Chili Party!

With fall on the way there are many reasons to celebrate. From gameday tailgating or watching from home to simply inviting friends over for a game of cards or a movie it’s nice to have an easy go-to menu for entertaining. A chili party definitely fills the bill.

Start off with a warm cheesy dip, like Jalapeno Popper, served with tortilla chips or crackers. It goes together quickly and is sure to be a favorite.

Slow-Cooker Chili, loaded with meat, beans and flavor, requires only a bit of preparation then simmers on the counter with little watching required. When ready, spoon into bowls and let guests add their favorite toppings (I love a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cheese.) Warm corn bread and butter complete the meal.

For a fun dessert I recommend No Fry Fried Ice Cream, perfect for cooling the palate. Just coat frozen ice cream balls in a mixture of sautÈed corn flake crumbs, cinnamon and sugar (these can be made ahead and kept in the freezer till needed.) When ready to serve drizzle with chocolate sauce and honey and top with whipped cream and a cherry.

Jalapeno Popper Dip

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1 (4-ounce) can jalapeno peppers, diced

1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions: In mixing bowl combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, Cheddar, Parmesan and jalapeno peppers. Spoon into baking dish. Combine panko crumbs and freshly grated Parmesan and sprinkle over top.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 20 to 30 minutes, or till top is lightly browned. Serve with tortilla chips or crackers.

Slow-Cooker Chili

1-pound Italian sausage

1-pound ground beef

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained, cut up or diced tomatoes

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. sugar

2 tsps. chili powder, or to taste

2 tsps. cumin, or to taste

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 (40.5-ounce) can kidney beans, undrained (use less if desired)

Sour cream and grated Cheddar or Jack cheese, for garnish

Directions: In large skillet, brown sausage, ground beef, onion and celery; drain. In slow cooker, combine brown meat mixture, tomatoes, tomato sauce, garlic, sugar, chili powder, cumin and oregano. Cook on high setting for 1 hour. Reduce heat to low; cook 2 to 3 hours to allow flavors to blend. Add kidney beans and continue to cook on low 45 minutes, or till thoroughly heated. Serve in individual bowls topped with sour cream and cheese. Serves 6 to 8.

Tex-Mex Corn Bread

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

2 eggs

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 (17-ounce) can cream-style corn

1/4 cup minced onion

1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

1 (4-ounce) can diced green chilies, drained

Directions: Grease 9-inch square pan. Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Beat eggs, milk and oil till blended in medium bowl. Stir in corn and onion. Pour liquid mixture into dry ingredients; stir just till moistened.

Spoon half of batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and half of the chilies. Cover with remaining batter, top with remaining cheese and chilies. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven 30 to 35 minutes till a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cut into squares, serve hot. Serves 9 to 12.

No Fry Fried Ice Cream

2 cups corn flakes

1/4 to 1/2 cup butter

2 tsps. cinnamon

3 T. sugar

Vanilla ice cream

Directions: Line a small tray with parchment or waxed paper. Scoop ice cream into six balls. Place in freezer to harden while preparing crumbs.

Pulse cornflakes in processor to crush into fine crumbs. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir in cornflake crumbs and cinnamon. Cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes or till golden brown. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Transfer cornflakes to shallow dish and allow to cool.

Place ice cream balls into crumbs and coat evenly, pressing in when necessary. To serve, garnish with a drizzle of honey and chocolate sauce. Top with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. Serves 6.