Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My ridiculously good (and large) chili recipe

When I was living in Conway, Ark., I was asked to judge a chili contest for city/county employees. I did a lot of fun things when I was living in Conway, including attending sniper school, but I'm not sure any of them was as fun as judging a chili contest. If you ever get the chance, I recommend it.

The whole time I was eating all this chili, though, I just kept thinking it wasn't as good as mine. I've experimented with my chili a few times over the year, but I always go back to my tried and true (and truly amazing) recipe. I wrote about this recipe when I was working at the Fulton Sun and writing Stephanie's Kitchen. It was one of two recipes people asked me about when I was out covering stories in the community.

Without further ado:

Ingredients are pretty simple

Ground beef (I like full-fat versions and actually think ground brisket would be amazing in this chili if you're willing to spend that kind of money on a brisket just to grind it)
one large onion
one large and one medium can of tomato sauce
one can of diced chili-ready tomatoes
one can of chili beans
one can of kidney beans (light or dark and drained!)
one can of tomato paste
your favorite chili seasoning (sometimes I use my own mixture, sometimes I buy the pre-mixed kind)
a hot sauce (not Tabasco sauce. a hot pepper sauce.)
about a cup of brown sugar. (use this to taste)

Brown the ground beef and the onion until cooked through. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a large stock pot (because I only know how to cook for an army) and add two or three drops of the hot sauce and most of the brown sugar. Let it cook together and then taste. It should be sweet with a hint of heat toward the end of the bite. Add more hot sauce or more brown sugar to taste.

When you eat it, top it with your favorite extras (or use it for chili dogs!). We usually go with a little chopped green or white onion, cheddar cheese and some sour cream. 

This is a lot of chili. Enough for a lot of meals, so I recommend freezing part of the batch. Then it's an easy thaw and reheat when it's a cold day and you don't want to cook!

Sorry, no photos of chili. I don't find it a very photographic dish.

What's your favorite chili recipe? Share and I'll make it (and probably write about it!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I don't care how hot it is, I wanted comfort food

There are dishes I put away at the end of each winter, but inevitably desire halfway through summer, no matter how hot the temperature.

I made one of those dishes this week. Chicken and dumplings are the ultimate comfort food, and they can be a quick and dirty dish for a busy working family. I am a person who is never afraid of taking a shortcut when I have the opportunity. Chicken and dumplings are RIPE for shortcuts.

For this dish, I melt butter in a stock pot with sliced carrots (SHORTCUT ALERT: BUY PRE-SLICED), chopped onions, celery and garlic. Cook the vegetables covered until the onions are translucent and the carrots and celery have very little bite left. Add four to five tablespoons of flour to the vegetables.

Add shredded chicken (SHORTCUT ALERT: BUY A ROTISSERIE CHICKEN AND SHRED BOTH DARK AND WHITE MEAT) and canned chicken stock. I usually add a large box or can of chicken stock.  Bring to a boil. The stock will thicken from the flour on the vegetables. After you add the stock and meat, mix in minced garlic, rosemary, sage, black pepper, a touch of salt, chopped parsley and thyme.

While the chicken and stock is heating up, it's time to make the dumplings. THIS IS A HUGE SHORTCUT ALERT: Instead of making dumplings, buy Grand's buttermilk biscuits (homestyle, not flaky) and quarter them. If you like a smaller dumpling, cut them into sixths or slice them. Either way, this is a huge shortcut and it tastes the same.

If you want your broth thicker (more like a gravy), mix your biscuit dumplings into flour. It will allow the broth to thicken even more.

The result: The ultimate comfort food. The depth of flavor that comes from the garlic and other herbs mixed with incredibly flavorful rotisserie chicken and vegetables is just warming. It really feels like a cold winter day (especially if you keep your home at 68 like we usually do!)

Enjoy this delicious dish, and don't forget to pin it if you love it!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Crafting a great photo

It's been awhile since I had my last family photo session, but today, I remembered how much I LOVE taking great family photos.

I'm spending much of my day packing for my first week in KC, but I had to get a quick start on editing photos of the Kowalski family. I've known Keith for about three years and taking their family photos was so much fun. I don't have much to say about crafting a great photo because I'm really of the belief that those being photographed really make the photo. All I do is push a button to capture the image.

So I'll leave you with a sneak peak of the Kowalski family photos.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Forget diamonds. Weddings are this girl's best friend.

Today, we got an invitation to a wedding for Rob's cousin TJ and his fiance Stacy. We love TJ and Stacy, even if I spent a couple of years of my life getting 3 a.m. drunk phone calls from TJ, so I was super excited to get their invitation.

I love weddings. I love the idea of starting a new life with someone and the circle of starting the day single and ending with your life partner. I'm a pretty optimistic person about the future, so weddings are a great day for me whether I am doing the wedding photography or am a part of the wedding, or just there to see two of my friends or family members share their life with one another.

The days are great. I'm probably one of the few photographers on Earth who truly enjoys shooting a wedding. I don't find brides overwhelming. I go in with my research done on specific shots needed and I am relaxed because I know what I'm doing.

To be fair, I have had some easy brides. Britt and Kevin held their wedding in the country in a barn setting.

The shots were fun and easy to get.


And who can resist a bride wearing pink cowgirl boots for her wedding!

Getting TJ and Stacy's invitation was especially exciting because it was a great wedding invitation. 

First, the options for RSVP were phenomenal. If you can't see them behind the ribbon, they are as follows:
Enthusiastically Accept
Regretfully Decline
Regretfully Accept
Enthusiastically Decline
You Aren't Married Yet?!?

TJ and Stacy have been engaged for a long time. They may have even been engaged at my wedding five years ago, but I can't remember specifically when they formally got engaged. 

I really enjoy a well-designed wedding invitation. I think I must have been a wedding planner in a past life. My love for wedding photography, being a part of a wedding and designing wedding invitations is too strong to not have ties to that business. 

When I got married, I spent a few weeks teaching myself Adobe Photoshop and InDesign to design my own wedding invitations. This was the design we ended with:


When printed, the flower and LOVE were printed on the wedding paper and the invitation wording was on an overlay. I had so much fun designing these invitations and went through several redesigns before we settled on this one.

Then, when Alex turned one, we initially planned a great party at a local park and I designed that invitation as well. We eventually moved the party and made it fairly small, but this is the invitation I designed for that:


Designing invitations is something I enjoy and it's fairly easy for me. Anyone interested in an invitation design can email me at stefaniebrookephotography@gmail.com

You can go to Stefanie Brooke Photography on Facebook for more photos of Britt and Kevin's wedding. It really was a beautiful setting and a great day. They're a great couple.

And don't forget to follow me on Pinterest! You can click here, or the follow me button on the right side of the screen. I love finding great wedding ideas on many of your Pinterest pages. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A great product!

A few days ago, I detailed my experiences with a product that really didn't work as advertised. Today, I have a very different tale to tell.

A few weeks ago, I sent my husband into Walgreens to get dish soap. We were running low, and I really hate running out of it, so he had to buy some before ours was gone.

He came out with some weird brand of soap. I gave him a hard time and wasn't mad because he didn't know better, but there are two items in my house I won't skimp on -- dish soap and laundry detergent.

I am an avid user of Tide for my laundry detergent and Dawn for my dish soap. Now, I'm not dedicated to any particular products of each brand, but those are my brands. I know they cost more, so I try to find sales when I'm running low, or clip coupons.

So when he came out of the store with the off-brand dish soap, I cringed. I vowed to use it, but I wasn't happy about it.

Today, I finally ran out of that off-brand soap! I picked up the best product for dish soap I have ever used -- Dawn Power Clean.

This stuff advertises itself as overnight soaking power in five minutes. It's so true. I made dinner in my 9x13 glass pan (the hardest thing in my kitchen to clean). The meal I made is particularly difficult to clean because it uses butter and brown sugar as the cooking liquid for pork chops (a great recipe!) and it becomes almost a caramel which sticks heavily to the pan. My husband has refused to clean this particular pan if I don't put foil down before I cook my brown sugar and butter pork chops.

So tonight, after I ate, when I was washing the dishes, I tested out the power of the overnight soaking in five minutes. For five minutes, I soaked that pan and when I went to wash it out, it wiped clean immediately.

I am in love with a product.

I think I mentioned a few times in my last post about my love-hate relationship with cleaning -- as in, I love to hate cleaning. This product makes me want to clean more. It makes me want to take every dish I washed over the last few weeks with the off-brand soap and wash them again. I won't, because they're perfectly clean, but that doesn't mean I don't want to keep using Dawn Power Clean over and over again.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pinterest Inspired: Stephanie tested : the best brownies you will ever eat

I did my Pinterest Inspired recipe a day early this week because we were going to my parents for dinner.

I decided to make a brownie with a hidden Reese's peanut butter cup inside and layered on bottom with chocolate chip cookie dough.

This is the base for this brownie. It's pretty easy and cheap to make. You can make your own cookie dough, but I used store bought, pre-measured dough. It made it easy to take one square of dough and push it down. Top it with peanut butter cups (or Oreos, or Rolos or even mini Snickers bars). Then top it with brownie mix. This is basically three desserts in one. 

Cook the mixture per the instructions on the brownie mix. Once I'd added the eggs and oil to the mix and poured it in this 9x13 on top of the cookie dough and Reese's, it took about 35 minutes to cook. Just keep an eye on things. I checked it after 20 minutes, 30 minutes and decided to take it out at 35. 

This is the best brownie you will ever taste. Clearly by the picture above, I can't cut brownies. It really didn't matter that I couldn't cut the brownies into perfectly clean squares. They tasted wonderful. It really was three desserts in one.

I won't try to convince any of you that this is healthy by any means. I don't think it is even possible to make this particular recipe healthy, except if you only eat one tiny square. I cut my brownies into 24 small brownies.

Some tips: You can make these using brownie pans which separate the brownies while baking. I don't have one, but that would make them much prettier. You could also use a muffin tin to make these. If you do, keep a close eye on them while cooking. They should bake much faster.

Again, this is the best brownie you will ever eat, but it is fattening and rich, so I recommend eating in moderation. Until next week: keep pinning those great recipes. I'm always looking for new pins to test.

Product Review: Kaboom with Oxi-Clean

I'm not really the most prolific cleaner in my family. My mom can tell you that on Saturday's, Melissa and I would have dusting and vacuuming duties and I hated it. I just am not a person who enjoys spending my entire day cleaning. I love the outcome at the end, but I hate the process to get there.

So for the last few weeks, while watching Sprout, or Disney, or whatever children's channel is on my television (because that's all we are allowed to watch), I've been seeing commercials for Kaboom oxi-cleaner with this color technology. Sprays on blue, turns white when it's clean! No scrubbing needed! Or so the ad says.

I decided to test out this amazing product to see if it would make cleaning my shower and bathroom counters easier. The ad lies.

Sure, Kaboom sprays on blue and turns white "when clean." It turns white almost instantly and it does not cut through shower scum like it says. I still had to scrub to get water spots off my shower. It doesn't soak into a sponge very well, so when I tried to wipe it off once it was white, I ended up with a soapy mess on my counter. I ended up using a towel to wipe up the soapy mess.

And the product claims to make cleaning your toilet easier, but one would have to drain all the water out of the toilet bowl to test it, since it sprays on like scrubbing bubbles.

All in all, it's better than store brand products I've used in the past, but isn't any better than most brand name bathroom cleaners. Don't buy into the hype. You still have to scrub to get the shower actually clean.