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Championship Chow: March Madness inspires final four fare


These calzones made in a cake pop pan are little pizza-stuffed basketballs.

These calzones made in a cake pop pan are little pizza-stuffed basketballs. Photo by:


Broccoli pesto dip for pre-game snacking.

Broccoli pesto dip for pre-game snacking.
Photo by:


Brownie tiramisu in individual glasses is a no-muss dessert for TV-watching.

Brownie tiramisu in individual glasses is a no-muss dessert for TV-watching.
Photo by:


Try Southern Living’s super-quick chili served in hollowed dinner rolls for game day.

Try Southern Living’s super-quick chili served in hollowed dinner rolls for game day.
Photo by: Beth Dreiling Hontzas/Southern Living/



Jan Swoope



The nail-biters can give it a rest for a few days. College basketball fanatics are celebrating or licking wounds, depending on where their allegiances lay this past weekend. But whether their team is still in or long gone from the NCAA Tournament, any fan who relishes the adrenaline rush of battle and buzzer beaters is picking teams for Saturday's Final Four. It's all down now to Florida, UConn, Wisconsin and Kentucky.  


But we still gotta eat, right?  


Inspired by the number four, here are four recipes today that seem suited for a basketball party, where friends and family are focused on the action, but also hungry for food they can easily consume from a comfortable perch by the TV. We bring you a dip, a basketball-themed appetizer, a clever chili idea and a portable dessert. A broccoli pesto dip flavored with lemon, garlic, hazelnuts and herbs should disappear pretty quickly from the middle of the coffee table during pre-game hype. Follow that with basketball-shaped calzones decorated by you with orange food coloring and a black food coloring marker. These little pizza-stuffed basketballs are tiny bits of cheese and pepperoni baked in balls of pizza dough in a cake pop pan.  


I love the super quick chili in hollowed round dinner rolls. We're not talking big, steaming bowls of chili here, but easy eats that suit the change of seasons and are round, like ... well, you know. 


To finish off with something sweet, a brownie tiramisu shows off a bit of culinary panache on your part but is also game-worthy, served in individual glasses. Mascarpone gives the topping special flavor, but an equal amount of softened cream cheese may be substituted. Almond-flavored liqueur makes a delicious substitute for coffee liqueur. If you're pressed for time and ingredients, of course, you can always opt for brownie and ice cream sundaes.  


Feeling outright lazy? Well then, just buy a box of vanilla wafers and draw basketball lines on them with a black food coloring pen. Put a dollop of icing on the flat side and sandwich another wafer onto it to upgrade your 'nilla wafer roundball. 


If you're a basketball fan, best to you and yours as the Final Four hit the hardwood April 5 -- and as the championship game gets underway April 7. Here's wishing you exciting games and good eating. 








1 large broccoli 


2 stems fresh basil (or sage) 


1/2 lemon, squeezed 


1/2 cup hazelnuts 


2 cloves garlic 


1/2 cup olive oil 


2 tablespoons water 


Sea salt and pepper 




  • Blend all ingredients until smooth. Serve as a dip or on a wrap. 








    Makes 12 




    1 tube refrigerated pizza crust 


    3 mozzarella cheese sticks 


    12-24 pepperoni slices 


    1 jar pizza sauce 


    1 black food coloring pen 


    1 tablespoon butter 


    Orange food coloring 




  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread pizza crust on a work surface. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut 12 circles of dough. 


  • Cut mozzarella sticks into 1-inch pieces. Place one or two pepperoni slices on each circle of dough and add mozzarella pieces on top. 


  • Pinch the dough closed around the cheese and pepperoni. 


  • Grease the top and bottom of the cake pop pan. Place the dough balls in the bottom half of the pan. 


  • Attach the top of the pan and secure shut. Bake for 15 minutes. Allow pan to cool for 5 minutes before opening. If some of the pizza balls have ridges in the center, trim off with a pair of scissors.  


  • Using a black food coloring pen, draw basketball lines on the pizza balls. 


  • Add orange food coloring to 1 tablespoon of butter and mix well. Add more food coloring to achieve desired color. Brush the tinted butter on the pizza balls, wiping off any excess with a paper towel. 


  • Basketballs can be refrigerated for up to three days, until you're ready to serve. To reheat, place basketballs on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree F oven for 8-10 minutes. Serve with a bowl of warm pizza sauce for dipping. 








    Total prep time: 27 minutes 


    Makes 8 servings 




    2 pounds lean ground beef  


    2 tablespoons chili powder 


    1 tablespoon Creole seasoning 


    1 teaspoon ground cumin 


    2 (16-ounce) cans diced tomatoes with green pepper and onion 


    2 (16-ounce) cans small red beans 


    2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce  


    Toppings: shredded Cheddar cheese, sliced green onions, diced tomatoes 




  • Brown beef in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring often, 6-8 minutes or until beef crumbles and is no longer pink; drain well. Return beef to Dutch oven; sprinkle with chili powder, Creole seasoning, and cumin, and saute 1 minute. 


  • Stir in diced tomatoes and next 2 ingredients, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes.  


  • Slice tops from 16 1-ounce hearty round dinner rolls, hollow out and let guests spoon chili into rolls. Serve with toppings. 


    (Source: Southern Living, February 2010/  






    Makes 12 servings 




    1/2 cup chopped pecans 


    1/3 cup coffee liqueur 


    1/3 cup strong brewed coffee  


    1 1/2 (4-ounce) semisweet chocolate bars, divided 


    3/4 cup butter 


    2 1/4 cups sugar, divided  


    3 large eggs  


    1 cup all-purpose flour  


    1 (8-oz.) container mascarpone cheese 


    1 teaspoon vanilla extract 


    1 cup whipping cream 




  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Arrange pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake 5-7 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant. 


  • Stir together coffee liqueur and coffee. 


  • Coarsely chop 1 chocolate bar. Microwave coarsely chopped chocolate and butter in a large microwave-safe bowl at medium (50 percent power) 1-1 1/2 minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring at 30-second intervals. Whisk in 2 cups sugar and eggs, whisking until blended; stir in flour, stirring just until blended. Spoon batter into a lightly greased 11-by-7-inch pan. 


  • Bake at 350 F for 35 minutes or until center is set. Remove from oven, and cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Pierce brownie multiple times using the tines of a fork. Pour coffee mixture over brownie. Let cool on wire rack 1 hour or until completely cool. 


  • Whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, mascarpone cheese, and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat whipping cream at medium speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture. 


  • Crumble half of brownies, and divide evenly among 6 (8-ounce) glasses. Spoon half of mascarpone cheese mixture over brownies. Repeat procedure with remaining brownies and mascarpone cheese mixture. 


  • Chop remaining half of chocolate bar into thin shreds. Sprinkle chocolate and pecans over mascarpone cheese mixture. Serve immediately, or cover and chill up to 24 hours. 


    (Source: Southern Living, August 2008; Inspired by Karen J. Palasz, Franklin, Wisc.)


  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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