Milk-Braised Pork Chops with Mashed Potatoes & Gravy and Creamed Spinach CasseroleI reached for the recipe for “Milk-Braised Pork Chops with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy,” from the November 2012 issue of Food & Wine, even though I’ve been historically underwhelmed by pork chops. Too dull? Too dry? I know what I’ve faced in my past. This recipe’s promises of mashed potatoes and gravy are what saved it, honestly. The potatoes were creamy and the gravy was the big winner: blond, flavorful, perfect.

I reduced the portions in this recipe in order to make 4 servings. As always, I was happy to use my Dutch oven. The gravy-making method was a fun triumph: I put the braising liquid and softened onion/carrot/celery/garlic in the blender. Then, I whisked it in a pan with butter and flour. I was supposed to add 1/3 cup of milk to the mix, but forgot it. Still, my gravy became thick and luscious. I added 3/4 tsp. kosher salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper to the gravy. And I came to embrace the truth about good gravy: it makes the world a better place.

To go along with the vibe of a comforting, slow-cooked meal, I also made the “Creamed Spinach Casserole,” from the December 2012 issue of Eating Well. I reduced the portions again, to use two packages of frozen spinach, instead of three. The casserole was very gratifying and warm. Indeed creamy, with its milk and cheddar and cottage cheese. Strong and spinachy, with the ideal pinch of nutmeg. Dare to smother your spinach in creaminess, at least once in a while…

Pork Loin Chops (1.95 lbs. = $25.21)
Carrot (1) = .19¢
Russet Potatoes (2 lbs.) = $1.50
Frozen Spinach (20 oz.) = $4.08

PREP TIMES: pork chops/potatoes/gravy need three hours of attention, spinach needs an hour or less
long-simmered vegetables and chicken stock bring such a creamy deliciousness to the gravy (and the gravy imparts its magic to the humble pork chops); spinach maintains its strength with creamy cheeses

Next time, I will return to recipes from Ottolenghi The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I’m ready to try the “Roast Chicken with Saffron, Hazelnuts and Honey,” along with “Danielle’s Sweet Potato Gratin” (recipes below). Get ready for another scrumptious adventure. Come back to my site soon.

Roast Chicken with Saffron, Hazelnuts and Honey
Ottolenghi The Cookbook
Serves 4

3.1 lbs. chicken breasts, legs, wings
2 onions, roughly chopped
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 large pinch of saffron strands
juice of 1 lemon
4 Tbsp. cold water
2 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
3.5 oz. unskinned hazelnuts
2.5 oz. honey
2 Tbsp. rosewater
2 scallions, roughly chopped

In a large bowl, mix in a bowl, mix the chicken pieces with the onions, olive oil, ginger, cinnamon, saffron, lemon juice, water, salt and pepper. Leave to marinate for at least an hour, or overnight in the fridge.

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Spread the hazelnuts on a tray and roast for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Chop roughly and set aside.

Transfer the chicken and marinade to a roasting tray large enough to accommodate everything comfortably. Arrange the chicken pieces skin-side up and put the tray in the oven for about 35 minutes.

While the chicken is roasting, mix the honey, rosewater and nuts to create a rough paste. When the 35 minutes cooking time for the chicken is up, spread the paste over the chicken and place back in the oven for another 10 minutes, until the chicken is golden brown.

Transfer the chicken to a serving dish and garnish with the chopped scallions.

Danielle’s Sweet Potato Gratin
Ottolenghi The Cookbook
Serves 4-6

6 medium sweet potatoes (about 3.3 lbs.)
5 Tbsp. roughly chopped sage, plus extra to garnish
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp. coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
8.5 oz. whipping cream

Heat oven to 392 degrees F. Wash potatoes, but don’t peel. Cut into discs 1/4-inch thick.

In a bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Arrange the slices of potato in a deep, medium-sized ovenproof dish by taking tight packs of them and standing them up next to each other. They should fit quite tightly so you get parallel lines of sweet potato slices (skins showing) along the length or width of dish. Throw any remaining bits of garlic or sage from the bowl over the potatoes. Cover the dish with foil and roast for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and pour the cream evenly over the potatoes. Roast, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes. The cream should thicken. Stick a sharp knife in different places in the dish to make sure the potatoes are cooked. They should be totally soft.

Serve immediately, garnished with sage, or leave to cool down. In any case, bringing the potatoes to the table in the baking dish will make a strong impact.