April is Cruel. December is Mean.

Yesterday the dreary dark got to me so much that I was considering a small zen garden for my office desk. Peppermint tea, light breaks, and banter with coworkers were not jolting me from my vitamin-d deprived stupor. I drank a strong coffee at 5 pm, someone kindly lending me change for our vending machines. We all develop a sense of camaraderie in these days of little sunlight. After guzzling down my option A17 gourmet coffee shot through with sugar and cream, my energy to cook a hearty dinner started kicking in. I left work desiring something warming and yet light with bright flavors. A cozy dinner to quell any depressive moods that lurk out this time of year with the seasonal changes. Fending off the usual demons that may tempt one to drive straight home, jump into pajamas, eat cold cuts and chocolate chips for dinner while watching the backlog of a rather eclectic DVR lineup….I picked exactly the thing to make.

To set the tone for a warm and relaxing evening came the happy hour at home. Hot Buttered Rum. I told a friend about my choice for mixology. “You need to be wearing something fancy while you drink those” he said. I then pictured him in a scene from My Fair Lady with a shiny top hat, one hand on a lapel with the other cradling his gentleman’s cup. Seeking a good winter cocktail, I was smitten immediately. Melted butter into rum with a dash of heat from spice, I found myself enveloped in a warm cloud of boozy cinnamon sugar toast. Even with the lack of a proper glass to serve this in, I was brought to an old comfy pub lined with books and a healthy fire going; maybe a fat dog on the floor laying nearby.

Hot Buttered Rum

2 ounces dark rum

½ ounce butter

¾ ounce honey

Hot water
cinnamon and/or nutmeg

In an Irish coffee mug, add the rum, butter, and honey. Top with hot water. Garnish with grated nutmeg or cinnamon.

Soothingly so, because I happened to be sipping a cinnamony-buttery couple ounces of rum, hunger crept in. This is that moment when a humble cheese plate becomes a fawned upon center-dish.

There was ‘Drunken Goat’, a goat cheese cured in wine and a quaint little triangle of cheddar with chives.

These pork chops with a mustard and cider sauce for dinner is something I highly anticipate when I know they are in my near future. Tracking down each ingredient in the store, I could smell and taste the sauce. Driving home, I sang with the radio to get my mind away from pillowy gnocchi tossed in this unabashed, fork-lick-inducing sauce. Before making this I did not realize the wonders of hard apple cider. To me, cider was either overly sweet beer or adult apple juice. Mixed with the mustard and cream, the result is a balanced, tangy sauce that compliments a delicately cooked pork chop perfectly. I served this alongside gnocchi and with some blanched green beans.

Pork Chops with Mustard

*If serving gnocchi as highly recommended, start water boiling.

2 pork chops
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 cup hard cider
1 Tbsp grain mustard
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place pork chops between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and pound the chops with a rolling pin to make them thinner. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and add the pork. Cook for approximately 5 minutes each side. Set aside under tented foil to keep them warm. Lower heat to medium-low and add cider. Stir to capture the juices and deglaze the pan. Stir in the mustard and cream. Cook for about a minute or two, stirring occasionally and season to taste. Place pork chops on plates and top with sauce. For gnocchi: Turn heat to medium-low and heat up the gnocchi in any remaining sauce in pan.

Recipe Adapted from Nigella Lawson, Nigella Express

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