Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Steak Cooking Adventures

Those of you who know me know that I LOVE steak.  I mean I really really love steak.  And so, when I first became a vegetarian about six years ago, many people were rightfully skeptical.  "How can you give up steak?" they would ask, and for good reason.  Steak was the one thing that I really really wanted.  Even though I used to love bacon, after a few months of the vegetarian life, the smell of the fat and the oil became unfortunately unappealing.  Yet the allure of steak remained.

Now, I've never cooked steak before but I've always wanted to and thus begins the steakventure.  Since I don't have a grill, after some research we decided a cast iron skillet would be the way to go.  We didn't get a more traditional "flat bottom" skillet, but rather a "griller" one with ridges in it.  While a skillet with a flat bottom may be more versatile, but I really wanted steak and this skillet is ALL about the steak.  Of course, I've never owned a cast iron skillet so Step 1 was going to Sur La Table and acquiring the necessary skillet.

Next step, acquire quality cuts of meat.  For this, Ethan and I ventured out to the Whole Foods in Pasadena which is more of a "Organic Food Theme Park" than a grocery store.  Seriously, it's the biggest grocery store I've ever been to and it's freaking ridiculous.  This is what it actually looks like:

This is really what the place looks like.  Only in L.A. right?  Image source here

We spent quite a bit of time chatting with the guy at the meat counter about the different cuts of meat and how to cook them.  We left with two rib eyes and one New York strip.  Personally, I have always been a lover of strips which is why I insisted on getting one.  If I'm going to eat meat, I want it to have that stringy meat texture which I love in a good NY strip.  It's also why I've never been a huge fan of fillets despite their supposed superiority.

When eating great steak, it would be a crime to not also have great wine, so the next stop was BevMo to acquire a couple bottles of red goodness.

Our first bottle, Power Keg Demolition Red was a delicious, savory not too sweet, table wine blend.  Got a second bottle for 5c (thank you BevMo!) so can't wait for another night of this stuff.  

Didn't get to taste much of this bottle but what I remember of it was good.  I've recently been enjoying more reds from Washing State so I thought I'd give this Washington syrah a taste. 

Now, this is my first cast iron skillet but I do know a thing or two about them.  For instance, I know that they have to be "seasoned."  I feel that this is a really confusing term because "seasoned" actually means "have a layer of fat baked onto the outside."  I guess it's called "seasoning" because the "seasoning" can add flavor to the food...but I digress.

So, in order to season our brand new cast iron skillet, Ethan and I turned to the internet for advice.  The manufacturer's website recommended coating the skillet in oil and baking it at 350 F before cooking on it, so we did that the night we bought it.  Then, the next morning, the real cooking started.  The first thing we cooked in the skillet was sausage because that's a great fatty food for seasoning a skillet and it's absolutely delicious.

Mmmmm, look at that yummy sausage.

Those sausages cooked so nicely and tasted sooo good. 

Of course, this created a ton of grease which we knew better than to pour down the drain.  We poured it all into a green mug and solidified it in the fridge.  We have since cooked more and added more grease to it and the green mug is still in my fridge.  I've been meaning to throw that out but hey, it's not hurting anything in the fridge right?

So much grease.  It's kind of gross if you think about it too much. 

Then, after lunch, the REAL cooking started.  Once again, we turned to the internet and watched some really helpful youtube videos about how to cook steaks in cast iron skillets.  We decided on a method where you sear both sides of the steak then put it in the oven to continue the cooking.  Personally, I like my steak rare (Ethan likes his more medium) but heated on the inside.  The couple minutes in the oven at 350 F keep the steak rare but make sure the whole thing is heated through.

We got three really great cuts of meat.  Two rib eyes and one New York strip. 

Just getting started with the cooking. 

I love a good feast, so I spent a lot of time preparing the side dishes while Ethan handled most of the meat cooking.  I made a great spinach salad, some delicious mashed potatoes, and some cooked carrots.  We invited our friend Jordan over and shared our feast with some great music and awesome company.

Deliciously cooked!  Probably could have been a bit more rare but on the whole it was delicious.  Of the three cuts of meat, the New York Strip was my favorite.  

Setting the table and preparing for our guest.  This is about as good of eating as it gets for a college student!

Anyway, the steak adventures turned out great.  We learned a lot about how to cook steaks and had a really great time cooking them.  Plus, we had some great company to share our food with and an awesome excuse to crack open an amazing bottle of wine.  Overall I'd say the evening was a huge success!  Can't wait until we can cook some steaks again!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reflections on Four Weeks of Jogging

Since this past summer, I've been a casual runner (read: jogger).  At first I just ran as a way to burn calories to lose weight, but lo and behold it turns out I actually like it.  I tried running cross country when I was in middle school but I never trained right and didn't perform well and other things were more interesting at the time.  

Anyway, this year as one of my New Year's Resolutions I decided that I want to run a half-marathon.  Well, the real goal was "lose weight and get in shape," but I needed something a little more tangible and measurable, so half-marathon it is.  In order to really force myself to "step through the irreversible door," I figured signing up for a half-marathon and telling people I was going to do it would make me more accountable towards my resolution.  I like the 13.1 mile distance because it's long enough to be a hard endurance event without it being so hard as to require a lot of specialized training.  

First things first, I had to find a race.  I wanted the race to be close to graduation because I'm still not sure what I'm doing after graduation and I wanted my fitness to peak around that time.  I also didn't want to travel too far for a race, so I limited my search to Southern California.  With those parameters, I ended up deciding on the OC Half-Marathon on May 4th.  That gave me about 17 weeks to prepare.  After a little research, I found a 12 week training plan that I like here.  I wanted a few weeks of "building up my base" and figuring out my pace before I got really into training.  Since I was starting out 16 weeks before my race, I named the first few weeks -3 to 0 to show that they are preparation weeks.

So, this was all four weeks ago!  Somehow, I've managed to stay on track and have only skipped one planned run!  They say it takes 21 days to form a habit (which is probably not true, but whatever) so I've definitely made it past that first hurdle!  I feel like every day it gets a little easier to go out and run.  It's also been extremely encouraging to see myself improve.  I made a spreadsheet to track my runs and it's really awesome getting to see myself improve.  The first week I had to stop and walk in the middle of my runs, but now I ran jog a whole six miles without stopping!  I took a screenshot of my spreadsheet so you can see how I'm improving here.  

Surprisingly to me, I've found that I really enjoy running.  In the past, I've always given up on running and expected that I would hate it.  Now, I put on some good music from Spotify and spend a good 45 minutes to myself thinking and reflecting.  As an introverted only child, I've never minded time to myself, and I find the time alone quite enjoyable and relaxing.  Additionally, the increased fitness is definitely a plus.  I already feel better and more energetic and I'm only 4 weeks in.

All this progress so far has been really encouraging and motivating but I still have a long way to go.  My next goal is to break through the jogging/running barrier and cut another couple minutes off my average pace.  We'll see how much I can shave off before the half-marathon because I also need to focus on my endurance.

Anywho, I'm becoming a runner!  It's been a lot of work but I actually enjoy it so that has made it a lot easier.  I'll continue to post updates as I get closer to race day!

Monday, February 10, 2014

I wrote a paper!

Hey!  I wrote a paper (shock!) about the Challenger O-rings and I thought it was interesting enough to share.  It was supposed to be an analytical essay in which we "Choose one object and in a 4-6 page essay consider the object as both a representation of its class and as a unique artifact in its own right."  The essay was supposed to "describe your object in a way that engages its complexities and reveals its richness—you should learn something new as you write this essay and you should teach something new to the reader."

Check it out here and let me know if you learned anything!