Sunday, December 26, 2010

Unbridled Holiday Cheer with Jane Bradley

When Unbridled Books invited me to be a part of Unbridled Holiday Cheer, I jumped at the chance. When they sent me this piece by Jane Bradley I knew they knew me and my blog well! I can't wait for Jane's book to come out, You Believers, and in the meantime, enjoy her answer and recipes!

Which author, dead or alive, would I invite to my holiday dinner?

Of course I would risk being carved a Christmas turkey with the lady’s sharp tongue that can shred any stance with a few flicks of wit. And she could be dangerous with her way of leaving characters stunned and bleeding out before they know what hit them, but I’d take my chance with the Mississippi Queen of cynicism toward humanity who maintains a steady faith in the divine: Flannery O’Connor.

As an undergraduate I once wrote a paper on her tendency to kill off characters who live by, or think through, clichés. As a kid, when I came to understand language and how it revealed the character of people all around me, I always got the feeling that my nosy neighbors and dull teachers who babbled in clichés were dumb at best, mean at worst, and I wanted nothing but to get away from them. I was delighted when I grew up and discovered that you could silence them forever if you put them in a story.

O’Connor has the analytical thinking style made popular by the Jesuits—it can take apart any statement to see how it works—or fails. Then again, her searing, rational brain defends the divine and upholds the mystery of things of this world. I quote: “when fiction is made according to its nature, it should reinforce our sense of the supernatural by grounding it in concrete observable reality.”

Her vision as a writer and as a woman of deep faith, steadily informs me, and keeps me believing in and loving a world of random cruelty. I wouldn’t be the writer, or woman, I am without her influence.

While my holiday dinner guest of choice is quite Southern, my favorite holiday recipe definitely is not. I started out making this dinner for Easter, but it’s so good good, I decided that I wanted it for Christmas too. Hey the holidays are connected: birth, rebirth, and that matter of sacrifice, so of course my meal requires the sacrifice of a lamb. But it begins quite vegetarian with the appetizer:

Gouda Saganaki Over Roasted Peppers and Onions

8 ounce piece of gouda cheese, room temperature
1 cup flour for dredging
1 cup beaten egg for dredging
½ red pepper, julienne cut
½ yellow pepper, julienne cut
½ green pepper, julienne cut
½ sweet onion, julliene cut
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 bageutte torn or cut in slices
2 Tablespoons Bacardi 151 rum—must be a flammable liquor, (optional)
½ lemon (optional)

Lay peppers and onion on a sheet pan, Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, toss. Place under broiler until browned and roasted. ( I keep checking and tossing the veges for thorough, even roasting. ) Keep them warm. I keep mine in a cast iron skillet in the warm oven and then serve them in the skillet as the recipe calls for the veges to be served in a preheated cast iron skillet, under the cheese in the saganaki.

Dredge the gouda in beaten egg and flour. Fry in 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sauté pan until both sides are golden and the cheese is soft. You don’t want to do this too quickly or at too high a temperature. You want to allow time run the center of the cheese to soften—the edges will start to melt quite a bit.

On the preheated pan/or platter, lay down a bed of roasted vegetables, pour the run over top and light the fire. (This can be intense, so be careful. I do this at my patio table outside at Easter, and carefully on the table inside for Christmas.) Let the flame burn a few seconds and extinguish with half the squeezed lemon.
Serve with baguette.

This is a spectacular appetizer—I actually make it quite often.

Pistachio-Crusted Rack of Lamb with Prosciutto and Balsamic Rosemary Reduction Sauce

The Lamb
½ cup unsalted pistachios
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 teaspoon chopped, fresh rosemary
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 ½ to 2 pound rack of lamb, frenched
6 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, finely cop the pistachios, thyme, rosemary. Add olive oil and process to a paste.

Coat lamb with half of the pistachio paste. Wrap the prosciutto slices around the lamb, between the bones, leaving bones exposed. (This requires a few toothpicks.) Spread the remaining pistachio paste over the prosciutto and set the rack in a small roasting pan. Roast the rack for about 40 minutes until an instant read thermometer inserted at the center of the meat registers 130 degrees or medium rare. Transfer lamb to cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with Balsamic Rosemary Reduction and carve.

Balsamic Rosemary Reduction Sauce

1 ½ teaspoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons minced shallots

1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 large or 2 small rosemary springs
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt (I use ½)
½ teaspoon black pepper

Set a small pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once oil is hot, add shallots to the pan and sweat until translucent (about a minute). Add garlic to the pan and sweat for 30 seconds. Pour in balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil. Add the rosemary sprigs and allow balsamic to boil gently and reduce until about only ¼ cup remains, about ten minutes. Season with salt and pepper and swirl butter into pan. Strain the sauce before drizzling over the lamb.

I serve this with garlic smashed potatoes and a salad including pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. Quite festive.

You BelieversJane Bradley is the author of two acclaimed story collections and a novella. Her first full-length novel, You Believers, will be published by Unbridled Books this Spring.

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