Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A simple meat sauce with a tiny twist

I swear the pork I am getting from "my" farmer is getting tastier. I don't know what the Haskins family is doing, but lately whenever I make anything with any of their pork products, I am taken aback by how delicious and distinct the meat is. In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan describes his experience of the chicken from Polyface Farm, Joel Salatin's grass-based farm in Staunton, Virginia, as being "chickenier" than any other chicken he had eaten before. That's the experience I have with the Haskins's pork: It's porkier than any other pork I have ever eaten before. And it's utterly wonderful and amazing. It forces you to pull back and think about the food--not take it for granted as some vague substance that will make your stomach feel less empty.

A simple meat sauce is one of the best ways to showcase flavorful meat, and it's also an easy way to get a home-cooked meal on the table. And even though you may not be able to get the scrumptious ground pork I am lucky enough to get, I suggest finding your own farmer who raises animals in humane, ethical ways by letting them live their lives grazing on grass or rooting around in forests. To find grass-fed meats near you, check out eatwild.com or localharvest.com.

Oh yeah, this sauce does have a bit of twist to it: cinnamon. Sounds weird, huh? But it's really quite fantastic. Your sauce will not come out tasting like some Frankensteinian hybrid of a meat sauce and a cinnamon bun. Instead, the small addition of cinnamon adds just a bit of complexity to the sauce that will leave everyone wondering what that amazing flavor is. Trust me on this. But be careful with it, add just a small amount.

Meat sauce served with pasta, but you could also top bread with it and make sloppy joes, fill bread dough and bake to make pierogies, stuff peppers with it, stuff and bake squash--try something crazy or keep it simple!
A simple meat sauce

  • 1 lb ground pork (or beef or lamb)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (or pressed through a garlic press)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 16-ounce can of tomatoes (organic is good, homemade is even better!), slightly buzzed in a food processor to get a chunky puree
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (brown sugar is always nice)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground dried mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  1. Heat the oil in a deep saute pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the onions and let them get soft and a bit brown. Stir from time to time so they don't stick or burn. 
  2. Add the ground pork (or whatever meat you are using). Cook until the meat is nicely browned, and you see no more pink.
  3. Add the minced garlic and stir quickly for a few seconds (just enough to get the smell to rise, but not long enough to in any way burn the garlic; burnt garlic is the kiss of death for a dish). Then add the tomatoes, salt, sugar, and spices plus about a cup of water.
  4. Let the sauce simmer over medium-low heat for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour to meld the flavors and get a nice consistency. Add more water if the sauce starts to stick to the bottom of the pan before your time is up.  
  5. Done. Serve it any way you like. This sauce also doubles and freezes well, so you could have home-cooked food even on nights when you get home late from work and are too tired to cook. And doesn't that sound nice?
Some interesting links

When I am not cooking, writing about food, or working, I am usually scoping out food blogs and reading food-related articles. I thought I would share some interesting stuff that I recently came across.
  • Tanya Denckla Cobb, a professor at the University of Virginia, recently published an article in the Virginia News Letter that highlights Virginia's role in the local food movement. This well-researched article describes the motivation behind and benefits of the movement.
  • In last Sunday's New York Times, Mark Bittman discusses the so-called cheapness of junk food. He dismisses the notion that junk food really is cheaper than real, homemade food. Even though I feel as though he's a bit too dismissive of buying organic and farmer's market foods (calling them "trendy"), he raises a lot of good points about the reasons that people tend to buy junk food in favor of homecooked meals, such as the fact that most people are simply too tired to cook at the end of a long day.
  • An exciting scientific discovery reported in The Scientist: Magazine of the Life Sciences suggests that what we eat may have more of an impact on our bodies than we ever imagined. Not only do we process food as nutrients, but food may also have an effect on how our DNA is regulated. 
  • Takepart.com reported on a study that revealed family dinners are not just good for your physical health, but can also help keep teens from partaking in risky behaviors like drugs and alcohol and generally lead healthier, happier lives.      

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