Making Cranberry Sauce in Korea (a story, not a recipe)

Getting to Costco takes one hour and two busses. The first bus takes me down Namsan through Hannam-dong, South across the Han river and leaves me at Gangnam Station. It's the same bus that takes my husband to work at Samsung-town and me to Korean class at YBM. Then I pay extra to take one of the fancy red commuter busses even farther South to Yangjae. This journey is about the same as if I went to Costco in Queens from my old apartment in Park Slope, which is a thing I would never, ever, in a million years do without a car. In Korea, I do it roughly once a month.

We're hosting Thanksgiving dinner for seventeen people, in no small part, because I have the oven large enough to fit a Turkey. Also because, let's be real, cooking for seventeen people is much less stressful to me than going to a potluck and having to pretend to not be the world's pickiest and snobbiest eater. Even though I actually don't like most Thanksgiving foods, the menu I created was full of the classics because we're seventeen people not just away from our families but away from our country. Food has a lot of power to give us joy and comfort and that's what I want for our Thanksgiving day, to feel joyous and comforted. To have a few hours to forget how frustrating it can be to live somewhere so culturally and linguistically different and to be thankful for shared meals and conversations. 

During my October trip to Costco I noticed they had Turkeys and Martinelli's Sparkling Cider already. They didn't have any other Thanksgiving items but the inventory seems to always be changing so I was hopeful that as it got closer to the date, more foods would appear. Canned pumpkin! Fresh cranberries! In my wildest, most hopeful dreams, brussels sprouts. I'm not a religious person but for the last month, I've been PRAYING for brussels sprouts.

Wednesday I went to Costco and I loaded my cart up with the two largest Turkeys, sparkling cider, pounds of cheese, an obscene amount of juice for punch, bourbon, vodka, gin and our regular Costco groceries. I gave my body a full work out pushing what had to have ended up being a close to 100 pound cart circling and circling the produce section. No bags of fresh cranberries. No sugar pie pumpkins. No brussels sprouts. There weren't even any green beans. My only consolation was finding a bag of limes, I haven't had a lime since we've gotten to Korea. Even the one Margarita I've had was made with lemon.

To my credit, I didn't cry. If this had happened in New York, I would've cried. New York is a magical place where you can cry in public and it almost feels more private than crying at home because the world continues around you without even noticing. But I live in Korea and in Korea I'd be a weird white woman with ten times as many groceries in her cart as most of the Korean shoppers, sobbing. I can afford to buy peanut butter pretzels three pounds at a time, what do I have to cry about?

I slowly and meticulously pushed my beast of a cart down each aisle searching for canned cranberries or even frozen. Pumpkin pie you can mimic with almost any winter squash so I wasn't too worried about that but what was I going to do without cranberries?! I finally settled on buying a big bag of craisins figuring I could work some sort of magic with them and the cranberry juice cocktail I had in my cart for punch.

I paid for my groceries and packed them into my ridiculously gigantic reusable Costco bags and pushed my cart out to the curb to get a cab. Can you imagine getting a cab at Costco in Queens, having a cab driver be happy to take you back to Brooklyn and help you load 100 pounds of groceries into the trunk? I'm 99% percent sure that would actually be impossible but in Seoul it's rarely difficult. Also, it costs about $13.00. You win this round, Korea.

Thursday morning I went to eMart to get some more Thanksgiving supplies and crossed my fingers that maybe they'd have canned cranberries in the foreign food section or frozen cranberries with the other frozen berries. No luck. I sighed and made a plan to make imitation canned sauce using either gelatin or pectin, cranberry juice cocktail and an emptied and well cleaned diced tomato can. It's not exactly an ideal Thanksgiving Basics recipe but maybe it would be kind of fun.

To get pectin I had to go to High Street Market, an expensive import store in Hannam where you can go both to get over-priced goldfish crackers and vegan cheese. They don't really stock fresh produce but a small part of me was still dreaming of bags of Ocean Spray cranberries. I opened the door to the market and walked into a shelf piled with cans of pumpkin AND jellied cranberry sauce.

So this Thanksgiving, my recipe will be two cans of jellied cranberry sauce and one can opener. Hey, it's what my husband wanted anyways.

Thanksgiving Basics: Candied Sweet Potatoes

I've now looked at maybe every candied sweet potato recipe on the internet and what I learned from them is that it's almost impossible to take an attractive picture of candied sweet potatoes. Candied sweet potatoes weren't really a fixture on my Thanksgiving table growing up (we mostly just went with mashed potatoes and also more mashed potatoes) but we've been getting a fair amount of sweet potatoes in our CSA and I've been making a much (much) lazier, much more haphazard version of this recipe on an almost weekly basis. When one of my Thanksgiving guests requested sweet potatoes on the menu, I figured it was time to fine tune it. This version is still incredibly easy to make but a little more decadent than what I usually make for myself.

Recipe serves 5-7

Ingredients:

  • 4 Medium Sweet Potatoes
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) Salted Butter
  • 1/2 cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Maple Syrup (Grade B if possible)
  • 2 teaspoons Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1-2 teaspoons Red Pepper Flakes (2 is quite spicy, which I'm into, but I'll be making it with 1 for my guests)

How to make it:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. While the water is coming to a boil, peel and chop your sweet potatoes into roughly one inch cubes. Boil the sweet potatoes until they are tender and can be pierced with a fork and then drain.
  3. While the sweet potatoes are boiling, combine butter, brown sugar, maple, cinnamon, salt and red pepper flakes in a small heavy bottomed sauce pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter is melted, the brown sugar is dissolved and the emulsification comes to a simmer.
  4. Evenly distribute the sweet potatoes in a 9 by 13 glass baking dish and pour the syrup over them. Stir to make sure the sweet potatoes are evenly coated.
  5. Place the pan in the oven and bake for fifteen minutes. Give the sweet potatoes another stir to coat them evenly and bake an additional ten minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Serve as soon as they're cool enough to eat.

Protip: I'll be making these one day in advance, cooling completely at room temperature, wrapping well and refrigerating overnight. In an ideal world, I'd have to space to reheat them in the oven but my oven is only big by Korean standards, so I'll probably be reheating them in the microwave. 

Thanksgiving Basics: Parker House Rolls

Look, I get it, there's a lot to do for Thanksgiving, do the rolls really have to be homemade? If you've got a great bakery near by taking Thanksgiving pre-orders or if you just really really love the squishiest grocery store rolls you can possibly find then, hey, go for it, but if you find digging your hands in to dough and the yeasty smell of fresh baked bread soothing, maybe throw these into your Thanksgiving production mix. I'll honestly be making mine a few days in advance and freezing them until the big day.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons Warm Water (105-115 degrees if you want to bust out the thermometer OR just warm to touch)
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast (this is the same as one grocery store packet)
  • 2 tablespoons Honey
  • 3 ounces Unsalted Butter 
  • 1 cup Whole Milk
  • 2 cups Bread Flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 3/4 cup AP Flour plus extra for kneading
  • Additional 1 oz butter for finishing
  • optional: bacon fat for greasing the pan

  1. First things first, we want to get our yeast happy and active. Combine the warm water, dry yeast and sugar in a small bowl and mix until the yeast is dissolved. Let it hang out for about 5 minutes. At the end of five minutes it should be at least as foamy as the picture above. More foamy is fine but no foam means you've probably done something to kill your yeast. If you don't have foam, throw away and try again with slightly cooler water.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt 3 ounces of butter. Add honey and milk in with the butter and heat just until lukewarm. Pour the milk/honey/butter mixture into a large mixing bowl and add the yeast mixture, bread flour and salt. Mix this together with a wooden spoon (or in my case a silicone spoon) until well combined. It shouldn't really look like dough yet. Mix in 3/4 cup of All Purpose flour. I started this with the spoon but mostly ended up lightly kneading it in until it looked like a sticky ball.
  3. Turn your messy, sticky ball out on to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough for about ten minutes or until smooth and elastic. (Or, if you're fancy, until it passes the windowpane test). Form your dough into a ball and put it in a large buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size. This will probably take about an hour but if you're kitchen is super warm because of all the other Thanksgiving things you're whipping up or your milk got a little warmer than lukewarm when you were heating it, it could be less time.
  4. Grease a 13 by 9 inch pan with either butter or bacon fat (I did bacon fat, obvs). Turn your dough out onto a counter (not floured) and divide into twenty equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball* and place into pan in four rows of five. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise another 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size. Uncover and use a chopstick to create a crease down the center of each row. Loosely cover and let rise again for 15 minutes.
  5. While rolls are doing their final rise, preheat the oven to 375. Melt 1 oz of butter. When the rolls are done rising, brush with butter and put in the oven. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool the rolls in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a rack. I always want to eat them immediately at this point but the flavor and texture really will be better if you wait 15 minutes.
  6. Store in an airtight container up to 24 hours and warm in oven to serve. This is the kind of roll that really isn't that great more than one day old so if you want to make the rolls more than 24 hours in advance I recommend freezing them.

*Here is a not very good video of me making my dough into balls. Next time I try to make a video of something, I'll do it when my husband is home and make him hold the phone. He might have the sense to hold it horizontally.

Thanksgiving Basics: Maple Pecan Pie

Tell me if this sounds familiar: Every year you buy a bottle of corn syrup to make pecan pie for Thanksgiving, get home and put it away only to discover you actually have five half bottles you never got around to using. Let's make pecan pie with something you'll actually want to keep in your house and use, maple syrup.

Ingredients:

  • Basic 3-2-1 Pie Dough like this one
  • 1 1/2 cups Chopped Pecans
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 oz (1/2 stick) Melted Butter
  • 1/2 cup Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1 cup Maple Syrup (I almost always cook with Grade B if it's available to me)
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • Generous slug of Bourbon (optional)

Yeah, that's really it.

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Roll out and shape your pie dough. Put the prepped crust in the freezer or fridge while you mix the filling.
  3. Whisk together melted butter, dark brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, salt and bourbon. Whisk eggs into the mixture until emulsified. If you're feeling fancy you can do this with and immersion blender but it's not really that much easier than whisking by hand.
  4. Take your crust out of the fridge/freezer and cover the bottom with chopped pecans. Pour the maple mixture over the pecans (they'll float to the top) and out the pie in your preheated oven. Bake 50 minutes our just until set.
  5. Let cool at room temperature. Can be made one day in advance. I store my pies at room temperature to avoid ruining the crust with the humidity of the fridge.
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Protip: Making a whole grip of pies for Thanksgiving? Make one large batch of pie dough. Portion out into discs for individual pies and plastic wrap really well. If you're making it over three days in advance, throw it into the freezer and move it into the fridge 24 hours before you plan on using it. If you're making the dough three days in advance or less, just store it well wrapped in the fridge.


Thanksgiving Basics: Pumpkin Pie (Plus a Variation)

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This week I'm going to be posting a basic Thanksgiving recipe every day. Nothing too crazy, just slight updates on that recipe of Grandma's you KNOW you put somewhere. Let's start with the most sacred of the sacred Thanksgiving foods: Pumpkin Pie. This recipe will yield two pumpkin pies because we all know one isn't enough.

Ingredients:

  • Basic 3-2-1 Pie Dough like this one  Doubled
  • 15 oz Pumpkin Puree (Honest talk: From the can is fine, just make sure it's plain pumpkin)
  • 1 cup Half and Half
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon Ginger (powdered or fresh grated)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg (ground or grated)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt

Optional variation for Chocolate Pumpkin Pie:

  • 8 oz 72% Chocolate
  • 2 oz (1/2 stick) Butter

Let's Get Started

  1. Preheat your oven to 350. 
  2. Roll out your pie dough and shape into two pie pans. If you have room, put them in the freezer while you mix the filling. If you don't, the refrigerator is fine.
  3. For regular pumpkin pie, put all the ingredients in a large bowl and whisk well. Voila! Now you have pumpkin pie filling! Really, it's that easy. (For the chocolate variation, melt chocolate and butter together over a double boiler. Combine all the ingredients and whisk together. Now you have chocolate pumpkin pie filling!)
  4. Take your pie shells from wherever they're being chilled and divide the filling between them. Put them in your preheated oven and bake for 45-50 minutes or just until set.
  5. Let cool at room temperature. Pumpkin pies can be made one day in advance. I keep mine out at room temperature because I don't want to risk ruining the crust with the humidity of the refrigerator.

Protip: Making a whole grip of pies for Thanksgiving? Make one large batch of pie dough. Portion out into discs for individual pies and plastic wrap really well. If you're making it over three days in advance, throw it into the freezer and move it into the fridge 24 hours before you plan on using it. If you're making the dough three days in advance or less, just store it well wrapped in the fridge.

Mini Chocolate Variation