18 April 2011


balabusta: (noun)  a Yiddish expression describing a good, praiseworthy homemaker.  The word derives from the Hebrew word ba'alat-habayit meaning 'master of the house'.  The word has purely positive connotations.
Let me start this by letting you know that I am not Jewish, so please don't be offended if I've taken a few liberties with tradition.  I just truly enjoy celebrating Passover.  What can I say?  I love matzo!  Thankfully I have found many homes to celebrate the Seder, from my high school years with the Rothsteins to Baltimore with the Babus family and back to Jersey with Lady Baty.  Usually I merely play the role of confused guest, mumbling poorly accented Hebrew blessings, searching for matzo, fearing plagues and hoping that my efforts would be sufficient enough to score me some brisket and maybe a macaroon.  I enjoy the festivity of the holiday, the gathering of family and friends, but most of all the collective cooking that goes on.  Like any holiday, Passover is a time to gather up the recipes that have been handed down from one generation to another, enjoy a hot and crowded kitchen, and savor the feast that so many help to put together.

This year, though, I'm doing it on my own.  Refusing to play the role of Gentile bystander, I'm slapping on the apron, throwing out the chametz, and embracing my inner balabusta to create a Passover supper worthy of your Bubbe.  I've done my research by getting in touch with some friends, asking them to pass along recipes, and searching online and in cookbooks for some that I could test out and adjust for my own celebration.  Though this undertaking seemed a bit overwhelming at first, the required four cups of wine led to some cooking under the influence and a successful Pesach!  Here's the menu -

Salmon and Whitefish Cakes with Cucumber & Horseradish Sauce
Brisket with Rosemary & Thyme
Veggie Kugel
Oven-bakeApple Cinnamon Matzo Kugel
Coconut Almond Macaroons

While searching the web for some interesting takes on the traditional Passover fare, I found a delicious little appetizer from Bon Appetit.  Unfortunately, like many of their beautifully presented dishes, this one was well out of my penny-pinching price range.  But I looked it over, made a few adjustments, and came up with my own take.  The creamy horseradish was a delicious discovery from my vacation to Switzerland.  It comes in a tube and can be found in the international section of the grocery store.  The fresh chives are thanks to Nabisco because they were handing out little pots of grow-your-own chives last week.  Thanks Nabisco!

salmon and whitefish cakes with cucumber & horseradish sauce
1 c finely chopped English cucumber
1/2 c mayonnaise
4 tbsp creamy horseradish
2 tbsp finely chopped curly parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
fish cakes
1 7oz can pink salmon
1 24oz jar whitefish, removed from jelly
3 tbsp veggie oil
1/2 c shredded carrots
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large eggs
5 tbsp matzo meal
1 3/4 course Kosher salt
3/4 fresh ground white pepper
1. Stir all ingredients together and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Chill until ready to use.
fish cakes
1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp oil and briefly cook carrots and onion until tender but not brown.  Let cool in the skillet.
2. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper.  Stir in carrots and onions.  Stir in whitefish and salmon until well blended.  
3. In same skillet as before, heat enough oil to fill the bottom of the pan.  Mold fish mixture into patties in the palm of your hand, the mix should yield 8-12 depending on how big your hands are.  When the oil is very hot, add patties and saute until golden brown and heated through flipping once, about 3 minutes on each side.  When cooked, place on paper towel to remove excess oil.
4. Serve warm with lemon wedges and chilled sauce.

perfect Passover appy

I didn't have or get a recipe for the traditional brisket, so I figured I'd just wing it.  One tip, make sure you buy regular old brisket and not corned beef brisket; this isn't St. Patty's day and it could turn out gross.  Thankfully my mom helped me to avoid that mistake during a confused phone call while on line at the butcher.  After browsing around through a few online recipes and seeing what the usual ingredients were, I settled on a not measured recipe that kind of went like this:

baby j's brisket with rosemary & thyme
1 2-3lb beef brisket, trimmed of almost all the fat
3 c Kosher wine (I used a pretty tasty one from Israel, but any will do)
3 medium onions, chopped into large pieces
2 bay leaves 
1 c water
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp oil
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and bay leaf and let cook until tender and starting to become translucent, about 15 minutes.  Add wine and turn heat down to low, letting simmer.
2. Place a large dutch oven over medium heat to warm up.  Season brisket with remaining oil, salt and pepper.  Place brisket in dutch oven and allow to quickly brown on each side, only about a minute or two on each side.  When the meat has been browned, add the wine and onion mix, water, rosemary and thyme.  Add more water if necessary to cover the brisket completely.  Bring liquid to a simmer before covering the pot tightly and placing it in the oven.
3. Let brisket cook for 3 hours or until tender.  Check on it a few times and add more water if you need to so that the meat doesn't dry out.  When the meat has cooked completely, remove from pot and wrap tightly in foil, letting stand for 30 minutes before slicing.
4. With the remaining liquid, make a gravy by adding some water and whisking in tiny bit of very very fine matzo meal to thicken it up.

My meal was starting to come together when I realized I didn't have any veggies.  That's no good.  So another made up recipe turned into a vegetable matzo kugel.  I suppose you could whatever vegetables you want.  I grabbed what happened to be in the fridge which was: carrots, potatoes, chives, mushrooms, zucchini, and parsley.

veggie matzo kugel
3-5 tbsp matzo meal (depends on how much you like or want)
5 c thinly sliced veggies 
3 eggs, well beaten
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large bowl, mix matzo meal and eggs well.  Stir in veggies, salt and pepper.  Put mix in a small, greased casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes.  Serve.

pretty easy, huh?

Finally, a recipe passedown through the ages... at least that's what we're pretending.  My lovely college pal Michelle sent me this absolutely fantastic recipe for a Matzo Apple Kugel.  It calls for three large apples so, me being me, decided to shake it up a bit and use three different types of apples - Rome, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith.  The varying sweetness, tartness and crispness really made this dish sing.  Oh, and I used fresh ground cinnamon because really, nothing is better than fresh ground cinnamon.  This kind of makes me think of an oven-baked matzo brei or a Jewish apple pie.  Whatever you want to call it, it's super delicious!  Thanks Michelle for the fab addition to my Passover plate!

matzo apple kugel from the kitchen of Michelle Kessler
5 matzohs
3 large apples
1/4 cup raisins
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp melted butter
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
6 eggs, well beaten
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Run matzohs under warm water until soft, about 1 minute.  Press out as much water as possible and break into medium sized pieces. Place matzoh in mixing bowl and add raisins, cinnamon, salt, sugar and melted better to mix.  Add beaten eggs, mixing thoroughly.
2. Pour half of mixture into greased 9x9 casserole dish.  Layer thinly sliced apples.  Pour remaining half of mixture over apple layer.  Top kugel mixture with remaining apples.  Sprinkle cinnamon and brown sugar. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until apples are tender.

Michelle is going to make a great balabusta soon enough!
After hours of slaving away in the kitchen and getting pretty tipsy (I was two cups deep at this point,) my Seder meal was complete.  And boy was it delicious!  I added some butter lettuce and chopped beets to add some color to the beigeness of all that matzo and to get my suggestedaily serving of veggies in.  Mmmm mmm.  You'd be crazy meshugeneh not to love this kind of home-cooked goodness.  

But wait, we can't forget the dessert.  How about adding the nutty goodness of almonds to a traditional coconut macaroon?  Sounds good to me!  I found the recipe on Martha Stewart's site but went a little overboard when "chopping" the almonds in my coffee grinder so they became more of an almondust.  I also used bourbon vanilla instead of regular, so the recipe became my own!

almond coconut macaroons
2 eggs whites
2/3 c sugar
2 c unsweetened coconut
1/2 c whole almonds, finely ground
1 tsp bourbon vanilla
pinch of salt
1. Preheat oven to 350.  In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together egg whites and sugar.  When well mixed, stir in the rest of the ingredients.  
2. Using your hands, form about 2 heaping tablespoons dough into mounds, about 12.  Place 2" apart on a greased baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown and toasted all over, about 15 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes until transferring to a cooling rack for about 10 more minutes.

Quite a feast!  The sun is down and my belly is full.  A very happy Passover to all of my friends, Jew and Gentile!  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday, eat well, and surround yourself with those you love.

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