Stews, uncomplicated, economical, hearty dishes, are ideal for these crisp early winter days. And, stews are fit for the most critical guest or family if you just change the name and vary the ingredients and procedure to fit the name, thereby highlighting all the best qualities of the dish and doing away with its mundane aspect.

a stew consists of meat simmered in a seasoned stock with herbs, onions, carrots and other vegetables according to your taste and supplies. In our mothers' day, it was a dish reserved for wash days or to other days filled with too much work to allow much time in the kitchen.

It still need not take much time. A stew can be made -- is even better if made -- in advance and is lovely to come home to after a day biking or hiking in the country, or watching a football game. NAVARIN DE MOUTON (6 servings) 6 pounds lamb, leg or shoulder, cut in 1-inch cubes 2 tablespoons fat, butter or oil, for browning 1 1/2 tablespoons flour 2/3 cup white wine 1 cup beef bouillon stock 2 large shallots, minced, or 1 small onion minced 2 large cloves garlic, minced 1 beef bouillon cube 2 teaspoons tomato paste 1 bouquet garni (celery, parsley, bayleaf, thyme) 18 to 20 small white peeled onions 10 medium carrots, scraped and halved 2 turnips, scraped and sectioned (optional) 1 cup cooked green beans 1 cup cooked peas (optional)

Heat fat in a pot. Add meat. When brown sprinkle on the flour. Allow flour to color. Pour on white wine and bouillon. Add shallots and garlic, then the beef bouillon cube, tomato paste and bouquet garni. Cover and let simmer for 1/2 hour.

Add onions. (You may use regular onions quartered.) Add carrots and turnips. Simmer for another hour.

Up to this point the navarin may be made as long as two days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. It also freezes well.

Add the cooked green beans and some cooked peas to hot stew. When heated through, remove to a serving platter and garnish with thin slices of tomato and sprinkle with chopped chives. If you prefer, skip the garnish and serve from the pot. Serve with fluffy mashed potatoes or boiled rice. HUNGARIAN GOULASH (6 servings) 2 pounds of stewing beef cut into cubes, or use part beef, part veal and part pork 2 tablespoons butter, margarine, or oil 2 large onions chopped coarsely 2 tablspoons flour 1 1/2 tablespoons paprika 1 tablespoon cumin seeds 2 tablespoons vinegar 2 cups beef bouillon or stock 1/2 to 1 cup sour cream

Heat the butter or shortening in a deep heavy pot. Brown the meat cubes, then add the onions and when they begin to take on color stir in the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is browned. Add the paprika and cumin seeds. Pour in the vinegar and scrape up all the brown coagulated pieces from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the bouillon, enough to cover the meat. Cover and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, until the meat is tender adding more liquid if it reduces too much. The sauce should be thick. Stir in the sour cream. May be made a day or more in advance. It also freezes well. Reheat thoroughly and serve with rice or noodles. FRICASSE OF CHICKEN (6 servings) 3 pounds chicken, cut into serving pieces 2 large onions, thinly sliced 2 large carrots, thinly sliced 2 stalks of celery, cut into 1-inch pieces 1/4 cup butter or margarine 1/2 teaspoons salt and freshly ground pepper 3 tablespoons flour 2 cups chicken stock or bouillon 1 cup dry white wine Herbe bouquet (parley, bayleaf and thyme) 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in butter 2 egg yolks 1/2 cup heavy cream

Melt the butter in a heavy cooking pot. Add the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes. Put in the chicken pieces and allow them to brown slightly. Sprinkle on the flour, turning the chicken pieces until they are coated, continue to cook until the flour takes on a golden color. Salt and pepper. Pour on the stock and wine and add the bouquet.

Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender Remove the chicken. Turn up the heat and let the liquid reduce to 2 cups. Mix the egg yolks and cream together, heat a bit by adding some of the hot liquid, a teaspoon at a time. With a wire whisk stir the heated egg yolk-cream mixture into the hot liquid and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Correct the seasoning, add a pinch of nutmeg or a teaspoon of lemon juice if you desire. Put the chicken back, add the mushrooms.

This dish may be made a day or more in advance, just reheat thoroughly before serving. Accompany with rice or noodles.