Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Valentine's Day Peposo

During my career as a teacher, I used to make this dish every year on a wintery day in February when my colleagues and I were at the end of our rope: the snow, the cold, the noisy, restless boys in our classrooms. It was comforting to get together, relaxing around a blazing fire as we inevitably talked shop...those boys we taught were never far from our minds. The Peposo filled our bellies and the wine brought a lighthearted silliness difficult to attain (nor would it have been recommendable) in the seriousness of our regular school setting.

This snowy Saturday, I prepared it as our Valentine's dinner to share with our cousins.

Peposo's origins are associated with the building of Brunelleschi's Duomo. Whether it's true or not, the story goes that the tiles used for the Duomo came from nearby Impruneta, an area famous to this day for its terra cotta. In Impruneta, the tile makers were in the habit of cooking this peppery, wine drenched meat in their tile making kilns. When the Duomo was built, many of these same laborers, hired to build the Duomo, cooked their Peposo all morning long, while they worked in the dizzying heights above the ground. When it was ready, the Peposo was sent up by a pulley so they could avoid the dangerous trip down.

Peposo for 6 persons

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 3 to 4 hours


  • 5 lbs chuck roast
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper (you may want to adjust this to your taste)
  • 1 tablespoon pepper corns
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • dry red wine, enough to cover the meat when ready to start cooking (about two bottles)
  • 5 bay leaves (I used fresh bay leaves, but you can use dry)
  • Olive oil for browning the meat

  1. Chop the meat into large cubes, taking care to remove fat as much as you are able to.
  2. Brown the cubes of meat with the garlic cloves in the olive oil over a medium flame, but remove the garlic cloves before they start to burn. Do this a few pieces at a time so you don't crowd your pot while you're doing this.
  3. Replace all the pieces of meat in the pot, add the bay leaves, salt, pepper corns, ground pepper, and the wine.
  4. Turn up the heat until it begins to boil, and lower until it begins to simmer. Place a lid on the pot, but leave it cracked open a bit so there is some evaporation.
  5. Stir every so often to be sure all the meat is getting cooked in the wine. After 3 or 4 hours, it will be ready, with a velvety, peppery sauce and meat that is tender and edible with a fork but still maintaining its form.

Note: You may want to prepare it a day ahead, and separate the meat chunks from the liquid in the pot. After you refrigerate it overnight, you can separate the fat that may appear on the surface of the liquid and then recombine the meat with the liquid and reheat before you serve it. I prepared an herbed polenta to go with it.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Camotes con Leche - Sweet Potatoes with milk

I retired from 30+ years of teaching a year an a half ago. Recently I went back for a day to sub for a sick colleague. Ah! the energy it takes to teach, but it's nice to come home with no papers to grade. Here's a post I wrote while I was still teaching. It's worth reposting, since camotes or sweet potatoes are available at farmer's markets everywhere right now.

As a teacher at a boys' school where we sit at the table with our students for lunch, I have an unusual opportunity to observe the appetites of these hungry boys. There are those boys who are willing to eat the meals prepared by the school staff, which on most days are healthy, tasty, and presented appetizingly. Then there are the boys who perplex me with their fixation on eating the same cold sandwich of processed meat, rubbery cheese or a limp peanut butter and jelly, day after day. To me the question is whether this is nature or nurture. Does early exposure to different foods, their natural colors, textures, and smells make a difference for a child's developing appetite? Is it like a second language where if you get it early enough, you internalize it?

I am not a nutritionist, a pediatrician, nor a child psychologist, so I'm left to ponder this. I do know that as a child of my generation and region (the border to Mexico), I had no choice but to eat food in its most natural state. My mother didn't have the choice of reaching into a pantry filled with several varieties of Corn Flakes, Fruit Loops, or Lucky Charms; and actually, I'm thankful for that. In the winter, our breakfast might be atole de avena or maĆ­s. Another favorite was a poached egg in its shell with the top broken off (to be used as its own cup) with salt and pepper stirred into it with a toothpick. Not to be beaten for its basic simplicity was the baked sweet potato smashed into a bowl of cold milk my mother often served us. The texture of the sweet potato, or camote, as it is called in nahuatl, was smooth and creamy; the color was bright orange or straw colored and the taste of the cold milk against the steamy-hot sweet potato created an odd hot/cold sensation that added to the magic of this taste.

As it turns out, many nutritionists, including those at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) believe that the single most important dietary change for children would be to replace fatty foods with foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as...yes...the very plain and simple camotes we ate when we were little. According to the CSPI, sweet potatoes are considered at the top of the nutritional scale among vegetables. They are high in dietary fiber with naturally occurring sugars, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.

So, I submit that eating well doesn't need to be complicated, and teaching your child to be curious about food doesn't have to be impossible. And starting early is key. But, as a caveat, I would also venture to say that, for your three year old, the presence of colorful boxes and bags in your pantry might possibly be too much competition. Or maybe not.

Camotes con Leche

Recipe Type: Breakfast

Prep time: 5 mins

Cook time: 1 hour 30 mins

Total time: 1 hour 35 mins

Serves: 4

  • Sweet potatoes, whatever quantity you prefer
  • Milk, to add to the bottom of your bowl of hot, smashed sweet potatoes

  1. Bake the sweet potatoes at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or more, until they are completely soft and the peel begins to separate from the sweet potato

  2. Spoon some of the sweet potato into a bowl of milk and smash it so that it more or less blends with the milk.


I prefer to buy the thin purple skinned sweet potatoes in the belief they are sweeter and faster to bake since they're not huge.

Bake a large quantity and keep them in foil in your refrigerator for up to a week until you're ready to heat them quickly in the oven.