The dark months, between holiday frenzy and spring fever, are a good time to get re-acquainted with old friends.
Make the evening mellow and easy; invite the kids, if there are any, and eat in front of the fire, if you have one.
My mother called her one-dish pork-chop recipe "easy meal." It was one of the first things she learned to cook, and a great company dish -- especially when pork chops cost about 35 cents a pound. They're a little pricier now, but you can still make this menu for less than $4 a person, not including wine.
Easy meal was one of the first things I learned to cook, too. Over the years, I've changed the dish, adding some ingredients and upgrading others.
But it still lives up to its name: It's easy and satisfying stick-to-your-ribs food for a winter night. The chops bake with rice and vegetables; all you need to add is a hot bread, salad and dessert.
Serve the pork chops in the skillet they cook in or remove them to a serving dish. Arrange the cut, cooked broccoli back in a head shape in the serving bowl before dressing it.
The focaccia topping may be made ahead of time; just spread the seasoned onions on the dough and bake at the last minute.
Keep the centerpiece simple: A still life of purple onions, leafy green cabbage, white mushrooms and yellow peppers is as bright as any flowers, and when the party's over you have the ingredients for the next night's dinner.
After heavy winter food, the cool, tart flavors of fruit sorbet set off a square of spicy gingerbread.
To go with the pork, wine authority Diane Teitelbaum recommends Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc 1992.
Easy meal (baked pork chops)
Makes 6 servings
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
6 pork chops cut at least 1-inch thick and trimmed of excess fat
1 1/2 cups rice
1 onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 (1-pound) can peeled tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon oregano, dried or fresh
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole or oven-proof skillet and saute the chops quickly. Remove to a plate as they brown. If necessary, add more oil to the pan and saute the rice, onion and pepper until the rice is golden.
Place the chops on top of the rice, pour the can of tomatoes over the chops and sprinkle with the oregano and vinegar.
Cover tightly and cook 1 1/4 hours. Check occasionally to be sure there is enough liquid. The rice should absorb it all, but you don't want it to stick. Add a few tablespoons water if it seems too dry.
Note: Choose a casserole or skillet that can be used for serving.
Per serving: calories: 501; fat: 24 grams; cholesterol: 85 milligrams; sodium: 192 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 44 percent.
Makes 6 servings
1 medium red onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary, dried or fresh
1 package purchased pizza dough
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Slice the onion thinly and saute in the olive oil, adding the sugar, salt and rosemary when the onion has begun to soften. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes until the sugar caramelizes.
Roll out 1 piece of pizza dough according to package directions and spread with the onion mixture. Sprinkle with pepper flakes. Bake for 12 minutes or according to package directions until the dough is puffed and brown. Slice into wedges.
Per serving: calories: 282; fat: 9 grams; no cholesterol; sodium: 571 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 30 percent.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 tablespoons lemon juice or white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped black olives
3 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
4 scallions, minced
salt and pepper
1 bunch broccoli, blanched (see note)
Whisk together lemon juice and olive oil. Add olives, bell pepper, scallions and salt and pepper. Assemble room-temperature broccoli back into a round shape in serving bowl; pour dressing over the top.
Note: To blanch broccoli, plunge florets into boiling water so they are slightly cooked but still crunchy.
Per serving: calories: 117; fat: 10 grams; no cholesterol; sodium: 233 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 68 percent.
Makes 9 servings
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup cane syrup
4 tablespoons buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 heaping teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter and stir in syrup. Beat egg with buttermilk. Mix together the dry ingredients, then stir in the egg mixture and the syrup mixture.
Pour into a 9-inch-square pan that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for about 25 minutes. Serve with ice cream, yogurt or sorbet.
Per serving: calories: 259; fat: 9 grams; cholesterol: 46 milligrams; sodium: 231 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 31 percent.