Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sparks Effect

I became a vegetarian at the age of 13. I simply did not like meat. I was bored by it. It seemed to involve way too much chewing. Looking back, my exposure to meat was rather limited. I didn't eat much chicken, nor was I compelled to. Pork only came in the form of bacon, sausage and being Baltimore, scrapple.  Meat was usually served in slab form: steak, veal chop, rack of lamb.  Or cube form: frozen chicken tetrazzini, frozen chili con carne, frozen chicken chow mein. My Dad clearly had some weird meat prejudices, we didn't eat hamburgers or tacos or fried chicken.  I didn't have a pork chop until I was 37 and I still have never had meatloaf.  Based on all those slabs of meat and the insipid taste of frozen pot pie sized chicken cubes I decided to give it up.

The decision was not an epiphany, it was a slow observation.  I never understood why people were raving about the meat when I felt obliged to sit there and count my chews.  The final straw came on one of our annual trips to NYC.  My Dad made a reservation at Sparks Steakhouse, presumably, at the time, the ultimate steak experience. I thought to myself  'If I don't like this steak then I know I just don't like meat'.  I choked down my $50 piece of meat and was relieved when a giant bowl of strawberries arrived as my dessert.

Years later, like 25, my Dad and I were at a party chatting with someone. This person asked why I had become a vegetarian at such a young age. I recounted the Sparks steakhouse story. My Dad looked at me "Seriously? Christ, Morg, I wasn't wild about my steak there either. I had no idea you based it on that."  I was immediately reminded of that poor woman in the De Maupassant story about the necklace.

When I jumped off the vegetarian wagon, and Jim likes to say I jumped off 'face-first', I jumped directly, into his foie gras appetizer.  I had always missed pate, my favorite meat.  That was so delicious I started to wonder what else I had been missing.  I realize I am doing the opposite of cool, while everyone else is going vegan, I'm going omnivorous.  Eating meat certainly made my second trip to Spain a hell of a lot more enjoyable.   I still err on the side of vegetarian for the most part, breakfast and lunch are almost always vegetarian.  But I enjoy a steak, a pork chop and a little jamon here and there, not to mention an almost laughable growing affinity for chicken.  

After the foie gras my next meat conquest was rack of lamb.  We were staying with a friend of Jim's outside of San Francisco.  We had spent the day wine tasting in Sonoma and came back to his adorable house with gorgeous garden.  It was just a perfect day. He made a wonderful dinner featuring herbs and tomatoes from his garden a rack of lamb and some great wines we had picked up that day.  I thought it would be rude not to eat the meat.  But I had to watch how everyone ate it because, well, it had been 25 years and cutting in to a piece of meat is not as easy as getting back on a bike and riding it. Oddly, lamb was one of the things that turned me off of meat, the flavor did not sit well on my pre-adolescent palette.  But one bite of that lamb Larry made us and I was hooked.  I went home and promptly started de-vegtarianizing myself with rack after rack of lamb.  Then I moved on to roasting about 40 chickens.  

Anyhow, it's been awfully salad-centric on this blog lately, so it's time for a meat recipe.  This is a recipe I have adapted from and it is easy, foolproof and delicious, I promise.  Serve it at your next dinner party and everyone will think you are the bees-knees.  It always makes Jim happy.

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb - Serves 2-4

1 rack of lamb, frenched
4 cloves of garlic, minced
6 tablespoons parsley, chopped
4 tablespoons rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons thyme
olive oil
salt and pepper

Remove the lamb from the fridge 5-10 minutes before you cook it.  Season it well with salt and pepper.  Preheat the oven to 350.  Combine the garlic and herbs with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil until it just comes together.  Heat a cast iron pan and coat with olive oil.  Sear the meat on all sides about 2 minutes per side.  I set a timer for 10 minutes and rotate every 2.  place the rack on a baking sheet cover all sides in the herb spread.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove, cover the lamb loosely with foil and return to the oven for 10 more minutes.  Remove from the oven and let the meat rest for 10 minutes more.  Slice and serve.

Notes:  I find one rack of lamb serves 4 people with 2 side dishes.  We have been accused of being light eaters though.  If using a meat thermometer the internal temperature wants to be 130 degrees.

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