Semisweet Secrets

My late mother told me to wait for post-holiday sales for great buys on anything. This adage still rings true. Even a non-Jewish holiday such as Valentine’s Day can provide residual benefits and bargains for Jewish cooks.

On Feb. 15 — and the week after — you can find many kosher chocolates marked to 75 percent off. No matter if they are in traditional “Valentine’s” shapes; you can melt them and use them in recipes.

With that in mind, chili is so heart warming — pun intended — at this frigid time of year, and I have a semisweet secret guaranteed to rev up the flavor. Add a dollop of semisweet chocolate to chili to make it the richest stew around.

Melt chocolate candies and drizzle over almost any cake or dessert, including heart-healthy treats such as baked pears or apples. And don’t forget the Israeli favorite: a combination of orange and chocolate. The best oranges are in season now, so you can use their zest and juice to enhance recipes. Coarsely chop chocolate candies to use in mandelbread or cookies. You can save heart-shaped chocolates for the Tu B’Av holiday this summer.

Outside of the chocolate world, another seasonal best is butternut squash. You can buy it in packages already peeled and diced, making soups, salads and stews so easy to prepare. My butternut squash recipe includes all of February’s top in-season picks for a delicious entrée. The crispy bread topping makes this dish a real treat.

No-Bake Chocolate Mousse Pie

Beef Butternut Squash Stew

Chocolate Chicken Mole

Tips & Tricks
• Add one ounce of semisweet or dark chocolate to any chili recipe for great results.
• Grated orange rind, pure orange juice or extract with chocolate bits make great mandelbread.
• To break up a whole chocolate bar, whack it several times with a rolling pin.
• Store any unpeeled winter squash in a dry basement, as the gourd deteriorates quickly below 50 degrees.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

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