Monday, April 25, 2011

New recipe: Purple Pesto Pasta

The number of blogs I follow continues to grow: I'm at 152, as of the writing of this sentence. (At this rate, it could change by the time I actually get to the bottom of the post.) Of those 152 blogs, 32 fall under my "Cooking and Food" category. I've printed off dozens of recipes that I want to try, and tonight I gave one of them a go: Purple Pesto Pasta. When I found it through a link on another blog (it's been long enough that I don't even remember which blog), I was so intrigued that I had to try it.

The ingredients are simple, and the prep and cooking time are, too: red cabbage, olive oil, garlic, sunflower seeds, salt, and pasta. That's it. A perfect weeknight post-work meal.

Here's the recipe:


Purple pesto pasta (Red cabbage pesto)
You will need
1/4 head red cabbage, chopped coarsely
Several tablespoons olive oil (it will depend on how large your cabbage is)
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds
Kosher salt
1 cup whole wheat penne (other pastas would work just fine)


Pulse cabbage, garlic, sunflower seeds and a few pinches of salt in food processor (it might work in blender, too–let me know if you try it).
Add olive oil in a thin stream through the food processor tube while pulsing, until the mixture forms a paste. (Because of cabbage’s texture, this will never reach the same pastiness of a basil pesto–as soon as it starts sticking together, you’re good.) Taste for salt, and add more if necessary.

Put a pot of water to boil. Cook penne in boiling water for 7 minutes or until al dente. Drain, reserving a bit of pasta water. Toss several spoonfuls of the purple pesto and pasta water with pasta in the still-warm pot. Top with toasted sunflower seeds (I also added some baby asparagus I had around, steamed).

Found on The Yellow House.


My first challenge was a common one: adjust the recipe to serve one. I wasn't exactly sure how many servings this was supposed to make -- 2? 4? 6? 18? -- so that's where the guessing game began. My head of red cabbage was monstrous, so I cut off a chunk about 1" in thickness, 7" in diameter.

Next question: by how much should I reduce the garlic? I love garlic, so I wasn't afraid to have its flavor be a little on the strong side, so I used one average-sized clove.

I tossed that in the food processor with a tablespoon of raw sunflower seeds and a couple small pinches of kosher salt, pulsed it a few times, then slowly drizzled in about 1.5 Tablespoons of olive oil while I pulsed it some more.
It was beautiful! It looked perfect, just as the directions described. Meanwhile, I cooked 1 cup of whole-wheat pasta.

I tasted a spoonful of the purple pesto and was immediately hit by the strong garlic flavor -- but I was cool with it.

Did I mention that I hadn't looked at this recipe in a while? Yeah, well, I decided to be very generous with the amount of purple pesto on my pasta, since I couldn't remember the author's photo (and I was feeling pretty excited about my new dinner). Pesto, in general, is a fairly new experience for me. In my mind, this was more like a warm-salad-on-pasta dish than a pesto sauce.

Top it off with some sunflower seeds, and voila! A very colorful dinner.

So, how did it turn out in the end?

I consider it both a success and a failure.

I ate about 1/3 of it and had to stop. The garlic killed me. At first, it was fine, but the more I ate, the stronger it felt, and I started to think that if I kept going, I'd end up sick.

The idea itself, and the original recipe, were a success, and I'd definitely be up for trying it again. The failure was my own doing. Next time I'll drastically reduce the cabbage-to-pasta ratio, which will help spread the garlic love, and I'll also use less garlic for that amount of cabbage.

At least I won't have to worry about evil vampires visiting tonight.

Let me know if you give this a try!

Update 4/30/11: I made this again for dinner last night, determined to get it right. I used about the same amount of cabbage, a smaller clove of garlic, and everything else the same. But I only mixed a couple spoonfuls of the purple pesto into my pasta, and it was much better! And now I have more to enjoy over the next couple days. Success!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Magnolias in bloom

One of my favorite sights in early spring in Indiana is the blooming Magnolia trees. I love how they explode into color, granting us a break from the dreary monotones of winter.

I dedicated part of my lunch hour recently to photographing a tree. I essentially stood in one spot for 15 minutes, changing lenses a few times, and walked away with nearly 100 images. Here are a few of my favorites!

Happy Easter, and happy spring to you.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A "real" rock 'n roll concert

Dennis DeYoung with the Indianapolis Symphony orchestra

When it comes to classic rock, Styx is my favorite band. I give full credit to my parents, who bought a CD of Styx's greatest hits when I was in high school and forced me to listen. It didn't take long before both Chase and I were no longer being forced into listening but absconded with the CD and listened on our own.

Now, when I hear Styx, I actually think first of Chase. Our interest in the band's music peaked not long after I got my driver's license in high school. When I'd accumulated enough road time for Chase to be legally allowed to ride with me, I started driving us to and from school each day.

And you know what the cool thing to do is when you're in high school: play your music loudly. And for that, we chose Styx.

We loved the music, we loved the true rock 'n roll quality of it, and we loved that we were the only car in the parking lot playing it. While other kids were focused on blasting the latest radio hit, we cued up "Renegade," rolled the windows down in my bright blue Volkswagen Beetle, and had a ball.

Dennis DeYoung, the lead singer and primary songwriter for the band, is still touring on his own, playing Styx hits with symphonies and orchestras. I opted out of the chance to see him when he came to Clowes at Butler while I was in college (something more enticing came up), and Mom has never let me live that down.

So, when we saw an ad publicizing his return to Indy -- this time with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra -- she and I bought tickets as soon as we found out.

He played with the ISO at Hilbert Circle Theater in downtown Indianapolis. While I've seen the ISO several times (at Symphony on the Prairie last summer), this was my first trip to their winter-season home. I'm sad to say that Hilbert Circle Theater has fallen into disrepair, but the show itself was fantastic.

At 64 years old, this guy's still got it. He sounds just as good as he did 30 years ago. He had a couple excellent guitarists with him, one of whom sang the lead on a handful of songs (to give DeYoung's voice a break, we assumed) and did a great job. DeYoung's voice is entirely unique, so taking the lead on his songs is a big undertaking.

If you're not familiar with him, check out this video from a similar concert. "Lady" is one of my favorite songs.

If you like classic rock and get a chance to see him, I recommend it!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A craving for muffins

I've been craving good muffins for weeks. Weeks. Why haven't I made any before now?

I also need to do some baking, because I've been accumulating supplies and I don't think I can fit anything more in my pantry.

Sounds to me like it's time to fire up the stand mixer, heat up the oven, and break in my muffin pan!

"Good muffins" to me need to have two key factors: 1) They need to be reasonably good for me, so I'm not feeling guilty about the fact that I shouldn't be eating them, and 2) they need to be tasty to really satisfy that hunger in the first place. If they taste like cardboard, then what's the point of eating them at all?

It's a tough equation.

I chose a recipe by Alton Brown (who I'm loving more and more with every recipe I make) that I found in his Good Eats 2 cookbook. I can't seem to follow a recipe without making any changes, so I made some substitutions. Here's his original recipe:

Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12-15 muffins

7 ounces sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest, grated
12.5 ounces all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 heavy pinch kosher salt
8 ounces fresh blueberries

And I substituted:
1/2 cup applesauce instead of oil
1 cup plain Greek yogurt instead of standard yogurt
12.5 ounces whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose white
8 ounces frozen blueberries instead of fresh (and according to Alton, you should not thaw them out before adding them to the mix -- dump them in frozen)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F*. Spray a standard 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray and set aside.
2. Whisk the sugar, oil, egg, yogurt, vanilla and zest together in bowl A. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into bowl B (which by the way should be the larger of the two bowls). Toss the berries with one tablespoon of this dry mixture and set aside.

3. Dump bowl A into bowl B. Stir it a dozen or so times, add 6 ounces of the berries to the batter and stir three more times, then just walk away for 1 minute.

4. Use a disher to spoon 1/4 cup of batter into each hole of the muffin pan.
5. Broadcast the remaining 2 ounces of berries on top of the muffins and press down on them ever so slightly.
6. Let the muffins sit for 3 minutes on the counter.

7. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 210°F or a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. If your oven has a history of uneven baking, rotate the pan halfway through.*

8. Remove from the oven. Cover with a clean dish towel and flip the muffins out so that the bottoms are facing up.
9. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days.

* I actually baked mine at 400°F for about 20 minutes, inspired by a post on TheKitchn that suggested how you can get a higher, more domed muffin top by increasing the heat.

They turned out wonderfully. They're healthier than most any giant muffin you'll find at your favorite coffee shop, so it's a no-guilt treat! I'm going to keep a few fresh on hand to eat in the next few days, and the rest are going in the freezer for many breakfasts to come. Alton Brown once again pulls through for me and offers up a fantastic recipe.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trying a new food: chia seeds

I. Love. Whole Foods. Seriously.

There are only a couple in the Indianapolis area, and they're not near my house, so I only get a chance to go once every month or two. With that kind of separation, the trip becomes a real treat. I've even submitted my zip code on the Whole Foods website in the hopes that they'll scope out this side of Indianapolis and decide that we truly, desperately need a store in this area.

But, until they reach that conclusion and start construction, I'll keep building my shopping list through the month and salivating as I stroll the aisles and dream about all the wonderful things I can make.

I made a trip last night and got something new: chia seeds. I've been reading about these wonder seeds on various blogs for months, and my nutritionist mentioned them once or twice, but I've never actually tried them. Their more common cousin (well, they're both seeds, so I'll consider them cousins), flax seeds, are a regular part of my breakfast regimen and are much easier to find in your standard grocery store.

The amazing Whole Foods came through for me and had a couple kinds to choose from. One in the baking section, by Bob's Red Mill, and a couple in the supplement section. I've bought several things from Bob's Red Mill and like the brand a lot -- and it was cheaper -- so I chose that one.

Even if you've never seen these or cooked with them, I'm betting you've seen them before, though used in a different way: in the classic holiday gift, the Chia Pet.

Yep, the Chia Pet's grow-green-hair seeds are the very same seeds that are creating a stir as one of the latest and greatest super foods. Who knew?

Chia seeds are a vegan's best friend, because they can be used as egg and other binding-substance substitutes in baking and other cooking. When they're soaked in liquid, the seeds take on a gelatinous quality. I actually picked a vegan recipe for my first test drive after dinner tonight -- Chia Seed Pudding.

Chia Seed Pudding
Serves 1

1/2 cup So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk (or your favorite milk or milk substitute)
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 pack Stevia
1 Tablespoon Almonds, chopped
1 oz Chia seeds, dry

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl (or measuring cup, as I did here). Let it sit for a few minutes, stir, sit some more, stir, and continue repeating that process for about 15 minutes -- no cooking involved. The chia seeds turn the mixture into a consistency that's almost like tapioca pudding.

I altered the recipe a little bit by leaving out the almonds, because I just wasn't in an almond mood (if there is such a thing).

The result? I wasn't thrilled.

I like tapioca pudding, so I liked the consistency and texture. But the flavor was just blah. I'm not sure if the almonds would have helped that, or if it just needs a little more oomph... I'm going to have to play with it. I tried adding some cocoa powder at the end, but by that time it had gelled enough that it was difficult to mix in -- so I think if you're going to dress it up, it needs to be early, when you first bring the ingredients together.

I ended up eating a few bites and tossing the rest, because without good flavor, I'd have just been eating it for the sake of eating it. I pulled out my trusty, reliable, favorite -- dark chocolate -- to satisfy my sweet tooth instead.

Have you tried chia seeds? What's your favorite way to use them?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Butler Blue 2 is making a big splash in social media

As a proud Butler University alumna whose desk is decorated with plenty of BU paraphernalia, I wrote a new post for my company's blog today that highlights some of the great work BU is doing on the social media front. I'm by no means an objective author, but don't hold it against me!

Lucky dog knows how to leverage the power of social media

Butler Blue 2, Butler University’s charismatic English Bulldog mascot, has embraced national-celebrity status and is putting his personality to work in promoting the University. What began several years ago as a blog and collection of cute videos has now become a top-notch integrated social-media campaign that is engaging fans – including potential students and donors – around the country.

He blogs. He Tweets. He connects with fans on Facebook. He has his own photo stream on Flickr. A live webcam allows fans to check in on him during the day while he’s at work. He even has his own channel on YouTube.

Blue 2 first earned national attention when Butler surprised the nation by becoming the Cinderella team of last year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. With the tournament being held in Indianapolis that year – Blue 2’s hometown – he was able to easily attend the games, as he does regularly on campus at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Fast forward 11 months, and the NCAA ruled that he would not be allowed to attend this year’s early-round games. The rule says no live mascots are allowed in the first few rounds. A maelstrom of fan disappointment ensued, and the University communications team admirably leveraged that support. They created Blue 2 masks for fans to print out and wear to the game to show their support of their mascot, protest his exclusion, and allow Blue 2 to be there in spirit.

When Butler made it into the Final Four, the NCAA decided he would be allowed to travel to Houston to participate in the festivities and support his team. In the spirit of a true celebrity, Blue 2 shared the announcement with his 4,500+ followers on Twitter and Facebook.

Local and national media alike have jumped on board, interviewing him (and his “dad”, Michael Kaltenmark, Director of Web Communications), covering his 7th birthday party thrown by the University, even following him through his pre-travel pampering session (which included a bath and pedicure). National entertainment-network TMZ has even been profiling the happy dog’s movements. (ESPN's Kenny Mayne doesn't appear to be a fan, but he's one of the very few.)

Butler’s marketing efforts during March Madness have extended well beyond Blue 2, though he has arguably become the University’s second-most sought-after spokesperson, er, dog, following members of the basketball team, of course. After each win, alumni received eblasts within hours that included printable posters (to show your spirit at the office), trivia contests for prizes, viewing-party information, and an invitation to send fan photos that would be shared through the various alumni social-media accounts. Word has it that the students who man the school’s telemarketing efforts have been especially active this week, too, looking to capitalize on the spirit and capture monetary support for the University.

Kudos to Butler University for embracing these opportunities and using it to promote the school. They’re showing what a truly integrated marketing campaign can do for an organization, and we could all learn something by following along.

Butler Blue 2 has managed to master social media, and he doesn’t even have thumbs.

(And I can’t finish this without saying GO BULLDOGS!)