This is a story about how a gift of homemade jelly made its way into an appetizer, and a formula / template recipe for throwing together a 5-minute appetizer.
I like to serve appetizers for the Grill-Meister and me before dinner here in our empty nest. On weeknights, the few minutes we spend enjoying the appetizer together creates a boundary / stopping point for us between work and personal life while we’re working at home, and helps me feel relaxed. On weekends, it’s a natural accompaniment to the cocktail hour. That’s one of my throw-downs below.
I don’t particularly want to spend a long creating appetizers, though, especially since I usually make dinner from scratch and spend a long time on that. A long, happy time with my companions in the kitchen: a classic movie on TCM, an audio book, or music. It’s “me time”.
There’s a Repeatable Formula
My most recent quick appetizer concoction took 5 minutes or less, and was so delicious I wanted to share the recipe. But beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, I wanted to share the formula for the 5-Minute Throwdown Appetizer. The Grill-Meister is always encouraging me (nagging me, actually) to document the thought process behind the made-up dishes I create out of bits of this and that, and it’s really hard to capture tacit knowledge. (I know this because capturing knowledge is my day job, and the tacit kind is the hardest to document. But I digress.)
This appetizer was based on tacit knowledge – the knowledge of what flavors and textures go together based on experience – but it is easily translatable to explicit knowledge. Here goes:
Fresh ✚ Colorful ✚ Crunchy ✚ Creamy ✚ Sweet ✚ Salty (✚ Spicy) = Yum!
A True Believer in Homemade Jellies and James
I’ll explain how that all fits together in a moment. But first, I need to tell you about the jelly. A really nice guy named George that the Grill-Meister plays cards with recently gave us some homemade muscadine jelly that his daughter had just made. Folks, I am a true believer in homemade or artisanal jellies and jams. At the Church of Jellies and Jams, I’m in the front row, waving my hands in the air and singing without the hymnbook because I know all the words by heart.
I had the lid off and a spoon into the jar for a taste before it had been in the house more than 3 minutes, even though it was 10 p.m. Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today!
The very next day, the jelly made its way onto our plates, in the form of a 5-minute throw-down appetizer. Finally, back to the subject of the post!
The Formula for the Win!
My friends, I know the presentation is a little messy here – I should have used a contrasting plate instead of the red one that matches the jam, and perhaps the marvelous muscadine jelly should have been beneath the apples instead of plopped on top – but despite these minor plating missteps, this dish was a winner! Each apple slice was a delivery device for a dollop of goodies, and every bite was a delight.
Why was it a winner? Because of the formula. Remember?
Fresh ✚ Colorful ✚ Crunchy ✚ Creamy ✚ Sweet ✚ Salty (✚ Spicy) = Yum!
I really wanted to use the muscadine jelly from George’s daughter in an appetizer (see notes above about appetizer habits and jelly obsession), so I scrounged around to see what we had that would showcase it.
Apples were the Fresh element for this appetizer, doing double duty as the delivery device for the other yummies. The Colorful component was the jelly, which also covered the Sweet side. Salted slivered almonds provided both the Crunchy and the Salty. The Creamy aspect was the last bit of jalapeño cream cheese from a tub we’d bought the previous week. Spicy came from the fresh jalapeños, which also provided nice color. The combination of these ingredients was stellar.
The Formula is a Template
But it didn’t have to be these specific ingredients to be good. Lots of other actors can star in this 5-minute appetizer show.
|Fresh||The fresh element can be any fruit or vegetable that could reasonably serve as a delivery device for the other goodies: bell pepper, zucchini, cucumber, carrots, radishes, jicama, Belgian endive or another firm lettuce, apples, pears…use your imagination! Or, the fresh element can be a garnish instead of the delivery device for the other ingredients. In this case, it could be any of the above, diced, plus any other fresh fruit, vegetable or herb.|
|Colorful||Color appeal can be accomplished with one or more of the other ingredients, and simply be ensuring that the components of the appetizer aren’t all in the same color family. Looking at the photo above, imagine if it didn’t have the jelly and the jalapeño: the apple, nuts and cream cheese are all in the beige family, and the look would be boring. “We eat with our eyes,” as the saying goes, and color is enticing. If you do have a dish that has mostly one color, a garnish is a quick and easy way to bring in more visual appeal.|
|Crunchy||Crunchiness can come from roasted nuts of any kind, crumbled crackers or tortilla chips, croutons, bacon (or even bacon bits, if you swing that way), sunflower seeds, really any crunchy item that complements your other flavors. You could also accomplish the crunch factor by choosing a cracker as your delivery device.|
|Creamy||Creaminess can be a soft cheese, or a nut butter, or creme fraiche, or really, any creamy goodness in the fridge waiting to be used up. The creamy element could also be a thick dressing or dip; think blue cheese, ranch, green goddess, etc., but if you’re using jelly, you’ll have two runny elements, and will need to address this in the plating, with one perhaps in the center and the other as drizzles.|
|Sweet||Sweetness can be any jam or jelly that works with your other ingredients… I really like a jelly or a jam for the Sweet. But sweetness can also be accomplished with chopped fresh fruit, or canned fruit like bing cherries or pineapple, or a drizzle of honey or other sweet syrup.|
|Salty||Saltiness can come as a bonus from one of the ingredients, as in my example, the toasted sliced almonds covered both the crunchy and salty bases. Other ingredients that can bring a slam of salty could be ham, pancetta, anchovies or peanut butter. Or the salty component could be achieved with garnishes like capers or chopped dill pickles, or sprinkles of salty cheese, like parmesan or romano. Or you can just use a finishing salt or a couple of pinches of sea salt.|
|Spicy||Spiciness can be optional on your 5-minute appetizer, although for us, spicing it up is pretty much a constant. So if you’re in for the spice, instead of the jalapeño, you could use fresh slices or dices of any other pepper of your choice, or pickled peppers. Or the spice could come from the jelly itself, if you used a pepper jelly. Or you could sprinkle red pepper flakes or another spice mix you like on the finished product. Drizzles of sriracha, tabasco or your favorite salsa could also suffice for the Spice, or a dollop of pico de gallo. Or you could go in a whole different direction and combine the spicy component with the creamy one, using a jalapeño mayo, or a spicy spread like our jalapeño cream cheese.|
Give It a Try!
Try this at home! If you use the template, get in touch and let us know how it worked for you. Here’s another example of the use of the formula, from the Glover Gardens archives. It’s also a little messy, but you’ll be able to see how the ingredients of our “Dressing Bites” made from leftover holiday dressing fulfilled all of the components of the 5-Minute Appetizer.
Tomorrow, I’ll share an example of how two smart kids heard about the jelly-inspired appetizer and made their own 5-minute version.
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