Let’s Make Chunky Beef Stew in The Crock Pot!

Savory Chunky Beef Stew for a Winter’s Night!

Provencal Beef Stew in Bread Bowl

My Chunky Beef Stew goes together in a snap and your crock pot does the rest of the work!  This stew is full of hearty beef chunks, bacon, potatoes, baby carrots, whole pearl onions and mushrooms and cooks up in a tomato and brown gravy sauce.  This is sure to warm you up on a cold winter day!  

Homemade Bread Bowls!

Here, I’ve served Chunky Beef Stew in my “Homemade” Bread Bowls that are made with frozen bread dough.  Check out that recipe too!

Chunky Beef Stew Recipe:

Chunky Beef Stew in the Crock Pot
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 8
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat
  • 4 bacon slices, cut in 1 inch pieces
  • 2 12 oz jars brown gravy
  • 14.5 oz can diced peeled tomatoes with the juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pound fresh whole baby carrots
  • 8 new red potatoes, quartered
  • 10 oz bag pearl onions OR 2 small onions, cut into eights
  • 8 oz whole fresh mushrooms
  • 1 cup red wine ( optional - but I always add it)
  1. In medium skillet, cook the bacon ( I use kitchen scissors to cut it up quickly) and the beef stew meat until browned. Do not drain.
  2. Combine the beef stew meat, bacon and liquid in the crock pot along with the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.

Ingredients..( The only thing I added was the optional 1 cup of red wine because I really like the depth of flavor the wine adds to this stew)

Provencal Beef Stew Ingredients

Success Secret:  Use kitchen scissors to easily cut the meat into pieces!

Use kitchen scissors to cut the bacon into pieces and then brown the bacon and stew meat in a skillet.

Provencal Beef Stew Cut Bacon with Kitchen Scissors

Add the browned meat along with the liquid from the skillet to a sprayed crock pot and add the remaining ingredients.  Note:  If you are using the pearl onions, boil them separately for about 3 minutes, cut off the ends and the skins should slide right off.  The other option is to use 2 small onions and cut them into eights , however I really like the look of the pearl onions best.

Adding Carrots to Provencal Beef Stew

Adding Tomatoes to Provencal Beef Stew

Adding Beef and Bacon to Provencal Beef Stew

Now just set the crock pot on low and let it simmer away for 8 to 10 hours.  You won’t believe the aroma that will fill your kitchen as this stew cooks!  If you don’t have 8 to 10 hours to let this cook on low…no worries!  You can let it cook on high for 3 hours and then turn it to low for another 3 hours and that will work just fine.  

Here you see the finished beef stew in the crock pot…

Provencal Beef Stew in Crockpot  

I made my EASY “Homemade” Bread Bowls to serve this stew in.   


Try this crock pot recipe too!

Vickie’s Mom’s Sunday Pot Roast Dinner



Remember….Let’s make life special by sharing great food with our family and friends!  Enjoy!

Hickory Farms Features Vickies Baked Potato Bar Ideas

Baked Potato Bar

Looking for some baked potato bar ideas?

I recently posted  baked potato bar ideas and how to bake the perfect baked potato.  You can check out my post here:  Perfect Baked Potatoes and a Baked Potato Bar.  This is an easy way to entertain because your guests help themselves.  The baked potato bar is great any time of year.  It would be perfect at a BBQ on the patio or for a Super Bowl Party as suggested by Hickory Farms.  It is fun to combine different options on the baked potato bar – depending on the season.  Add piping hot chili as a topper in the cold winter months.  Add fresh chopped tomatoes or green onions when the garden is busting with fresh vegetables.  Hickory Farms suggested adding chopped summer sausage as a topper and I like that idea too.   There are really countless options..just use your imagination for creative flavor combinations. 

My recipe for the perfect baked potato is also easy.  You can bake as many potatoes as your oven will hold!  I love to add the sea salt or kosher salt to the outside of the potato skin before baking because it adds a nice salty flavor and some crunch to the potato.   And, potatoes are loaded with nutrition!   


Hickory Farms just featured our Make Life Special Baked Potato Bar ideas in their “Winning Super Bowl Party Foods” post.  In addition to the toppings I suggested, they added their chopped summer sausage — what a great idea!

Check out the Hickory Farms post on Super Bowl Party Foods for some great entertaining ideas:

Hickory Farms Winning Super Bowl Party Foods

Thank you Hickory Farms for the great shout out!

Remember, “Let’s Make Life Special by sharing great food with our family and friends!  Enjoy!”



Zoku Quick Pop Maker Review

Zoku Quick Pop Maker

ZOKU Quick Pop Maker


I have to admit — I am still a kid at heart!  I can’t tell you how I lit up when I received the Zoku Quick Pop Maker to review.  Remember when you were growing up and your Mom would make homemade popsicles ?  I loved those — especially during the summer.  Now, Zoku has taken that idea and made it even better.  With the Zoku Quick Pop Maker, you don’t have to wait forever for the pops to freeze.  You can make frozen pops in about 9 minutes — that’s quick enough to satisfy any kid ( or kid at heart!).

How Does this Work?

The Zoku has a hard-plastic base that is filled with the same kind of liquid that is found in the ice cream makers that you store in the freezer.  When the Zoku is stored in the freezer, that liquid freezes super cold and it will then freeze the pops.  The base has 3 individual wells so you can freeze three pops at a time.  The base stays cold enough to freeze about three batches of pops .  The Zoku comes complete with plastic popsicle sticks and a little tool that helps you remove the frozen pops from the machine ( it’s called a Super Tool ) and it works well.

What I Like About the Zoku Quick Pop Maker

There are several things that I really like about the Zoku Quick Pop Maker.  

  • It is quick and easy to use
  • It is a fun activity to do with your kids or grand kids.  Simple things like this make lasting memories
  • You can make healthy snacks with this by using fruit juice
  • There are endless possibilities of flavors and combinations for your quick pops
  • The Quick Pop maker uses no electricity – just store it in your freezer until you are ready to use it

Where Can You Buy This Fun Item?

Williams Sonoma:    Williams-Sonoma.com  

Bed Bath and Beyond:  BedBathandBeyond.com

Amazon:    Amazon.com


It retails for around $ 49.00.  You can check out additional information at their website:   zokuhome.com  .  They also have a video so you can watch the Zoku Quick Pop Maker in action. 

Zoku Quick Pops



Note:  I received a Zoku Quick Pop Maker to use for this review.  No compensation was received.  The opinions are my honest opinions.

Easy Entertaining Tips From Joan Lunden


Looking for some easy entertaining tips?  Here are Joan Lunden’s tips for success:

Here is the segment from my interview with Joan Lunden about entertaining in your home with ease .  Joan shared lots of great ideas!

Joan:  I love to entertain in my home.

Vickie:  I do too.

Joan:  And everything is at our house.  Everyone’s birthday, every holiday …you name it… it happens at our house.  And part of that is because I love to do it. Also, all of my aunts and my mother-in-law…everybody…they all come in the door and they say, “ I don’t know how you do this!  You WORK!….You’ve got little kids….and  how do you do this!”   “ How do you put together 5 tables for 36 people …they are all decorated! “   I can do this because I anticipate it.  I go out after a holiday when things are on sale … you know…just some Saturday when I don’t have to go to three soccer games.  Ha Ha! I look for those times and I go out and I buy little things .

I’ve got this incredibly organized pantry and I can pull out me little baskets .  If you told me I had to do a party tonight,  and you gave me a theme, I could do it!  But the only reason why I can do it and be so undaunted about it and have it be fun and not streeful is because I anticipate it and I make sure to go out and get all of these little things and I have all of them there and they are all labeled.

And also, if there is a holiday coming up, I’ll prepare my tables at least days in advance. …Sometimes a week or so in advance.  By doing it that way, I can do it when I’m not stressed out… I don’t get that last minute stress.  And, if I’m missing something, it gives me time.

If I have a dinner party on Friday night, I’ll start thinking about it on the weekend before.  And, as I come up to the day of the party, I go into my pantry and I pick out what I need.  If I’m making bread pudding for example, I get all of the ingredients out and see what I don’t have.  Do I want to make a Green Bean Casserole or do I want to make a Broccoli Puff?  Do I want to do Butternut Squash Soup ?  let me make sure I have all of the ingredients… and I’ll put them in little piles.  Again, that give me the chance to go out and get what I need ahead of time and not get caught short at the last minute.

So, I think that planning ahead  is the most important advice that I can give to people.  And, try to continue to make this whole thing fun.

Vickie:  I think you have touched on another important thing.  You know, people will come to my home when we have dinner parties or family events and marvel at my serving pieces or table settings.  But, you know, you don’t have to spend a lot of money.  I have special serving pieces, casserole dishes, etc, that I feature at different times of the year…but I did not spend a lot of money.  If you plan ahead, and you shop  after the holiday is over for next year…it’s not that expensive  to be able to entertain in style if you plan ahead.  That’s really the whole point.

Joan:  You walk into any big box store and you’ll see right after the holidays all the sales of all the Halloween stuff…then all of the Thanksgiving stuff…..and, you know, it’s a good idea to buy it then.  When you come home, go the next step – get a couple of organizer boxes and put it all there.  If its just here, there, and everywhere….its still hard to do.  But when you organize it, it realy does make entertaining  a breeze.  And, you’ll spend a lot more money going out to dinner, I think, than if you put together a dinner in your home.  You’ll never have the same atmosphere as when you get everybody together in your home.  And, if you have kids like me….I think it’s really important to get kids involved in the cooking process.


Part Three – Joan talks about her kids and living an organized life with a busy schedule.

Also, be sure to check out Loan Lunden’s website for lots of healthy living tips and recipes!



Coby Snapp HD Digital Camcorder

Coby Snapp


I have been wishing for a compact camera / camcorder to use for Make Life Special field work.  I was thrilled when I received the Coby Snapp HD Digital  Touchscreen Camcorder for our Holiday Gift Guide review!  This  camera/camcorder is about the size of my cell phone and will fit perfectly into my purse or pocket.  

This camera has a 4 X Digital Zoom, 5 MP, and a 2.7″ swivel LCD touch screen for easy shooting and instant playback.  This compact and portable Coby Cam5005 Snapp HD Touchscreen Camcorder shoots 1280 x 720 p HD video and 640 x 480 VGA video.  Plus, it can capture up to 5-megapixel digital still images with 2592 x 1944 resolution.  

After saying all of that, I like how easy this little camera is to use.  In fact, you might say it is a snap!

Here’s what you get with the Coby CAM5005 :

  • A/V cable
  • USB cable
  • Lithium-ion battery
  • Installation CD
  • Hand strap
  • Pouch

Priced around $ 50.00, this makes a great gift for the holidays!  You can purchase it online at Amazon.com.   

Note:  I received a sample Coby CAM5005 for this review.  No compensation was received.  These are my honest opinions.


Meet Nicole!

Hey there!  I’m Nicole.

I am a Midwestern gal with Southern hospitality and Northeastern artistic sensibilities.

I am a mother to a happy baby boy and wife to my best mate/high school sweetheart.

I love the great outdoors and high heeled shoes.

I love caffeine, but only in the form of coffee or tea.

I am a perfectionist who has a hard time keeping a clean house.

I believe that people do not change, they evolve.

Nicole is my oldest daughter, the mother of my wonderful grandson, Teddy….She is my friend….And I’m so lucky to have her working with me here at Make Life Special.  Vickie

MailPix – Turn your Holiday Images Into Great Memories


Turning Images into Memories


Gift Guide Age Recommendation:­  18+


Review:  By Nicole

            MailPix, the latest web-based photo printing service, has a lot to offer in regards to memory preservation.  Some might call them a one-stop photo shop.  Whether you are looking for photo storage, printing or custom photo gifts, MailPix has you covered.  MailPix keeps their costs low by utilizing the latest web technology integrated with social media.  MailPix allows you to upload photos directly from your computer, Facebook or Instagram.  Best of all, they have a 100% satisfaction guarantee – so, you will have peace of mind knowing that you will get the end product you want. 


I recently received a 20 page 4×6 photo brag book, 3 key chains, 2 ornaments, 6 5×7’s of my son’s 1 year photos, 1 11oz Photo Mug, 1Custom Mouse Pad, 25 Christmas Photo cards, 1 Travel Mug, and 219 4×6 prints.     With all the deals and coupons from their website, the total was less than $100 (plus shipping and handling).  The quality of the items is excellent.  I couldn’t be happier with my haul!  Now, I’ve got a lot of scrap booking ahead of me!  And, several Christmas presents to wrap!

For more information and to view their full catalog, please check out their Website .    You can also find them on Facebook   and Twitter  ! 

Where to Buy


            MailPix.com  ! 



Reviewed by: Nicole


Note:  MailPix graciously supplied me with a credit and free shipping to try out their products.  No other compensation was received.  The review in this post is honest and my own.

Christmas Cookie Contest in a Box: Everything You Need to Host a Christmas Cookie Contest


Gift Guide Age Recommendation:­  18+



            Takes the classic Christmas cookie exchange to a whole new level of friendly competition! Christmas Cookie Contest in a Box has everything you need to host your own contest. 

This kit includes scorecards, judge badges, place cards, and a handbook. The handbook includes recipes along with photos of the cookies and personal stories behind these special cookie recipes. Showcasing  a dozen winning Christmas cookie recipes, along with cookie swap tips from an expert baker, the book has chapters on a brief history of Christmas cookies, how to run the cookie contest, the art of judging a contest, baking tips, and a cookies tunes playlist.

Recipes include Berlinerkranser, Pistachio Butter Cookies, Chai-Spiced Meltaway, Vegan Orange Ginger Cookies, Smile Cookies, Gingersnap Thumbprints with Cranberry-Apricot and Minty Chocolate Rounds.

Christmas Cookie Contest in a Box would make an excellent gift for teachers, Girl Scout leaders, girl’s sports coaches and moms of all ages.  This would also be a good gift for the young ladies in your life who are part of a sorority or club. 

Where to Buy

            This item can be purchased at Amazon!           


Reviewed by: Nicole


Note:  Razonia PR graciously supplied me with one Christmas Cookie Contest in a Box for review.  No other compensation was received.  The review in this post is honest and my own.

*****Contest Closed*****Snazzy Lites Giveaway



Have you ever wanted to add bold bright colors to your hair but you were scared you would damage your hair?  Now there is Snazzy Lites!  They are fun and easy!

Snazzy Lites are  100% human hair extensions so they can be curled, flat ironed or braided like natural hair.  Choose from a variety of colors like fierce fuchsia, rebel red or poetic purple ( 14 hot colors in all).

Snazzy Lites clip-in hair extensions are easy to apply and remove providing instant color without commitment.  These are great for cheerleaders, birthday parties, dance teams, or just to change your look.  Mom’s love Snazzy Lites because they encourage kids’ creativity and individuality – and with all of the pretty colors, you can get some to go with practically any outfit.  

One lucky Make Life Special reader can jazz up their look by winning two (2) Snazzy Lites in this fun giveaway.


To enter the giveaway, just tell us what you would do with these great Snazzy Lites…Would you wear them, give them to your daughter or granddaughter.  Maybe these would be for the cheerleader in your family…Just tell us in your post below.

Giveaway ends Thursday December 13, 2012 8:00 PM CST

Winner Chosen by Random.org

 Good Luck!!

Note:  This giveaway is sponsored by Gorgeous Strandz.  Thank you!







****Contest Closed*****Gingerbread Love Crunch Giveaway!!

Run, run as fast as you can………to enter this giveaway!!  This is a perfect stocking stuffer or holiday breakfast.  Gingerbread Love Crunch is one tasty granola!  The spice flavors are reminiscent of a gingersnap cookie.  You can really taste the molasses, ginger, cinnamon and clove as you devour the bag  one bite at a time.  

To read our full Holiday Gift Guide Review click here:  Gingerbread Love Crunch Review

Gingerbread Love Crunch will giveaway one bag of Gingerbread Love Crunch to three (3) lucky Make Life Special readers.

Giveaway ends Thursday December 13, 2012 at 8:00 PM CST.

Winners will be chosen by Random.org

Check our “Winners” page on Friday December 14, 2012 to see if you are a winner, and then send us an e mail with your name and address.

Good Luck!!!!

It’s easy to enter.  Just tell us how you would enjoy eating Gingerbread Love Crunch.   Just as a snack, over your yogurt, as a breakfast cereal, etc.  Post your comment in the Speak Your Mind Box below and you are goo to go.  Only one entry per person. USA addresses only, please.

Note:  This giveaway is sponsored by Nature’s Path.



Make Life Special
2 Cypress Rd Litchfield, IL 62056 US
Phone: 217-556-8297 Website: http://www.makelifespecial.com