Georgia Sweet Tea, the pug. We hope your pup(s) will enjoy them, too!


The Label-Go-Round: Pet Treat Product Labeling

Update: as of September 2018, all OuttaMyKitchen! dog treats are grain-free and freeze-dried!

If you're like my mommie, you probably read the labels on on the food you buy for your family and maybe even for your pets. Food labels are designed to inform consumers of the ingredients and nutritional value contained in things we like to eat, which for me--a 5 month old bichon frisé puppy named SteveBaxter--includes yummy dog treats (especially the ones my mommie makes!)

The labeling on pet treats isn't a whole lot different than that on people food. As a rule, any person making and selling dog treats is expected to comply with their state's regulations regarding pet food production, sales and truth in labeling as well as legally conducting their business. It's a frustrating, expensive and time-consuming process that, as Mommie observes, is one of those necessary evils. Why? Because a company's integrity is reflected not just in the quality of its products, but in the honesty of its business practices.

The requirements for pet treat labeling in the state of Georgia are pretty basic. Ingredients are listed in order of decreasing quantity along with the guaranteed analyses for crude protein, fat, fiber and moisture and the net weight. The label must include a designated species and a nutritional adequacy statement. Since there is no established daily requirement for pet treats, they're usually designated for supplemental feeding only. Finally, the company name and location of the facility where the treats were produced must be displayed. Seems pretty simple, right? 

SteveBaxter's look of label perplexion

SteveBaxter's look of label perplexion


This is where labeling gets a little tricky. In order to use the claim "organic" in the ingredient list, you must first obtain USDA organic certification (or your state's preferred alternative organic certifying body). So, even if you use lots of organic ingredients to make pet treats (like Mommie does), you can't say they're organic without going through that expensive certification process. By the same token, if you see pet treat labeling that claims organic ingredients without the USDA organic symbol, you can't really be sure that what you're purchasing is organic. The same goes for claims like "natural" and "premium." Sigh. Mommie says, this is where the ingredients have to speak for themselves.

Venison Dog Treats AAFCO (2).jpg

A particularly deceptive practice in labeling is referred to as "ingredient splitting." Take corn, for example. In order to decrease corn's overall prevalence in the ingredient information, it might be listed as various separate components, such as whole grain corn, corn meal or corn gluten. This gives the appearance that corn isn't a major ingredient when, in fact, it really is. In short, the issue is not the corn itself, it's the deceptive labeling leading a consumer to believe the product contains less corn than it actually does.

Reading a pet treat label doesn't require an advanced degree. However, becoming educated about what a label is really telling you is the best way to ensure you're getting what you paid for in that bag of treats. Mommie takes the same care making her dog treats as she does making food for the rest of our family. She starts with simple high-quality proteins, like venison, salmon, lamb and chicken, which is why they're first on the ingredient list. Then, she adds sprouted brown rice, vegetables and fruits for digestibility, fiber and flavor, and rosemary or cinnamon for their preservative properties. Finally, she dehydrates the treats to crispy perfection. That's it. No hype, just wholesome ingredients that speak for themselves. Nom nom nom. Wanna know a secret? Mommie's treats are so good that my even human brothers like to snack on them...shh...don't tell Mom! :-D




Keep Calm and Science On

Everybody knows that my mommie is a very good cook. In fact, her favorite books are cookbooks! And a big part of what she loves about cooking is the science behind it, the processes through which food is transformed into an unforgettable sensory experience. So, it makes sense that the yummy dog treats she makes for me are rooted in food science.

When Mommie started making me dog treats, she had to figure out a way to do it so that she could work at her day job without having to be in the kitchen 24/7. She accomplished that with 2 handy pieces of equipment: her water immersion circulator (sous vide) and her trusty dehydrator. Let's explore why these cooking methods make so much sense.

SteveBaxter a la sous vide

SteveBaxter a la sous vide

Sous vide, a convenient, hands off means of cooking, is French for "under water." Mommie uses an immersion circulator named "Yummy" to heat a big container of water to a certain temperature. When the water is ready, she plops in a bag of vacuum-sealed food (like chicken or venison or fish), sets a timer and gets back to playing with me. One time, Mommie put me inside the sous vide container. Why are people so weird?


Anyway, the food is cooked at a constant temperature over a specific period of time, kind of like how pasteurization works. Mooooo! While no cooking technique is a guarantee of food safety, a little science goes a long way with regard to understanding how proper sous vide cooking kills harmful bacteria utilizing the inversely proportional, logarithmic relationship between time and temperature. Below is another link for further understanding of the sous vide process:


Just checkin' out the treat situation :-)

Just checkin' out the treat situation :-)

Dehydration is an ancient method of food preservation in which food is dried to remove water, preventing yucky stuff like bacteria, mold and yeasts from growing and multiplying. Depending on the means of dehydration used, the nutrient value of certain foods can also be retained. Mommie is hoping to score a freeze-drying machine soon, which would be the bomb. For right now, she dehydrates her yummy dog treats at 165 degrees Fahrenheit for about 14 hours, until they are light and crispy. She then freezes them to keep them nice and fresh. Every time I hear the refrigerator open, I get super excited guessed means she's probably going to give me a treat! 

Here are some links about food dehydration:

OK, whew, I'm all scienced out now and about to floof down in Daddy's lap. Although I'm just an adorably fluffy bichon frisé puppy, I do understand a thing or two about science. After all, my father was named Sir Einstein. Just like him, I enjoy knocking toys off the bed and seeing them drop to the floor. Gravity, y'all! Well, maybe that's a little more Sir Isaac Newton than Einstein but you see what I'm getting at. Although Mommie says making dog treats isn't rocket science, a lot of science goes into producing them. And science never tasted so good!


science is yummy!

science is yummy!

Welcome to Outta My Kitchen!

Hi there! In case you haven't met me yet, I'm a bichon frisé puppy named SteveBaxter. I came to live with my Mommie and Daddy on Superbowl Sunday of 2018.  They had a big party for me and I immediately felt right at home. I got to sleep on their bed the first night I was home and have slept there every night since! Since I am an early riser, Mommie and Daddy had to start getting up early, too. Mommie and her friend, Paige, would drink coffee and play with me on the floor and feed me frozen green beans and peanut butter while Daddy taught me how to fetch a ball and let me chase him around the house. 

When I was about 12 weeks old, I had a scary accident and spent 3 days in the puppy ICU. Mommie and Daddy and their family and friends sent out SO many get well wishes and positive intentions to me while I was sick; between that and the expert loving care I got from my vet doctors and techs, I made a full recovery and came home, good as new! After I came home, Mommie continued giving me boiled chicken like I was getting in puppy ICU. I think she wanted to make sure I was getting enough good stuff to eat so I would keep healing. Then, she started making me all sorts of different treats, using things she already knew I liked, like green beans and blueberries and peanut butter. 

Soon, Mommie and Daddy realized that I preferred Mommie's treats to the ones they'd bought me at the store. They would hide the storebought treats and the ones Mommie made under these little white teacups and every single time, I picked Mommie's. So, Mommie decided maybe other puppies and dogs might like them, too. And that's how Outta My Kitchen! came to be. Mommie tells me that when she was a young mom with young kids and dogs underfoot, she was always having to shoo them out of her kitchen. Now, her kids are grown and there's just me and Daddy. But, boy oh boy, there are treats galore coming outta her kitchen. Funny how that all worked out, huh? 

Have you ever been to a cafeteria? I hear they are wonderful places where humans feast on all kinds of good smelling and tasting foods, usually a protein, like meat or fish, and 3 veggies, like green beans, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes and peas & carrots. Mommie tells me that her treats are based on the idea of the cafeteria "meat & three," only she uses foods that are organic or sustainably produced. She's weird like that. Mommie also wanted her treats to have layers of flavor all in one bite, kind of like that special gum from Willy Wonka where you get to taste a 3 course meal with each chew. I love watching her make my treats as much as I like eating them! She mixes up freshly cooked meat, fish or sprouted chickpeas with sprouted brown rice and yummy fruits and veggies and then dehydrates them until they're nice and crispy. Mommie calls them "hound hors d'oeuvres," but I think that's just a fancy word for dog treats. Don't tell Mom, but even my human brothers like them :-)

In short, getting Outta My Kitchen! up and running has been a real educational process for my Mommie. A couple of months ago, she would never have envisioned herself cooking up dog treats, much less having a new puppy! Life is funny like that: you never know exactly what it has in store for you. And soon, Mommie's handcrafted dog treats will be at a store near you!