Every time I make this recipe, I feel like a newlywed.

Maybe it’s the smooth, silky touch of the Baby Bella mushrooms that caress my fingers as I dice them to mix with tart Granny Smith apple, aged Gouda cheese, garlic, and seasoned bread crumbs for a flavorful olive oil-dressed filling.

Maybe it’s the soft, sizzling whisper of the pork fat that melts its way into every fiber of the meaty chops as they sit and get slowly roasted in a shallow bath of a good Bordeaux.

Or maybe it’s the arousing aroma of red wine vapors rich in ripe fruits and tannins that takes me back to the good old kid- and carefree times when life revolved around just the two of us.

mushroom-stuffed pork chops

10 years later, the times are still good, but it’s a different kind of good when you have a kid. Sometimes, it takes an emoticon of a text, sometimes a fancy pizza on the couch, sometimes a grocery trip for two in order to feel connected.

Sometimes, it takes a recipe…  Sensory. Sensuous. And very, very satisfying.

The recipe for mushroom-stuffed pork chops was graciously given to me by Jo C., a co-worker, a friend, and just a very kind lady. In 2004, about a year into my marriage. I just learnt that I had to cook if I was married and was actively searching for recipes to expand our newlywed fare beyond spaghetti Bolognese, Publix rotisserie chicken, and Russian borscht soup.

Among dozens of recipes I went through, this one stood out. And it stuck around for over a decade. Since I am not big on pork and not to wear out its “newlywed” touch, I’d stuff up a dozen or so pork chops only on special occasions, like holidays, anniversaries or whenever I really, really want to get something.

When the latter is involved, I’d go to the butcher’s and get the thickest, the reddest, the marble-st pork cuts on the bone—bone is a must—have them butterflied there, come home and whip up twice as much filling, stuff the chops up inside out, slather the excess on the bottom and the sides of the pan and every which way, drown it all in a good drinking wine—no cooking kind please—and cook his dinner into a juicy, messy, porky feast.

Works like a charm, ladies.

On a serious note, the beauty of this recipe is in its flexibility. Just think of all the cheeses you can experiment with, the fruits—fresh and dried—the wines! Use the cooking kind! What the heck!

Every time it’d turn out a little or a lot more different. After over a decade, I find nothing stale about it.

With St. Valentine’s Day and our wedding anniversary (they happen to share the same date, by the way) just about to roll around, I started pork chopping up my husband early.

Russian salad

Today he got a couple of them for breakfast in bed since I cooked at the crack of dawn to get good lighting for my photographs. To offset the richness of the chops, I served them with a refreshing, earthy salad of beets, carrots, potatoes, pickles, and scallions. This salad sort of cleanses your palate in between the meat bites so you can fully enjoy its complex flavors. It complements without competing, so to say.

I know my pork chops will get me what I want but I’ll still do some more chocolate caking, beef pot roasting, and fudging him up just to feel connected.

Thank you, Jo!