Dark Chocolate Covered Fruit and Nut Balls

TGIF with a mile-long repeat of exclamation marks! It’s been one of those weeks (more on that later), but knowing that tomorrow will be an alarm-less morning has already put a sweet spin on my morning. It’s hard to believe that just last week was Bozic, Christmas for Orthodox Christians, and a few last cookies that I’ll pack in lunches are a pleasant reminder of the warm day my family shared in celebrating of Jesus’s birth, despite the zero temperature and sub zero wind chill. Some new found delights mixed in with longtime family favorites graced my dessert table this year, including these dark chocolate covered fruit and nut balls. The mixture of ground fruit and pecans coated in a generous layer of dark chocolate are bites of indulgence.

dark chocolate covered fruit and nut balls


As I may have mentioned, a 40-day fasting period precedes Christmas and these fruit and nut balls are covered in my favorite brand of vegan dark chocolate – Trader Joe’s. I used a mixture of dried apricots, dried mixed berries and dried cherries with ground pecans. It was delicious but next time I’m going to try using pistachios. Any combination of dried fruit would work so experiment away!

dried fruit and nut balls


Dark Chocolate Covered Fruit and Nut Balls
Serves: 24+
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 1 cup dried mixed berries
  • ½ cup dried cherries
  • ½ water
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  1. In a saucepan, combine dried fruit and water. Heat to boiling.
  2. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, place fruit in a food processor with 2 tablespoons of honey and pulse until a paste forms.
  4. If mixture is too thick, add some of the cooking liquid one tablespoon at a time.
  5. Stir in chopped pecans.
  6. Form into balls of desired size and place on wax paper-lined pan.
  7. Coating:
  8. In a small saucepan, melt ½ lb. dark chocolate with 2 teaspoons of canola oil.
  9. Dip balls into chocolate and place on pan to dry.
  10. Store in airtight container.

Next year, these dark chocolate covered fruit and nut balls will make an encore appearance on my cookie tray though it’s unlikely I’ll wait until then to make them again. Lesson learned this time around: it doesn’t take long to roast pecans. I had painfully toss a batch and learned that sometimes it’s not good to multi-multi-task.

Happy Friday!

Russian beet salad

Russian beet salad

I’m  ending my year of 2013 posts on a healthy note with this slightly zippy/ slightly sweet Russian beet salad recipe. Not only is this salad a colorful addition to any table, loaded with all the vitamin goodness that beets hold, it is a versatile accompaniment to just about any meat or seafood entree.  I’ve served it with roast pork loin, enjoyed it as a side to a serving of shrimp, and let me say that Russian beet salad pairs deliciously with just about any preparation of America’s household poultry staple: chicken.

Russian beet salad
Serves: 8-10
  • 3 - 16 oz. cans beets, well drained and diced
  • 3 medium potatoes, cooked, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium carrots, cooked and diced
  • ¾ cup finely chopped onion
  • 3 medium dill pickles, diced
  • 3 Tablespoons dried dill
  • Dressing:
  • 3 heaping teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil (or canola)
  • salt and pepper to taste (easy on the salt 😉
  1. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk well. Pour over vegetables and mix well.
  3. Cover and chill at least 2 hours for the flavors to incorporate.
  4. Can be made a day in advance.

This recipe is a far contrast to the ooey gooey noshes of sheer delight that I’m going to be indulging in in about three hours. Finger food paired with a glass of my FAVORITE wine is my ultimate New Year’s eve fare.
winter 2013

This past week has been a downright frigid end to 2013. But despite the below zero temperature outside, our home will be filled with the warmth of ringing in 2014 with my three Loves, my much-loved niece and nephew, and our dear friends. It’s going to be night of bowling, and playing a slew of games in between plenty of eating, but most importantly, it’ll be an evening of making memories.

Vegan Lentil Barley Soup

This a soup that screams winter! Or fallish-winter, which is what we had today in southeastern Wisconsin. Our first surprise snowfall was just enough to provide a sheer blanket of white, a not-so-subtle reminder that winter will be here before we know it. And there’s nothing better than a bowlful of thick, stick-to-your-ribs vegan lentil-barley soup to warm your insides like a toasty blanket as the temperature drops.

vegan lentil-barley soup

Don’t care for lentils, you say? Give them another chance. Vegan lentil-barley soup is comforting, richly flavorful and so delicious that you’ll forget all about your disdain and become a converted lentil lover.

Lentils are full of fiber and readily take on the flavor of whatever they are cooked with. Leek, carrot, celery, and parsnip pair nicely with this powerhouse legume and three quarters of a cup of beer adds to the richly flavored broth. Barley adds another layer of substance and together with thyme, bay leaves, and good quality vegetable broth you have one stellar soup.

Organic vegetable broth makes this lentil-barley soup vegan but I’m sure the soup would be equally delicious with reduced sodium chicken broth.

I based my version of vegan lentil-barley soup on the November 2010 Lentil-Barley Soup recipe in Cooking Light, omitting celery leaves and dill, and reducing the chopped celery by half.

cup of vegan lentil barley soup

I wonder if this early snow fall is a sign that we’ll be lambasted this winter – the ardent wish of my resident outdoor enthusiasts (aka Hunky Hubby and youngest Beauty) who are anxious to tackle a few black diamonds. Normally, I’d say bring on the snow and a  part of me is still hoping for a good old fashioned winter as my Gramz used to say. Now that my commute is miles longer than a short walk down the hallway I’m not as  enthusiastic as I used to be. But the call for cold and snow is a call for soup and that’s perfectly fine by me.  Enjoy!

Vegan Lentil-Barley Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 cup sliced leek - white part only
  • 4 cups organic vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup beer
  • 1 cup chopped carrot cut into coins (roughly equivalent to 2 carrots)
  • ½ cup finely diced celery
  • ½ cup chopped parsnip (about 2 small parsnips)
  • ¼ cup pearl barley
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ cup dried lentils
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven and saute leek for 2 minutes.
  2. Add broth and beer and bring to a boil.
  3. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the lentils and return to a boil. (NOTE: if you are using quick cooking barley, do not add it at this time.)
  4. Cover the pot, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until carrots and parsnip are tender.
  5. Stir in lentils (NOTE: If using quick cooking barley, add it to the pot with the lentils)
  6. Cover and cook 30 minutes or until tender.
  7. Discard bay leaves.
  8. For a thick soup, place 1½ cups of broth mixture in a blender. Be sure to remove the center piece of the lid to allow steam to escape and process until smooth. (For a thinner soup, blend only ¾ - 1 cup.)
  9. Pour blended soup back into the pot, stir in salt and return to a boil.
  10. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Vegan Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Hey all! It has been quite a week. Actually two weeks. After a decade of working from home as a self-employed SEO/SEM professional, I re-entered the corporate world in a new realm: higher education. Doing good work for my clients has always been and continues to be very gratifying but being part of an organization that impacts people’s lives in a profound way is gratification to the nth degree.

My first two weeks have been a whirlwind of people and information.  A combination of equal parts stress and exhilaration.  Call me an enigma, a paradox, an odd ball, but I find that I have become more organized than I have ever been.  I’m finding ways to minimize task time to optimize family time and I’m also embracing my foodie in a new way.  I’ll be sharing that with you and passing the relish beginning with this recipe for vegan roasted red pepper soup.
roasted red peppers for soup

Next to opening a can or pouring soup from a carton, vegan roasted red pepper soup is by and large the quickest and easiest soup there is to prepare. As for taste, it’s over the moon deeeelicious. As for health benefits, red peppers are loaded in antioxidants, beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, K, and  B6, and plenty of phytochemicals. All of that in a pepper!

Tip #1: Roast red peppers in bulk to do the work once and to have roasted peppers at the ready for many tasty uses. I try to grill a bushel every fall but you can easily roast peppers in the oven.

To oven roast, place whole (washed) peppers on a baking sheet and broil until the skins are wrinkly and charred (turn the peppers to ensure even roasting); remove the pan from the oven and cover with aluminum foil or place in a paper bag and seal until the peppers are cool. Peel the skins, remove the core and seeds, and place roasted pepper strips in air tight freezer bags.

Whether you grill or oven roast, the process of roasting red peppers is worth the time. You’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor for months to come both figuratively and literally (yep, peppers are a fruit). Moreover, you’ll have plain ol’ roasted red peppers and not oil-packed peppers as those sold commercially.

roasted red pepper soup

For a speedy supper, thaw 6 peppers and cook with finely chopped onion or shallot, a generous dash of thyme and broth. Use a good quality vegetable broth to keep the soup vegan (my favorite is Trader Joe’s), but know that this soup is just as tasty when prepared with low sodium chicken broth. Blend until smooth and whisk in 1/4 cup soy or reduced fat milk.

Richly colored, deeply flavored and incredibly satisfying, vegan roasted red pepper soup is ready in under 30 minutes. Now that’s my kind of healthy weeknight dinner!  Enjoy!

Vegan Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped onion or shallot
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 6 roasted red bell peppers, chopped
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (can substitute reduced sodium chicken broth)
  • ¼ cup soy milk (can substitute low fat milk)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat tablespoon of oil in a heavy saucepan and cook onion/shallot until soft.
  2. Add chopped roasted red bell peppers and 1½ cups of broth and cook until peppers are very soft - about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Using a standard blender, puree in batches or use a hand blender and blend until smooth.
  4. Add remaining ½ cup of broth and milk; season to taste.


Serbian Cauliflower Soup aka Corba

A big pot of Serbian cauliflower corba (pronounced chore-bah) graced my family table the other night for Week #2 of our weekly soup/stew/stoup night. The timing for this heart-warming soup couldn’t have better what with the rainy, chilly days we had. The ease of preparation was also spot on as I was playing beat the clock. Sooo glad I had a head of cauliflower in the fridge — this meal came together in 40 minutes, start to finish.

Serbian cauliflower corba soup

I know there are endless recipes for cauliflower soup floating around cyberspace so you may be asking what makes Serbian cauliflower soup different?

1. The thickening comes from a small bit of roux (that I grew up calling zafrig) as well as a small potato. No heavy cream, no whole milk. My arteries and yours give thanks.

2. This soup is as delicious with chicken stock as it is with vegetable broth.  The latter is the only change necessary to made this creamy cauliflower soup vegan.

3. The addition of one fresh tomato, diced, gives this cauliflower soup the palest of pale pink hues and a barely detectable tomato flavor. Why bother adding it?  It is an opportunity to add another veggie rather stealthily … specifically for fresh tomato haters. The one in my brood never knew it! Ha! I’m such a sneaky mama!

Prijatno, my friends! Enjoy!

Serbian Cauliflower Corba - a thick, creamy soup
Serves: 8
  • 2 tablespoon oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, cut into thin coins
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • 1 medium to large head of cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 quart chicken stock or vegetable broth
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  1. In a soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat.
  2. Fry onion until golden; add carrot and celery and saute 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add the diced potato, cauliflower, tomato, thyme and black pepper. Saute another minute.
  4. Add chicken stock or vegetable broth. If the vegetables are not covered, add 1 cup of water.
  5. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer until vegetables are tender.
  6. Taste and salt to your liking, but watch that shaker! 🙂
  7. When the vegetables are tender, make a roux by heating 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and stir well. Add 1 ladle of soup broth to the roux and whisk until smooth.
  8. Add the complete roux mixture to the soup pot and stir. Cook for another 5-10 minutes.
  9. To make an even thicker soup, blend half of it using a hand mixer or a blender.
  10. Adjust seasonings to taste before serving.


Carrot Dijon Salad

Carrot Dijon salad is amazing. Sweet baby carrots, tangy Dijon mustard, green onions and dill are the primary ingredients that make up this incredibly yummy salad  that bares a very unoriginal name.   I received this recipe from a family friend in the early ’90s, who had received it from another family friend, who received it from another, and so on and so forth. As such I’m unable to give delicious credit where credit is due though I sincerely thank you, whoever you are.

This carrot salad is a far contrast from the typically shredded carrot salad with raisins.   It’s sweet and tangy with just the right amount of crunch.  Perky is more like it.  The mix of sweet carrots and the tangy zip of Dijon can perk up any meal any time of year. It’s springtime in a bowl, even during the doldrums of winter and is as perky to the palette as it is to the plate.  By now I hope I have convinced you that this Carrot Dijon salad recipe is a must-try.

dijon carrot salad

Preparation couldn’t be any easier. Slicing and cooking the carrots is about as difficult and time consuming as it gets.

dijon carrot salad ingredients

Oh, I suppose shaking the salad dressing – after adding all ingredients to a jar with a tight fitting lid- can be considered a mini workout. Especially if you shake with multiple repetitions.

carrot dijon salad dressing preparation

I was never a fan of baby carrots, or any form of raw carrot for that matter, but as any true condiment queen would tell you, Dijon mustard can make any vegetable taste good.  Even brussel sprouts.

Carrot Dijon salad is a delightful side dish for salmon, pork or chicken and is best prepared in advance so the flavors can blend and get happy and served ice cold. Give it a try and send me your critique.

Carrot Dijon Salad
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
A delightful carrot salad recipe that can be made up to 2 days in advance.
  • 1 lb. package baby carrots
  • Dressing ingredients:
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ cup chopped green onion
  • 6 Tablespoon oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dill weed
  1. Diagonally slice baby carrots in half and place in medium size pot with 1 Tablespoon sugar. Cover with water and bring to boil.
  2. Cook 15-17 minutes or until tender.
  3. Drain well and cool.
  4. Mix dressing ingredients in a pint jar or small container with tight fitting lid.
  5. Shake well to combine and pour over cooled carrots.
  6. Refrigerate 24 hours.


Vegan Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

I was assessing the fridge after Thanksgiving last year and found a half bag of cranberries and a small bit of pumpkin puree that somehow never made their way into their respective dishes.  As much as I disliked cranberries, I didn’t want to waste. Hence I decided to bake a bread that I could turn into French toast or easily disguise in some other way should it turn out awful. (I wasn’t hopeful,  I was using cranberries so I didn’t waste time formulating a Plan B.)

Lo and behold I baked a wonder bread! A moist and delicious combination of sweet and tangy with a subtle hint of orange and just the right amount of crunchy pecans. Deeeeelicious.

Vegan Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

I’m thankful for the remnant ingredients that were hanging around or I might not have conquered my disdain for the rock hard berry.  Though I still say no thanks to on any form of cranberry relish, I won’t pass up a slice or three of this bread. For all of you anti-cranberry eaters out there, give this vegan pumpkin cranberry bread a try and you too could be converted. Well, at least partially.  Enjoy!

Ingredients for Vegan Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

1  1/4 cups of all purpose flour
3/4 cup of whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup orange juice
¼ cup canola oil
1/3 cup cooked pumpkin puree (pure canned pumpkin if you’re using help from the cannery – not pie filling)
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
1 Tablespoon grated orange peel (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.

In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Stir in orange juice, oil and pumpkin. Mix until well blended.

Stir in cranberries and nuts and orange peel, if desired. Turn batter into prepared pan and bake for 50 – 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes before running a butter knife along the edges and removing the bread from the pan.  Finish cooling on wire rack, or feel free to skip this step and proceed to cutting a nice big slice. Enjoy!

Vegan Zucchini Bread

Sweet breads are one of my indulgences. Give me a big slice alongside a cup of coffee of three and I’m a happy mama. This recipe can be adapted for vegans and non-vegans alike, though one bite of the vegan version and you’ll be hooked.

Vegan Zucchini Bread

A combination of wheat and white flour gives this bread a slightly nutty texture. Delicious!

3 cups shredded zucchini
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
2 teasp. vanilla
3 heaping tablespoons applesauce (or 4 eggs)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups wheat flour
2 teasp. baking soda
1/2 teasp. baking powder
2 teasp. ground cinnamon
1 cup carob/vegan chocolate chips (or semi-sweet)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch load pan with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine zucchini, sugar, oil, vanilla and applesauce until well blended. Stire in teh remaining ingredients until mixed and pour batter into pan.
Bake 70-80 minutes or until it tests done. Cool 10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack.

My family can never wait until the bread cools completely. Sometimes, you just need to break the rules and dig in!