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Food Eyeswoon Kitchen:

One Sweet Mess

Photography by Athena Calderone

What can I say, I am a mess. No, really. Ask my husband and he will agree — I am a Tasmanian devil in the kitchen. He knows all too well because he continually cleans up my chaos, bless his very orderly soul!

Dishes and bowls pile up in the sink, sheet pans are propped up precariously on top of the pots on the range, there are multiple work stations in use at all times and most certainly two to three cutting boards out at once. All of my knives are in use, with sticky or dried up bits of food clinging to the steel. Meanwhile, there are still some items hanging around that don’t have anything to do with cooking at all — my handbag and computer, my son’s backpack and even the thank-you cards I need to write are what you might find on the kitchen island. I just dive right in. No tidying, no prep, I just go!

When I am creating and shooting for EyeSwoon, forget about it. Then the entire jumble — plus the props, linens and surfaces — extends onto the floor. For that matter, it also makes its way to the living room, the top of the stairs or basically anywhere the light is. I used to say “I’m a passionate cook” rather than a messy cook. That changed when I did my 200-hour culinary course at the ICC just prior to diving into my cookbook development. At that point it was clear just how tornado-like I truly was! Chef pointed it out time and time again, and after those three months I was far better. I cleaned my station after each and every stint in the kitchen. Cook and clean, cook and clean. But truth be told, I have gone right back to my topsy-turvy ways, and making this roasted sweet potato is a bit of an homage to that disheveled side of myself.

I am not throwing myself under the bus here. I know I have the ability to create beauty but I also make a shit ton of a mess in the process. I was acutely aware of said mess as I made and shot this sweet potato dish yesterday. This is a recipe I have been obsessing over – so many delicious flavors working together here. And taste aside, it is also very apropos given the way I work — the dish is decidedly undone. With this meal I can embrace my messy tendencies and actually find beauty in them.

Baked potatoes were one of my favorite dishes growing up, always with a ton of butter, sour cream and salt and pepper. Sweet potatoes were yet another childhood dinner staple. I still love to slather high-quality butter on both but my palette now craves more complexity. I long for a balance of brightness, sweetness, heat and texture, usually in one bite. Lime and sweet potato is a pairing that intrigued me, so I set out to play with it here. And since I am somewhat of a kneel-down-and-pray type of lady when it comes to herbs, I knew I wanted to unite the two in some sort of herbaceous and vibrant sauce with tarragon as the base. To the sauce I added jalapeño for some sting and diced fennel for crunch and freshness. Fennel is also a wonderful complement to the licorice-y tarragon.

These ingredients alone, topped over the soft and caramelized sweetness of the roasted sweet potato, were already heavenly. Yet something was a bit off, unbalanced. I mean, I loved the zippity zing from lime, but when paired with the spice of the pepper, it needed something to counteract those punchy acidic notes. The addition of creamy crème fraîche is not only a nod to my yesteryear sour cream days, it also evens the playing field — particularly once it gets all melty and you get an itty bity bite of the sugary dates.

All of this goodness would be far too precious if spooned in a chef-y manner with the drizzle just so. No no no, instead this stuffed and loaded sweet potato is a tribute to both my childhood past and my messy present. A beautiful mess indeed!

Sweet & Spicy, Crunchy, Herbaceous & Bright!

Roasted Sweet Potato with Fennel, Jalapeno and Lime Relish

EyeSwoon Kitchen


Served 2-4

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 small bulb fennel, diced small (about ½ cup) reserve fronds
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons, chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 tablespoons, chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons, extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzle
  • 3 dates, pitted and cubed
  • crème fraiche
  • 3 tablespoons pepitas, toasted
  • flaky sea salt
  • fresh cracked pepper

The Prep

  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Place the lightly pierced sweet potatoes on sheet pan lined with parchment. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  3. While the potatoes roast place the diced fennel, jalapeno, and herbs in a bowl with the olive oil and juice from 2 limes. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Once the potatoes are removed from the oven and slightly cooled, slice them open while leaving the bottom attached. Spoon some of the relish over the potatoes, add a dollop of crème fraiche, and sprinkle with chopped dates and some pepitas. Finish with reserved and torn fennel fronds, flaky sea salt, and fresh cracked pepper.

Tip – season your pepitas with olive oil, salt and pepper before toasting. Add a pinch of cumin for a smoky spice.

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