My new boyfriend's parents were coming for the weekend, and I wanted to make a good impression.
The boyfriend said his mom liked chestnut. I went to see Ina. Back then we spent as many mornings as possible at Ina's restaurant, drinking coffee, scraping up scrapple and making plans. I explained: chestnut. Ina was happy to oblige.
That Saturday, she handed over a heavy white box tied in string. "Chestnut," she winked. "Very special." Words that came back to me later, when the parents were pacing the living room and I was pulling at the string in the kitchen. What had she meant by "special"?
I folded back the flaps and found a mound of mousse. It looked something like a dome. Or a hill. Decorated, at its peak, with a single chestnut.
"Is this," I whispered to the boyfriend, "a chestnut, um, chest?" He nodded. I closed the door and plated in privacy.
Now, decades in, Ina is closing her doors. My mother-in-law, who loved chestnut, who loved our children, is gone. The memory of that impressive mousse still makes me smile. Special indeed.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at email@example.com.
Prep: 45 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
10 ounces roasted chestnuts (in a jar or pouch)
11 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup water
¾ cup warm milk
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten in a small bowl
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 cup whipping cream
1 Grind: Drop chestnuts into a food processor. Pulse to a fine powder. Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar and the butter. Process smooth. Leave in food processor.
2 Caramelize: Stir together ½ cup (8 tablespoons) sugar and the water in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high, without stirring. Mixture will turn from cloudy to clear, then bubble. When the bubbles slow (after about 6 minutes), watch closely. Mixture will turn tan and give off a burnt-sugar scent. Swirl the pan by its handle until sugar turns an even caramel-brown, about 1 minute.
3 Thicken: Pull pan off heat. Carefully whisk in warm milk; mixture will bubble up. Pour a few tablespoons of this caramel over the yolks; whisk. Return pan to medium-low heat. Pour yolks back into caramel and whisk until 165 degrees hot and thick, about 3 minutes.
4 Swirl: Strain caramel through a fine-mesh sieve onto chestnuts. Swirl completely smooth. Add rum; swirl smooth.
5 Fold: Whip cream with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar to sturdy peaks. Fold into chestnuts. Chill.
Provenance: Inspired by Ina Pinkney, with technical assistance from Joan Moravek. Ina's, a Chicago breakfast mecca for 23 years, will close Dec. 31. Thank you, Ina, for all those delicious mornings. Her recipes can be found in "Taste Memories: Recipes for Life and Breakfast."