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March munchie madness: Liven up tourney season with these recipes


March Madness presents a slam dunk excuse to throw a party. How about a menu of ball-shaped foods to go along with the basketball theme? These super-size meatball sandwiches, mozzarella balls with dipping sauce and peanut butter balls fill the bill.

March Madness presents a slam dunk excuse to throw a party. How about a menu of ball-shaped foods to go along with the basketball theme? These super-size meatball sandwiches, mozzarella balls with dipping sauce and peanut butter balls fill the bill.


Launch Photo Gallery


Basketball cake

Basketball cake


Butterscotch basketball cookies

Butterscotch basketball cookies



Jan Swoope



Game's on. The NCAA Division I Championship tourney tip-off Tuesday signals a frenetic near three week-run of intense hoop action. 


Even if your team isn't among the 68 with an invite to the Big Dance, there's no reason not to join the fray once you're over the initial sting. Pick your favorites and make it festive. Whether for family nights tuned into the early games, or a Final Four fete with the whole gang over, food should be uncomplicated to eat and TV-tray friendly.  


When choosing a menu, themes always add more fun. There's a certain challenge in coming up with ball-shaped foods, for instance. Michelle Reynolds of NYT Regional Media did it with mozzarella balls, super-size meatball sandwiches and peanut butter balls. The recipes are included. 


"The mozzarella balls are similar to cheese sticks, just a different shape," Reynolds writes at "Plus they have a little adobo or hot sauce for a little kick. You can even dunk them (get it?) in marinara sauce for extra flavor."  


The meatball sandwiches get a healthy twist by adding a big of spinach and using low-fat ground meat. Other "round" choices might include sausage cheese balls, Parmesan potato calls, or pinwheel snacks. 


For desserts, creative cooks can pull out all the stops with a basketball cake, complete with realistic, dimpled orange frosting. Or field your own team of (butterscotch) hoopsters you can dress out in your pick's colors. A recipe for the cookies is also in today's pages. And yes, once again, the trusty gingerbread man cookie cutter comes to the rescue. 




Party time 


Here are a few tips from to add swish to any basketball party: 


· Send out game brackets for party invitations. Have guests bring them filled out and start the fun off with a basketball pool. Each guest should guess the winner of the game and score for each team. 


· Dress the part. As hosts, wear referee jerseys and a whistle, just for fun. 


· Use a cooler to store drinks. Add a couple of sports drinks, like Gatorade, to your beverage choices, to add to the game-time atmosphere. 


· Every party needs a little music. Try something from ESPN's Jock Jams collection. 


· If you have an outdoor hoop, between games get guests outside to play your own game in the driveway. 


· Who's the world's biggest fan? Create a basketball trivia game with questions about the teams playing. 


· How's this for a pick-up game? Guests won't mind helping pick up when you put a basketball hoop over your trash can. It's worth a try, anyway. 


Get in the spirit. Go a little mad this March (and the first weekend in April). Good-natured rivalry, good food and good friends are a slam dunk recipe for good times.  








One 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed 


2 1/2 to 2 2/3 pounds lean ground beef or turkey 


Half a medium onion, finely chopped (optional) 


Three garlic cloves, chopped or 1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons garlic-herb seasoning 


One large egg 


1/4 cup milk 


3/4 cup breadcrumbs 


1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 


A pinch each salt and pepper 


Extra-virgin olive oil 




· Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wring all water out of spinach using a clean kitchen towel.  


· Place the ground meat in a large bowl and make a well in the middle of it. Add the spinach, onion (if using), garlic or garlic seasoning, egg, milk, breadcrumbs, cheese and salt and pepper. Mix until evenly combined, then form the mixture into 12 large balls (smaller if desired).  


· Arrange them on a nonstick baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for about 25 minutes (less if they are smaller). 


· For sandwiches, use dinner rolls, fresh baby spinach or lettuce and dab of marinara sauce or preferred condiment. 


(Source: Adapted from "Every Day with Rachael Ray," by Michelle Reynolds, NYT Regional Media, 








Vegetable oil for frying 


8-ounce container fresh mozzarella balls (bite-size) 


1/2 cup flour 


1 teaspoon salt 


1/2 teaspoon pepper 


One egg 


2 teaspoons adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers, or hot sauce 


1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs 


1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs 


1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 


1 cup of your favorite marinara or pasta sauce, warmed 




· Pour a couple of inches of oil in a medium saucepan or electric skillet. Bring to 350 degrees, checking with a thermometer. 


· Drain liquid from the mozzarella balls and pat dry with paper towels. 


· Place flour, salt and pepper into a medium-size bowl. Place egg and adobo or hot sauce into a second bowl, then whisk to combine. Place breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese into a third bowl and mix to combine. Roll mozzarella in flour, then egg mixture, then breadcrumb mixture. 


· Carefully place four to five coated balls into hot oil. Move them around with a heat-proof spatula. Cook for 30 to 60 seconds or until golden. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Continue until all have been fried. Serve warm with marinara sauce for dipping. 


(Source: Adapted from, by Michelle Reynolds, NYT Regional Media, 








1 1/2 cups peanut butter 


1/4 cup finely chopped lightly salted peanuts 


1/2 cup ground or finely crushed graham crackers (about four sheets) 


1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted 


Half stick butter, softened 


Vanilla almond bark, candy melts and/or 6 ounces semisweet chocolate and 6 ounces milk chocolate 




· Combine all ingredients in a bowl until evenly mixed. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least an hour.  


· Form mixture into bite-size balls and place on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, an hour or so. Meanwhile, melt desired coating. (To make them look like basketballs, you can use orange candy melts or try to tint almond bark orange).  


· Once peanut butter balls are firm, dip them in desired coating until covered, then return them to waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Place tray back in refrigerator or freezer until chocolate is set. Can be stored in refrigerator for at least a week.  


(Source: Michelle Reynolds, NYT Regional Media, 






Makes 12-16 servings 


Prep time: 20 minutes  


Bake time: One hour, plus cooling 




One package (18 1/4 ounces) chocolate cake mix 


1 1/2 cups vanilla frosting 


Orange paste food coloring 


Four pieces black shoestring licorice 




· Prepare cake batter according to package directions. Pour into a greased and floured 2 1/2-quart ovenproof bowl. 


· Bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from bowl to a wire rack to cool completely. 


· In a small bowl, combine frosting and food coloring. Place cake on a serving plate. Spread with frosting. Gently press a meat mallet into frosting so texture resembles a basketball. For seams, gently press licorice into frosting.  


(Source:; published in Country Woman Jan./Feb.2007) 






Makes 24 servings 


Prep: 30 minutes plus chilling  


Bake: Five minutes plus cooling 




1 cup butterscotch chips 


1 cup butter, softened 


1/2 cup sugar 


1/2 cup packed brown sugar 


One egg 


2 tablespoons milk 


2 teaspoons vanilla extract 


3 cups all-purpose flour 




For the frosting: 


3/4 cup shortening 


1/4 cup water 


2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 


1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 


4 cups confectioners' sugar 


Paste food coloring 




· In a microwave, melt butterscotch chips; cool for 10 minutes. In a bowl, cream butter and sugars. Add egg, milk and vanilla; mix well. Beat in melted chips. Gradually add flour; mix well. Cover and refrigerate one hour. 


· On a floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with a floured 4-1/2-inch gingerbread man cookie cutter and a 3-inch round cutter.  


n Place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for five to eight minutes or until edges are


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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