Braising is a wonderful method of cooking that is perfect for days when you are around and want the house warm and cozy, but don’t want to fuss much.

It involves searing the meat on all sides at the beginning to build flavor; covering aromatics and the meat with flavorful liquid such as wine, cognac and/or stock; and then cooking long and slow with the lid on.

This braise will work with all sorts of cuts. I’ve been exploring unusual, underappreciated and unloved cuts of meat in my effort to use the whole cow and buy naturally raised beef without a major increase to our household food budget. I was talked into using a “neck roast” for this dish.

While it needs to cook slowly at low temperatures for what seems like forever (and is really only three hours), the cut is full of flavor and melt-in-your-mouth qualities. In addition, it’s usually meat used for stock or hamburger and therefore not expensive at all – about $3 per pound.

As I’ve been talking more with our butcher and the farmers from whom we buy, I’m learning that marketing (what a surprise) has a good deal to do with the cuts of meat that become the choices in our meat cases.

When buying whole beef, the choices are broad, but when buying per piece, our choices of cuts are driven by fashion, familiarity, efficiency of packaging and ease of butchering.

It makes sense, but this means that cuts such as skirt steaks, hanger steaks and flank steak – ones that used to be unfashionable and mostly became ground beef – can now be marketed at a much higher price per pound to an audience that recognizes and appreciates the cuts.

It also means that the cuts that were once available are no longer, unless we ask for them. We, the consumer, are in ultimate control of what ends up on our plates – if we don’t buy it, butchers won’t sell it. If we ask for it, manufacturers will package it.

It therefore behooves the smart, budget-conscious consumer to do a little investigative work to discover which cuts are not highly sought after, and therefore less expensive.

It’s a meat adventure! And good news, it will be delicious along the way.

TEMPRANILLO AND PEPPER BRAISED BEEF

1 1/2 pounds neck roast, 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon oregano

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or less if you’d like)

1 teaspoon salt, plus extra for the onions and peppers

2 tablespoons canola oil

4 cups sliced onions, about 2 medium onions

4 cups sliced red and green peppers, about 3 peppers

2 cloves of garlic, whole

1 cup beef stock

2 cups Tempranillo red wine

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the spices and salt. Rub into the beef. Heat a Dutch oven or other large, low-sided, oven-proof pan that has a lid over medium heat and add the oil.

Carefully place the beef in the pan and sear on both sides for about 5 minutes each side, or until a brown crust has formed. Once the beef is browned on both sides, make a space in the pan and add the onions, peppers, garlic and salt. Saute for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the onions and peppers begin to brown.

Add the liquids, cover and transfer to the oven. Braise for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is almost flaking away from itself.

To serve, transfer the meat to a cutting board and slice and serve the peppers and onions on the side or arrange the peppers and onions on a platter with the beef on top and let everyone scoop what they’d like.

Serves four.

CARROTS AND LEEKS AU GRATIN

If you grew leeks in your garden this year or belonged to a CSA, you must have received a small mountain of leeks by now. If not, because they are currently in season, they are a good deal and something to enjoy in abundance.

Leeks don’t root cellar well, although I have found that if I leave them in the ground and cover them with a deep layer of straw, I can pull several as I need them over the winter.

4 cups leeks, cleaned and chopped into 1 inch pieces

4 cups carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil, leeks, carrots, salt and pepper. Saute for 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to an oven-safe casserole or pan, and drizzle the cream over the top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the edges are beginning to brown, the vegetables are tender and the cream has mostly evaporated.

Serves four to six.

 

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea,” a recipe book about her experiences cooking aboard the family’s windjammer. She can be reached at: [email protected]