Easy Balsamic Fig Salad

Balsamic Fig Salad

Balsamic Fig Salad

Here is a simple, healthy salad that everyone will love!

Fresh, easy and pretty enough for company, this Balsamic Fig Salad  can be tossed together in no time.  I like to assemble the greens on individual glass plates and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time.  This pretty salad takes advantage of fresh strawberries and can be easily varied to include other fresh fruits such as diced apples or fresh blueberries for a color explosion on your plate.

I topped the greens and strawberries with the Chocolate Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette from Dove Chocolate Discoveries.  This dressing can be ordered online and shipped right to your door.  I think the chocolate and fig combination is a delightful flavor combination.   You could also top it with bottled Poppy Seed Dressing or another bottled balsamic dressing.  If you want to expand the recipe, add a cheese such as crumbled feta, Gorgonzola, Blue Cheese or crumbled goat cheese.

Balsamic Fig Salad
Prep time
Total time
Recipe type: Salad
  • 1 bag spring mix salad greens
  • fresh strawberries, sliced (or blueberries or diced apples)
  • Chocolate Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette from Dove Chocolate Discoveries OR other bottled Balsamic Dressing OR bottled Poppy Seed Dressing
  1. Arrange the salad greens on a salad plate. Top with sliced fresh strawberries. Drizzle with salad dressing.

Rinse the the lettuce greens in a colander and dry on paper towels before assembling.  You can get creative and vary the fruit, add crumbled cheese or even add toasted nuts to the mix. Just remember that you can assemble this recipe ahead of time and avoid any last minute rush at mealtime.

Balsamic Fig Salad

Sometimes the simple things are the best….and this is a super simple recipe that will round out any meal.



Mexican Ceviche

Mexican Ceviche

Mexican Ceviche

Mexican Ceviche is out of this world!  It is usually served as an appetizer with tortilla chips but I think it would also be lovely served as a main dish salad on lettuce leaves.  I just returned from a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and while I was there, I had the opportunity to take a Mexican Cooking Class.  This is a popular method of “cooking” fish and shellfish in Mexico by marinating it in either lemon or lime juice.  Mexican Ceviche is a very popular appetizer served everywhere in Mexico and it is gaining popularity here as well.  I have to admit that I did not think I would like Ceviche because I have tried Sushi many times and I just don’t like it.  However, Ceviche is totally different both in taste and texture.  It is quick to make, only has a few ingredients and makes a perfect addition to your next party!  Here is how we made it:

Mexican Ceviche
Prep time
Total time
Here is a quick and easy appetizer straight from Cabo San Lucas!
Recipe type: appetizer
Cuisine: Mexican
  • 4 fresh shrimp, cleaned, shelled and de-veined, and finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh tomato
  • ⅛ cup chopped fresh cucumber (peeled)
  • ⅛ cup chopped red onion
  • ⅛ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh chopped jalapeno pepper
  1. Clean, shell and de-vein 4 large shrimp. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Add ¼ cup chopped tomatoes, ⅛ cup peeled and chopped fresh cucumber, ⅛ cup chopped fresh cilantro, ⅛ cup chopped red onion and 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh chopped jalapeno pepper (to taste).
  3. Marinate no longer than 30 minutes.

Villa del Arco Chef in Cabo

Villa del Arco Chef in Cabo

Here is the chef at Villa del Arco preparing for the Mexican Cooking Class.

Vickie and Jodi Weber…..ready for the cooking class

Vickie and Jodi at Cabo Cooking Class 2

Clean, peel and de-vein 4 fresh shrimp.

Cabo Cooking Class 4


Chop the shrimp and place in a bowl.  Sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Cabo Cooking Class 8



Add chopped tomato, chopped peeled cucumber, chopped red onion and chopped fresh cilantro.

Cabo Cooking Class 12

Add chopped jalapeno to taste…

Cabo Cooking Class 13

Mexican Ceviche!

Mexican Ceviche!

Mexican Ceviche!

I would love to serve this as a first course for a dinner party — in martini glasses!

Here is a sampling of some of the other great appetizers we enjoyed on our trip:

Food at Wine Tasting 1 Food at wine Tasting 2


Remember, let’s share great food with our family and friends!  Enjoy! 





Summer Recipes …And The Livin’ Is Easy!


 Summer recipes that are quick and easy help us enjoy sharing great food with our family and friends!

Summer is in full swing and everyone is looking for easy summer recipes!  I can’t wait to share the new recipes I’ve been cooking for the blog and YouTube channel!  The bouquet above is from my flower garden and if you remember last summer, I shared the success secret for garnishing your food creations with fresh flowers…. “Edible Flowers for Garnishing”  Be sure to check out those tips!

Here is a preview of upcoming summer recipes that I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks:

  • Easy 7-Up Biscuits
  • Bananas Foster….It’s a real WOW!
  • Vickie’s Almost Famous Bloomin’ Onion
  • Baby Shower Ideas
  • Crock Pot Overnight Oatmeal
  • Easy Skillet Green Beans
  • Flower Petal Ice Cubes
  • Summertime Lemonade……Plus more!!!!

Many of you have probably been wondering why I have not been posting recipes lately.  Well, when my youngest daughter, Kacy, left home to do an internship in Cancun , I decided that I needed to:

1) Get a job and

2) Be around teenagers

I checked the job board and there was a teaching position open in my immediate area.  I applied for the position…and they hired me. I thought I would be able to blog and teach….but my first year back in the teaching arena proved to be a FULL TIME job!  I loved every minute of it and I can’t wait for school to start again in the fall and now I think it will be possible for me to keep up with my classroom work, blogging and my YouTube channel.  I must say, I have missed my Make Life Special work.

So…on with Make Life Special!  Let’s continue our journey …let’s enjoy some easy summer recipes and  share great food with our family and friends!

Summer Bouquet 2





The Juice Lady’s Big Book of Juices

The Juice Lady’s Big Book of Juices and Green Smoothies

By: Cherie Calbom, MS, CN

 Big Book of Juices and Green Smoothies

Gift Guide Age Recommendation:­  13+



A few years ago I tried juicing.  I loved it!  But, my juicer didn’t make it through one of our many moves and I let my new juicer linger in my Amazon Wish List for far too long.  Reading thru The Juice Lady’s Big Book of Juices & Green Smoothies was a great reminder to purchase my new juicer and re-enter the world of juicing.  As a novice juicer, this book discussed all the things I needed to know; how juicing is beneficial, the nutritional perks to juicing, how to store homemade juice, how much homemade juice costs (less than a latte), and pages upon pages of recipes are all contained in this fantastic book.

Green Pina Colada

I sampled Calbom’s Green Pina Colada Smoothie.    I was skeptical that it would taste anything like a Pina Colada.  Yes, it contained coconut, banana and pineapple.  But, it also contained spinach.  I drank spinach! And, it was delicious!  Had someone just rattled off the list of ingredients, I doubt this recipe would have worked.  Calbom is very precise in how much of each ingredient to use (this recipe, for instance, called for 6 ice cubes) and her little tidbits of information placed throughout the book really make it one to read and not just skim thru.


Who would like this gift?


This is a great book for the health conscious, the friend or family member who owns a juicer, that friend who always talks about needing to remove toxins from their bodies, or someone looking to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables.  For those looking to give a bigger gift, I would recommend this book be given with a new juicer.


Where to Buy


For $13.60 you can purchase this cookbook at Amazon.


For More Information

You can visit The Juice Lady’s Website.


Reviewed by: Nicole


Note:  News & Experts graciously supplied me with a copy of The Juice Lady’s Big Book of Juices & Green Smoothies  for review.  No other compensation was received.  The review in this post is honest and my own.

What Are You Doing for Lunch?

What Are You Doing for Lunch?

Not Just a Cookbook

A Friendly Guide to Brown Bagging as a Better Way to Lunch

By: Mona Meighan, Ed.D.

What Are You Doing fo Lunch 

Gift Guide Age Recommendation:­  18+



I wish I had this cookbook a few years ago when I was working an 8-4 at a large insurance agency.  I cannot tell you how many salads I ate during my tenure there.  Or, how many times my lunch plans (salad) did not sound appealing and I went out for lunch.


What Are You Doing for Lunch? addresses many aspects of brown bagging it:  Cost, Health, and Convenience.  Meighan gives you 8 steps to planning a week of lunches.  If you aren’t quite ready to dive into planning your menu yet, this book also gives you 20 days of Lunches for you to try.


The best part is that no recipe in What Are You Doing for Lunch? takes longer than 20 minutes to prepare.  And, for the budget conscious, no recipe costs more than $5 per serving – many cost a dollar per serving!


I chose to try out What Are You Doing for Lunch? by cooking the Homemade Meatballs.  I was skeptical.  The prep was easy.  The ingredients simple.  And, my husband is picky.  I decided to kick it up a notch and toss the meatballs in a homemade marinara.

Lunch Meatballs Cooking

Then, I decided to recreate one of my favorite dining out lunches.  I turned them into a meatball sandwich with provolone cheese and a side of potato chips.

Lunch Meatball Sandwich

It was delicious.  We had enough meatballs for 2 adults and 1 child.  My son decided to eat his without the bun.

Lunch Meatballs for Kids

And, there were enough leftovers to feed 2 more adults and 1 child.  Basically, it was two lunches for a family of 3.  This mama was very happy.


Who would like this gift?


I think this cookbook would be great for the new college graduate, the cubicle worker, office temp, budget conscious executive, or homemakers who need some new ideas for ways to jazz up their lunches.


Where to Buy

For $13.46  you can purchase this cookbook at Amazon.


For More Information

You can visit Cherie Kimmons’ Website .


Reviewed by: Nicole

 Note:  News & Experts graciously supplied me with a copy of What Are You Doing for Lunch?  for review.  No other compensation was received.  The review in this post is honest and my own.

Vickies Quick Marinara Sauce Recipe

Vickie's Quick Marinara Sauce Recipe

Vickie’s Quick Marinara Sauce Recipe

You won’t ever buy the canned marinara sauce again after you taste my Quick Marinara Sauce recipe!  This recipe is easy to make and only has five ingredients.  Like all of my Make Life Special recipes, this will have you in and out of the kitchen in no time!

Marinara sauce is a traditional Italian tomato sauce recipe that is usually made with olive oil, garlic and of course,  tomatoes.  My recipe uses the convenience of canned crushed tomatoes and it is delicious.  I add a handful of fresh minced basil right before serving to add a wonderful burst of fresh flavor!  

Marinara sauce is great on pasta, pizza, fish or meat.  I served it with my One Pot Pasta shown above.  You could also use this in my Baked Goat Cheese Marinara recipe.  

You could easily turn this into a meat sauce by adding browned ground beef or meatballs.  

Vickies Quick Marinara Sauce Recipe
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
You can whip up this marinara sauce in no time!
Recipe type: Sauce
Serves: 4
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, including the liquid
  • handful of minced fresh basil
  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for about 1 minute.
  2. Add the tomato paste and cook and stir for one more minute.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes with the liquid and simmer 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the minced fresh basil right before serving.

Saute Garlic in olive oil Add Tomato Paste 

 Add crushed tomatoes Add Fresh Basil at the end

 This marinara sauce can be stored up to a week in the refrigerator and up to 6 months in the freezer.  

I like this recipe because you can make this sauce while your pasta is boiling and have dinner on the table in no time.

Ready to Serve


Vickie's Quick Marinara Sauce Served Over One Pot Pasta

Vickie’s Quick Marinara Sauce Served Over One Pot Pasta

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

Potato Smashers for Easy Potato Recipes

Looking for some easy potato recipes?

Potato Smashers are like Potato Skins, covered with crisp bacon and sharp cheddar cheese…but on a grander scale!  You can make these in about 15 minutes and your family and friends will rave!

Print the recipe here:

Potato Smashers
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Side Dish
Serves: 4
  • 8 small new red potatoes, about 2 inches in diameter
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 tablespoons Zesty Italian Salad Dressing
  • ½ to 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  1. Place potatoes and water in 2 quart microwavable bowl. Microwave, uncovered, om HIGH for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Let stand a couple of minutes to cool slightly.
  2. Meanwhile, cook bacon in large skillet 8 minutes or so..until crisp, turning frequently. Drain on paper towels, leaving the grease in the skillet.
  3. Drain the potatoes, press each potato with the bottom of a small bowl or saucer to flatten to ½ inch thickness.
  4. Heat Italian dressing in the skillet with the bacon grease. Add potatoes; cook 4 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown.
  5. Meanwhile, crumble bacon. Turn the potatoes over; sprinkle with the cheese and bacon.
  6. Cover skillet with lid and cook an additional 2 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Potato Smashers Ingredients 

Place potatoes and water in 2 quart microwavable dish.  Microwave, uncovered on HIGH for 10 minutes…

Microwave Potatoes

Cook the bacon…and save the grease!  You are going to brown the cooked potatoes in that grease in a few minutes!

Cook Bacon


Drain the potatoes and “smash” each one with the bottom of a small bowl or saucer..

Smash Potatoes


Heat the dressing in a large skillet with the bacon grease..add the potatoes. 

Add Italian Dressing to Potato Smashers


Use kitchen scissors to crumble the crisp bacon.

Crumble Bacon with Kitchen Scissors


Cook the potatoes 4  minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown.  Turn the potatoes over.

Flip Potato Smashers


Top with bacon and cheese.

Top Potato Smashers with Bacon and cheddar Cheese



Potato Smashers

This is one of my favorite potato recipes!

Video: Potato Smashers

Potato Smashers are loaded with bacon and cheddar cheese.

You Have To Make These Little Cheese Bread Bites!

Little Cheese Bread Bites are hard to resist!

I always make a double batch of Little Cheese Bread Bites because 10 of these is just not enough at our house!  These are great as an appetizer or to serve with soup or a salad.  Watch the Make Life Special YouTube video and see just how easy these are to make!  


Little Cheese Bread  Bites are great to serve as a appetizer or with your meal. Only 3 main ingredients…what could be easier?  Enjoy!

Little Cheesy Bites
Recipe type: appetizer, bread
  • 5 oz jar Old English Cheese Spread
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • ½ cup flour
  • dash of salt (optional)
  1. Combine the cheese spread and melted butter in a bowl and mix well.
  2. Add flour and a dash of salt. Mix well.
  3. Roll into small balls and refrigerate for one hour or longer.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place balls on a greased baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes. Balls will flatten as they cook. Serve hot.
  6. Makes about 10 Little Cheesy Bites.


Note:  The Kraft Old English Cheese Spread is found in the pasta section or the deli section of your grocery.

Here is another Make Life Special Cheese Bread recipe that is a rustic bread.  Easy Cheese Bread 



Moroccan Lamb Chops AKA My Rockin’ Lamb Chops

Moroccan Lamb Chops Pinterest

Lamb Chops are absolutely delicious!  These are so easy to make –marinated for 15 minutes and then grilled to perfection!  They are melt-in-your-mouth good!

Moroccan Lamb Chops AKA My Rockin' Lamb Chops
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Meat - Other
  1. Let lamb chops set out about 15 minutes. Then drizzle lightly with the Moroccan Olive Oil and the Bergamot Lemon Balsamic Vinegar.
  2. Brush to evenly distribute. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.
  3. Grill 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Watch closely because the olive oil may cause the grill to flame.

Here are the stars of this recipe…..only 3 main ingredients!

Moroccan Lamb Chops Ingredients

Now, about the Moroccan Olive Oil and  Bergamot Lemon Balsamic Vinegar….I always try to use ingredients that are readily available.  These two ingredients are so great, I had to use them.  I get them from The Olive Oil Marketplace which is located in Alton, Il – about 30 miles from here.  If you don’t have an olive oil market close by, you can order these online.  I’m going to be doing a big feature on this shop after the first of the year.  The owners of  the store LOVE to cook!   So watch for some delicious  recipes to come from this joint effort!

Moroccan Lamb Chops Olice Oil and Balsamic Vinegar


And about the lamb chops….I just called my local butcher and they got them for me.  While they don’t carry them in the case, they can usually order them and have them in 24 hours.


Drizzle with the Moroccan Olive Oil and Bergamot Lemon Balsamic Vinegar.   

Moroccan lamb Chops Drizzle w Balsamic Vinegar


Moroccan Lamb Chops - Salt, Pepper & Brush


Let the lamb chops marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.  Grill for 5 minutes on each side.  

Serving Idea


Moroccan Lamb Chops Tablescape 


Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant recipes were on my list of foods I dislike until I took my first bite of Eggplant Parmesan.  Let me just say, it was heavenly!  I think the eggplant has been misunderstood for a long time.  I had never even tried eggplant and for some reason I just knew that I would not like it.  Eggplant Parmesan changed my mind!  It is phenomenal!  The breaded slices of eggplant are baked and then layered with lots of cheese and a  delicious marinara sauce and it is really awesome!  I savored every last bite of this wonderful meal!

Velvet Palate requested I prepare my Eggplant Parmesan for a wine pairing and I’ll share that food and wine pairing with you next week.  That being said, I have to say that this recipe is not my typical “Make Life Special” recipe.  It definitely takes some time to prepare this dish, so it’s better to plan on this for a week-end meal.  However, every step of the recipe is very easy and it’s also fun to make.

Eggplant Parmesan can be served as an elegant first course or as the main entree.  If you serve it as an entree, I would suggest adding a pasta ( topped with the sauce that you put on the Eggplant Parmesan ), a green tossed salad, hot toasty garlic bread and a great glass of wine.

Eggplant Parmesan
Serves: 3 to 4
  • 1 lb globe eggplant, cut into ¼ inch rounds
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
  • 6 slices of high-quality white bread ( I used Oatmeal Bread) processed in a food processor to equal 3 cups of breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1½ cans ( 14.5 oz size ) diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, cut into thin strips
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 to 1½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil, thinly sliced ( for garnish)
  1. Toss the eggplant slices with the kosher salt in a colander and set it over a small bowl to drain for 45 minutes. It should release about 1 tablespoon of liquid. Don't skip this step -- it helps the Eggplant Parmesan stay crispy and not soggy.
  2. Spread the eggplant slices between several strips of paper towels and press firmly to remove as much water as possible.
  3. Place a rimmed baking sheet in a 425 degree oven to heat until ready to bake the breaded eggplant slices.
  4. Place the 3 cups of homemade breadcrumbs in a bowl and add the 1 cup of Parmesan cheese. Stir to blend.
  5. Beat the eggs in a separate pie plate.
  6. Add the flour and ¼ teaspoon pepper to a large ziplock bag.
  7. Place several of the eggplant slices into the ziplock bag and shake. Remove and dip into the beaten egg. Coat evenly in the breadcrumb mixture and place the breaded eggplant slices on a wire rack. Repeat until you have coated all of the eggplant slices.
  8. Remove the preheated baking sheet from the oven an add the oil to the pan. Tilt to coat evenly. Place the breaded eggplant slices on the baking sheet in a single layer and bake about 15 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake another 10 to 15 minutes - but don't over brown.
  9. While the eggplant is baking, prepare the tomato sauce. Process half of the diced tomatoes ( with the liquid) in a food processor until smooth. Heat the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a medium saucepan, stirring for about 2 minutes. Add the processed tomatoes and the rest of the unprocessed tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  10. To assemble the dish, spray a 2 quart casserole dish with cooking spray and spread 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the dish.
  11. Layer in half of the eggplant slices, overlapping the slices to fit.
  12. Spread with ½ cup of the sauce.
  13. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella cheese.
  14. Layer in the remaining eggplant and top with the sauce. Try to put the sauce around the eggplant and leave the top uncovered as much as possible so the eggplant will remain nice and crispy.
  15. Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese and grate some more Parmesan cheese on top.
  16. Bake for about 13 minutes or until bubbly.
  17. Cool 10 minutes. Scatter the fresh basil slices on top to garnish.
  18. Enjoy!




Salting and sweating the eggplant slices…..

Drain the eggplant slices on paper towels…..

Making the breadcrumbs…

Adding the cheese to the breadcrumbs….


Shaking the eggplant slices in the flour….


Dip in the beaten egg….


Coat with the breadcrumb and cheese mixture…


Lay breaded eggplant slices on wire rack until ready to bake…..


Bake the eggplant slices as directed.  While they are baking, prepare the marinara sauce…..


Remove the baked eggplant slices from the oven….


Assemble the dish…….

Bake until bubbly… about 13 minutes.  Let cool about 10 minutes and serve.

Here is the Eggplant Parmesan hot out of the oven…..Yummy!

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



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