JOPLIN, Mo. —
I'm a big fan of birthdays. It's the one day of the year you should get to do whatever you want. It's your day to celebrate being alive and to be thankful for everything you have. I recommend celebrating the entire week of your birthday in order to include all the people, things and food that you're thankful for.
This is my birthday week. Following in Oprah's footsteps, I'd like to share my favorite things with you. No, you did not win a car or any of my favorite things, but I sure hope you'll give them a try.
My favorites in the kitchen come down to staples and splurges. There are a few items I use nearly every day such as olive oil, vinegars, honey, whole grains, fresh produce, good knives and my trusty food processor. My kitchen is always stocked with these necessities.
Edible splurges for me come down to items in an antipasto. By definition, antipasto is the appetizer served before an Italian meal. For me, antipasto is the meal. My favorite splurges are assembled together on a platter in a rainbow of color and flavor.
An antipasto platter is almost as visually appealing as it is palette pleasing. Olives are a must. Crusty bread comes in a close second. Fresh fruit is crucial, with figs being my top seasonal choice but grapes are always a good choice for an antipasto platter. After the basics are covered, the options are numerous. I like to add fancy cheese, pickled vegetables, slow-roasted herbed tomatoes and maybe even a few thin slices of spicy meats. This is all accompanied by wine, followed with a piece of dark chocolate. I love my birthday week!
The following recipes are my favorite antipasto choices that I can make at home. The crusty, no-knead bread recipe changed my life. Really. Good bread is so hard to find. This recipe is easy and amazing. It's not 100 percent whole wheat, so it's not a daily staple. The tomatoes are incredible and a great way to use those split cherry tomatoes left on the vine at the end of summer. I bought a box of cherry tomatoes this week just to remind myself that summer will be here soon. The olive recipe is very forgiving and easy to adapt. My mom introduced me to this recipe by making me a huge jar of it for Christmas. They were gone way too soon.
I hope you try some of my favorite things and end up loving them as much as I do.
Marinated mixed olives
Mixed green and black olives
Olive oil, to taste
Lemon zest, to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
2 rosemary sprigs, crushed
Kosher salt, to taste
Slivered garlic, to taste
Optional extras: Capers, minced onion, lemon slices, roasted red peppers
If olives are in brine, drain and discard liquid. Toss all the olives together in a bowl. Toss with remaining ingredients in a generous amount of oil. Let marinate at least overnight and up to a couple weeks in the refrigerator Ñ they'll only get more flavorful.
Amazing no-knead bread
6 cups bread flour (recommended) or all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/2 teaspoon instant or active-dry yeast
21/2 teaspoons salt
2 2/3 cups cool water
In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated; the dough should be wet and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest 12-18 hours on the counter at room temperature. When surface of the risen dough has darkened slightly, smells yeasty and is dotted with bubbles, it's ready.
Lightly flour your hands and a work surface. Place dough on work surface and sprinkle with more flour. Fold the dough over on itself once or twice and, using floured fingers, tuck the dough underneath to form a rough ball.
Generously dust a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with enough flour, cornmeal or wheat bran to prevent the dough from sticking to the towel as it rises; place dough (seam side down) on the towel and dust with more flour, cornmeal or wheat bran. Cover with the edges or a second cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours, until it has doubled in size.
After about 1 1/2 hours, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a 6-quart heavy covered pot, such as a cast-iron Dutch oven, in the oven as it heats. When the dough has fully risen, carefully remove pot from oven. Remove top towel from dough and slide your hand under the bottom towel; flip the dough over into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough looks unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is a deep chestnut brown. The internal temperature of the bread should be around 200 degrees. You can check this with a meat thermometer, if desired. Remove the bread from the pot and let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
Cherry, grape or small Roma tomatoes
Whole cloves of garlic
Herbs such as thyme or rosemary (optional)
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Halve each cherry or grape tomato crosswise or Roma tomato lengthwise and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet along with the cloves of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil, but just enough to make the tomatoes glisten. Sprinkle herbs on, if you are using them, and salt and pepper. Go easy on these because the finished product will be so flavorful you'll need very little to help it along.
Bake the tomatoes in the oven for about 3 hours. You want the tomatoes to be shriveled and dry, but with a little juice left inside. It could take more or less time depending on the size of your tomatoes.
Either use them right away or let them cool, cover them with some extra olive oil and keep them in the fridge.
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