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Lamb-chops recipe appeals to cook, guests

| Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cooking for weekend company can turn into a marathon if you're not careful. In the past, I spent an inordinate amount of time in front of my stove, turning out complicated meals for overnight guests. Not anymore. Now I plan simple menus that leave me free to catch up with our out-of-town visitors.

That's exactly what I did recently when close friends came for an overnight stay. For lunch, a homemade tomato, pasta and chickpea soup made with several convenience ingredients took only 30 minutes from start to finish. A green salad and some delectable purchased cookies completed the noontime offerings. A leisurely breakfast included toasted onion bagels, a platter of smoked salmon and a plate of scrambled eggs offered with orange juice and coffee.

Dinner was the big event of the visit, and I went all out to make it stylish, but I didn't pour hours into its preparation. Pan-sauteed lamb chops were topped with dollops of whipped feta cheese and garnished with sauteed grape tomatoes. The chops were marinated for 45 minutes in lemon juice, olive oil and smashed garlic before being quickly sauteed along with the tomatoes. Easy side dishes included saffron-scented couscous and blanched baby zucchini. A purchased chocolate tart served as a finale.


Pan-Sauteed Lamb Chops Topped with Whipped Feta

• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

• 4 medium-size cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

• 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning the chops

• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

• 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for sauteing the chops

• 8 rib lamb chops, cut about 1/2-inch thick and about 3 ounces each

v1 cup (18 to 20) grape tomatoes

• Whipped Feta, for garnish ( recipe follows )

• Fresh dill sprigs, for garnish

Combine the lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup olive oil in a shallow, nonreactive pan. Add the lamb chops, turning to coat well. Marinate at room temperature, turning the chops occasionally, for 45 minutes. (You can marinate the lamb, if covered and refrigerated, for as long as 3 hours. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before cooking.)

Add enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of a large, heavy skillet, and place it over medium-high heat. When hot, remove the chops from the marinade, salt them lightly on both sides, and then saute until browned all over and pink in the center, for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove the chops to a platter and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.

Pour all but 2 tablespoons drippings from the skillet and return to medium-high heat. When hot, add the grape tomatoes and cook, stirring just until seared and warmed through, for about 2 minutes. Serve 2 chops per person, each topped with a generous dollop of Whipped Feta. Garnish each serving with some tomatoes and, if desired, a dill sprig.

Makes 4 servings.

Whipped Feta

Whipped Feta can be prepared 3 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before using.

• 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 1 teaspoon lemon juice

• 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped dill

In a small bowl and using a handheld mixer (or in a mini-food processor), blend the feta cheese, oil and lemon juice until smooth, then mix in the chopped dill.

Makes about 1/2 cup.

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