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Wine, vinegar adds zing to winter standby beef stew

What really makes a beef stew a standout dish• The single most important tip is to select the right cut of beef. I have tried many cuts, with mixed results. The biggest problem is that the meat can become dry and stringy, which no sauce can rescue. If you use beef chuck roast, you will have a juicy, tender and flavorful stew.

A stew usually means that pieces of meat or poultry are browned and then slowly cooked over low heat with some liquid. Vegetables are often added for additional flavor. The long, slow cooking in liquid allows the meat to gradually tenderize. Stews are best made with tougher cuts of meat, which means they are less expensive to prepare. That's a bonus that we all could use these days.

This stew is my standby for the cold winter months. Chunks of beef chuck are dusted with flour, browned and slowly cooked in wine and stock to bring out the rich beef flavor. Red wine vinegar adds a zing to the sauce, and the tomato paste and herbs brighten the stew.

Serve this stew in shallow soup or pasta bowls garnished with parsley. I like to serve a large basket of crusty country bread with the stew. Begin dinner with a simple green salad sprinkled with goat cheese and dressed with a citrus vinaigrette. Accompany this with a hearty zinfandel or merlot, and use it in the cooking as well.

Beef Stew with Winter Vegetables

Letting the stew come to room temperature and then refrigerating overnight will further improve the flavor, and also make removing any excess fat much easier.

If desired, you can add 1 pound of sauteed button mushrooms to the stew when you add the defrosted baby onions.

Beer can be substituted for the wine.

Add other winter vegetables, such as cut-up parsnips or winter squash, and cook as for the baby carrots.

• 3 pounds chuck, cut into 1 12-inch cubes

12 cup flour

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

14 cup red wine vinegar

• 2 large yellow onions, sliced

• 1 medium-size carrot, peeled and sliced

• 2 cups beef stock

• 1 cup red wine like zinfandel or merlot

14 cup tomato paste

• 2 cloves garlic, minced

• 1 bay leaf

• 4 sprigs parsley

• 1 sprig fresh sage or 12 teaspoon dried

34 pound baby carrots, peeled

• 1 bag (7 ounces) frozen pearl onions, defrosted

• 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Pat the meat dry. Place the flour in a lock-top plastic bag and add salt and pepper. Shake it. Place the meat in the bag and seal it. Shake the bag around until the beef is lightly coated with the flour.

In a large Dutch oven, heat 14 cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the dredged beef pieces to the pan, in batches if necessary, and brown them evenly on all sides, turning with kitchen tongs, for 5 to 7 minutes per batch. Drain the beef pieces and reserve.

Add the vinegar and deglaze the pan by scraping up all the brown bits. Decrease the heat to medium. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and saute the onions for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until nicely browned. Add the carrots and saute for 3 minutes or until slightly tender. Add the reserved beef, beef stock, wine, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, parsley and sage.

Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat, covered, for 1 12 to 1 34 hours, stirring occasionally, or until the meat is almost tender.

Add the baby carrots and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the carrots and meat are fork-tender. Add the pearl onions and cook for 3 more minutes or until just cooked through. Remove the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper, add the parsley and mix to combine. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

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