In a resealable plastic bag, combine four, salt and pepper. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and shake to coat. In a Dutch oven, brown meat in oil. Add water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 1-1/2 hours.
Add the vegetables, parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Cover and simmer until meat and vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Add browning sauce if desired.
For dumplings, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, thyme and sage. Cut in shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in milk until moistened.
Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto simmering stew. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in a dumpling comes out clean (do not lift cover while simmering). Serve immediately.