Stews are a great dish to practice cooking on because they are incredibly flexible with what goes into them and are pretty hard to mess up. Stew is also a great way to use up anything that you left in the freezer or fridge for a little to long, and isn't as fresh as it was when you bought it. The dish described below is a very classic version of beef stew, but you should feel free to experiment.
3 medium onions (or 2 large onions or 4-5 small ones)
3-4 pounds of meat
2-3 pound of potatoes
1 pound of carrots
1 pound of green beans
beef stock or bullion (at least 32 oz.)
assorted other seasonings to taste
Large Soup Pot (6+ qts)
Start out with the onions
Cut the tops and bottoms off, and use your fingers to peel off the papery outer layer
Chop the onions into pieces. The easiest way to do this is to cut them in half, then lay them flat-side down. Make 2-3 cuts across the length of the onion. Spin the pieces 90 degrees and make 2-3 more cuts. Don't worry about them being neat or anything- the onions will cook away to almost nothing anyhow.
Put a healthy splash (3-4 tablespoons) of Olive Oil in your pot. If you don't have Olive Oil, feel free to use any other kind of oil instead.
Turn the heat on- set it to Medium. Add your onions. Let them cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally (every 3-4 minutes). If you put a cover on the pot, the onions will cook faster.
While the onions cook, cut up the meat. This is a 3-pound piece of Rump Roast. Chuck Roast also works well. You can use almost any kind of meat for stew though; I can and have made Beef Stew with London Broil. If you decide to use steak to make your beef stew, you'll have to cut the bone out.
You're aiming for pieces about 1-inch cubed or slightly smaller, but don't make yourself crazy if they aren't perfectly square or are a little bigger or a little smaller.
It helps to use the sharpest knife you have for this step.
Add the meat to the pot and cook for about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
Personally, I prefer to use bullion rather than stock for my soups and stews. It's cheaper, takes up less space, and I can add in more if I need to without having to boil off the water like I would for stock.
Either way, you need at least 4 cups, which is about 32 ounces of 2 pounds. If you're using bullion cubes, check the directions- most are 1 cube to 1 cup of water, but some are slightly different.
To help the bullion dissolve, heat the water in the microwave for a few (2) minutes.
When the meat has browned- add the liquid. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer (cook over low heat) for about an hour. Stir it every 15-20 minutes.
This is also a good time to add any seasonings BUT NOT SALT!. Most stocks have salt in them already and you'll want your food to cook for a while before you test it and decide if it needs more salt.
Feel free to mix up what you put in your stew- white or black pepper are good, as well as oregano, turmeric, paprika, cumin, or garlic powder. I like my food spicy, so I added some red pepper flakes. I'd recommend starting out with no more than a teaspoon (a few pinches) of each spice, until you get the sense of how heavily you like your food seasoned.
Most stores sell pre-mixed seasonings, marinades, or sauces, which you can also use, however be careful! The primary ingredient in many of them is salt, and you don't want to overdo it. Read the label to see what's going in to your food.
While the stew cooks, prepare your veggies. This about about 2.5 pounds of potatoes (half of a 5-pound bag).
Peel the potatoes with the vegetable peeler. I find the easiest way to peel potatoes is to hold them lengthwise in one hand, place the peeler at the top (away from me), and draw it towards me, using my thumb to guide it in long strokes. If you have really big potatoes or small hands, it may be easier to make short, quick strokes away from you instead.
Cut the potatoes similarly to how you cut the onions. Cut the once in half, then 2-3 times lengthwise and however many slices crosswise you need. Aim for about 1/2 inch pieces, but as with the meat don't worry if they are a little bigger or smaller or weirdly shaped.
You also don't have to use russet potatoes- there are some smaller varieties that you can just cut up in a few pieces and throw right in the pot, skins and all.
Prepare the carrots as well- they'll cook at about the same speed as the potatoes.
Cut the tops and tips off the carrots, and peel them as well. A tip for peeling carrots is to peel the thicker end first- them flip them around and peel the skinny side. This makes them easier to hold on to.
Slice the carrots into short pieces, about 1/3rd to 1/2 inch long.
Turn the heat back up to medium and put the potatoes and carrots into the pot. Now is also a good time to sample the broth (carefully, it's hot!) of your stew and decide if it needs more salt or any other seasoning.
The potatoes and carrots both take about 20 minutes to cook, but you'll want to add the green beans before then, so it might be a good idea to get them ready before you put the other vegetables in.
Slice the tips off the green-beans and cut them in to piece 2-3 inches long.
The green beans will take about 12-13 minutes to cook, so put them in 7-8 minutes after you started the potatoes and carrots
The broth for your stew is probably still pretty thin, so we're going to use some flour to thicken in. Put a few spoonfuls of baking flour (1/4-1/3 of a cup) in a bowl.
Add a small splash of water and stir with a fork. Repeat this process until you have about 1-1.5 cups of liquid, and the mixture looks kind of like milk.
There will be some small lumps in the bottom! This is fine. In the stew you wont' even notice them.
When the vegetables are done, reduce the heat to low, and slowly pour the flour-water mixture in while stirring. Cook for 3 more minutes and you're done!
This step is entirely optional. Most stores carry something like a darkener for gravy- it goes by various names it's basically just caramelized sugar. Look for it in the aisle with all the canned gravies and mixes. You only use a teaspoon or so (a few drops) and it won't do much for the taste, but it makes soup, stew, or gravy browner, if you care about that sort of thing.
You can make this same sort of stew with virtually any type of meat, including white meats like chicken and pork. Lamb will give it more of an Irish flavor. Feel free to also play around with the vegetables or the proportions if you like. You can use other root vegetables such as turnips or beets in place of potatoes, or change them out for pasta (something like bowties or elbows). Swap the green beans out for peas, add mushrooms, throw in a can of crushed tomatoes, add some diced celery at the same stage as the onions, etc, whatever you have on hand or looks good at the store.
Whenever I use this basic formula, it's hardly ever the exact same thing twice.