Log in Newsletter

March Madness Munchies


Anyone looking to score a slam dunk when it comes to appetizers for this month’s big games should make a fast break toward those appliances many of us received as Christmas gifts. Air fryers and instant pot multi-cookers, familiarly known as instapots, can be big time-savers when the minutes start ticking down toward tipoff. Here, a few local MVPs share their favorite tips and recipes for scoring big with the home team.

Susan Brady and Michael Toler

Well, it’s no wonder these two can come up with trays of award-worthy appetizers. After all, they just teamed up to lead Terry Sanford High School’s bowling teams to outstanding seasons, including a state championship for the girls and a runner-up finish for the boys.

I absolutely love to cook,” Toler said. “I was raised with my mama cooking. And then later, it was just trial and error, trying different things.”

Brady introduced him to using an air fryer which uses hot air rather than hot oil.

And when it comes to his jalapeno poppers and stuffed mushrooms, both featuring the same sausage filling and cooked in the air fryer, Toler’s recipes are no doubt of championship caliber.

Jalapeno Poppers

12 ounces mild sausage

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Lawry’s seasoned salt

10 whole jalapeno peppers, halved with membranes and seeds removed

One pound thick-cut bacon

Preheat air fryer to 400 degrees.

Brown the sausage and sprinkle with seasoned salt. In medium bowl, mix the cream cheese and cheddar. Add the sausage and combine.

To assemble the poppers: Fill each jalapeno half with sausage mixture and wrap with bacon. Place in air fryer in a single layer. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Stuffed Mushrooms

I large package whole mushrooms

Shredded cheddar

Preheat air fryer to 400 degrees. Wash mushrooms thoroughly and remove stems.

Fill mushroom caps with sausage mixture and sprinkle with shredded cheddar. Place in air fryer in a single layer.

Cook in air fryer for 8 minutes.

Kim Fisher

Fisher’s in-laws gave her and husband Mark an air fryer two years ago. She uses it to make chicken wing appetizers that are always a hit with family and friends.

“It’s easy and it’s good,” she said. “Even somebody who can’t cook can use an air fryer. It’s like cooking in an Easy-Bake Oven.

Chicken Wings

Fisher’s recipe is simple. She sprinkles chicken wings with lemon pepper and garlic salt and cooks them for 22 minutes in the air fryer, which has been preheated to 375 degrees. She finishes them with a sprinkle of paprika for color.

Fisher also share a recipe she recently tried for Crab Rangoons made in the air fryer.

Crab Rangoons

8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature

8 ounces lump crab meat

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Salt and pepper

1 green onion

¼ cup olive oil or spray

1 package wonton or egg roll wrappers

¼ cup water

Duck sauce for dipping

Blend cream cheese, crab meat, sriracha sauce, mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste and chopped green onion together for filling. Put a tablespoon of filling in the middle of each wrapper.

If using egg roll wrappers, cut in fourths. Brush wrappers with water and roll up sides to make a pocket. Set rangoons in air fryer basket and rub the outside with the olive oil or spritz with cooking spray. Cook 5 to 7 minutes.

Mary Jon Barkman

Barkman loves the fact that her instapot frees her up to prepare side dishes while the instapot takes care of the main attraction. A go-to family favorite are baby back ribs made tender in the instapot then finished on the grill and slathered with bottled sauce.

The ribs are a throwback to the days when she and husband, Josh, now a veterinarian, waited tables for spending money in college.

In undergraduate, grad school, vet school and even my first two years of teaching school, we waited tables at Lone Star. I made more money waiting tables than I did as a teacher,” she said. Some of our favorite meals, cheese fries, babyback ribs, steaks and baked sweet potatoes, we do it based on how we learned to cook at Lone Star.

For her instapot ribs, she starts with bone broth, minced garlic, bay leaves and fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary or whatever is on hand. She sprinkles the ribs with kosher salt and steakhouse seasoning.

The recipe will call for measurements, but I’m not a measurement person because it really doesn’t matter,” she said, pouring broth in from a carton. “This is just your liquid for the bottom so that it doesn’t dry up.”

The ribs go into the instapot for 30 minutes. That doesn’t include the time that it takes for the instapot to build up to the required pressure. Total cooking time is about 45 minutes, giving her time to whip up potatoes, steamed vegetables or whatever is on the family menu that night. She likes the fact that cleanup is a breeze with the instapot.