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White: Best Beef Ever

A few weeks ago, one of my readers emailed me and mentioned that she'd just made the boeuf daube that had been in my column some years ago and that she still thought it was one of the best recipes she'd ever made.

Boeuf daube is little more than a beef stew, but I must agree that it may be the best of its kind. Part of that may be that the ingredients are incredible and, when put together, become something more delicious, more delectable, than the sum of their parts.

But when I reread the entire column I'd written in March of 2004, the night came back to me. My husband was away on business. Francine Farkas Sears, an ebony-black-haired Auntie Mame if there ever were one, asked me to have a quick dinner at her house in Stony Creek, a two-story office complex and a boathouse surrounded by water on three of its four sides. We sat on her bed cradling bowls of stew and pieces of good bread, watching the 6 p.m. news on an enormous flat-screen television that dangled from the rafters (I'd never seen a flat-screen television at that time). Then, off to the movies. I don't remember what we saw, but five months later a brain aneurysm changed my life. I do remember that, when I was in the neurosurgical ICU at Yale, Francine convinced the powers that be that she was my sister and brought me her definition of manna from heaven - her lobster pie, if I remember correctly. As they say on NPR, "This I Believe."

Lee White of Old Lyme has been a food editor and restaurant reviewer for more than 25 years. You can email her at leeawhite@aol.com. Need more Lee? Find other À la Carte columns and some delectable recipes online at www.zip06.com.

Boeuf Daube

1 1/2 to 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces

Salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder or fresh garlic, minced, and cayenne pepper to taste

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium-size onion, coarsely chopped

2 (or more) cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 cups sliced carrots, cut about 1/2-inch thick

5 or so small red Bliss potatoes, cut into smallish chunks

1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard (I used coarse, country style)

1 cup dry red wine

1 cup canned beef broth

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 to 4 tablespoons brown sugar

In a large bowl, toss the beef with the seasonings, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about eight hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large, heavy bottomed oven-proof Dutch oven with a cover (like La Creuset), heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add the seasoned beef, without crowding, and brown on all sides. (If your pot won't hold all the pieces at once, do this in batches.) Remove browned beef from pot to a bowl.

When all the beef has been browned and is set aside, add onions and garlic to the pot and cook for about two to three minutes. Toss the beef with flour and add back to the pot, along with all the rest of the ingredients. Stir and heat to boiling over medium heat. Cover and place in oven for 1 to 1 and a half hours. Remove cover and bake for another 30 minutes to hour, until beef is fairly tender. (I like the beef to retain some chewiness, but if you want it very soft, increase the covered baking time accordingly.)

Sprinkle with a little more chopped flat-leaf parsley and serve over rice or noodles, or just in a bowl all by itself with some good crusty bread.

This will keep in air-tight containers in the freezer beautifully.

Nibbles

I have had a miserable cold for, at this point, in its third week. It is unlike any cold I've had before - a bit of sore throat, sniffles, coughs. I spent one entire weekend in the house, something very odd for me. Into the freezer I found a 2-pound bag of ground beef (I do buy ground beef if I'm going to make meat loaf or chili that will be roasted for hours, rending it well done).

What to do with it? I found a package of Wick Fowler's 2-Alarm Chili Kit. I've been stockpiling this stuff for 40 years (no, the packet I have now I have not had for 40 years!). All you add is beef, tomato sauce and water. How hot you want the chili is up to you - I go for the Medium Chili (one-half of the Red Pepper packet.)

Check at your supermarket; if you can't find it, get some on the Internet. Packets will keep for a long time - there's no little critter that would dare to take a taste.

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