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Chocolate And Port Beef Stew

Humble beef stew suddenly seems sexy when made with luxurious dark chocolate and port. Enjoy it plain, or serve it atop cooked rice or polenta. Pepitas are Spanish pumpkin seeds available at Mexican specialty markets as well as many major supermarkets. Pumpkin or sunflower seeds make good substitutes.

Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 to 1 1/4 pounds top round or chuck steak, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, seasoned with a little salt and black pepper

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 medium yellow onion, diced

4 celery stalks, thinly sliced

3 carrots, peeled and diced

1 cup port of your choice

1 cup beef broth, plus more as needed

1 (14-ounce) can stewed tomatoes with juices

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate

1 1/2 tablespoons pepitas

In a large, deep pot over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Dredge meat in seasoned flour. Cook until browned all over, 5 to 7 minutes. (Don't overcrowd meat or it'll steam.) Transfer browned meat to a bowl. In the same pot, add garlic, onion, celery and carrots and brown for 3 to 5 minutes. Deglaze the pot by adding the port and using a wooden spoon to scrape the brown bits from the bottom. Return browned meat to the pot. Add broth, tomatoes, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and salt.

Cover and cook on low for 50 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally until meat is very tender. Stir in the chocolate until just melted. The stew should be thick and richly colored. If you'd like it soupier, add a little more heated beef broth until desired consistency is reached. Serve plain or atop cooked rice or polenta, and sprinkle each serving with 1/4 of the pepitas.

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