This Low-Maintenance Party Idea is so Hot Right Now

When you have guests coming or just want to have a few friends over, an easy, informal buffet ensures that everybody, hosts and guests alike, can enjoy a home-cooked meal and a night filled with catch-up chatter. Chili, beloved by most, is perfect.

Guests can load up their bowls as they like -- with chili and black beans (vegetarians might choose the beans on their own), plus mix-ins such as avocado, cheddar cheese, scallions, and crunchy tortilla chips. A romaine salad on the side is ideal, holding up longer than one made with more delicate lettuces.

Plan to make the chili a few days in advance. As it cooks, you can prepare homemade cookie dough to freeze. On the night prior to the buffet, just pop the preformed dough into the oven. After everyone's had chili, swap the setup for a platter of cookies and a couple of pints of ice cream, and dessert is served.

Related: Quick, One-Pot Meal Ideas To Feed the Whole Family

Chili Con Carne

Chili con carne, a Texan creation, is a traditional one-dish dinner. Toppings -- avocado, scallions, tortilla chips, and cheese -- are up to each guest.

For the Chili
3 ancho chiles (dried poblano chiles)
1 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 ounces pork (such as shoulder or chops), finely chopped
2 pounds boneless chuck steak, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large white onion, chopped (2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
Coarse salt
28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes, briefly pulsed in a blender
2 cans or bottles of beer (12 ounces each)
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

For the Toppings
4 ripe Hass avocados, halved lengthwise, pitted, flesh scooped whole from skin, and coated with fresh lemon juice
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 bag (20 ounces) salted corn tortilla chips
5 ounces sharp orange cheddar cheese, grated

1. Toast chiles in a skillet over medium heat, turning often, until fragrant and puffed up, 2 minutes. Cut in half; remove cores. Reserve seeds. Transfer chiles to a bowl; cover with boiling water. Set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork; cook until browned, 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Working in batches, cook beef until browned, 3 minutes per side, adding more oil as needed and transferring browned meat to the plate.

3. Meanwhile, put chiles and 1/2 cup soaking liquid into a blender; puree. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add onion and garlic, and cook, stirring often, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in cumin, oregano, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons reserved chile seeds (more for heat, if desired). Cook 1 minute. Add chile puree. Raise heat to medium-high; cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

4. Return meat to pot. Add 2 teaspoons salt, the tomatoes, and beer. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-high. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 1 1/4 hours. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender and sauce is thick, about 30 minutes more. Discard bay leaf. Stir in vinegar. Serve chili with avocado halves, scallions, tortilla chips, and grated cheese.

Black Beans

1 pound dried black beans, soaked according to package instructions
1 medium white onion, peeled
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 tablespoon coarse salt

1. Drain beans. Transfer to a large pot; cover with 10 cups cold water. Add onion and garlic. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer until beans are slightly undercooked, 30 to 40 minutes. Add salt; cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes more. Drain; discard onion. Transfer beans to a bowl.

Crisp Romaine Salad

2 heads romaine lettuce, leaves separated
3 carrots, thinly peeled
8 ounces radishes, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Put lettuce, carrots, radishes, and onion in a salad bowl. Just before serving, lightly drizzle with oil. Add vinegar, salt, and pepper, and toss to combine.

Related: What's Your Turkey Personality?

Chunky Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookies

You can also make bite-size cookies by rolling the dough into smaller balls.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Chocolate or vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Put butter and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Add sugars; mix 2 minutes. Mix in eggs. Gradually add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips, peanuts, and vanilla with a mixing spoon until well distributed. Refrigerate dough until it is slightly firm, 15 minutes.

2. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Space balls 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly. Bake until just golden, about 13 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. Serve with ice cream.

Chili Buffet Cook's Countdown

2 to 3 Days Before
Make the chili. Refrigerate. Prepare the cookie dough, roll into balls, and freeze.

Day Of
Soak the black beans early in the morning. Clean and store the salad greens. Cook the beans. Prepare the add-ins for the chili.

Just Before Serving
Bake the cookies. Reheat chili. Dress the salad.

Shopping List

1 lemon
4 ripe Hass avocados
2 heads romaine lettuce
3 carrots
8 ounces radishes
1 large white onion
1 medium white onion
1 small red onion
1 bunch scallions
6 garlic cloves
3 ancho chiles (dried poblano chiles)
Semisweet chocolate chips
Smooth peanut butter
Roasted, salted peanuts
Salted corn tortilla chips
1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes
1 pound dried black beans
Eggs and unsalted butter
Sharp orange cheddar
4 ounces pork (such as shoulder or chops)
2 pounds boneless chuck steak
Chocolate or vanilla ice cream
2 bottles beer (12 ounces each)

Pantry Items

Extra-virgin olive oil
White and red wine vinegars
Flour
Baking soda
Light-brown sugar
Granulated sugar
Ground cinnamon
Dried oregano
Ground cumin
Bay leaf
Pure vanilla extract
Vegetable oil

More from Martha Stewart:
15 Kitchen Shortcuts That Will Change the Way You Cook
35 Beyond Delicious No-Bake Dessert Recipes
36 Dinners You Can Make in Just 15 Minutes!
No-Mess One-Bowl Desserts: 12 Recipes for Lazy Bakers

Super-quick chili = more time for toppings. Load 'er up!