All across the country now, children have returned to their classrooms. Families are settling back into their usual school-year schedules of drop-offs and carpools, pickups and after-school and weekend activities. It can quickly seem like the lazy days of summer have long gone, and many people feel the need for a way to restore a sense of calmness, control, and order to their daily lives.

One of the best ways to achieve that sense of control is through cooking. And the place to restore order can be found around the family dinner table.

Studies have shown that children who sit down to dinner with their parents regularly tend to do better in school, to be better-adjusted and have fewer problems. Not to mention the fact that, if those meals are cooked from scratch, using wholesome ingredients and a minimum of processed convenience foods, those children are also likely to be healthier. (And the more home-cooked meals you make, the more money you'll probably save toward their college education!)

One of the best ways to draw everyone to the table is to send out wonderful aromas from the kitchen. My recipe for Pork Chops with Sherry Vinegar Sauce will do exactly that, while being remarkably quick and easy.

The recipe begins with boneless pork chops, widely available in supermarkets. (Buy them in bulk, if you like, and freeze in freezer storage bags. Then, thaw as many as you need in the refrigerator overnight before you plan to prepare the dish.) I quickly sear them with a little oil and butter in an ovenproof skillet, and then finish cooking in a preheated oven for less than a quarter of an hour.

While the cooked chops, covered with foil, rest a few minutes so their hot juices will settle back into the meat, you have time to make a quick sauce. First, deglaze the flavorful pan deposits with fragrant sherry vinegar and dry sherry; then add broth, a spoonful of bottled barbecue sauce to enrich the flavor and thicken the consistency, and a dollop of Dijon mustard; and simmer briefly until the mixture is thick. Finally, meat and sauce come together on the plate, along with a colorful, flavorful garnish of chopped fresh tomato.

Altogether, this main course will take less than half an hour from start to finish. And while it cooks, you have enough time to cook some rice or another grain and steam or stir-fry a fresh vegetable side dish of your choice. Add a simple salad to start and an easy dessert to end, and the family meal is complete.

You'll be amazed by how easy it is -- and probably how much you'll find out from your children while they devour a delicious meal!


Serves 4

4 boneless center-cut pork chops, each about 1-1/2 inches thick


Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon peanut oil or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

7 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar

3 tablespoons dry sherry

1 cup organic chicken broth

1 tablespoon store-bought tomato-based barbecue sauce