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Thursday, March 31, 2011
Updated: April 1, 7:49 AM ET
A foodie's Final Four

Former Top Chef contestant Brian Malarkey (fourth place, Season 3) is combining his love of food and sports to help Average Janes and Joes cook up delicious dishes for this weekend's NCAA Final Four. A graduate of the famed Le Cordon Bleu, Malarkey admits college sports aren't his wheelhouse, but he's a big fan of the NFL, NBA, rodeo and horse racing, so he knows what makes for great game-watching treats.

When tasked with creating unique dishes for each of the four remaining teams, Malarkey was a little stumped at first by the East-leaning Final Four. A West Coast guy and the executive chef and co-owner of San Diego's hottest new restaurant, Searsucker, Malarkey knew he was out of his element.

"I cook more West Coast cuisine," he told me. "So I checked out the team mascots, the different cuisines they like, what foods were associated with an area and then took a tongue-in-cheek approach and had fun with it."

Fortunately, Malarkey left the foam and the liquid nitrogen to the current Top Chef set, so these recipes won't keep you in the kitchen all day. Tip-off for VCU-Butler is Saturday at 6 p.m., so print out this page, head to the grocery store and get everything you need for a glorious, victorious Final Four Feast!

UConn Huskies: The Big Dog Burger Bar

"Everyone gets their own customized burger," Malarkey says of this recipe. "Really easy, really fun."

Get a few pounds of ground beef, chicken or turkey -- figure about 6 to 8 ounces per person -- and simply fold in all of your favorite flavors/ingredients (think Cold Stone Creamery) before grilling.

Possible ingredients for folding: Pepper jack, cheddar, swiss or bleu cheeses; jalapeno, pickles, peppers, onion; garlic, herbs.

Possible condiments to put on your bun: Worcestershire sauce, Sriracha, A1, ketchup, bleu cheese dressing, mayo, mustard.

Notes: If you use beef, it does not need to be cooked all the way through, but with chicken or turkey burgers, make sure the pink is cooked to white.

Butler Bulldogs: Bulldog Pork Butt "Roast" with Spring Corn Slamahash

"Indiana loves pork and corn," Malarkey said. "And Butler loves to 'roast' the competition with big defense, so I gave them the 'Slamahash' succotash! And I put the BUTT in Butler!"

Pork has four butts, or shoulders -- what you're looking for is the corners of the swine. Figure about one pound per person, since the pork will shrink while cooking.

Cut the pork into one pound chunks and season with salt and pepper. Then, wrap in aluminum foil and cook at 250 degrees for two hours. Pull it out and let it rest for a few hours at room temp, and, right before your guests arrive, crank the oven up to 400 degrees, uncover, and cook the pig for 10 more minutes to crisp up the outside.

Slamahash: (for four)
Four corn cobs, cut off cob
One red bell pepper, diced
One piece bacon, diced
One clove garlic, crushed
One-quarter stick butter
Three green onions/scallions, sliced
One tbsp parsley, chopped
One tsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper

In a large saute pan, cook the bacon down until just crispy, add the butter and cook for about two more minutes until nice and brown. Add all of the remaining ingredients and cook until hot!

VCU Rams: Virginia "Sweet" Hamslab and Spoiler Pickle Slaw

"This dish may sound simple and unassuming," Malarkey says, "but this one packs a punch like a RAM! Like my mom used to do, slice the ham really thick ... take a generous spoon of the pickle slaw and slap it on the slab! Shoot and score!"

One whole ham roast (size depends on how big the party is)
One half cup honey
One quarter cup apple juice or cider
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the ham on a rack and sheet tray. In a small saucepot, bring the apple cider and honey to a boil and turn off. Brush on the honey and apple syrup to the ham -- if it starts to burn a little, just place some aluminum foil over it. When a meat thermometer reads 150 degrees, it's good to go.

Pickle slaw:
One half-pound pickles of your choice, chopped in big pieces
Two cups red cabbage, sliced thin
One quarter cup mayo
One tbsp dijon mustard

Combine all and serve at room temperature.

Kentucky Wildcats: Bourbon Burnt Shrimp and Wildcat "True Grit"

"I love Kentucky, I love bourbon, and I love grits," Malarkey said. "The Wildcats have 'True Grit,' but being a West Coaster, I have no idea how to do the real thing. So buy the instant grits and modify by adding more cheese, more cooked bacon and more butter -- I'm talking enough to make Paula Dean blush!"

Bourbon Shrimp

One half-pound shrimp per person
Two tbsp butter
One tsp garlic, chopped
One tomato, per person, chopped
One half cup corn
One tbsp chopped green onion
One quarter cup bourbon
Salt and pepper

In a large saute pan over high heat, add the butter and shrimp, cooking until the shrimp are almost done (mostly all pink and not gray). Add the garlic and cook for a minute more, now HIT IT with the Bourbon and step back fast! If it doesn't catch on fire, tilt the pan toward the open fire, and boom. Add the rest of the ingredients after the fire has gone away and continue cooking until the corn and tomatoes are hot. Pour over the top of your grits.

Happy eating!!