Top Chef 101

I like to watch cooking shows. I blame my father. He’s a huge fan of Alton Brown and Guy Fieri, along with many other Food Network shows. When I was unmarried and living at home, Sunday evening was Food Network night at the Atkinson household. We watched a cake challenge followed by Iron Chef America. On a really good night, my dad would make us one of his own yummy food creations such as nachos. That was the nice thing about living with my dad – he didn’t just watch the Food Network; if he saw something he liked, he’d make it himself. Usually this resulted in good things for us to eat. On occasion, however, we would politely (or not so politely) decline his culinary experiment (like the time he combined apples, mushrooms, and coconut milk in one dish…).

Another cooking show that my parents and I have enjoyed watching is Top Chef. It is a reality chef competition on Bravo. Since I’ve had more free time the last couple months while the woman I work for is on maternity leave, I’ve caught a few marathons of Top Chef.   A cooking term I heard a lot was “braised.” Braised beef, braised lamb, braised ox tail. Everything was braised.

The last time I made a major trip to the grocery store, I bought three shoulder steaks because they were cheap. I don’t know a lot about buying meat. I try to get packages of meat that have the labels on them that say something like “Great for marinating” or “Great for broiling” so I have at least some idea of what to do with it. I also rely on Google. And for this particular cut of meat, popular opinion was that I should braise it.

I thought, “Aha! All those episodes of Top Chef will actually pay off.” Except not really, since you don’t learn how to cook on Top Chef like you do on Food Network shows. But I still FELT like a Top Chef. For my first attempt, I braised the meat in a tomato based sauce with baby portobellas. The meat was super tender and Dave really enjoyed it.

Tonight I braised meat for the second time. Maybe I’m using the wrong wording or something, but I’ve had trouble finding recipes for braising. I didn’t want to cook the same sauce as the first time, so I invented my own! And not to toot my own horn but…it was delicious. I’m going to share it with you now. If you ever want to feel like a Top Chef and braise meat, try this sauce! Let me know what you think of it – all suggestions are welcome.

Bekah’s Really Awesome Asian Inspired Braised Meat

  • 1 shoulder steak (or try this with a similar tough cut of meat)
  • 3 T olive oil
  •  2/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 T ketchup
  • 1 1/2 T creamy peanut butter
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 2 T minced ginger
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 bottle Yuengling or similar lager

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Set aside. Heat 3 T EVOO in a large saucepan (ideally you’d have a Dutch Oven, but I don’t). Season meat with salt and pepper and sear each side. Once seared, pour the sauce into the pan with the meat. Bring to a boil, then cover it and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for an hour and a half. Remove meat from the sauce and slice. To thicken the sauce, I turned the heat to medium, whisked in two tablespoons of flour, and allowed the sauce to cook uncovered for about 15 minutes. Then I returned the sliced meat to the sauce and let it all simmer for another 10 minutes.

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What is friendship?

Last weekend, I went to visit my bestest friend Adrienne, a fellow newlywed who lives in Illinois with her husband, Nick. Adrienne and I met in Peru about ten years ago. Although our friendship suffered a rocky start (I thought she was arrogant, she thought I was two-faced), we quickly formed a strong bond. That bond has only gotten stronger, despite the fact that after high school we have always been separated by hundreds of miles.

Adrienne’s friendship has been especially important to me since I’ve married and moved away from my family. I’ve always been shy and slow to make friends, and it’s even harder for me to connect with people in a new city. Adrienne is always there for me. She listens to me and takes a genuine interest in my life. When I feel lonely, I know I can email her, give her a call, or shoot her a text and she’ll respond. And since she recently married and moved away from her family as well, we now share similar experiences, frustrations, and joys with each other.

If it hadn’t been for Adrienne, I might still be wearing overalls and have eyebrows that look like caterpillars. Even though she has significantly improved my style over the years, she has always loved me for who I am. She pushes me to be the best Christian woman that I can be. She is an encouragement and an inspiration to me. I thank God for bringing us together on the steps of the Union Church of Lima so many years ago.

I titled this post “What is friendship?” When I ask myself that question, I think of Adrienne. Together we have laughed, cried, fought, forgiven, borrowed clothes, dyed hair, pigged out, been stalked by a man in a Speedo, had countless discussions over boys, shared holidays together, been in each other’s weddings, worshiped, mourned, and loved. If that isn’t friendship, I don’t know what is.

Adrienne doing my hair - typical.

Senior Trip.

Senior Banquet.

A surprise visit from Adrienne in college.

Best friends.

Visiting for Amber's wedding.

Adri and Snowy have always had a special relationship.

A visit before my wedding.

At my rehearsal dinner.

Stamping candy bags for Adri's wedding.

With Allison at Adri's wedding.

Friends forever!

Why I don’t let Dave do the grocery shopping.

Some of the best advice I received when we were engaged was this: openly discuss what is expected of each other when it comes to household chores/duties. Everyone comes from a different background and enters a marriage with assumptions. A woman who grew up in a home where the father always mowed the lawn may not realize she married a man whose mother did the mowing until their yard has turned into a jungle. Failure to talk to each other about these issues frequently leads to marital tension.

So, we talked about it. I told Dave I’d never mowed a lawn in my life and I didn’t plan to start. We agreed he’d take care of the finances. As I’ve mentioned, I do the laundry. We share cleaning duties – he likes to vacuum and I’m not afraid to clean a toilet. And generally, I do the grocery shopping.

When I was growing up, my mom did all of the cooking and so it naturally followed that she did the grocery shopping. It made sense to me that since I’m the one doing the cooking, I’d do the shopping, like my mom did.

Now that we’ve been married almost a year, though, I can list a few more reasons why I do the shopping instead of Dave. During the summer, Dave changed jobs and there was about a week in between when his first job ended and the new one began. I came home from work one day and he said he’d been to the grocery store. I knew we needed a few things so I asked what he bought. The entirety of his shopping trip was Cheez-its, beer, ice cream, and bleach.

Another reason why I don’t let Dave grocery shop on a regular basis is that no matter how specific my list is, he always deviates from it. One night as I was making dinner I realized I was missing three ingredients; there’s a grocery store right across the street from us so I asked him to run over and pick them up for me. When he returned, in addition to the three items I’d requested, he bought an abundance of canned oysters, salmon, and tuna.

Whenever Dave is home and I’m about to go shopping, I always insist he comes with me. I have this idea that the company will be nice and it will be good to spend extra time together. Five minutes after we get to the store, I’m wondering why I brought him with me. I leisurely walk through the store, considering my list, what is on sale, and what substitutions I might make. He’s Speedy Gonzales, trying to see what’s on my list so he can run and pick it up and hurry us through the store.

I write all of this in love and with a smile on my face. I have a wonderful husband. Even though he frequently drives me crazy when it comes to grocery shopping, we always laugh about it. He does his best to be helpful and I appreciate his constantly cheerful attitude.

And who knows, there might be some area of life where I drive HIM crazy. 😉

Exploring New Hampshire

I feel like I was remiss this summer at exploring New Hampshire. There are tons of fun, inexpensive outdoorsy things to do around here and we didn’t do any of them. Maybe because I’m not outdoorsy.

But this past weekend, we ventured out into the White Mountains of New Hampshire! Dave and I headed up to his parents’ house on Friday night. Saturday morning I helped split fire wood. For someone who is not outdoorsy, I do a lot of outdoorsy things at the Gernhards – split wood, move logs with an excavator, shoot guns (alright, I only shot a gun once…I don’t really like it), drive a dump truck. Supposedly these things are good for me since they shove me out of my comfort zone.

It was a gorgeous weekend – highs in the 80s Saturday, Sunday and even Monday. We left for the mountains around 11:30 since it did take awhile for it to really warm up and we went in the open air Jeep. It was very windy and quite chilly at first, but it was a great way to see the foliage and experience the mountains. I’m going to stop writing now and just post the pictures, because in this instance, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Our first (and favorite) stop through the mountains).

David and me.

View from atop the mountain.

We drove the Kancamagus Highway.

Outside a general store on the way home.

Another view from the Jeep as we drove.

Nature declares God's glory!

The Bretton Woods resort (by Omni). David was very interested in this place because some historical meeting was held here...clearly I was paying attention.

We didn’t do any hiking while up in the White Mountains, but on Monday (Columbus Day) we met some friends at Mt. Major, which overlooks Lake Winnipesaukee. We hiked to the top and the view was amazing!

A snapshot of Alton Bay as we drove to the trail head.

This was about halfway up.

There's me, looking pale.

You could see all of Lake Winnipesaukee.

View from the very top! Getting up here was more like rock climbing than hiking...

The top...we went down a different way on the other side of the mountain.

Seriously, so pretty.

We're ready for Everest! 🙂

Who knows where we’ll go next!

I can’t believe it’s low calorie!

My most recent source for recipes is Skinnytaste. I love this blog because her recipes are healthy AND they taste good. I’ve tried some low fat, low calorie recipes that seriously suffer from lack of flavor. Gina’s recipes taste as good – maybe even better – as the full fat recipes. What I find most helpful is that she tells you the serving size for each dish and gives the nutritional information. Plus, she has an amazing variety of recipes. If you’re in the mood for a certain type of food, chances are you can find a version of it on Gina’s site. Most of the recipes use ingredients that I either tend to have on hand or that I don’t mind putting on the grocery list.

Here are the recipes I’ve tried so far!

Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili – I’m really into warm, hearty soup and chili right now since it’s beginning to turn chilly outside. I put this together late last night and it cooked while we were sleeping. I turned it to warm when we left for church and it was waiting when we got home! So easy! It’s a really substantial meal by itself; I didn’t serve it with rice or even corn bread. Plus, since it’s low calorie, you can add a little reduced fat cheese and some reduced fat sour cream without feeling guilty!

Turkey Chili Taco Soup – I made this a few months ago, divided it up into individual servings and froze several containers. Splitting them into individual servings makes it super easy to just pull out a container to thaw for lunch sometime that week. I just finished my last two servings last week and now I want to make some more!

Chicken Quesadillas with Avocado-Mango Salsa – I love quesadillas and these are delicious! They are extremely filling and make a great dinner. The salsa is amazing and definitely adds to the flavor.

Lighter Eggplant Parmesan – My dad makes eggplant parmesan occasionally and this is not as good as his. BUT, his has a lot more calories and I can’t make his recipe as well as he does anyway. So when I want to make eggplant parm, I use this recipe. I made homemade tomato sauce this summer with tomatoes that Dave’s grandma gave us and used some of it to make this dish. Gina used homemade sauce as well but obviously you can use store bought if you aren’t interested in making it from scratch. I also don’t salt my eggplant and my food never suffers. I recommend serving this with some pasta (I like Barilla’s Plus brand).

There’s a ton more recipes on Skinnytaste and I intend to keep trying them out! Let me know if you try any of these recipes and whether you like them as much as we do!

We’re finally getting a bed!

It’s about time, too! Why is furniture so expensive? The only reason our apartment is furnished is because we have such loving family and friends. Seriously – our couch, recliner, table, chairs, desks, everything was a gift. Who cares if most of them are hand-me-downs. Each item reminds us of how blessed we are. We also have three very cool pieces: my father-in-law made us two bookshelves and a matching deacon bench. I love them. They are a constant reminder of what wonderful in-laws I have!

Back to the bed situation. We’ve been sleeping on a mattress for the last 11 months. Actually, for the first two months we slept on the “mattress” from the pull-out couch Dave’s grandparents gave us. In January we bought a real mattress from IKEA. It’s really comfortable, so we haven’t minded sleeping on the floor that much.

Plus, we have a lot of great memories from our year without a bed. When we were sleeping on the pull-out mattress, we’d have to put it back in the couch if we had anyone over so they could actually sit on it. One night when Dave’s brother visited, we decided to just sleep on the pull-out couch. We learned quickly that if you sleep too far forward on it, it tries to fold in on itself and eat you. And when we bought our real mattress, it was a lot more exciting than if we’d bought one right from the start. One time I brought the two little girls that I take care of over to our apartment; when they saw our mattress on the floor, before I knew it the two year old had whipped off her shoes and was jumping on it. It was cute!

But I’m still glad we’re getting a real bed before our one year anniversary. It makes me feel more grown-up and less collegiate. And I won’t have to haul myself up off of the ground every morning. Or worry about falling over from dizziness if I stand up too fast.

What “necessity” did you do without when you got married? Are your memories good or bad?

Confession: I will never love to exercise.

In fact, I really, truly, deeply hate it. Don’t get me wrong – I do it. I exercise almost every day. But it’s a battle. No, more accurately it’s a war. I have to talk myself into it and I can’t wait until it’s over. When it’s done, I feel good, and I’m glad that I did it. You’d think that would make me look forward to the next time. It doesn’t.

I gained the Freshman 15 when I went to college. Okay, it was more like the Freshman 20. Spring of my sophomore year I decided to lose it and I joined an exercise class. $50 for a semester, four hours a week. That class was the closest I came to actually loving exercise and I took it for four semesters. We had three instructors. Mrs. Kengor was our Monday instructor who taught step (my favorite) and kickboxing, with the occasional hour of interval training. She was intense. She’d recently given birth when I joined the class and I heard from girls who’d taken it before that even when she was nine months pregnant she could kick our butts. Gina taught Tuesdays and Thursdays, mixing it up with zumba, dance and play, step, hi-lo, and kickboxing. She was hilarious and really knew how to make exercising fun. On Wednesdays, Mrs. Harp taught yoga or pilates.

Everyone warns you about the freshman 15. What no one bothers to mention to you is the Marriage 15. I was so excited about cooking and making delicious meals for my husband. I had good intentions about keeping us healthy. The weight sort of slowly crept up on me – on both of us, really. We couldn’t afford to join a gym and once I started working there wasn’t time for the gym anyway. When I was tired from work, the easiest thing to whip up usually wasn’t the healthiest.

A few months ago Dave and I got serious about losing weight and generally being a healthier couple. I’m proud to say I have lost 15 pounds! Dave has lost 20. I have a collection of exercise DVDs I rotate between: four different Biggest Loser workouts, four Leslie Sansone walks (2, 3, 4 and 5 miles), and Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred. And now that we have cable, I can use Exercise TV On Demand! Today I did Jillian’s Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism. It’s 50 minutes with 7 circuits. Brutal. I hated every minute. But I have 10 more pounds to lose, so I’m going to keep at it.

What about everyone else? Are there any other newlyweds who have faced the Marriage 15? Anyone else who fights a war with exercise? Or maybe you love to exercise. Want to share your secret?