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Donna Hay’s Creamy Cauliflower Soup & Some Photography

Posted Jan 31 2012 12:00am

S
oup has long been my Achilles’ heel when it comes to cooking. I don’t know if it is because I am not particularly fond of soups, or because they’re not a part of our traditional food repertoire,  or it’s just something else, but 5 times out of 10, my soups just don’t make the grade.

What is so difficult about making soup?  Soup making is no rocket science but I know my daughter’s got a point when she sometimes tells me, “Amma, there’s something not quite right with your soups”!
The cool December-January weather and the occasional chill in the air means it’s definitely season for soup. Given that we live in a hot, sticky tropical climate, soups are not really something we have and tend to be more of an adopted culinary fashion.
I’m still a rather wary soup maker but I continue to persevere as my husband and our daughter both enjoy soup. I am told practise makes perfect, and it seems my soup making skills have seen a lot of improvement in recent times, which is a good thing as I see most soups as one dish meals that maybe just need some bread to complete them.




[Photograph details : Shot handheld with a 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens (Canon) at Aperture -f/ 5.0, shutterspeed – 1/ 30s and ISO – 320. Used software to crop a bit, increase brightness and a bit of contrast.] And when making soup is coupled with pushing my photography a bit further, I’m all for polishing my skills both in the kitchen and behind the camera. This month’s challenge involves cauliflower soup.
Cauliflower is something that I cook at least once a week, especially now since it is the season for it. Stir-fried cauliflower, Indian style and sometimes with green peas and / or potatoes, is a favourite with my daughter. When I mentioned cauliflower to both the soup lovers here they seemed a bit unsure with the idea., but my md was made up as I had a photograph to create!


[Photograph details : Shot handheld with a 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens (Canon) at Aperture - f/ 4.0, shutterspeed – 1/ 100s and ISO – 400. Used software to crop a bit, increase brightness and a bit of contrast, and a colour filter.] Simone has been blogging a monthly Donna Hay Styling & Photography challenge (DHSPC) for a few months now.  In case you haven’t heard of her, Donna Hay is a very well-known Australian food stylist, author, and magazine editor. Her signature style whether in cooking or styling food is simple, uncluttered and beautiful. I hadn’t heard of her till about a couple of years ago when I saw her magazine and then saw her on Masterchef Australia and now on Fast, Fresh And Simple. I have been feeling the need to push the boundaries that my food photography has set for itself and challenging myself this way seemed to be a good idea. I finally managed to join the challenge this month. This month Simone picked Donna Hay’s “ CreamyCauliflower Soup ” from Issue 51 of her magazine. The original photograph in her magazine is by Ben Dearnley and styled by Justine Pool. The challenge involves re-creating the recipe with as little change as possible, and then trying to recreate (not copy) the accompanying photograph.
I’ll talk about the photograph first and then go onto the soup recipe. Ben Dearnley is an amazing food photographer and this particular photograph of the soup has a lot of dark tones, quite unlike the photographs one usually sees in the magazine.



Ben Dearnley's photograph from the magazine
Looking at the photograph, the light is coming in from the top right most likely from a big window. To me, the light seems rather harsh on the right (one third) and very dark on the left (two thirds) where very little detail is visible. I found the fold of fabric on the right in the front, near the bowl, rather distracting and didn’t like the idea of wrapping thread/ wool around the spoon handle.




Re-creating the photograph posed a few obstacles for me. I just couldn’t get the light the way it was in the photograph, and I didn’t have any material in either the colour (blue) or texture (crepe paper or similar cloth). I also noticed that the white stains/ splashes in the original were of white paint on a black board and decided not to replicate that.
So I used a dark black shawl at the base and a reddish brown cloth napkin under the black bowl, and left my spoon plain. The light in my photograph is also from the right ( a window), and I used no reflectors or anything to block the light. I found the soup dressed with the cauliflower crumbs a bit monotonous so I sprinkled the soup with a bit of red chilli flakes to add a point of interest. I find my cloth napkin a bit distracting too, and am not very happy with the end result but it was the best I could do given that I shot the picture this morning!
I then tried a slightly different composition prop-wise with the light coming from the same direction. I’m not very happy with this one either and am wondering if the print on the scarf is distracting. What do you think?


[Photograph details : Shot handheld with a 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens (Canon) at Aperture - f/ 5.0, shutterspeed – 1/ 25s and ISO – 320. Used software to crop a bit, increase brightness and a bit of contrast and a colour filter.]

The photography part is done and now it is time for the soup itself. I did scale down the recipe (the recipe below is the full one) a bit for convenience. I left out the cream from the original recipe as the soup was quite thick and creamy without it after blending. This made for a healthier soup too. Finding fresh thyme at the market here takes a bit of luck, so I used the dry version of the herb. The recipe below is my adapted version of the original. Blame it on my Indian palate, but I found the soup a bit bland so I added a bit of garam masala while cooking it and finished it off with a sprinkling of red chilli flakes to add some colour as well as some “spice”. The soup was pretty good and the Parmesan cauliflower crumbs, especially so. I now have one more soup which I think I made quite well.
Donna Hay’s Creamy Cauliflower Soup (Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine Issue 51 )

Ingredients:
25gm butter 1 large onion,  chopped 1/2 tsp garlic paste 1 bay leaf 1 head of cauliflower (about 6 cups florets) About 3 cups peeled and diced starchy potatoes 3 cups vegetable stock 2 cups milk 3/4 tsp garam masala Salt to taste Crushed white pepper to taste Red chilli flakes for garnishing about 1/2 to 3/4 tsp dried thyme (or 4-6 sprigs fresh thyme)
Parmesan cauliflower crumbs: 1 cup chopped cauliflower florets 2 tbsp olive oil 1 1/2 tbsp finely grated Parmesan

Method:
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the onion, garlic, thyme (if using fresh thyme) and bay leaf and cook for 5-8 minutes or until onion has softened. Add the cauliflower, potato, vegetable stock and milk, increase heat to medium and cook for 25-30 minutes or until cauliflower and potato is tender. Alternatively finish this part of the cooking in the Microwave for about 10 minutes at 100% power. If using dried thyme, add at this point with the garam masala and mix well. Remove from the heat and, using a mixer-blender/ hand-held blender, blend until smooth. Stir in the salt and pepper. Warm the soup before serving and garnish with Parmesan cauliflower crumbs and red chilli flakes if desired. While the soup is cooking, make the Parmesan cauliflower crumbs. Place the cauliflower florets, olive oil and grated Parmesan in a bowl and toss to combine. Heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat. Put the cauliflower-oil-Parmesan into the hot pan and cook, stirring for 2 minutes or until golden and crisp.  Top soup with cauliflower crumbs to serve. This recipe serves 4.

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