2large leekssliced and rinsed (white and light green parts)
2poundsbeef stew meatcut into 1 ½ to 2 inch chunks
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2tablespoonsapple brandyCalvados, cognac or brandy (optional)
1 ½ to 3cupscider
2large baking potatoespeeled and cubed
3large carrotspeeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Season the beef with salt and pepper and sprinkle it with the flour. Place a large pot, or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the oil and heat until it shimmers, and add the meat in a single layer; don't crowd the meat, you may have to brown it in two batches. When it is browned on the bottom, after about 2 minutes, turn it and brown the other side for about 2 minutes (you do not need to brown all sides of the pieces of meat). Transfer the browned meat to a large plate. Pour off all but two tablespoons of any remaining fat in the pan (if there is a bit less, that's fine, too).
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pot, over medium heat and sauté the onions, leeks and thyme until they are very soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the leek mixture to the plate with the beef.
Return the pan to medium high heat and add the brandy, if using. Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen the browned bits. Add 1 1/2 cups of the cider and continue to stir, scraping up the flavorful bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the cider vinegar and tomato paste, then return the meat and leek mixture to the pot. Lower the heat to medium low, and cook the stew at a gentle simmer for, partially covered, 2 hours, until the meat starts to become tender. Add more cider if the stew starts to look dry - you want some good sauciness.
After 2 hours, add the potatoes and carrots, and cook for another 30 to 40 minutes until the vegetables are tender. You may need to add still more cider towards the end if the stew looks like it needs more liquid.
Browning the Meat
One of the few things that is a bit of a chore when you are making a stew is browning the meat before adding the liquid and letting it do its thing for a couple of hours. I think it's an important step is getting the best flavor from the meat, and a nice texture too, but I usually don't have the patience have to brown all "sides" of the cubes of meat to achieve this goal, just a couple of sides will get you there.