Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Review: The Summertime Anytime Cookbook and Mushroom and Leek Soup

Summer may not officially begin until the solstice on June 20, but what we consider the summer season in the United States kicks off on Memorial Day weekend. So naturally, now is a great time to talk about a new summer-themed cookbook. Written by Dana Slatkin, chef at Shutters on the Beach, a restaurant in Santa Monica, California, The Summertime Anytime Cookbook has some simple, fresh ways to do California cuisine even if ocean breezes don't necessarily blow your way.

The book is full of color photos of many recipes, plus a few beach shots that will make you sigh on a chilly night. The organization is novel, grouping recipes into chapters that evoke a certain mood or occasion: Sunny Days, Cloudy Days, Balmy Nights, Stormy Nights and Misty Mornings. At first I thought the concept was a little silly, but I quickly began to enjoy thinking about the dishes with this mindset. It's a neat trick that provides a context in which you'll view the recipes. Flipping past chicken breasts with smoky lentils; butter bean salad with oven-dried tomatoes, black olives and pesto; and apple-jack (as in Monterey jack cheese) pie with ginger custard sauce in the Stormy Nights chapter, I envisioned myself in a warm kitchen as the wind whips outside and rain lashes the windows making Slatkin's radicchio soup with smoked mozzarella cheese.

The majority of the recipes are simple and easy to pull off even if you don't have access to fabulous California produce. If ingredient substitutions are not suggested, the casual, easy-going feel of the book should encourage you to swap broccoli for broccolini or frozen corn for fresh. I like the advice Slatkin gives in the headnotes to the recipe for wild mushroom and leek soup:

This soup is pure mushroom indulgence. Once pureed, it is so creamy that you could easily omit the cream and never miss it.

Oh, you don't say. If you recall my love for pureed veggie soups, you can understand why I chose this recipe (provided below) to try out. I was skeptical about the level of "pure mushroom indulgence" I was going to experience, but I can honestly say that the soup was simply, deliciously mushroom-y, as promised. With no cream, it was still thick and rich, if not a very lovely color. Swirl some sour cream on top and it's perfectly presentable. Very easy and definitely something I will make again.

I also tried a "Cloudy Days" recipe for lemon-ginger string beans, which was a new-to-me, yet low-maintenance, version of a vegetable I don't usually get excited about. Scattered throughout the book are cute bits of Martha Stewart-ish lifestyle advice on "beach table chic" or "six uses for a bucket of sand." These bonus tidbits might be an added draw to some people, but the collection of 130 recipes plus photos doesn't need much enchancement. I'm looking forward to reliving the California vibe of my formative years (I grew up just south of Santa Monica) by making Tomatillo, Chile and Bean Chowder; Truffle-Scented Salmon with Mustard Vinaigrette; and Strawberry-Rhubard Cobbler (desserts aren't neglected here, including fruit-focused treats, as well as things like Peanut-Butterscotch Crunch Bars).

If summertime can be an escape from work, routine and responsibility, this book plays off that mystique to create a culinary escape. Through the accessible recipes, you can transport yourself to a Southern California beach, basking in the sun and reveling in the moist, salty air. This is a book you'll be happy to curl up on the couch dreaming of vacation with, or turn to for new salad ideas, simple fish dishes or inspiration for your haul of summer produce.

Wild Mushroom and Leek Soup
Adapted from The Summertime Anytime Cookbook by Dana Slatkin

If you want to use heavy cream, add one cup along with the sherry. Pacific Foods makes a very good mushroom broth available at Whole Foods market and many other stores. For vegetable broth, lately I've been loving the rich, dark version made by Kitchen Basics, available in supermarkets. Any kinds of mushrooms would be good; I used a mix of portobella, white and shiitake.

1 tbs. unsalted butter
1 tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. mushrooms, chopped
3 to 4 large leeks, white and light green parts, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper
6 cups mushroom broth or low-sodium vegetable broth
2 tbs. dry sherry or lemon juice
sour cream for serving
chopped fresh chives for serving

In a large pot, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their juices, then raise the heat to medium high and cook until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are soft and beginning to brown.

Reduce heat to medium, add the leeks and cook until soft. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Add the broth, bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Add the sherry and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes so vegetables get very soft and flavors develop. If you think too much liquid is evaporating, cover the pot for a portion of this time.

Puree soup in batches in a blender (I used an immersion blender, but I think a traditional blender may give a smoother texture--it's up to you). Return soup to the pot and heat thoroughly without boiling to avoid splatters. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and chives.

The Summertime Anytime Cookbook was sent to me for review by the publisher, Clarkson Potter.


Susan from Food Blogga said...

I live in Southern California, and I haven't seen this book yet! Thanks for the write-up, Julie. I'll be checking it out.

Anonymous said...


I remember reading that your husband works out of town often during the week. Out of curiousity, do you generally drink wine if dining alone when he is away? My husband is out of town frequently, and my friend gave me a funny look when I mentioned that I will have a glass of wine with dinner every night - whether he is there or not. Is that so odd?

Julie said...

Susan: I really like it; with all that produce in your backyard, I think it would be perfect for you.
Anonymous: I'm so glad you asked that! I do drink wine with dinner when I'm alone and I don't think it's remotely weird. Some weeks I won't drink at all because I'm busy, tired or eating not very wine-friendly food for dinner. Other weeks I'll have a good size glass most nights. Maybe your friend heard "drinking" and assumed that means "getting drunk," in which case, he or she may have a skewed view about how people relate to alcohol. Okay, sorry if that sounds preachy. Wine and food are meant to be together, whether it's an elaborate meal with family or a simple piece of fish for one.