What to cook in February: Lots of chocolate, braised everything
Radicchio, sunchokes and all of the winter food you so deserve to indulge in
If you let the new year motivate you to eat better, cook more at home, and pack your lunch, don't get derailed in February! All you need to do to stay on track may be to seek out vegetables that still make sense in winter, things like radicchio and sunchokes which we'll cover below. And try your hand at braising, a cooking method relying on a bit of liquid and gentle heat to tease tenderness and sweetness out of… everything! It's how you should be cooking most things this month, letting the oven do the work while warming your kitchen too.
And don't forget Valentine's Day coming up on the 14th. Whether you subscribe to the holiday or not, it is an excellent excuse to eat chocolate. We're going to cover some delicious ways to do that, either sweet or savoury, depending on your mood.
A cooking method that works wonders on both vegetables or protein, braising creates a little micro-oven inside your cooking vessel by trapping in liquid and steam (and therefore heat). Add less liquid than if you were cooking a stew, and keep any meat or fish whole or in large chunks, if that's what you're braising. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Make a Neapolitan beef ragu. Do it on a Sunday afternoon and you'll have a beautiful roast to gather the family around. Serve it Italian-style by plating bowls of pasta with the sauce as a first course and then digging into the meat as the main affair. Shred the leftover roast into the sauce and eat it for lunch the next day on a baked potato, polenta, or pasta.
Braise a bunch of greens. You can do this on the stove as the cooking time will be short. Collect a selection of greens like mustard, collard, kale or dandelion; one bunch feeds about two people, and any leftovers make a nice frittata. Wash and discard the toughest parts of the stems, then braise them in some chicken stock with a few smashed cloves of garlic and chili flakes.
Cut a green cabbage into eight wedges and braise with stock, a drizzle of oil, a thinly sliced onion and carrot, and a bay leaf. You'll want to lay the cabbage in a single layer and cook it for 2 hours or so at 350F degrees until the cabbage is soft. Serve splashed with a bit of balsamic vinegar at the end.
Turn whole scallions into the sweetest threads of green by braising for 30-45 minutes in butter, water and a scattering of fresh tarragon. Once soft, remove the lid and crank the heat up until the liquid evaporates and the scallions start to brown. Season with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Five heads of scallions feeds 4-5 adults, so plan accordingly.
Prized for its bitterness and vibrant purple or butter yellow variegated leaves, radicchio is arguably the prettiest bunch to have on your plate right now. Mix two contrasting varieties together, like Castelfranco and Treviso, for a stunning winter salad. Here's how to do that, along with a few other ways to work with it.
Make a radicchio salad by soaking the greens in cold water for at least two hours or overnight in the fridge to tame its bitterness. Dress the torn leaves lightly in oil and lemon juice and toss in some orange slices. Use a light hand with the dressing as the excess tends to just slide off the thick leaves and pool on the plate.
Wilt chopped radicchio in a cast iron pan. The heat draws out the vegetable's sweetness, making it a brilliant match for a pungent cheese, like blue.
Bake radicchio into a gratin. Look up a recipe online and make it ahead of time if you're entertaining. Take it up a notch by steeping the milk for the bechamel with fresh sage or thyme before thickening it with the fat and flour. Top the whole dish with breadcrumbs for crunch.
Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, these mini potato-like root vegetables originated in North America. Look for ones with less knobs for easy peeling, if the recipe requires that you do, or you can blanch them first will to help with the task.
Cooking them longer, by about 15 minutes, in lemon juice, is just one of the many remedies you'll come across on the internet if you find yourself sensitive to the inulin in, um, "fartichokes". But that unusual type of carbohydrate is also a prebiotic, and one of the keys to a healthy gut, so don't write sunchokes off completely. Here are a few ways to cook with them, if only in small amounts.
Make creamy sunchoke soup. Pair them with potatoes and onions and boil everything until tender in a really good beef stock if you have it. Puree until smooth before stirring in some mascarpone or cream cheese to melt in the hot liquid. Serve topped with toasted hazelnuts, buckwheat groats, or croutons.
Shallow-fry thinly sliced sunchokes and serve as a seasonal appetizer. Do the frying in a wide skillet so they'll have lots of room in which to brown. Once the sunchokes are tender and crisping at the edges, lift out with a slotted spoon and sprinkle with flakey salt. This dish goes especially well with beer, should the spirit move you.
Bake them into a savoury tart. Slice them thin and boil in salted water first until they're tender. Roll out some store-bought puff pastry if you don't feel like making your own and scatter them over top along with sauteed fennel and sausage or caramelized onions for a vegetarian version. Sprinkle with your favourite cheese, maybe something like a gruyere should you have it kicking around. Bake until bubbly.
We won't go so far as to say chocolate will cure your winter blues, but it can help. Make a treat for your lover or a savoury dish for yourself, there's no wrong way.
Whip up a one-ingredient chocolate mousse. Or ok, two if you're counting water. We've actually got a recipe right here for it. Study the technique and turn that bar of chocolate in your cupboard into a lusciously creamy, instant dessert.
Make dark chocolate granola to help take the chill off winter mornings. Find a recipe you like and then play with it to make it your own. Try adding ingredients like coconut flakes (bigger than the shredded kind), hemp hearts, or raw buckwheat groats which toast up crispy in the oven. Another trick we like for granola? Using melted salted butter in place of the oil.
Bake a chocolate and local stout cake, or use the darkest beer you can get your hands on. The brew helps keep the cake moist and adds a more complex flavour than milk or water. Ice the cake with an easy chocolate ganache, or a cream cheese frosting for colour contrast.
Explore chocolate's savoury side with chocolate chicken mole. While you can go all out and make an authentic Mexican mole, a simplified version with less than the typical 30 or so ingredients can be just as satisfying, and surprising! Have your guests try and guess the secret ingredient.
So there you have it. All the food ideas you need right now to keep you cooking seasonally and on point. Looking for recipes with a little more detail? Make a few of the ones below.
Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.