Feed the Ravening Hordes Vegetable Beef Soup and Bran Muffins
The weather is beginning to change, even in Southern California, though you have to look harder for a hint of fall here. Everywhere the kids are back in school, and the sun is beginning to set earlier in the day. Up the street from us the men are playing soccer on the elementary school field, and the ice cream trucks drive by playing Mexican polkas to attract customers. Fall is a state of mind, not a temperature, perhaps. The slate is wiped clean, our shoes are new, and we are excited to have a fresh start.
And, it’s time to consider rich autumnal foods. I want to bake bread and cook stews and this time of year I especially want to fix my mother’s vegetable soup.
It’s actually a beef vegetable barley soup, but she called it vegetable soup. This is the soup that Mother had on the stove when you were coming home from college or from a long trip, so that it would be ready the minute you walked in the door cold and hungry. She served it with bran muffins, and it was always welcoming and wonderful.
My soup is not actually my mother’s soup. I wish I knew why. It has all the same ingredients, and my soup is awfully good, but it’s not the same. Your soup will not be my soup. It will be delicious, but it probably won’t taste like mine either. Soups are mysterious, mystical creations.
This recipe makes a lot of soup. I mean, enough to serve probably ten people. So, the good thing is you can freeze it in a Tupperware-like container. I am including a gluten-free version, substituting rice for the barley. The soup will be different, but it will be just as delicious.
Before we get started on our soup and muffins I want to remind you of a really basic step that beginning cooks sometimes forget. Always read the entire recipe before you begin. Like, before you start making bran muffins, do you actually have a muffin pan? That would be a good thing to own before you are standing with a bowl full of batter before a hot oven. It always comes down to the basics, my friends.
So, here we go.
Again, this makes a big pot of filling soup which feeds a crowd cheaply. Try it instead of chilli for your next football party. It freezes well in a plastic container, though it lasts easily for a week in the fridge. It’s easy to make, it just takes time. So, make sure you don’t want this soup for dinner in 3o minutes because this will be ready tomorrow, not tonight. If you want it tonight, start around 9 AM, to have it done by 6 PM. Still, it will be better on day two.
• Soup bones — ox tail and marrow bones are both wonderful, but neck bones, even short ribs will do. Bones add real flavor to soup, and they are absolutely necessary here. If you don’t see any in the meat case, ring for the butcher and ask.
• Soup/stew meat, you don’t need too much, maybe 1/2 to 3/4 of a pound. Trim all fat off the meat.
• A bunch of celery, the end cut off, washed well and chopped into small pieces, including the leaves, which add flavor
• A bunch of parsley, the ends cut off, well washed and chopped up finely.
• 5-6 large carrots, sliced. If you like more, use more.
• 2 of the biggest cans of whole tomatoes, not puréed, or stewed, or sliced, or fancied up in any way.
• 1 cup barley. If you want a gluten-free version, use one cup of washed white or brown rice. To wash the rice put it in a colander and rinse under running water for a minute or so to get the extra starch off.
• Salt to taste
• Bovril (Hard to find in the U.S., I have friends bring it from England) or “Better than Bouillon” 2-3 tablespoons, to enhance the flavor. If I don’t have any of these things I throw in 4-5 beef bouillon cubes, and reduce the salt. You can also use beef broth rather than water. That works as well. Bovril is a dark, black sticky beef extract that really adds flavor to stews and soups. If you have a friend going to the UK, ask them to bring you some. Also, a teaspoon dissolved in a cup of hot water is much richer and more yummy than a cup of bouillon from a cube.
• Put the meat, bones, parsley, and celery in a large stock pot and cover with water or beef broth, add Bovril or other flavor enhancer and about a tablespoon of salt (if using bouillon cubes add salt later, remember, you can’t take it back out once you put it in).
• Cover, place on high heat (Don’t walk away!) until it boils. Reduce the heat and simmer for several hours.
• Check “under the hood” after about 3 hours. If you are using marrow bones, you can now remove them to a plate and spread the marrow on a piece of bread, sprinkle it with salt and eat it, if you like marrow. (Try it once, you might like it.)
• Otherwise, poke the marrow through into the soup to enrich the broth. Free up any meat clinging to the bones and then remove the bones from the soup. Check the flavor and add salt as needed. At this point I often like to put the soup-in-progress into the fridge to cool overnight to solidify the fat on top, so I can easily remove it.
• After skimming the fat and returning the pot to the heat, add the barley, carrots and tomatoes, filling each tomato can once with water and adding to the soup. Continue cooking for another few hours, check the flavor and add more salt if needed.
• Serve with bran muffins and a green salad. Store extra in the fridge overnight. Before reheating, skim off hardened fat and discard. Add more water if necessary before reheating.
If you freeze some of the soup, when you defrost it (which will take a few days in the fridge) you may want to add some beef broth and a small can of tomatoes to perk it up a bit.
This recipe came from the General Mills All-Bran cereal box many years ago. My mother served these with her vegetable soup and with many other things. I’m not sure that General Mills even makes all-bran anymore. These muffins are not the huge muffins you are used to seeing these days. This makes a dozen standard muffins, with no spilling over “muffin tops.” However, they are delicious, light inside and slightly crispy outside. This recipe can be doubled, so if you have two muffin pans, you can make 24 muffins.
• 1 cup All-Bran (add a little molasses to Kellogg’s)
• 1 cup milk
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1 cup flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 egg
• 3 teaspoons baking powder
• 3 tablespoons oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.
In a mixing bowl soak the bran in the milk.
In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients together.
Add the oil and the egg to the bran mixture.
Mix in the dry ingredients.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, until the muffins are brown.
Serve warm with butter