When the mercury drops and the wool sweaters are finally pulled from storage, my belly knows it's time for comfort food. Suddenly, salads seem unsatisfying and the only thing that will do is something that will stick directly to my ribs and lull me into a food coma.
Soups and stews bubbling away for hours and hours on the stovetop seem the obvious choice when these cravings come calling. The soups are the easiest to master ~ a good quality broth and the right choices of herbs can elevate the most modest fillers almost always guaranteeing a fabulous outcome. Stews however, are not so easy.
There may be nothing worse than a stew chock full of delicious vegetables that have simmered away for hours soaking up the most heavenly flavors. You lift that spoon to your lips, inhaling the tempting aromas as you blow gently on that steaming spoonful in a futile attempt to cool it down. Your stomach begins to growl with anticipation as it is overcome by sense and smell. Then, as you take that first bite, your teeth find themselves stuck in a tough, grisly piece of meat. Ugh. For real???
It's happened to me and puts me off in such a way that I could forgo those recipes that call for red meat. I don't have the time to worry about whether or not I'm buying the right cut of meat and other than the 48 hours I get to myself each week (aka The Weekend) I don't have the time to cook a stew for 8 or more hours just to ensure a tender piece of meat.
A few years ago I found myself searching the internet trying to find a solution to this dilemma and stumbled upon this recipe for Beef Barley Soup from Cooking Light magazine back in 2009. The ingredient list is short, and the cooking directions are exactly one paragraph. The total cooking time? 2 hours. How could this be? Ingredient lists for dishes like this are usually a mile long with step after step after...well, you get the idea.
I made it that first time a couple of years ago and was sold. That piece of paper that printed the recipe has been faithfully clipped to the side of my refrigerator every since. It is wrinkled, stained and even a little smeared. It shows it's age and the fact that this is a winner of a recipe.
Beef Barley Soup
adapted from Cooking Light Magazine 2009
2 turns of extra virgin olive oil
3/4 lb boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1/2" pieces
*get your butcher to cut and trim for you if possible. Total time saver. I buy a full pound and just ask for stew meat. Because I add more meat mine is much less "brothy" and more stew like in consistency.
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrots (sometimes I just use baby carrots ~ whatever I have on hand)
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
2/3 cup chopped onion
1 (8-ounce) package of presliced mushrooms (sometimes I omit ~ my kids HATE mushrooms)
4 cups beef broth
1 bay leaf
2/3 cup uncooked pearl barley
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
Pour two quick turns of extra virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat. Add beef to pan and cook until browned on all sides. Stir frequently. Remove beef from pan. Add carrot, celery, onion and mushrooms to pan; cook for 6 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Add beef, beef broth and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Stir in pearl barley, cover, and simmer another 30 minutes or until barley is tender. Season with salt and pepper. Discard bay leaf before serving.