March Madness in Central Kentucky is not like any other sporting time of the year. The Sweet Sixteen, SEC and the Final Four NCAA tournaments have us focused on basketball for weeks.
And because only a few of us will be attending the games, many of us gather with friends for parties.
Creative cooks look at this season of madness as a opportunity to show off talents that have nothing to do with 3-pointers or slam dunks.
A quick search on Pinterest shows how we can take the colors of a basketball (orange and brown) and turn them into cookies, cakes, cupcakes, tortilla chips, and even hamburger buns that look like the dimpled round ball.
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Instead of ordinary party fare this March, opt for one of these recipes that will show off your culinary skills.
Beth Jackson Klosterboer of Miamisburg, Ohio, who blogs at HungryHappenings.com, has a passion for creating festive food for parties.
Klosterboer, formerly of Louisville, hosts parties that usually have themes.
"I find that something fun like slices of cheese that are decorated to look like basketballs are great conversation starters. People get excited to see something so fun on the plate and they share their enthusiasm.
"Whenever I host a party, I always serve some form of cheese and crackers and tend to use small cookie cutters to cut the cheese into fun shapes in keeping with my party theme," she said.
For a March Madness themed party, Klosterboer transforms her cheese, deli meat and bread to make them look like a basketball by cutting them in circles and adding the ball's black seam lines, which is "really easy to do with a fine tip paint brush and some black food coloring."
"The surface of the cheese is so smooth that the paint brush glides easily across the top and I was able to make nice even lines. I tried using a food coloring marker, but found that it dried out as it went across the surface of the cheese and created streaks instead of lines.
"Just be sure to use a paint brush that has only been used for food for this project, and I recommend a very fine tip brush," she said.
Here are some other creative ideas.
Basketball cheese slices/sandwiches
Orange cheese slices (American, Cheddar, or Colby)
Black food coloring
Deli meat slices (ham or turkey)
Bread or round crackers
Mayonnaise or mustard, optional
Use a round cookie cutter to cut circles from cheese slices, deli meat, and bread (if using.) If you are topping crackers with the cheese, use a round cutter that is the same size as the cracker. Squeeze a few drops of black food coloring into a small bowl. With a fine tip paint brush, paint the black food coloring onto the cheese creating the seam lines of a basketball. Depending on how you view a basketball, the seam lines look different.
Assemble little sandwiches by topping a bread round or cracker with deli meat and a cheese slice. Optional: Spread some mayonnaise or mustard on the bread before topping it with meat and cheese. If you make the cheese up ahead of your party, be sure to layer the slices with plastic wrap and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
March Madness bean dip and basketball tortilla chips
To make the dip look like a basketball, Klosterboer colored some of the refried beans with black food coloring then used it to pipe on the seams. If you'd like to spice up your dip, just stir in some salsa with the cheese and beans, she said.
"You could even sprinkle some cayenne pepper onto you basketball chips for a real burst of heat. The chips will keep up to two weeks if stored in an airtight tin, and the dip will keep for several days in the refrigerator, so you don't have to fuss too much the day of the game," Klosterboer said.
2 cans (15 ounces each) refried beans, divided
4 to 6 drops black food coloring
16 ounces Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes
Measure three tablespoons of refried beans into a fine mesh strainer. Use a rubber spatula or spoon to press the beans through the strainer. Scrape mashed beans from the back of the strainer into a small bowl. (You could also puree the beans in a blender or mini food processor.) Add 4 drops of black food coloring and stir. Add 1 to 2 more drops until you reach the desired shade of black. Spoon into a disposable pastry bag or zip top bag.
Pour remaining refried beans into a large mixing bowl. Add cheese cubes. Heat in the microwave for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring every 45 to 60 seconds, until the cheese melts. Spread evenly in a 9-inch pie plate. Cut the tip off the pastry bag or zip top bag. Pipe the basketball seam lines (the black beans) onto the dip.
This dip can be served hot or cold. Heat in microwave for 4 to 6 minutes until hot.
Basketball tortilla chips
Flour tortillas (120 chips can be made if using 10 burrito-size tortillas)
Wilton orange color mist
Black food marker
Vegetable oil for frying
Place flour tortilla on a cutting board. Use a 2 ½ -inch round cookie cutter to cut circles from tortilla. Cut as many tortilla rounds as you would like. Set tortilla rounds on a sheet of aluminum foil, parchment paper, or wax paper. Spray each round with Wilton's orange color mist. Use the black food marker to draw the basketball's seam lines onto each tortilla round. If your marker gets dry while creating these, pour a few drops of black food coloring into a small bowl. Put the tip of the marker into the food coloring allowing it to soak into the tip. Continue drawing lines on the tortilla rounds, re-soaking tip as needed.
Heat oil in fryer or stockpot to 350 degrees. Fry about 10 tortilla rounds at a time, flipping them over midway through, until golden brown, about 30 seconds per side. Set hot chips on paper towels and immediately sprinkle with salt. Allow oil to come back up to temperature before continuing.
Note: To bake chips, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet, spray them with cooking spray or brush them with oil, and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Note: If you don't have a black food coloring marker, you can also use a thin paint brush to paint the black food coloring onto each basketball.
Klosterboer created this recipe for a Boar's Head brand contest.
Blackened turkey basketball sliders
12 small frozen dinner rolls
Orange food coloring spray
Liquid black food coloring
12 slices blackened turkey breast
12 slices provolone cheese
1 cup caramelized onions
1 cup roasted red peppers, julienned
¼ cup fiery chipotle gourmaise
Line baking sheet with non-stick tin foil or spray with non-stick spray. Set rolls 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Spray one piece of plastic wrap with non-stick spray and set over frozen rolls. Allow to sit at room temperature until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and spray rolls with orange food coloring. Use a fine tip paint brush (new or food use only) to paint basketball lines on each roll using black food coloring.
Bake rolls for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Cut open dinner rolls and place both halves cut side up on baking sheet. On bottom half arrange one slice of turkey breast, one slice of provolone cheese, and heaping tablespoon of both caramelized onions and roasted red peppers. Heat sliders in a 350-degree oven until cheese melts. Smear chipotle gourmaise on the top side of dinner roll and set on top of sandwich. Serve hot.
This is a simple idea you can also use for cupcakes.
1 package chocolate cake mix (regular size)
11/2 cups canned vanilla frosting
Orange paste food coloring
4 pieces black shoestring licorice
Prepare cake batter according to package directions. Pour into a greased and floured 21/2-quart ovenproof bowl. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 to 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.
Makes 12 to 16 servings.
Source: Taste of Home
Slam dunk cookies
11/2 sticks butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon red food color
1/2 teaspoon yellow food color
23/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 36 (one half of 8-ounce package) Reese's minis peanut butter cups
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add egg, vanilla and food colors. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to butter mixture. (Batter will be stiff; stir in last part with wooden spoon or work in with hands.)
For each cookie, roll about 1 tablespoon dough into ball; flatten slightly and press around one mini peanut butter cup, covering cup completely. Shape into ball. Using wooden pick or edge of knife press lines into dough to resemble markings on basketball. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until set. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.
Makes about 36 cookies.
Source: The Hershey Company