Stag Hacks: Trader Joe’s Lobster Mac and Cheese

I really wanted this to be a #PostYourRecipeAndGo post. I did.

However this is a blog about solo living, so I do feel obligated to explain how I arrived at mac and cheese for one.

Angela Davis (at kitchenistadiaries.com) is one of my fave comfort foodies on Twitter, and I adore her site (and e-books! Go buy them!). However, she cooks for family, and I am just one person. So I end up furiously adapting recipes to fit my lack of enthusiasm for the idea of eight servings of leftovers.

Which brings me to mac and cheese.

If you scroll back far enough on my Instagram, you’ll note there was an entire month where it seemed all I posted was mac and cheese. Creamy mac, cheeseburger mac, Cajun mac with shrimp, I did it all (I also gained eight pounds). I became obsessed with figuring out how to shrink the recipe, reduce some of the labor-intensiveness of it (because all that grating for 2-4 servings?) and still make it tasty.

Enter Trader Joe’s, and a random surplus of their “crowd cheeser” cheese platter after having friends over.

I have no idea what made me think “I have just enough for a tiny bit of mac and cheese!”but it was enough to make me try it. I’d long started using sliced block cheese (that I hand-chopped) from the deli for the larger pans, so why not mini-slices from TJ’s? Turns out the entire process was just within my labor intensive comfort range and within my time/pots limit. And since we’re all about hacks here (as in, how do we not have to buy a ton of fresh ingredients that will go to waste), I present what I’m now calling “Trader Joe’s Lobster Mac and Cheese”!

(I’m sure this recipe could be tripled or quadrupled to accommodate larger servings or more people, but please don’t ask me. This is a FUBU production.)

Lobster Mac and Cheese (Click HERE to print)

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Servings:  1 Meal-size serving

1 oz Sharp Cheddar (or 2 slices of TJ’s “crowd cheeser” cheddar)

1 oz Pepper Jack  (or 2 slices of TJ’s “crowd cheeser” pepper Jack)

1/2 oz Gouda (I used one slice of TJ’s Sliced Smoked Gouda)

1/2 cup Dried mini Elbow or Mezze Penne noodles

1 tbsp Salted Butter, plus additional for baking dish

1 tbsp All-Purpose Flour

1 cup Whole Milk

1 Dried Bay Leaf

1/2 Shallot, sliced in thick rounds (do not substitute w onion)

1 Packet TJ’s Savory Broth Reduced Sodium Liquid Concentrate (or low-sodium bullion, must be under 500mgs of sodium)

1 pinch dry mustard

1 pinch nutmeg

Black pepper to taste

1 shake of Worcestershire sauce (this is for one, remember!)

1/4 cup TJ’s Langostino Tails

Kosher salt (for pasta water)

Old Bay Seasoning & Chopped Parsely(for garnish/topping)

 

Place cheese slices in freezer for 5-10 minutes for ease of chopping. While the cheese firms up, bring 3 cups of water to boil in a small saucepan. Add kosher salt and dried bay leaf, simmer on lowest heat for 10 minutes or until leaf begins to soften. Turn off heat and cover until ready to boil noodles. While the water boils, slice 1/2 of the shallot into thick rounds and place in a microwave-proof bowl with the milk, microwave on high 2 minutes. Set aside to steep.

Pre-heat your oven to 350. Bring water back to boil, boil noodles till 1 minute short of al-dente (around 5 minutes). While the noodles boil, remove cheese slices from freezer and chop as finely as you can, put back in fridge. Butter your baking dish (I used a mini-ceramic cast-iron pan, but an aluminum mini loaf works well here), set aside. Drain the noodles (reserving the water and bay leaf), rinse in cold water.  Remove shallot slices from milk (the remaining steps go fast and the roux requires your undivided attention, so make sure you get your mise en place!).

In the same saucepan, melt 1 tbsp of butter over medium-low  heat until foamy. Add your tablespoon of flour and stir with a whisk to combine. Lift the pot slightly away from the heat and continue to stir for two minutes or until the roux turns a little golden and the raw flour smell turns toasty. Once your roux is ready, return pot to heat and add a splash of the pasta water (about 1- 1 1/2 tbsp), continuously stirring. Add the milk in a small stream as you continue to stir. Bring béchamel to a boil and turn the heat to low, stirring often. Simmer until it thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon (this goes much faster than you think), turn off the heat & grab your cheese. Add the chicken broth concentrate, pepper, dry mustard, nutmeg and Worcestershire sauce. Stir 3/4 of the cheese mix into the béchamel until melted, then add your noodles.

Pour 1/2 of the mixture into your baking pan, add 1/2 of the langostino tails, top with remaining noodles (this recipe makes about 1/8 cup too much cheese sauce, but I won’t tell if you won’t). The mix will go all the way to the top, but I love the look of cheese bubbling over the pan! Top with remaining cheese, place on a baking dish to save your oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and brown in spots. Remove from oven, top with a healthy shake of old bay, remaining langostino tails and parsley. Eat right out of the pan with no regrets, and make sure to take a few pics to make your friends jealous!

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Scallion-Herb Dutch Baby (Or, How Kingpin Taught Me to Love Eggs)

Ok, so it’s been a while.

Originally this blog was meant to detail how I found myself, one dish at a time. And probably the longest-running theme was learning how I liked my eggs.

Also, pancakes.

Mind you, there was a point where I hated both.

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I think the latter had to do with the labor and ingredients required. As I am not a baker, this means a trip to the store for baking powder every time I wanted pancakes, to then toss the batch when I used it for exactly nothing else. I also had to time my cravings to fit the leftover buttermilk, so pancakes would always be followed by fried chicken or tandoori. AND? It is impossible to make just four pancakes, so I had to lament having no one to share Sunday mornings with as a pile of pancakes I knew I wasn’t going to finish went wistfully into the freezer.

Before you start, yes my pancakes have to be from scratch.

As the years passed I found out the reason I did not like eggs, or pancakes for that matter, was because I hadn’t found a way to make them attractive for my lifestyle as a person living alone, or suitable for the tastes I was developing.

Enter Daredevil, Season One, Episode 8.

If you have not caught Daredevil for lack of time, interest or a Netflix subscription, this particular episode features the backstory of the main villain Kingpin, all told between his routine preparations of breakfast. It is the most serene minute of omelet-making I have ever seen outside of a cooking documentary, complete with classical music and the hypnotic chopping of herbs.

From the day I have watched that episode; both classical music and herbs have become part of my breakfast routine.

I have since learned the French method for omelets, which have made me fall in love with eggs anew. And my pancake problem was solved by learning how to make them German-style.

Which bring us to our Dutch baby.

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While most top them with fruit and some form of cream or curd, I have found that they work just as well when you have a savory craving. And with no baking powder or soda needed, my Sundays have become a celebration of tranquility.

Scallion-Herb Buttermilk Dutch Baby (Click HERE to Print)

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15-20 minutes

Servings:  2

3 Room-Temperature Eggs (place eggs in warm water for a few minutes to speed the process)

¾ Cup Buttermilk, Room Temperature (powdered buttermilk shines here)

2 Tablespoons Corn Starch

½ Cup All-Purpose Flour

4 Tablespoons Butter, Divided (Melt and cool 2 tbsp, reserve the other 2)

½ Tsp Salt

Pepper to taste (optional)

2 Tablespoons Chopped Herbs (I used a combination of parsley and chives)

2 Scallions, chopped

 

 Hand-Mixer or Blender

Cast-Iron or Oven-Safe Heavy-Bottomed Skillet

 

Place the skillet in the oven and preheat at 450 for around 15 minutes.

While the oven heats up chop the herbs and scallions, separating the white and green parts of the scallions.

In a bowl, add the eggs and beat on high until frothy, at least two minutes (alternatively, you can use a blender).

With the blender still running add the buttermilk, then corn starch, flour and the cooled melted butter.

Fold in salt, pepper and chopped herbs.

Remove the skillet out of the oven (CAREFUL, it is very hot!) and swirl the reserved butter in the pan (this step goes quickly). The butter should melt, not brown. Immediately pour the batter in the skillet and top with all of the white and half of the green scallions, and return to the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown. The batter will puff up considerably, but will deflate once you take it out of the oven.

Remove and top with your favorite savory toppings! This works for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Balsamic Berry Compote

Ahh, PANCAKES. 

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I have a special thorn in my side for this recipe, which to this day remains my most-requested dish when I have guests. Once upon a time when yours truly was attached, I set out to make a recipe that beat IHoP’s. Little did I know that once I perfected the sweet syrupy goodness it would be the beginning of the end of “date night”, as now that I could recreate almost any dish he loved at home there was no real need to venture outside, right?

**Looooong sigh**

Anyway, after living on my own for a bit I realized that as much as other people loved my pancakes, I didn’t love them. They were just too sweet. Rather than abandon them entirely I decided to come up with a recipe that I’d be delighted in serving and eating, which required quite a bit of playing around.

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There was the question of how much sugar, which I ended up reducing from a third to a quarter-cup. They ended up tasting a bit…empty (I prefer mine to not need syrup) and in need of a topping to balance it out. I added a bit of vanilla to the batter, but needed something to round out the flavor. I settled on a hint of lemon after randomly coming across a recipe for ricotta pancakes (which would have been perfect for the berries, but I wanted a recipe that didn’t involve me having to run to the store in pj’s). Turns out it makes a hearty, complete flavor mix when topped with a not-very-sweet-at-all mix of berries cooked in balsamic vinegar and a healthy dollop of crème fraiche in lieu of whipped cream. I could very literally eat these every day. Except for date night, that is.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Balsamic Berry Compote (Click HERE to Print)

Prep time: 20 Minutes

Cook Time: 30 Minutes

Servings:  Two

PANCAKES:

1 ¼ Cup All-Purpose Flour (I prefer a mix of 1 cup Lily White and ¼ cup Whole Wheat)

1 heaping tsp Baking Powder

1 LEVEL tsp Baking Soda

¼ tsp Salt

1 ¼ Cup Chilled Buttermilk

¼ Cup Vegetable Oil

¼ Cup Sugar (I use Sugar in the Raw)

1 Large Egg

½ tsp Vanilla Extract

½ tsp Lemon Zest (optional)

BERRY COMPOTE:

 1 Cup Fresh or Frozen Berry Mix

1 tbsp Good-Quality Aged Balsamic Vinegar

1 tbsp Brown Sugar

2 Tbsp Water

1 Stick of Cinnamon

¼ tsp ginger

 Rinse and drain berries. In a non-reactive saucepan combine sugar, water, cinnamon stick and balsamic vinegar. If using fresh berries add to saucepan and keep over low heat. If using frozen berries, allow balsamic mixture to come to a boil over medium heat, add berries and lower flame once the mixture has returned to a boil. Simmer over low heat 15-25 minutes or until blueberries begin to burst and the liquid has reduced to syrup; remove cinnamon stick and set aside. If the mixture has reduced too far, add water by the teaspoon until desired consistency.

While the berries are cooking, prepare pancakes. Combine first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl combine remaining ingredients and whisk until sugar has dissolved. Make a well in dry ingredients and add the buttermilk mixture; stir until JUST combined (the lumps serve a purpose, I promise!). Allow to rest for five minutes.

On a griddle or large shallow pan, heat over medium heat until a drop of water instantly sizzles on the surface. Coat with oil of choice (I use butter) and add pancake mix in ¼ cup increments, making sure to leave space between. Flip as soon as you see bubbles start to form, about 1 ½ -2 minutes. Serve immediately with compote, top with whipped cream or crème fraiche.

Steak and…Potatoes!

So, let’s talk about steak.

Namely, steak “holidays”.

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Now I have always had a good sense of humor, so when someone told me a “Steak Day” exists as the male answer to Valentine’s Day for  women my first thought was to laugh and think, “I cook all the time”!

However, I’ll bite.

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I do realize there are some people that only do special things on special days, and this post is for them . I thought up a deceptively simple surf-and turf dish to surprise your special steak lover, male or female. I’ve added a lot of extra explanations and a simple step-by-step process for those who just want to do something they have not done for a change. As for the other half of this “holiday”, I’m going to leave the extra-curriculars to your own interpretation.

**Note, this will be a bit longer than the normal post, as it is directions for a meal and not a dish. Buen Provecho!

Sirloin Medallions, Mushroom Pan Gravy and Langostino-Topped Smashed Red Potatoes (Click HERE  to download recipe)

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Servings:  Two

STEAK:

 1 lb Sirloin (I prefer Grass-fed, but don’t skimp on quality for the star of your dish!)

Kosher Salt

Pepper

**Note You may use your seasoning of choice here. I like a sprinkle of salt, pepper, garlic, unsweetened cocoa powder and cayenne)

Neutral oil, such as sunflower or grapeseed

 PAN GRAVY:

 2 tbsp Butter

1 Cup Mushrooms

2 Shallots or 1 Red Onion

1 Tsp Chopped Garlic

 ½ Cup Red Wine

1 Tbsp Flour (I use Wondra for gravy)

1 Cup Beef Broth

SMASHED RED POTATOES

 4 Red Potatoes, chopped into cubes 

3 Cubes Beef Bullion

2 Tbsp Butter

2 Tbsp Heavy Cream, Sour Cream or Creme Fraiche

Parsley

LANGOSTINO TOPPING:

 3 tbsp Butter

1 Tsp Chopped Garlic

Juice of ½ Lemon

½ cup White Wine

1 Cup Langostino Tails (available at Trader Joes)

Parsley

DIRECTIONS: 

Rinse steak and pat dry with paper towels. Allow to sit for a few minutes while you prepare the space to cook.

In a medium pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil and add the beef bullion cubes. Use this time to chop your potatoes and shallots and set aside in separate bowls. Once the water has been brought to a boil and the cubes have dissolved, add potatoes (you will cook these for 15-20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the meal).

Once you have added the potatoes to the pot, rinse the langostino tails and set aside to defrost.

Bring a 10-inch heavier-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Generously sprinkle salt and pepper over your steak and rub with your neutral oil (make sure to use at least two tbsp, because we are not adding oil to the skillet). When a drop of water instantly sizzles on the surface of your pan, you are ready to add your steak. Carefully place unto the skillet and allow to sear for two to three minutes on each side. Do not touch your steak other than to flip. You will see some smoke coming from your pan, this is ok. Remove your steak and set on a plate to rest.

In the same pan, lower heat to medium. Immediately add your butter, mushrooms and onions and allow them to sweat for two to three minutes, stirring often. Then add the tablespoon of flour and stir until combined, another minute. Add your red wine to the skillet and stir, making sure to scrape up all the brown bits in the pan. Steal a cup of enriched broth from your cooking potatoes and add to the skillet, then turn the heat to low and allow to simmer until the sauce thickens, around five minutes.

While the gravy is simmering, cut your steak into one-inch strips. Your steak should be done medium (still red inside), and will be finished in the pan.

Remove potatoes, reserving broth, and add back to your bowl.

Add steak strips to your gravy and toss to coat. Simmer until desired doneness (I like medium, so cooking stops there for me), at least two minutes. Add more broth in 1/2 cup intervals if the sauce cooks too far down.

While your sauce simmers, add 1/2 cup of broth, butter and cream to your bowl of potatoes and mix with a fork. These are smashed, not mashed, so lumps are encouraged! Sprinkle with parsley.

In the pot you used for the potatoes, add the garlic and butter over medium heat. Allow butter to melt, and once it begins to foam, add the wine and lemon juice. Stir to combine, then add langostino tails and cook until heated through, two minutes.

Now, if you need a quick idea on “plating”, here’s what I did!

Chop about ten stalks of asparagus (frozen is fine) and throw them in with the potatoes for a minute. Then arrange in a semi-circle at the far edge of your plate like this:

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Scoop out your potatoes with an ice-cream scoop and press over the asparagus pieces.

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Spoon the langostino pieces and the butter over the potatoes, and top with parsley. add the onions and mushrooms to the bottom of the plate and top with your steak. Voila!

Steak & Potatoes

Jalapeño-Lime Baked Wings

So how was your Superbowl?

While I’m not a football follower (despite the previous post), Sunday found me with a hankering for wings. However with no organic wings in my fridge, no time for marinades and no patience for frying it looked like I was going to be forced to my local wing-stop.

Luckily the folks over at Tasting Table have a great adapted recipe from the duo behind the blog (and my new obsession) Ideas in Food! The pair has the most genius quick-tenderizing trick of tossing the wings in a combination of egg whites and baking soda to get a crisp skin with a moist tender inside. While the original recipe calls for overnight drying, I found that an hour in the fridge still yields a satisfyingly crispy skin with no oil required. A quick trip to the store for my beloved Bell and Evans and I was munching on wings before the halftime show.

Jalapeño-lime Baked Wings (click HERE to print)

Prep time: 1 hr 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Servings:  One

6 Wings, wing tips discarded and cut into 12 pieces

½ tsp Kosher Salt

1 Egg White (don’t know how to separate an egg? Here’s a tutorial)

½ tsp Baking Soda

¼ tsp Cornstarch (optional)

SAUCE:

2 tbsp Butter

½ tsp Garlic Powder or a half clove, smashed

Juice of 1 Lime

½ tsp vinegar

1 Cube Knorr Cilantro Boullion (Don’t have it at your store? Purchase here)

1 tsp Jalapeño Powder (Get it from Spices and Teas here)

1 tsp sweetener of choice (I use sugar in the raw but agave works fine here)

In a medium mixing bowl, combine egg white, kosher salt, baking soda and cornstarch and stir to dissolve. Pat wings dry using paper towels, then toss in the egg white mixture. Shake off excess, then place wings on a greased wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate uncovered for at least an hour, preferably overnight.

Remove wings from refrigerator and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 450°. Place wings, still on the rack, in oven, and bake for fifteen minutes on each side.

Meanwhile in a small plastic mixing bowl, melt the butter in the microwave. Add next five ingredients (be sure to crush bouillon cube!) and stir to combine, then microwave another 15-20 seconds.

Remove the wings and toss in the sauce. Place wings back on the rack and roast for another 10 minutes, reserving excess sauce. The wings should have a deep golden color. Remove wings and serve topped with remaining sauce.

30 Minutes or Less: Shrimp Carbonara

There are few things I love more about winter than cream. Creme Fraiche, to be exact.

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While summer yields the yummyness of cold fresh cream with fresh fruit, winter is the time to double-down on all of the hearty, creamy dishes that my stomach just cannot handle when paired with an apartment that has no space for an air-conditioner (long story). And being that my food is made for a much smaller set of plates (like, uno), nothing holds up to small amounts and high heat quite like creme fraiche.

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What does creme fraiche have to do with carbonara, especially when purists consider adding anything other than Parmesan blasphemy?  Well, if you have ever tried to make a single serving of carbonara with just one egg yolk, you may be familiar with my struggle. One isn’t quite enough and two is a bit too much. Add a generous spoonful of the tangy all-purpose goodness of the fraiche? You just might have a bit of magic on your hands. Besides, I’m already breaking the rules with peas. Purists be darned. I do what I want.

Shrimp Carbonara (Click Here To Download)

Prep time: 15 minutes (or less)

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Servings:  One Generous Bowl

2 oz long pasta of choice, such as thin spaghetti or linguini (2 oz of long pasta is roughly about a ½-inch diameter bunch and yields around a cup, you can get away with a bit more for this recipe though)

1 tsp olive oil

2 slices bacon, chopped into cubes (I use pre-chopped pancetta, around 2 tbsp)

1 shallot, chopped

½ -1 tsp chopped garlic or a half clove, smashed

4 large shrimp, deveined and cut into three pieces each

1 large egg yolk (don’t know how to separate an egg? Here’s a tutorial)

¼ cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

1 tsp crème fraiche

¼ cup frozen peas

Salt and pepper to taste

Parsley, for garnish

In a medium-sized pot, bring 4 cups of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. While your water is coming to a boil, chop one shallot and bacon and set aside. In a ½ cup measuring cup, add egg yolk, parmesan and crème fraiche, whisk with a fork until creamy. Once water has come to a boil, turn heat down to medium, add pasta and cook until al-dente (1-2 minutes shy of package instructions).

While pasta is boiling, fry bacon in a 10-inch or larger skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add olive oil and shrimp, cook another two minutes or until shrimp is no longer pink. Add shallots and garlic and cook until shallots are translucent, another minute.

If you timed it right your pasta should be just done! Reserve one cup of the pasta water, then throw the peas in for the last minute and drain. Take ¼ of the pasta water and temper the egg mixture by slowly adding it in as you whisk with a fork (do not skip this step, you’re making a very small amount and the heat from the pan will scramble your egg). Remove pan from the heat, stir in pasta and a tiny splash of pasta water to deglaze. While continuing to stir, add egg mixture and ½ cup reserved pasta water (sauce will thicken as you stir). Add pepper to taste and salt if necessary. Garnish with more parmesan and parsley, and enjoy!

#NaBloPoMo Day 4: Smells Like Home (pt.2)-Risotto!

So I have a thing for risotto.

Besides it being a blanket of yummy goodness during colder months, it’s a great way to learn the art of cooking. It’s such a great teacher in fact, that it is often the first dish I whip up if someone asks me to teach them how to cook. I always throw in a cheesy platitude as I do it about how risotto is like sex (or life, mom! Life!).

How so?

Well, here’s the thing about risotto. The base recipe is always the same, the ingredients, the time, the stirring. Yet you can do it exactly the way the cookbook says and still somehow end up with either small rocks or a soupy, sticky mess!

The key, my friends? You gotta listen your partner-er..your food.

An instruction manual isn’t going to do it. Technique alone isn’t going to do it. You could have done it the same way a million times to success and have it fail at one million-and-one. You have to treat every pot of risotto like it’s the first one you’ve made, focus, listen and pay attention. And guess what? You’ll enjoy yourself every time, I promise.

MY FAVORITE MUSHROOM RISOTTO (serves 1):

*If you haven’t guessed by now, each recipe for this site is modified to match the consistency of a larger dish. So it may include or omit things you would normally see in a classic recipe for taste.

1/3 cup Arborio, medium or short-grain rice

4 cups water, room tempurature

1-2 cup beef bullion cube (or 2-1 cup)

2 tsp olive oil

1 1/4 tbsp salted butter

1 shallot, chopped

1/2 tsp crushed garlic

1/4 cup dry white wine or Marsala

1 tbsp dried porcini mushrooms (or dried mushroom of choice)

1/2 cup frozen mushroom mix (I like Whole Food’s organic line)

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

1 tbsp Crème Fraîche (optional)

Salt/pepper to taste

Set 3 cups in a small saucepan to boil and add bullion, setting aside remaining water for later. Boil until cube has softened, stir to dissolve, and remove from heat. Add dried mushrooms, cover, and allow to steep for ten minutes. Remove mushrooms and set aside, strain broth and return to saucepan. Bring mushroom broth back to a boil, then turn off heat.

While the mushrooms are steeping, chop your shallots. Add chopped mushrooms from the broth. Set a medium-sized heavy bottom pan to medium heat (because of the small amounts, I prefer to use a non-stick for the rice). Add olive oil and garlic and give it a swirl (you will not have a lot of time, so make sure everything is on hand!), then add mushroom-shallot mixture and saute until shallots become translucent, around three minutes. Add 1 tbsp of the butter and your rice, and keeping a consistent stir, toast for another three minutes. Then the fun begins!

Keeping a consistent stirring motion, add the 1/4 cup white wine to deglaze. As soon as the wine boils down and you’ve stirred up all the yummy brown bits, add your mushroom stock 1/3 cup (or the spoon you’re using) at a time. Since this is a small dish in a medium pan you may find the water evaporating too soon, so use the room-temperature water in small splashes to slow it down. Keep adding broth in 1/3-cup increments after the water boils down. Do not allow the rice to get completely dry or stick to the pot.

After 12 minutes, add frozen mushrooms; continue stirring and adding stock for another 7 minutes. At the last minute of cooking, stir in parmesan, remaining butter, a shake of pepper, one splash of broth and Crème Fraîche. Cover and allow to steam for 5 minutes. Spoon into bowl and garnish with parmesan.