Let your inner child shine with the cheesiest of macaroni and cheeses made with sharp cheese and cream cheese, topped off with a cheesy crunchy Cheetos topping.
I turn 30 in 3 short days and I’m not sure where the time went. Wasn’t I a silly child with 1/4-inch thick glasses, only eating plain hamburgers (ketchup only), and dreaming of being an artist/singer/marine biologist when I grew up just the other day? Oh wait I’m still silly and still have thick glasses, I just hide them inside my eyeballs with these fancy things called contact lenses. As for the rest, I missed the boat on the whole artist/singer thing and I rejected becoming a marine biologist because I wanted to play with dolphins, not work in a lab. And yet here I am today working in a lab with microscopic organisms that arn’t even cute to look at unless I streak them out a petri dish in a fun design (I once streaked them out to wish a former lab member “happy birthday”).
I am definitely thankful that I grew out of my crazy picky eater phase because I highly doubt I would have been able to keep up a food blog on only plain hamburgers, cheese pizza, potato chips, and Cheetos. However, I have definitely made my share of Cheetos-incorporating recipes. While the recipe count may have only been 3 prior to today, I still doubt many other people can say they have smashed up Cheetos to use as breading on chicken and as a binder in burgers, or turned them into caramelized delicacies, or smothered them with marshmallow and turned them into a freakish kind of crispy treat (and were still devoured by all).
Today’s Cheetos-inspired recipe is a bit tamer than the last two. I used crushed up Cheetos as the topping for my favorite macaroni and cheese base, this time using sharp cheddar cheese to highlight the cheesiest of Cheetos. It felt a bit like cheating to only have the Cheetos on top but I worried it would be grainy if I had stirred more into the mac and cheese itself. Instead, I may have had a bowl of Cheetos on the side, ready to crumble over any pieces that did not have a sufficient amount of topping on them. I may never truly grow up…
Thank goodness for that!
One year ago: Caprese Salad Bagel Bites
Two years ago: Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes
CHEETOS MAC & CHEESE
Serves 6 as side or 4 as entree
8 oz. favorite pasta shape (I used campanelle)
2-1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
2 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup crushed crunchy Cheetos
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 11×7-inch (about 2 quarts) casserole dish and set aside.
- Cook pasta according to package directions until just barely al-dente (about 1 minute less than recommended cook time). Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a large saute pan over medium heat add butter and melt until frothy. Add flour and whisk until smooth. Continue cooking until it begins to bubble and turn golden, about 2-3 minutes. Slowly pour in milk, whisking vigorously, until all the milk is incorporated and mixture is smooth (will clump but keep whisking).
- Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking regularly, until sauce has thickened slightly, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cayenne, paprika, and salt and pepper. Slowly add cheeses (except a 1/2 cup mixture of cheddar-Parmesan), a handful at a time, whisking until melted before adding more. Stir in pasta until evenly coated.
- Pour into the prepared dish. Sprinkle with reserved cheese and crushed Cheetos over top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until filling is bubbling, then broil for 1 to 2 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Source: Adapted from Rosemary Mac & Cheese.
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