Balaboosta [Manhattan]

Balaboosta; n. A Yiddish term meaning the perfect housewife, homemaker, a wonderful mother, cook & gracious hostess. she does it all and she does it well!

That’s the description that can be found at the top of their website  and is a perfect way to describe the warm, homey atmosphere in the Mulberry Street restaurant.

While I was running late to meet a few women for brunch, they had already started on cocktails and the Mediterranean Sampler [house made hummus, labne, matbucha, za’atar pita]  Since being introduced to za’atar at the Bronxville Farmer’s market a while ago, I’ve loved the flavor profile but can never really nail the application.

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That is what made my drink so perfect – imagine a middle eastern margarita.

“Lily” Za’atar infused tequila, mezcal, grapefruit, ginger syrup, lime, black saline

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I cannot rave about the cauliflower appetizer enough [lemony + crispy], but the shakshouka I had as my main was incredible. The only real complain from those of us who ordered it was that it was so incredibly hot that in eating it I felt like I was melting from the inside out. Even on a cold day, the physical temperature of this dish was a bit overwhelming.

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The flavor was incredible, and the grilled bread was just enough to soak up the tomatoes and spice. I’m definitely thinking of recreating this at home – which would take some thought because my cast iron pans are quite large and Mister is really focused on not deviating from his chocolate chip pancakes routine in the morning.

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Spice Village [Tuckahoe, NY]

We havn’t had Indian food in months and I was craving hot, spicy, full belly goodness of some takeout.

I found Spice Village via Yelp as the closest place, and it had great reviews – so without much research we ordered from there.

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  • garlic naan
  • chicken tikka masala
  • vegetable samosa
  • chana masala

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The chickpeas were a win for me, but they were too spicy for Mister [who prefers things with no level of spicy – weirdo]

The two giant containers of rice felt like overkill, but then I had that moment of realization that maybe we ordered enough food for more than two people. In my defense, this order lasted us for two dinners and two lunches. But there was still too much rice.

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The chicken was incredible, but sadly there was hardly any actual chicken in the container of saucy sauciness.  It was like the chicken was a topping to the sauce instead of the other way around.

With a quick reheat in the oven, the garlic naan was perfection. The samosas were tolerable, and a definite skip for next time. With a mealy crust, they were way too big. If they had been smaller and crunchier, I would’ve been a fan for sure.

We did have the conversation before, during, and after ordering that we always get confused with Indian menus – it seems to be the same handful of ingredients and dishes with all vaguely similar names. Does everyone feel this way, or do I just need to visit more restaurants until I get the hang of what’s going on?

 

 

Definitely Ready

Per my last post – I’m an incredibly stubborn cook. I’m a pretty stubborn person in general actually, but that’s not the point.

That chicken breast that didn’t turn out so great? Well I’ve since mastered the bone in split chicken breast. [Yes I know that the first time around it was a whole chicken breast, and the split might make it easier – cut a girl some slack]

 

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I picked up a pack of four bone in split chicken breasts for .99 cents per pound. It was just about $5 for the four pack – which is two meals for Mister and I.

I put two in a Ziploc bag with BBQ sauce, and the other two in a Ziploc bag with an Asian dressing from Trader Joe’s – they marinaded for a solid day plus before cooking the first batch. Mister picked BBQ for our second attempt so that’s what happened first.

After some more Googling and cook book browsing – I realized that my pan of choice might’ve been an issue, and that I was over complicating things. I dug out an old two part broiler pan I had from my Grandma, that I don’t think I’ve ever actually used.

The issue here, is that I don’t like cleaning pans. I like to put foil on pans – so I have always shied away from this type of a pan simply because it really relies on getting at least one part of the pan dirty.

Preheat oven to 350, sprayed some non-stick cooking spray [generic – thank’s Sam’s Club] on both parts of the pan, slathered a little more BBQ sauce on both pieces and let it cook for about an hour – ish.

While that was going I checked the fridge for a veggie option – it was a toss up between broccoli and zucchini. I figured broccoli would go better with the asian chicken, so zucchini it was. Don’t ask me where that logic comes from, it just exists in my head and makes sense in my world.

Since the oven was going, I wanted to cook up the veggie in the oven too – and got a creative spark.

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Peeled zucchini, quartered then breaded in italian breadcrumbs. Baked on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet and topped with a little extra salt.

052.JPGThese were baked at 350 for about 30 minutes, and once the chicken was taken out of the oven I cranked it as high as it would go for a few minutes just to crisp them up a little more.

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I mean – it was perfection. Crispy skinned BBQ chicken that nearly fell off the bone, and crunchy, salty bites of zucchini. Mister even went so far as to say he liked them more than when I made frozen fries. We each ate an entire zucchini each, which felt pretty impressive. Even if there was about a cup of breadcrumbs used, there wasn’t any oil – so it still felt like a healthy compromise.

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Roasted Not Ready

We picked up a whole, bone in chicken breast at Stew Leonard’s and I realized I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. I channeled my inner Julia Child by rubbing it was butter and shoving some garlic cloves [gently] under the skin. Per some research a la America’s Test Kitchen online – I seared it on the stove and then transferred it to the oven.

028.JPG One hour or so later, we had beautiful chicken breast.  That wasn’t cooked all the way. I really need a new battery for my meat thermometer.

So we put it back in the oven, while our string beans got colder. But eventually we were able to eat.

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The chicken was fine, but the process brought out my stubborn side. Surely I should know how to roast bone in chicken? I have a food blog and I can’t even make roast chicken. That’s weird.

So on my next trip to the supermarket I bought a family pack of split, bone in chicken breasts. I’m determined to master this whole chicken situation. Plus it was on sale for .99 cents a pound, so there’s that aspect.

Of the original chicken, we ended up eating only one half of the breast – the other half was mostly used up for nacho dinner extravaganza.

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That’s an event where its late, and I’m hungry but not really hungry, and its been a very long day. So I shredded chicken, microwaved some Trader Joe’s frozen grilled peppers and onions along with some of their frozen grilled corn. Mix together, cover with cheese over a bed of tortilla chips.  The saltier the better.

We topped this with sour cream and salsa and ate it straight from the pan on the couch. That’s honesty. That’s my life. I don’t always cook my chicken well the first time, and a lot of the time my meals are eaten on the couch.

Museum of the Month: February

This year, Mister and I have decided to visit one New York City area museum per month – in an effort to get out and do more, but also to help Mister really feel more a part of the area. This is also a vaguely selfish plan: I have a Master’s in Public History, aka I specialized in museum studies. Museums are my thing, so this is a way to get Mister more into them. Hopefully.  I planned out a schedule of 12 museum/sites, and so far we’ve been two for two.

In January we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a quick stop at the Cloisters on our way home.  This was a huge hit – full suits of armor, incredible artwork, mummies.

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One really important thing to note about *most* NYC museums – the admission fees are “suggested donation amounts.” What that means, is that while it says $25 per person admission, you can still pay $1 and get the same ticket.

February, I kept up the theme of the big classics by choosing the Museum of Natural History.   Not at big of a hit, I’ll be honest. The first floor felt crazy dated, but thats almost part of the appeal of the place in a way. The dinosaurs were pretty cool. But I mean, how many bone displays can you look at with awe? No, maybe just me?

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Of course all the dinosaur spotting paired with the rainy weather made me want a snack before we headed back home.

A quick Yelp search gave us Levain Bakery  , which ended up being on the block between the museum and our car.

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There was no line when we walked in to get cookies, but while we were sitting inside eating them, the line backed up long enough to just about hit the door. Luck was definitely on our side that afternoon.

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We sort of panic ordered – thats where we see a short menu and just yell things out without any discussion. Mister got the walnut chocolate chip, I got the dark chocolate peanut butter.

These are big, [under baked] gooey, bites of cookie goodness. First bite verdict: dark chocolate peanut butter was way better. Last bite verdict: walnut chocolate chip was better. Thankfully we had a bottle of water with us, because that dark chocolate monster was so rich it was almost hard to get down after a few bites.

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I mean, I’m not complaining about either cookie. Trust me, these were both intensely good. If you’re going to share, go for the dark chocolate; otherwise stick with a classic.

We paid $5 per person museum admission, parked for free on the street, and treated ourselves to cookies afterwards.  It was a pretty fun rainy day date for just about $20.  I call that a win.

Sur La Table: Pasta Reinvented

For my birthday, my sister in law gifted me a cooking class at Sur La Table. After a few back and forths, we nailed down a date and class that worked with both of our schedules.

We met up at The Westchester location, which is between where she lives in CT and my house in lower Westchester. We didn’t plan on the class starting at the same time the mall opened, so we had to do a few laps to kill time before we got started.

I had taken cooking class in Albany with Chef Gio while living in Albany [highly recommend for all levels of cooking!!] but hadn’t taken any cooking classes at a more commercial type setting.  The kitchen set up at Sur La Table was impressive, and the chef we had as an instructor was great at keeping things moving while entertaining us on a Saturday morning.

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We definitely started off on the right foot with complimentary cappuccinos and focaccia. Since the class started at 10am, it was the perfect timing for a pick me up.

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One thing about the kitchen that was really well thought out – there was an angled mirror above the chef’s work station so that the whole room could see what was going on without straining to peer around or stand on their tip toes. We were lucky to be part of a small class [ 8 people total], but it still felt very Food Network.

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The title of the class was Pasta Reinvented – meant to be twists on traditional pasta dishes.

Menu: Sweet Potato Gnocchi & Hazelnut Gremolata – Corn Flour Pappardelle & Slow-Cooked Beef Rib Ragu – Caesar Pasta Salad with Anchovy Croutons

Class Description: Bored with boxed noodles? Rethink pasta—put a delicious twist on classic gnocchi and use corn to create a classic pappardelle with an alternative flour. Plus, we’ll show you how to add depth of flavor with easy braising techniques and round out the meal with a jazzed-up Caesar salad.

I learned a great tip for how to hold my knife the right more correct way when chopping – and it was really interesting to go through some basic prep for each dish. It was definitely a hands on class, with lots of time for questions.

The most surprising thing about the class, was what I ended up liking the most; while I started the class really interested in the short rib ragu – it was a tie between the gnocchi and the ceasar for my favorite.

The Chefstructor [yes I made that up] wasn’t shy to explain that he didn’t create the recipes, and he would’ve thickened the ragu up more. That was one of the biggest differences between going to a more commercialized class like this Sur La Table class sponsored by Kitchenaid versus an independent class like Chef Gio. With Chef Gio – they were his recipes that he tweaked, and he was showing you exactly what he recommended and how to duplicate it. This class, however, was more of a direct cookbook demonstration with some expert level instruction.

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The corn pappardelle was a miss for me, but maybe would be popular for someone maintaining a gluten free diet. It was too dense and for some reason reminded me of a soup noodle in a bad, off-brand freeze dried soup mix.  I can’t really pin point that correlation though.

029.JPGI almost don’t want to admit how many serving spoonfuls of this Caesar salad I had. The dressing was made fresh in a blender [so easy, I will actually try this soon], while the oil from the anchovies was used to make the croutons. I said it at least five times while eating, but I want to eat this for lunch every day. Forever. It was so light, and crunchy, and had so much flavor without any salt or pepper being added anywhere.

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Then there was the sweet potato gnocchi with hazelnut gremulata. I don’t even know what gremulata means. But I like saying it over and over again because this dish was everything. Sister and I agreed this would be an epic Thanksgiving sidedish. Sage and sweet potato gnocchi broiled under cheese and topped with a combination of hazelnuts, parsley, and parmesan.  It was savory, melty, not too sweet or salty, crunchy bits.  All that aside, as a bonus its a pretty gorgeous dish.

I’m so excited that I gifted Mom a class for the holidays as well – so I’m excited to see what she picks for us to try. As a little reward for paying to take these classes, Sur La Table offers a 10% discount on anything in the store for a few days after you take the class. We definitely took advantage stocking up on a few gadgets we had used during the class [ hello lemon squeezer!], and I picked up a magnetic timer that I’m already in love with. So win win!

Peanut Noodle Bowls

I have a very clear memory of sitting at the small kids table in the front room [“the piano room” which later became “the computer room”] of my Mom’s house and being served a giant bowl of peanut noodles. I know there were other kids there, otherwise we would’ve been eating at the regular kitchen table. I know it was summer, or at least warm and sunny out. But other than that, my memory is really of the giant serving bowl filled with peanut butter goodness.

For me, as a child, peanut noodles felt like a trick that adults hadn’t quite figured out. Like Nutella, I wanted to point out that peanut butter was too delicious to be allowed for dinner. Especially over spaghetti.

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Even as an adult, peanut noodles feel like getting away with something.

But the other night, I made us heaping bowls of peanut noodles with broccoli, a little chicken for Mister and some leftover tofu for mine.

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I followed the recipe from The Girl Who Ate Everything blog and it was exactly what I was looking for; the only change I made was I added more water to thin the recipe out quite a bit.

While the sauce was being made, I diced up a chicken breast for Mister and cooked it in a pan while simultaneously steaming some broccoli in the microwave and boiling pasta water.

I had completely forgotten about this little microwave steamer I picked up from Sears a few years ago.  I’m sure it would be easy to find something similar on Amazon, and it really is helpful for quick cooking as an alternative to buying those frozen Steam Fresh type veggie bags.

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