Travelgiving: Sweet Potato Tartlets with Five Spice Fluff

Travel Inspired Sweet Potato Pie for Thanksgiving

Last year I wrote a series of recipes I called "Thanksgiving Basics" in case you're far from home or hosting Thanksgiving for the first time and just want to keep it classic and simple. You can find them all here. This year I'll be doing things a little more travel inspired for our second annual big expat Thanksgiving (we'll be hosting around 25) but definitely keeping some of the classics in the mix.

Our 3rd Stop: Thailand, where I bought our star anise heavy five spice powder or China, where five spice comes from.

Our T-Day Inspiration: Candied Yams (I'm using the common name for this dish even though what you're eating in the US is always a sweet potato)

I grew up eating plenty of sweet potatoes as baked potatoes but the classic marshmallow topped candied yams never graced my Thanksgiving table so even the recipe I wrote last year isn't the most traditional. I love sweet potatoes and I love home-made marshmallows so I figured there had to be a way to make this dish my own. Unfortunately, when I did a more traditional casserole with my homemade honey five spice marshmallows (delicious, and will definitely get a write up of their own) they just totally melted without browning. I'm not entirely sure why. It also was so sweet when I tried it, I just couldn't imagine serving it with the main course and decided to revise and make a dessert. I remembered a few years ago, I worked at a catering company where we had a bride specifically request this Martha Stewart cake with it's toasted marshmallow frosting and I knew that was something I could make my own that would stand up to either a torch or a broiler. I will say, even as a dessert, this ends up being a little much for me, but if you've got guests know for their sweet tooth, this is bound to be a winner.

Ingredients:

  • A basic 3-2-1 Pie Dough, like 1.5 times this one

For the Sweet Potato Filling:

  • 1.5 pounds Sweet Potato*
  • 2 ounces Butter (melted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Five Spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 2 tablespoons AP Flour
  • 3/4 cup cream

For the Fluff:

  • 1.5 sheets Gelatin
  • 1/4 cup Egg Whites
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon Five Spice Powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons Water

*I've found two types of sweet potatoes in Korea. The smaller, more widely available ones are too starchy to work well for this recipe. The ones to use are the "pumpkin sweet potatoes" (which can be found at Costco this time of year) which are more similar to American varietals but still a little on the starchy side. I bet this recipe turns out even better with soft US sweet potatoes. I think if I do this again with Korean sweet potatoes, I'll probably cut out the flour.

Directions:

  1. First things first, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Take out your chilled pie dough and divide into six pieces. Roll out a piece into circle 3/8th inch thick. Place into tartlet pan, making sure to go all the way down into the corners. Trim around the edges so you have an overhang about the height of the tart pan. Fold the overhang around the circle, creating a double thickness tart edge. You can now use a paring knife to trim off any height above the pan for a clean look or just leave it for a more rustic look. Repeat with the remaining five pieces of dough. Blind bake the tartlet crust to light golden brown. (You can also just do this recipe as one 9 inch pie)
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Peel and cube your sweet potatoes. Cook until fork tender and drain. In a large bowl, mash potatoes with a fork or potato masher. Mix in butter, salt and spices.
  3. In a separate bowl, use a stand or hand mixer to whisk together yolks and sugar until pale yellow and creamy. Fold into the sweet potatoes. Next mix in the flour and then the cream.
  4. In a clean bowl, use a stand or hand mixer, whip egg whites to soft peak. Fold 1/2 the egg white mixture into the sweet potato mix. Repeat with the remaining half until just incorporated.
  5. Divide sweet potato filling evenly between the six tartlets. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the center is just set.
  6. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Once cool, you can store for 24 hours in an airtight container before adding the fluff.

Adding the Fluff:

  1. Place the sheet gelatin in ice water until soft
  2. Begin beating egg whites to soft peak
  3. While the eggs are beating, heat sugar, honey, five spice, salt and water to 235 Fahrenheit. Immediately remove from heat. squeeze excess water off bloomed gelatin and then mix into the hot sugar.
  4. With mixer on low, slowly pour hot sugar into the eggs whites. Once all the sugar is in, turn up to high speed and let whip until cool and shiny (this will probably take about ten minutes, that sugar is HOT).
  5. I used a piping bag with a round tip to pipe the fluff until it completely covered the top of the tart and then I used a small offset spatula to shape it how I wanted. You can pipe or spread in whatever design you want.
  6. Once all your tartlets are covered with fluff, you can either torch them or stick under the broiler for about five minutes to brown. I don't have a torch here, so I used my "fish drawer" which is basically the Korean version of a broiler.
  7. Serve immediately or store at room temperature up to six hours.

Gluten free version: I'm fairly confident you could also do this as a casserole. Depending on the size of your casserole dish, you'd probably want to do one and a half times to double the recipe. Don't make a crust and omit the flour in the sweet potato filling. If you're serving it with the main course, don't double the fluff recipe, if you're doing it as more of a sweet potato pudding dessert, go to town.

Travelgiving: Oyster Mushroom Green Bean Casserole with Beer Battered Onion Rings

thanksgiving green bean casserole with beer battered onion rings

Last year I wrote a series of recipes I called "Thanksgiving Basics" in case you're far from home or hosting Thanksgiving for the first time and just want to keep it classic and simple. You can find them all here. This year I'll be doing things a little more travel inspired for our second annual big expat Thanksgiving (we'll be hosting around 25) but definitely keeping some of the classics in the mix.

Our 2nd stop: Seoul! One of my favorite things about living in South Korea is that oyster mushrooms are the cheap mushroom. Seriously, at my local grocery store they're $1-$2 a pound depending on whether it's a sale week or not, so yeah, let's fancy-up this casserole.

Our T-Day Inspiration: Green Bean Casserole

Confession: I'm not responsible for the green bean casserole at my own Thanksgiving, this one is just for me to eat all on my own while my husband is in California eating tacos and buying six packs of craft beer for the price of a single bottle in Seoul. Like candied yams with marshmallows, traditional green bean casserole wasn't really part of my Thanksgiving growing up (though we did often have variations or green bean salads) but I made it from scratch for the first time a couple of years ago and realized that just blanched green beans covered in mushroom cream and fried onions is preeeetty much my jam. I like to add lemon zest to brighten it up but you can leave it out if the oyster mushrooms are already breaking with tradition enough for you. Also, I beer battered my onion strings, because why not?

Ingredients:

Onion Strings:

  • 1 cup AP Flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Bottle of Beer (I used Cass Beats to keep with the Korea theme)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 medium yellow onions

Casserole:

  • 1.5 pounds Green Beans (trimmed and halved)
  • 12 ounces Oyster Mushrooms (chopped)
  • 4 tablespoons Butter
  • 4 tablespoons AP Flour
  • 1 cup Chicken Broth
  • 2/3 cups Heavy Cream
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • optional: Zest of 1/2 a Lemon

For the Strings:

  1. Halve onions and slice as thinly as possible, I recommend using a mandolin. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium bowl, set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg and beer. Pour one third the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk together thoroughly. Repeat with the remaining two thirds wet ingredients.
  3. In a heavy bottom pot or skillet (I like using my dutch oven), heat an inch of oil to 370 F.
  4. Dip onion strings in the batter and then carefully put into the hot oil. Fry until light golden brown and then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. (The onions will get darker when baked so err on the side of underdone)
  5. Repeat until out of onions. Realize you have a ton of crispy onion strings, eat a few (or a lot).

For the Casserole:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and blanch green beans for 3-4 minutes and drain.
  3. Put your mushroom and butter in a medium skillet over low to medium heat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until the mushrooms begin to release their liquids. Stir in the flour and cook for one minute. Add in one third the broth and stir just until it begins to thicken. Repeat two more times. Cook until it's thick enough to coat a spoon. Give it a taste and add more salt and pepper as necessary. Stir in the cream and lemon zest and cook until it thickens back up, stirring constantly. Taste again and adjust seasoning.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the green beans until they're evenly coated. Pour the green beans into a 2 quart casserole dish and cover generously with the onion strings.
  5. Bake for fifteen minutes until the sauce begins to bubble and the onion strings are medium golden brown. Enjoy as soon as it's cool to eat.

Pro tip: Instead of using a medium skillet, you could do the whole thing in a dutch oven... I only have one and it was still full of hot fry oil so I ended up dirtying more pans.

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Travelgiving: Pumpkin Pie Rugelach

Last year I wrote a series of recipes I called "Thanksgiving Basics" in case you're far from home or hosting Thanksgiving for the first time and just want to keep it classic and simple. You can find them all here. This year I'll be doing things a little more travel inspired for our second annual big expat Thanksgiving (we'll be hosting around 25) but definitely keeping some of the classics in the mix.

Our first stop: Budapest for pastry or a New York Jewish bakery's cookie jar by the register.

Our T-Day Inspiration: Pumpkin Pie

I love pumpkin pie as it is, so I'm not saying you necessarily need to improve on it but pumpkin pie is one of my favorite things, and flaky rugelach miiiiight be my favorite cookie after chocolate chip and when you combine them together they make magic. This is a cookie for all the people out there like me who love the crust as much, or maybe even more, than the filling. Not too sweet, full of pumpkin and spice and as tender as can be, even if there's already a pumpkin pie on the table, no host will be mad if you show up with these as your Thanksgiving feast contribution.

Pumpkin Spice Rugelach

Ingredients:

For the Dough:

  • 12 oz (3 sticks) Cold Butter, cubed
  • 12 oz Cold Cream Cheese, cubed
  • 12 oz All Purpose Flour

For the Filling:

  • 1 cup Pumpkin Puree*
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 2/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cloves
  • Pinch of Nutmeg
  • Pinch of Allspice
  • Pinch of Salt

*For readers in Korea, or other expats: After discovering the canned pumpkin at the Foreign Food Mart had an expiration date of two years ago, I took a Korean green sweet pumpkin, cut it in half and scooped it, put it in a shallow baking pan with a bit of water, covered it with foil and put it in a 350 degree oven until it was tender and could be easily scooped away from the skin. Than I used my immersion blender to turn it into puree.

Confession: That bottom middle picture is actually from a batch of peach rugelach, don't tell.

The Dough:

  1. The real secret to rugelach dough is that it's two parts fat to one part flour, so it's pretty hard to overmix. The second secret is that your butter and your cream cheese should be cold. If your kitchen is warm, stick them back in the fridge for thirty minutes after you cube them. The third secret is, we can do this in the mixer or by hand, you choose (this is a rare instance where I choose mixer)
  2. Put flour and butter into a mixer bowl, paddle together until the butter is pea sized pieces. Add in the cream cheese. Mix until streaky. (see the photos in the first row if you're wondering just how streaky it should be for ideal flakiness)
  3. Dump the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and pat into a rectangle. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least one hour. Easy Peasy.

The Filling:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together your sugar plus all your spices and salt for even distribution. In another bowl whisk together your pumpkin and egg until fully incorporated. Whisk the sugar into the pumpkin egg mixture. Refrigerate until you're ready to use.

Assembly and Baking:

  1. Flour a large work surface. Remove the dough and the filling from the refrigerator. Divide the dough into third. Roll out one third into a rectangle just a bit thinner than you would for pie dough. Trim off any uneven edges and putting the trimmings aside.
  2. Spread 1/3 of the pumpkin mixture in a thing layer over the dough, leaving an inch uncovered across the bottom edge (I like to use an offset spatula to do this).
  3. Gently roll up, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate seam side down.
  4. Repeat for the remaining two third of dough, incorporating the scraps from the dough before.
  5. Freeze for three hours before you're ready to bake
  6. Preheat an oven to 375. Line baking trays with parchment or silicon baking mats. Carefully cut one inch slices (I used a serrated knife) from the rolls and space evenly on the baking sheet, seam side down. Sprinkle with sugar
  7. Bake 35-45 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a rack. Serve when cool or once cool, keep in an airtight container for up to two days.
Travel Inspired Thanksgiving

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.