I know I talk a fair amount of Jeff's dismay of all things fungi, but really, this is what I have to deal with and I don't want to be the one only suffering! I should have played it up, but I let him know I already had plans to drop the mushrooms and up the amount of protein in this Beef-Barley Soup, which turned his frown into a big grin.
You could use a package of already cut stew meat to speed this along if you like, but the market had a killer deal on chuck roast, which I just hand-trimmed and cut into cubes. Because I upped the amount of beef, we decided to brown the beef in a couple of batches, rather than dumping the whole lot in at once. This way, the temperature in the pan wouldn't drop and end up steaming the meat, instead of allowing the cubes sear properly. It takes a few extra minutes, but the developing those caramelized edges make all the difference.
To the drippings and crusty bits left behind in the bottom of the pan, we stirred in the vegetables of choice - carrots, celery and onion. Now, if you won't be serving to a mushroom downer, this would be the time to toss in a half pound of sliced 'shrooms too. When those vegetables have softened, exuding some of their moisture to pull up those tasty bits, the beef was added back in, along with beef broth and a bay leaf (which was actually pulled fresh from the tiny Laurel tree Mom gave us earlier in the summer... it has managed to stay alive indoors!).
You will need to plan a bit if you opt to make this, because at this point, the pot is covered and simmered for an hour and a half, allowing those tough cubes of meat to turn into tender cubes of beefy love. To bulk up this dish into a legitimate one-pot hearty meal, a scant cup of pearl barley is stirred in and left to soften, soaking in the rich juices the beef had been bubbling in.
While the soup/stew may not win any beauty awards, this dish was certainly soul-warming, filling and we thought had just the right mix of broth to the beef and grain combo. There were a couple of things that I would think about for next time - because the vegetables simmer for practically two hours, thye do end up being very, very soft. Not a bad thing as they make for a lip-smacking broth, but I think increasing the amount of them in the beginning, taking a couple scoops out before the broth is added and then stirring them back in at the end would add bonus points for texture. Also, we thought a heavy shot or two of dry sherry, added before the beef and broth goes in, would be a pleasant addition, helping to bring a full-bodied note to the finished pot.