The United States has laws separating "church and state" that dictate a clear division between religion and politics. Yet, religion and politics are often lumped together as two taboo topics – inappropriate to discuss in most social or professional situations.
Neither topic has ever especially bothered me – I enjoy an occasional healthy debate and think it's interesting to hear new-to-me opinions about topics on which I'm not an expert.
Yet, throughout my life I've found my own religion at the center of many conversations.
I was raised Jewish, but with a twist if you will. My mother grew up in a conservative Jewish family while my father is Catholic. Though the contradictory presence of the Christmas tree and menorah that graced my living room every December was confusing to some, it was all I knew. Didn't everyone celebrate Hanukkah AND Christmas?
Sometimes my classmates would correct me when I said I was Jewish. "If you celebrate Christmas," they'd say. "Then you're half-Jewish."
Though religion is a personal choice for everyone, I don't know if I can be "half" of two religions that hold contradicting values. I don't think you can half-believe that J.C. was the Messiah and you can't think he's "kind of divine." Isn't that like being "a little bit pregnant?" Impossible.
In any event, my "religious beliefs" do allow me eat meat on Fridays during Lent and bread during passover. I also eat pork, an item from which most practicing Jews abstain. More specifically, I make pork chops on a whim, because I've never made them before and I'm trying to learn to cook meals beyond pastas, chicken and chili.
By combining a few of my favorite meal staples – shallots, balsamic vinegar and spinach, you can whip up a great meal in under an hour (not to get all Rachael Ray on you, this could easily take someone thirty minutes…but I try to clean as I go and usually wind up making a bigger mess, so I cushion my estimates. I don't want anyone missing American Idol because they tried to make my pork chops).
Cranberry Glazed Balsamic Pork Chops
2 lean, boneless pork chops
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small shallot, diced
1/2 cup fat-free cranberry salad dressing (I used Maple Grove Farm Vermont Gourmet)
1/4 cup Baslamic Vinegar
1/2 cup white wine
10 oz fresh baby spinach, steamed or sauteed
2 Tbsp. corn starch, dissolved in 2 Tbsp. warm water
1. Heat the olive oil in a large, oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Season pork chops with salt and pepper and place in skillet, cooking until chops are lightly browned, abut 5 minutes on each side. Remove from skillet and set aside on a plate covered with foil to keep warm (I placed mine in warmed oven).
2. Add enough olive oil to re-moisten the bottom of the skillet. Stir in the shallots, and cook until they begin to carmelize into a deep brown color. Add cranberry salad dressing and balsamic vinegar and let simmer for about 3 minutes, or until combined.
3. Add white wine and turn down heat. Simmer sauce until it begins to reduce and thicken (if sauce has not thickened after 5-7 minutes, add corn starch mixture and stir until combined. Serve pork chops over warm spinach and top with sauce.