Barking Up the Valentine’s Day Tree


By Mari Levine


I’ve run the gamut of Valentine’s Day experiences. And while I’m rather indifferent to the general idea of the holiday, no celebration I’ve had as an adult has ever matched the ones from when I was a kid. I remember the excitement of picking out the perfect cards (in my case, always Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed), choosing which type of candy to attach to them, and then matching the message on the card to each of my classmates’ personalities.

This year, I was thinking about the adult equivalent of those childhood valentines. Now, instead of a classroom, most of us spend our days in an office. Instead of classmates, we have coworkers. And while I’m all for injecting a bit of youthful fun into the workplace, I draw the line at giving my colleagues cartoon cards that call them “dudette” and asking them to be my “mondo Valentine.” (That’s Ninja Turtle speak for “I like you.”) I wanted to bring back the Valentine’s Day tradition of bringing in treats for everyone, but this year I didn’t have time to make any quintessential adult sweets, such as homemade truffles or caramels.

Enter chocolate bark. This sweet can get pigeonholed as a December treat, but it’s easy to make (only four ingredients!), attractive to wrap and appealing to eat all year round. My coworkers will be noshing on this version, with pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and coconut, but the toppings are easy to change based on your recipients’ tastes.

Chocolate Bark with Pepitas and Coconut

Makes eight 1-ounce portions

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • Maldon sea salt


1. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

2. Stirring frequently, toast coconut in small skillet over medium heat. Once coconut turns the color of straw, transfer to small bowl to cool.

3. Add chocolate to medium, heatproof bowl and set over pot of simmering water. (Do not let water touch bottom of bowl.) Stirring frequently, heat chocolate until fully melted. Quickly pour onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet and tilt pan until distributed evenly, but not covering entire pan. (Otherwise your bark will be too thin.)

4. Sprinkle coconut, pepitas and salt, to taste, evenly over chocolate. Transfer to refrigerator until firm, about 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator and break into 1-ounce portions.

chosenfinal290pxcolor_largeReprinted with permission from Chosen Eats appears every Thursday on

Tu Bishvat Marbella Chicken with Nutty Barley Pilaf


Cooked Chicken Marbella

Tu Bishvat is a celebration of the connections we have to nature and the new year of trees. When it comes to food, trees provide us with fruit and nuts. This nutty pilaf and Tu Bishvat Marbella chicken is an ode to both fruit and nuts.

If you grew up with a copy of The Silver Palate in your parents’ kitchen then Chicken Marbella was definitely on the menu for a special occasion. In the summer we dream of fresh juicy fruit, but come fall and winter, dried fruit becomes a decadent and rich treat. We add raisins to salads to bring in some sweetness. We nibble on dried apricots or pears served on a cheese plate or charcuterie board. Sweet dried papaya and pineapple and tart cranberries and cherries find themselves sweetening up trail mixes as well.

Olives, prunes, garlic and more

The plum however, gets a bad rap when dried. Unless you grew up noshing on them as a filling for hamentaschen or as part of your grandmother’s tsimmes, prunes continue to be as unpopular as Brussels sprouts once were. Prunes have a sweet richness almost like a fortified wine or Port. They add that sweetness and richness to this wonderful chicken dish that is perfect for a weeknight dinner or a special weekend meal.

What I love about this dinner is that both the pilaf and the chicken cook in the oven so all you have to do is prep everything and let it cook. The warm oven will keep you toasty and the smells wafting out once everything starts to cook is heavenly. You do, however, need to plan ahead a little to allow time for the chicken to marinate. I suggest prepping the chicken the night before, but in a pinch all you need is two hours of marinating time.

Tu Bishvat Marbella Chicken with Nutty Barley Pilaf
(makes 8-10 servings)

For the marinade

  • 3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
    (about 2 full chicken breasts)
  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/4 cup of dry oregano
  • 2 small heads of garlic or one med/lg head
  • 2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups of prunes
    *Call them dried plums if it makes you happier
  • 1/2 c. of pitted green olives
    I like to mix two types for depth of flavour
  • 4-5 cornichons, sliced & 2 tsp. of the cornichon brine
    These can be found in jars or in bulk near the fancy cheeses or sometimes near the mustard and jarred olives at most grocery stores
  • 4 large bay leaves


For the chicken before cooking

  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • I used an Albariño


For the Pilaf

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 cup of hulled barley
    Hulled barley takes longer to cook and has a nuttier chewier texture than pearl barley. Hulled barley works perfectly for this nutty dairy-free pilaf.
  • 1/2 cup of broken up vermicelli (1 inch-size pieces approx.)
    When I think of vermicelli, I think of rice vermicelli, but here you need an egg noodle or eggless noodle version of vermicelli. You can also use a thin spaghetti broken up into small pieces. DO NOT use rice vermicelli.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. of pepper
  • 4 cups of chicken stock
    Do not use low salt stock or your pilaf will lack seasoning. If you choose low salt stock be sure to check for salt and season accordingly.
  • 1/2 cup blanched almonds
  • 1/2 a lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler




1. The chicken will need to marinate for at least two hours or overnight. The pilaf cooks for 2-3 hours in the oven and the chicken will cook in the oven next to the pilaf for the last 40 minutes, so plan accordingly. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Chicken marinade

Mix the ingredients2. Place the chicken breasts and thighs in a large bowl (glass is best). Sprinkle the chicken with 2 tsp. of Kosher salt, 1 tsp. of pepper and 1/4 cup of oregano. Mix the chicken so that it is covered with the seasonings. If you have a garlic press, press the garlic cloves from both heads of garlic over the chicken. If you do not have a press, just mince the garlic finely. Mix the chicken one more time to spread the garlic around. Over the chicken, pour: 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of olive oil.

3. Slice the cornichons into tiny rounds and toss them into the bowl with the cornichon brine. Add in the prunes, pitted olives and the bay leaves to the chicken as well. Cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or at least 2 hours).

Pilaf & Chicken:

1. For the pilaf you will start by very coarsely chopping the 1/2 cup of blanched almonds and browning them on the stove in a large dry pan over medium high heat for 5-7 minutes. Do not step away or the nuts will go from blanched to burnt in seconds.

Vermicelli with nuts

2. Set the nuts aside in a bowl or plate and then add 1 Tbsp. of oil to the pan. Over medium high heat, heat the oil and when warm, toss in 1/2 cup of the broken vermicelli. Stir the vermicelli to coat with oil and continue cooking and stirring until the vermicelli are a dark golden brown. Set the vermicelli aside with the nuts.

Vermicelli barley pilaf3. Chop the onion and two cloves of garlic. Add 1 Tbsp. of olive oil to the pan, over medium heat. Toss the onion into the pan and sauté until it becomes translucent. Then, add in the minced garlic and 1 cup of barley. Sauté for 2 more minutes. In the pan, add the toasted vermicelli and almond. Toss to mix everything together.

4. Add everything from the pan into a 3 quart baking dish as well as 4 cups of chicken broth.

5. Place the dish in the oven and cook uncovered for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the stock is
completely absorbed.

Uncooked chicken marbella

6. Now to finish the chicken. Take out a baking tray or two oven safe serving dishes that will fit all the chicken without crowding it. Arrange the chicken on your tray or serving dishes in a single layer. Pour the marinade, prunes, cornichons, bay leaves and olives around the chicken. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of brown sugar on top of the chicken. If you like a sweeter dish, you can use up to 1/2 cup of brown sugar. If you like tangy and vinegary dishes, 1/4 cup is plenty.

7. Pour 1/2 cup of white wine around the chicken and cook for 40 minutes at 350°F.

8. Once the chicken is cooked through, you can separate the pan juices to serve on the side and pour over the chicken and pilaf, or you can leave it together in the serving dish.

Whatever you do, be sure to spoon some sauce over the chicken and the pilaf before
digging in!

Looking for another chicken recipe for Shabbat? Try this easy Ginger Sesame Roast Chicken.