Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer Tips for Guinea Pigs: Help Keep Them Cool

It's time for more guinea pig tips! It's been hot lately. We usually run the air conditioning, but our piggy, Remnar, overheats easily. So, first, we make sure he has plenty of fresh water. His water dish sits on a couple of bricks I bought at the hardware store for 5 cents each. After he's done sprinting around the living room in the evenings, he likes to lay on the bricks and drink his water while he cools off.

During the day, if the heat gets really bad, I give him a cold pack to lay on. I've been selling rice hot/cold packs on my Etsy shop for a while now. My husband and I like to put the neck wraps in the freezer and use them to cool off at night. I decided to give Remnar his very own small rice pack. He likes to use it as a pillow.

For this purpose, the rice packs are much nicer than the chemical ones because they don't get too cold to touch with bare skin. They are just cold enough to feel refreshing. They stay cold for up to an hour, depending on the size of the pack and how hot the user is. I love that I don't have to worry if the piggy decides to nibble the cover a little. He shouldn't eat the rice, but it won't kill him if he gets a little bit (unlike the chemical packs).

Now, a video montage I put together to show off my little piggy's antics!

My apologies for the poor quality. If you are interested, the music is the intro theme from Kirby's Adventure. Stay cool, and enjoy your summer!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jalapeño, Cheese and Bacon Tater Tots

I have an incredibly prolific jalapeño plant on my patio. It has already produced dozens of peppers, and is still blooming.

What do I do with all these peppers? I have been throwing them in everything lately. Friday night's big experiment was homemade tater tots. I decided to spice them up with some of my jalapeños. Added some bacon and cheese... Tossed in some garlic salt and paprika... Such crispy goodness!

Funny story about the paprika. Totally by accident, I picked up smoked paprika thinking it was ordinary paprika. Didn't even notice the "smoked" on the label until I opened it to use in another recipe. Best mistake I've ever made. This is my new favorite spice. Yet another ingredient I try to use whenever possible. It just happens that the smoked flavor goes really well in fried food. This was totally my dinner on Friday.

I have no kids. My husband and I just like to eat dinosaur nuggets. I feel no shame for this. I'm also trying to eat super healthy this week to make up for my sins.

Jalapeño, Cheese and Bacon Tater Tots
(Print Recipe)

24-oz container peanut oil for frying (about 1 inch deep in a small deep-fryer or medium saucepan)
3 medium russet potatoes
8 slices bacon
2-3 jalapeños
1/2 cup shredded colby jack cheese
2 eggs, whisked
1 cup flour
2 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
Loads of paper towels

Cook bacon and set aside to cool. Start heating peanut oil to 350° F. If you are using a saucepan instead of a deep-fryer, use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Wash, peel, and cube potatoes.

Shred in a food processor or with a fine box grater.

Place 5 layers of paper towels in a large bowl (or use a thin kitchen towel). Drain potatoes on the towels by gently squeezing. Discard the brown liquid that drains out.

Carefully open the towels and roll the drained potato shreds into a clean bowl. Feel for any stray lumps and discard them.

Remove the jalapeño tops and slice in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and finely chop (a food processor is handy for this step).

Mix chopped jalapeño, cheese, and crumbled bacon into the potatoes. Add whisked eggs, flour, corn starch, and spices. Stir until thoroughly incorporated. It is easiest to use your hands for mixing.

Form potato mixture into cylinders and set on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.

Carefully drop them into preheated oil one at a time. Fry in batches of 5-6 until golden brown, about 5 minutes for each batch.

Turn them halfway using tongs. The cheese has a tendency to melt and stick to the bottom of the pan, so you may need to pry them off the bottom when you flip them.

Drain cooked tater tots on a plate lined with paper towels and let cool for at least 5 minutes before trying to take a bite. Dip in whatever sauce you desire. I recommend Ranch. Chipotle Ranch is even better.

Makes about 3 dozen large tater tots, or 4 dozen smaller ones.

If you have leftovers, flash freeze them by setting them on a plate so they don't touch. Freeze them for an hour or two, then you can transfer them to a freezer bag. Reheat in the oven at 400° F for 10 minutes.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cherry Pie Bars

One of my fondest childhood memories is getting up really early on the first day of a camping trip. We would pile into the car with all our gear, with the dog laying on top of us, and we would get to eat bear claws and Hostess fruit pies for breakfast on the way. Dad always called dibs on the cherry pies. I liked the lemon ones best, though anything that sweet makes for an amazing breakfast for any kid.

Dad's favorite has always been cherry pie. I try to make him cherry desserts on occasion, just to ensure I remain the favorite child. I had promised him cherry pie for Father's Day, but plans changed slightly. Ended up making it for July 4th instead.

I was really planning on a pie, but the cherry filling I started out with was too watery for pie. I could not get it to thicken with corn starch, and I didn't have tapioca on hand. (I've since learned that this is a very common problem with cherries.) So, I threw in some oats to soak up the excess juice, and made cherry pie bars instead. Dad seemed very pleased.

Cherry Pie Bars
(Print Recipe)

4 cups pitted Rainier cherries
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp corn starch
2 tsp amaretto
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 egg, whisked
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup chopped pecans

3/4 cup shortening or softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup softened butter
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt

In a saucepan, cook cherries, sugar, corn starch, amaretto, and lemon juice on medium heat until bubbling. Put in freezer to cool, or store in refrigerator overnight.

Preheat oven to 300° F. Stir together the sugar, flour, and salt for the crust in a medium mixing bowl. Cut in shortening with a fork or pastry cutter until crumbly. Mix in pecans. Press the crust into the bottom on a 13"x9" pan.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until top starts to get bubbles and turn golden brown around the edges.

While crust is baking, prepare the topping. Use a fork to mix butter, oats, pecans, brown sugar, and salt in a small mixing bowl, or pulse in a food processor until just combined. 

Pull cooled cherry filling out of the freezer. Stir in the egg, oats, and pecans.

Pour filling over the hot crust. Crumble brown sugar mixture over the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until filling is set and topping starts to darken.

Best served warm and fresh, but leftovers will keep in refrigerator for a week.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Frozen Watermelon Vodka Cocktail

We are coming up on watermelon season! Yummy! It seems like everywhere I look, people are posting and pinning and tweeting all sorts of amazing watermelon concoctions, so I figured I'd join the fun.

First step: I went to the grocery store and bought a seedless watermelon. My mom's advice is to always get the ugliest melon you can find. She says those yellow spots and brown lines mean it's ripe and sweet. I'm not sure if this advice is absolutely true, but it usually seems to work out for me. So I brought a super ugly melon home and snacked on some just to make sure it was a good one. I think I let it sit in the fruit basket a little too long, because it turned out a little mushy, but it was extremely sweet and juicy. Perfect for the plans I had for it!

Frozen Watermelon Vodka Cocktail 
(Print Recipe)

1 seedless watermelon (roughly 8 cups chopped into cubes)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Watermelon Vodka to taste
Lime wedges, mint sprigs, or your choice of fruit for garnish

Chop the melon into roughly 1-inch cubes, removing the rind.

Puree in a blender -- should only take a few seconds.

Now make some sour mix. In a saucepan, combine lemon, lime, water, and sugar. Heat on low until sugar dissolves.

Stir the sour mix into the blended watermelon. Pour into a container and freeze for at least 6 hours. (If you use a shallow container, it will freeze faster. I don't have a shallow container that would fit in my freezer, so a mixing bowl worked just fine. I just had to wait a little longer.)

The pulp tends to separate from the water, so before serving, blend the frozen watermelon mix again for a few seconds. If you let it freeze overnight, you may need to let it thaw a little bit before you'll be able to blend it.

Pour some watermelon vodka in a glass. One shot per 5 oz watermelon was perfect for my taste. Now pour in the blended watermelon, stir, and garnish.

Chill the vodka and glass in the freezer for an hour before serving to ensure your drink stays extra frosty.

This drink is amazingly refreshing. On a side note, I'm planning on going watermelon picking the weekend of July 4th. I predict that most of the melons we pick will be turned into cocktails.