O is for Olives



Olives have a long and ancient history.Legend has it that Athena and Poseidon were bickering over who owned Athens. [You can probably guess how this story ends, given the name of the city ;-)] Poseidon,the god of the sea, stuck his trident into the Acropolis and a salt water spring gushed forth. Cool! and a hard act to follow…

olive tree athena

…Next up? Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, who planted the first olive tree on the Acropolis, next to the well.

olive tree acropolis

The rest of the gods voted [Zeus was the Simon Cowell of the times] and judged that Athena won possession of the city, because her gift was the most useful.

And they were right! The ancient Mediterranean fruit and its oil have been valuable to civilizations for millennia, providing food, light, cosmetics, and health benefits. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, all considered the olive sacred.

Olive oil was used for cooking and lighting,  anointed athletes, royalty, and priests, and was burned as the eternal flame for the original Olympic games.

olympic flame

Olive wreaths were awarded to crown the victors in competitions, and olive branches were offered as symbols of peace.

wreath picasso peace

Originally a Mediterranean tree, the Spanish explorers brought the olive to the new world, and olive cultivation now flourishes around the world wherever the climate is similar to the Mediterranean.

olives growing olives greece [198x238]

The technique hasn’t varied much — knock the olives off the branches, let them dry in the sun.

olive harvest old [274x112] olive harvest now [208x112]

And then eat!

Fried olives are a tasty treat, and fun for parties — there are a lot of recipes out there — this one uses green olives stuffed with provolone cheese, so after frying there are 3 levels of texture and flavor in one bite: the crunch of the exterior, the meaty olive interior, and then the melty cheese core. Yum. 😉

olives fried [196x143]

Baked olives are an old Italian tradition, and simple to prepare — here’s one version (from Williams-Sonoma):

baked olives wm-sonoma [196x180]

  • Combine in a bowl 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2 rosemary sprigs, the zest of 1 orange, cut into long thin strips, and 1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes.
  • Toss with about 3 cups of assorted black and green olives.
  • Transfer to a small baking dish and bake at 400 until the olives are warmed through, about 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Orzo with feta and olives is a simple and satisfying dish:

olives orzo feta [194x126]

  • Prepare 1 pound orzo according to package directions.
  • Whisk together 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, and the juice of half a lemon (or use lemon-infused olive oil)
  • Combine with the pasta, stirring to coat well.
  • Toss with a cup of black olives (pitted) and a cup of crumbled feta cheese
  • Add freshly ground black pepper to taste, and serve.

You can also adapt this recipe using rice, and  serve it at room temperature as a salad or antipasti.

There are many varieties of olives available in the deli section of most supermarkets today,


but when I was a kid there were only two kinds, and both came in jars or cans – green with pimentos, and black, pitted. My favorite was always the black olives.

Garlic Olives were a popular hors d’ouevre in my family when we were growing up, and it still is, even with all the other olive options now available. It’s a very simple and inexpensive recipe:

garlic olives [206x169]

  • Use large black pitted olives, the kind that come in a can. Drain the brine.
  • Put olives in a shallow glass or ceramic bowl or container — add olive oil to just barely cover.
  • Add lots of garlic cloves. Nowadays I also often add some sprigs of rosemary, and/or chile pepper flakes.
  • Cover and let it marinate for a couple of hours (minimum) at room temperature, or longer, in the refrigerator.
  • Serve at room temperature.

In the unlikely event there are any leftover, they will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

As kids, we thought these were the height of sophistication, even though we certainly were not — we’d stick our fingers in the olive holes and then nibble the olives off each finger. Definitely not sophisticated etiquette, but it was fun.

Of course, the olive adds the final, all-important touch to that classic cocktail of true sophistication: the martini. Cheers!



N is for Nduja

N is for wha-hat?

Nduja” is a spicy spreadable salami from Calabria.  It’s pronounced “en-DOO-ya” – which sounds sort of like its Cajun cousin, andouille.

nduja boccaloneI prefer not to know too many details about what goes into  sausages, but basically, nduja is made of pork [details here, if you must know] with roasted chile peppers. Like hard salami, nduja is cured in a casing, but the texture remains soft and spread-able at room temperature.

It’s fiery flavor adds kick when stirred into pasta sauces, vegetables, or beans; it’s also great just spread on grilled bread, panini, and pizzas.

The only place I know of where it’s available is Boccalone, at the Ferry Building or by mail order. Boccalone takes its salumi seriously (see, e.g., their Salumi Manifesto, discussing a

…renaissance of American Salumi.

This movement will be led – first and foremost —

by individual salumi lovers who recognize the character

of fine salumi and value its place in their lives.

ferry building  boccalone

Boccalone, as a proud purveyor of Tasty Salted Pig Parts, is eloquent about its salumis. The descriptions  read like a wine list:

 Nduja’s flavor profile reflects Southern Italy’s African/Moorish heritage.

A blend of chilis balances a smoky spiciness with an element of bitter orange, warm spice,

and the palate-clearing tanginess lent by a vigorous fermentation.

 Nduja is not cheap. But it is a real treat 😉

Recipes?  Nothing fancy. As antipasto, just spread on crusty Italian bread; grill or toast the bread lightly for bruschetta. Accompany with olives, tomatoes, and some pecorino, and wash down with a robust red wine.

nduja bread [260x163] nduja penne [235x164]

Nduja goes all melty when you add some heat. Depending on how spicy you like your food, use about 2 teaspoons nduja per serving; adjust to taste.

Stir it into minestrone soup to add a little kick. Or add to a tomato-based sauce, or just heat in a pan, with a little olive oil and garlic and then toss with pasta and sprinkle with parsley and grated Parma.

M is for Macaroni & Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is, for me, the ultimate comfort food.

mac cheese close up

I’ve been loving the  upscale-homestyle cooking trend of the past several years, where every other restaurant chef has a version of macaroni and cheese on the menu. They’re all delicious, some very creative, but really, I can do without truffle oil and exotic cheeses.

I’m happy with just the basics – elbow macaroni (or, okay, cavatappi ;-p) mixed with a sauce of good cheddar cheese, topped with crunchy bread crumbs, and baked until bubbling.

Everyone has a favorite recipe;  I’m always tinkering with mine to make sure there’s enough “sauciness” and it doesn’t dry out while baking, but also not too soupy.

This is a pretty good “base” recipe – I add a pinch of dry mustard to the sauce, and a little more paprika to the toasted bread crumbs.

basic mac cheese fannie farmer mac And this is the classic from Fannie Farmer – this also works well, although I never use cream — just add more milk and cheese.

It takes some time to get it just right. And the results are worth the time.

But sometimes I just don’t have the time…or the energy….or the ingredients….

In that sort of emergency situation,  I confess:  I will resort to Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese.

KraftI was introduced to Kraft in college, where it turned out to be a delicious way of soaking up all the beer and cocktails from a night of partying (ah, the resilience of youth!)

But even though those days of yore and cocktails are long past…still, whenever I’m feeling maybe a little sick, or really tired, and I want something satisfying to eat but I don’t want to cook – well, it’s just so dang easy to whip up a pot!

Of course, it’s nothing like REAL macaroni and cheese, and it’s frightening to contemplate what makes that cheese powder glow such a neon orange. But it’s incredibly tasty (thanks to the scientists at the Kraft labs ;-p)

broccoli      broccoli mac

And hey, if I add a handful of broccoli florets, it’s practically healthy! 😀

How about you? Do you have a favorite macaroni & cheese recipe?

K is for Kahlua

kahlua bottle as you probably know, is a coffee-flavored, rum-based liqueur from Mexico.

It is also the essential ingredient in a Dirty Birddirty bird

I was introduced to Dirty Birds in college. It would be several years before I learned that it is basically a White Russian.

Whatever. A rose by any other name, etc. etc. 😉

I rarely drink cocktails nowadays, but once in a while, at the end of a long week, I enjoy a Dirty Bird for dessert. 😉  It’s quick and easy.

Pour in glass over ice: 

1 oz Kahlua (or other coffee liqueur)

1 oz vodka


 Stir vigorously, sip slowly, enjoy!

If you have a cocktail shaker, use that and give it some good shakes before pouring into the drinking glass. If you order this at a bar or restaurant, it usually comes in an old-fashioned glass. I don’t think it matters.

Nowadays I use skim milk instead of regular milk (or cream) because the cocktail is enough of a splurge without all the added fat ;-D

J is for Julia Child

This post is a little late on the A to Z schedule, because I got all caught up in reading about her…

What a firecracker! what a fabulous woman!

bon apetit

Julia Child changed the course of cooking in the United States, demystifying French cuisine and encouraging home cooks to GO for it – relax, have fun, and enjoy the process – and the results.  Her popularity and wide audience on TV as The French Chef and many other cooking shows, paved the way for The Galloping Gourmet, Jacques Pepin, Gordon Ramsay, and countless other celebrity chefs.

Born in Pasadena in 1912,  Julia McWilliams attended Smith College and got her BA in English. She was 6’ 2” and enjoyed playing tennis, golf, and basketball.
             julia 23 [189x211]

After a couple of years in NYC as a copywriter, she returned to California and worked in advertising and wrote for the local Pasadena paper. When World War II broke out, she tried to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps, but was turned down because she was –get this —  “too tall” (?! No, it doesn’t make any sense to me, either).

So instead, Julia became a spy! Not skulking around like Mata Hari, but working for the OSS handling top secret files and documents. She was also involved in a project to develop shark repellant, to protect submarine torpedoes from being exploded by curious sharks.

Julia's OSS bunk in China 1944

Julia’s OSS bunk in China 1944

She was posted to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and then to China, and received the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service as head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat. The award cited her many virtues, including her “drive and inherent cheerfulness.”

[You can read her entire file if you’re curious – it was declassified a few years ago   ]

Julia met Paul Child while they were both posted abroad in Ceylon, and they were married in 1946.  When he joined the Foreign Service, they moved to Paris. Julia credited Paul with introducing her to fine cuisine.  She said her first meal in Rouen – oysters, sole meuniere, and fine wine — was a “culinary revelation.”

“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate”

1956 Valentine's Day card

1956 Valentine’s Day card

By all accounts they were a devoted couple. Paul was something of a poet, and in an ode to his wife on one of her birthdays, he concluded with:

O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!
You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure

Gotta love it 😀

In Julia’s words,  “We had a happy marriage because we were together all the time. We were friends as well as husband and wife. We just had a good time.”

JuliaPaulChild vin

While living in Paris, Julia attended Le Cordon Bleu, studied with famous chefs, and met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle at the the women’s cooking club Cercle des Gourmettes.


The trio worked on a cookbook to explain French recipes to an American audience, and The French Chef: Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961.

mastering art french cooking [188x210]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 50th Anniversary Edition

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep

tremendously interested in it.”

The book was a hit, and led to the launch, in 1963,  of the award-winning TV show The French Chef.  Audiences loved Julia Child’s relaxed and enthusiastic style of cooking.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

After the couple returned to the US and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Paul designed a kitchen to Julia’s specifications (including higher than average counters). The kitchen became the set for Julia’s later TV series.

      french chef show tv french chef show


Julia Child was famously impatient of diet obsessions, arguing that food should be savored and enjoyed, not turned into an enemy.

The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”

“Fat gives things flavor.”

“Everything in moderation… including moderation.”

And, ultimately, very sensible advice that does not involve counting calories. Rather, take

            “…small helpings, no seconds, no snacking, and a little bit of everything.”

Over the decades, Julia Child wrote more cookbooks and starred in numerous TV series. She collaborated with other chefs, notably Jacques Pepin.   Julia & Jacques Cooking At Home

juliajaques [219x172]

She founded The American Institute of Wine & Food, along with wine-makers Robert Mondavi and Richard Graff, to promote “the understanding, appreciation, and quality of wine and food.”

Julia was not an haute cuisine snob. She once said her favorite comfort food was “red meat and gin.”

But when an interviewer asked Julia to describe her ideal last meal, she created a more elaborate menu.
As reported in Noel Riley Fitch’s 1997 biography, Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child, the courses would include:

caviar, Russian vodka sauce, and oysters with Pouilly-Fuisse wine

                                  caviar oysters [192x144]                         pouilly fuisse

foie gras

foie gras [185x86]

pan-roasted duck, with onions and chanterelle mushrooms

pan roasted duck chanterelles [197x136]

asparagus [183x93] potatoes anna [226x190]romanee conti [94x194]

Pommes Anna (thinly-sliced potatoes baked in oodles of butter; see recipe here) and fresh asparagus  accompanied by a 1962 Romanee-Conti (a red Burgundy)

French bread with Roquefort and Brie, washed down with a Grands-Echezeauxs Burgundy

baguette [184x138] brie [186x140] grands eche

  • For dessert? perhaps sorbet with walnut cake; ripe pears and green tea, or  crème brulee from Le Cirque in New York, served with a 1975 or 1976 Chateau ‘Yquem Sauternes dessert wine.

walnut cake

Julia Child lived life with gusto and passion. She died in 2004, ten years after Paul’s death, and just a couple of days before her 92nd birthday.

Her last meal was reportedly French onion soup.

“Life itself is the proper binge.”

Julia laugh

As Julia Child so famously and so often said:                  Bon appetit!