Four-Star Recipe Preparation
Ingredients are only part of an appetizing meal: preparation is just as important! Cats are like people: if a meal is well-prepared with an artful blending of complementary ingredients and pleasing textures, they're more likely to clean their plate. On the other hand if we just put a bunch of stuff in front of them they'll pick around looking for something they like, then leave as soon as they get bored. When we go to a restaurant we expect everything to be worth what we paid for it, and our kitties deserve nothing less!

The first key step in developing a menu is to find out what your cat likes. It doesn't make sense to start blindly putting ingredients together... play headwaiter and ask what your kitty wants! Try this: for a week or two fix yourself a different really good meal each night but don't eat at the table you've so carefully discouraged your furkids from walking on all their lives. Instead take your plate into the living room and eat from your lap while you're watching TV or socializing. Pretty soon they'll let you know what they really want, and you might be surprised to find that they go crazy over lasagna or split pea soup or even Texas Chili! At the same time you'll get a feel for whether they prefer something soft that they can lap up or something they can gobble and chomp on.
The secret is in the sauce! This doesn't mean just pouring gravy over food -- it's the sauce that develops naturally when all of the ingredients are simmered together slowly. The steps are the same whether you're cooking Arroz con Pollo or Beef Bourguignon:
  • Brown chunks of meat on all sides. (Not too small!) This seals the juices in to keep the meat tender while releasing concentrated flavor that caramelizes on the bottom of the pan;
  • De-glaze the pan while still on fairly high heat by adding water and scraping the bits of "pot-liquor" from the bottom;
  • Add the starch ingredients (rice, pasta, beans, etc.), stir in enough water to cover everything by about 3/4 inch, raise the heat until it barely comes to a boil, then cover the pan and lower the heat to a slow simmer. Leave it to stew but check from time to time, stirring in more water as needed to keep everything covered.
  • As the meat breaks down its flavor is released into the blend and is slowly absorbed by every tender grain of rice, bit of spaghetti or bean. Vegetables that don't need much cooking are best added during the last half hour unless you want them to completely dissolve into the sauce. (Tomatoes might go in as soon as the meat's browned and the pan de-glazed.) Dairy products go in at the very end, vitamin and mineral supplements after the heat's turned off.
    Seafood needs special handling! The proteins in fish (especially shell fish) become tough when exposed to high heat or long cooking periods, so these should be added after the carbohydrate ingredients and vegetables have been cooked to the desired consistency. Raw fish (but not shellfish) should be lightly seared to hold in the juices, then set aside until later. Since the flavor won't be absorbed into the rice or pasta different means are necessary to ensure a tasty dish.
  • Broths used in place of water will give flavor, especially if well seasoned. Bottled clam juice may be used, or any low-sodium canned broth without onion. Bullion powder or cubes should never be used since they're mostly salt.
  • Creamy sauces are ideal for seafood and easy to make: add sour cream, yogurt or condensed cream soup to the fully-cooked rice or pasta, add the fish and gently simmer down to a fairly thick consistency so it can't just be licked off.
  • Cornstarch can be used to turn the cooking liquid into a light gravy. Stir a couple of tablespoons into a small amount of water with the vitamin/mineral supplements, then add it at the very end while the food's still good and warm. Stir until everything's well-coated.
  • Presentation is the key! The finishing touch to an irresistible Plat du Jour is to provide the consistency and texture that your cat prefers.