Relax, It's Just a Chili Party

If you aren't an experienced party-thrower, inviting a crowd over for chili is a great way to get started.

Photo By: Sarah E Crowder ©Sarah E Crowder

Photo By: Sarah E Crowder ©Sarah E Crowder

Photo By: Sarah E Crowder ©Sarah E Crowder

Photo By: Sarah E Crowder ©Sarah E Crowder

Photo By: Sarah E Crowder ©Sarah E Crowder

Photo By: Sarah E Crowder ©Sarah E Crowder

Photo By: Sarah E Crowder ©Sarah E Crowder

Photo By: Sarah E Crowder ©Sarah E Crowder

A Winter Party Guide

Almost everyone loves chili — and why not? It's inexpensive and easy to make, and people can customize their servings. Plus, the leftovers freeze beautifully. So much of the work can be done ahead of time (and should be, since chili improves with a day or two of melding in the fridge), leaving you with more opportunities to relax during your get-together. In fact, if you are going to be skiing or sledding with a bunch of friends, and you know that they will also be traipsing into your home right behind you, it's the best way to get a fantastic hot meal for a crowd on the table while everyone is pouring a glass of wine or cider and milling about your kitchen.

Photography by Katie Workman and Sarah Crowder

Prep the Ingredients

A day before you plan to make your chili — which should be one to three days before the actual party — prep your ingredients. Select a recipe, read through the ingredient list and the steps, buy all of the ingredients, and slice and dice all of the vegetables. Place the chopped ingredients in sealed containers of zipper-top bags and stash them in the fridge.

Make the Chili

Cook up your recipe one to three days before the event. If there are any ingredients that are designed to go in at the last minute, such as fresh herbs, keep those in the fridge so you can add them when you are reheating the chili the day of the party. Keep the chili in the fridge, either in the pot you plan to heat it in or in sturdy zipper-top bags, if that is easier for storing.

If you have vegetarians as part of the crowd, you can make one veggie version of chili or use a chili recipe where you can add the meat at the end; scoop out enough chili to feed the vegetarians before adding the meat, and serve in two separate pots or bowls, making sure to mark which is which.

Set Up the Table

Buffet is the way to go with chili, allowing everyone to top their bowls as they wish. On one end, stack up the bowls for the chili; put the pot of chili next to the bowls. The toppings should follow the chili, and then be sure to have space for a couple of side dishes. At the end of the buffet, lay out spoons, forks and napkins for people to grab (or place these on the dining table, if you prefer). When you set up the buffet (do this the night before, if possible!), mark the spot for the pot of chili with a trivet, then use sticky notes to label a variety of small bowls with what toppings they will hold that day.

Choose and Prepare Your Toppings

Some classic choices are sour cream, salsa or pico de gallo, chopped onions or sliced scallions, diced avocado or guacamole, shredded crunchy lettuce, fresh cilantro leaves, lightly crushed tortilla chips, hot sauce, sliced jalapenos, and shredded or crumbled cheeses (cheddar, Monterey Jack, queso or whatever you like). The recipe you choose may suggest some other toppings specific to that chili. Get your toppings chopped and shredded, and place them in containers or zipper-top bags in the fridge.

Think About the Drinks

You may wish to set up a bar or let everyone help themselves directly from the fridge, but however you do it, provide a nice assortment of beers, wine, nonalcoholic beverages and sparkling water. Cider is also a great choice, either cold or mulled with some orange, whole cloves and cinnamon sticks on the stove. Put glasses out in an easily accessible area.

Add a Salad and Some Cornbread

While you can certainly go to town and make up a few different sides to round out your chili feast, if you just serve up a green salad and some cornbread (either homemade, from a mix or purchased), you will have an ample and very appealing spread. Try a Light Green Crunchy Salad or a Red-and-Green Salad. For the cornbread, try Jalapeno Cornbread or Bacon, Fresh Corn and Oregano Cornbread. Leave room for these items on the buffet, right after the chili toppings, and place plates nearby.

Set Up the Chili Bar

Heat up the chili, stirring occasionally. Depending on how big the pot of chili is, and whether you've had time to bring it to room temperature before heating it, this can make up to 20 minutes. While the chili is heating, put out all of the toppings in the marked bowls, toss the salad with dressing, and warm the cornbread in the oven if you feel like it (don't forget some good room-temperature butter!). Definitely ask your friends to help with this. Put the pot of chili with a serving ladle on the buffet, and let everyone know dinner is served.

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