I used to sporadically watch Jeopardy and my favorite segment was always the cringe-worthy question and answer sessions between Alex Trebek and the contestants. Trebek has a question for each contestant that's designed to give viewers a glimpse into his/her personality. But for the most part, every contestant clams up and answers awkwardly and Trebek only makes matters worse by never having an appropriate follow-up question prepared.
The questions themselves are usually along the lines of: "So, Adam, you recently went deep-sea fishing. But I heard fish weren't the only thing you caught?" or "Susan, you shared that you're an avid hiker. What trail are you itching to try next?"
I'm not sure how Trebek picks these questions. Maybe the contestant shares a few pieces of personal information and he chooses questions from these details? Maybe the contestants write the questions themselves? If so--and if I were on Jeopardy--everything I'd share would be about food. And I'd hope Trebek would take the hint and ask me a question like "I hear you're an avid cook. If you had to quickly move and only had time to take one cookbook, what would that be?"
I'd answer (charmingly, not awkwardly), River Cottage Veg Everyday.
We've cooked exclusively from this cookbook for the past week and a half, which also corresponds to how long we've had the book. We've tried soups, salads, pastas, and stir fries. Every dish has become the kind of dish that we eat and then immediately turn to each other and say 'when can we cook that again?".
One such combination was a winter soup and raw salad I made last Thursday and then re-created yesterday. This combination embraces Winter better than most combinations I've seen. You won't find potatoes in either recipe! Instead, author (and local food genius) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall combines the anise-y fennel with dense celeriac for an earthy, sweet soup. And the raw salad, layered with carrots, oranges, and cashews, tastes juicy, crunchy, and unique. February is a notoriously difficult time for eating seasonally, but the vibrant salad and earthy soup ignores this commonly held belief and instead proves to me that it is possible to miss Winter cooking in the warmer months. I'll actually miss this salad and soup combination when Summer comes and celeriac and fennel disappear from the market.
When I recreated these recipes yesterday, I had to laugh at myself. We'd purchased 2 celeriac bulbs at the Greenmarket and used both of them in another Veg Everyday recipe. I had four carrots leftover after I prepared the salad, so I substituted the same weight of carrots for the celeriac. The soup is brighter than the original incarnation, and because I didn't change the quantity of root vegetable, just the root vegetable itself, the soup was just as enjoyable. I'll include the recipe with carrots, but by all means: use celeriac!
Fennel and Carrot Soup with Orange Zest
Adapted from River Cottage Veg Everyday
30 g butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 shallots, sliced
3 large fennel bulbs (about 750g), trimmed and sliced
3-4 carrots (250 g), peeled and sliced
zest of one orange
500ml vegetable stock (keep more on hand-you may need to add extra liquid at the end)
salt and pepper
1) Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sweat gently for a few minutes. Add the fennel and carrots, stir well, and then cover and sweat for 10 minutes.
2) Add the orange zest, stock, and some salt and pepper. Bring this to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
3) Puree the soup, either in a blender or with an immersion blender, until smooth. If you need to add more liquid, do so now and gently integrate the liquid into the soup before continuing to blend. Blending might take awhile because fennel is so fibrous. *My right arm got an amazing workout from holding the immersion blender for about 4 minutes!
4) Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with a few fennel fronds. Enjoy!
Carrot, Orange, and Cashew Salad
Recipe Source: River Cottage Veg Everyday
50 g cashews
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2-3 large carrots, peeled
olive oil (a drizzle)
cider vinegar (a few drips)
salt and pepper
1) Toast the cashews in a hot, dry frying pan over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until lightly browned. They will go from not browned to burned in a matter of seconds so toss frequently and don't step away. Add the cumin seeds for the last minute. Put the mixture on a plate to cool.
2) Grate the zest from one orange and set aside. Use a small knife to cut the peel and pith off of both oranges. Carefully slice each segment from the membranes and into a bowl. Squeeze the remaining membrane to extract all the juice. Add the zest to the bowl.
3) Cut the carrots into thick matchsticks. Add the carrots to the bowl with the oranges. Then add a drizzle of olive oil, a few drops of cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. Toss well and scatter the cashews and cumin seeds on top. Enjoy!