So apparently the trick to getting beef stew to turn out is to cook it for a longass time.
After making one too many stews with disappointingly tough meat, I did a little research. (Which is kind of like reading the instructions after you dig them out of the garbage.) Some folks swear by a slow cooker, but I just used my oven. This recipe gets the job done in two hours.
cobbled together from a few different recipes
1/2 lb beef stew meat (about 1 1/2" chunks)
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teas flour
handful of dried porcini mushrooms
3 celery stalks, diced
1-2 carrots, diced
2-3 yukon gold potatoes, diced
1 bay leaf
a couple pinches dried thyme
salt and pepper
3 C beef stock
handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Place oven rack in lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Pat dry the beef stew meat in some paper towel and generously season with salt and pepper. In small bowl, put mushrooms to soak in 1 cup of warm water. Once mushrooms are soft, lift out with slotted spoon and roughly chop. Reserve soaking liquid.
In a large dutch oven (a.k.a. a big, deep pot with a lid that can go in the oven) over medium-high heat, heat a bit of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the seasoned beef to the pot and fry, turning, until browned well on all sides. Remove meat from pan and set aside.
Add a bit more olive oil to the pot and saute onions, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the onions soften. Add garlic and saute another minute or so. Add flour and mix well. Pour in slowly about 1/2 cup of the broth. Stir to dissolve the flour and then add remaining broth, bay leaf, dried thyme, mushrooms, and the mushroom's soaking liquid. Depending on how soupy/stewy you want your final product to be, you can add a bit more water or broth to the pot at this point if it looks like your veggies will be too crowded.
Once the broth has started to simmer, return beef to the pot. Cover, and place in preheated oven. Bake for one hour. After one hour, remove from the oven and add prepared veggies -- the potatoes, carrots, and celery. Cover again and return to oven. Bake one hour, or until meat is completely cooked and softened (for me, that's been 50-60 minutes.) Remove from oven, remove bay leaf, and stir through the fresh parsley. You could leave the beef in large chunks at this point, or roughly shred each chunk with a couple of forks before serving.