Saturday, March 6, 2010

'Everything But The Kitchen Sink' Dinner

I've always been painfully aware that I am not photogenic. I'm not fishing for compliments here. I'm uttering a truth. I'm not sure what the problem is, if it's that I get uncomfortable the moment a camera is pointed at me; if it's the 'performance aspect'. Or maybe it's as simple as the rounded, Eastern European contours of my face drinking in light as opposed to sharply deflecting it in flattering angles. It's okay. I've come to accept it. And in the age of the digital camera, people like me don't have to suffer anymore; we can shoot and shoot and shoot and eventually, we'll hit upon a decent enough photo for public viewing.

My mother was a photographer. A former career woman, she chose to become a stay-at-home mom and, after selflessly raising us into the salty, sulky adolescent years, she realized she needed something that was just for her, a creative endeavor. So she began taking night school courses in photography and purchasing camera equipment. And luckily for her, she had two models to practice on right at home! Her pimply, shy, awkward daughters. Every Saturday morning, she would set up her studio, ready us with a dash of lipstick and a swipe of blush (the only part I enjoyed of this ritual) and we'd sullenly pose for her for several hours. There are virtually no pictures of me smiling during this time period.

Just like unphotogenic people, there are some foods that don't really take good photos either. The more I make it, the more I realize that pureed soup is one of these foods. Last night, with the house all to myself and a hungry belly, I looked in the fridge to see what I had to work with. Broccoli. Leftover bits from previous meals. A variety of veggies that were just starting to lose their crispness. So I decided to make soup; a soup that would help me use up a considerable amount of these ingredients. I wanted something with the soup, so I decided upon a chickpea sandwich filling, with mushrooms, thyme and Parmesan cheese. I chopped. I sauteed. I boiled. I coarsely pureed. I stirred. I tasted. I cheered myself on for making such a yummy dinner. But when it came time to photograph the food, my heart sank a little.

Everything was a murky sort of brown colour. Oh dear.

I broke a sweat, trying to get my creations to demonstrate their appeal to the camera. Twisting bowls this way and that, angling plates up and down and sideways, trying all the while to keep my hand steady while depressing the shutter button. By the time I was done, my food was getting cold and I decided to stop fretting about it and eat. And the tastes - salty, tangy, earthy, layered - neutralized all my concerns that I wouldn't be able to impart to the reader how lovely it all turned out. Because I'd know. And I'd have days of leftovers to keep reminding me.

My mother, by the way, became a brilliant photographer, and I keep her pictures close to me, in every room of my house, to remind me of her.

Please note: when I don't follow a recipe, I tend to use loose measurements, so these are approximations. Just keep tasting it!

Kitchen Sink Soup:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 large onion, diced
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets and stem chopped.
2 large potatoes, cut into smallish cubes
3 stalks of celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
generous splash of white wine
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup of water, more if needed
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp dried dill
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
prosciutto or bacon, cooked and cut into small pieces
plain yogurt or sour cream, if desired

1. Heat the oil and butter in a large stockpot. Add onion and cook over medium heat till soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add all the chopped veggies and the generous glug of wine and stir for about 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, keep at a healthy simmer for about 25 minutes, or till veggies are soft. In the meantime, cook up the bacon or prosciutto and set aside.

2. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup till smoothly processed. Add the buttermilk and the dill and paprika and adjust seasonings till it's to your taste. Keep it warm till serving. Add a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream and sprinkle the bacon on top.

Chickpea-Mushroom Mash:

1 tbsp butter
1/2 onion
8 oz or 1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped - I used white, but cremini or shitake would be lovely too!
1/2 can chickpeas, rinsed well
generous glug of white wine
zest of half a lemon
juice of half a lemon, or more to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1-2 tbsp chopped green olives (can leave these out for more subtle flavour)
shaved Parmesan cheese
Slice of grainy bread with light smear of Dijon

1. In medium frying pan, heat the butter. Add the onion and cook over medium heat till soft, 5-7 minutes. Add the chopped mushrooms, chickpeas and white wine and cook till browned and fragrant, about 10-12 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Once cooled, put in food processor and pulse till coarsely mashed (do not puree!) Pour the mash into a mixing bowl and add the lemon zest, lemon juice, thyme, olives if using and salt and pepper and stir till well combined. Serve on toasted grainy bread with Dijon and top with the Parmesan.


  1. it looks beautiful, but I totally understand the obsession with getting the perfect shot!

  2. Thanks Melissa! I'm getting better, I think...