One Valentine’s Day…

The Most Chocolaty Chocolate has a secret ingredient – Coffee!

The week before Valentine’s Day this year, I invited my mother-in-law, a devoted chocaholic and romantic, and two recently wed girlfriends to dinner.  They are sappily in love; I knew they would be the perfect guests for the celebration of all thing hearts and roses.

I set the table in a cheery riot of red, pink and white, consulted with one of my clever nieces about the secrets behind the heavenly beef Stroganoff she’d made for us recently, and checked the pantry to make sure I had all the ingredients for chocolate mousse.  I’m not much of a dessert maker, but chocolate something is required for Valentine’s Day, and an even younger niece than the Stroganoff expert assured me it was “dead easy”.

I planned comestible presents for all comers, since we all are about to move house and in divesting rather than acquiring modes: chocolate truffles for my mother-in-law, champagne for my husband, and a bag of Café Suisse for the coffee aficionado.  I got their dog and our new puppy each a piece of elk antler to gnaw on.  The exception was a craft project I’d begun quite a while ago as a birthday present for my closer friend of the two, a wooden tray with the image of a (her) cat left in natural wood grain while the rest of the surface was painted green, her favorite color.  The date of her recent birthday was on the back.  It looked great and just needed just one more coast of paint.

What is it that people say about the best laid plans… or rushing… or getting carried away with a concept?  Before running to the grocery store, I sprayed on what was to be the last coat of color to the tray.  When I returned, I discovered only a dash of Worcestershire sauce in the bottle, not the 3 tablespoons required, and rang my neighbors to borrow some.  They weren’t home, but encouraged me to go and find it in their fridge, where I managed to knock over a mug of chai as I pulled out the bottle from the rack on the refrigerator door.  Our guests called just then to ask if they should bring the dog.  I said “Yes!”, and nearly added, “But don’t leave yet!  It’s only 4:30; I’m standing in a puddle of chai in someone else’s kitchen and haven’t made your dessert yet!”  Instead, I cleaned up the chai flood and went home to finish cooking.

I’d made some Mokk-a Espresso for the mousse (recipe attached) and left it on the counter to cool. Assuming I’d made him a little treat in the Valentine’s Day spirit, my husband was just finishing it when I came back into the kitchen.  “Delicious Darling,” he said looking up from the paper he was editing, “Thank you!”  I let him kiss me but growled a little and began to make another cup.

Well, the chocolate stubbornly wouldn’t melt completely in the double boiler and my young niece was not available by phone, her message cheerily announced that to maintain her stellar GPA, she was probably hard at work in the library….  “Damn overachiever!” I muttered as I went to the basement to retrieve the wooden tray to wrap.

The paint had gone on in a strange grainy texture and it came off grey and powdery on my hands.  It looked awful, sort of like the chocolate upstairs – all dry and clumpy.  With the temperature outside at 3 degrees F, the basement must have been too cold to paint.  I drop kicked it into the kindling box and stomped upstairs, forgetting to bring wine with me, furious with myself for being so unorganized.  Before I got halfway up the stairs, I heard wild barking as the two dogs met each other for the first time.  “Hello-o!  We’re early!” called the girls over the din.

It took me a good half hour to recover my good humor, but my friends simply avoided me until I got the lumpy mousse in the little pots.  A completely jolly dinner ensued, and in the end, we all agreed that the mousse was delicious although the texture was odd, somewhere between tapioca pudding and stracciatelli gelato.  I know a wonderful cook who insists that love is the most important ingredient in any meal, but that night the vote was unanimous for coffee, the secret ingredient that makes chocolate taste even “chocolatier”.