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On a damp, chilly and windy post-Christmas evening, I felt compelled to create a special dinner that brought the best out of this time of year at a minimal cost without too much effort. I decided on pork chops with a mushroom, shallots, thyme and Marsala gravy, pinto beans, brown rice and roasted broccoli. I paired the meal with a 2005 red Bordeaux that was earthy, medium bodied and elegant ($18).

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I took the long road with the beans and used dried pinto beans. I did the cheat soak method where I soaked them for an hour in hot water and then finished them in a pressure cooker with diced onion, green pepper, dried oregano, a bay leaf and some white wine from the fridge.

I chose thick cut, bone-in pork chops which can be difficult to cook because the part near the bone always cooks slower than the outer sections. One trick is to make sure that the chops are at room temp before cooking but this will still be a bit of a challenge. I also prefer to season the meat and not the flour to ensure even application of salt and pepper. I used a hot cast iron skillet to sear the chops to medium rare, removed them and then cooked the vegetables for the gravy. I used minced shallots and sliced button mushrooms and once they were mostly cooked added a fair amount of chopped fresh thyme. If available, I highly recommend using fresh thyme instead of dried as it really makes a difference.

I added some butter to the veg and some additional flour to make a roux and then added Marsala wine. Not too much, maybe a half cup, and do not stand over the pan while this steams. This won’t provide enough liquid to make the full amount of gravy so I added a cup or two of chicken stock. Let it thicken, reduce heat, add a small amount of cream, stir, then add the chops back into the pan until pink in the middle. DO NOT overcook the pork chops. Whatever disease you could get in the 50s from raw pork is long gone so no need to cook until well done unless you want your dinner guests to never come back.

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The wine, which like many red Bordeaux wines is a blend (60% Cab, 40% Merlot), was a prefect complement to the earthiness of the mushrooms and thyme, as well as with the flavorful beans. The bit of acidity balanced the creaminess of the gravy making the combination of the food and wine greater than the sum of the parts. A little creativity in pairing can transform a simple and rustic meal into something truly memorable.

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