Celebrate the Final Four with some state favorites

March 28, 2012 9:45:03 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


So, your brackets were torn up long ago, but that's no reason not to enjoy the Final Four this weekend. Of course, you could jump in feet first by heading to New Orleans, where the four teams left standing in the NCAA national basketball championship will face off March 31 and April 2.  


The city will "hoop" it up for four days with everything from a Final Four Dribble through downtown New Orleans (open to the first 3,000 -- yes, 3,000 -- participants 18 or younger) to Big Dance concerts featuring Jimmy Buffet, KISS and The Black Keys.  


You and the family can spend a day at Bracket Town, 300,000 square feet of activities, including hob-nobbing with legendary coaches and former college stars. The kids can even attend daily youth clinics. Or, you might want to get to one of the select restaurants designated for fans of each of the four teams whose fate will be decided soon -- the Kentucky Wildcats, Louisville Cardinals, Ohio State Buckeyes and Kansas Jayhawks  


We thought it would be interesting to find a few foods that represent the states that made to championship weekend. Since Kentucky is bringing two powerhouses to the Final Four, it's fair to start with them. The fierce in-state rivalry between the Wildcats and Cardinals may have family loyalties divided, but most can agree on one of state's signature dishes -- Kentucky Hot Brown, even if it did originate in Louisville. 


This open-faced hot sandwich covered in a delicate Mornay sauce is practically legendary. Its origins trace back to the 1920s, when a thousand or more people flocked each night to dinner dances at the Brown Hotel. In the wee hours, foot-sore guests retired to the restaurant for nourishment. Realizing diners were getting bored with the traditional ham and eggs, Chef Fred Schmidt came up with something new to tempt guests' palates. The Kentucky Hot Brown has since been featured in publications from Southern Living to the Wall Street Journal. Today, we include the Brown Hotel's own recipe.  


You may want to substitute country ham, or add cheddar cheese to this dish that is baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown. Savor it while watching Kentucky and Louisville battle it out on the court Saturday. Tip-off is at 6:09 p.m.  


Buckeyes and dirt cake 


With a nod to Ohio State, Buckeye candies of peanut butter and chocolate are simple and satisfying. These goodies look slightly different from many peanut butter balls; the top of the bonbon is left bare of chocolate so the filling can be seen. This makes the sweet, peanuty treats resemble the nut of the Buckeye tree. The state tree of Ohio is so prevalent, especially in the western half of the state, the Ohio State University team adopted the name. Carrying a buckeye nut around in your pocket is considered good luck. No doubt players and fans are loading up. 


It's hard to go wrong with Oreos and Cool Whip, and that's what called for in the Kansas Dirt Cake (sometimes called the Kansas City Dirt Cake). With cream cheese and vanilla pudding mix, this cool, delicious "cake" is a sweet counterpoint to the peanuty Buckeye candies. By the time Ohio State and Kansas play Saturday at 8:49 p.m., you'll be ready for dessert.  


The winners of Saturday's two match-ups will advance to the ultimate challenge -- Monday evening's national championship. Whatever colors you wave, may your team do well. Have fun with the fare and enjoy the show. 






Makes two hot browns 




2 ounces whole butter 


2 ounces all purpose flour 


16 ounces heavy cream 


1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish 


Salt and pepper to taste 


14 ounces sliced roasted turkey breast 


2 slices Texas toast (crust trimmed) 


4 slices crispy bacon 


2 Roma tomatoes, halved 








  • In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste (roux). Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.  


  • Whisk heavy cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. 


  • For each Hot Brown, place one slice of toast in an oven safe dish and cover with 7 ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and set them alongside the base of turkey and toast.  


  • Next, pour one half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley and serve immediately. 


    (Source: brownhotel.com) 






    Prep time: 20 minutes 


    Freeze time: 8 hours 




    1 (16 ounce) package Oreo cookies 


    2 (3 1/2 ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding 


    3 cups milk 


    1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese 


    1/2 cup butter or 1/2 cup margarine 


    1 (8 ounce) container Cool Whip, thawed 




  • Crush Oreo cookies in a blender or food processor. 


  • Put half of the crushed cookies on the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan. 


  • Mix together the pudding and milk. Chill until set. 


  • In a separate bowl, cream together the cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar until smooth. 


  • Fold in prepared pudding and Cool Whip 


  • Spread mixture over cookie crumbs; top with remaining cookies crumbs. Freeze at least eight hours before serving. 


    (Source: food.com) 








    1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter 


    1/2 cup butter, softened 


    1 teaspoon vanilla extract 


    4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar 


    6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips 


    2 tablespoons shortening 




  • Line a baking sheet with waxed paper; set aside. 


  • In a medium bowl, mix peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and confectioners' sugar with hands to form a smooth stiff dough. Shape into balls using 2 teaspoons of dough for each ball. Place on prepared pan, and refrigerate. 


  • Melt shortening and chocolate together in a metal bowl over a pan of lightly simmering water. Stir occasionally until smooth, and remove from heat. 


  • Remove balls from refrigerator. Insert a wooden toothpick into a ball, and dip into melted chocolate. Return to wax paper, chocolate side down, and remove toothpick. Repeat with remaining balls. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to set. 


    (Source: Allison O'Brien, allrecipes.com)

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.