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Together Forever 

Chocolate and red wine

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Whoever's out there complaining about Valentine's Day is missing the point — just like stuffing at Thanksgiving and eggnog at Christmas, Valentine's Day is a time for nostalgia and honoring the tradition of indulgence. Whether you're steadfastly single or flush with love, enjoy the fruits of Cupid's labor with anti-oxidant rich glasses of red vino, the perfect libation to pair with the chocoholic temptations you'll find around every corner in February. Here's a quick guide to some local haunts offering the delectable combos of red wine and chocolate, and quite possibly, the key to someone's heart.

Just Friends

Richards' Goat Tavern and Tea Room (401 I St.) has permanently changed the nightlife landscape of Arcata to the gratitude of every post-collegiate local. The Goat is an exercise in duality — good for both an artisanal fig-infused Manhattan or a tall can of PBR while the entertainment ranges from indie flicks in the Miniplex to karaoke. In February, the barkeeps continue to impress with a lineup of Valentine-inspired wine cocktails including the Punch Drunk Love, featuring ruby port, Champagne and grapefruit juice ($7). If you're out with a few girlfriends, try the dark chocolate Earl Grey brownie with sea salt ($2.95), specially available for Valentine's Day, that will pair perfectly with a few glasses of a local favorite, Old Growth Cellars Zinfandel ($7.50).

Getting Fancy

In a craft beer-and cider-crazed world, Jason and Allison Valentin, owners of the recently opened Harvest (835 J St., Arcata) and cosmopolitan wine bar Crush (1101 H St., Arcata) offer an eclectic and worldly selection of wines at both locations. If you're not whipping up the recipe below, make a special trip to either location for the couples' dark chocolate lavender mousse ($8). The lavender profile is perfectly in balance and the mousse is rich enough to share with your sweetheart. Be sure to order two glasses of Ryder Syrah ($9.50), a medium-bodied red laced with chocolate undertones from the unsung Central Coast AVA, which consistently produces fantastic Old World-style syrah and pinot noir. If you're splurging for a bottle among the many gems tucked into the Valentins' list, consider the 2009 Ridge Zinfandel ($105). Ridge, a cult producer without astronomical prices to match, historically shows restraint and maturity in cool-climate zinfandels that greatly appreciate with bottle age. If this Valentine's Day is special (and you've got the cash), order a bottle of the 2000 Vega Sicilia ($240), a Tempranillo-based red from one of Spain's most renowned wineries and not an easy bottle to track down.

DIY

If you're keen to avoid the quarter of Americans dining out on Valentine's Day, consider celebrating in your own kitchen. Cookbook writer Dorie Greenspan came upon this chocolate mousse recipe while living in Paris. Convinced that the knack for making the wonderfully light chocolate mousse that routinely showed up at Parisian dinner parties was part of her French friends' je ne sais quoi mystique, Greenspan was generously brought in on the secret one night — a friend revealed that the recipe could be found on the back of any Nestlé chocolate bar in France.

In turn, I've made this recipe my own top-secret party trick for years. With a two-ingredient shopping list of eggs and dark chocolate, you can be serving chocolate mousse with less than 10 minutes of prep. I added a Californian twist by garnishing the mousse with a delectable but dairy-free coconut whipped topping. Swing through Wildberries Marketplace on the way home for a bottle of 2013 Vino Borgia Garnacha, a Spanish varietal that packs plenty of fruit to pair with chocolate while balanced with savory notes to keep sweetness in check ($8).

Top-Secret Chocolate Mousse with Coconut Whipped Cream

Adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. Contains raw eggs.

Ingredients and method:

7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

6 eggs separated, room temperature

1 pinch of salt

1 teaspoon almond or peppermint extract (optional)

13.5-ounce can coconut milk, chilled at least 1 hour

2-4 tablespoons maple syrup

For the mousse

Place the chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over saucepan filled with 2 inches of water, making sure no water touches the chocolate. Bring the water to boil on high heat and stir the chocolate occasionally until it's melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over the water. Add the egg yolks one at a time into the chocolate and whisk until smooth. (If using the extracts, add them now.)

Using an electric mixer or hand beater, beat the egg whites and salt in another medium bowl until soft peaks form (a clean and dry metal mixing bowl here is key). If you stick a finger or spoon in the egg whites, they should hold their shape and have a glossy sheen. When your whites are properly whipped, fold a generous scoop (a rubber spatula works best) of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture. Continue folding in the remaining whites until they're incorporated (as always, avoid over-mixing).

Dish the mousse immediately into 6-8 Champagne glasses, Mason jars or adorable serving bowls of your choice and refrigerate. Garnish with abandon — edible flowers, dark chocolate shavings and raspberries all look fabulous.

For the coconut whipped cream

Open the chilled coconut milk and carefully spoon out the coconut cream solids that have separated and risen to the top, reserving the clear liquid for a future baking endeavor. Beat the coconut cream at high speed for at least 5 minutes. Don't expect it to get as fluffy as the real stuff, but it will be just as tasty. Add 2-4 tablespoons of maple syrup to taste and finish each chocolate mousse with a big dollop before serving.

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Nora Mounce

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