Pros: simple recipes, accessible food
Cons: some recipes seem to try to hard to be trendy
I was a fan of Spike Mendelsohn from his first appearance on "Top Chef Season 4." His infectious smile, carefree attitude, cool hats, and amazing cooking abilities won me over immediately and I was sad to see him depart just before the Final 4. With that mindset I was excited to pick up a copy of Spike's book, "The Good Stuff Cookbook" based on the foods he serves at one of his family's restaurants, Good Stuff Eatery, in Washington D.C.
If you remember Spike, from Top Chef, you'll remember that most of his food was very approachable. The same is true of both "Good Stuff Eatery" and "The Good Stuff Cookbook." This is classic American fare in all its glory, with just enough twists to give it a modern flair and elevate it to the next level. Nothing in this book really breaks any new ground, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Take Spike's "Baked Sweet Potato Fries." Sweet Potato fries are popular right now, but Spike gives them a wonderful, little twist by glazing them with brown sugar and fresh sage, and it's that small twist that takes these to a whole new level. The section on burgers ranges from the mundane to the inspired, yet even with the most mundane of recipes Spike's passion for food and insistence on using great ingredients elevates these recipes to the next level. Sometimes though, I think the recipes are just a little too mundane. "Big Vern's Root Beer Float" is a perfect example. The ingredients are 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream and 2 12 ounce cans of root beer. I think you can figure out the rest. I'm not opposed to a Root Beer Float recipe in a book such as this, but I really expected something a little less...pedestrian.
Overall, I found this to be a very enjoyable cookbook. Will it go down in the annuals of great cookbooks? No, but I would also bet that for many people this book would get pulled out much more often than many of those other "great" cookbooks. Filled with a lot of very good recipes and wonderful stories, this is a cookbook meant to entertain almost as much as it is meant to inspire.
Baked Sweet Potato Fries
4 sweet potatoes, unpeeled and cut into wedges
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, sage, brown sugar and oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss. Spread on a baking sheet. Bake for 40 minutes. Serve immediately.