Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"Entertaining with Kathi" Food Column ~ July 18, 2007

Here is the original un-edited version of my article from July 18, 2007. Whether because of space restrictions or whatever possible reason, the newspaper sometimes cuts a few of my sentences. Sometimes they cut a few of my favorite sentences ... ouch! To the artistic side of me, those cuts feel like a piece of canvas has been sliced away. But that is the reality one faces when offering their art to a newspaper. Photo credit: Mike Thorn & SXC.

Just Hang A Lamb Chop In Your Window

By Kathi Dameron

“To the White House, please.” I said to the Washington DC cabby as I slid across the seat in my little black dress.

I’d never seen someone straighten up so fast. I suppose it was the confidence in my voice that may have suggested that we were on official business.

“To the White House and B-A-C-K,” my date quickly clarified as he proceeded to give the driver the name and address of the Indian restaurant that would be our final stop after a quick tour of Washington.

The cab driver eased back to a relaxed position as the four of us enjoyed the ride.

I had jaunted by train from New York City where I was attending design school to spend a long weekend with Nevie, my former Cottey College classmate and confidante.

Lamb chop-scouting and boy-crazy Nevie had arranged for us to double date with two of her classmates from George Washington University, where she was working on a degree in International Relations.

That weekend in the late 1970’s was my first introduction to the Washington DC and Georgetown tradition of “hanging a lamb chop in your window.”

“Nevie, what are you talking about?” I asked the former beauty pageant winner and Arkansas debutante who had taken-up studying the capital scene like an anthropologist.

“Perle Mesta, the legendary society hostess was once asked how she got so many famous people to come to her parties. Perle said that all you have to do is hang a lamb chop in your window.”

“Fascinating…” I said as I peered with interest at the passing windows, hoping to see the symbol synonymous with having a party.

With lamb chops still dancing through the windows of my imagination, it was a breeze to select my dinner entrée from the otherwise mysterious-sounding restaurant menu.

“I’d love the Spiced Lamb Chops, please,” I said as I inhaled the assertive aroma of curry that perfumed the air. The tinkling fountains, the honeyed flicker of candlelight and the rhythmic raga background music cast a lasting image in my memory archives, that braided together my first tasteful bites of Indian Cuisine with the Washington tradition of “hanging a lamb chop in the window.”

This recipe for Spiced Lamb Chops from The Sheraton World Cookbook is certainly tasty enough to be served at an important VIP Dinner, but you don’t need an engraved invitation for a State Dinner at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to enjoy exquisitely flavored lamb chops at their best.

Spiced Lamb Chops
Maurya-Sheraton New Delhi, India

8 tablespoons (1/4 pound) Clarified Butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 Tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger root
one / half cup cashew nuts
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
3 whole cloves
one/eighth teaspoon cardamom seeds
2 small bay leaves, crushed
6 very thick lamb chops, one/third to one/half pound each, well trimmed of fat
1 cup plain yogurt
three/ fourth teaspoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
one/fourth teaspoon ground cinnamon
one/fourth teaspoon ground cloves
Salt, to taste
Garnish: Chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) or chopped fresh parsley

Place clarified butter in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the onions, garlic, and ginger, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, or until onions are golden brown.

Remove onions, garlic, and ginger from the hot butter and place them in a blender or food processor. Puree these ingredients, along with the cashew nuts and poppy seeds. If mixture is too dry to puree, add a few tablespoons of water.

Place frying pan back over medium heat. Return spice paste to the pan. Add whole cloves, cardamom seeds, and crushed bay leaves. Add the lamb chops, and fry, turning occasionally, for 10 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pan now, and again as you continue to cook, and to keep the sauce from scorching.

Lower heat to medium and add the yogurt and ground spices. Fry approximately 10 minutes longer, continuing to turn the chops occasionally. Add one/half cup water and cook the chops 15 minutes longer, or until they are done to your satisfaction. Season with salt. Serve chops coated with yogurt sauce and garnished with chopped coriander or parsley.

Tips From Kathi
My disclaimer as a chef is that I rarely follow a recipe. When I create a dish, I treat it as an original artistic creation. Even if I am experimenting with something that I have not cooked before, I’ll hunt through my cookbook collection for a good sounding version that can serve as a general guideline. Most of the time I find about a half dozen different versions that fuel my inspiration to launch off with my own unique interpretation. It is ok to not like every ingredient in a recipe, just substitute them or delete them altogether.

Cooking should be fun. When it loses its fun, its time to hang up your apron and make a reservation at your favorite restaurant. Who knows maybe after dining on someone else’s artistic creation you’ll be re-inspired to return to the kitchen with a new blazing fire in your belly to create new culinary masterpieces.

Kathi Dameron teaches private cooking classes and is a personal chef. She owns Kathi Dameron and Associates.

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