In these final weeks of the holiday season, in the busy days of partying and snacking, the family meal often gets lost. How many of us fill up on friends' cookies in the afternoon and forget that two hours later we have to put dinner on the table?

It's times such as these when I turn to my Dutch oven. While appliance stores are filled with alternatives -- Crock Pots and electric fry pans and roasters that sit on your counter taking up space -- I don't see that they can do anything that my decades-old Dutch oven can't do.

This consummate pot (the term is used interchangeably with "French oven," "stewpot" or "braiser") is naturally convective, which means the air can circulate throughout the cooking process. Humidity, in the form of flavorful cooking juices, forms just under the lid, and this drips down back onto the food, slowly braising it as well as infusing it with more flavor.

Sauce-based recipes (such as stews and briskets) and tough cuts of meat or rolled roasts do especially well in a Dutch oven, as the slow roasting tenderizes them admirably.

A Dutch oven is an all-in-one pot. First, the ingredients can be browned in the pot on a cooktop. Then, once the liquid has been added, the pot goes into the oven for a long, slow cook. And finally the pot can emerge from the oven and be placed on the table on top of a heatproof pad or trivet, letting the family members help themselves.

Dutch-Oven Braised Pot Roast

(6 to 8 servings)

This may very well be the same recipe for tender, flavorful pot roast that your mother served to you. Before you smugly turn your nose up at the combination of ingredients -- onion soup powder, wine and ketchup -- keep in mind that a pot roast needs to have the flavor coaxed from it. I often make this dish with short ribs rather than roast.

4- to 6-pound pot roast or about 6 pounds beef short ribs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Powdered mustard to taste

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, trimmed and sliced

2 stalks celery, diced

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup ketchup

1 envelope dried onion soup mix

1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)

6 to 8 Russet (Idaho) potatoes, peeled and quartered

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the roast, fat-side up, in a 6- to 8-quart heavy Dutch oven or other ovenproof pot with a lid. Season the top and sides of the roast lightly with salt, pepper and mustard to taste. Scatter the onions, carrots and celery around the roast. Set aside.

In a bowl, stir together the water, wine, ketchup, onion soup mix and, if desired, the liquid smoke until completely combined. Pour this mixture over the meat and vegetables, cover the pot and roast until the meat is tender and practically falls apart when prodded with a fork, 3 to 4 hours, depending on the size of the roast. Check the roast occasionally; if the liquid is evaporating too quickly, add about 1/2 cup additional water or beef stock. During the last hour of cooking, scatter the potatoes around the meat, recover and continue to roast.

To serve, transfer the meat to a carving board; set aside to cool slightly. Skim any excess fat off the cooking liquid and then spoon the vegetables and cooking liquid onto a rimmed platter or individual plates. Thinly slice the roast, transfer to the platter or plates and serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 8): 600 calories, 70 gm protein, 31 gm carbohydrates, 19 gm fat, 203 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 842 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Dutch-Oven Texas-Style Brisket

(8 to 10 servings)

Brisket is traditionally slow roasted, refrigerated overnight, then thinly sliced and slowly braised in its own juices for another hour for succulent slices. This is a short-cut rendition with all the flavor of the more standard approach. (And leftovers make spectacular sandwiches.)

Brisket ranges wildly in size; if you have a large brisket, or opt to make two at once, you may use a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and cover it with foil.

2 tablespoons garlic powder

2 tablespoons sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon chili powder

4 to 7 pounds brisket

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

12 ounces beer

1/2 cup bottled barbecue sauce

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, onion powder and chili powder and set aside.

Pat the brisket dry. Rub the brisket with salt and pepper to taste on all sides. Then rub the brisket with the spice blend on all sides. Place the brisket, fat-side up, in a Dutch oven large enough to fit if comfortably but snugly.

Pour the beer around the brisket, then add the barbecue sauce to the beer. Cover the pot and roast the brisket, basting occasionally with the liquid, until the meat is tender, 3 to 5 hours. (Typically, about 1 hour per pound.)

Transfer the meat to a cutting board. Skim any excess fat off the braising liquid. Thinly slice the brisket, then return it to the braising liquid in the pot. Cover and return to the oven for another hour or so.

To serve, arrange the brisket on a platter or individual plates, spoon the cooking liquid over the top and serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 10): 401 calories, 27 gm protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 27 gm fat, 97 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 431 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Dutch-Oven Pork Roast With Potatoes

(10 to 12 servings)

This relatively large cut of pork becomes tender and imbued with lemon and garlic flavors as it roasts. If you would rather roast it for a longer amount of time, decrease the oven temperature to 325 and add another 11/2 to 2 hours roasting time.

1 rolled pork roast (typically about a 7-pound shoulder roast, also known as pork butt)

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon freshly cracked peppercorns

2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

1 lemon, quartered

2 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup white wine

11/2 pounds small new potatoes

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley (optional garnish)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pat the pork dry. Season the pork with salt to taste on all sides. Place the pepper on a plate and roll the pork in the pepper to coat lightly. Smear the pork with mustard to coat. Place the pork in a Dutch oven, fat-side up. Scatter the lemon and garlic around the pork. Pour the water and wine over the pork. Cover, and roast until tender, 3 to 4 hours. During the last hour of cooking, scatter the potatoes around the meat, cover again and continue to roast.

To serve, transfer the meat to a carving board; set aside to cool slightly. Thinly slice the roast and transfer to the platter or plates. Place the potatoes and garlic around the pork and spoon the cooking liquid over the pork. If desired, sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 12): 375 calories, 29 gm protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 24 gm fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 8 gm saturated fat, 261 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Marcy Goldman is the author of "The Best of betterbaking.com"(Ten Speed Press, 2002). She can be reached at goldman@betterbaking.com.