Visiting Davida last weekend in Las Vegas was one of the best spontaneous decisions I’ve ever made.
I had so much fun with her. We laughed a lot, wandered around Las Vegas, and ate some great food that wasn’t the crap at Heart Attack Grill. And yes, like a bunch of you guys have needled me about, there was some romance involved. Sorry, ladies, there’s someone halfway across the country who’s got a new moniker: Girlfriend of The Pizzle.
You all had like, three years to get on this love train. Of course, since my life is consistently backwards, and considering I’m in Chicago, expect some uproarious hijinks involving my long-distance pining. Breaking up with my right hand is going to be really difficult, so please send me your thoughts and prayers at this time.
Anyway, you’re here to watch me possibly kill myself with my diet before I see her again, so let’s continue with my usual shitshow.
When I was in high school, I had a summer job at my best friend’s father’s shoe store.
If you work at most retail stores, you have to deal with a lot of boxes, packages, and packing peanuts. One day, one of the other employees walked up to me with a packing peanut, looked me straight in the eye, and ate it.
I looked at him and said, “Are you messing with me?”
He said, “Try one!”
I cautiously put a packing peanut in my mouth and to my surprise, it dissolved almost immediately. It didn’t taste like much aside from a bit of starch. Turns out, they are in fact, made of corn starch. I ate a lot of them that summer, straight from the box. And look where I am today. I’m the greatest food writer that ever walked the face of this planet. That’s not saying very much.
So I said to myself, “Dannis Ree, puffy Cheetos are a really good snack if you basically want a salty cheese bomb in your hole. However, they are impossible to make at home. Do you think you can use these packing peanuts to make a quirky version that aspiring mommy bloggers can use to poison their shitty children?”
The answer is yes. My recipes can poison anybody. Except for me. I’m like the Rasputin of food bloggers.
For today’s experiment, I bought a giant bag of Eco-Flow Corn Starch Pellets, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Kernel Seasons Nacho Cheese Powder, and pure monosodium glutamate (MSG).
You can purchase a giant bag of Eco-Flow Corn Starch Pellets at places like The Container Store for about five bucks. Since I did not want to carry the large bag around on public transporation, I hailed Uber for a driver.
“Hey, man,” he said. “Are you moving?”
I looked at him with some confusion until I realized what was in the giant bag next to me.
“No,” I said, laughing. “This is for my food blog. I’m trying to make puffy Cheetos at home.” I mean, come on. It was obvious what I was going to use them for.
“You serious?” he asked, looking at me suspiciously. I put one in my mouth and ate it. Then I handed him one and he cautiously took a bite.
“Huh,” he said. “It tastes like a Japanese rice cracker.”
I’d probably say getting a complete stranger to eat packing peanuts is one of the greatest achievements of my life.
While they aren’t exactly the same poo-shaped treat, biodegradable packing peanuts aren’t terribly far off from puffy Cheetos.
Plus, these packing peanuts are made out of corn, much like Cheetos are — but only with starch and no cornmeal.
If you don’t believe me, these things really do dissolve in water.
I let these sit for about a minute and swirled them around once.
The result basically looks like disintegrated toilet paper.
If you let it sit for even longer, they dissolve almost completely. Are you supposed to eat these things? No. Has that ever stopped me? No. They are technically non-toxic, but so is sidewalk chalk. But I’ll save that one for another day when I’m feeling really frisky and low on calcium.
To try and recreate the crisp yet light crunch of the Cheetos, I decided to try and deep-fry the packing peanuts with vegetable oil.
I do not own a fryer, because if I did, I would try to deep-fry pencils or something and burn my entire apartment building down with me in it. It would not be a great loss to the world, because in general, food writers are pretty useless when you think about it. We write about calories that are extruded out our asses out the next day. As I’ve said previously, never take a food writer too seriously. We’re just advertising a lifestyle you think you want.
I’m clearly doing a good job with mine.
Frying packing peanuts is not very easy.
These little troublemakers float and do not flip. Every time I tried to flip a peanut, it would just roll back over, fried side down, since it had soaked up oil through the bottom. People have been getting irritated by my incessant jokes about your mother, but if I were to insert one here, I’d probably talk about her supernatural ability to soak up oil through her bottom too.
I think I’ll focus on your father from now on. Dads just don’t get their bottoms oiled nearly enough.
For flavoring, I bought two types of cheese powder.
One of them was a nacho cheese powder you can sprinkle onto popcorn at home, by a company called Kernel Season’s. It comes in a shaker for infantile tastebuds who can’t handle the regular taste of popcorn.
If you’re coating fried items in seasoning, you have to do it right after they come right out of the oil, otherwise the seasoning won’t stick.
If you’re coating fried packing peanuts in store-bought nacho cheese powder, then I really wouldn’t be worried about proper technique too much.
Both Harvey and Mr. Bee were getting a little upset that my blog experimentation has gotten this far.
As you can see, I did a really good job frying the packing peanuts, because they look exactly like Cheetos, if Cheetos were tiny fried dog turds. The texture wasn’t totally off, but man, packing peanuts soak up a ton of oil (considering they’re basically air sponges, that’s not a big surprise).
Plain puffed corn starch burns very easily, causing each bite to taste acrid, and nacho cheese powder does not taste like Cheetos at all — it’s spiced with things like dehydrated garlic and onion, and end up tasting slightly more of Doritos than Cheetos, but the fact that the puffs were burned really detracted from the whole fried packing peanut experience.
I asked myself why I was trying this again and I had no good answer.
Since the deep-frying method didn’t work so well, I decided to try and pan-fry the packing peanuts next, for a lighter texture.
Like the deep-frying method, the packing peanuts kept rolling over, heavy side down, so only one side ended up fried no matter how hard I tried shaking the pan.
Rather than use popcorn seasoning this time, I decided to use Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder.
After snorting a bunch of it, I realized that Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder does not taste much like cheese at all. It tastes like a salty vague dairy product that comes flaked off your father’s hairy ass.
Sentences like that last one are quickly turning me into a legend.
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder does not stick to packing peanuts very well.
These are really interesting life lessons. Explaining this kind of thing to people in person is very difficult sometimes. Everyone looks at me in horror when I recount the time I tried to cook a steak dinner in my clothes dryer.
The color ended up being a lot closer to the real thing.
Taste-wise? It was still quite a bit off. Cheetos have such a distinct flavor that it’s hard to recreate the taste from cheap store-bought hacks. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder is like a hazy memory of cheese if the apocalypse happened and cheese stopped existing.
The key to puffy Cheetos, I’ve found, lies in the texture. While pan-frying the packing peanuts didn’t quite nail it, the texture was much closer. The outer texture had the right crispness in a thin shell, and the insides remained soft, but I had a feeling that was about as close as I’d get.
In order to give the homemade puffy Cheetos that really addictive flavor, I decided to spike the macaroni cheese powder with a dose of pure MSG.
It’s not labeled as MSG at the store, but you can actually buy monosodium glutamate in shakers by the salt in the grocery store. I bought McCormick’s Accent Flavor Enhancer, and despite what anyone says, there’s no proven link between MSG and health complications.
After pan-frying another batch of packing peanuts, I mixed the nacho cheese dust with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder along with MSG, and gave it all a good toss.
Your father’s really good at tossing things too. Specifically salads. He tends to prefer mixed greens like arugula and baby kale, but he’s excellent with buttholes. I bet you guys are regretting complaining about the mother jokes now.
Again, the powder mixture didn’t stick too well, but after multiple batches of fried packing peanuts in vegetable oil, I stopped caring. Mainly about life in general.
The end product was the closest I think I’ll get to making homemade Cheetos (with the exception of the packing peanuts).
I know that the picture seems to show naked packing peanuts, but they kept rolling over even on the plate. The bottom of the mock Cheetos were actually coated in the salty cheese mixture, at least as well as could be expected. Was it super accurate? Not really — but it was closer than my last attempts. A combination of generic cheese along with spiced nacho powder and additional monosodium glutamate helped me inch closer to the holy grail of spongy crispy puffy Cheetos. The texture was still fairly far off, but I did what I could. I mean, come on. I tried to cook with biodegradable packing supplies that aren’t meant to be eaten in the first place.
I was still disappointed, but oh well. Eventually the sun will become a supernova and blast all traces of Earth away, along with this blog.
Just do yourself a favor and eat the addictive puffy Cheetos instead.
Do not fry packing supplies and coat them with anything labeled “cheese product.” Instead, strike up a conversation with someone across the country. Decide you like them, then spontaneously go visit, as if you’re in a twee romantic movie starring Joseph Gordon Leavitt and Zooey Deschanel. Have the greatest time of your life. Return home breathless and full of angst.
Then you can start frying packing peanuts.