Creamy Less Cheesy Mac and Cheese

IMG_5206Anyone else find themselves questioning their life choices? First world problems, right? I’ve got a roof over my head, food to eat, a wonderful family – so much to be grateful for. But I’m feeling sorry for myself because I haven’t “made it” yet or didn’t pursue one of the more conventional paths of engineering, medicine, or law (not that I have a litigating bone in my body). Of course this comes at a time when most of my high school and college classmates are receiving their secondary degrees and the grass is looking greener on the other side. But I’ve been trying to embody the saying I’ve read recently, “The grass is greener where you water it”. I love my family and would be so empty without them. But I need to reach my professional goals as well. Would love to grow this blog or my little side hustle (custom cakes) but I feel like I’m lacking some guidance. Is it my content? My outreach? Help me out, guys!! Granted I have two little ones, one who is isn’t in school yet, so my resources are limited.   IMG_5195Speaking of little ones, for years I lamented that despite my efforts to make mac and cheese from scratch, my kids preferred the stuff from the blue box. Relieved, since dinner could be ready in a snap if I had the blue box on hand. Affronted, as well. So I sought a solution. The problem was the traditional mac and cheese recipes I followed were quite cheesy. Resulting in a strongly flavored and thick sauce.IMG_5196So, I thought I’d make a bechamel sauce, add in a little bit of cheese at a time until it had just enough thickness and was mildly flavored enough for my kiddos, and voila! I made something that my 3 1/2 year old would lick clean off the plate.   IMG_5199This comes together so quickly, you’ll be like, blue box, who? Granted you have pre-shredded cheese. I use the Trader Joe’s blend of mozzarella, cheddar and jack cheese. It’s wonderful in omelettes, grilled cheese, etc. IMG_5200Throw in some frozen peas with the pasta during the last minute of cooking to make it a complete meal. Or shredded beef/chicken. The sky’s the limit. I just keep the chicken broth on hand in case it gets too thick. IMG_5205  IMG_5215Make this once and you’ll never go back to Panera’s mac and cheese! Feel free to double the recipe if you have more mouths to feed!


  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese (cheddar or I use a combo of mozzarella, cheddar and pepper jack)
  • 3/4 tsp salt plus more to taste
  • dash black pepper
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 pound elbows or small shell pasta


  1. In a medium to large pot, heat about 4 quarts of water over high heat. Let it come to a boil while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. When it comes to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt and the pasta to the water. Give it a stir and set the timer to 8 minutes (check the time on the box for shells since I used elbows).
  3. Melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk together. Allow to cook for 1-2 minutes. Next, slowly pour in the milk, while whisking. Continue whisking, taking care to get all the bits of flour and butter from the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat to a simmer a let cook for 5 minutes. It won’t thicken fully at this point. Make sure the mixture is not boiling otherwise the cheese will curdle*. Turn off the heat (and the heat of the pasta if the timer is up). Add salt and pepper and stir to combine.** Add cheese and stir – now the sauce should be sufficiently thick to coat the pasta.
  4. Strain pasta and add it to the cheese sauce. Serve immediately.***

*I learned this the hard way after ruining two batches during our suite’s Thanksgiving potluck in college.

**Congratulations, you’ve just made bechamel sauce!

***To reheat, add a bit of chicken broth to a saucepan and warm over medium low heat until heated through.

Cake Design at ICE

IMG_8052I took a class in trends in cake decorating today. The chef instructor was kind of mean. Not like my fourth grade teacher, Ms Steiner kind of mean. No, Ms. Steiner made a point of making everyone in our class cry at some point in time. I succumbed one day when she called me stupid for messing some grammar up. This from a lady who took in a stray cat (whom she named Junior), invited him to sleep with her on her bed, and proceeded to give her rabies. No, our Chef Instructor was just a bit eccentric. I think Gordon Ramsey has set the bar pretty high for kitchen totalitarianism. I think most people go into a culinary course half expecting their instructor to fall closer to the Gordon Ramsey part of the eccentric teacher spectrum (Julia Childs being on the far end). IMG_5179It was time well spent! I’ve seen all the tutorials online for rosettes, ribbons, ombre, etc. but not very many opportunities to practice them hands on. I have to practice the ombre as the gradient wasn’t quite what I wanted. But ombre cakes just have such a spectacular wow factor. Definitely worth the time to get it right! IMG_5183 Now might be a good time to mention the new section of my page: Custom Cakes! After supplying friends and family with custom cakes over the past year and I half, I want to open it up to anyone in the NYC metro area who is looking for delicious, beautiful cakes custom designed for their event!IMG_5192I still love cooking and food and will continue that portion of the blog. But unless I start a full on catering company, I need hone in a little bit! So let me make your next event even more special by sharing one of my custom creations with you! Shoot me an e-mail at or use the form in the link.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

IMG_5126I usually shy away from pumpkin spice anything. It’s just not my cup of tea. But a few weeks ago our family went to Wightman Farms in New Jersey, where they attempt to ameliorate the hurt inflicted on your wallet from overpriced hay rides with complimentary pumpkins. Thus, I had 4 pumpkins and a whole lotta cooking to do. I made a pumpkin bread which was a bust (recipe said to bake in two 8×4 loaf pans; I brazenly baked it in a single 10×5 in pan and sadly watched through the oven door as it never rose), a pumpkin pasta which was delish, and finally, these fabulous little bites. Important to note that my homemade pumpkin puree is thinner than the canned ones, but I think since this recipe uses vegetable oil and not butter, you should be fine. IMG_5142I whipped these up without a recipe to refer to (hence most of the amounts are 1, 1, 1 [1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 cup pumpkin, etc.] but hey, it works!) and without even being sure if the end result would be a cupcake or a muffin. Since I wanted to practice my piping, I frosted them with a cream cheese frosting – so I guess they are officially in Camp Cupcake! They are so moist you can serve as a snack without the frosting.


  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree*
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (could omit this and use all all-purpose flour)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon (can increase to 1/2 tsp if you prefer)
  • 1/8 tsp ground clove
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder (make sure it’s fresh! i.e. not older than 3 months)
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda (same)


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray either a mini muffin pan or a standard muffin pan with non-stick spray.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer), combine both sugars with vegetable oil and beat for a minute. Add egg and continue beating. Add pumpkin puree and continue beating for another minute.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flours, spices, salt and leavening. Whisk a few times.
  4. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients just until combined. Scoop batter into prepared pans to about 3/4 way up. If using the mini muffin pan, bake for 15-17 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. For a standard muffin pan, bake 18 to 20 minutes.
  5. If you choose to frost them, allow them to cool to room temperature. Frost with a cream cheese frosting.

*To make the pumpkin puree, I peel a pumpkin similar to how you would peel a butternut squash – with a big knife, going from top to bottom, around on all sides. Scoop out seeds, chop, then place in a large wok or pot with 1/2 inch of water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat. Simmer until tender. Blend in a food processor.


Coconut Sheet Cake

IMG_5099I feel like I just completed a marathon. Not the running kind, though there was a lot of physical activity involved. Running to/from the store. Planning, baking, cleaning, putting away, assembling, decorating on top of the usual taking care of 2 small children and managing a household. Before this past weekend, my cake orders were usually 2-3 layer 9 in cakes. Now I had to prepare 2 full sheet cakes to feed 200 people over two consecutive days. Luckily the other cake was an icebox cake that required lots and lots of chocolate wafers that I was able to store in the fridge. I was pretty much at capacity when I baked the first layer of this cake and froze earlier in the week.       IMG_5057I had previously made this as 3 layered cake. But the recipe needed tweaking in order to make it more sturdy and stand up to the demands of a sheet cake! IMG_5058The customer requested pineapple filling in lieu of the cream cheese frosting, so if you like pina coladas then this cake is for you! I made two batches using the recipe found here. It was just perfect. IMG_5064The groom to be, after taking a bite could only say “wow”. That’s right. I don’t strive to make the most over the top decorative cakes that look like your favorite handbags. I strive to make the best cake you have ever tasted, every time.  IMG_5069I should probably mention this was for a Bengali pre-wedding party called a Gai Holud. The writing on the cake reads “Jamil’s Gai Holud”. It’s a tradition wherein the bride or groom is rubbed all over with turmeric paste and then bathed publicly (with the Bengali equivalent of a bathing suit on).  Here in America, we do a more symbolic version. Bride/groom sits on some decorated platform with an array of sweets in front of him/her. There is a bowl of turmeric paste that is rubbed on a small portion of his or her face, then wiped off. IMG_5070 IMG_5077IMG_5088This is how I prepped the board for my 16×22 in cake. Because apparently they make pans in that size, but not cake boards or cake boxes. Lame.IMG_5091IMG_5092IMG_5093I don’t usually do crumb coatings, but because I made the amount listed in the original recipe, it wasn’t enough to properly frost a cake of this size, so I used it just to cover the surface. This cake is very tender, very moist, so it needed the crumb coating. IMG_5094The real challenge was in getting the second layer onto the first. The first layer was just inverted by placing the cake board on top of the sheet pan and flipping. But the second layer was not as trivial. I stood over the first layer, second layer in hand for like 5 minutes taking deep breaths before going for it. And it didn’t align evenly! Although I held the cake in place by the bits of parchment sticking out of the edges, I couldn’t fully control how it flipped out of the cake pan so it came out slightly rotated down (by like 10 degrees). I sawed off the parts that stuck out on either side and sort of glued it onto the barren sides with frosting. IMG_5098It worked. The guests were none the wiser. Til now, of course.IMG_5103Traditional henna patterns as decoration and toasted coconut flakes all around for that extra oomph.

Coconut Sheet Cake

Recipe adapted from A Taste of Home. Please note I made two batches of the recipe below for my 2 layer sheet cake. I used the frosting from the link above (also 2 batches).


  • 6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp coconut extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cup buttermilk at room temperature
  • 2 heaping cups sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare 16x22in sheet pan by lining with parchment paper, spraying with non stick spray or butter, and sprinkling a bit of flour.
  2. Beat butter at low speed, gradually increasing to medium until light and aerated, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Gradually add 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Beat until light and fluffy – about another minute. Decrease speed to low and add oil. Gradually add the remaining sugar so as not to deflate the butter. Add the six egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the bowl halfway through. Add the extracts and beat until combined. Stop mixer.
  3. Sift cake flour, baking powder and baking soda into a medium bowl. Add salt and give a gentle stir with a wooden spoon. Turn the mixer on low and add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, alternating with with buttermilk. Turn off mixer when dry ingredients are just incorporated.
  4. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar with a handheld electric mixer starting at low speed and increasing to high speed. Beat until peaks are stiff, 5 to 7 minutes. Add 1/4 of the egg whites to the batter to loosen it up. Add remaining egg whites by gently folding with a rubber spatula, cutting down the middle of the batter, then turning the bowl 1/4 of the way and bringing the spatula up and over. Repeat until you can just barely see the streaks of egg white.
  5. Pour batter evenly over sheet pan and bake in preheated oven for about 23 minutes. Start checking with a toothpick inserted in the center to make sure it’s done at about 21 min. There should be minimal crumbs on the toothpick.


Spice Rubbed Chicken Cutlets

IMG_5035My first born starting school has opened up a world of culinary challenges: what can I make and pack for her that a) she’ll eat b) is nutritious (most of the time) and c) not too messy? The top two contenders so far as been a chicken “salad” sandwich made from leftover chicken curry, mayo and provolone cheese. First choice though, banana nutella sandwich. That’s my cop out sandwich. Something I’m sure Park Slope moms would be aghast at finding out was given to a child. You’ve heard about that, right? The parents who wanted to ban the ice cream truck coming ’round the block so they wouldn’t have to deal with their kids ice cream wanting tantrums. IMG_5026While I empathize with the tantrum dealing – I wonder how many parents in my generation reflect on the food they grew up versus the food they feed their kids. Sometimes I get so hung up on, “Are my kids eating enough greens?” “Are they getting enough fiber?” “Is it too late in the evening for chocolate?”. While it’s definitely good to be thinking of these things, some of us go off the deep end when it comes to this stuff. A certain parent comes to mind who flipped out when her daughter was given a rice biscuit or whatever too close to her dinner time.  IMG_5027Do you know what my after-school snacks consisted of? Double chocolate chip muffins laden with all kinds of artificial flavorings and preservatives with a can of pepsi. Or entenmann’s chocolate cake. Or chips ahoy cookies with milk. My gourmet touch was microwaving the chips ahoy cookies to give ’em that just baked quality. Right.IMG_5037So, over the years, I’ve given myself a break. Not all their fruits and veggies are organic anymore. Sometimes they have nutella toast for dinner. And lollipops or ice cream in the evening? One heck of a reward for cleaning up their toys! Not to say I’ve thrown all caution to the wind. I snuck some baby kale leaves into my daughter’s wrap this morning. Usually I make her sandwiches with soft whole wheat bread. Pictured below is Malaysian style paratha which, if you were with me during my semester in Rome, you know it is crazy good. It’s a flaky flatbread that makes anything taste good (not that this chicken needs any help!!). IMG_5043My favorite part of this chicken is the wonderful caramelization from cooking it in the butter. Why didn’t we eat more butter growing up? It is so glorious when treated well. Buttered toast in our household usually meant Country Crock vegetable spread on lightly toasted Wonder Bread.IMG_5036So enjoy these chicken cutlets all throughout the week:

  • Sliced across the grain and over salad
  • Diced and mixed with a mayo dressing for chicken salad sandwiches
  • Sliced and inside wraps with lettuce and tomato
  • Diced and tossed with buttered pasta and peas
  • Or as is, with a side of quinoa and leafy greens!


  • 2 large chicken breasts, each sliced in half widthwise to make 4 cutlets
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp butter, divided


  1. Combine spices in a small bowl and sprinkle all or most of it evenly over both sides of each chicken cutlet.
  2. In a large fry pan over medium high heat, heat 1 tbsp oil and 1/2 tbsp butter. When the bubbling of the butter dies down, add two pieces of the chicken cutlets. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. You’ll know when to flip when the bottom side is golden brown and the white (cooked) part of the chicken creeps up to the middle. Flip and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
  3. When the first two are done, remove from heat and let them rest on a plate (not a cutting board as the juices will run). Clean the pan with a rubber spatula to get the overly brown bits and oil off and into a ramekin or bowl. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and half tablespoon butter. Cook the remaining two cutlets the same way. Remove to plate and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

Bottle Gourd or Calabash Sauté (Lau Bhaji)

IMG_4922I don’t get Bengalis’ obsession with gourds. If you have no idea what a gourd is, you are not alone. Similar to squash, they are mild tasting vegetables with high water content, fleshy interiors and seeds. They’ve got a tough exterior, depending on the type of gourd you are dealing with. These are called bottle gourds, because you can apparently hollow out the interior, dry it out, and use it as a bottle (hello, cousin jack-o-lantern?). IMG_4902But Bengalis swear by these veggies!! You will not find a Bangladeshi homeowner without this growing in their garden! They are ubiquitous. And I don’t get why. They are essentially flavorless. Sauteed, with mustard seeds and turmeric, is one way to prepare them. Simmered in a light broth with shrimp is another. I prefer to mix in large chunks with my daal.IMG_4906I don’t know why I have the knife facing me like that.  IMG_4907Despite my ambivalence towards bottle gourd, when your mother in law hands you a fresh one from her garden, you take it. And you cook it. And you feed it to your family with love and gratitude because for once you know they’re eating something that was cultivated with care, that is not GMO, and has no toxic pesticides on it (as a result, though, my poor mother and father in law have had to suffer losses at the hands [or should I say mouths] of deer, rabbits and groundhogs).  IMG_4908Ambivalence best describes my feelings toward bottle gourd. Bitter gourd is whole other story. I abhor it. True to it’s name, it’s bitter as heck. Highly nutritious – but that’s not even why my family eats it. They actually enjoy the taste. I guess similar to how Italians enjoy radicchio.   IMG_4912Finally, there’s snake gourd – which is actually pretty good. Slightly sweeter than the bottle gourd, but still quite mild and fleshy.

And there you go! All you never wanted to know about these little consumed (at least in the West) veggies. Perhaps now, you will walk by your Asian grocer with a bit more clarity.


  • 3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 tsp whole mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of your knife
  • 4 dried red chilis
  • 1 medium sized bottle gourd (I used 2/3 of a large one)
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup of cilantro, roughly chopped


  1. Peel the gourd (I didn’t and I deeply regret it). Cut off both ends and halve it so it’s easier to manage. Take one half and stand it up and cut down the middle. Slice into thin (1/8 in thick) slices.
  2. In a large non-stick wok or sauté pan, heat oil over medium high heat. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, garlic and dried chilis. Cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds – you don’t want it to burn). Open up your windows, too. Toasted chilis make you cough up a storm! Add the sliced gourd, turmeric and salt. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until cooked through: about 15 minutes. If the veggies start to brown, reduce heat to medium and keep stir-frying. Check for seasoning (salt). Top with chopped cilantro. Serve alongside rice and daal.

Meyer Lemon Strawberry Lemonade

IMG_4823I’ve come a long way from the days of squeezing limes into a tall pitcher of water, and stirring in sugar until it dissolves. And stirring and stirring and stirring…

Lemon/limeades were usually reserved for Ramadan in my household. That meant we whipped up batches of the stuff without being able to taste it (since we were fasting) and without sticking to any sort of recipe (my mother never owned a recipe book). The results ran the gamut from mouth puckeringly tart to gaggingly sweet.

That won’t happen with this recipe. I won’t forget the looks on my guests’ faces when they broke their fast with this drink earlier this summer. Their eyes widened as they could not believe the incredible reward their taste buds received after a long day without food or drink.  IMG_4726This is an adaptation of a pretty straightforward Pioneer Woman recipe. I stuck to her proportions, but jazzed it up with some floral scented Meyer lemons, a simple syrup for easy dissolving, and ice for a quick cool down. I had never thought to puree strawberries in a food processor with sugar to get the strawberry part of a strawberry lemonade but it was so easy and so perfect. I think when you cook it down in a saucepan it has the tendency to thicken. This way it was perfectly smooth and pourable. IMG_4816 If you don’t have Meyer lemons in your grocery store, please proceed with regular lemons! If you do have Meyer lemons handy, you won’t regret it. They have such an amazing bouquet – floral, sweet. I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed, but when you squeeze citrus, the essential oils mist up and out from the rind like a natural air freshener. When the oils of the Meyer lemons gets into the air, it perfumes the whole kitchen. Almost makes you want to take a bite out of it!

Summer’s not over as long as you’re making this drink! It HAS the power to keep summer going. Also, summer is not over until it’s my birthday. Seriously – last day of summer this year and I turn…twenty…I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

Adapted from Pioneer Woman.


  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 8 to 10 Meyer lemons
  • 9 cups water
  • 2 heaping cups ice


  1. In a medium saucepan, dissolve 2 cups sugar with 2 cups of water and the peel of 1 Meyer lemon* over medium heat. Stir occasionally. When dissolved, remove from heat and let cool.
  2. Meanwhile, blend the strawberries in a food processor with 1 cup of sugar until well blended. Set aside.
  3. Using a citrus juicer, or by hand (over a sieve to catch seeds and pulp), juice 8 to 10 Meyer lemons until you have 2 cups of lemon juice. Set aside.
  4. Remove lemon peel from simple syrup. In a large pitcher or drink dispenser combine lemon scented simple syrup, strawberry puree, lemon juice, remaining 7 cups of water and 2 cups of ice. Stir to combine. Add more water/sugar to taste.

*When peeling, take care not to get too much of the white part (pith) as that will make the simple syrup bitter.