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I’m curious as to how large the “chocolate” and “coffee” tags in the sidebar can get. With enough mentions, maybe this whole blog will be taken over with CHOCOLATE and COFFEE. Worse things could happen. The following recipe is more an assembly job than anything. You can play around with it, add fruit, subtract coffee, etc. Ultrapasteurization will not make your mousse fall on its face; it’s just a flavor thing. I would summarize the UP/P difference as slightly artificially creamy (most brands add carrageenan to thicken it) vs. melt-in-your-mouth creamy.

Mousse a la Mocha
1 c. heavy whipping cream, pref. pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), well chilled but never frozen
4-6 oz. dark chocolate (around 70% works great), to taste
2 Tbsp strong brewed coffee

Chill beaters, spoon (for scraping sides of bowl), and bowl for beating cream (and holding finished mousse) for 30 minutes or so. When the 30 minutes is about up, melt the chocolate in your preferred way. I like to set a metal mixing bowl atop a small saucepan filled halfway with water, which I keep at a simmer until the chocolate is mostly melted. Then stir in the coffee.

Take the chilled apparatus out of the freezer and immediately whip the cream until it achieves soft peaks (when beaters are lifted straight out of the bowl, soft peaks will curl over). Do this by making violent circles with a hand mixer on high speed, trying to keep the cream inside the bowl, for a couple minutes or however long it takes. (Discerning the “soft peak” point seems to require anexperienced eye. I have made it too soft, so that some of it returns to liquid while chilling in the fridge, and too stiff, such that the texture—though thankfully not the flavor— approximates creamed butter. As long as you don’t beat the cream straight into Butter Land, it’s pretty forgiving.) You can then fold in the chocolate/coffee mixture, or alternatively, stop beating just before the soft-peak point, add the chocolate, and then beat until you’ve reached the right consistency. Refrigerate at least a couple of hours and serve. Makes about four servings.

Just as an aesthetic consideration: though it doesn’t bother me, I have not figured out how to avoid having small chunks/bits of chocolate floating around in the mousse, even when I melt it thoroughly. If anyone knows the secret to making it nice and smooth, please advise.

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To try and balance out the tags, I will talk a bit about my discovery of the addictive hobby that is BIRD-WATCHING. As we cannot currently have “real” domestic pets, last week I bought a cheap feeder and some not-so-cheap bird seed in order to attract some cute creatures to our lonely domicile during the day. it took the chickadees and the squirrels only a couple of days to locate the feeder. I’ve found I can stand three feet away from the whole situation (which now includes a makeshift bird bath, per the bird seed bag’s instructions), and as long as I remain perfectly still, the birds have no qualms about coming to feed and chatter and even kiss right in front of me. Who needs a snuggly kitten when you have so many feathered friends? Well. . . I can still want one. But having happy, chirping, beautifully colored birds in view all day makes it even easier to love being a housewife. If anyone is interested, I’ve collected some homemade bird feed ideas from various websites that I could pass on to you here, though I haven’t tested any of them myself yet.

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Finally, a Trader Joe’s update/unofficial ad. How I love that store. The unsweetened baking chocolate at $.99/8 oz was sadly no more (now $2.50 ea, I think), but their “Pound Plus” bars (17.6 oz) are $3.50-$3.99. That’s $.20-$.23 cents an oz, folks, and it tastes just fine to me. Lest you begin to suspect that I try to feed us on coffee and chocolate, with an occasional vegetable, here’s a sample of the other good buys I found today:
* TJ’s Pomegranate green tea (64 oz), $2.99 — so refreshing, and a very subtle tea flavor; I usually hate cold tea
* Chicken drumsticks, $.99/lb — and no, they do not package them in 10 lb cases as a cruel trick.
* TJ’s peppermint Castile soap — a longtime favorite. As the label says, use it for your body, your hair, your body and hair on a camping trip (? whatever), your hands, your dishes, your floors, your countertops, your baby’s bottom, etc. It smells great and, on top of the overwhelming versatility, has aloe vera to moisturize whatever surface it ends up on. (I’ve always wanted creamy floors.)

Heidi mentioned in the comments that coffee and chocolate are reputed to go well together and asked if I had any experience mixing them. Yes, I have, perhaps most successfully in a rich chocolate cake calling for hot water, for which coffee is a “duh” substitute. Several years ago my sister and I made this cake for a Valentine’s dinner for my parents. I made it again more recently and must add a disclaimer. It is probably the moistest and best chocolate cake I’ve ever made, or even tasted (thus was my father’s claim, but who knows if he was indulging us); however, both times I have made it, it has crumbled terribly in the midst of stacking and then cutting the layers. It could be that I did something wrong in assembling it, or it could be that the cake is so moist that it is impossibly delicate. Once I looked up an index of baking problems to see what this crumbling tendency could mean. The helpful answer? “Too much fat.” HA. Sorry, not going to modify that. So, in sum, don’t count on this cake being presentable the first time around—just delectable.

(You could fit the batter into 2 10″ cake pans—or if your 9″ pans are 2″ deep, those would work—and see if thicker layers prevent crumbling. It will need to bake about 10 minutes longer if you use just 2 pans. In case of utter structural collapse, go ahead and make a dessert soup out of milky icing and chocolate “croutons”. Tell any snobbish guests that it’s become all the rage in Paris.)

Chocolate Velvet Cake (from a 2003 edition of Southern Living)
1 1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
16 oz. light brown sugar
1 stick butter, softened
2 c. all-purpose flour, sifted (measure the flour after you sift it onto wax paper)
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. hot water or coffee (preferred!)
3 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
8 oz. sour cream
2 tsp vanilla

Melt chocolate in microwave or over double boiler. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together at medium speed for about 5 minutes. Add eggs and beat just until blended after each addition. Mix in the chocolate.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour, at low speed just until blended. Gradually add 1 c. hot water or coffee in a slow, steady stream, just until blended. Stir in vanilla.

Spoon batter into 3 greased and floured 9″ cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove layers from pans and let cool completely on the rack.

Here’s a buttercream frosting suggestion, to yield 6 cups (you might have a bit extra).
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c. milk
32 oz. powdered sugar
1 Tbsp strong brewed coffee
Cream butter; gradually add sugar alternately with milk, beating at low speed after each addition until blended. Stir in coffee. Frost your cake.

Well, a couple days after I asked for a 12-step program—er, advice about shopping frugally for coffee, I made a trip down to our local (sadly, as in “40-mile-radius” local) Trader Joe’s, sort of a middle-class gourmet store with an emphasis on organic products. There were some great finds, as expected: I spent just about $20 on 5 good-sized bags of frozen produce (some of it organic), enough oranges and lemons to last me two weeks, organic celery, bananas, and a couple organic apples. As for the cost, sure, I could do better at Wal-Mart, but I have been repulsed by the usual state of their produce department around here. I don’t think I could do better at Publix, my regular standby, even though they have their own store-brand organics line, for which kudos to them, I guess.

Best of all, though, Trader Joe’s turned out to be a great place to buy coffee. I do remember that the selection was quite limited: what I left with may have been the only full-caff, whole bean option. Not a problem; I don’t need lots of brew variety. Consistent drinkability is all I ask. I am not a demanding connoisseur capable of detecting “high” and “low” notes and sniffing for obscure olfactory characteristics and swirling it around in my mug, or whatever coffee connoisseurs do. But I have tasted some simply unpotable coffee in my day. And after opening the Experiment this morning, I bring you good news of great joy: a $4.99 12-oz canister of ultra-dark Sumatra whole bean coffee is, my friends, quite potable. It goes down all the more smoothly with a little heavy cream and the sweet knowledge that I am drinking a mere .25 cent cup. I will say that I am glad to be the only regular coffee drinker in this household, as we would otherwise be replacing it every 10 days (a 12-oz canister comes out to about 20 12-oz servings using a French press). Still not the cheapest habit, but I remain unconvinced that I need to kick it for any reason.

Oh, um, speaking of un-cheap habits. . . let me just put in one more plug for a TJ’s product I chanced upon in this visit, a product near and dear to many a female heart. Tell me, where can you find decent, let alone absolutely satisfactory, bars of unsweetened (and semisweet) baking chocolate at .99 cents for 8 ounces? And that not on sale, but at regular price? . . .

My name is Laura, and I am addicted to gourmet coffee. I knew I should have declined the bag of Arabian Mocha Sanani that Kilby brought as part of her wedding gift. I was already hooked on Starbucks but was going to try and downgrade for the pocketbook’s sake—never mind that I had tried this once before and was absolutely disgusted with the other options. We stocked up on the Good Stuff when it was on sale last month, and I just opened up my last “stash bag.” Yes, I suspect I am, and rather hate, merely paying for the Starbucks name. I don’t think I need gourmet, per se, to make me happy; I just need drinkable, ideally slightly pleasurable coffee. Any recommendations would be appreciated.

I don’t mean to make my first post off-topic. I see this as a matter of frugal shopping, something I am pleased to use some of my time to accomplish while my husband is laboring away to keep us fed and sheltered. My strategies so far are: 1) make weekly grocery lists from the sales circular, not the gourmet cookbook; 2) shop around, but sensibly—gas prices now easily offset any minute savings from the store further down the road; and 3) try to make everything possible from scratch. It does help to “cost out” the actual bargain if I make something myself rather than buying it ready-made to any degree. For example, I can make pretty good scones, which are also pretty healthy for scones, for $.29 each, or $2.32 for a batch. A certain favorite cafe sells scones for upwards of $3 a piece, and if you ask me they’re better off sticking with coffee anyway. Maybe I am just compulsive, but doing this sort of math makes me feel powerful and useful—and is consequently a bit addicting.

I have been a full-time housewife for exactly two months, currently residing in my native South with a displaced (and endearingly disgruntled) Yankee. I will try very hard not to show you all up with my, as one has already put it, vast expertise. … Really I am hungry for all sorts of housekeeping wisdom, and as I come across particularly ingenious tips I will share them here.

August 2017
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