THIS BEING THE SEASON of soups and stews, it might be helpful to know that you can use a stainless steel tea ball for holding whole dried spices being added to such concoctions. After the dish is cooked, simply remove the tea ball from the pot, empty out the spices and rinse well.

DINNER TONIGHT

PORK CHOPS WITH CRANBERRIES AND ONIONS (4 servings)

Leftover cranberry sauce can be put to good use as the sweet-tart component of a pan sauce for saute'ed pork chops. Serve the chops with rice or noodles, and a steamed green vegetable.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 3/4-inch thick loin pork chops

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 onion, chopped

1 rib celery heart, chopped

1/3 cup chicken broth

2/3 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce

Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over moderately high heat; brown the pork chops in the oil on both sides, remove to a side dish, and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, add the butter, onion and celery; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chicken broth and cranberry sauce, and bring to a simmer. Add the pork chops, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove the pork chops to a side dish and rapidly reduce the sauce until lightly thickened (season with additional salt and pepper, to taste). Place the pork chops on a warm platter and spoon over the savory sauce.

Per serving: 610 calories, 48 gm protein, 21 gm carbohydrates, 36 gm fat, 12 gm saturated fat, 171 mg cholesterol, 214 mg sodium.

Lisa Yockelson

"WE SUCCEED WHERE DIETS fail you" was the oft-repeated ad slogan of Nutri/System, the weight loss center that sells packaged diet foods to an estimated 300,000 clients nationwide.

So does Nutri/System know its success rate? After all, the company promises refunds of up to 50 percent to participants who keep their weight off for a year; wouldn't simply tabulating the number of refunds be at least some measurement of the diet's success?

Of Nutri/System's 1,821 centers, 469 are company owned; the rest are franchise, according to James Kemper Millard, senior vice president of marketing for the weight loss center, who said the number of refunds is not tracked from the franchise-owned operations. Millard would not disclose the average number of refunds returned from each company-owned operation, saying that the numbers "would not be representative" of all the centers.

Nutri/System recently came up with a new jingle: "There's a right way to lose weight." We know the right way to gain weight.

CHRISTMAS IS BARELY past and it's not too early to think about a gift for Valentine's Day, which is but 50 days away. Perhaps the James Beard Collection of sterling silver jewelry, available through mail-order only, includes what you're looking for.

The assortment includes earrings that dangle tiny pieces of silverware or whisks, pea pod earrings filled with malachite peas, a pin with a lobster on a plate set with napkins and silverware, and a cow pendant. Prices start at $9.95 and go up, up, up; proceeds benefit the nonprofit James Beard Foundation. For information, call 301-869-1725, in Darnestown, Md.

SUPERMARKET PROFITS AMOUNTED last year to an average of less than one cent on the dollar, according to a just-released study by the Food Marketing Institute. A survey of sales and profits for the 1989-90 fiscal year revealed that supermarkets earned an average of .86 cents for every dollar spent. That amount, calculated after taxes were paid, was an improvement over a year earlier when supermarkets earned .71 cents on the dollar.

Still, some supermarkets fared considerably better than the industry average, including the local Giant Food Inc., with an after-tax profit of 3.34 cents on the dollar last year. This year may be even better for Giant, the only supermarket to publicly report sales and profit figures for the Washington area. For the first nine months of the year, the company's profit rose to 3.46 cents on the dollar.

In other news from the supermarket, recession blues have yet to hit the grocery shelves, according to New Product News. The publication reports that for the first 11 months of 1990, new product introductions increased by more than 10 percent over 1989 -- 12,504 versus 11,327. While most of these items were flavor, size or shape extensions of existing products, New Product News said that few manufacturers want to set aside new ideas until economic conditions improve. Consumers may be holding off on the new Mercedes, but everybody has to eat.

GOODBYE, MR. WHIPPLE, hello Chris Hollenbach. As assistant manager of Sparkle Market in Streetsboro, Ohio, the 32-year-old Hollenbach -- also known as C.J. -- is out to disprove the image of the dowdy grocer.

Even if he doesn't succeed, he certainly has created a stir in Streetsboro, with his picture in July's "Playgirl." As "Progressive Grocer" noted in a subsequent article, Hollenbach's bare chested picture certainly "gives 'exposure' new meaning." The photo of the blond, blue-eyed, 6-foot, 170-pound assistant manager sparked so much interest that scores of women came into the store to get a glimpse of the real thing.

"I don't think we could have attracted more business if we gave the groceries away," Hollenbach told "Progressive Grocer."