Dorm-Room Microwave Queso Spaghetti involves just a few ingredients and is done in under 15 minutes. A creamy, delicious meal that is perfect for office cubicles, dorm rooms, or anywhere that kitchen space is at a premium.
On my run this morning, I noticed fallen leaves on the ground. This brought the realization that summer is winding down. Although I love fall, I’m not ready for summer to be over. I’m bracing myself for the onslaught of pumpkin-spiced everything and wondering when we’ll see the appearance of the first Santa decorations. Last year, it was August.
Soon, some of you will be sending a son or a daughter off to college for the first time. We’ll be sending our daughter back to college for her sophomore year, remembering that—somehow—we all survived her first year away.
Cooking in a dorm room
Let me just say that this recipe is not “cheffy” at all: I fully expect many upturned noses at the very notion of microwave cooking. But if you were stuck in a dorm room with only a microwave and found an easy, delicious way to eat a great comfort food meal, wouldn’t you do it?
Dorm room cooking is a special beast because of the limited space and tools available. Although anything with a heating element (including coffee pots!) are usually verboten, most dorm rooms these days at least have a microwave available or allow students to bring one with them. The same goes for a mini fridge.
You’ll also now find a fantastic array of tools for microwave cooking, some of which I’ve included in my “dorm-room warming” gift ideas below.
Our daughter is on a meal plan, but she doesn’t always feel like walking to the cafeteria. So, I like to send her off with some easy meals that she can make in the microwave: for example, my Healthy Dorm Room Microwave Pasta and Creamy Microwave Macaroni and Cheese.
Stay tuned: I’ll be adding breakfast and dessert recipes for dorm room dining in future posts.
Ingredients in Dorm-Room Microwave Queso Spaghetti
This pasta is not authentic anything, but it’s comforting and delicious. I make it similar to a one-pan macaroni and cheese, but with tomatoes and roasted green chiles. The extra ingredients make this only slightly more complicated than my Healthy Dorm-Room Microwave Pasta recipe or my Creamy Microwave Macaroni and Cheese.
Dorm-Room Microwave Queso Spaghetti is, predictably, a mash-up of queso dip and spaghetti. This recipe is very similar—in flavor, anyway—to something I remember my mom making, although I’m fairly certain that her recipe came off the side of a distinctive, rectangular box housing a substance that is not even remotely related to cheese.
Queso spaghetti is not health food by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a lot healthier than many queso/mac and cheese recipes you’ll find because it does not involve a roux to thicken the sauce, cream-of-nasty soup, or the substance in the above-mentioned orange, rectangular box.
Instead, Dorm-Room Microwave Queso Spaghetti uses a bit of the pasta water that the noodles cook in plus some whole milk as the base for the sauce. The starch left in the water thickens the sauce in combination with the melted cheese. Speaking of cheese…
I use a mix of sharp cheddar cheese and American cheese: the real kind from the deli (white if you can get it). Absolutely don’t use anything that comes in singles or pre-shredded in bags, or you’ll end up with a vile mess. If you can’t get American cheese, try Colby, Havarti, or Gouda (I haven’t tried these myself, though, so I can’t guarantee the results).
See, American cheese, as I discuss here, contains sodium citrate, which makes for a smooth, velvety sauce. The cheddar brings more flavor to the table, but—as anyone who has made a broken nacho cheese sauce knows—cheddar can’t be overheated or it misbehaves.
Tomatoes and chiles
I confess that I used fresh garden tomatoes and green chiles from the garden when I initially made this queso spaghetti recipe—because I had them available. This will clearly not be the case in a dorm room or in the middle of winter. So, I usually use canned, petite diced tomatoes and mild green chiles. You can, of course, also use a can of pre-mixed chiles and tomatoes, like Ro-Tel (just make sure to use the “no salt added” variety).
Other optional additions
Besides salt and pepper, I sometimes add a tiny amount of onion powder (not onion salt!) and a dash of hot sauce (Cholula is a personal favorite). If you happened to have some leftover cooked chicken (I used to buy a rotisserie chicken and keep it in my mini fridge!), it would be fantastic cubed up in this pasta.
Making your Dorm-Room Microwave Queso Spaghetti
Measuring the pasta
To make this queso spaghetti, I employ my trusty Fasta Pasta cooker (affiliate link; pictured above with the ingredients). You can use the lid of the cooker to measure out servings of pasta and to drain off the pasta water. Pure genius! Measure out 2 servings using the handy-dandy lid.
Did you know? The hole in the middle of most pasta spoons is the equivalent of one, “by-the-books” serving of pasta. Or, make a ~1.5-inch-diameter hole with your index finger and thumb, and, using your other hand, add enough spaghetti to fill that space for 2 servings.
Cooking the spaghetti
Lay the spaghetti in the bottom of the pasta cooker. Add 2 cups of water and 1/8 tsp of salt, then put in the microwave (lid off!) on high for 2 minutes. At this point, carefully remove the pasta cooker and stir the noodles with a fork, being careful to break up any clumps of spaghetti that might be forming. Return to the microwave and continue cooking and checking every 2 minutes.
At 6 minutes (total), carefully remove a noodle and check for doneness. It should be slightly al dente, or slightly firm when you bite it. When you’re happy with the texture, put the lid back on the pasta cooker and carefully drain all but about 2 tbsp of the water: just eyeball it—no need to measure (if I’m not near a sink, I’ll often drain my pasta into an empty bowl to dump out later).
Building the sauce
Now, add the milk, pepper, onion powder (if you’re using it), hot sauce (if you’re using it), cooked chicken (if you’re using it), and American cheese. Stir well to combine (it should melt quickly), and then stir in the tomatoes and chiles. Return to the microwave and cook, uncovered, for an additional 30 seconds. Add in the cheddar cheese and stir well to combine. Lid the pasta cooker and let the spaghetti sit for 2 minutes.
Finally, give the dorm-room microwave queso spaghetti a good stir, dish it up, and enjoy.
Dorm-Room Microwave Queso Spaghetti: a note on serving sizes
This recipe makes two “by-the-books” servings, meaning that it’s a serving according to the pasta box—but I often need a serving and a half to fill up if I’m eating the pasta without a side. I save the leftover half-portion for a snack—or, better yet, a “leftover pasta frittata” (I’ll be posting a recipe on how to do THAT in the microwave, but I still have some kinks to work out!).
That’s it! I hope that your college student loves this Dorm-Room Microwave Queso Spaghetti. Or, portion out all the ingredients in advance and make it at the office!
Find more easy, one-pot dinners in my how-to article, Mastering Easy One-Pot Meal Recipes! Or, get inspiration for putting your pantry to work from Easy Pantry Meals – Living Out of Your Pantry (and refrigerator and freezer).
I’m linking my Dorm-Room Microwave Queso Spaghetti recipe up with:
- #CookBlogShare, a great food blogger recipe-share, hosted this week by The Peachicks’ Bakery.
- #CookOnceEatTwice, for recipes that are just as good left-over as they are when you made them, hosted by Searching for Spice.
- #RecipeOfTheWeek (coming soon!) hosted by A Mummy Too.
- #BrillBlogPosts, a link party with a variety of lifestyle reads hosted by Honest Mum.
Dorm-Room Microwave Queso Spaghetti
- 4 oz spaghetti - dry (see Recipe Note #1)
- 2 cups water
- 1/8 tsp salt - (kosher or other coarse salt)
- 1/2 cup milk - (I like whole, but low-fat or skim will work as well)
- 1/8 tsp black pepper - freshly ground
- 1/2 cup American cheese - shredded (see Recipe Note #2)
- 1/4 cup tomatoes - finely diced and drained (see Recipe Note #4)
- 1/4 cup roast green chiles - finely diced and drained (mild; see Recipe Note #4)
- 1/2 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese - shredded (see Recipe Note #3)
- 1/2 tsp hot sauce - (see Recipe Note #5)
- 1/4 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 cup cooked chicken - cubed
COOKING THE PASTA
- Lay the spaghetti in the bottom of the pasta cooker. Add the water and salt, then put in the microwave (lid off!) on high for 2 minutes. Carefully remove the pasta cooker and stir the noodles with a fork, being careful to break up any clumps of spaghetti that might be forming. Return to the microwave and continue cooking and checking every 2 minutes, breaking up any pasta clumps as needed.
- At 6 minutes (total), carefully remove a noodle and check for doneness. It should be al dente, or slightly firm when you bite it. When you’re happy with the texture, put the lid back on the pasta cooker and carefully drain all but about 2 tbsp of the water: any more than this will make a runny sauce.
MAKING THE CHEESE SAUCE
- Add the milk, pepper, onion powder (if using), hot sauce (if using), chicken (if using), and American cheese to the pasta cooker. Stir well to combine (the cheese should melt quickly). Stir in the tomatoes and chiles. Return cooker to the microwave and cook, uncovered, for an additional 30 seconds. Add in the cheddar cheese and stir well to combine. Lid the pasta cooker and let the spaghetti sit for 2 minutes.
- Give the dorm-room microwave queso spaghetti a good stir and garnish with additional black pepper, if you'd like. Enjoy!
- If you have a Fasta Pasta cooker, you can use the 2-serving hole in the lid to measure. Or, use the hole in the center of a standard pasta spoon to measure one serving at a time. You can also make a ~1.5-inch-diameter hole using your index finger and thumb to measure 2 servings of pasta.
- Use the American cheese that you find sold at the deli counter. Buy a block and grate it yourself: the pre-bagged, shredded kind will not give you good results.
- Don't use bagged, pre-shredded cheese: these contain extras (like cornstarch) to keep the shreds from clumping, which will ruin the sauce.
- You can use canned diced tomatoes and chiles, or a mix like Ro-Tel (use the "no salt added" variety). If you're using a mix, drain well and measure 1/2 cup.
- I like Cholula hot sauce, but sriracha or really just about any hot sauce will work.
Gift ideas for your dorm-room chef from Amazon and Sur La Table
Note: before you buy, be sure to check with your college student’s residence hall to be sure of what items are provided for dorm room residents, and what they are is allowed to bring with them!
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