March Madness Munchies
Fast-break stars


By Caitlin Covington


Whether you call yourself a Cameron Crazy, back the Wolfpack or bleed Carolina blue, this month means only one thing for fans in the Triangle: March Madness.


From Wake Forest to Carrboro, people are busy filling out brackets, cheering on their favorite teams and hosting parties for the games.


Carolina Woman asked our Facebook fans to send in their best March Madness recipes. And they've got game! These off-the-boards eats are the perfect way to celebrate our No. 1 time of the year.





--- Dips ---



Seven-Layer Mexican Bean Dip

"This is my mom's recipe. It is so pretty and so, so good to eat at parties!"

1 package taco seasoning
1 can fat-free refried beans
1 slightly soft avocado
1 small can mild green chilies
1 small can sliced black olives
2 cups sour cream
2 ripe tomatoes
2 green onions
1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese

In a medium bowl, mix the taco seasoning and beans. Spread the mixture onto a large serving platter.


Layer the other ingredients on top of the mixture, saving the cheese for last.


Serve at room temperature or heat in the oven at 350 degrees until cheese is melted.



Lighter Buffalo Chicken Dip

"This recipe is great because it's very simple to put together and a healthier version of a yummy party favorite!"

4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup hot sauce
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 cups (14 ounces raw) cooked chicken, shredded

Mix the cream cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, blue cheese and white wine vinegar until smooth. Add the chicken.
Heat in a crock pot on low for 3 to 4 hours. Serve warm.



--- Appetizers ---



Sausage Cheese Balls

"My kids and husband love this recipe. They request that I make it every holiday!"


Two 16-ounce packages pork sausage
1 1/2 cups all-purpose baking mix
1 pound bulk pork sausage
4 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons minced garlic (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.


Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl; stir well. Shape mixture into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet.


Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan.
Serve with cocktail forks or toothpicks.



Baked Cheese

"I honestly can't recall any family get-together where this wasn't served. It's always a huge crowd-pleaser! The best part is, it's super easy to make and can bake while you entertain."


1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon chives
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon fennel
1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
1 block Havarti cheese
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


Roll out thawed puff pastry sheet. Place the cheese in the center of the pastry, and spread mustard on top. Sprinkle all the spices on top of the mustard, spreading evenly over the cheese.


Pull the corners of the puff pastry and pinch together in the middle to seal. If needed, wet your fingers with water and spread across the edges to hold them together.


Bake for 20 minutes.


Brush the beaten egg on the top of the pastry and bake for another 10 minutes.
Serve warm with green apples, grapes and crackers.




--- Sides ---



Homemade Sweet Potato Fries

"Sweet potato fries are a cinch to cook! They make the perfect side dish to almost any meal, or they can work as a healthier alternative to dessert."


3 large sweet potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons of your favorite spices (for sweet fries, try cinnamon and nutmeg; for savory fries, smoked paprika or curry)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees (for crispier fries, preheat oven to 500 degrees).


Peel the sweet potatoes and cut off their ends. Cut them into wedges or disks.


Add oil and potatoes together in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt, sugar and spices. Mix until ingredients are evenly combined.


Spread the sweet potatoes out in a single layer on a baking sheet.


Turn the potatoes over after the first 15 minutes. Return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes, or until they are browned. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.


Super Quick Chili Cups

"This chili takes less than 30 minutes to make and is served in miniature bread bowls!"


2 pounds lean ground beef
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Two 16 ounce cans diced tomatoes
Two 16 ounce cans small red beans
Two 8 ounce cans tomato sauce
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup sliced green onions
16 round dinner rolls

Brown beef in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring often until beef is no longer pink. Drain.


Return beef to Dutch oven and sprinkle with chili powder and cumin, and sauté for 1 minute.


Stir in diced tomatoes, red beans and tomato sauce, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.


Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Top with cheese and green onions.


Slice the tops from round dinner rolls and use a spoon to hollow out the centers. Scoop chili into rolls and serve.




--- Desserts ---



Peanut Butter Buckeyes

"The combination of chocolate and peanut butter is perfect. They taste just like homemade Reese's!"


1 1/2cups peanut butter
6 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 whole graham crackers, crumbled
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper and set aside.


In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix the peanut butter, sugar, butter, vanilla extract and graham crackers.


Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Set them on the prepared cookie sheet and insert a toothpick into each ball. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.


Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler, stirring continuously until the chocolate is melted and smooth.


Using the toothpick as a handle, dip the balls into the melted chocolate. Place the dipped candies back on the cookie sheet and refrigerate until the chocolate is hardened, about 2 hours.


Oreo Balls

"These Oreo balls are rich and delicious! For March Madness, you can decorate them with sprinkles in your team's colors."


One 16 ounce package Oreo cookies
One 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
One 24 ounce package white chocolate bark
Colored sprinkles

Using a blender, crush the Oreo cookies and put them in a large bowl. With your hands, mix the Oreo crumbs and the softened cream cheese until well blended.


Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls and place on wax paper.


Chill the balls in the fridge for 1 hour.


Heat the white chocolate bark in a double boiler until melted. Dip the Oreo balls into the melted white chocolate and place on wax paper.


While they are still sticky to the touch, decorate Oreo balls with colored sprinkles.


Note: Once hardened, you can store them in a plastic container for up to three weeks in the refrigerator.