Taking the challenge of cooking and making it fun

For several years, the Beverage twins, Melinda (left) and Grace (right) have had cooking competitions, with the help of their mother, Marsha, center. The competition is based on the Food Network show “Chopped.” The Beverage’s Chopped Challenge quickly became an entertaining addition to the family’s routine. Marsha said cooking is a life skill that’s never going out of style.

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer
 
Marsha Beverage and her twin daughters, Melinda and Mary Grace, have been cooking up some fun with their family’s version of “Chopped.”

The Beverage family – Gray, Marsha, Melinda and Grace – lives in Dunmore.

Gray is the crew chief at the Green Bank office of the West Virginia Department of Highways, and Marsha teaches second grade at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School.

In addition to their 15 year old twins, the Beverages have an older daughter, Autumn, who lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

The family enjoys coming together for dinner at their dining room table “as much as our busy schedules allow,” Marsha said.
And, often, it’s Melinda and Grace who are doing the cooking.

“I think cooking is an important skill to know,” Marsha said.

Marsha learned to cook when she was quite young and enjoys passing those lessons along to her daughters.

“I grew up helping my family by preparing meals,” Marsha explained. “I was cooking and serving full course meals by the time I was twelve, and my girls were doing the same.”

For the “Chopped Challenge” featured in this photo, the ingredients were steak, mandarin oranges, tomato and Cheerios multigrain cereal. Melinda, left, made baked steak bites – seasoned with dry ranch dressing and hot pepper – garlic mashed potatoes and a sweet tomato and mandarin orange chutney, topped with seasoned Cheerio dust. Grace, right, seared the steak in butter and presented it with a salad featuring tomatoes and mandarin oranges and a vinaigrette dressing, topped with seasoned Cheerio croutons. Photos courtesy of Marsha Beverage

The Beverage girls and their mother have become somewhat famous among their peers for their cooking competition called “A Chopped Challenge.”

“A few years ago, the girls and I were binge-watching the [Food Network] TV shows, ‘Chopped’ and ‘Chopped Junior,’ Marsha explained.  

“When the participants would come up with a dish, we would often laugh and say, ‘We could do better than that!’

“And that gave me an idea.

“I said, ‘Ok, girls, let’s try it!’ 

“Right away both girls were excited and interested, and it hasn’t worn off yet.”

The Beverage’s Chopped Challenge quickly became an entertaining addition to the family’s routine. 

Their dad, Gray, enjoys sampling their creations.

“It’s great,” he said. 

“We started about three years ago,” Grace said, “when we were about twelve. We do it when we have time, I guess about six to eight times a year.”  

The challenge goes like this: Marsha gives Melinda and Grace four ingredients they must use to make their own unique dish. 

They may use part of each ingredient – or maybe only a piece of each. For example, they may use the chocolate off of a peanut butter cup, but not need the whole piece of candy.  

But all four ingredients must be used.

“They may also use any other supplies found in our kitchen, or our cellar,” Marsha said.

And there’s another rule – the stipulated ingredients must be transformed in some way.   

“For instance, croutons cannot be used as such, but could be crushed up and used for breading,” Marsha explained.  

“We loved this idea right away,” Melinda said, smiling.

 “Sometimes Mom comes up with weird ingredients, which makes it harder, but it’s always fun!” 

As the girls have gotten older, Marsha has upped her game. 

“I do like to make the challenge a little harder sometimes,” she admitted. “I try to include a meat, a vegetable, a fruit and then I’ll throw in something odd, like a Twinkie, a bowl of cereal or a stale donut – something that doesn’t otherwise belong. 

“By the way, the time I included stale donuts, one of the girls made sweet croutons for a salad out of them,” Marsha laughed. “I think it was Grace.

“Both of my daughters are amazing cooks, but Melinda enjoys cooking more than Grace,” Marsha confided.
 
Each of her daughters has her own way of doing things when whipping up a meal in the family’s kitchen. 

“Grace almost always has some kind of salad with a meal and Melinda – well, rarely does one of her meals come without the incorporation of mashed potatoes!” Marsha noted. 

“Mom taught us how to cook when we were very young,” Grace said. “She’s always teaching us something. She teaches us how to use new appliances and when she’s doing something different, she’ll call us into the kitchen and show us how it works.

“Mom taught us how to make bread, which Melinda does the best of any of us now,” Grace said. 

“Mom just taught me how to make homemade chocolate pies by using a double boiler,” Melinda offered.  
 
“I like to cook and bake more than Grace. Mostly Grace helps out with other chores around the house while I work in the kitchen. 

“We’d usually get home from school before Mom, so I’d start dinner while Grace does her chores.  

“We help Mom come up with a weekly menu and I go from there,” Melinda said.

Grace likes to bake. 

“I like to bake cakes for cakewalks, to give to family and friends or for us to eat,” Grace said. 

Marsha believes in cooking and baking from scratch. 

“We don’t live on a farm, but we do raise a large garden with my parents,” Marsha explained. 

“We’re really into preserving food.

 “We can fruits and lots of vegetables in the summer and some meat in the fall.
  
“I’m all about cooking real food, not fast food or heat and serve stuff.

“We do have that sometimes, but the bulk of our meals are homemade,” Marsha added. 

Life’s not all work and no play for Melinda and Grace.

Melinda enjoys music, playing softball and 4-H.

Grace loves horses, reading and sports and is looking forward to a career in the medical field.

Some of Marsha’s friends on Facebook have copied the “Chopped Challenge” idea with their own families.

“People think our challenges are really neat,” Grace said. 

“After we do a challenge, Mom posts about it on Facebook,” Melinda said. “Then when we’ve gone to school, lots of our teachers commented on it.

“It’s fun hearing about what other people think or what they would have made if they were doing the challenge,” she added.

How lucky these young ladies are to have a mom creative enough to make learning how to be confident in the kitchen a fun thing – a life skill that will serve them well no matter where their futures take them.

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