- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cooking for weekend company can turn into a marathon if you’re not careful.

I know from experience: In the past, I used to spend an inordinate amount of time in front of my stove turning out complicated meals for overnight guests.

Not anymore. I still love to do the cooking, but now I plan simple menus that leave me free to catch up with our out-of-town visitors.

That’s exactly what I did on a recent Saturday when close friends arrived 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.

The piece de resistance was pan-sauteed lamb chops that 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.

The whipped topping took only minutes to assemble and was prepared with crumbled feta, lemon juice, olive oil and fresh dill. Easy side dishes included saffron-scented couscous and blanched baby zucchini. A chocolate tart from a store served as a finale.

Our guests, both in the art-and-design world, loved the vibrant colors and interesting textures of our main course and ate with abandon. I just smiled, pleased with the simplicity and appeal of such an easy menu.

Pan-sauteed lamb chops topped with whipped feta

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning the chops

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

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

8 rib lamb chops, cut about ½ inch thick and about 3 ounces each

1 cup (18 to 20) grape tomatoes

Whipped feta for garnish (recipe follows.)

Fresh dill sprigs for garnish

Combine lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup olive oil in a shallow nonreactive pan. Add lamb chops, turning to coat well. Marinate at room temperature, turning chops occasionally, 45 minutes. (You can marinate lamb longer; cover and refrigerate for up to 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 chops from marinade, salt lightly on both sides, then saute until browned all over and pink in the center, about 2½ to 3 minutes per side. Remove 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 grape tomatoes and cook, stirring just until seared and warmed through, 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, with a dill sprig. Makes 4 servings.


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

½ cup crumbled feta

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1½ tablespoons chopped dill

In a small bowl and using a hand-held mixer (or in a minifood processor), blend together feta, oil and lemon juice until smooth, then mix in the chopped dill.

Makes about ½ cup.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “The Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).


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