Homemade Beef Stew

Thursday, January 28, 2016

I grew up with beef stew as a food staple. We had it for dinner at least two to three times a month. Mom would make it in a pressure cooker when we got home from school, and we would gather around our round kitchen table while watching the six o'clock news and Wheel of Fortune. It was always served with cornbread. And it was always delicious.

When I moved out on my own, I knew I needed my very own pressure cooker. It was one of my must have kitchen items. But, for some reason when I mention cooking with a pressure cooker I always get questioning looks. Most tell me they are scared to use one. I guess growing up in a family that used it weekly to cook either beef stew, peas, butterbeans, or other things... it doesn't scare me at all.

There are books that are devoted to cooking with your pressure cooker. While I don't own one of those, we've gotten our money's worth out of every single one we've owned. (And yes, that means I've owned more than one.)

Since the weather has been a little on the chilly side here lately, I've been craving stews and soups. And thankfully, my family loves this stew just like I do. And, it's so easy to make.

What you'll need:
• a package of thawed stew meat
• 2 beef bouillon cubes
• 4-5 medium potatoes
• 4-5 carrots

Add the stew meat to the pressure cooker with the two beef bouillon cubes. Cover with cold water. I go ahead and add enough water to the pot where it is at least half way full. Place on the stove on high heat. Once it starts pressuring, cook for twenty-two minutes. While this is cooking, go ahead and peel your potatoes and carrots. Cut into medium chunks. You'll have about 10-12 cubes from each potato and 8-10 chunks off each carrot.

Once the meat has cooked, you'll let the cooker release the pressure and add the vegetables. Put the cooker back on the stove and once it has pressured, cook for another twenty-two minutes. The flavors from pressure cooking, well, there's nothing like it!!

And that's it! We serve this with Plain Chicken's southern cornbread.

What's your favorite dish to cook in your pressure cooker?

Blackjack Wax Co. {G I V E A W A Y}

Monday, January 25, 2016

Remember when you were about to move into your first place? You dreamed about what your first place would look like. And, if you are a female, you dreamed about what your home would smell like.

I have a love for candles. And, there have been countless number of candles burned in all the places I have lived. Some of them have been misses, but once you find one that is your perfect scent... you'll go to the ends of the earth to always have one burning in your home. Once we got married, it was key to find a scent that he and I both enjoyed. And I'll be honest, he hasn't really loved a candle that I've burned. That is until I started burning a Blackjack Wax Co. candle. And now that we've started burning these hand poured soy candles, we will never go back to anything else.

Most of you know we are from a small town in Mississippi. And even though we aren't living there anymore, we still keep up with our friends back home. I met Courtney when my brother was a senior in high school. And Patrick's dad and my dad worked together for many years. These two married a few years ago and their partnership was a match made in heaven.

If Courtney could be described in one word it would be, talented. Everything I've ever seen with her hands in it has turned into art. And she's had her hand in candle making since she was a little girl, and it's grown into this amazing artisan candle company today.

Their focus is creating high quality, small batch soy candles. Courtney and Patrick hand-pour each of their candles in batches of ten or less, in a studio in Mississippi. These candles are made using American grown soy wax, all natural cotton wicks, fine fragrance oils and pure essential oils. The packaging is a simple amber apothecary jar, and after careful inspection, their candles are finished with a kraft tag, that's their seal of approval.

Here is a sample of some of the candles they offer on their website. You can also purchase their candles on etsy.com. And, some boutiques are lucky enough to carry these in house for purchase.

These candles make the perfect "happy" for someone in your life. And, one lucky winner will receive their very own Blackjack Wax Co. by entering to win below! The giveaway ends Friday, January 29th at noon. Good Luck to all, and a big thanks to Courtney and Patrick for sponsoring this giveaway!!

Toddler Approved Baked Ziti

Thursday, January 21, 2016

We have a confession. We don't like restaurant Italian food. You won't find us dining at Olive Garden, or any other "Italian" restaurant. Maybe it's because we prefer our American Italian food that we prepare at home over anything we've ever ordered at a restaurant.

This baked ziti recipe is one that we make about twice a month. And it makes a ton. It also happens to be our twenty-two month old's favorite food. Yes, she will eat this over chicken nuggets, french fries and pizza any day! She even helps me prepare it. It's quick and easy to make, and always a crowd pleaser!

What you'll need...

• one box of ziti pasta (one pound)
• one pound of lean ground beef
• one 45 ounce jar of spaghetti sauce (we use Prego traditional)
• one and a half cups of sour cream
• one bag of mozzarella cheese (4 cups)
• ten to twelve slices of provolone cheese


Preheat over to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with a non stick spray.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add ziti pasta and cook until al dente; about ten minutes. Drain the noodles. In a large skillet, brown ground beef over medium to high heat. Drain and add spaghetti sauce. Simmer for fifteen minutes.

Layer as follows: 1/2 ziti, provolone cheese, sour cream, 1/2 the meat sauce mixture, remaining ziti, mozzarella cheese and the remaining meat sauce mixture.

Bake for thirty minutes in the preheated oven.

It takes fifteen to twenty minutes to prepare, and thirty minutes to bake. And it's easy enough to make on a week night. I've made homemade lasagna, homemade spaghetti and other American Italian dishes, but this one is my family's favorite. Give it a try and let me know what you think. It's also our go to meal to deliver to friends during sickness, or after the birth of a baby!


Sowell Life Photography {Fall Family Sessions}

Monday, January 18, 2016

One of my favorite times of the year for family photo shoots is in the fall. Mainly because I know all those sweet families are going to use one or more of those photos for their Christmas cards. (And we usually get one in the mail, too!)

I always wait until after the holiday season before I share my favorites from their sessions. That way I don't give away a surprise gift or share their Christmas card photo(s) before they have a chance to send them out.

Here are some of my favorites from the fall family sessions this past year. And thank you for allowing me to capture your sweet families from behind my lens!

If you or someone you know is interested in having a session with me, just send me an email @ joyhsowell@me.com! I'd love to work with you to create memories to last a lifetime.

Sweet Heat Marinade for Grilled Chicken

Friday, January 15, 2016

In the South you really only have two seasons... HOT and cool. Other regions call it Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. So you'll find that most southerners grill year round. Fortunately for us, our grill is just off our kitchen on our screened in deck. Even if it is around the freezing degree mark, it's still comfortable to grill.

One of our favorite things to grill during the week is chicken. If we have any for leftovers, we make salads or chicken sandwiches. And there are so many different fun and easy marinades for chicken; some of our favorites can be found over at Plain Chicken.

Our go to, and ultimate favorite, is this sweet heat marinade concoction that we made back when we were dating. My dad always marinades his chicken in Italian dressing, but I love the taste of BBQ sauce mixed with it. And while those two are delicious together. Adding a few more key ingredients takes this simple marinade to a whole new level. It's sweet and has just the right about of heat. There won't be a bite left on your plate, I promise!

Something that is important to know is I'm not what you would call a food blogger and here's why — I don't measure anything. That is unless I'm following someone else's recipe. And even then I eye ball it and will add more or less for what it calls for. A little extra cheese or sour cream never hurt anyone. Ha! So when I posted this video on my social media and people started asking for the recipe, I just told them what you see is the recipe... I didn't measure anything.

Thankfully Stephanie over at Plain Chicken knows how I am in the kitchen. And she's planning on making this marinade this weekend. (Hopefully she will have a post up soon with detailed measurements for you!) But, until she does... here is how I make my sweet heat marinade.

This is for 2-3 large chicken breasts...
• equal parts of Italian dressing and your favorite BBQ sauce (about a cup each)
• about a 1/4 cup of light brown sugar
• about a tablespoon of chili powder
• about a tablespoon of red pepper flakes

I pour half to three fourths of the mixture over the chicken breasts and let them soak about an hour to two hours before grilling in a ziplock bag. Once the grill is ready and the chicken is on, Terry uses the rest of the marinade in the bowl to coat the chicken while he is grilling.

Serve with your favorite side(s)... we usually have loaded mashed potatoes and cajun green beans. This time we had homemade mac and cheese!

I promise you this, you can't really mess up this marinade. If you want more heat, add more red pepper flakes. If you want more sweet, add more brown sugar. The possibilities are endless!

Happy grilling, y'all!!

I do it mama...

Monday, January 11, 2016

She's almost two. TWO! I wish she was still a little baby sometimes, but I'm loving the stage she is at! (Except when she says, "no" to every. single. thing.)

Let's be honest here, we've been really slow at letting her have the reigns with utensils. We aren't super freaks who break out the steamer every time something falls on the floor, but the thought of mashed potatoes flying through the air scares us sometimes. So if she can't eat it with her hands, one of us has fed her with a real fork or spoon. Here lately she's been saying "i do it mama?" We decided it was time to start letting her do it herself, with somethings. Soup, that isn't one of them. However, chocolate pudding was put to the test yesterday. And surprisingly she did great! I'd go out on a limb and say ninety percent of it actually ended up in her mouth.

It was obvious she was enjoying it... from the mmmms coming from her mouth and from all the evidence on her face! But seeing her throw her head back and enjoy being a big girl made it all worth while!! She's growing up, y'all!

Semi-Homemade Donut Holes

Friday, January 8, 2016

Avery loves donuts. Honestly, everyone in our house that eats solid foods loves donuts. And we're certain that Lenny P will love them just as much in a few months, too.

Sometimes something as simply as leaving the house to grab breakfast can be a huge undertaking. With two kids under two, it takes an act of congress to get out the door. So when we are tired of granola bars, waffles and pancakes — donuts are the next best thing!!

A friend of mine, Ashley, is having a ball themed birthday party for her youngest son. He and Avery are buddies and are in the same class at MDO. She mentioned having donut holes tomorrow for his party and I volunteered to make them for her. I used to help make them on Easter morning at church for the big community Easter breakfast. Only we just tossed them in powdered sugar instead of glazing them. Now, it's been awhile so I knew I'd have to practice so we made a batch this morning. Of course, before I started on them I conversed with Plain Chicken via text to make sure I had my thoughts in order. I'd never made them with a glaze so she gave me some pointers on how to make them perfectly.

What you'll need...

Heat your fryer to 350 degrees. Cut each of the eight biscuits into four equal parts. Roll them into balls and put them into the fryer individually. After about one minute, flip the balls over to let the other side cook and turn golden brown. Remove and let them drain on a paper towel.

In a bowl add powered sugar, a dash of vanilla and just enough milk to wet the mixture. The amount of powered sugar is completely up to you. Your desired consistency of the glaze will determine the amount of milk you'll use. After I added the milk, I added a lot more of the sugar to make it thicker. I quickly saw that I wanted the mixture to be thick so it coated the donut hole and didn't run.

And there you have it... semi-homemade donut holes! All together it took around fifteen minutes to make.

Showering with an almost two year old...

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

When Avery was a baby, we would give her a bath in her own little tub over the sink. Once she got old enough, and big enough, we decided to let her start taking baths in our soaker tub. At this point I was late in my pregnancy with Lenley and my bump was massive. It was a two team person to give her a bath. And it was fun watching her play with all her toys and splash in the water.

Then Lenley was born. We had an extra body to wash, lotion, and cloth every night before we could get in the bed. Baths started at 7:30 and ended sometime after 9, because I had to shower too. Ever since Avery could walk, she would come running in our bathroom and watch me shower through our glass door. She'd run back and forth out of the room playing with me, and it was cute.

One night Terry mentioned to Avery jokingly (or at least I think he was joking) that she should just shower with mommy. He said, "would you like to go shower with mommy?" And she said, YES! There is no way she would actually go through with it, right? WRONG... she hopped right in! Ummm, okay, it's all fun and games until it becomes a reality...

Showering with an almost two year old goes something like this...

• turn the shower on to let the water warm up
• undress yourself, undress baby doll, and then undress toddler (never undress the toddler first, because "clean up on isle four" will be needed)
• hand toddler her wash rag and make sure naked baby doll is in her hand
• you get in first to make sure the water temp is just right, then enters toddler with her hands full
• get toddler, naked baby doll and all their accessories in order on the bench so playtime can commence
• grab shampoo bottle and lather your hair while repeatedly saying, "just a minute"
• grab McDonalds happy meal bucket from Halloween and fill it with water because she's been hitting you with it asking for "waaaaa" since you put shampoo in your hands
• grab razor to shave under your arms, and laugh sarcastically because toddler has just dumped all that water on top of her head and you know you'll have to refill it before you can shave under the next arm
• refill bucket for the third time
• stop and show toddler the top off the shaving cream can scoop out water (yep, that will keep her busy for awhile)
• squirt out some conditioner and rub all over your hair only to pull your hands out to wash them off and realize you're still loosing all that extra pregnancy hair (seriously, I could have made two wigs by now)
• grab the shaving cream and rub all over the right leg, reach for the razor and stop because toddler wants "waaaaa" in the little top off the shaving cream from the shower head
• fill the top with water and hand to toddler and she dumps it into the bucket, turns and wants you to REfill it
• get a few passes with the razor and realize you're gonna be in there all night if she keeps asking for more water
• squirt her foaming body wash on the tile in the shower and tell her to make hand prints
• quickly finish shaving both legs hoping and praying for no nicks
• grab toddlers shampoo and lather all over her head
• grab toddlers body wash and loofa and scrub her down
• grab your loofa and apply the good smelling stuff in hopes that the husband might notice, and hear a shrill from your toddler who now has shampoo in her eyes
• put her on your hip while consoling her and get all the shampoo and body wash off (all while telling her if she would have let you wash it off right after you applied it, it wouldn't have gotten in her eyes... but at the time she was saying "NO")
• grab your loofa again and scrub away the spit up and stickiness of the day, then rinse the smell good off
• grab toddler and turn the shower off
• open shower door and realize you never rinsed the conditioner our of your hair
• turn the shower back on and tell her to wait just a minute while you finish
• turn the shower back off and wrap her in her hooded towel
• open the bathroom door and tell her to go find her daddy
• find yourself a towel and dry off

45 minutes in the shower, and you wonder if you're saving any time by showering together...

Chef Avery's Kitchen Helper

Monday, January 4, 2016

I knew early on when I found out I was pregnant with a baby girl that I would want to teach her some of my favorite things. Little did I know how quickly she'd be learning, and at such an early age.

Avery, whom we refer to as "Chef Avery," is a big helper in the kitchen. It started one afternoon while I was in the kitchen making mashed potatoes. She came in, threw her arms up for me to hold her and said, "help mommy." Seeing how I couldn't hold her and make dinner, I just pulled around one of our island chairs for her to stand in. And every few seconds I was saying, "stay still, don't move, be careful." We worked like this for months. It made me and the husband a nervous wreck, but who can say no to an almost two year old saying in the most sweetest little voice, "help mommy." Rest a sure that someone was always standing beside her to make sure she didn't fall. I always tried to make sure I had all the ingredients that I needed before we started on a recipe so I never had to walk away from her. And if I did, she had no choice but to come with me.

My cousin, Jennifer, tagged me in a photo on Facebook a month or so ago. It was this neat little stool with 2x4s around it so the kid(s) wouldn't fall out that could be used in the kitchen. The picture is from Country Lifestyle. She knew how much my little chef loved to be in the kitchen with me, and when she saw it, she said she had to share! I had no idea that once Terry saw this (we share my Facebook page) that he was doing research to find one. Then one day after Thanksgiving, he told me that a package would be coming in soon. I asked him what was he up to and he said it's a gift for Avery, and one day Lenley would probably use it too.

Once it came in, he took it to his office to assemble it. I happened to be running by his office the day he put it together and saw it for the first time. It was perfect! I asked him where he got it from and he said he googled "kitchen helper" and ended up ordering this one from Walmart.com.

The next day, we put it to good use. She always wants to help me stir the sugar in the tea while it's making, and this time I could step back and watch her work. This was right before we (actually Mr Coffee Iced Tea Maker, and there should be a whole post on why I love that product) started making the tea. When we bring it in the kitchen, one of us is always with her when she's standing on it. Since we've had it cookies, mashed potatoes, sausage balls, pigs in a blanket, and so much more has been made with her help beside me. We joke that she's probably not going to want to share with her sister when that time comes, and we'll probably have to invest in another one. Honestly, if that has to happen, we will gladly purchase another. It is money well spent. We feel safe with her in it. It's sturdy, and as a HUGE bonus... she can climb in and out by herself. It's easy to clean, because let's be honest, we both can be messy in the kitchen. Ha! When it's not in use, we keep it in our dining room and find her "teaching school" on it next to our command center.

If you have a little helper in the kitchen, the Sowell household highly recommends this one, or any of the other kitchen helpers.

(We were not compensated for this post, nor did we receive this product at a discount or for free.)

Sowell Life Photography — Abby & Drew {Save the Date}

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Abby and Drew are getting married!! That's right, one of my best girlfriends becomes a Mrs in April of this year! Our entire family is so excited. Avery loves her "Abby and Dew" just like her mama, and while I'm not wishing the year away... hurry up April so we can see her in her dress that day!!

Back in October, Abby asked me to take some "save the date" photos for them to use for their Christmas card. We had so much fun at Bonita Lakes in Mdn, Miss on a rather cool (for Mississippi) October afternoon. Thanks Drew for being such a good sport and taking direction so well!

Happy New Year!!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Welcome twenty sixteen, welcome!

We didn't make it to see the ball drop, nor did we see the clock strike twelve. But, we did have a little celebration before bedtime!

We'll be having our traditional black eyed peas (for luck) and fried chicken today. There will be no clothes or dishes washed (so no one is washed out of our lives) and the pantry is full (so we won't go hungry this year). Our green (for wealth) will be in the form of a salad. Hopefully that takes care of all the New Year traditions from years past and years to come!

Happy New Year, y'all!!

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