What is it about sports that makes spectators very, very hungry? Come Sunday, millions of fans will huddle around television sets, cheering on their favorites, disagreeing with the referees and jockeying for the best position on the sofa. In between the action, they'll be wondering what's for dinner.

Now football and fine dining don't mix. The Super Bowl isn't an occasion to trap your guests at a table. This is a Sunday when television rules and the guests want to be firmly planted in front of the screen. They'll also want to eat.

Which brings us to bowl food. There is a good reason big bowls of something are fixtures at football gatherings. Chili, soup, stew and noodle dishes are all tailor-made for this TV dinner party. And don't forget chips and dip. All of these dishes have a few significant features in common. They can be eaten sitting on the sofa, in an easy chair or on the floor. Knives are not needed; at most a fork or spoon is required. Most of the preparation is done ahead of time, which leaves the host free to enjoy the game as well. From our end of the sofa, it seems clear that bowl food is the way to go on game day. In that spirit, we offer this guide.

DIPS

These appetizers have gotten a bad name. The astounding number of calories that can be consumed by an overzealous dipper may be to blame. But more likely it has to do with the proliferation of really bad dips made from a mix. Dips don't have to come out of a package or can. They don't have to taste like dried spices and salt. Throw away the soup mix and start from scratch.

The rules for a creamy dip are simple to follow. Start with a base--mayonnaise, sour cream or mashed avocados are common choices--and add flavorful ingredients. Horseradish, curry, green peppercorns and smoked salmon are the kinds of additions that make the dip interesting. And keep the salt to a minimum if the dip will be served with salty chips.

Curried Mango Dip

(Makes about 3 1/4 cups)

Rich, flavorful and addictive, dips like this one keep crudites platters popular.

Serve with carrot, celery, cucumber and jicama sticks and sugar snap peas.

Do-ahead tip: This dip is best made 1 or 2 days in advance.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) finely chopped onion

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 large mango, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)

2 cups mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

Over medium heat in a small saute pan, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the curried onion mixture to a blender, add the mango and process until pureed. Add the mayonnaise and sour cream and, on the lowest speed, blend until smooth. Taste and add salt accordingly. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Per tablespoon (using 1/4 teaspoon salt): 71 calories, trace protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 62 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Sweet Onion, Scallion and Chive Dip

(Makes about 3 cups)

Think onion dip has to be made from a packaged mix? Think again. The real thing tastes so much better.

Serve with potato chips and crudites.

Do-ahead tip: The dip is best made at least 4 hours in advance and can easily be made the day before.

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Peruvian, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice

1/2 cup chopped scallions

1/4 cup chopped chives

1 cup sour cream

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions just begin to turn golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the scallions and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in the chives. Transfer the onion mixture to a bowl; set aside to cool slightly.

While the onion mixture is cooling, in a medium bowl mix together the sour cream, cream cheese and salt. (This can be mixed by hand if the cream cheese is soft or in a food processor if the cream cheese is still firm.)

Stir the onion mixture into the cream cheese mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Taste and add salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Per tablespoon: 34 calories, 1 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 41 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Diced Apple and Avocado Guacamole

(Makes about 5 cups)

In the summer and fall, I add diced fresh tomato to my guacamole. The tomato adds a tart, slightly acidic note. But mid-winter tomatoes just don't have the same flavor. So I looked for something to replace the tomato and came up with apples. Readily available all winter, crisp tart apples combined with a touch of cumin blend wonderfully with the avocado.

Serve with tortilla chips or warm flour tortillas.

Do-ahead tip: The guacamole can be made the night before, but follow the wrapping instructions below carefully. If the surface of the guacamole darkens overnight anyway, just scrape the darkened layer off before serving.

5 ripe medium avocados, preferably the dark-skinned Haas variety

1 crisp, tart apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice

1/2 cup diced red onion

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1/4 teaspoon cumin

About 1 teaspoon salt

Cut each avocado in half. Remove the pits and discard. Peel the skin from the avocado halves. Place the halves in a large bowl. Using a fork, mash the avocado, leaving some small chunks for texture. Add the diced apple, onion, cilantro, lime juice, cumin and salt to taste and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl or serving dish. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it so that the wrap is in direct contact with the surface of the guacamole. Wrap the bowl or container with another layer of plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Per tablespoon: 20 calories, trace protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 2 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 30 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

CHILI

People love to argue about what constitutes a true chili. But does it really matter? One man's chili is another man's stew and vice versa. Some like it hot, some like it hotter. When it comes right down to it, almost any slow-cooked stewlike dish that is made in a big pot, served in a bowl and contains some kind of chili pepper can be called chili.

What is indisputable is the relationship between chili and football. The spicy stew seems to have found its home as the one-pot dish of choice on Super Bowl Sunday.

Chili can made with beef, pork, vegetables, chicken or turkey. And many different kinds of pepper can be used. Everyone has a favorite rendition. But the single most important consideration when making chili is the heat level. Heat, in the form of chili peppers, chili powders or hot pepper sauces, can always be added, but is hard to take away. Know your crowd.

Mild-Mannered Beef Chili

(Makes 10 to 12 servings)

This ground beef chili is relatively tame in terms of spice level. Add more spices where indicated if you like more kick.

Coarse ground beef is available at most supermarkets. If there's none in the meat case, ask the butcher. It makes a much heartier chili.

Serve with sour cream, shredded cheddar and corn bread.

Do-ahead tip: Everything. The chili is best made a day ahead. Freeze for longer storage.

About 5 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 green bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 medium onions (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 1/2 to 4 pounds coarse ground beef, preferably chuck

2 1/2 teaspoons chili powder, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon cumin, or more to taste

3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste

14 1/2-ounce can beef broth

29-ounce can tomato puree

About 2 cups water

Salt to taste

In a 6- to 8-quart pot over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the bell peppers and the onions and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooking, add about 3 tablespoons oil to a large skillet, enough to coat the bottom of the pan generously, and heat over medium-high heat. Add some of the ground beef, taking care not to crowd the meat in the pan. Cook the beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it is no longer pink in the middle. Transfer the meat to a platter lined with paper towels to drain. Continue cooking the remaining beef in batches, adding additional oil as needed.

Add the chili powder, cumin and red pepper flakes to the onions and peppers and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beef broth, tomato puree, cooked beef and enough water to cover the meat and vegetables. Stir to combine. Add salt to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat so the liquid just simmers. Simmer the chili until the flavors have blended, about 25 minutes.

Per serving (based on 12, using 4 pounds of beef): 429 calories, 26 gm protein, 12 gm carbohydrates, 30 gm fat, 99 mg cholesterol, 11 gm saturated fat, 432 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Spicy Chipotle, Pork and White Bean Chili

(10 to 12 servings)

Chipotles--canned, dried, smoked jalapenos in adobo sauce--add heat here. They also bring a rich, deep flavor to the chili. Cans of chipotle used to be hard to find, but most supermarkets now carry them in the international section.

Those feeling more timid, in terms of spice, can cool down this dish by using only half of the pureed chipotle mixture.

Serve with sour cream and diced scallions.

Do-ahead tip: Everything. This chili is best made 1 or 2 days ahead. The chili may thicken with time; add additional chicken broth as needed when reheating.

7-ounce can chipotle chili peppers in adobo sauce

About 5 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 pound carrots, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice

2 medium onions (about 1 pound), cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice

3 1/2 to 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder or country-style pork ribs, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 pound dried small white beans (such as navy beans), presoaked according to package directions and drained

3 cups chicken broth, or more as needed

2 cups canned tomato puree

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1/4 cup sugar

In a blender or mini-food processor, puree the chipotle peppers and sauce until smooth. Set aside.

In a 6- to 8-quart pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots and onions and cook until the vegetables have softened and the onion just begins to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooking, add about 3 tablespoons oil to a large skillet, enough to coat the bottom of the pan generously, and heat over medium-high heat. Add some of the diced pork, taking care not to crowd the meat in the pan. Saute the meat until it is no longer pink in the middle. Transfer the meat to a large platter lined with paper towels to drain. Continue cooking the remaining pork in batches, adding additional oil as needed.

Transfer the cooked pork to the pot with the carrots and onions along with the chipotle puree, beans, chicken broth, tomato puree, salt and sugar. Stir to combine, adding more chicken broth if needed to fully cover the meat and vegetables. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low so the liquid just barely simmers. Simmer the chili until the meat is tender and the beans are fully cooked, about 1 1/2 hours.

Per serving (based on 12; using 4 pounds of pork): 463 calories, 29 gm protein, 25 gm carbohydrates, 27 gm fat, 94 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 440 mg sodium, 7 gm dietary fiber

Pulled Chicken and Green Chili Chili

(10 to 12 servings)

If chili can be described as having Tex-Mex parentage, this version is on the Mexican side of the family.

Serve with rice, chopped tomato, sour cream, shredded cheese and warm flour tortillas.

Do-ahead tip: This can be prepared a day ahead. Freeze for longer storage.

For the pulled chicken and broth:

5 pounds bone-in chicken thighs and/or breasts

1 large tomato, coarsely chopped

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 large or 3 medium carrots, coarsely chopped

2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon salt

For the chili:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 tablespoons butter

2 medium onions (about 1 pound total), chopped

2 (4.5-ounce) cans chopped green chilies

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 cup flour

Salt to taste

For the pulled chicken and broth: In a large stock pot, combine the chicken, tomato, onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves and salt. Add enough water to cover the chicken and vegetables. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low so the liquid just barely simmers. Simmer until the chicken is tender and falling off the bones, about 1 hour. Transfer the chicken pieces to a plate and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Strain the broth; discard the vegetables. Set the broth aside.

Using a fork or your fingers, pull the chicken from the bones. Break any large pieces into small, bite-size chunks or strips. Discard the chicken bones and skin.

While the chicken is cooling, start preparing the chili: In a 6- to 8-quart pot, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the green chilies and cumin and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour is dissolved. Stir in 3 cups of the reserved chicken broth. Add the pulled chicken and bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to medium-low so the liquid just barely simmers. Taste and add salt as needed. Simmer the chili for 15 minutes. If the chili seems too thick, add additional chicken broth as needed. Save the remaining broth for another use.

Per serving (based on 12): 236 calories, 26 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 88 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 936 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

MORE BOWLS

Bowl food possibilities only begin with dips and chili. All manner of foods in bowls can be offered at informal parties and Sunday suppers. Hearty soups, long-simmered stews, Asian noodle dishes, Italian pastas all fall into this category. These dishes have an added advantage for the host who wants to keep things simple. They are usually one-dish meals, requiring no more than a loaf of bread or simple salad as accompaniments.

The key with any food served at a party is to make the dish look more special than it might at an ordinary dinner. This is especially true of bowl food, which easily may look like yesterday's leftovers. With some items it might just be a garnish, say beef stew topped with browned bacon and mushroom cubes or corn chowder served with sauteed shrimp. Or vary the presentation. Instead of making a large potpie with a crust, serve the potpie mixture in bowls crowned with individual baked biscuits and sprigs of thyme. Or it might be the serving dish that catches the eye--you might use an oversize shallow white ceramic bowl to hold the following Asian noodle dish.

Loads of Ginger Vegetable Lo Mein

(8 servings)

The heat in this dish is very different from that of a chili. Here, finely minced ginger lends its hot and spicy flavor to the lo mein.

Do-ahead tip: Cut all of the vegetables early in the day. Refrigerate until ready to cook. Have a pot of water ready to go and all other ingredients measured out. This dish will then take 15 minutes from the moment the water starts to boil for the pasta.

1 pound spaghettini (thin spaghetti)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 bunch scallions (white and tender green parts), finely chopped

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh ginger root

1 medium onion (about 8 ounces), thinly sliced

1/4 pound snow peas, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch wide strips

1/2 pound large mushrooms, cut into 1/4-inch or thinner slices

1 1/2 pounds bok choy, cut crosswise into 1/4- to 1/2-inch wide slices

1/2 pound carrots, grated

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil

4 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Cook the spaghettini according to package directions.

While the spaghettini is cooking, in a wok or large saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the scallions and ginger and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the snow peas, mushrooms, bok choy and carrots; the wok will be full. Carefully stir together the vegetables. Add the chicken broth, cover the wok and steam the vegetables until they just begin to turn tender, but still have some crispness, 6 to 8 minutes. Uncover the wok and add the soy sauce, sesame oil and 3 tablespoons of the sesame seeds. Stir to mix thoroughly. Remove the wok or pot from the heat.

Drain the spaghettini and transfer it to a large, shallow serving bowl. Add the vegetable mixture, including the liquid, from the wok. Toss with the pasta until combined. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds over the lo mein and serve immediately.

Per serving: 385 calories, 12 gm protein, 55 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, trace cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 212 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber

Corn and Shrimp Chowder

(10 to 12 servings)

Shrimp can be difficult to serve in any kind of soup or stew. It takes only a few minutes of overcooking to turn the shrimp tough. To get around this, this chowder is prepared and then, just before serving, the shrimp are sauteed in very hot butter. The shrimp are added to the chowder as it is served. This all sounds like more work than it is, especially since the shrimp cook in just 3 or 4 minutes.

Do-ahead tip: The soup is best the first day, but can be prepared a day in advance if necessary. Freeze for longer storage. The shrimp can be peeled and deveined hours in advance. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

3 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen corn kernels

1/4 pound thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 medium onion (about 1/2 pound), cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 large (about 8 ounces) red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 large stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 pounds russet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 cups milk

2 cups heavy (whipping) cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, to taste

About 4 ounces (1 stick) butter

2 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 cup chopped chives

In a medium pot, combine the chicken broth and 1 pound of the corn. Bring the broth to a boil; immediately remove the pan from the heat. Working in batches, transfer the corn mixture to a blender or food processor and process until the corn is almost pureed but slightly chunky. Set aside.

In a 6- to 8-quart pot over medium heat, saute the bacon pieces until the fat has been rendered and the bacon pieces are golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon pieces to a platter lined with paper towels to drain. Set aside.

Heat the skillet with the bacon drippings over medium heat and add the onion, bell pepper and celery. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables have softened, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the pureed corn mixture along with the remaining 1/2 pound corn kernels, the potatoes, milk, heavy cream and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat so the chowder is just barely at a simmer. Simmer the chowder until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add hot pepper sauce and additional salt to taste, if needed.

Just before serving, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add some of the shrimp, being careful not to crowd the pan. Saute until cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a plate. Repeat with the remaining butter and shrimp.

Stir the chives and bacon into the hot soup. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and add 5 or 6 shrimp to each bowl. Serve immediately. If serving as a buffet, place the dish of sauteed shrimp next to the soup and let guests serve themselves.

Per serving (based on 12): 497 calories, 29 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 30 gm fat, 230 mg cholesterol, 16 gm saturated fat, 378 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Thyme-Infused Chicken Not-Quite-Potpies

(10 to 12 servings)

A big chicken potpie looks great when it comes out of the oven, but by the time three or four guests have dug in, it doesn't look nearly as good. An easy and elegant way to get around this is to prepare the potpie filling separately and serve it with biscuits alongside, instead of stretching a biscuit or pie dough to bake on top. The filling is ladled into serving bowls. Each bowl is topped with a biscuit or two.

Do-ahead tip: The potpie mixture can be prepared 1 or 2 days in advance. Freeze for longer storage. The biscuits are best baked at the last minute, but can be baked a few hours in advance and then warmed right before serving.

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs

About 20 sprigs of thyme

Salt to taste

4 ounces (1 stick) butter

2/3 cup flour

5 cups chicken broth, warmed, plus additional as needed

1 cup white wine

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 pound carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 cups frozen or fresh corn

2 cups frozen peas

White pepper to taste

About 24 biscuits, 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide, baked

In a medium pot, combine the chicken, 10 sprigs of the thyme and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add water to cover the meat. Place the pot over medium heat and bring the water to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low so the liquid just barely simmers. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a plate and set aside until cool enough to handle. Discard the poaching liquid and thyme.

As soon as the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

While the chicken is cooking, in a medium pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the warm chicken broth. Add the wine and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Remove the thyme leaves from the remaining 10 sprigs of thyme. Mince the leaves and add them to the sauce.

Bring a 4-quart pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook just until tender, about 12 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potato cubes to a bowl. Add the carrots to the boiling water and cook for 6 minutes; add the corn and peas and cook until the carrots are tender, about 2 more minutes. Drain the vegetables; transfer them to the bowl with the potatoes.

In a large bowl, combine the diced chicken with the sauce, the potatoes and other vegetables and salt and pepper to taste. If the filling is too thick, add additional chicken broth as needed.

To serve, transfer the potpie filling to a large serving bowl. Ladle the filling into individual serving bowls and top each bowl with 1 or 2 of your favorite homemade or packaged biscuits, already baked to golden brown.

Per serving (based on 12): 475 calories, 35 gm protein, 44 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 90 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 503 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber