I ate a lot of pasta in college, and I mostly ate mac n cheese. But I didn’t eat what you’re thinking. I didn’t eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Annie’s Mac n Cheese(but I do love me a good box of white cheddar mac n cheese). I actually made my own mac n cheese because it literally takes less than 15 minutes to make.
This dish brings back so many memories for me. I have very fond memories of coming home from late evening classes and whipping up this dish. The “cheese” part of my mac n cheese is cream cheese. My love affair with cream cheese is mildly obscene. It started when I began adding cream cheese to every single one of my pasta dishes. It gave me the creaminess of heavy cream without being too rich.
This is my version of quick mac ‘n’ cheese. It got me through 2 years of college, and I’m telling you: It’s freaking delicious. The flavors aren’t as muted as Kraft or Annie’s Mac n Cheese. Drop those mac n cheese boxes and the ramen package you’re holding right now. The small amount of spices you add to this dish make all the difference, not to mention the bonus protein you get from adding cooked chicken. To make the dish vegetarian, you can add chopped red bell peppers instead for a subtle, yet satisfying crunch. (my mac n cheese = a complete meal with protein, carbs, and veggies)
This is not a dish that serves well when refrigerated for the next day, so eat it all as you make it(the creaminess only lasts for so long). If you’re buying cream cheese at the grocery store and you see something called “Neufchâtel Cheese,” get it. I’ve compared Neufchâtel cheese with regular cream cheese, and I don’t notice a drastic difference. Heck, I’ve even used Neufchâtel cheese in place of cream cheese in all my cheesecake recipes. Basically, Neufchâtel is like low-fat cream cheese. Embrace it.
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Here’s what you need:
Some elbow macaroni pasta, parmesan cheese, cream cheese, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and green onions, at the very least. Grab some chopped cooked chicken if you have some.
Cook the pasta. In lightly salted boiling water.
After 6-8 minutes, the pasta should be perfect, tender, and al dente. Before you drain the pasta, reserve some of the pasta cooking liquid.
Drain the pasta!
In a bowl, add cream cheese, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, and cayenne.
Dump the hot noodles over the cream cheese and let the warmth of the noodles melt the cream cheese.
You do the hokey pokey, and you mix it all around…
That’s what it’s all about! … Not quite. It’s not creamy enough. Here’s where you add some of that hot pasta cooking liquid you reserved.
Like magic, right? I just made that so creamy by adding only hot water. Tell me that’s not magic. It’s certainly not hocus pocus.
Now add some Parmesan cheese, chopped green onions, and chopped cooked chicken. You can add any grated hard cheese you want. Using only cream cheese isn’t exactly the best dish ever, but it works.
Mix it all around some more. If it’s not quite creamy enough for you, add a little bit more hot water by the tablespoons, and stir until you’re satisfied. Add more salt, pepper, and garlic powder if you want. So you can totally eat it NOW if you want to.
But wait a second. Are you feeling a little ambitious? I am. Scoop some of that mac n cheese in a small ramekin, or an oven-safe dish.
Top it with some bread crumbs. They can be fresh or dry.
And put it in the broiler just until it’s lightly toasted on top.
Quick Mac ‘n’ Cheese in under 15 minutes (and it ain’t neon orange)
Total time: 13 minutes
Prep: 5 min
Cook: 8 min
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups dried macaroni pasta
4 ounces cream cheese (1/2 package)
½ to 1 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ to ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup diced cooked chicken breast (optional; substitutes: chopped red bell pepper)
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped green onion, white and green parts (about 1 green onion)
3 tablespoons fresh or dried bread crumbs (optional)
Cook the pasta in a medium sized pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, about 6 to 8 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of boiling liquid, and then drain pasta. Do not rinse pasta with water. Set aside to continue draining.
In a medium bowl, add cream cheese, garlic powder, black pepper, ¼ teaspoon salt, and cayenne pepper. Pour cooked pasta on top of cream cheese mixture, and allow hot pasta to rest on top to melt cream cheese, about 1 minute. Stir pasta to distribute cream cheese and spices evenly. Add 3-6 tablespoons of reserved pasta boiling liquid to bowl, and stir in until cream cheese mixture has become creamy and smooth. Add more hot pasta liquid by tablespoons if necessary. Add cooked diced chicken, Parmesan cheese, and chopped green onion, and mix until combined. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne if desired. Serve immediately.
Optional: Pour macaroni and cheese into a small baking dish. Top with bread crumbs, and place dish in an oven broiler. Allow top of bread crumbs to brown until golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.