Final Four tune up: Nothing but net in party-friendly appetizers

Final Four tune up: Nothing but net in party-friendly appetizers

March 13th, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Chunky Salsa Cheesecake, Rainbow Pepper Appetizer, Curried Chicken Triangles and a Hot Pizza Dip were prepared in Clint Cooper's kitchen.

Photo by Connor Choate /Times Free Press.


Staff writer Clint Cooper has a drawer full of unused recipes in his kitchen.

In Tossed & Found, he's pulling some out and giving them a try.

How's your bracketology? Who will be in the Final Four?

Those questions and others will be on the minds of NCAA Division I college basketball fans across the country this week as conferences finish their tournaments and the NCAA tournament fields of 68 teams for men and 64 teams for women are set.

Nothing says NCAA college basketball tournament like a party, though, so whether it's for the initial bracket announcement, the first round, second round or Final Four, food is bound to be involved.

So for today's Tossed and Found, I have selected four easy appetizers to serve to hungry fans. There's nothing fancy in any of the recipes, so some cooks already may have the ingredients on their shelves.

One's a savory cheesecake, one's a dip, one's a healthy alternative and one has a slightly exotic flavor.

Don't care for basketball?

Make them whenever you have friends over or just want a treat for yourself or the family.

Otherwise, happy hooping.

Chunky Salsa Cheesecake

1 cup crushed tortilla chips

1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 pint sour cream

2 eggs

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 (16-ounce) jar cilantro-flavored chunky salsa

Mix tortilla chips and butter. Press into bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Place springform pan on shallow baking pan. Combine cream cheese, sour cream and eggs in bowl. Beat until smooth, using electric mixer at medium speed. Stir in cheese, onions, garlic and pepper. Pour cheese mixture into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until set. Cool cheesecake on wire rack. Refrigerate until serving time. Remove from pan. Top cheesecake with salsa and cut into wedges.

Cook's changes: I used butter instead of margarine on the crust. I don't know that it would have made any difference. I used two garlic cloves rather than one (the more the better, I thought). And I couldn't find any cilantro-flavored chunky salsa, so I used plain chunky salsa.

Result: Easy to make. Tasty to eat. The cheese and the green onions give the cake a nice look, too.

- Pace

Hot Pizza Dip

6 ounces light cream cheese

1/2 cup light sour cream

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 cup pizza sauce

1 cup shredded, low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup diced red pepper

1/4 cup sliced green onions

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Whole wheat bread sticks or crackers

Combine cream cheese, sour cream and oregano in bowl; stir until smooth. Spread cream-cheese mixture evenly into 9-inch pie plate or quiche pan. Top with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, peppers and onions. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Serve with whole-wheat bread sticks or crackers.

Cook/writer substitutions/changes: I used enough pizza sauce - more like 3/4 cup - to cover the cream cheese/sour cream mixture. I had only 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, and it seemed 1/2 cup might be too much. Sliced black olives might be a good topping in addition to the peppers and green onions. I think I've also seen taco seasoning used where this recipe called for oregano; depends on your taste, I guess. Scoops-type chips also could be used instead of crackers.

Result: Easy, good; I would like it a little spicier. The green onions and red pepper give the top a pretty baked look, too. Best served when hot.

Rainbow Pepper Appetizers

1/2 each medium green, sweet red, yellow and orange peppers

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese

2 tablespoons chopped ripe olives

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Cut each pepper half into nine pieces. Place skin side down in an ungreased, ovenproof skillet; sprinkle with cheese, olives and pepper flakes, if desired. Broil 3 to 4 inches from the heat for 5-7 minutes or until peppers are crisp-tender and cheese is melted.

Cook/writer substitutions/changes: I already had a Monterey Jack/Colby cheese mixture, so I used that. I don't think it would hurt to use more than 2 tablespoons of olives.

Result: Easy and, since I love peppers, these were particularly good. And three pieces, with reduced-fat cheese, are only 34 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat.

- Marion Karlin, Waterloo, Iowa

Curried Chicken Triangles

2 tubes (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent rolls

1 can (8 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1 can (5 ounces) chunk white chicken, undrained

Paprika (optional)

Separate crescent dough into four rectangles; gently press perforations to seal. Place on greased baking sheets. In a large bowl, combine the water chestnuts, cheese, onions, mayonnaise, lemon juice, curry powder and garlic salt. Crumble chicken over mixture; stir to coat. Place rounded teaspoonfuls in the center of each triangle. Sprinkle with paprika if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Serve warm.

Cook/writer substitutions/changes: I have included the original instructions for the crescent dough use, but they don't make much sense to me. The dough comes in a perforated sheet of eight potential triangles, so two tubes of those would be 16. How the yield listed with the recipe is 5 1-2 dozen, I have no idea. So I just separated the triangles, placed the teaspoonfuls of mixture on them and spread them out. As for the mixture, I don't think it would hurt to use more than 2 tablespoons of olives. And I might drain a little bit of the chicken before using it.

Result: Easy; these drew lots of raves from co-workers. The curry, water chestnuts and chicken offered a delicious and slightly exotic taste.

- Anne Marie Cardilino, Kettering, Ohio