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Over the twenty three and change years I’ve been hanging out here on Earth, my mother has made it her mission to teach me a great many things about life and success. More than just a mother’s duty, it seems her calling to instill certain lessons upon me, true to the through-and-through educator that she is. One particular lesson cropped up first in my mid-teens, and has continued to be a frequent topic of conversation time and again as I now approach my mid-twenties. If I had a dime for every time I heard my mother say “Drinking kills brain cells,” well, I’d be a lot less nervous about the culinary school student loans, let’s just put it that way.

Unlike many of the other life lessons she’s taught me (“everything happens for a reason,” and “you’ll go broke saving money”), this one never seemed to hold much water, thus intensifying her mission to engrain it into my (and now, my twenty-year old brother’s) brain. It seemed that as a teacher, she found it personally crucial to protect the education imparted on her children over their two decades of schooling by creating a barrier between our knowledge and the evil drops of liquor and beer that sought to destroy all evidence of it.

To everyone out there that has stood by the claim that alcohol and education just don’t mix, I respect you. I even believe that there is some truth to your argument. And I’m here to prove you wrong.

Enter my Thursday nights for the next six weeks – Wine Essentials at the Institute of Culinary Education; an in-depth course on fundamental knowledge of wine and pairings, and a requirement to graduating from ICE’s Culinary Arts program. And I’m here to share the whole thing with you, dear reader. Sorry mom, but you just can’t argue with this one. In vino, veritas.

Last Thursday was the first session. Now, I’ve been to my fair share of wine tasting for someone who’s only been legally drinking for two years, but still, I was way more excited for these tastings at ICE than any of the others in the past. What I already knew about the course impressed me: ICE has a special room just for wine drinking, complete with its own ventilation system to prevent the delicious aromas from the pastry classes just outside from wafting in and muddling the scents you detect when expertly sniffing wine. Isn’t expertise nice?

We all filed into a room that reminded me greatly of the arc-shaped classrooms at University of Maryland’s business school, and took our seats. Each place was set with nine wine glasses, a tenth glass for water, four plastic cups of unmarked liquids, a spitting bucket, and a carafe of water. Every time someone moved an inch, the whole table rattled with the clinking of glasses.

We quickly met our instructor for the next six weeks, a Mr. Richard Vayda, who was instantly likeable. His bio in our binder told us the following about Mr. Vayda: “… has broad experience with wines, wine list formulation and food and wine pairings … a graduate wine captain of the Sommelier Society … has orchestrated major wine and spirit tastings, wine competition events, regional wine and food dinners …” and so 0n. What he told us himself was that he was raised in the Midwest by an Italian mother and Russian father (represent!!) and that drinking was in his blood. He grew up drinking wine and beer, and when his parents caught him making wine in his bedroom at the age of fourteen, they were proud rather than disappointed. He told us that he drinks every day, which seemed superhuman considering his fit physique. Needless to say, the crowd warmed to Mr. Vayda within minutes.

He taught us a great many things that I never knew about wine that night. We delved into the history of wine, learning that wine is the oldest identifiable alcoholic beverage on Earth and was most likely invented about five thousand years ago by mistake. He told us an “origin of wine” fable, describing an early clan who had discarding some crushed grapes in a vat, only to return days later and find the mixture frothing and spewing forth a pungent aroma. Perhaps it was force-fed as a punishment to some vandal, but when the vandal wound up drunk, the villagers rejoiced that this mysterious liquid had been given to them as a gift from the god. Dionysus and Bacchus were huge in those days, and later eras of humanity continued to worship the gods of wine, dancing and debauchery for all the good times the beverage brought them. It wasn’t until the late 1800′s that anyone came remotely close to understanding the science behind the (wonderful) effect wine has on us.

So why do we like wine? Well, we discussed the many reasons. It’s relaxing. We associate it with celebrating and special occasions.  It tastes good. Alone, or with food. And it makes food taste better.

Particularly cheese.

Which led us to the main event of the night, which we had all been patiently awaiting since we were invited at the onset of class to make a plate of assorted cheeses, grapes, and crackers from a buffet along the side of the room, but please, don’t eat them just yet. Vayda stated that we certainly could dig in, but assured us that we’d appreciate it so much more if we waited until the wine.

So after about ninety minutes of the history of wine and an exploration of wine production, two waiters began to circulate the room and fill our glasses, starting with white first.

Before we began to drink, we had to address the mysterious four unmarked cups set before our wine glasses.

We were instructed to examine each one for color and clarity, swirl, sniff, sip, and taste. We did this slowly and with precision for each cup, and by the end of the exercise we had realized that each cup represented a different tasting component we’d experience in tasting wine: neutral (water), bitter (tannin), sour (citric acid), and sweet (fruit sugars). And then, we poured a bit of each of the flavored liquids into the water, gave it a swirl and a sniff and a sip, and guess what? It tasted just a bit like wine.

Talk about a prelude.

We got to tasting. We tasted three whites together, sipping and sniffing and swirling ourselves into a frenzy, switching between heavier and lighter whites, deeper bouquets and lighter aromas, interchanging sips of water to cleanse our palates. We learned to use not just our sense of taste, but our sense of smell, sticking our noses deep into the glasses to retrieve all the elements of a particular wine’s bouquet. Vayda told us that despite what you might assume, flavor is really the result of taste plus smell. As we tasted, slurping air over the wine we held in our mouths and flicking our tongues upward and downward, Vayda urged us to shout out the flavors and foods the wine reminded us of. Soon the air was thick with people shouting, “Grapefruit!” “Lemon!” “Papaya!” “Cinnamon!” “Tobacco!” “Oak!” 

We were told to spit after each sip, or else everything would start tasting good before long. A sound idea in theory, but then I realized, free wine! Free good wine! Needless to say, few people were throwing their sips away, myself included.

During this exercise we moved from light whites to heavier, aged ones, onto a sweet dessert white and a champagne (which Vayda pronounced “shom-pan-gya” every time). Then we progressed to the reds, starting with a lighter Pinot Noir, one of my favorites, onto heavier reds and finally a syrupy Port that would be drunk from a smaller glass, and likely served with dessert. With each sip of each wine we would, in unison, take a nibble of one of the various cheeses we had before us (Camembert, blue cheese, goat cheese, and gruyere). Every time we did this, Vayda would study us over his folded hands and ask: “But who wins – the cheese, or the wine?” Though a perplexing question at first and one I had never before considered, I quickly came to realize that answering this simple question could also unlock the mystery behind why some wines and cheeses seem made for each other.

It’s all about balance.

Of course – the flavors should complement each other and leave a rich, sweet and savory, succulent finish, rather than leaving you overwhelmed with the flavors of just one or the other. For every glass, Vayda made us (as if we were unwilling) try each cheese, sampling until we got closer to achieving that perfect balance. For the Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay, it was the Gruyere, though the Camembert worked quite well too; with a spicy, oak-aged Cabernet Sauvignon, the blue cheese worked best, though we learned that the ideal pairing for this dish would be a rich red meat, perhaps with a nice pan sauce. If none of the cheeses worked, as was the case with the Brut Nicolas Fueillate Champagne, we weren’t afraid to say so, only question what cheese or other dish would work better with a wine of that character. Chef always says that cooking is merely a series of analytical questions you must ask yourself before you act; that night, we learned that tasting and pairing wines works much the same way.

Despite the call to spit, I finished most of my wines that night, even the ones I didn’t like at first; by the end of the evening, I had acquired a deeper appreciation for each of them, understanding their flavors and thereby virtues more than when we’d started. The fog of the day had seemed to clear, and any troubles or problems that had seemed overwhelming before I’d walked into that room had diminished in their catastrophic scope, leaving behind only a grand appreciation for the night, that feeling, and all the good things around me.

This is why we love wine so much, isn’t it? Well then, I look forward to sharing this road to deeper appreciation of this euphoric elixir with you all.

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They say that life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.

Well, after months of plan-making and galloping along through life with an eye on the future, the future has happened, with time flinging itself forward at what often feels to be a break-neck pace, the pavement a blur beneath the tires 0f each week. I suppose there is a reason that the saying is not “blogging is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” With all of life’s various obligations creeping up on me, the blog has, at times, fallen to the bottom of my list of priorities, something I’m somewhat sad to admit.

But whether or not I’ve been photographing, writing, and publishing to the Internet, the past few weeks have been chock full of glorious epicurean experiences, happily punctuating the rush of the week, usually during the deep breath that has become the weekend.

This weekend, for example, there was a smorgasboard of cheese at a lovely wine and cheese party with friends. The round wooden table in a friends’ living room was weighed down with smoked gouda, aged white cheddar, manchego, gruyere, a caprese salad, succulent red grapes, almonds and walnuts. Cara and I chipped in together for a few choice items from Murray’s Cheese shop in the West Village, which, if you haven’t visited, is more than worth a trip. Murray’s has some of the best selection in New York when it comes to all types of cheese – hard, washed-rind, soft, blue – as well as some of the most knowledgable sales people around. I walked away from ten minutes in Murray’s with a tart and grainy bucheron (a soft aged goats cheese) and a d’affinois, which is similar to a brie but – if you can believe it – creamier, more buttery and more mild. When smothered on a slice of fresh baguette and topped with a drizzle of basil-infused oil, it’s no wonder this cheese disappeared in minutes flat. Many thanks to Corinne and Lauren for hosting such a fantastic girls night and gastronomical adventure!!

Smoked Gouda and Whole Wheat Crackerettes

Caprese Salad - Fresh vine tomatoes, mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Fromage D'affinois and Bucheron with soft baguette slices

Saturday proved to be one of the first nice days of the year(and by nice, I mean the temperature actually broke fifty and the typically overcast sky was occasionally pierced by the sun), and what better way to spend it than meandering through the city, starting in one of my favorite springtime outdoor spaces, the Union Square Greenmarket.

It was immediately apparent that New Yorkers and local farmers alike had been waiting patiently and eagerly for the weather to turn and farmers’ market season to swing into action. Union Square was a buzz with patrons bustling from stand to stand, gently squeezing tomatoes and smelling fresh apples while purveyors offered free samples and hopeful smiles, hauling more produce out of their trucks onto the rapidly emptying stands before them.

Aside from the Greenmarket usual – apples galore, every sort of basic vegetable from onion to shallot to potato, and of course a plethora of baked goods and cheeses – there were a couple of eye-catchers that made me (and every other amateur photographer/food blogger) stop to get a closer look:

Emu eggs! These things were about 8 to 10 inches long, a deep turquoise blue, and gently nestled in wicker baskets. After getting over the initial shock and awe of seeing eggs that appeared to belong to a pterodactyl, I couldn’t help but wonder – what else could you make with one besides the world’s largest fritatta?

I also couldn’t help swooning over these adorable mini-apple pies that lined a stand near the entrance to the market. Apple pie seemed an obvious choice given the abundance of every sort of apple at most of the farmer’s stands, but these cute little pies, just big enough for two, were one of the most enticing treats at the market on Saturday. Considering they’re still on my mind, it seems only a matter of time before I revisit the market and pick one of these up.

Despite the bountiful offerings of the market, the only thing I actually purchased was a container of microgreens that looked crisp, sweet, and the brightest shade of green – heaven on earth for any salad junkie. But of course, within minutes of leaving the market having purchased zero baked goods, hunger began to set in, and the agenda quickly shifted to lunch!

For some reason, Adam and I were both in the mood for noodles, and realized with a fair bit of excitement that we were just a few blocks away from Ippudo, the ramen-noodle haven. In retrospect, perhaps we should have known better. Of all the times we’ve attempted to dine at Ippudo, the ramen house’s popularity and allure have allowed it to evade us more often than not, and this Saturday afternoon was no different. As we arrived we were informed that the restaurant was already closed for its pre-dinner break, despite being absolutely packed with patrons. Dejected, we retired to the sidewalk outside Ippudo, which has quickly become where you’re most likely to spot us searching the Urban Spoon via iPhone app with hungry grimaces on our faces.

Locking in “Noodle House,” “East Village,” and one “$” sign, up popped Menkui Tei, a noodle house with 94% positive reviews within three blocks walking distance. Given our increasing hunger, we quickly booked it past the Cooper Union and made a beeline for the dingy, Chinatown-esque awning of Menkui Tei, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives having taught us never to judge a book by its cover.  

Inside, I’ve got to say – Menkue Tei was slightly bizarre. The decor resembled that of a low-budget neighborhood deli, complete with handwritten signs made from printer paper and magic marker adorning the walls, displaying the restaurant’s daily happy hour deals. Adam and I were easily the only Caucasian individuals in the joint, but I always take it to be a good sign of any ethnic restaurant’s food quality if patrons of its own nationality are eating there. It just seems like they’d be less easily duped.

Oh, and there was Elvis music playing.

We sat down and noticed a handwritten note that offered a great deal – “free” chicken wings for only 2 dollars with the purchase of any pitcher of beer. I quickly realized no one here was going to judge us, and so a frothy pitcher of Soporro arrived table-side, followed by some impressively spicy hot wings.

Since our lunch was following a large breakfast, we decided to share a bowl of ramen rather than ordering our own and settled on the Tan-Tan Ramen, a spicy pork ramen that looked extremely appealing in the lovely color photo inserted in the menu (gotta love casual Asian dining). Since we were sharing the soup, we also ordered some Gyoza, sweet and savory pork dumplings. Because after a week of butchering pork shoulder in class and studying all the various portion cuts of a pig, I realized – you really never can have too much pork!

Our ramen arrived, and after a brief struggle to divide the soup into two smaller bowls, we gave up and huddled over the table to share the one large bowl. We attempted the authentic art of ramen eating – that is, scooping up some soup in the flat-bottomed spoon, casually swirling noodles around your chop sticks, and creating a neat bundle of ramen-in-broth to daintly slurp up. Obviously we achieved nowhere near that neat an experience, but it sure was a delicious one; the combination of spicy, salty ground pork doused with scallions in a rich broth and the tender noodles went great with the cold, light beer, and this giant bowl-o-noodles quickly disappeared before our eyes. There was some debate over whether these noodles triumphed over Ippudo, and my vote was YES – they sure did.

The dumplings were also pretty darn good – these differed from the traditional Chinese take-out variety in that there was some sweet hint of herbage within the doughy confines – Thai Basil, perhaps? Regardless, these were completely addicting and vanished long before the ramen did.

When our Asian feast had disappeared, the only word to describe the feeling of sitting in Menkui Tei, filled with the sloshy warm goodness of spicy ramen and a slight beer buzz, while warbling Elvis music still tinkled in the background, was contentment. Dare I say that I actually preferred the under the radar, low maintenance vibe of this dive-y ramen house to the hype of Ippudo? I don’t play favorites, but…

Moral of the story? Depending on your next craving, head to the Village and weigh your options; head East for a taste of the Far East at Menkue Tei, or West for the lactose pleasures of Murray’s Cheese shop. Both are sure to satisfy!

Up later this week: a refreshing, mouth-watering, can’t-stop-eating-it orzo salad recipe and another look behind closed doors at ICE! Happy Eating :)

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Welcome to the West Village, or to some, “The Old Italian Neighborhood,” one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York City. Last Saturday, the afternoon was blissfully spent meandering these streets, popping in and out of some their landmark shops and restaurants, and sampling a bit of this and a bit of that.

All of this was thanks to a great recommendation I received about Foods of New York cultural food walking tours. These tours are extremely affordable, and you get a serious bang for your buck, with food samples that border on normal sized portions from several West Village establishments and non-stop anecdotes into New York culture, history, and architecture. After recommending this tour to several friends, who all raved about it, but never actually trying it myself, last Saturday seemed the perfect opportunity to step out and take in the unfamiliar in a relatively familiar neighborhood. Which just goes to show you, there can be surprises waiting for you even in your own backyard.

The following is a “photo walking tour” of the West Village – hopefully these pictures will inspire you to try a tour of your own, and get a fresh perspective – whether as a local or a tourist – of what Greenwich Village has to offer.

We started smack dab in the middle of Bleecker Street, between Murray’s Cheese Shop and Faicco’s, an over 100-year-old family owned shop.

After a brief introduction to our very pregnant and subsequently hilarious tour guide, and distribution of our “only napkin of the day,” we made our way around the corner for a “slice of pie” – the quintessential slice of New York style thin crust pizza.

This pie was good – verrrry good. While I don’t feel it can hold a torch to Keste, or even Grimaldi’s, this is pizza for the “pizza purist,” made simply with pureed San Marzano tomatoes, not sauce, and all the freshest ingredients. The crust of a New York style pizza, we learned, gets its unique flavor, bite, and crispness not from the type of flour used, but from the soft New York City water. That’s part of the reason why New York pizza is unlike any other.

Keeping with the Italian tradition of the neighborhood, we moved right along to Faicco’s, where we sampled old-school rice balls, just like my grandmother used to make. They were crispy and just the right amount of greasy on the outside, soft, cheesy, and a little bit sweet on the inside. Eating one standing outside in the crispy November air felt like the perfect and only way these should be eaten – just one – to make it count.

Then, we were off down Cornelia Street, a beautiful tree-lined street that is home to many of New York’s most enjoyable dining experiences. These restaurants are small, hole-in-the-wall type places where you could get lost in your meal, and spend hours deep in conversation over a glass of wine. With culinary showmanship of Home, Po, Palma, Little Havana, The Cornelia Street Cafe, Pearl Oyster Bar, and Le Gigot all on one short stretch of pavement, it’s hard to resist the allure of Cornelia Street…

Not to mention, it’s beautiful – a term not often used to describe Manhattan.

First stop was Little Havana, a Cuban cuisine outpost where the 76-year-old owner and head chef opened early to serve us small bites of smoky chorizo atop crispy crostini, with spicy mustard and  ropa vieja (shredded marinated steak) layered in between. This was debatably the most delicious, flavorful, provoking thing we tasted that day.

Back out on Cornelia Street, we were given a little history lesson on the “back houses” of Greenwich Village – secret cottages that are hidden behind brownstones and apartment buildings, and marked by mysterious “half” addresses, like the one that leads to the Palma back house.

Coincidentally, this back house was the very house where the original “Cornelia” for whom the street is named grew up. And right next door to 28.5 Cornelia Street is Palma, one of my favorite restaurants in the city, the sort of Uva of Greenwich Village, though Palma would probably argue that Uva is the Palma of the Upper East Side. Either way, Palma is fantastic and has a chocolate souffle that will make you swoon. You certainly should not take my word for it though. You should try it yourself.

Through the restaurant and its garden, we made our way into the back house.

The word charming isn’t quite enough to describe this room; with its brick fireplace, rustic flower arrangements, soft white porcelain pottery, and worn wooden table, it felt like every kitchen should feel, except it was a kitchen-turned-fine dining event space. Here we ate an equally rustic, homey, and pure dish, made by flash-sauteeing cauliflower florets in a screeching hot cast iron pan, then adding toasted pignoli nuts (pine nuts), dried currants which have been soaked in extra virgin olive oil, caramelized onions, and a touch of toasted breadcrumb at the end. The result could be likened to a cross between homemade stuffing, risotto, and of course, roasted cauliflower, with only the best flavors of each. This dish alone is reason enough to visit Palma.

And then we were out, back onto the street, and off to a brief siesta at the local wine bar and bistro, Centro Vinoteca, where the white wine was crisp and the mushroom risotto was velvety and luxurious.

After this, we had a bit of walking was in store for us, and I now know that there are few things quite as fun as a late afternoon stroll around the West Village’s quaint side streets after a couple of glasses of wine. The sidewalks seem to sing, everything seems a cross between silly and romantic, and you will certainly forget your are in Manhattan for a little while.

Along the way, we came across The Little Owl, which I’ve blogged about here in the past, another of my favorite restaurants.

After a good deal of meandering, during which we learned about architecture, brick work, how to estimate the age of a building, and why New York sidewalks are lined with iron strips, it was time for dessert. Well, Dessert: Part One.

If you are a cookie fan of any sort, this is the place for you. Milk & Cookies bakery not only makes several varieties of large, soft, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth delicious cookies, but they will also sell you the mix, or give you two cookies with a great big scoop of ice cream in the middle and call it the best ice cream sandwich you’ve ever had. We were lucky enough to try the oatmeal chocolate chip, which was still warm in the center and did not disappoint. One gentleman on our tour was not feeling well, and when he mentioned to his wife that she would have to eat his cookie too, well, let’s just say that was one of the biggest smiles we’d seen all day.

We made our way back to home base – Bleecker Street – for a quick tour through Murray’s Cheese Shop, followed by an on-the-street tasting (I should mention that nearly everything we at that day was devoured while standing on a street corner).

Finally, our last stop, the grand finale of the food tour, was Rocco’s, more formally known as Pasticerria Rocco, a pastry shop that has held court on Bleecker Street since 1922, and for good reason.

Some of those reasons include pies…

And linzer tarts…

… Oh, and of course, cannoli. But not just any cannoli. Cannoli made the old-school, traditional Italian way, with a baked-then-deep-fried shell filled with a sweet and rich ricotta cheese cream, flecked with candied lemon and mini chocolate chips. These mini cannoli were the perfect cherry on top of a wonderful epicurean and cultural experience.

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Getting to the Good Stuff: Risotto

Once upon a time, a very wise woman posed the question, “Isn’t delayed gratification the definition of maturity?”

Okay, so actually Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw asked that question on the show “Sex and The City.” But all passe pop culture references aside, this question holds some serious weight for anyone with one foot in the “adult world.” As we enter adulthood and discover its ins and outs, we find that many of life’s greatest rewards require a good deal of patience: the perfect apartment you spend months hunting for on Craigslist; a killer promotion that you killed yourself for two years over; that dream job that took you back to school again… There’s a reason why adults are always saying things like “it was worth the wait,” and “patience is a virtue” – after surviving your twenties, my guess is you be able to know this truth deep down in your bones.

Which brings us to Risotto. Risotto is a very grown-up dish. It’s sophisticated, it’s complex, some might even reckon to call it thought-provoking. You’ll find it on the menu of fine restaurants, where it arrives laden with slivers of truffles, and only your very adult salary can afford to order it. Renditions of it are perfumed with fine dry white wine and thyme, two ingredients that don’t enter most home cooks’ refrigerators until their college years are long gone. Risotto is a dish with which you can impress your new boss, new love, new in-laws, or new friends. You know, all of those new “adult-life” who you can no longer count on your flip cup skills to win over.

And, like the experiences of adulthood, risotto will also try your patience.

This is a dish that will make you ask, are we there yet? Okay – so you can’t leave it alone for a moment, or it will burn. But just when you think you’ve got the constant stirring thing down, you discover that over stirring this just a bit will make it too soupy. Eventually you realize that making a good risotto requires striking a balance between attentiveness and relinquishing of control, with a dash of intuition thrown in for good measure. And, like adulthood, you can count on a large glass of wine (or cocktail, let’s be honest) and the company of your friends to get you through the risotto-making process in one piece, and be there to join in celebrating (read: eating) your achievement in the end.

Okay, enough parallels. I promise, this is not as hard as it sounds ;)

When making Mushroom Risotto, the first thing you want to do is mis en place, or prep your ingredients. While this is always a good idea when preparing a meal, it’s especially important to have everything sliced and diced in advance when making risotto, since it does require so much attention. So, gather the good stuff and set it all out on your counter. You’ll need some low-sodium chicken broth, olive oil, unsalted butter, shallots and garlic, some arborio rice (i.e. “risotto rice”), dry white wine, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, and parsley. Oh, and because too much healthiness will kill a person, some heavy cream and parmesan cheese (full ingredient list with measurements at end of post).

Did I say mushrooms? Right. This is a mushroom risotto, so you’ll need some mushrooms. Actually, a lot of mushrooms – the more mushrooms, the better. We mixed chanterelles and baby portobellos for our rendition, and this was an outrageously good combination. I highly recommend staying away from white button mushrooms if you favor a more complex and flavorful risotto. Springing for the good stuff will be a few extra dollars well spent.

Once you’ve chopped your shallots, minced your thyme, and measured everything out, you should be ready to get going. Start by setting up a medium saucepan, and bringing the chicken stock to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to very low – this will keep the stock hot, which it needs to be for this to work properly.

At the same time, in a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil and melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook, stirring until fragrant and soft, about 3 minutes.

Then, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until wilted and their liquid is evaporated, 4 to 5 minutes.

Once the mushrooms have softened nicely, add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are opaque. This should take about 1 minute, but keep an eye on the heat to ensure the grains get moistened, but don’t burn.

Next add the thyme, salt, pepper, and white wine (and pour yourself a glass if you haven’t already), and cook, stirring, until nearly all the wine has evaporated.

Mmmm. Who doesn’t love thyme? It’s like cooking with teeny little Christmas trees. Wonderful.

Anyway…..

Now, it’s time to grow. Give your arms a good stretch and prepare yourself, because this is a marathon, not a sprint. Little by little, start to add the stock to the rice (about half- to three-quarters of a cup at a time) and cook, stirring constantly, until the stock is nearly all evaporated. Continue adding more stock a half a cup at a time as the previous addition is nearly absorbed, until the rice is tender and the risotto is creamy.

The whole process will probably take about a half hour, and once you’re nearing the end of your stock supply, taste the risotto – it should be cooked through (not aldente at all – this isn’t pasta), creamy, and fluffy. At ICE, we learned the trick of dragging your spoon through the risotto against the bottom of the pan to create a “path,” and if the path “stays put” – that is to say, the rice doesn’t immediately rush back in to fill the cleared space – then the risotto is done.

Once you’ve reached this point, stir in the heavy cream, 1/4 cup of the cheese, and the parsley and mix well. Remove the pot from the heat, give the risotto a final taste test, and adjust the seasonings as needed. If you’re feeling fancy, stir in some truffle oil or even some panchetta. But regardless, you must serve this immediately and top each portion with a sprinkling of the remaining cheese.

Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You might even be an adult now, but if you are, it was certainly worth the wait.

Full List of Ingredients With Quantities (Serves 4)

2.5 to 3 cups chicken stock, or canned low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

12 ounces assorted mushrooms, wiped clean and thinly sliced, stems removed and reserved for making stock, if desired

1 cups arborio rice

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan

1 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

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