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You won't miss a single play when you make this simple Artichoke and Green Chile Slather with Garlic Crostini. Photo by Sue Doeden

Score big at the party: Make Artichoke and Green Chile Slather with Garlic Crostini

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Who doesn't love a good dip to slather on crackers or down with some chips? And if it's a dip that can be ready in about 10 minutes from start to finish - touchdown!

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A few weeks ago I was trying to think of a warm, easy-to-make snack when my son and daughter-in-law were visiting. For some reason, an artichoke dip that I hadn't made in years popped into my mind.

The recipe came to me via a dinner club. Over the years, my husband and I have been participants of a couple of organized groups of people who love to socialize over good eats.

Getting together with friends to share food makes sense. If you're in the habit of meeting friends at your favorite restaurant or pub for food and beverages or grabbing a meal out before heading to the movie theater, you can economize by entertaining at home. Cooking parties can be relaxing and gratifying. The groups I've been involved with had the members take turns hosting. The host couple chose recipes and sent each of us our assigned dish to prepare. On the night of the gathering we showed up bearing food to share. No one had to spend a lot of time preparing a full meal, and everyone saved money without giving up fun and entertainment.

Artichoke and Green Chile Slather with Garlic Crostini was inspired by one of those recipes we were assigned to bring to a dinner club gathering. Maybe we were new to the group at that time. They must have been easing us in gradually, not knowing exactly what we could handle. It was an easy task to prepare the dip and pick up a box of crackers that were specifically called for in the recipe.

In my revamped, jazzed-up version of the old dip, a topping of artichoke hearts, green chiles and garlic is spooned over a brick of reduced-fat cream cheese that has been spread evenly into a pie plate or shallow baking dish. After a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, the Slather is heated for just a couple of minutes in the microwave oven. Alternatively, it can be baked in a conventional oven.

Artichoke and Green Chile Slather can be assembled early in the day and refrigerated until party time. The warm Slather goes well with tortilla chips or crackers. My favorite slather-holders are crisp and garlicky crostini.

The Italian word crostini means "little toasts." Thin slices of bread are toasted to crispness and used to hold all kinds of toppings, often served as an appetizer. Garlic Crostini is crunchy, yet holds just enough garlic-infused olive oil so that it melts in your mouth.

Make a whole baking sheet full of Garlic Crostini. They can be stored at room temperature in an air-tight container for a few days. Float them on soup, crumble them over a salad of fresh greens and top them generously with Artichoke and Green Chile Slather.

Whether you're a newbie in the kitchen or a seasoned gourmet cook, you'll score points with Artichoke and Green Chile Slather with Garlic Crostini next time you have friends over.

Just in time for the big Super Bowl party, too.

Artichoke and Green Chile Slather with Garlic Crostini

1 (8-ounce) package reduced-fat cream cheese

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 (11.5- to 14-ounce) jar or can of water-packed artichoke hearts, drained, chopped

1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Spread cream cheese evenly over the bottom of a 9-inch microwave-safe glass pie plate. In a medium-sized bowl, combine butter, chopped artichoke hearts, green chiles and garlic. Spoon artichoke mixture over the cream cheese. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Microwave on High power for 2 minutes or until mixture is heated through and the Parmesan cheese is melted. Serve with Garlic Crostini.

Garlic Crostini

1 baguette

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Cut the baguette into 1/4-inch round slices. Whisk the olive oil, garlic, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper in a bowl. Brush each side of the bread rounds with the olive oil mixture. Arrange bread rounds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 13 to 15 minutes, turning bread rounds over after 10 minutes through the baking time. When crostini is crisp and golden brown, remove from oven. Cool on a wire rack. These can be made up to 3 days in advance. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Tips from the cook

--I've used both marinated artichoke hearts and those that are packed in water. Both work in this recipe.

--To bake the Slather in the oven, be sure to use an oven-safe dish. Bake the Slather in preheated 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes, until heated through and Parmesan cheese is melted.

--When heating the Slather right out of the refrigerator, allow for a little more time in the oven.

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