- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

There’s a reason it’s called March madness. The annual competition among college basketball teams drives mild-mannered sports fans into a frenzy of television viewing.

As the month progresses, the 65 schools in the NCAA championship are whittled to the Sweet 16, the Final Four and ultimately the championship. Top teams fold. Underdogs take surprising leads. Tension builds, and the opportunity to serve a normal sit-down dinner dwindles with each round of the competition.

If you are a basketball devotee or live with one, forget about cooking. Instead, follow the unofficial rules for March madness food:

• Prepare an assortment of nibbles that can stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, or until an appropriate break occurs in the action.

• Look for foods that provide quick sustenance. If a dish can’t be eaten during a four-minute commercial break, forget about it.

• Offer dishes that can be eaten with one hand, leaving the second free to work the TV remote.

• Add crunch to snacks. The crackling texture alleviates stress.

• Put out more food than necessary. Yelling at the television whets the appetite — and you never know when a fellow basketball addict is going to show up hungry.

Here are two suggestions for noshing during the month. You can make the chili pecans in advance and freeze them until serving.

March madness munchies

2 ounces Gorgonzola dolce (a mild, slightly sweet Italian blue cheese; not Gorgonzola picante), at room temperature

2 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature

1½ to 2 tablespoons half-and-half or whipping cream

12 thin toasted baguette slices

2 tablespoons fig jam (see note)

12 small slices prosciutto

Combine Gorgonzola, goat cheese and half-and-half or cream; mash with a fork to a creamy consistency. Spread thickly over baguette slices. Top each slice with ½ teaspoon fig jam. Place a slice of prosciutto over each serving. Makes 2 servings as a light meal, 6 as a snack.

Note: If desired, substitute 2 tablespoons good-quality black raspberry jam for the fig jam and omit the prosciutto.

Chili pecans

1 tablespoon butter

2 teaspoons chili powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon garlic salt

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 ounces jumbo pecans

Melt butter in medium-size skillet. Add chili powder, cumin, garlic salt and salt. Stir for 1 minute to blend seasonings. Add pecans. Cook over low heat 2 minutes.

Spread nuts on baking sheet. Bake in preheated 300-degree oven for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Makes 8 ounces or 8 servings, unless you’re a rabid basketball fan, in which case it’s 2 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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