I love the way dips allow for social engineering: Set out on a buffet or cocktail table, they change the way guests mingle. Put out small plates and individual hors d'oeuvres, and people will walk around a table, pick and choose to fill their plate, and move away. Set out a dip or two in different spots, and guests will congregate, happily scooping and crunching as different conversations blossom. Dips become a positive social mechanism -- an icebreaker of sorts -- for getting people acquainted. (That is, of course, unless a guest double-dips a half-eaten chip. But who invites those sorts of guests, anyway?)

As a cookbook author, a cooking teacher and a faithful foodie, I've prepared all sorts of elaborate feasts. But again and again, I find myself turning away from the fussy appetizers one has to assemble and delicately garnish, and toward dips -- they're delicious, fun and easy on the host. In my latest book, "Delicious Dips" (Chronicle Books, $16.95), I've compiled some of my favorites for your dunking pleasure.

This chili con queso is a great example. It's not the orange goopy stuff that's served with tortilla chips at ballparks in sectioned, Styrofoam trays. It's the real deal: packed with chunks of spicy-hot chorizo, punctuated with fire-roasted chilies and speckled with bits of fresh tomato. A hearty meat dip, it packs a lot of flavor into a single bowl.

What do you serve with homemade dip? Why, homemade chips, of course! For cooks who don't like to deep-fry but still want to make their own, baked tortilla chips are a great solution; they're a cinch to prepare and lower in fat. Crisp and full of flavor, these crunchy triangles were made to be snacked on warm from the oven. Pair 'em with your chili con queso and they'll turn any party into a fiesta.

Text and recipes excerpted and adapted from "Delicious Dips" by Diane Morgan (Chronicle Books, 2004).