Consuming Swedes

I never knowingly ate a rutabaga before we moved to London in 2000. The sometimes-giant root vegetables — most likely a hybrid of a cabbage and a turnip — are called “swedes” in the British isles. The Swedes themselves apparently call them “rotabagge” or “rotbagge,” meaning something like “root lump.”

Not a glamorous name! And not a glamorous vegetable. Jane Grigson, my chief authority on English cuisine (and one of the most entertaining cookbook authors ever), wrote of the swede that:

As a vehicle for butter, with haggis and whisky, it is exactly right. But after a north country upbringing, I conclude that otherwise swede is a vegetable to be avoided.

My first experience in cooking a swede came after reading a newspaper article (I’m thinking it was in the Observer) that recommended grating one along with a few other former roots (carrots, maybe potatoes) and frying them up in a patty as a way to get the kids to eat their vegetables.

That wasn’t a big success — it tasted fine, but the kid (who was one or two at the time) didn’t really like it, and making and frying the patties was a lot of work. Over the past couple of years, though, I have developed an easier variant that has become one of my favorite winter dishes. All you need are a rutabaga/swede and a few of the only other vegetables you’ll find on sale at a New York farmers’ market in winter and early spring.

I usually go with a parsnip, a sweet potato and all or part of an onion:
Swede 1

The rutabaga has to be peeled, and the skin is so thick that I use a knife instead of a peeler. I also peel the parsnip and the onion, but just scrub the sweet potato. Then I chop Swede in cuisinarteverything into big chunks that go into a food processor with a shredding-disc attachment.

When everything’s shredded, I spread it out on a cookie sheet onto which I’ve already drizzled a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Then I put it in the oven.

How hot an oven? I haven’t really settled on a temperature. When I’m already roasting kale at 275 degrees, I cook the rutabaga mix at that temperature and it comes out really well, although it takes forever (two hours plus).

But it also works at 400 degrees if you keep an eye on it and mix it around frequently. As I write this I’ve got a batch cooking at 333 degrees, a temperature that allows me to step away and blog about cooking rutabagas while cooking rutabagas, but requires that I go back and toss them around every ten minutes.

In any case, the idea is for your root vegetables to start out like this:
Swede 2

And end up like this:

Swede 3

Along the way I add two or three tablespoons of butter and a pinch or three of salt. On occasion I have added a lot more butter than that. It certainly didn’t make things worse (rutabaga is a “vehicle for butter,” after all), but the returns seem to be diminishing. Also, I’ve cooked it with just olive oil and that’s fine too.

Screenshot 2016-04-03 18.43.36As for seasonings, I imagine there are herbs or spices that could work, but the nutty, slightly sweet flavor of the rutabaga and friends is so appealing that you really don’t want to mask it. Also, this tastes pretty good even if you don’t cook it to the level of crispy wonderfulness depicted above. But it’s not as crispily wonderful, of course.

I usually serve this in place of rice or potatoes at dinner. The nutrition info at left is for rutabaga that isn’t slathered with butter and salt. But still: look at all that Vitamin C! This is how Swedes avoided scurvy back in the day, apparently. And it’s more interesting than rice or potatoes.

The best part comes in the morning. Warmed up, these make for spectacular hash browns. I usually just put some in a bowl, microwave it for 30 seconds — with a little butter, of course — and drop an over-easy egg on top. A couple drops of Cholula sauce, and you have a Swedish-Mexican-English-American delicacy.

Breakfast!

This is the latest edition of my occasional e-mail newsletter, which you can subscribe to right here:

Hello, readers (and if you’re wondering what this is, I just added you to the subscription list for my occasional email newsletter; scroll down to the bottom if you wish to unsubscribe):

When I joined Time magazine in 2007, I got an office between Joe Klein’s and Nathan Thornburgh’s. Joe was perfectly nice but he wasn’t there much and when he was there, he was usually haranguing somebody over the phone. So I mainly hung out with Nathan. Now Nathan and I are both part of the vast Time diaspora —he co-founded and co-runs a wonderful travel site called Roads & Kingdoms — and we still hang out from time to time.  A few months ago we met up at Birch Coffee on Columbus between 96th and 97th, and afterwards this happened:

Justin … told me as we walked back to Broadway that what Roads and Kingdoms really needed was more Breakfast, that Breakfast was a stunningly underrated meal, and that if I was smart I would start a Breakfast vertical as soon as possible.

This week my recommendation became reality. Roads & Kingdom’s Breakfast vertical (a vertical is a digital-journalism thing that’s sort of equivalent to a section in a newspaper) is a thing, a beautiful thing. The very first breakfast looked this:

That is a donburi bowl (which is redundant because “donburi” means “bowl”, but I’m just trying to be clear here) from a restaurant in Hakodate, the southernmost city on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, containing what writer Matt Goulding describes as:

… scallops swollen to the size of English muffins, salmon eggs that pop like little depth charges of salt and umami, cat tongues of uni that melt over the warm grains of rice like egg yolk on a carbonara …

This, and the subsequent breakfasts (there’s a new one every day), makes me more than a little self-conscious about the piece I’ve been planning to turn in about Joey’s and my regular Saturday morning breakfast at Tom’s Restaurant on Broadway. But it also makes me very proud to have played a role in getting this thing going.

As for my own writings, the piece I put the most heart and soul into over the past couple of weeks was a column about the sad, sad standoff between Steve and Elaine Wynn, once the most powerful (and maybe the most endearing) couple in Las Vegas. The best part of it was reading old stories about the two, and the best story was by another former co-worker of mine (at Fortune), Nina Munk, in Vanity Fair in 2005. One of my favorite passages was about how their parents introduced them in Miami over Christmas break in 1960. Steve was a sophomore at Penn; Elaine a freshman at UCLA.

From dinner with their parents at the Miami Jai-Alai Fronton, he took Elaine to the Boom Boom Room at the Fontainebleau; then he drove her to the 79th Street Causeway, where they were parked until two o’clock in the morning. Ten days later, she was wearing his Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity pin.

The column I put the most hours into was on the new Steve Jobs book by two more former Fortune colleagues, Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. I read their book, which took me most of a day. But first I also finally read Walter Isaacson’s much-longer Jobs biography while flying to Birmingham, Alabama, and back. More than 1,000 pages in a row, then, about a man who said “shit” all the time (it really does seem to have been his favorite word). Fun!

Actually, it was fun. They’re both quite entertaining books.

Other things I wrote about: “The Rise of Chipotle Nation,” “Are Money Managers Lemmings?” “China’s Leap Forward in Digital Medicine,” “Kraft Was Global, Then It Wasn’t,” “The Intangible Corporation.” And many more.

Till next time,

Justin

Forgotten Kale

kale 3

This is kale that’s been sitting in a 280-degree (Fahrenheit; that’s 137 Celsius) oven for a really long time. I’m not exactly sure how long, but it was at least an hour. And once it cooled off enough to eat, it was spectacular.

The key here, other than the low temperature, is massaging the kale with olive oil and a pinch of salt. It’s not enough just to pour the oil on, you’ve got to make sure the leaves are coated. The kale starts out like this:

kale 1

And should look like this right before you put it in the oven:

kale 2

Roasting kale in the oven is something we’ve been doing for a while, but the idea for the oil massage came from “crack broccoli” — broccoli with oil, salt, and a little bit of sugar massaged in, then roasted on a cookie sheet at 500 degrees. You don’t want to add sugar to the kale; I tried that once and it was nasty. And high temperatures don’t work either. The leaves burn too easily.

So I kept turning the temperature down, and eventually landed at 280. After 30 to 40 minutes, that gets you some pretty good crispy kale. But one night last week we had friends visiting from Australia. There were small children involved, an overexcited dog, and … at some point I walked into the kitchen and realized it smelled kale-ish. I had completely forgotten that it was in the oven. I figured the stuff would be ruined, but it turns out that no, at 280 degrees, it just keeps getting better. Just the right amount of crispy. Just the right amount of oily. Not burned at all.

By that point it may also have lost all its nutritional value. But really, who cares?

Update: It turns out this works even better at 250 degrees. I also cooked it at 180 once by mistake, and that didn’t work at all.

Update 2: Lately we’ve settled on 275 degrees as the best temperature, although 250 may be better if you’re actually likely to forget it.

Crimes Against Okra

okra

Battered, fried okra of the sort they serve at meat-and-three restaurants in the South is a magnificent thing, and I ate a ton of it during my years in Alabama. Bhindi masala, the spicy okra dish common in Indian restaurants, is pretty great, too. Then there’s gumbo, and lots of African and Caribbean and Asian and Mediterranean okra dishes that I’d really like to try someday.

But when okra is fresh off the field, as it is these days at the farmer’s markets around me (the photo above was taken at the Thursday market in front of Columbia University), going to the effort of battering or spicing or stewing seems almost criminal. The okra is so flavorful on its own that cooking it with just a little bit of oil and salt is the best possible thing you can do with it.

I discovered this years ago, I think because I had bought some okra and was just too lazy to go the full Southern battered route. The recipe — if you can call it that — then became a family mainstay because when my son was a toddler, okra prepared this way was one of the only vegetables he would eat. Now, because it is okra season and most people north of the Mason-Dixon Line have no idea to do with the stuff, I’m out to proselytize the stuff, in part to ensure its continued availability at farmer’s markets. So here’s what you do:

1. Buy some okra, of the fresh, unblemished sort that is customary at farmer’s markets and can occasionally be found at supermarkets. Small pods are usually better than big ones, but the key differentiator is whether they feel slightly springy to the touch or kinda hard. You want springy. How much? Maybe 4-5 pods a person, although I’m perfectly capable of consuming 20 pods all by myself. Okra tends to be pretty expensive as veggies go — $6 a pound seems to be the standard price at the farmer’s markets I frequent; the very pretty ones above, though, went for $8.

2. Chop the okra into rounds of about half an inch. I discard the end and the tip of each pod, which is probably a waste. They’re perfectly edible, I’m just worried that they won’t cook well with the rest. Warning: this will get a little sticky. You may need to wash your knife midway, and you’ll definitely want to scrub the cutting board when you’re done.

3. Put a skillet (preferably cast-iron) on the stove and turn the heat up to medium. Pour in some olive oil and, if you like butter (I do!), throw in some of that too — although it’s really fine with just oil. Maybe a tablespoon of each if you’re cooking 20-25 pods.

4. Throw the okra into the skillet. The pieces will stick to each other at first, so you’ll need to spend some time with a spatula separating them and making sure they get coated with oil/butter. I add a pinch or two of salt at this point, but don’t put in too much. You can always add more when it’s done.

okra in skillet

5. Cook, flipping the okra rounds over with a spatula pretty frequently, until most of them are brown on both sides. I used to go to great lengths make sure every single round got evenly browned, sometimes even picking them up one-by-one with tongs. But that’s really unnecessary.

6. Eat.

okra to eat

 

Multiculturally Spiced Chicken

multi spiced chicken

 

In the long, long ago, I wrote a lot about food on this blog. I’ve been thinking about starting to do that again, but have worried about the tone. I’ve been cooking for company for more than a quarter century now, so my experiments usually turn out pretty well. And does the world really need another guy writing smug accounts of how good that sautéed shad roe tasted?

In the long run, of course, the answer is yes (and the shad roe was spectacular). But it seemed propitious to (re)start with tonight’s somewhat failed experiment: roasted chicken pieces with a bunch of spices and spice blends out of the cabinet. The basic recipe is Mark Bittman’s: turn up the oven to 450 Fahrenheit, put some olive oil and maybe butter into a roasting pan, put it in the oven till it’s hot, throw in some salted and peppered chicken pieces, skin side up, let them cook for 15 minutes, turn them over and cover them with some sort of herb or spice blend and cook for 10 minutes more, turn them over again and cover them again with that herb or spice blend, cook another 10 minutes and you’re done.

We usually make this with Herbes de Provence, and it’s good. This time the chicken had been soaking overnight in whey (what’s left over when you strain regular yogurt to make Greek-ish yogurt, which Mrs. By Justin Fox does most every week) with a bit of salt, and I thought a different sort of seasoning would be appropriate. I found a jar of a seasoning blend called Borsari, which has been sitting in our spice cabinet for a couple of years and getting no use at all. The particular variety we have is called “orange-ginger blend,” but it mainly tasted like salt. By Justin Fox Junior then suggested Indian seasonings, so I added garam masala and coriander. He also noticed a container of Old Bay, tried it with the Borsari, and liked it. So I shook a little of all four over the chicken as I turned it.

The result was … good but way too salty. I blame the Borsari, and myself for using way too much of it. Mixing Old Bay and garam masala, though, might not be a bad idea at all.

Why every American kitchen should have a spätzle maker

Spaetzle1

One day back in November I ordered a Berkshire pork loin roast (a little over two pounds) from the nice people at FreshDirect. I seemed to remember a previous such roast being a little dull, so I placed it the night before in my basic Thanksgiving turkey brine: salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice, cloves, rosemary and thyme. And, you know, water.

I realize that it would be helpful if I gave the proportions, at least the salt-to-water proportions. I think it was something less than a cup of salt in two quarts of water, but don’t hold me to that. In any case, it was probably slightly too much salt, although nobody complained. I brought the brine to a boil, let it cool, then stuck the pork in it overnight in the fridge.

The next evening, I browned the pork on every side I could, with some butter, in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Then I set the frying pan aside and put the pork on a rack in a roasting pan in a 250-degree oven and left it there for a while. Maybe an hour-and-a-half?

Then I set about making spätzle, which I thought would be good with a pork roast. There had been a Kurt Guttenbrunner recipe in the Times in September for "Spaetzle With Corn, Peas, Braised Rabbit and Tarragon." The crucial excerpt:

For the spaetzle:

Salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg

2 large eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream plus 5 teaspoons

1/2 cup quark or fromage blanc or cottage cheese

Extra virgin olive oil.

and then this:

4. For spaetzle: place a large pot of lightly salted water over high heat to bring to a boil. Place flour in a large bowl and season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Add eggs, 1/2 cup cream and quark; mix well. When water boils, press dough through a spaetzle maker directly into water. As noodles float to top, remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl. Mix with a bit of olive oil. Set aside.

The Dining section with this recipe had been sitting in our newspaper stack for a while, and I guess I had recently looked through it. I noticed that it called for quark, which before it became a subatomic particle was the German version of ricotta/cottage cheese, and sure enough they sell the stuff at Zabar’s. I didn’t notice the part about a "spaetzle maker" until I was already starting to mix the ingredients, so I improvised on that.

I initially tried to mix with a whisk, which got me nowhere. So I switched to the beaters and that worked but was messy. I then used a cheese grater to cut the dough into spätzle. It was a huge mess. I’d say maybe half the dough actually made it into the boiling water. But that half tasted really good.

Part of what made it taste so good was a cream sauce, which I made like this: I looked at the pan in which I had browned the pork, and there didn’t seem to be quite enough pork residue in there. So I cooked some chopped-up bacon in it too. Then I took out the bacon bits, and poured out most of the grease.

Then, I turned up the heat, and poured in some Barbancourt four-year-old dark rum (maybe a half cup?), mixed in a bunch of dijon mustard (maybe two tablespoons?), and cooked this down to a sizzling couple of tablesppons. After which I poured in a cup or so of cream, which I let sizzle down for about 10 minutes. That was the sauce. (If you don’t have Barbancourt rum, bourbon or brandy would suffice; most other dark rums wouldn’t, because they have a weird ammoniac taste that you wouldn’t want in a cream sauce. I do recommend Barbancourt rum, though, because it’s really good and because I think we should all do what we can to support the Haitian economy.)

The accompaniments were a salad, which included those bacon bits, and a beet, grated and sauteed in butter, with a little lime zest and lime juice added at the very last second. (The recipe’s in The Gourmet Cookbook).

Spaetz2

Anyway, it all tasted really good. So good that I’ve been getting requests for the recipe, which I am only now getting around to posting.

Also, I asked for a spätzle maker for Christmas. And I got one! (They apparently cost only $8.95 at Zabar’s.)

So after Christmas I made spätzle again, this time mixing the dough in the Cuisinart and using the spätzle maker. Sadly, I put the spätzle maker together wrong, and made another mess (see photo).

The black rubber part is supposed to go on the bottom, not on the top. Since then I’ve been able to figure that out, and make lots and lots of spätzle. Also, I’ve used ricotta, which is a lot easier to find in stores other than the magical Zabar’s, instead of quark, and it seemed to work just fine.

Brine, beets and watermelon radishes

I came very close to embracing an incipient Thanksgiving foodie trend this year and spatchcocking the turkey, as instructed by the Washington Post. But I lost my nerve at the last minute, partly because all the references to spatchcocking I found on the Web other than the Post story described it as a preparation best suited for grilling (it involves slicing through the backbone so you lay the bird flat). Plus the bird (from the Depaola truck at the Union Square greenmarket) was small enough to fit easily in a pot in the fridge. So I went again with what is becoming a pretty conventional Thanksgiving practice (we’ve been doing it for almost a decade) and prepared a brine.

Brine I put in a bunch of kosher salt (can’t even remember now if it was 1.5 cups or 2.5), brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice, cloves, rosemary and thyme, and brought it all to a boil.

After letting the brine cool down I poured it into the pot with the turkey in it, and didn’t make too much of mess. About 20 hours later I pulled the turkey out (and did make a mess) and put it on its side on a rack in a roasting pan. I roasted it on that side at 400 degrees for 27 minutes (seemed like a good number), flipped it and roasted it on the other side for 27 minutes, then turned the oven down to 350, set the turkey breast side up and put some sweet potatos, parsnips and turnips under it, then poured in some turkey broth and white wine. It probably cooked about 90 or 100 minutes like that. I may have turned the oven down to 325 at some point.

It was the first time I had ever cooked a turkey without once consulting a cookbook. And it was good, really good. In past years I’ve sometimes overbrined. This year the turkey was moist with a hint of the herbs from the brine, but not soft or overspiced. In fact, I’m going to grab a hunk out of the fridge right now.

BeetsOkay, that’s done. The rest of the menu consisted of smashed potatoes, a really great soup of sweet potatoes and other root veggies that Mrs. By Justin Fox made a few weeks ago, green beans tossed in Dijon mustard and anchovy past.

And then there were the sweet potatoes, which I guess were redundant given the soup but we didn’t want to do without. I was initially thinking of slicing them into french-fry pieces and, well, frying them. But there wasn’t an appropriate pot available, so I altered a recipe for grated beets that we’ve been eating a lot of lately (it’s from the Gourmet Cookbook).

I grated two sweet potatoes together with one beet, fried ’em up in a skillet with butter like hash browns, then added a little grated lime zest and lime juice at the last minute.

It’s better with just beets.

SaladFinally, the salad.

The beautiful watermelon radishes and multicolored carrots were from a really sweet little veggie stand at Union Square near the north entrance to the subway station. I made a dressing of orange juice and shallots and mustard. But it just wasn’t very good. It looked great, though.

It was this picture, in fact, that inspired my to write here for the first time in months and months. Not that it’s such a great picture, but the salad was beautiful. Plus, the rest of the family (including in laws) is in the next room working on the annual gingerbread house, which this year is a gas station. I said I was going to get to work on the book (I have a cleaned-up manuscript due Dec. 17), and this procrastination opportunity was just too good to pass up. Happy (post-)Thanksgiving!

Sea robin advice from an expert

This blog is now one of the world’s foremost online sources of culinary information about sea robins. Seriously, type “cooking sea robin” into the Google and my previous post on the topic shows up–today at least–in fourth place. As such, it’s been getting some traffic from sea robin aficionados, one of whom sent me this informative e-mail:

First thing, you got ripped. 5 dollars? Then again after spending 50 bucks on a party boat to catch a few fluke means the few sea robins I took in actually cost more than that … but anyway, you have to fillet them and deep fry the fillets. They are quite good, but you will still have a few smallish bones that come out easily after cooking. Only a big one will get you decent fillets, it takes a skilled hand to fillet a smaller one. … People still look at me funny when I take a few sea robins home for dinner. They are aesthetically ugly fish (though divers seem to think they are beautiful) but no uglier, my wife contends, than any flatfish … perhaps that’s why no market ever developed for them.

The sea robin debacle, or, not all junk-fish experiments succeed

Searobin_4

This is a sea robin. At least, that’s what Captain Rick called it last Friday. A friend who stopped by as I was getting ready to cook it said that, when she fished off Shelter Island as a kid, her dad referred to such things as “garbage fish.”

Rick sells lots of perfectly normal fish (filets of tuna, flounder, etc.) at his stand at the 97th Street Greenmarket. But that kind of stuff costs real money, and is kinda boring, so I’m usually drawn to his little bin of whole fish. I’ve bought lots of excellent porgies from him, and the week before I had gone for the butterfish. This time the weirdest thing in the bin was the sea robin, so I bought it. For $5.

I asked Rick what to do with the thing. He said to cut off the tail and bake it. So I cut off the tail:

Searobin2_2

I then followed a recipe for monkfish tail in the no-longer-All-New Joy of Cooking (1997 edition), stuffing the thing with chopped garlic and basil and Maldon salt:

Searobin3

I roasted it at 450 degrees, initially just with oil and then with some Vinho Verde thrown in.

It was a bust, which is why I took no pictures of the finished product. It didn’t look good. It didn’t taste good. The kid, who will eat porgies all day, didn’t like it. The wife didn’t like it. I didn’t like it. The mix of flavors was just wrong. Maybe I overcooked it. Or undercooked it. But I don’t think that was the problem. Luckily, I had also made a nice salad and cooked up some couscous and Fresh Direct lamb sausage. But still, it was a bust.

I think the fish might taste fine in a thick, creamy sauce. A sea robin etouffee. Except that it’s got lots of little bones which would make such treatment difficult. So this week it’s back to porgies or butterfish. Or maybe even tuna.

Butterfish and land shark

Someday soon, I hope, my digital media empire will consist of the Curious Capitalist at Time.com, a site/blog (probably at this address) promoting my book, and a food blog produced with others (I’m talking about you, Gina). But I haven’t gotten around to making that happen yet. Which means this still doubles as a food blog, because I think posting recipes on my Time.com blog would be just too self-indulgent.

And since I cooked butterfish for the first time Friday night, it seems imperative that I share the experience here. I bought them from Captain Rick, who catches fish off the Hamptons and sells them at, among other places, the Friday Greenmarket on 97th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus. He sold me six of the little things (for $4, I think) and told me to “lance” them. I took that to be a euphemism for cleaning them, which is itself a euphemism for pulling their guts and organs out. But it was an easy enough process with the little butterfish that I guess lance is as good a word for it as any. Anyway, here they are, post-lancing:

Butterfish1

And here they are a couple minutes later frying in peanut oil:

Butterfish2

Cooking them in a cast-iron skillet was a mistake. I figured it was the best alternative to teflon, which I don’t really like to use plus our one teflon pan is too small for six butterfish anyway. But the skins came right off the fish and bonded in a deep and lasting way with the cast iron. (I was able to get them off eventually, but it took a whole lotta scrubbing.) Here’s what the fish looked like afterwards:

Butterfish3

The garnish was chopped garlic and ginger fried in a little peanut oil, to which I added some toasted sesame oil and soy sauce after the the frying was done. When I first tasted the fish in the pan I wondered if maybe the garnish was overkill, because the fish really did taste like butter. But after eating a couple of the things I wanted all the flavor I could get because eating plain butter is actually kind of boring. All in all it was a big success, except perhaps esthetically. Oh, and those fish have an awful lot of tiny bones.

Captain Rick also talked me into buying a couple pounds of sand shark filets. When I announced this at the P.S. 163 book sale down the sidewalk, somebody asked, “land shark?” The name stuck.

I kept the land-shark-prep pretty simple. I just rubbed some oil and salt and pepper on it, broiled it, then served it with anchovy butter. It’s really rich, and we could have done with far less fish for three adults and a kid. So on Sunday I made myself shark salad out of the leftovers. It was okay, but there’s a reason why you can’t buy cans of Wolverine of the Sea at the supermarket: Shark doesn’t make nearly as good a salad as tuna does.