By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Graduate
I was a sports kid growing up—I played first base from Tee Ball to Little League, and I played offensive and defensive line all through high school—but for some reason, I just couldn’t get basketball. I lack the coordination to bounce a ball and run with any degree of skill.
However, there’s no reason my uncoordinated brethren and I can’t enjoy watching basketball, particularly when it comes to March Madness, the annual tournament that decides which college’s basketball team is the best in the country. I may not fully understand the sport, but I do understand the drama and excitement of the Final Four.
As a graduate of the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, I also understand the need for delicious snacks during any game-day viewing session. The easiest way to ensure that what you’re snacking on is the best it can possibly be is to make it yourself! Here are a few easy, fun, and delicious snacks that can tide you over during this year’s March Madness season…
Ranch Dipping Sauce:
1/3 cup unflavored Greek yogurt
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, grated on a microplane grater
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl and let sit overnight. In the morning, mix everything again with a rubber spatula to make sure the flavors are fully incorporated.
You can serve this with just about anything, but I recommend cut vegetables (raw broccoli, carrots,
celery, cauliflower, etc.) as a healthier snack.
Note: If you want to go fully homemade, you can make your own mayonnaise using the following method:
Take one egg yolk and whip it with a couple dashes of white wine vinegar (any vinegar will do, but this will give you the most familiar mayo flavor). Add a pinch of salt and ground black pepper, and then whisk in 4 oz of canola oil into your yolk by drizzling a thin stream over it while whisking vigorously (any oil will do, but again, this gives a familiar flavor).
This allows you more control over how thick your mayo is, which will affect how thick your dip becomes. I keep it extra thick because I don’t care for runny ranch. I don’t recommend Miracle Whip, as it gives your ranch flavor a sharp edge that distracts from the “ranchiness.”
Sure you could also make your own Greek yogurt, but that’s a blog article in and of itself. Do yourself a solid and just buy it from the store.
Nacho Cheese Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup cream (you can use whole milk, but cream is better)
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon prepared spicy mustard
salt and pepper to taste
Your favorite hot sauce to taste (I recommend either Frank’s or sriracha, but those are my tastes.)
In a medium saucepan, melt your butter over medium heat, and then whisk your flour into the butter and cook until light brown. (You’re basically making a roux, which shouldn’t give you too much trouble.)
Slowly incorporate your cream or milk, whisking to take out all the lumps. Cook and whisk slowly until thickened. Allow to simmer for about twenty minutes.
Sprinkle cheese over the thickened cream and stir until melted and incorporated. Stir in mustard, then salt and pepper to taste. Then add your hot sauce drizzle-by-drizzle until it has the heat you’re looking for. Be careful with this, as nacho cheese tends to go from “meh, kinda spicy” to “I need a sweatband” faster than you’d think.
Serve warm with tortilla chips, or drizzle over cut veg, your favorite kind of potatoes, or with soft pretzels. Don’t know how to make soft pretzels, you say? Well…
Soft Pretzel Recipe:
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
Pretzel Salt (or whatever salt you can get your hands on)
In the bowl of your stand mixer (or just a bowl, if you don’t have a stand mixer) dissolve the sugar and the dry yeast into the water and let sit for about ten minutes. The water should start to foam, and it will smell like stale beer.
With either a heavy spoon or the hook attachment on your mixer, incorporate the butter, flour, and salt into your yeasted water until it forms a ball. Knead either by hand or with your hook until a smooth dough forms.
Lube your mixing bowl with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil and place your dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit, covered, for about an hour or until doubled in size.
While that’s proofing, cover a cookie sheet in parchment paper, and then lube the paper with vegetable oil to ensure the pretzels don’t stick. Then combine your 10 cups of water with your baking soda and set aside for the final few steps.
At this point, you can cut your dough into 4 oz portions, roll those portions into snakes, and then form the snakes into pretzels. If that sounds daunting, I recommend cutting your dough into 1/2 oz portions and forming them into balls.
Either way, once those are formed, get your water/baking soda mixture going to a light boil (not rolling—the bubble should look like what you’d see in a glass of champagne) and then drop your pretzels/pretzel balls into the water a few at a time.
Allow to boil for about 30 seconds, then pull and place on the oiled cookie sheet. Continue until they’ve all been boiled. Sprinkle with your salt (press the salt into the soft dough to help it stick) and then bake at 450 degrees until they’re dark brown on the outside.
Please note—these aren’t going to look like industrially made pretzels with a uniform brown crust all along the outside—cracks may form in the crust, and that’s okay. They’re going to taste like pretzels, and they’re going to go well with both of your dipping sauces, so don’t stress the appearance too much!