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

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.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Loaded chicken recipe

I made one of our favorite meals tonight, and it's a recipe I think everyone deserves to know, taste and enjoy!

If you've ever been to Colton's Steakhouse, one of their best dishes is loaded chicken. This is a remake of that recipe. 

Chicken breasts
Bacon: One slice of bacon per chicken breast
green onions
honey mustard (I make my own, but the store bought stuff works, too)
Your favorite shredded cheese mix

Fry the bacon in a skillet large enough to hold your chicken breasts. If you have to do the chicken in batches, you may need to add a bit of oil in between batches.

While you're frying the bacon, season the chicken with your favorite seasonings. I use Famous Dave's Rib Rub.

Once the bacon is cooked, cook the chicken in the bacon grease until the internal temperature is 165 degrees.

Preheat your broiler.

Chop the green onions and top the chicken with green onions and cheese and put under the broiler until the cheese is melted. Then top with some honey mustard. Since I make my own, I use about two tablespoons. 

This works with almost any side dish. Today, we paired it with zucchini sauteed with some garlic and topped with Italian cheese. 

It's a great meal with minimal cost and big flavors!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Toy storage in the living room

I've been looking for a way to organize my son's toys in the living room for some time. I tried crates and boxes and it just all looked cluttered. Now, I've found the perfect tools to organize his toys, and I'm so excited about it!

We had an old corner tv stand we were using, but our television was just a bit too big for it and we weren't using the corner for the television anymore, so we got a new entertainment center option and decided to use the corner unit for toy organization. We purchased the baskets from Lowe's in the colors we intend to paint the corner entertainment center. It's currently black, but I plan to trim it in a turquoise. 

This is perfect for Alex because his toys are accessible, but easily cleaned up and it gives a table option for him to color or read when he wants. 

 For now, on top of the unit, I have a zoo toy he received for Christmas. He loves this toy and often plays with it right on top of the table.

Unfortunately, this unit only held about half Alex's toys, so I set out to find something stylish for my living room that could also serve as storage for more toys. I found this great piece at Hobby Lobby. The old chest has photos of Europe all over it and will fit will in any room in my home for toys, personal storage, or just as a decoration piece. 

Do you have a rehabbed piece of furniture in your home? How do you keep from having a cluttered living room with a young child?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pinterest Inspired; Stephanie Tested: Banana Bread and slow cooker pork

Today was a great day of testing things found on Pinterest! I have read about greek yogurt bread a couple of times recently, so today, I went to Pinterest to find a great recipe. The recipe I found was amazing. It called for greek yogurt, (I used vanilla, which was perfect because I ran out of vanilla last weekend and forgot to buy more) eggs, flour, sugar, mashed bananas, butter, baking soda and a touch of salt. The recipe called for walnuts, but I don't eat nuts, so I omitted them. I also added cinnamon. The bread turned out great! It was perfectly moist inside while maintaining a crisp crust. The banana flavor was present, but not overwhelming. 

This bread is a great option for someone looking for a no-mixer banana bread. Alex was even able to help me for this one by peeling the bananas. Click the photo to find a link to the original pin. 

Also today, I made a pork roast recipe found on Pinterest a few days ago. This was a honey-parmesan slow cooker pork. I love slow cooker meals because I don't have to do much to have a delicious dinner. The sauce for this pork roast recipe called for soy sauce, honey, garlic, salt, pepper and grated parmesan (very important! I used shredded and it was OK, but it was hard to mix with the shredded and honey sticking together).

Just pour the sauce over the pork and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours. The sauce will mix with the juice from the pork and when the pork is done, the recipe calls for turning the juices into a gravy with cornstarch and water as a thickener. Here's the problem: crock pots have a very distinctive flavor. It's almost metallic and I don't like it. So I didn't love this gravy. I could be crazy. It's a real possibility.

The pork, though, was great. It fell apart when I pulled it out of the crock pot. That's another reason I love slow cooker meals. The meat is SO tender. The flavor on the meat from the honey and parm was great, too. I paired it with diced potatoes and onions, covered and cooked for ten minutes in the microwave and topped with light sour cream. Rob will top it with cheese. It's a go-to side dish in our house because it's easy and flavorful. I also cut up a cantaloupe for some sweetness with dinner.

All in all, it was a great day of testing Pinterest items. Click each picture to go to the original pin and as always, find my pinterest inspired; Stephanie tested pin board here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Black bean burritos

A couple of weeks ago, I spent the evening with my sister and her husband. My sister is one of my dearest friends. She's incredibly motivational and being around her makes me happy. I stayed with her while at a job interview in Kansas City. I hope I get it for a lot of reasons (number one being that I am not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom) but one of them is that my sister motivates me to be a better person and care more about myself. She also leads a great life, which she writes about on A Listful Life. I highly recommend her blog. It's a great read.

While I was there, she made black bean burritos. I had never eaten black beans before, but this is a staple in my sister's house, and I didn't want to be a burden, so I decided to try something new.

They were delicious! She and Chase spent all of lent without eating meat, so she has a better handle on vegetarian dishes than I do. I have been telling Rob I was going to recreate her burritos for a few days, and today I finally did it!

This is the base of her black bean burritos. I added chicken, which I seasoned with McCormick's Quesadilla Casserole pre-measured seasoning. The recipe is super easy. 

(1) red pepper
(1) green pepper
(1) jalepeno
black beans (I used low sodium canned, but she uses freshly soaked beans. Either will work)
chicken breasts (I had a huge chicken breast that I butterflied and cut through to make 2 cutlets. It was plenty)
Minute Rice - (I cooked two dry cups with about 1.75 cups of water which turned out perfect)
McCorkmick Quesadilla Casserole pre-measured seasoning packet
cream cheese (use this to your desire. My sister used about 4 tablespoons. I used the entire brick because I added the chicken and rice and doubled the veggies.)
Burrito size tortillas
Mexican Cheese (if desired) 
Sour Cream (if desired)

Use olive oil to cook your chicken, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder and the seasoning packet. Reserve leftover seasoning to add to the veggies
Once the chicken is cooked to 165 degrees, remove it from the pan and let it rest while you start to cook the two peppers, jalepeno and black beans.
At this point, you should also be cooking your rice. If you are using leftover rice, don't worry about heating it up. Once it's finished, add it to the pan of black beans and veggies.
Slice the chicken in thin slices and add it to the pan. Heat everything through. Add your desired amount of cream cheese.
Spread mixture on burritos leaving room around the edges. If you want cheese and sour cream, add those to the middle. Fold your burrito.

At this point, they are ready to eat. I actually like my burrito a little crispy, so I put a little oil in a pan and toasted my cooked burrito so the outside got just barely crispy. If you do this, start with the seam side down and don't overfill your burrito. I learned the hard way tonight.

This was sort of a mix of a recipe I found on Pinterest and my sister's black bean burritos. Either way, it was delicious and definitely will become a staple in my house. It's not that unhealthy and with better (for me) tortillas, it would have been even healthier. One of these burritos comes in around 400 calories and after one, I'm stuffed!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pinterest Inspired; Stephanie Tested -- Homemade donuts and a great marinade

I'm trying something new at home on Sundays. I'm going to make things inspired by Pinterest. It may not always be in the kitchen, but with the great recipes out there, it'll be tough for me to find crafts that interest me as much as the recipes!

This morning, I started my Pinterest Inspired; Stephanie Tested with some homemade donuts.

 These donuts used a few ingredients to make a great breakfast for my husband and me. I laid out these ingredients after I made the donuts, so please forgive a few missing items.

The donuts used vegetable oil (I used an entire container, but probably could have used a little less) and canned biscuits. I don't think it matters if you use buttermilk, southern style or any other style as long as it's not a flaky biscuit.

I started by heating the oil on medium heat. I didn't want it scorching, but the recipe suggested the oil be heated to 375 degrees. I chose not to use my deep fryer, but just a heavy bottomed skillet on my range.

I spread the biscuits out on parchment paper so they wouldn't stick.
 My biggest problem with these amazing donuts was finding something to poke the hole in the middle out. I started with the cap to my cinnamon, but it was too big. I didn't have any bottle caps in the house except for some really small water bottles, and I wanted something more than that. I finally decided on a honey cap.

In the future, I will likely buy a round cookie cutter made specifically for donuts.  While the honey cap worked, it was difficult to cut completely through the biscuit.

 I tested the oil with the donut holes first. They turned out really well, too.

Then I put the biscuits in the oil and cooked them on each side for about two minutes apiece. They came out great!

While they were cooking, I mixed cinnamon and sugar in a bowl and covered the donut holes in the mixture. Then, as each batch of donuts came out, I covered them in cinnamon and sugar, too.


These were a great way to spend the morning with Rob.

And bonus! I tested a marinade found on Pinterest tonight, too.

I mixed two tablespoons of soy sauce, 1/4 cup of EVOO, 1/4 cup of brown sugar and a couple tablespoons of my favorite steak seasoning. Then I put the mixture in a plastic bag and marinated my pork chops. The preparation took about three minutes. I marinated for about three hours and then cooked them in a skillet. I would have rather grilled them, but my grill pan broke a few weeks ago and I haven't replaced it yet.

You can find all my Pinterest Inspired; Stephanie Tested! items by using clicking Follow me on Pinterest on the right side of my blog. You can also click here to find a board specifically dedicated to my tested items.

Let me know if you try any of these items by commenting! And don't forget to share your favorite Pinterest finds by tagging me on your Pinterest posts. You never know, they might show up in my next Pinterest Inspired; Stephanie Tested column.