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March Madness: High-Scoring Snacks
By Kirk Leins

March Madness: High-Scoring Snacks - By Kirk Leins

Football season is over, but there's still another title to crown – NCAA College Basketball Champions. For fans of college hoops, there's nothing quite like the month of March. Nicknamed March Madness, it's a month-long, single-elimination tournament featuring the NCAA's 64 most-celebrated Division 1 teams. For those who can't relate, let's put it into culinary terms. Take one-part shocking upset, throw in a healthy dose of nail-biting excitement, top off with a splash of fear – and you've got March Madness.

College basketball fan or not, you may find yourself being recruited to bring food to a tournament party. This undertaking can prove to be a bit of a challenge. To begin with, you're talking about a lot of big eaters. In addition, you may be interested in venturing beyond frozen jalapeño poppers and tortilla chips served with jarred salsa. Not to fear, we here at YOU Magazine are committed to making your life a little easier…even during March Madness.

Truth be told, there's nothing wrong with a quality-brand jarred salsa. It's probably one of the healthier things on most sports-minded menus. But, no matter if you're hosting a party or attending one, homemade salsa is an easy way to step things up a notch. There are dozens of salsas you can make at home. I think one that's interesting, yet, at the same time not too exotic is best-suited for this type of gathering. Given that criteria, I'm suggesting a roasted tomatillo and avocado salsa. Sounds difficult, right? Well, don't worry, it's not!

Roasted Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa

  • 2 lbs. tomatillos, husks removed and quartered
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 large jalapeños; halved and seeded
  • 3 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • The juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1 large avocado, chopped small
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat broiler. In a glass baking dish, place tomatillos, onions, jalapeños, and garlic. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Add olive oil, and toss until well-coated. Place in broiler for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are well-charred (black), stirring every 5 minutes. Allow mixture to cool, and process until smooth in a blender or food processor. Taste and re-season if necessary. Allow mixture to chill in refrigerator for two hours. Before serving, add avocado, and stir to combine.

Trust me when I say that this is an awesome recipe. Nothing about it is difficult or expensive. You may want to consider making a double batch because it has a tendency to go fast. Regardless, leftover salsa is not such a bad thing, as it makes a perfect topping for grilled meat, fish, or any type of eggs.

One last thing; if you're bringing this dish to a party, I recommend waiting until you get there to chop the avocado. The salsa itself will last a week or so. The avocado, on the other hand, will oxidize and turn brown. By chopping and then adding the avocado at the last minute, you ensure a pristine presentation for your fellow partygoers.

If you're looking for something a little more substantial, how about Buffalo wings? They really are the quintessential sports snack. The best part is they don't have to be a lot of work.

The standard, run-of-the-mill Buffalo wing found in any sports bar is typically deep fried. I have no problem with this method, as it produces a crispy and juicy wing when done properly. The trouble with it is the time and mess involved. These are two things you don't want to deal with during a tournament game. Here's a recipe that involves your oven rather than a pot of scorching oil, which will free you up to enjoy the game.

Easy Buffalo Wings

  • 24 chicken wing drumettes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup of Frank's Red Hot sauce
  • A squirt of fresh lemon juice
  • Blue cheese dressing
  • Celery sticks

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Arrange drumettes, which are at room temperature, onto a cookie sheet. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Meanwhile, melt butter in a sauce pot over a low flame. Add the Frank's Red Hot and lemon. Allow mixture to cook over extremely low heat for about 5 minutes. Cover and keep warm. Remove drumettes from oven. Transfer them to a bowl, and add the sauce. Toss to coat. Transfer wings to a platter, and serve with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.

Oh man, these are good! Now, as long as you're making wings from scratch, you may want to consider making your blue cheese dressing from scratch. It's not difficult, and it's sure to take this dish over the top.

Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

In a bowl, combine 1 cup sour cream with 1 cup mayonnaise. Add 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 clove garlic (minced), 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of cayenne pepper, 1.5 tbsp parsley (finely chopped), salt and black pepper. Mix together, and add 4 to 5 oz of crumbled blue cheese.

This recipe yields a thick and creamy dressing perfect for Buffalo wings. If you want to use the dressing for a salad, I recommend thinning it out by mixing in a touch of buttermilk until the desired consistency is achieved. Allow the dressing to sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving. The dressing will last for several days in the fridge. But here's a word to the wise; the longer the dressing sits, the more garlicky it will taste.

Oh, one last thing. Remember to have fun – no matter who cuts down the net.

Kirk Leins has been cooking his entire life. No stranger to professional kitchens, he currently devotes most of his time to cooking instruction, food writing, and producing television. Kirk also provides his services as a personal chef in and around the Los Angeles area. He has made several TV appearances on both the national and local level, and is the Executive Chef for YOU Magazine. His free newsletter, The Everyday Gourmet, is available by contacting Kirk at

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