Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “October, 2011”

Halloween Special: Top Ten Creepy Edibles is all about fun experiences which happen to involve food.

But it’s Halloween, the one time of the year to dwell on scary things, and actually have fun doing it.

So, in celebration of the holiday, here are Mary Ellen’s Top Ten Creepy Edibles: Not tripe, chicken feet, duck tongue or pig intestines, but the Real Hard Core.

Add a comment with the foods that make YOUR skin crawl!

1 Macaroni and Frankenstein-cheese-product pizza – exponentially worse on a bad crust.

2 Chalazas. These are the disgusting white connective membranes in eggs which hold the yolk in place and can show up in things like pancakes if the eggs are not properly beaten.

3 The witch’s cauldron boiling oil they pour over dishes depicted in Red Lobster and Olive Garden ads.

4 Wild mushrooms other than the foolproof two, or four, or five, depending on who has done the picking. No kidding around on this one, even some “experts” have had their last meal this way.

5 Cloudy “mineral water” for sale on the street in third world countries.  And seeing tourists drinking it.

6 Similarly, ice cubes on the former Northwest Airlines after getting one with a baby carrot inside. Worse, their customer service
didn’t seem to understand what the problem was.

7 An Icelandic nightmare: A “cake” constructed from mayonnaise and wonder bread, room temperature, of course.

8 That yellow grease they offer for movie popcorn, sometimes labeled “golden showers”.

9 Most corporate recipes ghoulishly concocted to use several of their products. One scary “dessert” stands out in memory:  Instant pistachio pudding, Cool Whip, lime jello.

10 Fermented tea leaves in Myanmar, a snack, not the basis of a beverage. In addition to having seen this in the market (flies
a-swarming) it looks like, well, rotten tea leaves.

I cannot wait to see more from my readers!

The Stalker

You look for them anxiously when the time seems right. Sometimes you’re too early, nothing. Sometimes they are there, but disconnected and lost in a crowded box, just OK.

Then they appear, perhaps first outdoors in a market, or maybe lying naked among scads of lesser, cellophane wrapped denizens of the produce section.

This is the annual arrival of Brussels sprouts au naturel, a 3 foot long stalk with little orbs just waiting to be popped off and cooked
into one of fall’s best treats, even better if harvested after the first frost. It’s even fun to carry out of the market, too long to fit into a bag, appearing like the baguette carried by a French guy in a beret.

Should the idea of Brussels sprouts conjure up the taste memory of olive green mush with a funky taste and worse smell, remember that these were probably abused by having been overcooked to death.  Wipe clean the slate.

Fresh ones, in season, are sweet and delicious, and super easy to prepare.

As I pen this (actually with a pen, in the kitchen), sprouts are simmering in chicken stock, butter, salt and pepper, the essence of
simplicity, and just about done, the poke of a paring knife getting just a little resistance.

Other quick and easy (depending on what’s on hand) preparations are with pancetta and olive oil or with duck confit fat (a great
byproduct of another autumnal treat). They can be shredded and smothered like any other green vegetable, like spinach, or roasted.

If the chef has the wisdom and foresight to prepare too many Brussels sprouts for one sitting, the leftovers can be tossed into some stock, perhaps with leftover potatoes, to become soup du jour the next day. YUM

Also known as Choux de Bruxelles (cabbages of Brussels), sprouts are believed to have been cultivated in the Low Countries for hundreds of years, not becoming really widespread until the 20th century.

So, don’t travel to Brussels expecting to find sprouts everywhere.  That would be mussels, frites, and waffles, and that’s another whole story.


Yes, travel will do that to you.

Most recently, it was the Iberico Ham in Spain.

We ate it every day.  We ate it in the pool. We ate it in restaurants.  The supermarket (never mind the heavenly La  Boqueria market in Barcelona, or Fairway, I’m talking about Stop and Shop type places), had Jamon Iberico corners. The airports have Iberico ham restaurants the way we have Jamba Juice stores.

For the uninitiated, the source of this treat is a black Iberian pig, either pure bred or a minimum 75% pure. The quality of the ham depends on the breed, the amount of corn and acorns and feed at the end, for lesser types, and the 12 to 48 months aging, again a quality factor.  Sliced super thin, it bursts with flavor, the best with just enough chew and just enough fat.

I’ve never met a slice of Jamon Iberico I didn’t like.

Then there was the trip to Tokyo with the daily (at least) toro. And the regular pilgrimages to Berthillon in Paris. Note to self: It may be time for another quality control check on the sorbets.

The trials we travelers face!

“But what do you do with all those raspberries?”

Years ago, living near wonderful U-Pick-It farms in New  Jersey, the owners would ask such questions, perhaps wondering what kind of  person walks off with gargantuan takings of perfect, dead ripe produce week  after week.

Nothing’s changed.

I’m the one hauling too much corn, tomatoes, peaches (you  name it), through the farmer’s market parking lot. The staring lady who cannot  decide between one nectarine and the other probably thinks I am cooking for a  family of six, or for the firehouse down the street.

But what do I do with all that eggplant?

A key strategy for the single cook with an embarrassment of  market riches is to think of every dish as prep (or “mis en place” as a French  chef would call it) for something else.  Today’s ratatouille may be the go-with for grilled lamb chops on a  summer evening, a cold salad tomorrow, and a quick post-golf lunch with pasta  and grated cheese the next day, and the rest in individual frozen portions, a  taste of August throughout the fall. And this is the key:  Buying at peak, enjoying the moment, and  consuming the rest on a future day when the ingredients won’t be nearly as  good, or nearly as fun to work with.

Welcome to my blog

Hello from Mary Ellen!

It is mostly about one of life’s great pleasures – eating well –  and travel experiences, particularly those involved with markets and dining.  Occasionally there will be little tips, such  as freezing pesto base (sans cheese) in tube shapes to facilitate cutting off
individual portions in the future. “You should put things like that in your blog”,  said one friend.

And, I’ll share some observations along the way. For example, what’s  the difference between a Minnesota Fish Boil and La Truite du Lac Pochee’, Garni au Beurre Fondu? The answer: Nothing and it is  fabulous.

Buon appetito!

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: