Sesame Ginger Soba Noodles – Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program

Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program – Marzetti Simply Dressed

Hooray! My first item I was lucky enough to try out for the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program!  I had the opportunity to choose which Marzetti Simply Dressed item I would like to try out.  I will admit this was a tough call! They had so many delicious choices but Sesame Ginger definitely won.  I first had to think of what recipe I would like to create; appetizer, salad, wrap??  I decided to go a whole different route and make an all out dinner!  I was a bit concerned because I have made dishes with salad dressings before (c’mon, we have all cheated and used salad dressing to make pasta salad..admit it!) and they always have that weird tang that screams “Yes – I confess, I used salad dressing!”  I will admit I was absolutely pleased with how my dish turned out.  So much so that I also turned it into an appetizer too!

My inspiration for my dish was actually from a dish I made in school as one of my final projects.  The flavor was so unbelievably powerful yet not overwhelming and I have craved it ever since, this was about 3 years ago!  My challenge for recreating this dish was to bring down the ingredient list a bit and try to replace it with the salad dressing.  This is what I came up with;

Sesame Ginger Soba Noodles with Tofu Skewers

  • 1 jar Marzetti Simply Dressed Sesame Ginger
  • 1 package extra firm tofu
  • 1 zucchini, cut into small discs
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into small discs
  • 1 package soba noodles
  • 1 bunch of scallions, greens diced up thin, white part cut into chunks
  • 1 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • Sesame seeds, toasted
  • Optional Garnish – carrot, red pepper, pea pods cut into thin julienne

First, cube up the tofu carefully to not tear and marinate in 1/2 of the jar of Sesame Ginger Dressing for at least 3 hours (the longer the better).  Soak a few wooden skewers and cut in half for smaller skewers.  To assemble skewers, string on a cube of tofu, red pepper, scallion (white portion), tofu, yellow squash.  Set aside.

Prepare soba noodles according to directions on package.  Rinse to cool and set aside.

To make sauce – Heat up 1 cup of vegetable oil until hot but not bubbling.  Add cayenne and red pepper flakes to sort of ”deep fry” seasonings to bring out an intense flavor.  Add brown sugar and mix well to melt.  Remove from heat.  In a mixing bowl add remaining half of Sesame Ginger Dressing, soy sauce, green parts of scallions, rice wine vinegar, and toasted sesame seeds.  Once oil mixture cools a bit, whisk into soy sauce mixture.

On a grill or griddle sear off tofu skewers.  Make sure to grease up your grill beforehand so tofu doesn’t stick.  I used non-stick spray.  Cook until vegetables have a nice char.  Be sure to keep brushing the Sesame Ginger Dressing on each turn of the skewer.

Toss soba noodles in prepared dressing mixture.  Coat noodles well.  With a fork spin the noodles to form a ‘nest’.  Place in the middle of a plate.  Top the noodles with the optional garnish (also tossed in dressing mixture) and top the garnish with a skewer or two.  Feel free to drizzle the irresistible dressing on top!

I just bought ceramic spoons so I felt this was a great time to use them! So I also turned it into an appetizer

Thank you Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program for letting me have the opportunity to work with Marzetti Simply Dressed!


National Pierogi Day > Christmas?

Okay okay…Maybe it’s not as great as Christmas but its pretty darn close..(I like presents n such…).

I tend to ONLY reserve pierogi making for Christmas dinner because they are such a pain in the butt.  However, someone at work managed to sneak into a conversation that Saturday October 8th was National Pierogi Day, and knew that I had my own recipe.  Since i’m a sucker for flattery – I offered to celebrate this holiday by making pierogis for the office I work at.  Which, im sure some of you know is a catering company..which is definitely intimidating to cook for!  Then again, when you have such a rock solid pierogi recipe like I do, what is there to worry about? *Brushes off shoulders* I got this.

In a past post I shared how important my Grandma was that passed away a few summers ago.  She would make pierogi every holiday, but only in small batches because they are so time consuming.  I was so jealous that everyone just loved these pierogi, I craved the attention she got for them.  In time, my grandma got bad arthritis and wanted to pass on the tradition to someone else.  I was ready and willing to be her pierogi apprentice!  I was only a kid, but I was eager to know the secrets.  She gave me a little drinking glass with Christmas decorations around it and told me –

“Danielle…This makes the perfect pierogi”. 

I still have that cup she gave me and I still use it to this day to make my pierogi.  If that glass broke I would be lost!  I did have help making pierogi this time around, and I did not force my pierogi pal to use my nostalgic cup for fear of the odd looks I would get.  I already fully confess I have OCD – but Im still in denial about being neurotic.


Perfect Pierogi Dough –

  • 4 cups sifted flour
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • ½ cup lukewarm water (may need more, more need less, add slowly)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or more..if youre like me..)
  • 5 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream

Make a well in the middle of the flour just as you would make any Italian pasta dough.  Add salt.  Beat eggs with butter and add to flour well, add sour cream to the well also.  Pull in flour from the sides to start to combine flour, egg, butter, sour cream.  When the dough starts to crumble add the water until it forms a nice dough.  Dough should be soft and plyable.  It should not feel as smooth and dense as an Italian dough, it should be slightly tacky and I hesitate to use this term because Im sure only ill understand what I mean by it but it should feel “pillowy”..are you with me? Haha.  I know the sour cream seems like an odd addition, but ill explain! When I used to make pierogi with my grandma she would tell me to seal every pierogi I have to add flour and water to the edges for a perfect closure.  As I grew older I figured this step really stinks.  I found out that adding sour cream to the dough makes them close..plain and simple..just pinch shut and voila!  Im sure Grandma is turning over in her grave knowing I changed something.  Sorry!

As for the filling – this is when you can just get creative.  I am sorry, I love you all – however…I cannot share my filling recipe! It’s been in my family for some time and I plan to be a rich and famous super pierogi maker. Dont ruin my dreams.  I did fill half the pierogi with my Bigos filling though! It was absolutely delicious! I will share though that if you do feel like making potato cheese ones (my secret recipe) do not make the potatoes like you would mashed potatoes by adding any liquid what-so-ever.  Leave the poatoes thick and fairly plain, dont fuss with them too much! Potato + Cheese + Onion = Happy.

I swear I can eat this stuff by the gallons with just a spoon.

The one annoying thing about pierogi dough is when it rolls out you have to work quickly.  It tends to shrink in.  This does also means you’re arms will hate you the next morning.  Roll the dough out fairly thin, about 1/8 inch thick.  Theres two ways to do this.  The way I was taught is to roll the dough out pretty big, place a small dollop of filling and fold over an edge of dough and press it out with a nostalgic Christmas cup!  The other way is like making ravioli, stamp out circles to the desired size, add filling and then close.  I find that stamping out the dough first makes it harder to close them if you overloaded them accidently.  I find that making a large rolled out dough, folding, and then stamping is easier for me.  You can make about 4-5 pierogi in one set of rolled dough.  The good thing about this dough is you can reuse it and reuse it until its gone, no waste!

I place my pinched pierogi onto a cookie sheet and freeze them in bags of a dozen.  I usually do not cook pierogi the same day, this is usually something I make way in advance.  By the end of making pierogi, I do NOT feel like eating them!  If you feel like cooking them immediately, by all means do it! They do freeze very well though!  Another pierogi tip – When you boil the pierogi have a cooling rack ready.  Scoop the finished pierogi out (when they float, they are done) and set on the cooling rack to dry.  If you skip this step, they get tacky and stick together.  When they have cooled and are no longer ‘slimy’ add to a casserole dish.  Cut bacon into small lardons and saute until half cooked.  Pour the bacon over the top of the pierogi and bake at 350º for about a half hour.  The bacon fat will render down the pierogi which absolutely makes them PERFECT!  The edges get crispy and delicious.  I never pan fry my pierogi even though that tends to be a favored method.  Give it a try 😉

My finished Pierogi I brought to work.  The left is Bigos Pierogi topped with Smoked Sausage and the right is Potato Cheese topped with bacon.  They did not last long!

Fresh Corn Chowder (Light Version)

Oh how I have missed you all!  After my dog passed away I was having some trouble getting back into the swing of things.  First I had to deal with the stress of the loss, then we picked up a new dog only 3 days later, then Chicago had a major heat wave, and then I had an allergic reaction to Gatorade (ugh).  Needless to say, cooking (and eating) wasn’t my top priority.  Even in my absence all I can think about is what I can make to entice you all to come back and read my blog, even though i’m sure a one week hiatus didn’t frighten anyone away.  I must admit, clearing out my e-mail box of over 700 posts certainly made me realize I cannot be gone this long ever again!  Before I begin my post, meet my new pup!  It certainly doesn’t get rid of the pain of the loss of Cali, but it at least helps divert the mind a bit.  This is Molly, our 2 year old rescued Lab/Retriever Mix –

She is an absolute sweet heart and has made our home whole again.  Anyhooo, onto what you came here for..FOOD!

I know what some may be thinking, why chowder after I just mentioned I just finished up a treacherous heat wave.  Well, my intentions were to use my grill to make this chowder.  I wanted to grill up fresh corn, potatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and make the soup on the grill entirely.  I went and turned on my grill to heat up while I cut up my vegetables inside.  I go outside to grill my corn – grill was off.  I was out of propane.  Grill fail….  I already had all my vegetables cut up and ready to go, I couldn’t change my mind now.  I could have easily gone and get more propane, but I was ready to cook darnit! So I had to take it inside and make regular ol’ chowder.  Unspecial..On-the-stove..chowder.  It was delicious and lighter than a regular chowder, so that’s how I will make it appeal to you.  Did it work?

Light Corn Chowder

  • 3 ears of corn, boiled (should have been grilled, sigh)
  • 3 potatoes, unpeeled, diced
  • 1 medium onion, small dice
  • 1 green pepper, small dice
  • 2 gloves garlic, chopped
  • Fresh thyme
  • 3 cups light cream (or 2% milk, or skim)
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil for sauteing
  • Ham base (optional)
  • Garnish Options – corn kernals, raw green pepper, cheddar cheese, small diced ham

First, prep your corn.  I husked mine and boiled them just to bring out some of the nice vibrant yellow color.  Let cool while prepping the rest.  Dice up your potatoes, green pepper, onion, garlic and put into a cast iron skillet (or pot, your choice) with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.  Cook until the potatoes are almost fork tender, but not quite.  Stand the corn upright onto a cutting board or plate.  With a sharp kitchen knife slice off the kernels, but key point – do not cut all the way to the bottom of the kernel, only cut half of the kernel off.  Next, flip your knife so the sharp point is pointing out, and scrape the rest off.  This gets all corn out, but also “milks” the corn and gets that nice fresh creamy corn flavor.

Add corn to skillet and mix well.  Let the corn cook with the other ingredients just to allow the flavors to blend.  Next add cream (or milk) just to cover the vegetables.  Add thyme, and seasonings.  Once it starts to bubble a bit, reduce heat to simmer and allow to simmer until it thickens.  Add ham or chicken base if desired once its hot enough to dissolve.   If you picked a cream or milk that has little to no fat, you may need to end up using a cornstarch to let it thicken further.  The potatoes help thicken a bit, but may not do the entire trick as full fat milk or cream would do. Once the potatoes are fully cooked and you reach the desired thickness, serve up with garnish of your choice and some toasty bread.  I used a little bit of reduced fat cheddar, raw peppers, and tiny bits of ham.

Curried Couscous

First off I would like to thank everyone for making the start of my Facebook page a success.  I already have a lot of followers in such a short time.  Now for all of you who have a Facebook but didn’t know I had one, please check it out! I’m almost to 100 ‘Likes’ and would absolutely love to hit that milestone!  I am not using it just as a popularity contest just to see how many I could get.  I love how easy it is to talk to people on Facebook rather than the blog networking sites.  Maybe I am just better at maneuvering it, but either way, I think it helps me get to know all of you on a more personal level which makes reading your blogs even that much more exciting!

Show Piggy Tummy some Love!

Anyhoo, back to why you’re really here! Hopefully I haven’t lost you yet with my desperate plea to love my page.  I’m sure most of you who follow my page are fully aware of my full time job as the operations manager of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ, but I do have another job as well!  I work as a ‘Market Chef’ for the College of DuPage.  The program has a small little market where we sell excess food out of.  While students are learning how to make gallons of soups and dozens of croissants instead of throwing them out or giving away tons of food that no one will eat, we sell it!  Students are allowed to take home some of their items to show off to their family but instead of taking a sack full, we request that we leave a lot of the product behind to sell.  As the market chef I have to fill in the gaps when the students cannot produce enough product.  The only catch is that I mainly have to use items left behind.  One item we always had an abundance of was couscous.  There were times where I thought the customers would be couscous’d out but they just kept comin’!  This recipe was definitely my favorite one of all the couscous concoctions I had made.  It has such a unique flavor profile that you can’t help but to keep shoveling it into your mouth to find a new flavor each time.  Spicy, sweet, crunchy, tangy – delicious!  The best thing about this recipe is anything can be switched out to what you have on hand.  For example, I usually make this dish with butternut squash.  Unfortunately that isn’t available to me right now so I used sweet potatoes instead.  I was craving this salad so much that I didn’t sweat the switch out.  This is what I used:

  • 1 box large pearl couscous, cooked, cooled
  • 4 stalks celery, small dice
  • 3 medium sized sweet potatoes, medium dice
  • 2 yellow zucchini, medium dice
  • 1 yellow onion, small dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • olive oil for sauteeing
  • Rice wine vinegar, as needed (at least 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup blue agave nectar
  • Curry Powder, to taste (I used around 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon Tumeric
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup Plain Yogurt (Optional) I did not use the yogurt so that it would hold up as nice lunch for work

First, boil couscous according to the directions on the box.  Drain, and set aside.  You can also rinse with cool water to keep from clumping but it will be added to warm vegetables later on, so don’t sweat it too much.  Dice up all your vegetables and saute in a pan of oil, saute the most firm vegetables first.  If going by my list I did sweet potato first for about 8 minutes, then added the onion, then celery, and for the last 5-6 minutes of cooking I added the zucchini so it wouldn’t get squishy.  Add golden raisins to saute mixture.  If your raisins are too dehydrated saute in a pan of sweet liquid, I re hydrated mine in simply apple.  Once all the vegetables are fork tender, not too soft, add couscous to the pan and mix well.  If your pan isn’t big enough, a separate bowl is just fine.  Add tumeric, curry powder, salt, and pepper and coat the couscous.  It should start to be a yellowish color.  Add rice wine vinegar and agave nectar to however sweet or tangy you desire.  Mix in yogurt now too if you choose to use it.  I normally do use the yogurt, but it has been so hot here in Chicago that I didn’t want to worry about temperate safety!

Whats great about this dish is it can be a quick snack, it’s hearty enough to be a complete meal, or can be portioned out to be a side dish for something light such as chicken or fish.  I am absolutley addicted to this flavor profile and I make this as often as I can!  I can’t wait til I can get my hands on some butternut squash to make the original recipe! But this was just as delicious.  Give it a chance – its delicious!

Going on Vacation! & Easy Pesto Pasta Recipe

This will be my last post. . . . until Monday!  I am taking a well deserved and very much needed mini vacation.  I have my family from Pennsylvania coming to visit for a long weekend and we are heading up to stay in a cabin up in Wisconsin.  It is located on a camp ground my family has been going to for over fifty years and it seems to never change, it is my favorite get-away.

I have been prepping up some food so while I’m up there I don’t have to spend my entire day cooking.  Don’t get me wrong, I can cook all day and not complain, but the point of this trip is to relax.  I got off work early today so I ran to the store and picked up some ribs and a pork shoulder.  I threw them on the smoker (did not wear flip flops, I learned my lesson…) and plan to smoke them til 11, wake up early and finish smoking them while at work.  This way all I have to do is pull the pork and throw it in a ziploc to heat up at camp, and just have to throw the ribs on the grill to reheat.  I’m aware that this is a little complex for “camp food” but I am competing in a BBQ Competition for my first time without help from professionals (*waves to Bob*) and I need to smoke ribs every chance I can get! So – my family is going to have ribs and gosh darnit they are gonna love them!

I also wanted to create a side dish that I wouldn’t have to be as freakish about worrying about keeping refrigerated.  We have coolers, but then the ice melts and everything gets soggy and wet and gross.  At first I was going to make a potato salad, but a vinegar base and not mayo.  But it is hot here in Chicago….I didn’t wanna cut up all the veg.  I decided to make a pesto pasta salad.  At first I was going to just do rotini pasta in pesto, but then I found sundried tomato at the store.  Then I got home and remembered I had made some fresh mozzarella with my cookin’ pal, gaming partner, hetero-life-mate Laura.  And so, my pesto pasta salad was born.

Ultimate Pesto Pasta Salad

  • 1 box Rotini Pasta Salad, Cooked, Chilled
  • 1 large bunch of fresh Basil
  • 1 cup toasted almonds (had it on hand)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • salt as needed
  • olive oil as needed
  • a touch of red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cup sliced sun dried tomato
  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella, chopped

Cook noodles until done, rinse them under cold water to stop cooking process.  In a blender combine almonds, basil, Parmesan, salt, dash of vinegar, and slowly drizzle in olive oil until the texture desired.  Coat pasta with the pesto sauce, toss in sun dried tomato and mozzarella.  So tasty, so addicting and I feel confident that it’ll go so quick I won’t have to worry about cooler space.  Easy to make, some what healthy (in my mind) and tasty food without having to just rely on s’mores and  burnt hot dogs.  I will miss you all! (Unless I get brave enough to bring my laptop…there will be kids…this sounds like a bad idea..)


Also, I wanted to make a shout out to someone who has been helping immensely by sharing my page with people.  Thank you so so much to From Cupcakes to Caviar!! I would spread the word on Facebook but everyone on my page is on yours too! So I did it here in hopes that maybe someone new will find you 😀


Giardiniera – The Method

Hey look! It’s a post that has nothing to do with pork! Incredible, I know.

For those of you who are not aware of what giardiniera is, it is a Chicago staple!  Its a condiment that is used on anything from sausages, hot dogs, beef sandwiches, or any type of sandwich really.  They are pickled peppers that can range from mild to mind blowing hot.  A few years ago I started to make my own from scratch.  I’m not quite sure why I started doing it considering I do not like spicy food, I will just go with I wanted to impress my brother who is a giardiniera freak.   All the websites had very different methods/recipes for how to make it.  Since I do not particularly like giardiniera myself I sort of ventured off and got creative.  I thought to myself, If I liked giardiniera, how would I want it made?

I have changed my recipe for giardiniera nearly every time I make it.  This is usually due to whatever product happens to be available to me but my method is always the same, hence the title.  There really isn’t a right or wrong way to make these pickled peppers.  Check out your produce section of your grocery store.  I use an ethnic produce store for making this because it tends to have a larger variety of peppers, and at better prices.  This time around I used:

  • Jalapenos
  • Serrano
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Banana Peppers
  • Red Pepper
  • Cauliflower

I usually try to pick a uniform cut for each item, not a uniform cut for every single one.  I really like the rustic look of each one having their own shape.  I know i’m neurotic, but it really looks pretty!  Maybe this is why I just received the OCD Chef Cutting Board from one of my friends?  Anyhoo – After cutting all my veg I toss them all in a large pot and just coat with water and add a very generous amount of pickling salt.  Any salt would do really, they just happened to have Morton Pickling Salt when I was grocery shopping.  Do not skimp by any means on the salt!  I will explain further later on.  Next, I let all the peppers come upto a gentle boil and only let that go on for about 10 ten minutes.  Now, I don’t have any rhyme or reason as to why I do this, aside from the fact it just seems to work.  Everyone who has tried my giardiniera says its the best, so I must be doing something right?  After it is at a gentle simmer for 10 minutes I shut it off and just let it cool down on the stove before putting it in the fridge for 24 hours.  Letting it sit for at least 24 hours in the salty liquid is vital.  There has to be a good amount of time to let it sit and bread down and get soft.

After it has sat in the fridge for 24 hours, dump it out into a large strainer.  This is why its okay to go crazy with the salt, at this point you can either just put it back into the pot after straining, or rinse the peppers off to your desired saltiness.  But for the period its sitting in the fridge, that salt is needed!  Its science..of sorts..I promise.  I tend to only rinse half of my peppers and then mix them all back together.  I don’t like to season it at all with salt so I choose to keep the saltiness from its liquid.  I also tend to reserve a cup or two of the liquid for the jarring stage.  Once you have rinsed off the peppers to how you like it it’s time to season it up.  I prefer to season them up with Italian spices such as basil and oregano.  If you want it hotter add some red pepper flakes.  I do not recommend using any fine spices such as garlic powder, onion power, white pepper etc.

Once your peppers are seasoned up to your liking, its time for jarring!  You could easily just store it in some tuperware if it’s just meant for yourself and not to be given away.  I don’t like giardiniera, so all of mine gets given away!  Load up the peppers and pack them pretty generously.  Add a vinegar of your choice – I use red wine, most sites suggest white or cider.  My philosophy is if I don’t like the flavor or something standing alone, then I don’t want it mixed in with my food.  I also mix some of my liquid that it sat in overnight with my vinegar.  I only load the jar about a third of the way with my vinegar liquid mixture.  The rest of the way I load up with olive oil or vegetable oil, whichever is on hand.  Now, the important thing to know about the oil is you need to pick a winterized oil if you plan on putting this in the fridge.  By winterized, I mean oil that will not harden up when left in the cold.  You can either buy winterized oil for a ridiculous price, or my suggestion is buy an oil and freeze or refrigerate it and when the waxes firm up, remove them with a spoon or strain it out, sort of like making clarified butter.  I also do not recommend using the highest quality of oils out there, it is going to be completely covered up by the flavor of your peppers and your expensive oil will mean nothing.  You can get a good one, just don’t get a great one!


After topping off your peppers with vinegar and oil you can either seal your jars by boiling or pressure cooking them, or if you plan on eating them in the next 2-3 weeks then you can easily skip this step.  Since I am giving mine away I did seal mine off.  I am not by any means pro at doing this, so I will skip the steps on how I did it, cause who the heck knows if I did it right!  Luckily the jars I bought did have great directions on how to do it, hopefully I don’t kill anyone with pepper botulism.  Fingers crossed.