When I was a kid, I didn't know that you could buy tortillas in a bag because my mom always made them from scratch, and every year for my birthday, I requested and received a made-from-scratch bunny-shaped carrot cake. (Before Pinterest!) Things haven't changed much. When we went to my mom and dad's house a few weekends ago to watch football, my mom made sloppy joes. But not just regular sloppy joes. She also made a slaw to go on top and provided a variety of cheeses to get all melty underneath. Oh, and she made a white chicken chili that she deemed "just okay." She wasn't even going to serve it, but I insisted that she let Jason and me try it. And Jason had to steal the spoon away from me to get one bite. Keep all this in mind as you read on.
In my first year of marriage, I knew I wanted to add my mom's lasagna to my repertoire of meals because it was not only the best lasagna but also my mom's lasagna. It tasted like home. One day, I was in the grocery store talking to my mom on the phone and remembered that I wanted to make the lasagna but lamented that it would probably be too complicated to give me the ingredients list over the phone while I was in the grocery store sans pen. My mom insisted that no, it would be fine and instructed me to go to the aisle with the pasta. When I let her know I was there, she told me to find the box of no-bake Barilla lasagna noodles. I clarified, "No bake"? She said, "Yes. Do you have it? Now turn the box over and follow the directions." I was a bit baffled. "That's it"? But she insisted, "That's it." I was now flabbergasted. Why would she insist on not sharing her lasagna recipe with me? Why would she try to trick me? But I decided to play along. I bought the ingredients on the back of the box and later that week followed the directions on the back of the box, and when I bit into the back-of-the-box lasagna and tasted my mom's lasagna, I knew. My mom is a genius. Of course those back-of-the-box recipes would be good.
When I asked her for the recipe for her delicious beef, barley, and vegetable soup a few years later, I was much less baffled when she pointed me to the back of the box and excited when she told me that she didn't follow the directions exactly. So if you want my mom's lasagna recipe, go get yourself a box of no-bake Barilla lasagna noodles. If you want an amazing beef, barley, and vegetable soup recipe, see below.
Slightly-Altered Back-of-the-Box Beef, Barley, and Vegetable Soup
1 lb lean steak (whatever looks good or is on sale)
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (I just use the stuff that comes in the squeeze bottle and squeeze what looks to be about a clovesworth in the pot.)
1/2 cup Quaker Medium Barley, uncooked
1/2 cup sliced celery (I just chop up an entire bundle and by bundle I mean whatever you call it when all the stalks are still attached. What is that called, mom?)
2 beef bullion cubes
1/2 tsp dried basil, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 (9 oz) package mixed vegetables (I get the corn, peas, green beans, carrots mixture.)
1 bottle tomato juice (The one in the juice aisle.)
In a 4 quart sauce pan or Dutch oven, sear the steak on both sides. Take out steak and cut into bite-sized pieces. While cutting steak, add onion and garlic (and maybe a little bit of olive oil if you have stainless steal pots and pans like me) to the pot and cook under onion is tender. Stir in remaining ingredients (including cut up steak) except for frozen vegetables. Cover; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 50-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add frozen vegetables; cook about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Additional water may be added if soup becomes too thick upon standing. (not sure exactly what that means but I usually add some water).
The big difference is using steak instead of ground beef and tomato juice instead of water and tomatoes. I feel like you could probably eat bacon (for the protein) and Milky Ways (for the dairy) all day if you are planning on having this for dinner because it contains more vegetables than I probably eat in a week. Delicious and nutritious!
Also, I served this to Jason with salad last night. Soup and salad, yeah! He wasn't as excited as I thought he should be about the delicious and nutritious meal I had planned. And I'll admit, it was a little overkill with all the vegetables. So we agreed that next time, we'll make grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the soup. For a slightly grown-up grilled cheese, I highly recommend using two slices of Sargento Colby-Pepper Jack. There's just a tiny bit of spice and a whole lot of flavor.