My older sister loved long hair and eye makeup and ratty, stained, hole-riddled sweatshirts that were two, three, four sizes too large. She loved drawing and straight As and gossip, cigarettes and true crime and a freshly made bed. She loved Gone With the Wind and Lolita and Gossip Girl and the Baby-Sitters Little Sister books, though she swore the latter was an ironic love. (So did I. It wasn’t.)
Annie loved Meredith Grey and Gil Grissom and Phoebe Buffay and, especially, Detective Olivia Benson, who gave her the quote she used for years in her Facebook “About Me” section: “Do you think there was a reason that the killer sodomized your husband with a banana?” She loved Sublime and Maroon 5 and Counting Crows, although in her defense, it was the ’00s and nobody knew any better.
She loved profanity. She loved provocation. She loved the word “pants.” She loved inside jokes and made-up games and clubs of any kind, the more exclusive the better. She loved being the loudest, the funniest, the messiest person in the room. She loved having secrets, but mostly because she loved telling secrets. She loved convincing other people to do and believe outrageous things; she loved infuriating me, then immediately convincing me to forgive her. Which I did, of course. Every single time.
She loved Diet Coke and honey wheat pretzels and stealing a bite of whatever was on your plate, preferably without permission. Most of all, though, she loved having two separate desserts after dinner. Maybe “love” isn’t the right word: She demanded two desserts. Stopping at one, she argued, violated her rights as an American — nay, as a human being. And who could ever deny Annie something she wanted?
Which is why last week, shortly before the seventh anniversary of the day she died, I decided to make two desserts.
Chocolate Mousse; main text Nonnie’s, italicized asides my own
4 oz. unsweetened Baker’s chocolate
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate bits [Key Foods had Hershey’s Dark, so that’s what I used]
1/3 cup superfine sugar
3 egg whites [Do NOT try the stuff that comes in a carton. I learned this the hard way]
1 cup whipping cream, whipped
[Did you know that you can whip cream in a mason jar? It’s true! Because I have reached Peak Brooklyn, that’s what I did. Basically, you drop in the cream, screw on the lid, and shake like mad, as if you’re holding one of these. It’s an easy way to whip cream AND a great way to feel bad about your arm fat.]
Melt both types chocolate together over hot, not boiling, water. [Or, if you don’t want to rig a double broiler for something so simple, just use the microwave. Don’t tell Nonnie.] Remove from heat and cool.
Beat egg whites until stiff and shiny. [If you’re me, this will take several additional steps.
First: Separate eggs, disregarding the tiny amount of yolk that accidentally got in with the whites. That won’t matter in the long run, right?
Next, decide to try whipping the whites in a plastic bowl, even though you’ve read that this is a Big No-No because plastic bowls are always slightly greasy no matter how hard you scrub them (ew), and egg whites are so temperamental that they’ll only whip up correctly if you’re using a bowl that’s perfectly clean, without a lick of fat to be found. Or egg yolk.
End up, predictably, with a pathetic attempt at whipped egg whites that initially stiffens encouragingly, then breaks into a watery mess that only gets worse when you add sugar — one so miserable that your phone refuses to focus on it when you attempt to take a picture. Cue Sad Trombone.
Throw away the mess, then run out and buy a carton of egg whites. Figure that using them will be a great way to keep from wasting a bunch of perfectly good yolks. Right?
WRONG. Maybe not all cartons of egg white are created equal, but the ones you bought have been fully liquified; they froth, but that treatment means that they’ll never whip up nice and tall and shiny. Heave a heavy sigh, separate three more eggs (more carefully than you did the first time), dump the whites into a clean, glass bowl, whip slowly and steadily… and finally, finally, finally end up with a glossy bunch of whites stiffer than the members of the DAR.
After all that, only now realize that you’re going to be eating the whites raw. Shrug.]
Continue to beat and add sugar gradually. [Like, REALLY gradually, or the whites will freak out and ruin Batch #3. Egg whites are assholes.] Then fold whipped cream in. Finally, stir in chocolate, thoroughly.
Pour into 1 quart oblong mold, or individual custard cups, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Remove from mold and slice just before serving. [You’ll think that the mousse won’t possibly get firm enough to slice, even after a thorough chilling — but trust me, this stuff really seizes up in the fridge.]
Rice Pudding; main text Nonnie’s, italicized asides my own
1/2 cup uncooked rice [I used Arborio, the Italian variety typically found in risotto; it worked beautifully]
1 cup half and half
3 cups milk [In a vain attempt to save our arteries, I went for 1% instead of whole]
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 oz. butter
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup raisins [Don’t like raisins in desserts? I urge you to try them here anyway; they go in sad, dry little nubbins, but come out beautifully plumped and juicy, thanks to their long bath in gooey rice milk. That sounds gross, but trust me: raisins good.]
Cinnamon [There was no amount given, so I went for about a teaspoon]
Nutmeg [This I just sprinkled to taste]
Mix rice, cream, milk, butter, and salt together and cook in double boiler, over simmering water, 1.5-2 hours or until rice is soft and mushy and kernels lose their shape and blend with the whole. [Or, if you don’t have a double boiler: Do as I did and fashion one out of a glass container and a pot big enough to hold it snugly, leaving room between the container’s bottom and the few inches of water in the pot.]
Remove from heat. Beat egg yolks and sugar together until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon, and raisins. [Yes, raisins. Don’t be a weird baby about them.]
Fold into rice mixture, thoroughly, and pour into 1 quart casserole or soufflé dish. Sprinkle nutmeg on top and bake in a 350° oven for half an hour.
The verdict: So here’s the thing about Nonnie’s chocolate mousse: It isn’t really chocolate mousse. Actual mousse is thick and creamy and fortified by luscious egg yolks; this dessert is sturdy on a spoon but fluffy on the tongue, richly chocolatey but deceptively light considering how much cream’s in it. Plus the texture is grittier than it is smooth, though not unpleasantly so.
If you served it to Tom Colicchio on Top Chef, I have a feeling he’d dock you points for having the audacity to call it “mousse.” For less discerning diners, though, this misnomer tastes pretty damn good — especially when doctored up with leftover whipped cream and a raspberry or three.
The rice pudding was more of an outright success. It’s rich; it’s creamy; it’s somehow decadent and comforting at the same time, two-plus hours of work and waiting that yield a humble-looking but sumptuously flavorful custard. It’s the kind of thing I think I could eat every day, until I remember just how completely, utterly, unapologetically unhealthy it is.
Which makes it just the sort of thing Annie would’ve loved.