That's me in the middle, with my sister, father, and grandparents - no, you are not imagining it - I was quite the looker.
I have had a long love affair with Beef and Barley soup. In 1973, as a 13 year old in the middle of trying family circumstances, I first had this at a restaurant in Michigan called The Wooden Nickel.
Over the years, I have had it again and again, and finally a while back I found the perfect recipe. It is my family's absolute favorite, but today was extra special.
The ladies at the Farmer's Market take turns bringing in a pot of soup during the winter months. And this week it was my turn! I was a little tense - after all, these are experienced ladies with more years under their belts than me. So I trotted out the Beef and Barley. It was a smashing success, and I am not sure I have ever been prouder of a culinary success (even though I burnt my own tongue refusing to wait until it cooled down before gobbling a bowlful.
Like all my recipes, this is is very prone to manipulation - but under no circumstances can you leave out the thyme. That is definitely the "secret" ingredient.
Beef and Barley Stew
2 pounds beef stew meat, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped sweet potato (carrots are okay here too)
6 garlic cloves, minced
8 cups beef broth (two boxes, more or less)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 bay leaves
1 cup uncooked pearl barley
Heat a large pan oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add half of beef; cook 5 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan and put into crock pot. Repeat procedure with remaining beef.
Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add onions, sweet potatoes, and garlic; sauté 4 minutes or until lightly browned.
Add onions, potatoes, garlic, and seasoning to crock pot. Add beef broth and cook on low for 4 hours. Add barley and cook until tender (could be two hours or more depending on your crock pot). Discard bay leaves