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Sweet Potato Recipes From Food Network's 'Chopped' Champion, Danielle Saunders

The Huffington Post     First Posted: 11/13/11 08:46 AM ET   Updated: 11/13/11 08:46 AM ET

Once you've worked for P. Diddy, no challenge seems too great. In fact, it was Danielle Saunders' two-year stint as Diddy's personal chef that she says prepped her for her win on Food Network's cooking competition "Chopped."

"When you work for someone like P. Diddy and get a call at four in the morning, and it's time to do a full-on breakfast for 60 people ... pressure is something [you get] used to," Saunders says.

That isn't to say that the high-speed cooking competition was a cakewalk. In addition to the obvious challenges the "Chopped" competitors faced, Saunders says that she was underestimated as a female African-American chef. "It's funny to watch and see how people kind of discount you as the underdog," she says. "And being an African-American female, we get that in a lot of different careers."

To beat the odds, Saunders summoned not only her impressive culinary experience, but her familial ties to food as well. "My dad's from New Orleans, my mom's from Charleston, South Carolina -- two places that are known for really, really good food, and my grandfather was a chef for 35 years," she says. The collection of handwritten recipes that Saunders' grandfather left for her might've been her secret weapon during her run on "Chopped."

HuffPost Black Voices put her to the test to share how she'd cook a favorite fall ingredient: sweet potatoes.

There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown are a pale sweet potato and the darker-skinned variety Americans erroneously call a 'yam' (the true yam is not related to the sweet potato), according to The Food Lover's Companion.

When buying fresh sweet potatoes, look for ones that are small- to medium-sized with smooth, unbruised skins. At home, keep them in a dry, dark place around 55 degrees F (but not in the fridge). Under the right conditions, sweet potatoes can be stored for three to four weeks. Otherwise, you'll want to use them within a week of purchase.

"[Sweet potato] is versatile," Saunders says. "It can be savory, it can be sweet. You can mask it in things, you can make soups out of it, you can make purees ... It's just a really lovely ingredient."

Saunders, who also runs a natural convenience store and juice bar in New Jersey, is also undoubtedly partial to sweet potatoes for their superior health benefits. The orange-hued root is a rich source of beta-carotene, or vitamin A, an antioxidant that has been shown to ward off cancer-causing free radicals and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Sweet Potato And Pecan Tartlet
1  of  3
(2) 9" or 10" prepared deep-dish pie crusts, unbaked (small tart shells)
2 3/4 cups well-mashed, cooked sweet potatoes or yams, strained through a tammie
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
3 eggs, slightly beaten
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups pecans
1 cup of self-rising flour
5 tablespoons of salted butter
1 cup light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350.
In a large mixing bowl or mixer throughly beat mashed potato, sugar and butter together.
As mixture is whipping, add beaten eggs and cream.
Add spices and continue to blend on low speed. Be careful not to over beat.
Pull out oven rack and place pie crusts on it; carefully spoon in potato mixture 3/4 of the way.
Mix all topping ingredients in food processor until well incorporated.
Add streusel topping generously and bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes until topping is golden brown and a knife inserted into center comes out clean.