How to Make The Best Beef Vegetable Soup, or Anything Really

It’s been a cold snowy day in Louisville, so what else would a loser eligible playboy bachelor do when faced with a lonely night, when his daughter is staying over at his ex-wife’s house?

Correct!: cook a bunch of beef vegetable soup and blog about it.

This is actually a recreational and productive activity for me. It allows me to mindlessly write, which is fun, and cook, which is fun and provides much-needed and appreciated food around this joint. My cooking has reached another level recently I’ve noticed, which is nice to realize and be able to say. At this point, it’s small increments of progression, but that’s what happens after doing something you’re interested in for so long and have the skills and knowledge of. If only my guitar playing were as adept. But there’s no reason it can’t get there as well, and I plan for it to as my daughter gets older and she’s mentally and physically ready. Trying to rush things will only lead to frustration for her, and that is the best way to teach someone to hate something. She’s showing a real interest in music now and is attracted to the idea of playing guitar in a band. And she knows you have to learn and practice to get there, so half the battle is already won. I can and will teach her. I already have a guitar and ukelele for her which she enjoys twanging on. They and I are there and at the ready when the time comes, which it will. That goes for a lot of things I’m eager to introduce her to. It takes patience on my part, as well as working with her to get to those points. It doesn’t happen magically like I think a lot of parents believe and hope. Exceptional abilities take time and deliberate instruction, cultivation, and nurturing, like getting anything small to grow into something substantial where it can expand on its own up into the sky and across the land.

But getting back to the cooking thing. It’s a matter of learning the science and art of adding various types of heat to various ingredients when mixed together at the right times. And prepared correctly with the right tools. There’s a lot to it. But over the course of a person’s life, there’s plenty of time to learn it, which I have. If you’re serious and deliberate about it and not in a pop-culture type of way by simply watching The Food Network 24/7 and prone to fads like an “Instant Pot” and cilantro and “BAMMing” everything as you add it to the pot.

So for tonight’s project, I chose Beef Vegetable Soup(which I think I’ve covered once before on this website. I love it in the Winter), with barley and some crunchy garlic bread to go with it for a few reasons. It’s simple, which is a nice aspect of any recipe, it’s hearty and makes a lot, which is nice when you have a big appetite and a tight budget, and I, like a lot of people who cook at home a lot, have most of the ingredients already on hand.

I hate wasting food and use up nearly everything I ever buy. That’s a tall order when you’re cooking for one grown man and a 45-pound girl and that’s it. She and I have a lot of similar tastes, thankfully, and although she’s “picky” she’s not objectionable to trying anything before judging it. And I’ve decoded her tastebuds as a 5-year-old anyway, after a lot of tests and trial and error and note-taking. All kids for that matter.

Children aren’t looking for or wanting complex, savory, gastronomic experiences that create exotic rich tapestries of flavor in their little young mouths. They want simple 1 ingredient, bite-sized samples of food that can be eaten easily, usually with their fingers, and small bits at a time, even down to one bean, pea, noodle, strand, nugget, kibble, or taste at a time. So giving a forkful of the most decadent, saucy, cheesy al-dente lasagna ever created by an Italian woman who has spent 95 years in a Venetian grotto toiling away over the fires and pots won’t matter to a kid. They’ll take one small lick of a noodle and hand down their verdict based on that experience, which will remain chiseled in stone for years. I myself wouldn’t eat a tomato slice or chunk until I was 30. Just in sauces, thanks. I’d cook them and prepare them for others, but no way was I going to eat some slimy, seed-filled, gelatinous part-slug, part who-knows-what. No thanks. My daughter, however? She eats cherry tomatoes by the bushel like they were M&Ms. I buy them 2 containers at a time and they disappear overnight. Same with spinach, raw. Eats it by the hand and bowlful like a goat. She’s a very healthy person, I’m proud to say. Blackberries and Strawberries and blueberries, too. Cantaloupe and Honeydews? Eats them whole like a hippo. It’s amazing and wonderful.

I also found a great deal on an awesome cut of chuck roast. I don’t eat much meat at all compared to most people, especially Americans. I love seafood, which is one of many reasons I’m eager to move back to coastal South Carolina with my daughter. It’s easy to take fresh seafood for granted. People in midwest Louisville will always say “It’s flown in. We have the UPS hub here, etc…” but it’s not the same. It’s still not as fresh as I’m talking about, it’s journey and handling makes it expensive and damaged in small, unseen ways, it puts a lot of distance between the ocean and my plate no matter what, and you don’t know exactly where the stuff is coming from. Restaurants lie all the time. As do vendors that need to move a lot of highly perishable, expensive stock.

finished chuck roast

To make this any more tender, you’d need to liquify it.

What I recommend is establishing a relationship with your butcher, whenever you regularly shop. There are several good reasons for doing this beyond making a friend.

Getting to know the guy who’s in charge of supplying your kitchen and yourself and your family with meat is a good idea just for peace of mind. I know most people don’t think they want to know or care about the very things keeping them alive and healthy comes from. That’s very trusting and proves ignorance is bliss. That’s also risky and not wise when all it takes is getting to know a person, which is a good thing, to improve the situation. It’s winning all-around behavior.

Getting to know your butcher allows you to find the best cuts at the best price and get service that’s available and always overlooked and unrealized. He, or she, will take cuts you find and cut them in other ways you want or like. They have the best tools for that and don’t mind doing it. It’s their job and what they’ve decided to apply their interests and skillsets to, so take advantage of it. He can also hook you up with soup bones and extraordinary treats for your dog if you ask nicely. A dog will freak out if you give it a nice fresh marrowy bone to gnaw on for a few hours. Pure heaven. It firmly establishes you as the Alpha dog of All-time and one who can work magic.

You can learn where your butcher gets his knives sharpened, which is something you should do regularly and take seriously if you cook regularly and don’t want to hack off a digit. People think sharp knives are what cause “accidents” in the kitchen, but it’s not. It’s dull knives and improper knife skills. The duller your knife is, the more force you have to apply to the cut, which means if and when the dull blade slips from its intended vector, it flys off toward your hand or finger with more force than needed, and suddenly you’re Jerry Garcia. Who was a famous nine-fingered guitarist for those who don’t know.

But if you’re ever unsure of what to make for dinner, being able to ask your seafood monger or butcher what they would take home tonight is a great first step towards successful living. I define “successful living” as having the finest available, which means vetting your sources for such. It’s a necessary step when appropriating anything, in business – employees, for example; sports – gauging your equipment properly; music – making sure you have the best made and perfectly-tuned instruments; from web development to furniture making, it’s all the same. Make sure you have the right tools for the job and they’re the best available and maintained and ready for the job. You won’t consistently be successful otherwise. Ever.

When I buy my seafood in South Carolina, I buy it from people I know who get it from fishermen right off the boat. It goes from hook to ice, to market(which is located on the pier the boat that caught it docks on), to me. That’s it. There are 2 people that make it me not catching it myself. And that’s no small reason I don’t eat a lot of other meat, like beef, pork, and chicken. Lord knows where that stuff comes from and what it’s seen along the way to my kitchen. Nothing I even want to know about, to be honest. And to a big extent why I don’t eat out a lot, especially at fast food places, which are more about quantity and maintaining thin profit margins than the quality of the product that goes into people’s bodies. And the typical American body shows it. Diabetes, heart problems, mega-obesity, poor quality of life, and all because of what’s become “the norm” for America’s diet.

When I watch TV shows, newsreels, movies, or other examples of what Americans looked like, how they took care of themselves, and expectations of and standards of themselves and others were 60 years ago, it’s like looking in on another planet altogether.

Not only were people not wearing baggy sweatpants, shower shoes, XXXXXL t-shirts, or no shirts, white whale blubbery skin covered in tattoos from head to flipper, with flat-brimmed baseball caps on backwards and having to use a straining motorized scooter to haul them around on while gripping a vape-pen in one flipper and a Watermelon-flavored Mt. Dew in the other, they viewed policemen as authority figures who existed to protect, keep peace and help those who couldn’t help themselves in dangerous situations. Because they actually do.

Which has nothing to do with a soup recipe.

So for the ingredients, you’ll need:

  • 3 lb boneless chuck roast. Bone-in preferred and if so, that’ll knock the weight up to about 5 lbs. But boneless is what you’ll usually find. Not a lot of fat, so fat trimmed and well-marbled.
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 bag of baby carrots chopped. It’s cheaper than a whole bag of carrots, but you can use 3 whole carrots instead.
  • 3 big stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 onion chopped
  • As much chopped garlic as you like. I like LOTS.
  • 1 bag frozen mixed veg‘s. Some people just grab peas/corn/beans/carrots, but I go for the Veg soup mixed veg’s which also have okra and potatoes. I also sometimes use 2 12 oz. bags instead of 1 16 oz. bag depending on what’s on sale and available.
  • 1 box reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 1TB white sugar
  • 28 oz can stewed toms
  • salt/pepper to taste to season the beef when cooking and soup.

[Note: for tonight’s rendition, I forgot to buy stewed tomatoes. So as a substitute I’m using a big handful of halved cherry tomatoes and a can of Progresso tomato-Basil soup and some Tomato paste to thicken the soup. Things I have on hand. I also often use low sodium V-8 juice in this type of soup and chili. It adds a lot of nutrients, flavor, and depth you just couldn’t get elsewhere or so cheaply.]

 In a slow cooker, cook the chuck roast until tender. That can be between 4-5 hours on high. Something I recommend doing if you have the time and ability to vent your kitchen is to pan-sear the roast on both sides on a HOT skillet before putting it in the crockpot. season both sides of it, rub some oil on it, and drop it in a searing hot pan until a crust is formed The meat should initially seize up from the heat but initially release once the sugars have caramelized. This takes some know-how and will produce a lot of smoke, just to be honest and forewarned. But the dividends from doing it are worth it in many cases. Sometimes it’s not prudent or wise to include this step. It’s not going to ruin the dish if you don’t do it. It just won’t take it to another level.

 During the last hour add the barley and bay leaf. Then remove all, discard bay leaf, chop meat into bite-sized pieces, and set meat, barley, and broth aside.

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium high heat.

Saute carrots, celery, onion, and frozen mixed vegetables until tender.

Add your box of broth, sugar, tomatoes, garlic, and beef/barley mixture.

Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 10-20 minutes.

Season to taste with S&P.

That’s it! Whether this soup or anything turns out a success is how you define it. Not someone else. Other people will always have their preferences and biases and opinions and agendas and expectations. Your standards and expectations must exceed the other person’s to please, much less delight them. So keeping them high and raising them ever higher once reached is necessary to keep performing at an ever-higher level, which is my personal goal. Other people will always be able to do things better than I can. I’m not worried about them. What I strive for is doing better tomorrow what I did today so that those I serve and have expectations of me will be pleased, and hopefully one day, delighted.

Since what makes me happy and feel successful is helping others become happy and successful, it means constantly striving for better solutions, avoiding negative and corrosive situations, and reaching higher towards incrementally farther goals.

And that’s how you make the best beef-vegetable soup.  Or anything.

Incidentally, the Superbowl is underway as I write this. The field and box seats are filled with people who get what I just wrote. It’s how they got there. The people at home and pretending to care about the event and activity are those who may not get it and don’t care. They get their Beef Vegetable soup from a can.

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