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March Madness: Cheesy Italian Grinder Dip

In early spring, the weather occurring in Midwest states can be described in approximately 1,000 ways. Growing up, it was expected that my sister Tanna's March birthday parties could take on several different forms. She could potentially have the warm-weather basketball-themed outdoor party she dreamed of, or there could be rain drenched thunderstorms moving the party indoors. Some years we'd even have the gift of a massive blizzard that would lay a fresh blanket of snow on the ground for a winter sledding party. This year I can tell you none of the above is happening; there will be no sledding and no outdoor activities because it is absolutely brutally cold in Iowa right now and being outside voluntarily isn't high on anyone's priority list.

As I write today, the wind chill factor is well below zero. My social media feeds are filled with people exchanging ideas on how to use less LP in their barns this time of year or a million tricks on how best to keep new baby calves' ears warm. We enjoyed a mild start to our winter season here, but more recently we have been pummeled with snow, ice and cold temperatures leaving people in our state and farmers and ranchers who care for livestock pretty darn tired and ready for a warm weather beach vacation. My brother-in-law Drew, Tanna's husband, has been working around the clock tending to his cow herd and making sure his cows all have a warm, dry place to have their calf. He and my husband Mike talk back and forth about how different each of them deal with the elements when it comes to their respective animals and there is a resounding, "thank goodness we have pigs," from Mike after each of their conversations. I know we all choose this farming lifestyle for ourselves and no one is asking for pity, but I really feel for people who have to fight the elements to tend to their animals in severe weather. I have learned the only way to "help" them, besides working right alongside of them, is to feed them. Drew and Tanna are both avid college basketball fans and love this month out of the year because the best teams are playing and the games are exciting and fast-paced. When our whole family gets together for games you can be assured that there will be lots of snacks and dips so we can graze during pregame and at halftime. This Cheesy Italian Grinder Dip recipe is incredibly flavorful and satisfying. With any leftovers this mixture can become great sandwich filling, just scoop into a hoagie with a little extra marinara or basil pesto and warm up in the oven until the bread is toasted and the filling is bubbly and golden brown!

Cheesy Italian Grinder Dip

Cheesey Italian Grinder Dip can be paired with anything from crackers to bread to chips. 

Makes one 10-inch skillet appetizer

Ingredients:

• 1 pound sweet Italian sausage

• ½ cup diced bell pepper

• 1 ½ cups sour cream

• 4 cups pizza blend shredded cheese

• 1 cup Parmesan/Romano cheese blend

• ½ tbsp Italian seasoning

• ¾ tsp garlic salt

• ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

• 2 tbsp minced parsley

Directions:

• Preheat oven to 450 F.

• In a 10-inch cast iron skillet add sausage and red pepper. Cook over medium heat until sausage is browned and peppers are tender. Drain if necessary. Reserve ½ cup sausage and pepper mixture for garnish, keep warm.

• In a large mixing bowl combine sour cream, cheeses, Italian seasoning, garlic salt, crushed red pepper flakes and 1 tbsp parsley. Stir until well mixed.

• Pour cheese mixture on top of sausage and pepper mixture in cast iron skillet. Spread evenly.

• Bake at 450 F for 16-20 minutes until golden brown. Garnish with ½ cup reserved sausage and pepper mixture and reserved parsley. Serve warm with sturdy crackers, pita chips and or toasted crostini pieces. Small bowls of basil pesto and marinara can also be offered on the side as well.

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