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Soup is a classic, and it's comforting

(ran TTS, TNS editions)

This is a super season for soup _ nothing warms and satisfies on a chilly day better than a great bowl of soup. Here is an updated version of a classic beef and barley soup.

Instead of simmering for hours, this soup needs only minutes, given the availability of quick-cooking cuts, including shoulder-top blade steaks or shoulder-center steak.

This meal-in-a-bowl can be ready in 30 minutes, start to finish. Cutting lean beef into strips shortens cooking time; quick-cooking whole-grain barley replaces the longer-cooking variety, and frozen peas and packaged carrots are ready to use.

The soup also contains plenty of mushrooms and a savory cooking liquid seasoned with onions and garlic.

Quick Classic Beef Barley Soup

4 teaspoons vegetable oil

} cup finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons minced garlic

{ teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed

Two 14- to 14{-ounce cans ready-to-serve beef broth

2 cups water

8 ounces baby carrots (about 1} cups)

8 ounces cremini or button mushrooms, cut into quarters (about 3 cups)

1 cup diced red bell pepper

} cup quick-cooking barley

1 pound beef top-sirloin steak, cut } inch thick, or shoulder-top blade steaks (see note)

Salt and pepper

1 cup frozen peas

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in 4-quart stockpot or saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add onion, 1 tablespoon garlic and the thyme; cook and stir 3 to 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add broth, water, carrots, mushrooms, bell pepper and barley; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 10 minutes or until barley and vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, cut beef steak lengthwise in half, then crosswise into }-inch-thick strips. Toss with remaining 1 tablespoon garlic.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add { of beef; stir-fry 3 to 4 minutes for medium-rare to medium doneness. Remove from skillet. Repeat with remaining oil and beef. Season with salt and pepper, as desired.

Add frozen peas to broth mixture; cook, uncovered, 2 minutes or until tender. Season with salt, as desired. Place equal amount of beef strips into 4 serving bowls. Ladle equal amount of broth mixture over beef. Makes 4 servings.

Note: 1 pound beef shoulder-center steaks cut }-inch-thick can be substituted.