Santa Claus entered our house by climbing the porch steps to reach the front door. Being very quiet in doing so, we never heard him putting gifts under the tree, enjoying the Christmas cookies left for him on the dining room table, or sipping cocoa to warm his tummy while writing a thank you note with the pencil and pad of paper on the desk near the kitchen. He also thanked us for the sugar cubes left for his reindeer waiting in the snow out front. And with everything that took place while we slept upstairs, I always wondered why my dog, Suzy, never barked while Santa was there.

Although I could hear the jingling of bells while Santa and his reindeer were heading in our direction, I never heard them again as they left our house to disappear up the street and along St. Paul Avenue. Yet I knew what had happened while I was sound asleep because of the note of thanks he left for me to read when I woke up.

The mystery of it all continues to create a colorful childhood reminder that allows me to return to those special moments in life when Santa, his sleigh and eight well-behaved reindeer could manage to do everything they did in such a short period of time to make another Christmas worth remembering for everyone I knew.

Christmas means many things to many people and food — well beyond favorite Christmas cookies — emerges as a highlight during family gatherings. Thoughts of what to prepare and serve once again during the holiday season brought a request from Beatrix Fleer whose recipes for olive salads, stuffed mushrooms and tiramisu clipped from this column through the years suddenly disappeared. I’m hoping these are the recipes she plans to prepare once again for her family.

This recipe from March 3, 1997, was found in a Youngstown, Ohio, cookbook compiled with many favorites submitted by the town’s large Italian population. Traditionally, a New Orleans muffaletta (pronounced moo-fah-let-tah) is made in a flat round loaf of bread, then sliced in pie-shaped pieces and filled with olive salad, provolone cheese slices and, oftentimes, Genoa salami.

Muffaletta’s olive salad

1 ½ cups chopped pimento-stuffed olives

1 cup chopped black olives

2/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup minced fresh parsley

1 (4-ounce) jar pimentos, drained and chopped

2 tablespoons capers

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh (or 1 teaspoon dried) oregano

Pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl; cover and chill in refrigerator overnight. Drain and add to sandwich with cheese slices and salami.

Another, slightly different version, uses more vegetables.

Olive salad

1 cup each thinly sliced and chopped celery, carrots, and cauliflower

2 cups salad olives

1/3 cup wine vinegar

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2/3 cup olive oil

In medium saucepan, bring salted water to a boil. Add celery and cook until tender-crisp, about 1 minute. With slotted spoon transfer celery to a bowl of ice water. Repeat with carrots and cauliflower. Drain vegetables well. In medium bowl, whisk vinegar with garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Whisk in oil. Add vegetables and toss. Cover and refrigerate.

Makes 4 cups

This recipe appeared November 17, 1993.

Sicilian olive salad

1 pound Italian green olives

1 large onion, chopped

1 large garlic clove, halved

½ cup sliced celery

Crushed red pepper to taste

¼ cup wine vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dry basil

½ teaspoon oregano

½ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

Wash olives and dry on paper towels. Crack each olive with a mallet or bottom of a heavy cup. Leave stones intact. Combine olives with remaining ingredients and mix well. Keep refrigerated in a covered jar at least two days. Use as a side dish or part of an antipasto tray. Excellent as a snack with Italian bread.

Note: This will keep for an indefinite period of time.

Only one recipe was found for stuffed mushrooms. This ran on Sept. 28, 2016.

Pesto-stuffed portobello mushrooms

24 good-size fresh Portobello mushrooms, stems removed and minced

1 lemon, halved

Olive oil

¾ to 1 cup pesto

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Asiago cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush oven pan and/or foil with olive oil. Wipe mushroom caps clean, rub with lemon to prevent darkening, and brush with olive oil. Finely chop mushroom stems and combine with pesto and grated cheese. Fill mushroom caps and, if desired, place a small square of Asiago cheese on top. Place in prepared foil-lined pan with small amount of oil and drizzle mushrooms with oil. Bake 10 minutes or more depending on the size of mushrooms.

As for tiramisu, also known as “Lift Me Up” torte, this appeared July 12, 1999.


16-ounce container mascarpone cheese

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted powdered sugar, divided

1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons Kahlua or other coffee-flavored liqueur

3 squares (1 ounce each) semisweet chocolate, coarsely grated, divided

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract, divided

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups whipping cream, divided

2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee granules

2 packages (3 to 4 ½ ounces each) ladyfingers

Combine mascarpone cheese, ½ cup powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons Kahlua, 2 ounces grated chocolate, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and salt; stir well with a wire whisk. Beat 1 cup whipping cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold whipped cream into cheese mixture. Set aside.

Combine remaining 1/3 cup Kahlua, water, espresso granules, and remaining ½ teaspoon vanilla; stir well. Separate ladyfingers in half lengthwise. Line the bottom of a 10-cup glass bowl with one-fourth lady fingers; brush with 2 tablespoons espresso mixture. Spoon one-third of cheese mixture over ladyfingers. Repeat layering procedure twice. Top with remaining ladyfingers. Gently press ladyfingers into cheese mixture. Brush with remaining espresso mixture. Sprinkle top with 1 ounce grated chocolate, reserving 1 tablespoon for garnish.

Beat remaining ½ cup whipping cream until foamy; gradually add 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, beating until soft peaks form. Using a No. 132 metal tip, pipe sweetened whipped cream in rosettes over top of dessert. Sprinkle reserved 1 tablespoon grated chocolate over rosettes. Cover and chill at least 6 hours.

Makes 8-10 servings

Merry Christmas!

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at