My parents have had a full time job since I was three years old which was honestly great. It taught a lot more about being independent than anything else could have (though I think I only realised this once I went to college and actually got to see a real world simulation of independence). My mom is a textile designer by profession and for a majority of her life she has spent working with international brands designing and sourcing their product from India. Mom took a little break from sourcing when she did a stint at Fabindia, but is now back into the sourcing game with a new company.
Like others, her current job has a lot of travel— both national and international. The idea for this recipe in fact came from the first time she traveled to the United States from work. I was in the third grade and as sad as I was to see her go, I was lot more excited about having one less parent (aka. Homework warden) on constant patrol in the house. This meant one less parent to dupe about homework and ensuring maximum TV watching as I could. I was also quite excited about the prospect of all the clothes, shoes, and food that would be coming my way. I had made a lost of things to get and wow was a sweetheart to at least try and find everything. The excitement of having the newest, most foreign Jolly Rancher and Warheads candies to show off in school made her not being for a week all worth it. I’m not trying to be mean or shallow but hey! I was in the third grade and this was like “cool” currency at that point.
Mom came back with a lot of the things I had asked for sans the candy because of my allergies to preservatives. But I did get a bunch of new clothes that I loved for the six months that I could wear them before outgrowing them due the monstrous growth spurts.
I used to have. The one thing that wasn’t on the list yet somehow made it to our kitchen shelves was a blue rectangular box. It was prim— sturdy, uniform in shape and color, just sticking out of the cupboard. This box was as foreign to me as I was to it. A long day after school one day (remember, this is in the third grade), I came back hungry for some pre-dinner snack. Usually, I used to have a sandwich or a bowl of popcorn or some Maggi. A helper (who I would call “Didi”) who used to stay in our house would usually make it for me since I had no interest in cooking and nor was allowed to really operate a stovetop. Didi came up to one day to ask me if she can make me contents from this blue box. She turned it over and it said “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.” Now, I had of course heard of mac and cheese at this point but had never really had any. Seeing what people had on Nickelodeon and having the opportunity to taste it myself seemed like the best thing ever (also did wonders for those aforementioned “cool points”). I jumped off the sofa, held the box and started reading through the ingredients. For the most part, they looked easy but then it said something that really stumped me— Add Margarine. Having no idea what that was, I knew that this product just cannot be made and my hopes of eating mac and cheese while watching Drake & Josh eating mac and cheese were slowly diminishing. Instead of giving up, I called my mom and in a tone of excitement, I began asking her how to make this. I then told her about the margarine issue (convinced that she would tell me that we can’t make this without this ever so important ingredient). Without even a thought, she responded, “yeah add some butter instead.” My mind was blown, from not knowing what the hell Margarine, I now knew… nothing about it still but I did know that I had butter which meant, it was time to make this pasta already!
My first bite into this piping hot mass of elbow pasta was interesting. It was creamy, a little salty with an al dente pasta that had just the right amount of bite that you feel like you’re having a textured meal and not a bowl of cheesy porridge. The texture was great, the creaminess— luxurious (for a third grader at least), even color— that classic American Cheddar orange was all I was excited to see. The flavour however, was questionable. To be honest it was bland. It was well salted but that was it. Nothing else! I tried to addd flavour to it with ketchup and mustard but nothing made it remotely edible. The third grade was the last time I had Kraft Mac and Cheese. Even in college, while people around me lived on that crap, I stayed away from that tasteless mass of carbs. I did however try homemade Macaroni. Mac and Cheese is a part of the American way of life and is something every family has made for generations. This recipe comes from that exploration of flavours and textures. People use two to three different kind of cheese, bacon, mustard powder, nutmeg, and a classic béchamel sauce. I used a bunch of different ingredients, some borrowed (nutmeg béchamel) and some new (gouda, seashell pasta instead of the boring old elbow, and turmeric instead of American Cheddar to get that yellow color). Check out the recipe. I promise that if you make it, it would be anything but not flavourful!
Glimpses from the week
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This Vanilla Bean Lemon Cheesecake needs to be your weekend project. It has three layers: the base was a mix of Digestives that were crushed and mixed with melted butter, brown sugar, and ginger powder to give it a whiff of gingersnap cookies. Always choose a fibrous cookie. Something made with oats helps bind the ingredients and give this fairly silky cake some texture. The cheesecake filling is made with a thick cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and then your flavouring agents. I used two whole lemons, zest, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste from @urbanplatter.in. Unlike vanilla essence that’s purely the ester component (using my 3 years of college chemistry haha) which can only mildly colour and perfume the cake, the paste is so much more. The liquor that binds the vanilla seeds imparts colour, while the seeds do the heavy lifting— imparting rich flavour and this beautiful speckling that just screams decadence. The last layer is a frosting of mascarpone cheese (an Italian style cream cheese that has a little tang because it has its origins in yogurt), vanilla bean, and sugar. It’s simple but it helps balance the flavours in the cake and also hide the craters that form when you make bake a cheesecake. Perfect for a post Sunday lunch dessert. Recipe from the link in bio 💫
250 grams sea shell pasta, cooked
salt to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
3 cloves garlic, finely grated
1/4 red onion, finely grated
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Freshly ground pepper
250 grams white Cheddar cheese, grated
Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until it’s barely al dente. (It should be more al dente than your average pasta: It’s going to continue to cook in the oven.) Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat butter in a medium pot over medium heat. (The pot should be large enough to hold all the pasta when cooked). Whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the flour is foamy and just starting to turn a light golden brown, about 4 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk to avoid clumping. Add garlic, onion, red chilli powder, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly and paying special attention to the edges of the pot to make sure the flour mixture is totally incorporated.
Add grated cheese and whisk to blend until the cheese is completely melted. (The sauce will seem thick at first and thin out as the cheese melts; it will thicken while it bakes.) Season with salt and pepper and add cooked pasta, stirring to coat well.
Heat oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminium foil (to catch any cheesy drips).
Transfer the macaroni and cheese mixture to a 9 x 13 baking dish and scatter grated parmesan, if using, evenly over the top. Place on prepared baking sheet and bake until macaroni and cheese is bubbling, thickened and creamy, and parmesan is evenly golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.