Chat Leftovers: Rutabaga Primer, Baby Shower Sweets, Spanish Apps

Richmond, Va.: I would appreciate a little help because my brain has gone on vacation somewhere warmer. I am baking desserts for an elder-care shelter this weekend and need ideas for transportable (probably not iced) 13x9 or bundt/tube cakes. I have done pound cakes of every flavor, carrot, chocolate, and spice cakes and am stumped. The folks look forward to the treats so I would very much appreciate any ideas you may have.

Richmond, how can I resist helping someone who wants to help others. Here’s a handful of Casa Appetite favorites:

Old-fashioned crumb cake, from Liberty Tavern chef Liam Lacivita. Not a Bundt shape, but easily transportable and those crumbs go great with coffee.

For a little fruit (and fiber) with their cake, give this apple coffee cake with a cinnamon-y streusel a try. In my pre-Mister MA days, I lured many a man with this cake. Meow.

You can’t go wrong with Aunt Rita’s marble cake, a traditional vanilla-chocolate swirl Bundt that takes you back to those days at the diner.

Even though you’ve done chocolate, consider this low-fat vegan chocolate Bundt, without a stitch of dairy or eggs. It’s so full flavored that nobody will know what’s missing.

Root veg still life: Carrot, parsnip and rutabaga in the rear. (Kim O'Donnel)

Greenbelt, Md: I bought a rutabaga on a whim, but now don't really know what do with it. People have told me to use it like a turnip, but the problem is that I don't know what to do with them either. Any suggestions? I'm a vegetarian, but open to all types of flavors, so I'm game for just about anything.

Greenbelt, congratulations for biting the rutabaga bullet. For some reason, most people steer clear of this root vegetable; as Elizabeth Schneider writes in “Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini,” “For British and American food writers, rutabaga-bashing has been a sport for some fifty years.”

A member of the brassica family (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli cauliflower, kohlrabi and the aforementioned turnip), the rutabaga is also known as a swede. (Personally I think “rutabaga” would make a great name for a car.)

Its short and stout appearance won’t garner any prizes in the produce beauty contest, but if you can get beyond appearances, you’re in for a treat. Unlike its cousin, the turnip, the rutabaga’s skin is thin and quite peelable; on the inside, the flesh is sweeter and milder and is a proven companion for mashed potatoes (as in, boil some ruta with the spuds in the same pot). You can also play with her raw; grate her into salads or julienne for veg plate, along with those carrot sticks. You’ll get a radish-y sensation.

But to really understand the rutabaga, roast her with a handful of other root veg -- carrot, parsnip, potato and turnip -- all diced and lathered up in some olive oil, salt pepper and fresh hearty herb of your choosing. Roast at 400 degrees until fork tender. Talk about a happy meal.

Chevy Chase, Md.: I am having 15 for dinner on Saturday night and need some suggestions for an appetizer that is easy to prepare, can be done ahead of time, and goes along with the rest of the menu. I am making paella and will serve a big green salad along with it, as well as flan for dessert. I plan to have olives and marcona almonds to put out with drinks, but would like to add something else. I have thought about tortilla Espanola, but am not sure I will have time to do it before putting the paella together and into the oven, and also might be limited with oven space. Help!

If you’re worried about serving the tortilla Espanola hot, you can rest easy because it’s fine to serve at room temperature, but it sounds like there are other factors at play, including your nerves. Take it easy on yourself and do the Spanish version of bruschetta. I’m thinking Pa Amb Tomaquet or Pantumaca, Catalonian tapas using thick slices of country-style bread, grilled or toasted, which are aromatized with tomato, olive oil, anchovies and/or jamon Serrano. I realize tomatoes are woefully out of season at the moment, but here’s my point: Toast your bread, then rub it with a garlic clove, drizzling both sides with olive oil and salt. On top goes your favorite anchovies and/or some kind of European ham. If tomatoes you must have, substitute whole canned plum tomatoes, drained, and rub on each piece of toast before the garlic.

Baby Shower Blahs: Kim, we're giving a close friend a baby shower soon. I want to do something interesting and different and have decided on an evening shower -- coffee and desserts -- instead of the usual finger sandwiches and crudites at 2 p.m. What are some good dessert combinations so I don't end up with chocolate everything (which is not a bad thing, but I'd like to have some variety)? I would like light and heavy desserts, fruit and non-fruit, etc.

Fun idea. Have you talked to the mama-to-be about her favorite sweets – or is this a surprise? If it all possible, I’d include something from her wish list. I’m also curious about the size of your party and whether you’ve thought, beyond variety, about dessert styles – fancy or homey, for example? Fork-necessary or hand held? Will you have any help? And how much time will you have to prepare in the days before the event?

Consider the classic lemon tart; the lemon curd can be made in advance, as can the dough, and you’ll assemble the day of the party. Always elegant and a goodie for the un-choc group.

For something on the fly with a more casual feel, consider a seasonal fruit crisp – here’s my personal fave, with pear, ginger, lime, raisins and rum.

If you wanted to get the guests involved in the kitchen, a jelly doughnuts project would be a hoot. You can have a fry team, a jam filling team and a sugar-rolling team.

Decadent does not even come close to describing Golly Polly’s Doodles, a chocolate-peanut butter confection from pastry chef Marcel Desaulniers. Not quite a cake, brownie or candy, this gem is a memorable treat that will make you a rock star hostess.

Now, if your party is small –12 or fewer -- you could do these heavenly white chocolate-mascarpone tartlets that went over really well at an adoption baby shower last fall.

What's Cooking transcript
in entirety.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 14, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Chat Leftovers
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For Chevy Chase's appetizer I suggest taramasalata dip accompanied by crusty bread for dipping.

For the Baby Shower Blahs, I suggest preparing chocolate eclairs with custard filling.

Posted by: davemarks | January 14, 2009 7:59 AM

For Baby Shower Blahs, this may sound kitschy but what about decorated sugar cookies? Use a small ginger-person cookie cutter and ice with pink or blue royal icing and white piped outline/accent. Bonus - you can pass out extra cookie cutters as favors.

This suggestion does require time and effort beforehand. I've done a pre-shower party (evening before) to bake and decorate the cookies.

And small fruit skewars (3" piks of strawberry, pineapple, grape, etc.) would be nice. I'm thinking of Kim's fruit "cream," as an accompaniment(check blog recipe index for recipe/appropriateness).

Pecan shortbread? I'm trying to think of things to go with coffee that don't require a fork for nibbling...

Posted by: CentreOfNowhere1 | January 14, 2009 8:42 AM

Ixnay on the fruit "cream" - I thought that it was something else...

Posted by: CentreOfNowhere1 | January 14, 2009 8:45 AM

For an appetizer prior to paella, you could assemble a charcuterie plate (I heard on npr yesterday that it's trendy now, hee hee). Since you aren't serving meat later it's a good fit as well as being traditional Basque tapas. And you don't have to cook anything, just arrange stuff. I also strongly second the taramasalata.

If you want to do something unusual with the olives you'll have out, Deborah Madison has a recipe for baking Kalamatas at 375 for about 45 minutes, with a little red wine, olive oil, garlic and a bay leaf. I've also done this with green olives, omitting the bay leaf and using white wine.

Posted by: esleigh | January 14, 2009 9:48 AM

My introduction to the wonderful rutabaga was this puree, adapted from Patricia Wells' At Home in Provence. My SO made it as an experiment one night and it's been a staple since. The original uses regular turnips, but I've never been a fan of those. Toast 1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds in a skillet. Peel and cube 12 oz of rutabaga. Saute in 2 tablespoons of butter or oil until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Cover with 1 cup of stock and simmer on low until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 20-30 min. Puree in food processor with cumin seeds. Salt to taste.

Posted by: lgdc | January 14, 2009 10:20 AM

Lgdc, this is so simple but sounds divine! Thank you so much for sharing.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | January 14, 2009 11:03 AM

Rutabegas: In keeping with Kim's discussion of good cold-weather foods, I'll share this recipe for vegetarian chili. My not-wild-about-vegetarian-meals husband likes it. It also freezes well, which is good, as it makes a big batch. In fact, I am going to take some out of the freezer now to have for lunch after I come in from the deep cold after shoveling the beautiful snow that has piled around us...FUN!

Posted by: Agathist | January 14, 2009 11:08 AM

Rutabega.... the recipe would help, no?

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 sweet onion, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 (28 ounce) can chopped tomatoes and their juices
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 4 cups) (or 1-pound package diced butternut squash)
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 cups)
1 pound frozen corn kernels
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, with their liquid
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, with their liquid
2 to 4 tablespoons chili powder
2 chipotle chili peppers en adobo, coarsely chopped
Coarse kosher salt
Diced plum tomatoes
Shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
Diced avocado
Finely chopped fresh cilantro
Finely diced red onion
hot steamed rice or tortilla chips

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until crisp-tender.

Add the tomatoes, squash and rutabaga and increase the heat to medium-high, bringing the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the corn, beans, chili powder to taste, chipotle chili peppers and salt to taste, stirring to combine. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Serve with bowls of the garnishes. Serve with tortilla chips or steamed rice.

Freezes well.

Servings: 8-10
Adapted from source: Starting with Ingredients by Aliza Green

Posted by: Agathist | January 14, 2009 11:10 AM

For a great bundt-pan cake, the Joy of Cooking has a recipe for Applesauce Cake.

Posted by: Freyathorn | January 14, 2009 11:21 AM

Agathist - your chili sounds great! I will try it soon. I would also add arugula or cabbage to the garnishes - a trick I learned in college at the ski slopes when a side salad cost extra but "garnishing" a chili bowl did not. It's quite tasty that way.

Posted by: esleigh | January 14, 2009 12:10 PM

Thanks for the vegetarian chili recipe! It sounds fantastic and I might just make it for dinner tonight. :)

Posted by: earlysun | January 14, 2009 1:00 PM

Dug up and oldie but goodie from an old office-mate:
Gratin of Squash with Rutabaga
2 lb trimmed winter squash
1/2 lb. trimmed rutabaga
3-4 cloves garlic
1/3 c. chopped parsley
1/4 c. finely crumbled fresh bread crumbs
4 T. flour
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
1/4 c. olive oil
Optional: grated Parmesan or Swiss cheese

Chop squash and rutabaga into 1/2 inch cubes. Chop garlic and combine with parsley and bread crumbs. Toss squash and rutabaga cubes with flour and salt until lightly coated, then toss in crumb mixture. Grind in pepper to taste.

Brush 1 1/2-qt. ovenproof dish with oil. Put squash mixture in dish and press down lightly. Drizzle remaining oil over mixture and bake in a pre-heated 325 degree oven for 2- 2.5 hrs, or until top has browned and crusted over. The top will be crunchy, with a soft interior that retains the cube shapes. Serves 4.

The last 30 minutes, sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese, or a combination of Swiss and Parmesan, on top.

Posted by: holdenfoodie | January 14, 2009 5:05 PM

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