I guess it's just because it's winter, and I'm trying to do less imported/non-local food, but light fare seems to have vanished from my mind and from my dinner table. I still eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast, and salad for lunch everyday, but light, fresh dishes, are but a distant memory at the end of the day, along with snowless ground, sunshine and warm weather.
So, always searching for ways to make inexpensive cuts of meat more exciting, I recalled something my mother made every now and then, and that a friend of mine use to make for guests occasionally in my long ago twenties: sauerbraten. Bear with me here, while I tell you a little about this friend - we'll call her "Suzie." Suzie and her boyfriend Danny used to hang out with my ex-husband and me, as well as another girlfriend and her ex-husband. We spent a lot evenings together cooking, eating, drinking, playing cards, and when it was their turn to be host, Suzie would sometimes make a really good sauerbraten. When it was served up, she would always say "I made a lot so that Danny and I can have leftovers one night this week." Under her eagle eye, none of us dared to have seconds, of course.
There are several wonderful things about sauerbraten - one of them is that it tastes great, another is that it dramatically improves any low grade cut of beef, and the third is, that despite its reputation, it is really very little work to make. The main thing is that you need to soak it in the marinade for at least 2 days. Three is even better, but if you change your menu plan and give it 4 (or even 5), that's ok too. When you cook it, it's basically like pot roast - brown on both sides and then stove or oven braise. You could even put it in a slow cooker. In terms of the cut of beef that you use, there is a lot of flexibility - anything from chuck roast, to brisket, rump roast, to better cuts like sirloin tip roast will work. The cheaper cuts have more gristle, etc., but the wonder of the marinade gives any cut a wonderful flavor and texture. I've even been thinking about experimenting with a cut my butcher calls "shoulder tenders" (which is a sort of pork tenderloin sized cut of beef, but not as tender), and making several smaller pieces.
You will want about 3 pounds of beef - you can use nearly any cut
I large onion, diced
1 cup red wine
1 cup apple cider or red wine vinegar
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
15 black peppercorns
2 allspice corns (optional)
2 juniper berries (optional)
1/4 cup brown sugar or organic succanat
Heat these all together, and simmer to bring off the alcohol. Let the marinade cool. Put your meat in a non-reactive container (stainless steel, ceramic - I like to use corning glass topped casseroles personally, etc.) and then pour the marinade over it. Cover and leave in the refrigerator for 3 days (or four if your menu plans change). If the marinade is covering the meat you can leave it alone, if it doesn't, turning it once a day is a good plan.
To cook the sauerbraten, just take it out of the marinade, which you should reserve to make gravy. Add a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil to a large cast iron skillet, or dutch oven and brown the meat on both sides, like a pot roast. When this is done you can pour the marinade in to the pot and either cook it covered on the stove over low heat for an hour or two, or roast it in the oven at 300-325 for 3-4 hours. Although I have not tried this, I'm sure it would also work well to put the browned meat in a slow cooker with the marinade and leave it all day to cook through.
After braising, remove the meat to a platter, take the pan juices and make gravy. If you've cooked the sauerbraten on the stove, just whisk or shake 2TB flour into 1 cup of water, pour in the pan, heat while stirring until it thickens. If you've gone with the slow cooker or the dutch oven in the oven, you'll want to transfer the juices to a saucepan or skillet and do the same. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The classic accompaniment to Sauerbraten is spaetzle - hand cut, home made german pasta - but I'm usually too lazy to do this, and make mashed potatoes instead. Spaetzle are tasty and relatively easy to make; the last time I made them I replaced half the wheat flour with rye, and the result was VERY good, and would be fabulous with this Sauerbraten.
So, here's what I suggest: Make some sauerbraten and spaetzle, and invite a few friends over to enjoy this prudent and flavorful meal. Think of my friend Suzie, and tell them you "made lots so we can eat the leftovers this week." ;-) DeeDee