Tender Passionfruit Chicken with Sweet Potato Au Gratin


A strange combination, yes, but I promise, it works! But, before we get to the recipe, I’m going to subject you to a little piece I call: What Jessie Did At School Today.

Before school, I fueled up on chocolate raspberry oatmeal:

Hot oatmeal, frozen raspberries, and a spoonful of Chillin’ Chocolate.

As part of our food service dietetics training, today we worked as free labor student helpers in one of the University dining halls. (I’m just kidding about the free labor, of course. We were READY and WILLING volunteers.) After a quick meeting with the head manager, Kristen and I made enormous batches of pancake batter and French toast batter. Do you know what a quart of canola oil looks like? I didn’t.

In the afternoon, we chopped countless tomatoes and red peppers. I have a huge amount of respect for people who prep food for hours a day.

Kristen washing a HUGE colander of red peppers:

While I was cutting up the tomatoes, I almost gagged at what was being prepped across from me:

That would be a large cafeteria-sized bin of chopped celery. Vile weed. I tried not to look at it directly, but the celery odor was almost too much. Then, after I finished the tomatoes … disaster!

Yup, we were assigned to chop celery. You know, the repulsive odor ain’t so bad after you’ve been chopping celery for 20 minutes. I considered it an exercise in endurance.

The cafeteria’s new dish machine takes up a whole room and rotates trays from the eating area to the dish room, where dishes are washed and food waste is put through a composter. Good for you, UConn – going green!

After a long day in the dining hall kitchen, I decided to go home and … cook. Remember when I talked about the catered meal my dietetics program gave last week? The sweet potato gratin were served was from this recipe, and while it was delicious, the several pints of heavy cream going into the potatoes wasn’t going to cut it for me. So, I decided to make

Jessified Sweet Potato Au Gratin

4 large sweet potatoes
2 cups skim milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in a little water

For topping:
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup whole grain panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Wash and thinly slice sweet potatoes (I bought organic sweet potatoes so that I could leave the fiber-riffic skin on, but you can peel your potatoes first).

Place into large saucepan with milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, peppers, and dissolved cornstarch. Let simmer over medium heat until potatoes are soft.

Can you see the camera lens reflected in the spoon?

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat and toast breadcrumbs until they are golden brown (this move helps keep the breadcrumbs from getting soggy when baked).

You can use olive oil instead of butter, but the bread crumbs won’t have that beautiful golden color.

Once potatoes are soft, place contents of saucepan into a large baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, top potatoes with sauteed breadcrumbs and shredded cheese. Bake for 5 more minutes.

Dish #2? Tender Passionfruit Chicken

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup passionfruit juice

1 cup passionfruit juice
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp ginger, minced
Pinch cayenne pepper

Place chicken in a large saucepan. If you’re cool like Peter, you can Jaccard your chicken first.

Pour 1/4 passionfruit juice over chicken and add enough water to cover. Simmer on medium-low until middle of chicken is 165 degrees F (you practice food safety, right??).

For the sauce, place all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved.

I put the minced ginger in a tea strainer and let it simmer in the sauce, but I think next time I would puree the ginger right into the sauce to highlight the pungent ginger taste.

Freeze leftover juice in an ice cube tray to give convenient future portions, if desired.

When heated through and sugar is dissolved, spoon sauce over chicken and serve with a smile 🙂

The poached chicken was tender and flavorful, and the spicy tart sauce was such a lovely contrast to the smooth potatoes. An unusual combination, but it’s good to spice things up sometimes, isn’t it?

Before I go, thanks to all of you for your wonderful comments on my last post about nutrition labels! I loved reading each and every one of your thoughtful comments. It seems like a lot of you feel that placing a nutrition label on the front of food packages won’t make much of a difference to consumers (an opinion with which I agree). I guess we’ll just have to see if the FDA actually implements this change and what the results will be.

A few of your comments really jumped out at me as I was reading them. First, Melinda writes:

I do think standardizing the labeling terms is a good idea. I hate the word natural as it is used to mean anything. Last I checked, and I always remind my clients, lead and arsenic are natural too, and I certainly would not consider these healthy. In fact, I am allergic to smelly cleaning products and the server at a restaurant when I asked him to stop because of my allergy told me not to worry as it was all natural. I had to remind him flowers are all natural too and I am allergic to those too.

Melinda, that is such a great point. The word “natural” has become so diluted with overuse, it’s easy to take for granted. Other dishonorable mentions: the labels “Green” and “Fresh”. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to be aware of what we’re buying and putting into our bodies.

Lauren writes:

I think the bigger problem is the non-standard serving sizes. Wouldn’t it be nice if serving sizes were based on an amount a person is actually going to eat/drink in one sitting rather than the amount that makes the calorie count seem lower?? Making something like a small bottle of coke (or any other sugary drink) look like 2 servings is totally misleading since what person is going to drink ONLY 8 ounces and then save the bottle for later?

That is a great point that I didn’t bring up in my last post. For those who are not keeping tabs on portion size, then this issue is not a problem. However, for people who are keeping track of their intakes – for example, diabetics who MUST space their carbohydrates through the day to keep their blood sugars steady and their bodies healthy – serving sizes on nutrition labels can be confusing and frustrating. Yes, the serving size information is right on the food package, but for people who never learned how to read labels, or people who cannot carry out basic math, calculating out how much you have eaten calorie-wise or carb-wise can be a nightmare. Perhaps nutrition labels should include a “per package” calorie count, etc, as well as the regular nutrition information?

Anyway, before I get all het up, I think it’s time to end this entry. 🙂 I hope you all have a wonderful evening!


  1. I love reading about what you’re doing because I’ll be doing the same thing in the future! I don’t know if I’m so pumped to be working in a dining hall though lol. Large scale food operations kind of freak me out

    The labels on packages definitely need to be regulated more. Case in point: the latest box of cocoa krispies that “helps your child’s immunity.” ughh

    1. Yeah, that one is INSANE 🙁

  2. So much deliciousness going on in this post!! Your tender passionfruit chicken with sweet potato au gratin looks soooo good. I think it’s a brilliantly creative combination. Well done!! 🙂

  3. When I was a teenager I tried working in the kitchen of a restaurant and it was mostly prep work – chopping veggies – as well as putting together cold dishes like salads and desserts. It’s hard work!! I think that was the shortest job I ever had, I didn’t like it very much. Of course, the stress of a restaurant kitchen at dinnertime didn’t help – eek!!

  4. phewww washing those red bell peppers sure was exhausting! haha but we did perfect our pancake flipping skills and overcame our aversion to celery! i’d say a VERY successful day 🙂 Just bookmarked your “jessified” sweet potato au gratin from our meal–cant wait to make this at home! thanks girl!

  5. Wow, that sounds fun. Yes, it sounds FUN! I love kitchen work.

    By the way…this is so out of topic…but you have GORGEOUS perfect eyebrows!!

    1. Haha! Oh, Sophia 😛

  6. Haha, hearing you talk about celery reminds me of my own aversion to mushrooms…I love veggies, but those things just gross me out!!

    20 oz bottles of coke now have the per-bottle labeling on them, and I think that’s far more useful than front of the label packaging. The serving sizes are usually ridiculous…7 tortilla chips? Come on. Plus, it’s usually measured in ounces, and I don’t know of anyone who whips out a food scale to weigh their snacks.

    Great topic!

    1. I didn’t know that about the Coke – thanks for the info!

  7. What?! I love celery!! The smells is fantastic! hehe

    I’ve never had passionfruit!

    And I have to agree with Sophia now that she’s pointed it out – fantastic eyebrows missy! 🙂

  8. Wow, I never knew you hated celery THAT much. Another reason why I love blogging, you keep finding new things about your blog friends.

    Both your dishes sound great but I think I’d probably give the Tender Passionfruit Chicken a try just cause there aren’t many ingredients and it seems simple enough for me not to mess up anything. Good tip with freezing the leftover juice. No need to waste anything if you don’t have to – I likies 😀 Have a good Wednesday.

  9. I like the idea of a per package calorie count. I know I am really serious about looking at what the serving size is before I eat but most people aren’t and it would be easier if it was more standardized. We just can’t expect that everyone will scrutinize labels when they are busy 🙂

    Chocolate raspberry oatmeal sounds AMAZING seriously.

  10. I shuddered at that celery also. The only vegetable that I absolutely can NOT eat.

    That sweet potato gratin sounds like HEAVEN! I’m going to use the phrase “Jess-ify” from now on instead of healthify. I like it a lot better.

  11. thank you so much for your beautiful comment on my blog. made me feel much better about not gonig to the party. <3 *big hug*

    also. i love putting frozen berries in my oatmeal too. gives it a unique texture/taste. love the pics!

  12. I’m laughing at you not liking celery…it’s so good!

    I love gratins but I always make a leek & potato one. Never would have thought of using sweet potato gratin…or of leaving the peel on…what a great idea!

    I think calorie counts are so dodgy – if you want complete accuracy you have to weigh. Think of a bag of pita bread, or chips – the sizes are so different per individual piece so if macro-counting is your thing the only way to go is by a scale.

  13. Thanks for the shout-out 🙂 I think having per-package nutrition facts would be great — especially for things that are really meant to be consumed in one sitting. Something may actually be healthy in a small amount, but it’s so easy to eat more than you intended if you can’t accurately figure out the number of ounces that make a true serving!

    I also love hearing about what you are doing — it’s a great inside look on something I hope to do (sooner rather than later!)

    And (finally!) I love your “Jess-ified” sweet potato au gratin! I’ll definitely be making it 🙂

  14. Sweet Potato Au Gratin looks amazingly delicious. I’m going to have to add it to our menu for next week.

  15. This is quite possibly the best recipe duo I’ve seen in the last two weeks. I am crazy in love with the sweet potato gratin and the passionfruit chicken!!!!!!! Sorry for the excessive exclamation marks, but it was so called for. I will absolutely bookmark those sweeties! Great job!

    I laughed out loud at your repulsion to celery. It does have a potent smell! I never thought anyone felt one way or the other about the veg, but I’m so glad to see your unique hatred of it!

    I think Lauren brings up an excellent point that serving sizes should be more standardized. Amen! I see things all the time that appear to have great stats, but for such a small portion. It needs to be more honest and true to consumption!

  16. Ahh..the good ‘ol food service days. I hate to say I don’t miss them. haha.
    The sweet potato au gratin looks delish! I love that you made it a healthier dish.
    I am sorry that I haven’t been able to find that article about the propsed label. I will keep searching cause I am pretty sure I saved it. It was not something that would be happening anytime soon just some ideas for what could make it easier to read.

    1. Thanks ok, Kristen, thanks for checking anyway!

  17. You do such a great job of cooking and eating healthy, “real” food as a college student, I am impressed!

  18. I could chomp celery like I breathe air.

    In fact I like to eat it dipped in sweet potato mash. Maybe one day I’ll even try it with Jessified sweet potato au gratin.

    Lastly, thank you, my dear, for not skimping on the butter. These things need to be appreciated.

    1. A little butter is great for tying together a whole dish 🙂

  19. The Jaccard is an awesome tool. Why am I not surprised you own one? Now you can buy cheap cuts of meat and turn them as tender as filet! At least that is what I would say if I was on an infomercial or something.

    1. I live with Peter – how chould we not have a Jaccard??

  20. wow you were quite busy at school for sure! love your jessified recipe-how fun 🙂
    portions should definitely be standardized!

  21. Celery cutting aside, it looks like it was a fun day of volunteering! (And I know what you mean about celery — I think it’s my least favorite veggie, unless it’s cooked like in soup or something.) That sweet potato gratin looks really delicious!

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