Kid-friendly Rocco's Crispy Sweet Potatoes + Fragrant Rice Pilaf + Sparkling Grape Punch Recipe - Sticky Fingers Cooking
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Family Meal Plan: Rocco's Crispy Sweet Potatoes + Fragrant Rice Pilaf + Sparkling Grape Punch

Family Meal Plan: Rocco's Crispy Sweet Potatoes + Fragrant Rice Pilaf + Sparkling Grape Punch

Rocco's Crispy Sweet Potatoes + Fragrant Rice Pilaf + Sparkling Grape Punch

by Dylan Sabuco
Photo by Dylan Sabuco
prep time
20 minutes
cook time
35 minutes
4-6 servings

Fun Food Story

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Rocco's Crispy Sweet Potatoes

Rocco Chicken is a Sabuco family classic. The name of this dish comes from Chef Dylan Sabuco's dad, Roy Sabuco. He is an Italian-American and very proud of that fact. His nickname during college was Rocco (not even he could tell you where that nickname came from). When Dylan's dad was in his early 20s, he had two young daughters, a full-time job, and was going to college. He was extremely busy and needed a recipe that could feed his family but wouldn’t take up too much of his concentration. He ended up creating a dish similar to chicken piccata that pulled from his Italian upbringing. He would pound chicken extra flat and soak it in lemon juice and herbs in a baking dish in the fridge all day while he was at school or working. Then, when he would get home, the last thing to do was sprinkle the chicken with Parmesan and butter and slide it into the oven. The dish was such a hit that Dylan and his siblings still eat it 40 years later every time they are together. I hope you enjoy this Sabuco family classic with sweet potatoes substituting for chicken for an equally delectable experience!

Happy & Healthy Cooking,

Chef Erin, Food-Geek-in-Chief

Shopping List

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 green onions
  • 1/3 C frozen peas **(see allergy subs below)**
  • 1/2 C unsalted butter **(see allergy subs below)**
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried onion flakes or 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 C shelf-stable grated Parmesan cheese **(see allergy subs below)**
  • 2 C instant white rice
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 C white grape juice
  • 1 C sparkling water
  • 2 C water (to cook rice)
  • ice (optional)

Fun-Da-Mentals Kitchen Skills

  • bake :

    to cook food with dry heat, as in an oven.

  • boil :

    to cook a food in liquid heated to the point of gas bubbles and steam forming (boiling point is 212 F at sea level).

  • knife skills :

    Bear Claw (growl), Pinch, Plank, and Bridge (look out for trolls)

  • measure :

    to calculate the specific amount of an ingredient required using a measuring tool (like measuring cups or spoons).

  • mix :

    to thoroughly combine two or more ingredients until uniform in texture.

  • pour :

    to cause liquid, granules, or powder to stream from one container into another.

  • slice :

    to cut into thin pieces using a sawing motion with your knife.

Equipment Checklist

  • Small saucepan + lid
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Dry measuring cups
  • Cutting board + kid-safe knife
  • Small bowl
  • Zester (or grater with small zesting plate/side)
  • Measuring spoons
  • Wooden spoon
  • Oven
  • Baking dish (9 x 13)
  • Liquid measuring cups
  • Citrus squeezer or juicer
  • Cutting board
  • Kid-safe knife
  • Citrus squeezer (optional)
  • Pitcher


Rocco's Crispy Sweet Potatoes

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 C unsalted butter **(for DAIRY ALLERGY sub 3 T nut-free vegetable oil)**
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried onion flakes or 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 C shelf-stable grated Parmesan cheese **(for DAIRY ALLERGY sub nutritional yeast)**
  • juice of 1 lemon

Fragrant Rice Pilaf

  • 2 C water
  • 2 C instant white rice
  • 2 green onions
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 C frozen peas **(for LEGUME ALLERGY sub frozen carrots)**
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper

Sparkling Grape Punch

  • 1 squeeze lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
  • 3 C white grape juice
  • 1 C sparkling water
  • ice (optional)

Food Allergen Substitutions

Rocco's Crispy Sweet Potatoes

  • Dairy: Substitute 3 T of a nut-free vegetable oil for 1/2 C unsalted butter. Substitute nutritional yeast for shelf-stable grated Parmesan cheese.

Fragrant Rice Pilaf

  • Legume: Substitute frozen carrots for frozen peas.


Rocco's Crispy Sweet Potatoes


This week’s recipe is like an invitation to my childhood dinner table. My name is Dylan Sabuco, and I grew up in a proudly Italian household where dinner was one of the most important events of the day. It did not matter if you were happy, sad, mad, or anything in between; we all gathered around every night and had a comically oversized meal. Rocco chicken is a Sabuco family staple. My dad’s nickname is Rocco, and this dish was his go-to dish for us growing up. Traditionally, Dad would pound chicken breasts ultra-thin, sauté them quickly, and then layer the chicken with butter, lemon, herbs, and grated Parmesan cheese. After the chicken would come out of the oven, the smells would make my siblings and I run to the table. The Sticky Fingers Cooking version will substitute sweet potatoes for chicken for an equally delectable experience.


Preheat your oven to 400 F.

slice + bake

Slice 2 medium sweet potatoes into large rounds. Each potato should be about 1/2 inch thick and 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Place all the potatoes into a 9 x 13 baking dish in a single layer.

measure + zest + juice

Meanwhile, measure 1/2 cup unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried onion flakes, and 1 teaspoon salt and combine them in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Then, zest and juice 1 lemon, separating the zest and juice into 2 small bowls or measuring cups. (Set aside the zest for the Fragrant Rice Pilaf, if making, or another recipe.)

spoon + sprinkle + pour

Spoon the seasoned butter over the top of the sweet potatoes, then sprinkle 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese over the top of that. (The butter will melt its way down to the bottom of the dish as the sweet potatoes cook.) Next, pour the lemon juice into the baking dish.

bake + serve

Bake the sweet potatoes for 25 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are fork tender. Serve atop Fragrant Rice Pilaf (see recipe) and wash it down with Lemon-Berry Soda (see recipe).

Fragrant Rice Pilaf

boil + chop

Measure 2 cups water and 2 cups instant white rice. Pour those into a small saucepan, turn the heat to medium, and cover with a lid. The rice will cook for approximately 5 minutes. Meanwhile, have your kids chop 2 green onions and place them in a small bowl.

zest + measure + mix

Zest 1 lemon and place that in the bowl with the green onions. Also, measure 1/3 cup frozen peas, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1 pinch of black pepper, and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and add all of that to the same bowl. When the rice is finished steaming, pour all the ingredients from the small bowl into the pot with the rice.

sauté + serve

Sauté everything for 5 minutes and stir with a wooden spoon. Eat and enjoy! This dish pairs perfectly with Rocco's Crispy Sweet Potatoes (see recipe).

Sparkling Grape Punch


Add 1 squeeze of lemon juice to a pitcher.

pour + mix

Measure 3 cups white grape juice and 1 cup sparkling water and pour them into the pitcher. Mix a few times with a wooden spoon.

pour + cheers

Pour over ice or serve at room temperature. Cheers!

Surprise Ingredient: Sweet Potato!

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Photo by yamasan0708/

Hi!  I’m Sweet Potato!

"Sweet potatoes are root vegetables, like beets and carrots! We're very popular in the Fall, especially for holiday dinners, where you might find us baked whole or sliced and diced as part of a side dish. We also pair well with fruit and other vegetables in salads and casseroles."


  • The sweet potato originated in Central or South America, and people began cultivating them in Central America at least 5,000 years ago. 
  • Sweet potatoes have been grown in Peru for almost 3,000 years and remain one of the major crops for people in Peru.
  • When Columbus arrived in the New World, Native Americans were already growing and utilizing sweet potatoes. Columbus brought sweet potatoes back to Europe, and other explorers brought them from the New World to Asia.
  • Sweet potatoes were cultivated widely in Colonial America and were a significant form of sustenance for farmers and soldiers during the Revolutionary War.
  • As far as records show, orange sweet potatoes originally came from Puerto Rico and were named "yams" by Louisiana farmers to differentiate them from the white-fleshed variety grown in other parts of the country. Indeed, the sweet potato is officially the state vegetable of Louisiana! It's also North Carolina's official state vegetable.
  • George Washington grew sweet potatoes on his estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia.
  • North American supermarkets import much of their sweet potatoes from the Caribbean.
  • February is National Sweet Potato month!

Anatomy & Etymology

  • Sweet potatoes are edible roots, not tubers like potatoes. Actually, sweet potatoes aren't related to potatoes but are part of the Morning Glory family. Plants from this family produce beautiful flowers whose seeds were revered for their laxative properties by the Chinese.
  • The flesh of sweet potatoes can be white, yellow, orange, or even purple! 
  • Enslaved African-Аmericans called the sweet potato "nyami" because it reminded them of the starchy, edible tuber from their homeland. "Nyami" is a Senegalese word that was eventually shortened to "yam." Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams, and this is why!

How to Pick, Buy, & Eat

  • Sweet potatoes are eaten by people worldwide as they are a hearty crop that packs a lot of nutrition.
  • It's best to store sweet potatoes in cool, dark, and dry places. They won't last as long in the fridge. 
  • Small, firm sweet potatoes tend to be sweeter and creamier. Large sweet potatoes contain more starch, as they've had more time to grow and develop the starches. Look for smooth, firm, even skin.
  • Sweet potatoes should be cooked, not eaten raw. You can use them in many savory and sweet recipes.
  • Sweet potatoes make an excellent side dish—you can bake, mash, or boil them—and their nutritional benefits are increased when combined with healthy fats, like avocado, butter, or olive oil!
  • If they had their say, sweet potatoes might like to be known as everyday veggies rather than just for special occasions. For example, we in the United States eat more sweet potatoes around Thanksgiving than at any other time. But sweet potatoes are available year-round and should be enjoyed more often because of their benefits!


  • Sweet potatoes are very nutritious! Their color can tell us which nutrients they contain (like many vegetables and fruits!). 
  • If a sweet potato is orange, it contains beta-carotene (other orange foods that contain this nutrient include carrots, shrimp, and oranges). Can you hear the name of a familiar vegetable in the word "beta-carotene?" Carrot! We know that beta-carotene is good for our eyes and skin. Have you ever been asked to eat your carrots because they are good for your eyes? Beta-carotene is why! 
  • Sweet potatoes also have vitamin K, which helps our blood clot. When we get a cut, our blood clots to stop the bleeding, and vitamin K helps with this!
  • We often talk about fiber when we reveal our Surprise Ingredients because vegetables and fruits contain a lot of fiber. Sweet potatoes are no exception. So what does fiber help with? Digestion! And which body parts are responsible for digestion? Many, but namely our stomach and intestines.

What is Piccata?

Photo by WilliamEdwards14/

"Piccata" is an Italian cooking term that means "pounded flat." It is used for a dish consisting of a butterflied or sliced chicken breast or veal cutlet that has been pounded flat, dredged in flour, and browned on both sides in butter or olive oil. The chicken or veal is served with a sauce made with pan drippings and added lemon juice, white wine or stock, butter, and capers. It is often garnished with parsley.

In addition to chicken and veal, swordfish is also used to make piccata; for a meatless version, you can try seitan piccata. "Seitan" is a food made from cooked wheat gluten. Or, you can try Sticky Fingers Cooking's meatless version that uses sweet potatoes instead of chicken: Rocco's Crispy Sweet Potatoes!

Let's Learn About the Midwest!

Photo by Ronald E Grafe/
  • The Midwestern United States is in the northern central part of the country. The Midwest is between the Northeastern states and the Western states. To its north is Canada, and to its south is the Southern United States.
  • The twelve US states in the Midwest are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. People from these states tend to be very proud of their Midwestern heritage, friendliness, and traditional values.
  • The term "Midwest" first appeared in the late 1800s to describe the areas of Kansas and Nebraska. It expanded to include the twelve states currently part of the Midwest.
  • The first to settle in the area were Native Americans and French fur traders. In 1863, when the Homestead Act was passed, immigrants from Northern and Western Europe arrived to claim land for farms. They came from the British Isles, Germany, and Scandinavia. When Southern and Eastern European immigrants arrived, they settled in the cities because most of the available land had already been taken. Cities like Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit began to grow with these new residents.
  • Farmers grew wheat and corn, and others raised dairy cattle and pigs. The winters could be cold and harsh, and the summers hot and humid. They often had to deal with drought. 
  • The geography of the Midwest has grasslands (called prairies), lakes (including the Great Lakes), limestone bluffs, rivers (including the Mississippi), valleys, wetlands, and woodlands.
  • Outside the cities, some of the animals you might see in the Midwest include American badgers, American bison, black bears, coyotes, gray wolves, prairie dogs, and white-tailed deer. 
  • Thousands of sandhill cranes migrate from Mexico and the Southern US to breeding grounds in Alaska every spring. On their way, they stop in the Platte River Valley of Nebraska for about a month to fill up on leftover corn kernels, insects, and worms before continuing north.
  • The Midwest is known for having several college and professional baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey, and soccer teams. These include the Chicago Bears (football), Detroit Red Wings (ice hockey), and St. Louis Cardinals (baseball). Other popular sporting events held in the Midwest include car races, like the Indianapolis 500, and golf tournaments, like the John Deere Classic.
  • Various types of music developed their own styles when people from other countries or regions of the US came to the Midwest. Czechs and Germans brought the polka, and Southerners brought the blues, rock and roll, and jazz. 
  • Similar variations also occurred with Midwestern cuisine. There are influences from indigenous peoples and Europeans. Native Americans introduced bean, corn, potato, and pumpkin crops and taught settlers ways to preserve game. Scandinavians brought lutefisk, butter cookies, and æbleskiver. Germans brought sauerbraten, schnitzel, and pumpernickel bread. 
  • Some of the foods the Midwest is known for are Chicago-style hot dogs and pizza, Cincinnati Chili, Cleveland-style cassata cake, fish fries, fried pork tenderloin sandwich, Indiana sugar cream pie, Iowa loose-meat sandwich, Kansas City-style barbecue, Ohio buckeye candy and sauerkraut balls, Omaha steaks, Springfield horseshoe sandwich, and St. Louis gooey butter cake.

THYME for a Laugh

What do you call a sweet potato who spends a lot of time sitting and thinking?


The Yolk's On You

What did one grape say to the other grape? 

"If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be in this jam!"

That's Berry Funny

What do polite vegetables always say? 

Peas to meet you!

Lettuce Joke Around

Why aren't grapes ever lonely? 

Because they come in bunches!

That's Berry Funny

What do you say to an angry sweet potato? 

Anything, just butter him up first.

THYME for a Laugh

What do you call a sweet potato that is reluctant to jump into boiling water? 

Hez A Tator

That's Berry Funny

What did one rice say to the other rice? 

"I hope I see you a-grain!"

Lettuce Joke Around

Did you hear the tall tale about rice? 

There wasn’t a grain of truth behind it!

That's Berry Funny

What did the green grape say to the purple grape? 

Breathe! Breathe!

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