How many more weeks of winter do we have left? Because I have two little boys with a lot of energy to burn, one who gets especially riled up when he hasn’t been outside in a while, and has a tendency to turn into a little monster. Literally, he pretends he’s a monster, growling and rough-housing and being awfully destructive. As for me, I could handle a nice long walk in the sunshine, a trip to the farmer’s market, and something cooked on the grill. But seeing as I’m stuck inside for the time being, I want to tell you about a couple of my favorite things in my kitchen right now.
First: my spice rack. Have I mentioned that we live in a small, dark apartment? The kitchen is so bad I think it’s actually affected how much I like cooking. If you’ve caught glimpses of it in the background of pictures you’ll know what I mean. This spice rack is my glimmer of light and beauty. I absolutely love it. Sam made and mounted the shelves, and I did the tins. They’re a generous 8 ounces (the small ones are 4), filled with everything from allspice to thyme (boy, I need to get some Za’atar or something, that didn’t really sound as impressive and exotic as I’d anticipated). They’re labeled alphabetically of course, with a clear label placed just so over the white one for no smearing, and to be honest, I need to make some more of them. Since the shooting of these photos, I’ve amassed a few more spices, which are just sitting on the ends of the shelves awkwardly mismatching, or blatantly nonconforming.
Yes, they do collect a bit of dust. But I love them so much, I don’t even care. You just have to stay on top of it, or get your mom to give you a Norwex* so when you do finally get around to wiping them down, you can do it without any nasty chemicals getting close to your food. And ideally, spices should be stored in complete darkness, i.e. that cute little window in the top could actually shorten the lifespan of your spices. This is the one major benefit of having a windowless kitchen. If I’m going to be deprived of the sun, by golly I’m going to take advantage of it!
In honor of the beloved spice rack, I give you: Spiced Sweet Potato Fries. They’re my other favorite thing in my kitchen right now, but that’s just barely true because there’s only small amount leftover, tucked away in the refrigerator and it just occurred to me that they’d make a tasty afternoon snack. These are what I always imagined sweet potato fries should be, from the time I first tried them deep-fried but dull at a summer music festival. I’ve since become friends with frozen sweet potato fries, but to me they still need a dip in curry ketchup or mayonnaise for a little zing.
But these fries, with the lightest coating of oil and some time in a hot oven, come out with the sweet, syrupy flavor of a properly roasted or baked sweet potato.** They’re sprinkled with the robust flavors of freshly crushed coriander, fennel, oregano, and red pepper, plus some kosher salt, and they are perfect. Speaking of baked sweet potatoes, this spice combination might also be good on them, maybe toasted? You’d want to be generous, to account for the fries’ wide surface area. Just a thought. But the fries are hard to beat. They’re quite possibly my favorite food.
I even added way too much oil this time I made them, and they were still phenomenal. If you must, you can call them Sweet Potato Wedges or Spiced Roasted Sweet Potatoes instead of fries. I tried to estimate what the oil measurement should be when I typed the recipe, but just start with a tiny bit and add more if you think it needs it. I remember back in the days before I had kids, I used to dip my fingers in oil and just lightly moisturize each wedge one at a time. If this sounds as ridiculous to you as it does now to me, be aware that was also back when I would make only one pan of these; I’ve since doubled the recipe to satisfy all four of us. If it still sounds ridiculous, good, that means you’re sane; just use that illustration as a guide and remember when it comes to the oil you really don’t need much at all. Having kids, or a life, definitely should not mean missing out on these fries.
In fact, my family loved them. Well, I’m not sure if William even tried them. I could swear he’s happily devoured them before, but as I said, being cooped up all day gets him a little cantankerous. Anyway, the rest of us were just fine with having one less person to share with. You can dial back the red pepper flakes if your kids are not into spicy, or leave it out altogether. Once cooked, the skins are super easy to peel off before serving to little ones if you’re worried about choking hazards. (Titus with his eight teeth did fine with the skins after we got tired of peeling around the fifth or sixth chorus of “More! More!”) Serve them with your family’s favorite burgers, sloppy joes, or ABCLT’s (my attempt at a spin on BLT’s: chicken sandwiches with bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato, lettuce, and mayo). What more is there to say? Go forth and make sweet potato fries!
*I have no affiliation with Norwex and they have no idea who I am. Do I wish they did? Of course. That rag is amazing, but I’m still not so sure about spending that much money on…a rag. And I didn’t. My mom gave it to me, because she’s nice like that.
**By the way, because it took me an inordinate amount of time to figure out how to “properly” bake a sweet potato, the technique is this: wash, prick all over with a fork, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment to minimize the mess, and bake at 400 degrees or so for at least an hour or two, or as long as it takes to get them to exude that caramelized, syrupy goodness. Don’t be afraid of overdoing it. Serve with just salt and maybe a little butter, velvety soft skin and all.
Spiced Sweet Potato Fries
Adapted from Gourmet, January 2002
- 4 pounds sweet potatoes, washed & dried
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (more or less, just enough to lightly, lightly coat the fries)
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Mortar and pestle, spice grinder, or some such to crush spices***
- 2 large baking sheets
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Cut unpeeled potatoes into 3/4- to 1-inch wedges, and into manageable lengths if necessary. Arrange on two baking sheets with enough room to spread out in one layer.
- Rub wedges with oil, or drizzle and toss. There should just be the slightest coating of oil.
- Coarsely grind coriander, fennel, oregano, and red pepper with mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
- Stir together spices and salt.
- Sprinkle half of the spice mixture on the sweet potatoes (that’ll be about 1/4 of it per baking sheet if you’re making a full batch).
- Slide baking sheets into the oven, on the two middle racks, and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove sheets, flip each wedge over (I find myself flipping each one individually with a fork and/or clean, quick fingers. Like the oiling, maybe not the most practical, but it’s what works best for me.), and sprinkle remaining spice mixture over fries.
- Place baking sheets back in the oven, rotating so the upper sheet is now on the lower rack and vice versa, and turning so fronts are to the back this time–this makes for more even cooking!
- Bake for another 20 minutes or until they’re as tender, crisp, and toasty as you like.
***I have a mortar and pestle I use often for things like this. In addition to being useful, I think it’s just pretty sitting out on my counter. I have also used a cheap fill-and-twist adaptation of a salt/pepper grinder–I think it came filled with coarse salt, but I bought it for the grinder. Some people use an inexpensive coffee grinder set aside only for spices (because the oils can be hard to clean out, and unless you like fennel-flavored coffee, this is not so good).