Anatomy of a Recipe
One of the best parts of running the test kitchens at Fine Cooking Magazine was working on Make It Tonight recipes. Much loved by our readers, MIT’s (as the staff referred to them) were recipes that had to be made in 30 minutes or less and that used ten to twelve ingredients (not including salt, pepper, or oil). For the magazine’s editors (including myself), this was the place to introduce and try out new talent or keep our subscribers connected to veteran recipe contributors.
Part of my job as test kitchen director meant paying attention to everything and everyone around me. Lucky for me, great test cooks always surrounded me, which made my job a little easier. That brings me to the story of how Quick Beef Barley Soup came to be.
I met Joan about ten years ago when we were both trying to get our foot in the door at the magazine for different reasons. Personally, I was resolved to hang around as long as it would take to land a full-time job. However, we were both determined and did everything we could to remain on the radar at Fine Cooking. I’ll never forget the assignment that first brought us together: Sorting through and organizing a multitude of racks and rooms full of props used for photoshoots. These props included everything from plates, utensils, platters, tablescapes, glassware, and so much more. We washed, dried, and ironed everything. We built multiple racks that housed color-coded tableware. We worked really hard, had many laughs and heartfelt conversations, and in the process, we became friends.
Fast-forward to 2018. By then, I had become the test kitchen manager and food editor, and Joan was the contracted assistant food stylist who doubled as one of my test kitchen cooks as her schedule allowed. It was probably April or May when Joan first made her beef barley soup as lunch for “family meal,” which would feed all the testers in the kitchens that day. We grabbed bowls full of the steaming, aromatic soup, fortified with chunks of tender beef floating in a flavorful tomato-beef stock base thickened with barley, and ran back to our respective kitchens to keep working. I recall stopping several times to tell Joan how delicious it was and that we had to make it an MIT. It took a while to convince her, but after several attempts, it worked. Joan is a fantastic cook and a great caterer and cooking teacher, but at the time, her recipes had never been published. That was about to change.
First, she had to write the recipe down because, up until that point, she was making it intuitively. Second, I had to edit the recipe in the Fine Cooking style. Thirdly, it had to pass our rigorous testing process. Once different testers prepared it, and we tasted it several more times, fine-tuning the recipe until it was perfect, I felt it was ready to be pushed forward and presented to the editors at our daily 3 PM tasting. Of course, everyone loved it, and it got the green light to go. We called it Quick Beef Barley Soup and listed it in the Multicooker category, a generic term for the incredibly popular Instant Pot. We held off publishing the recipe until the time was right. It was finally published in the October/November 2019 issue once Fall was in full swing.
As I post this at the close of October, with the start of November right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to make this soup again. So if you’re craving a quick and delicious dinner, I recommend giving this hearty soup a try!
For me, this recipe brings back fond reminders of happy days in the test kitchens at Fine Cooking, exchanging ideas and talking about food with a test kitchen team that respected and uplifted each other. To this day, holding a warm, comforting bowl of Joan’s beef barley soup cradled in my hands and enjoying the anticipation of that first glorious bite still remains one of my fondest food memories.
Giving credit where credit is due:
- Food Styling: Nicole Twohy
- Photography: Mike Yamin