Sweet potato fries

I like words. I get a rise out of buying two bottles of wine named with antonyms, and I relish my daily Word of the Day e-mail from Merriam-Webster. But stringing words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into complex ideas with nuances and logical organization—sometimes that just exhausts me to the bone.

On the bad days, when I try to write and all my fingers produce are convoluted fits and starts of phrases, I come home feeling hollow, depleted. It’s that terrible word F-A-I-L-U-R-E gnawing on my nerves like a dog on a hambone.

Writing is hard. Let’s cook something easy. Sweet potatoes should fit the bill.

I have a maxim in the kitchen I call the 400 Degree Rule. Essentially you take any vegetable and roast it on a baking sheet at 400 degrees with olive oil, salt, and pepper. The oven’s heat draws out the sweetness of the vegetables, caramelizing their edges, and transforming the most humble members of the garden into crispy bliss.

We’ve tried nearly everything: Asparagus. Potatoes. Broccoli. Carrots. Cauliflower. Kale. Pumpkin. Squash. Chickpeas. Root vegetables as a medley or singly (rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, to name a few). Even tomatoes. Ina Garten has a roasting recipe for anything that grows in the dirt. But in the midst of these choices, keep your eyes on the prize—that is, sweet potato fries. Because really, who doesn’t love sweet potato fries?

Sweet potato fries

The recipe below calls for baking them at 450 degrees, but I promise you 400 degrees works too. Here I chopped them into French fry matchsticks, but sliced rounds also are marvelous. Don’t worry overmuch about irregularity in thickness as you’re slicing—I find it’s nice to have an assortment of crispy and tender fries. I’m telling you, this rule is nearly foolproof.

And, as if sweet potato fries in the oven aren’t enough of a reminder that joy is never distant, last night I learned a very dear friend is engaged. May marriage be as sweet and rich in beta carotene as roasted sweet potatoes. All happiness to you both!

Sweet Potato Fries

Adapted from Chef Jean Galton, Cooking Matters

4 medium sweet potatoes

1½ teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Dash of cayenne pepper

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Scrub and rinse sweet potatoes. Pat dry with a paper or kitchen towel. Leaving skin on, cut sweet potatoes into thick French fry strips, about ½-inch wide.

Measure and mix paprika, salt, ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper in large mixing bowl to make Cajun seasoning. Add olive oil to spices and blend with a whisk or fork until there are no lumps.

Transfer sweet potato strips into the bowl and toss until they are coated on all sides. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes and check. Turn fries over and bake another 15 minutes, or until fries are desired crispness.

Regular potatoes can be substituted for all or part of the sweet potatoes. I often use a mix of both. If the fries can’t fit in a single layer on the baking sheet, use two sheets or cook in two batches. Lastly, don’t touch your face or eyes after handling the Cajun seasoning—it could burn!