Even over a Zoom call, Melina Hammer has a gift for making a person feel right at home. The writer, photographer and co-proprietor of the stunning Catbird Cottage in New York state exudes relaxed hospitality.
And while her new cookbook, "A Year at Catbird Cottage: Recipes for a Nourished Life," brims with beautiful scenes from a life of cooking, entertaining, foraging and gardening that is far from the takeout and Netflix reality of my own, her recipes and advice — for comforting but inventive seasonal fare like scallop-shiso ceviche or maple-gochujang ribs — remain somehow eminently attainable.
"I find that our lives are really bogged down these days, and it's all too easy to feel dismayed or overwhelmed," Hammer says. "I have found for my own self that creating the life I'm living right now — and now writing about it — has produced a slowing down that is incredibly crucial. It has brought me to the present moment. Connecting to nature, growing food, foraging food, connecting to a harvest that is a beautiful array in front of you — all of those are incredibly precious things that can bring us very naturally into the present moment and bring peace and joy and fulfillment."
For me, few things bring more peace and joy than an old-school chocolate mousse. Hammer's "Catbird Cottage" recipe comes via "a page torn out of a Playboy magazine, circa 1990," so you know it's the real deal. She makes hers with a generous kick of Kahlúa, but I was recently disappointed to learn that my local liquor store didn't have any in stock.
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Determined one recent evening to make a boozy mousse (if a less coffee-forward one), I substituted some Maker's Mark that I had on hand at home. I also suspect that you could use rum to excellent effect here.
The whole business came together in less than 15 minutes. In an ideal world, I'd have chilled the mousse overnight, but honestly, I just stuck mine in the fridge before making dinner. It did not disappoint for dessert.
For even the most rushed and burned out among us, "A Year at Catbird Cottage" makes the case for the peaceful pleasure of cooking and what Hammer calls "this simple, but meaningful work that's put together into something that was made with love or deliberation and deliberateness."
As she says, "Especially when it becomes something that's truly delicious, there's nothing better. It's like, holy moly, I want to do that again." I invite you to make this mousse and find your own holy moly moment tonight.
Recipe: Rich and Boozy Chocolate Mousse
Inspired by Melina Hammer's "A Year at Catbird Cottage: Recipes for a Nourished Life"
- 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
- 2 eggs, separated
- 3 tablespoons bourbon or Kahlúa
- 1⁄2 teaspoon finely ground coffee or instant espresso
- 8 ounces chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Flaky salt
In a microwave-proof bowl, melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave in 15 second intervals until melted. Stir until smooth and well blended. (This should take less than a minute.)
Stir the chocolate mixture into the sugar and egg yolk mixture until incorporated. Add a third of the cream and stir until blended.
Add the cream to the chocolate mixture and fold in until there are no streaks.
In another bowl (preferably stainless steel if you have one), whip the egg whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture until fully incorporated.
Spoon the mousse into individual bowls. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Serve cold, topped with a pinch of flaky salt and whipped cream (if you feel like it).
This recipe contains raw eggs and therefore has a higher risk of salmonella. If you're at a greater risk for severe illness, you can scratch that decadence itch with an easy-baked flourless chocolate cake instead.
The elderly, pregnant individuals and children, and people who are immunocompromised are at "greater risk for serve illness" from salmonella, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. To discover what you need to know about egg safety, read this article on the agency's website.
More of our favorite chocolate desserts:
- No baking is required to make this 5-ingredient chocolate truffle pie
- The best brownies are gluten free and have soy sauce in them — really
- Make Giada De Laurentiis' luscious zuccotto, a frozen cake with a whipped chocolate filling
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