March Madness is at fever pitch. Whether you're a Cameron Crazy, bleed Carolina blue or back the Pack, basketball's championship matchups are on your mind.


If you're hosting a gathering to watch the tournaments, pork's got game. This fast-break star shows its versatility in off-the-boards eats from nachos to popcorn.


Even if your party mixes Tar Heel, Blue Devil and Wolfpack fans, they'll find common ground when it comes to the grub.


Today's pork is very lean and shouldn't be overcooked, says the N.C. Pork Council, a nonprofit trade group based in Raleigh.


Cook roasts, tenderloins and chops to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, followed by a 3-minute rest time. Cook ground pork to 160 degrees. Reheat pre-cooked ham to 140 degrees or enjoy it cold. To check doneness, use a digital cooking thermometer.


With these recipes, it'll be nothin' but net!


Perfect Day Pork & Bean Nachos

12 ounces ground pork
1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt, to taste
8 cups unsalted tortilla chips
8 ounces Mexican blend
four cheese, shredded
One 15-ounce can black
beans, drained
4 scallions, sliced
1/2 cup sour cream
1 canned chipotle chile in
adobo sauce, minced, or
more to taste
1/2 cup salsa, plus more for serving


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium heat, cook pork, stirring and breaking it up into bite-sized pieces, until no longer pink, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat, add chili powder and salt to taste, then set aside.


Arrange 1/4 of chips on a large, ovenproof platter or a 2- to 3-quart baking dish, then use a slotted spoon to arrange 1/4 of the pork on top. Top with 1/4 of cheese, 1/4 of beans and 1/4 of scallions. Repeat 3 times, making 4 layers.


Bake until cheese is melted and nachos are heated through, about 30 minutes. (If the top gets too brown, loosely cover with foil.)


While nachos are baking, in a small bowl, combine sour cream and chipotle. Add more chipotles to taste and set aside.


Top nachos with the sour cream mixture and salsa. Serve hot, with additional salsa on the side.


Serves 6



Pork & Scallion Pot Stickers
1 pound lean ground pork
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons less-sodium soy sauce
2 scallions, white and green parts, finely chopped (about 6 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
One 12- or 14-ounce package Asian dumpling wrappers, (about 60 wrappers)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, as needed


For the dipping sauce:
Mix 1/2 cup soy sauce with 1 tablespoon scallions, 1 tablespoon ginger and 1 minced garlic clove in a small bowl; set aside.


For the filling:

Mix ground pork with remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon ginger and the rest of the minced garlic in a medium bowl.


Line a large baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper. For each dumpling, place a teaspoon of filling on the bottom half of a dumpling wrapper. Moisten the bottom edge of the wrapper with water, fold in half and press the open edges closed. Stand the pot stickers, with the closed edges up, on baking sheet.


Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. In batches, place pot stickers in the skillet, flat "bottoms" down.


Cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 1 minute. Carefully pour in about1 cup water (it will boil up) and tightly cover. Boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and cook until water has evaporated and pot stickers are sizzling, about 3 minutes more.


Transfer to a heatproof serving platter and keep pot stickers warm in a preheated 200-degree oven, loosely covered with aluminum foil, while cooking remaining pot stickers.


Wipe out the skillet between batches.


Pour dipping sauce into ramekins. Serve pot stickers with the sauce.


Makes 6 entrée or 10 appetizer servings



Chorizo & Cheese Empanadas With Avocado Crema
1 pound ground pork
2 pasilla chile peppers, or other mild dried red chiles
1 guajillo chile pepper, or other mild dried red chile
1 onion, cut into large chunks
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pound queso blanco, or other mild, semi-hard cheese, grated
Empanada dough or store-bought empanada shells to make about 48 six-inch or 64 five-inch empanadas
All-purpose flour, for the work surface
About 6 cups canola oil
Avocado crema:
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and quartered
1 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons sour cream
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil


In a large skillet over medium-high heat, toast the chiles, turning occasionally, until blistered and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the chiles to a bowl of hot water, cover and set aside for 15 minutes.


Remove the chiles from the water and stem and seed them. Place the chiles, onion, vinegar and garlic in the bowl of a food processor or the jar of a blender and process to purée, scraping down the bowl or jar as needed.


Transfer the chile mixture to a large bowl and add the pork, paprika, oregano, salt, coriander, cumin, pepper and cinnamon, mixing until well combined. Cover and refrigerate overnight.


In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the pork mixture, breaking it up with a spoon or spatula, until no longer pink, 5 to 6 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.


Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, combine avocado, cilantro, sour cream, lime juice and olive oil, and process to purée, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add salt to taste and set aside in the refrigerator.


Stir the cheese into the pork mixture. Arrange a 5- or 6-inch round of empanada dough or an empanada shell on a lightly floured work surface. Spoon 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons of pork mixture on top, moisten the edges of the shell with water, and fold the shell over the filling, pressing it with a fork to seal. Repeat with the remaining shells and pork mixture, flouring the work surface as necessary.


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Arrange two or three paper towel-lined baking sheets in the oven.


Pour canola oil into a large, heavy saucepan or small stockpot to 1 inch deep and warm it to 350 degrees over medium heat. Cook the empanadas in batches, turning occasionally and adjusting the heat to maintain 350 degrees until golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets to keep warm.


Serve the empanadas with the avocado crema on the side.


Makes 48 to 64 empanadas



Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches With Cole Slaw
For the pork:
4 pounds pork butt/shoulder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 small white onion, cut into large slices
3 tablespoons garlic
12-ounce bottle of good-quality beer
For the cole slaw:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 small head cabbage, shredded
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 dozen brioche buns


Clean fat off pork; pat dry.


Combine brown sugar, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, cumin and black pepper. Rub all over meat.


Line bottom of slow cooker with onions and garlic. Place spiced meat on top. Pour beer around the sides. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.


While meat cooks, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, sugar, pepper, salt and vinegar in a large bowl. Add cabbage and onion, and combine to coat. Cover and refrigerate until meat is ready.


When meat is cooked and tender, remove it from slow cooker. Place it on a cutting board and use two forks to shred the meat.


Pour juices from slow cooker into a bowl, and strain out onions.


Return meat to cooker and top with the juices. Serve immediately, on browned brioche buns topped with cole slaw.


Makes about 12 sandwiches



Hot and Sweet Cubano Sandwiches

2-pound boneless pork loin roast
1 pound honey ham, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup Chinese mustard, divided
8 whole wheat submarine rolls, sweet rolls, or 7- to 8-inch sections of French or Italian bread
3/4 cup red plum, red currant, or raspberry jam or jelly
8 slices Swiss cheese
Two 7-ounce cans green chiles, drained and sliced
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper and 1/4 cup of the mustard. Spread mixture on all sides of the pork. Place pork, fat side up, in a shallow roasting pan and roast 15 minutes.


Reduce oven to 350 degrees and continue roasting 40 to 45 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees (medium rare) to 160 degrees (medium).


Remove roast from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Slice very thinly and set slices aside.


To prepare the sandwiches, halve the rolls, laying all 16 halves out, and butter the outside of each of them. On half of the halves, spread the remaining mustard (1-1/2 tablespoons). On the other half of the sandwich halves, spread 1-1/2 tablespoons of jam.


Arrange ham, roast pork, cheese and chiles on the mustard halves of each sandwich, then top with the jam halves.


Prepare a grill to medium-hot heat. Lay a double layer of foil on the grill, large enough to hold the sandwiches. Place sandwiches on the foil, place bricks over the sandwiches (2 sandwiches per brick), and press down gently.


Grill until the bottom of the bread is browned and cheese starts to melt, 2 to 3 minutes.


Turn, replace the bricks, and grill 2 minutes more. Cut sandwiches in half and serve.


Makes 8 servings



Italian Sausage and Pepper Heroes
4 pounds sweet Italian sausage links or 16 hot sausage links
4 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and sliced into 1/4-inch strips
4 green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and sliced into 1/4-inch strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 large sweet onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
16 long sandwich rolls, sliced lengthwise and toasted


In a large skillet, sauté peppers in oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add onions and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until vegetables are lightly browned, 10-15 minutes. (Pepper mixture can be made ahead; reheat at serving time or serve at room temperature.)


Prepare fairly hot fire in grill. Grill sausages directly over hot fire, turning occasionally, until done, about 10 minutes total. Place sausage links in rolls, add generous helping of sautéed peppers and onions.


Makes 16 servings


Sriracha Bacon Caramel Popcorn
1-1/2 pounds thinly sliced bacon
3 tablespoons corn oil
1/2 cup premium popping corn
For the caramel:
3/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 tablespoon Sriracha chili sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay the bacon flat on a sheet pan and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and drain bacon on a plate covered with paper towels. Lower oven temperature to 225 degrees.


When the bacon cools, chop it into small pieces and set aside. Spray a large bowl with non-stick cooking spray. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid. Add the popcorn and cook, shaking often until the corn begins to pop.


Cover and continue cooking and shaking until the popping is done. Transfer the popped corn to the bowl.


To make the caramel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and corn syrup and mix well. Cook for 4 minutes until bubbly and hot.


Remove from the heat and add the salt, baking soda and Sriracha if desired. Mix well.


Working quickly while everything is hot, drizzle the caramel over the popped corn and top it with the bacon. Using two silicone spoons or spatulas, fold the popcorn mixture gently until it is all well coated.


Wrap a large baking sheet in foil and transfer the popcorn mixture to it. Spread the mixture evenly and put the pan in the oven for 15 minutes.


Remove and toss the popcorn and then return it to the oven for another 15 minutes.


Remove and transfer the popcorn to two clean baking sheets, separating it and spreading it evenly to cool.


Let rest for 10 minutes, then eat or store in an airtight container.


Makes about 10 cups