Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Joys of Homeownership

Oh the joys of homeownership . . . when you don’t have a landlord you can call when something goes wrong.  For example, in the middle of typing my blog about pumpkin bread, Aaron came in and informed me that our sprinkler system (which had been hissing/leaking since the afternoon) was now geysering (yes, I just made up a verb) in our front yard.  No landlord to call – we had to fix it ourselves.  Oh, and it was already about 6pm and the sun was going down rapidly.

A bit of background on our sprinkler system:  It looks like at one point in time, the house had a very nice sprinkler system.  There’s a control box in the backyard where you should be able to set the sprinklers to go off at pre-set times, and/or pre-set periods of time.  However, since the house was a foreclosure when we bought it, we have no idea at what point the system decided to stop working.  All I know is that it definitely does not work right now.  When we bought the house a little over 2 years ago, we had the inspector try out the sprinkler system, and it worked – when you manually turned the heads for each individual sprinkler area . . . one at a time.  So that’s what we were using to water the “lawn” (I use the term loosely because it was really more a dirt/weed patch at the time).

A little over a year ago, Aaron was out of town, and I was watering and the sprinklers decided they didn’t want to turn off at all.  It was stuck on, and no matter how much I tried they just would not turn off!  Oh, and did I mention it was about 9pm on a weeknight?  Fortunately, one of our really good friends happened to be coming over to pick something up and somehow through a series of turning off the water to the house and fiddling with various knobs and valves, we managed to get the sprinklers to turn off and stay off.  I haven’t touched the sprinklers since then – even when we fertilized and seeded the front yard, I used a hose attachment sprinkler for watering because I was too terrified that I wouldn’t be able to get the sprinklers to turn back off.

Yesterday afternoon, I noticed that the sprinkler system was hissing.  When Aaron got home, I asked him to check it out.  I guess in the process of checking it out, he must have been fiddling with something and one of the parts flew off as the water decided to spurt out into a geyser.  Aaron turned off the water to the house, was able to get the geyser to stop, but then the sprinklers (which haven’t been turned on in over a year) turned on and would not turn off.  Ultimately, we decided it was time for an emergency trip to Home Depot.  Aaron took a picture of the broken head on his phone so that we would know what part to pick up (thank goodness for iphones!).  About 30 minutes and $20 later, I was holding a flashlight so that Aaron could see what he was doing as the sun was long gone by this point.  After getting pretty wet because we couldn’t quite get the water to turn off, we finally were able to get the sprinklers off!

Even though it was an adventure, it ended up turning into a kind of nice husband/wife bonding experience.  J   

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Adventures in Pumpkin Bread

I have never made anything with pumpkin other than a jack-o-lantern at Halloween.  So, when my CSA box arrived this week with a pumpkin inside the box, it was like a personal challenge to find something new to make with it – not only was the pumpkin a little small for carving, but it seemed like it would be a wasted opportunity if I chickened out and went the safe route (though I am looking forward to carving a pumpkin tomorrow in preparation for Halloween). I decided that for my first foray into edible pumpkin goods, it would be fun to make pumpkin bread.

It was definitely an adventure! But I am really glad I took the risk because the end result is so delicious!  I’m not going to do an accounting on this one because I already had all of the ingredients at home (except the eggs), so it would really be pure speculation on my part.

I used a recipe from my Betty Crocker cookbook (I assume the 2006 edition bc I received it as a wedding gift) and then modified it to my tastes.

If you are using a fresh pumpkin, first you will need to make pumpkin puree.

Cut the pumpkin in half horizontally.

Scoop out all the seeds and stringy bits (I’m not so good at getting all the stringy bits out - but I do my best).

Then place each half flesh side down on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with water, and bake at 350 for an hour.

After an hour, pull it out of the oven and let it cool.  Then scoop all the flesh out into a bowl and puree.

Now for the pumpkin bread recipe:

-         Pumpkin puree from 1 small/medium pumpkin (or 1 can pumpkin)
-         1 2/3 cup sugar
-         2/3 cup vegetable oil (I substituted the same amount of apple sauce instead)
-         2 teaspoons vanilla
-         4 large eggs
-         3 cups all purpose flour
-         2 teaspoons baking soda
-         1 teaspoon salt
-         1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-         ½ teaspoon ground cloves
-         ½ teaspoon baking powder
-         ½ cup coarsely chopped nuts or raisins (optional) (I happened to have a bag of trail mix lying around that had walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, and dried apricots - I chopped up 1/2 a cup of that trail mix and it is definitely and amazing addition!)

Move oven rack to a low position so that the tops of the pans will be in the center of the oven.  Grease bottoms only of two 8x4 inch loaf pans (or one 9x5 inch pan).  Preheat oven to 350.

In large bowl, stir pumpkin puree, sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs until well mixed.  Stir in remaining ingredients except nuts (if using) – stir well until there are no lumps in the batter.  Stir in nuts.  Divide batter evenly between the pans. 

Bake for about an hour or until a toothpick (butter knife in my case) comes out clean.  Then let the loaves completely cool on a rack before slicing.

Here is where my adventure began:  I think since I used a whole fresh pumpkin, instead of canned pumpkin, I ended up making more batter than Betty Crocker expected me to make . . . so, my loaf pans were, well, a little too full.  About half an hour in, I smelled something burning and went to check on the bread.  Turns out the batter had risen up over the top of the loaf pans and spilled onto the oven floor.  So I had to take out the loaf pans, and the oven racks and scoop the spilled batter up with a spatula, and then remove the bits that were stuck to the racks.  Then I replaced the racks and the loaf pans and resumed baking.  Fortunately, none of this affected the flavor of the bread.  Once my butter knife came out clean, I let the bread cool on a rack.  And now I am enjoying a slice of homemade pumpkin bread with a latte made by yours truly!

 * A note on the photos I use in my blog.  All these pictures are taken by me, using my Sony Cybershot (pink) camera. Yes, that is a Han Solo bobblehead in the background on my counter.  Please excuse any flour/cooking mess in my kitchen that happens to appear in the shots.  I try to "keep it real" by not staging my pictures too much.  :)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Spinach Lasagna

Tonight I invited some co-workers over for dinner.  We’ve had a lot of stress at work lately, and I thought it would be nice to invite the department that I work most closely with over to my place so that we could all bond outside of the workplace and in a nice, casual, comfortable environment.  It also so happens that all of those co-workers are female.  No offense to any of my male friends, but there is definitely a different vibe to an all female gathering.  The number one difference being how easy the cleanup is; I am not saying that this would happen with every group of women, nor am I saying that it would not be the same with a select few of my male friends.  But I will say this: I was completely finished cleaning up within 30 minutes of everyone leaving my house!  The girls helped me put things back in my fridge, helped me put leftovers in Tupperware, put their dishes in the sink, etc.   It was amazing!  It also helped that I washed all the dishes in the house and cleared out the dishwasher before anyone arrived so that there would be room in the dishwasher for dirty dishes at the end of the night.  Also, while the lasagna was baking I was able to wash all the prep dishes and generally clean up the kitchen.

My co-workers each volunteered to bring something, so I was only responsible for the main course tonight.  One person brought appetizer-y things, another brought a delicious salad, another brought wine, and one of my co-workers actually baked a pumpkin pie today!  First pumpkin pie of the season – I had forgotten how much I enjoy whipped cream . . . er, pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream . . . yeah, that’s it . . .

One of my co-workers is vegetarian, so I decided to do a Spinach Lasagna from “Diet For a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappe.  I love this book!  My mom gave it to me for Christmas my first year in law school, and I read it in about two days – and then at the back, there are tons of great vegetarian recipes.  If you were ever curious about the early days of vegetarianism becoming mainstream, I definitely recommend this book.  It’s all about complementary proteins, sustainable eating, etc.  It’s like the grandmother of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

Ok, onto the food!  I don’t think I would recommend doing this on a weekday – much too time consuming – unless you buy those lasagna noodles you don’t have to pre-cook.  If I were to do it over again, I would definitely look for those.  I had to pre-cook the lasagna noodles, which I did waaay ahead of time bc I also had to clean the house.  So while the noodles were cooling, I cleaned.

Later in the day, I sautéed the onion, tomatoes, etc. and then added the spinach.

I cooked that until the spinach wilted.  It never ceases to amaze me how much spinach cooks down! 

Then I left the spinach on simmer while I mixed the cheeses together.  And then added the spinach mixture. 

 Ok, ok, I know it doesn’t look that appealing, but I swear, even at that point, it tasted great!

Then I layered the noodles and the spinach mixture in a pan and cooked at 350 for about 40 minutes.  Et voila!

I’m not quite sure what happened with the top layer of noodles.  They curled up on themselves and made it really difficult to cut into serving sized portions!  Fortunately, my dinner guests said that they like crunchy lasagna noodles.  Hopefully they weren’t just being nice!

And now the accounting fun:
Spinach Lasagna

1/2 pound lasagna noodles

1/2 onion

2 tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon oregano/basil/rosemary

1 lb spinach

1 cup low fat cottage cheese

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

10 oz mozzarella cheese


8 servings =
per serving

* A note on the accounting – since there were several dishes that I did not prepare, this is not a price for the whole meal – just the main course.  Also, I did prepare another side dish that I am saving for a blog later in the week, and that is not accounted for here either.  But it’s still fun to see.  J

If you want to make this yourself, here’s the full recipe (with notes for my alterations):
-         3-4 tbps oil
-         ½ lb lasagna noodles, cooked to al dente
-      1 medium onion, chopped (I used half an onion – I always cut the recommended amount of onion in half bc I’m not a huge fan of onions, but I like the flavor they add to recipes)
-         2 tomatoes, chopped
-         10 medium mushrooms (I detest mushrooms, so I just omitted them)
-         ½ tsp each oregano, basil, rosemary (I used fresh rosemary from my neighbor’s garden)
-         2 tbsp chopped fresh parsely (I bought the parsley, and then completely forgot to use it, but the recipe tasted fine without it)
-         1 lb spinach, washed, drained and chopped
-         1 cup non-fat cottage cheese
-         ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
-         10 oz grated mozzarella cheese

·        Preheat oven to 350. 
·        Heat oil in a big skillet, sauté garlic, onion, tomatoes and mushrooms.
·    When onion is translucent, add herbs and spinach, stirring until spinach is wilted.  Simmer.
·        Reserving ½ cup mozzarella cheese, in a large bowl, combine cheeses.
·        Pour spinach mix into cheese mixture and stir thoroughly.
·      Layer noodles alternately with spinach/cheese mixture in an 8x13 in baking pan.
·        Top with reserved mozzarella.
·        Bake 30-40 minutes.
·        Serves ~8

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Not Sunday Dinner: Tim Burton at LACMA

There will be no edition of Sunday Dinner tonight because, honestly, I find it hard to imagine that anyone cares about me making Rice-a-Roni with hot dog cut up into it (yes, I do eat hot dogs occasionally).  I had a very fun filled weekend, and now just can’t be bothered to cook!  I spent all morning yesterday in the kitchen baking cupcakes for my friend’s kid’s 1st birthday.  One of my other friends, J-fer, and her fiancé, Michael, came up to LA from San Diego for the birthday party and they stayed at my house.  After the birthday party, a bunch of us went out for sushi and then came back to the house to play Rock Band until who knows when.  Today, J-fer, Michael and I went to the Tim Burton exhibit at LACMA (Aaron had to work, so he couldn’t join us).

I can’t believe I have lived in LA for 10 years and have never been to LACMA!  (LA County Museum of Art – for those, not in the know).  The Tim Burton exhibit is one of those where you have to buy special admission ($22) for a specific time – our admission time was noon.  I’m really glad it wasn’t any later.  When we got there, the parking structure had plenty of spaces left, and we were able to park without any real hassle (which, for that part of LA, is a pretty big accomplishment).  We exited the elevators from the parking garage straight into a courtyard surrounded by statuesque heads of the signs of the Chinese Zodiac (honestly, I only picked that up once I saw my sign, the horse, and then the monkey, which was 2 years later – and from there I was able to make an educated guess).  Then we were all standing around talking about it, and this lady comes up to us and says “There’s a sign over there that explains everything.”  Thanks, I guess I should have looked for a sign at a museum . . . oh well.

I don’t have any pictures of the Tim Burton exhibit because they warned us at least three times before even entering the big gaping mouth of an entrance that no photography was allowed.  The guards kept repeating “No cameras, no cell phones, not even for texting or calling.  Put it away, or it will be confiscated.”  Even with all that, at one point in the exhibit, this 13 year old girl came up to me and said, rather rudely, “Excuse me” and shoved me aside so that she could snap a shot of a black light painted picture with her iphone.  Now that I think about it, I bet that picture didn’t come out so well since it was so dark in that room!  I was so shocked at her rudeness that it didn’t even occur to me to call a guard on her.

Overall the Tim Burton exhibit was very enjoyable and very informative.  I had no idea that growing up in idyllic suburban Burbank could be so traumatic! (Though it definitely explains “Edward Scissorhands.”) For anyone who loves that slightly disturbing artistic Burton style, this is a must see.  They had doodles of his from when he was still in high school – up through costumes and full puppets/3D models from his stop motion features that everyone loves.  There were several iterations of Jack Skellington’s head – each with a different expression/emotion.

The one negative that I will give is that it can get really crowded.  The beginning of the exhibit is a complete bottleneck.  I will admit, I got a little claustrophobic/agoraphobic with all those people not moving in a very small space.  Then it opened up in the middle, and it seemed like there was good spacing between each art piece.  The last room was not only cramped, but it had this diorama that played music, but not just any music – creepy, dollhouse music, that overlayed an image of a kid in a house with a Christmas Tree and blood spattered all around the room.  I swear by the end of the time I got done with the last room, I thought I was going to go crazy if I had to hear that music one more time!  Oh, and then, of course, it opened into my least favorite exhibit of all: the gift shop.  I think I inherited my distaste for gift shops from my dad (though I tolerate them much more than he can).  But I really hate a) being forced to walk through a gift shop and b) being forced to try to get past all the other people who don’t mind being forced to walk through a gift shop.

One last caveat about the Tim Burton exhibit: it is definitely not for young children.  “Nightmare Before Christmas” is about as tame as it gets in there, but a lot of his earlier stuff is definitely not for children’s eyes.  I saw people with very young children, some of the kids were scared, others were just bored or miserable.  But, if you are an adult (and/or you have kids that are mature enough to handle more grown up themes) and you love Tim Burton, this is definitely a good exhibit to go see!  Hurry though, if you are interested, because the exhibit only runs through Halloween weekend.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Pico Rivera Special

Today in the Sherry household, we had a bit of a role reversal (for us).  Aaron went off to work and I stayed home.  Aaron just got an editing job . . . I can’t tell you what it is because even I don’t know.  He had to sign a super strict NDA, and he can’t tell me anything about it.  The only think I know is that he says he “can see why it’s so top secret” and it’s “super cool.” I can’t wait until whatever the show is becomes public knowledge so he can finally tell me about it!  Even though it’s Sunday, they called him in, and he’s all about taking any extra hours they can send his way . . . especially since he knows this job won’t last forever (once the show is finished, so is the job).  So anyway, I decided to be a super awesome wife and greet Aaron with a drink and have dinner (almost) ready by the time he got home.

Pico Rivera Special was a favorite in the Stevens household growing up.  Aaron loves this recipe so much that it is now a favorite in the Stevens-Sherry household too!  The story is that my grandfather came up with this recipe when he was living the bachelor life in Pico Rivera (hence the name).  I love this recipe because the ingredients are all things I almost always have on hand, which means that even when I haven’t been grocery shopping in a long time, I can still whip this together and make a fantastic meal!

You start by browning ground beef and adding onions.  

Then you add tomato sauce, corn, and chili pepper.  

Then you add noodles. And then you are done!

Simple, easy, family friendly recipe!
Here’s the cost breakdown:

Pico Rivera Special

6 oz noodles

1 lb ground beef

1 can tomato sauce

1 can corn

1 small onion

chili powder


6 servings =
per person

* A note on the breakdown: like I said, I already had all of these items in my pantry, so the costs are estimated – except the meat, which had the cost stamped on the front of the package that was in my freezer.  Also, I didn’t account for the salad that we ate, but I’m guessing it would add an extra 50 cents per person?  One of these days, I will write a blog about the other Stevens-Sherry family favorite: Chicken Caesar Salad.  And then I will do a full accounting of my salad costs.  :)


And for those who want the actual recipe, here it is:

Pico Rivera Special

-         1 lb ground beef
-         1 onion
-         1 can tomato sauce (8oz)
-         1 small can corn, drained
-         1 tbps chili powder
-         6 oz noodles (about half a bag) (preferably egg, penne, or bowtie)
-         Salt & pepper to taste

1.                  Brown meat & add chopped onion.  Heat until onions are soft.
2.                  Add dash of salt & pepper
3.                  Add tomato sauce, corn and chili power
4.                  Heat to bubbly and blended (~10 minutes)
5.                  Boil noodles (can be done while browning meat)
6.                  Drain and pour into pan with the other ingredients
7.                  Mix & heat for about 5 more minutes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Weeknight Dinner: Orzo Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes

Weeknights are hard to cook a real meal!  I don’t get home from work until 7:15 – 7:30 most nights (and that’s when I’m not rehearsing for anything).  The last thing I want to do is start cooking the moment I walk in the door.  If I do cook during the week, I won’t start until 8ish, which often means dinner at 9 (or 10 if I've chosen a recipe that is too difficult . . .note to self: don't ever pick a Julia Child recipe on a weeknight!).  I don’t really mind eating a late dinner, and I know Aaron doesn’t either – I guess when we have kids we may need to change that schedule, but we’ll see.  I can remember several family dinners growing up that were pretty late.  We always managed to eat dinner together as a family . . . even if it meant eating at 8 or 9 or sometimes 10 (but that was usually when Dad was out of town and Mom was busy with a community meeting or something).

Tonight I decided to try some “real” cooking, even though it’s a weeknight.  My CSA box came with heirloom tomatoes, and I’ve always wanted to try something special with them (rather than my usual green salad).  So, I found a recipe for Orzo salad withheirloom tomatoes on the Farm Fresh To You website.  This recipe definitely fits the weeknight requirements: quick, easy, healthy, and tasty. It took about 30 minutes from pulling the box of orzo out of the cupboard to when it was ready to eat.

First I boiled the orzo.  While it was boiling, I cut up all the herbs and tomato, etc.  After draining the orzo, I whisked together the vinegar and lemon juice.  I used the juice of an entire lemon (bc it was just easier than squeezing out only 1 tablespoon).  Then I slowly added the olive oil.  I actually used a little under ¼ cup of oil, and I think that was plenty!  I also used half the amount of mint the recipe calls for and twice the amount of olives (I sliced up both black olives and green olives to give it more flavor and color).  Once the dressing is done, I just mixed all the ingredients in a pretty blue bowl, and dinner was ready.

It is really a nice, easy recipe both to follow and to eat!  I also grilled up some chicken to add some protein to the dinner.

Here’s how much the weeknight meal cost (add $0.50 per person for the chicken breast):

Orzo & Heirloom Tomato Salad

9 oz Orzo*

2 tbs White wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

2 large heirloom tomatoes

3/4 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup sliced olives

1/2 cup sliced basil*

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley


6 servings =
 per person

* A note on the costs, that box of Orzo has been sitting, half full in my pantry for who knows how long – so I don’t actually know how much it cost.  I do know however, that I would never spend more than $2 on a box of pasta, so I estimated high and guessed at $2 for the box, of which I only used half.  On the basil, when I opened the small container of fresh organic basil, I was very disappointed to discover that it was already starting to wilt terribly.  So I used half of it and threw the other half away – had it been good, I would have been able to save the rest for future use.  Also, I easily could have spent half and gotten twice the amount of basil had I been able to organize myself a little earlier and trek over to the Lake Balboa farmer’s market on Sunday morning.  Oh well!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Guinness Beets

 Oh my goodness!  I feel like I am about to fall over, I am so exhausted from all the domesticity I put myself through today.  This morning I woke up around 7:30am, fed the cat, brought in the paper, and watered the lawn.  Then I clipped coupons while watching “Meet the Press” (one of my favorite Sunday activities).  By 9:30 am, I was out in the front yard pruning/weeding.  I wanted to try to get out there before it got too hot . . . which only lasted until about 11:30am, at which point, I was sweating through the baseball cap I was wearing (gross I know).  I will say this: I never want to let the plants on our side yard get that overgrown again!  My arms and legs have small cuts all over from the red grass bushes that attacked me as they apparently decided they didn’t want to be trimmed. 

After the sweltering yard work, I decided to seek some respite inside, and found that Aaron had woken up and was lounging on the couch, eating a bowl of cereal while watching a Star Trek movie.  I sat down to watch the end of it with him then we started watching “Mad Men” – I am completely enjoying that show!  I am absolutely in love with the wardrobe of Mrs. Don Draper.  I would want to wear every single one of her dresses.  It’s also really interesting to watch the role of women in the Mad Men era and see how far we’ve come.  I find it amusing that the housewives were taking pity on the one divorced woman on their street – her house was a mess, and she ate frozen food because she had to work and didn’t have time to cook or clean . . . yeah, when they showed her house, it looked a lot like mine, and I buy frozen meals for weekday lunches . . . because I don’t have time to cook or clean a lot of the time either.  Except on Sunday, which brings me to the food I made today.

This week, my CSA box from Farm Fresh to You came with beets (and a bunch of other locally grown organic yummyness as well).  

I will keep experimenting with beets until I find a recipe I truly love.  After asking around for beet recipes, I finally decided that I would do Sautéed Beets with Beer (aka Guinness Beets).  I mainly decided on that recipe because the only ingredient I had to purchase was Guinness and it looked pretty easy.  Turns out it tasted pretty good too!   

First I cut the greens off the beets and then boiled the beets.  While the beets were boiling, I sorted through the greens and picked out the ones that looked edible (many of them had wilted or looked like maybe a bug had dinner before the beets were picked at the farm).  The CSA box also came with chard, so I cut up the chard and added it to the beet greens.  The way the recipe is written, it seems like it wants you to boil the stout and make the sauce while the beets are boiling.  However, I would recommend waiting until after the beets are done boiling.  The reason is that the beer sauce reduces very quickly, and the beets take a while to finish boiling.  And then, once the beets are done boiling, they still need time to cool down so that you can rub the skins off.  To make up for this minor error, I ended up turning the sauce down to a simmer and supplementing more Guinness as it reduced.

Once the beets were done boiling and their skins were rubbed off, I put them in the pan with the sauce and let them simmer while I wilted the greens.  I used half the amount of butter the recipe calls for – both in the sauce and on the greens.  I think next time I will use even less butter on the greens . . . I prefer my veggies with as little grease as possible.  I also Foreman grilled some chicken breast and added spices to some leftover rice.

Et voila:


It turned out pretty darn tasty.  Even Aaron liked it, and he is definitely not a big beet fan.  In fact, he wasn’t quite sure what they were at first.  Since neither Aaron nor I are big Guinness fans, I also bought some cider and we made snake bites to go with our dinner (half Guinness, half cider).  We sat at the table and ate and talked . . . like grownups.  :)

We had some rice and beets leftover, but the greens and chicken were gobbled up.  I didn’t include the cost of the snake bite drinks, which would add another $1.66 per person.

Here’s the tally for what the meal cost:

Guinness Beets

1 Bunch Beets & Beet Greens


2 Tbs Butter

1/4 cup stout
(cost of one bottle in a six pack)
1 tbs balsamic vinegar

1 cup rice

1 boneless skinless chicken breast


2 servings =
per person