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Larry Crowe, Associated Press
Chipotle-Bacon Salsa

If you spend the day of the big game in the kitchen, you're missing the point of a Super Bowl party.

Which doesn't mean you can't have great grub for the game. But getting the goods onto the coffee table shouldn't detract from your time on the couch in front of the screen.

It's easy to do a lot of the work in advance, since the very essence of sports-event eating is snack food, not complicated or exotic dishes. The key is taking flavors and presentation up a notch.

Setting up assemble-it-yourself dishes gives those less inclined to watch every play a good gathering spot with something to amuse themselves.

Dips can be done the day before. Most benefit from a day in the refrigerator, which gives the flavors time to develop. For a near-instant dip that improves with overnight chilling, stir pesto into a tub of sour cream. Serve it with pita chips or sliced baguette.

Chili dishes also benefit from being made the day before. Set out a variety of toppings for a have-it-your-way chili bar.

CHIPOTLE-BACON SALSA

Start to finish: 15 minutes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 pound slab bacon, rind removed, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

10-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

1/2 red onion, diced

1 tablespoon chipotle puree

1 teaspoon lime juice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the bacon, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 7 minutes, or until lightly browned. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess fat.

In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes, onion and chipotle puree. Stir in the bacon, lime juice and black pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 1 cup. — Chile Pepper Magazine, November 2007

CHICKEN CHILI CASSEROLE

Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (45 minutes active)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon oregano

3 tablespoons cornmeal

2 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 cup tomato sauce

4 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken

2 cups corn kernels

15 1/2-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 cups tortilla chips (6 to 8 ounces)

1 1/2 cups finely shredded mild cheddar cheese

1/2 cup finely shredded Monterey Jack cheese

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Saute for 3 minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the cornmeal, stirring for about 2 minutes. Slowly add the broth and tomato sauce, then bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the chicken, corn, beans, salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.

Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Line the dish with enough tortilla chips to cover the bottom. Spoon the chili over the chips, then top with remaining chips and sprinkle with the cheeses.

Let the chili cool, then cover and refrigerate up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

The day before serving, move the chili to the refrigerator and let thaw overnight. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350 F. Let the chili sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Bake the chili, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the chili is bubbling. Serve immediately. Serves 6. — "You've Got it Made," by Diane Phillips, Harvard Common Press, 2008, $14.95