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[Photograph: Ellen Silverman]

I am not usually one for "semi-homemade" anything, but I take exception for one of the best hors d'oeurves of all time: store-bought pepper jelly slathered atop a block of cream cheese. The spicy sweetness of the jelly is a perfect match for the cool and tangy cheese, and it spreads gracefully atop many a cracker. But I'm willing to class up my act with some homemade jelly, and this verdant jalapeño and green bell pepper recipe from Southern Living's Little Jars, Big Flavors works even better than my usual grocery store grab.

Jellies can seem harder to make than jams: there's usually pectin involved, and issues like cloudiness and set matter more than with a pan of simmered berries. Pepper jellies, however, are an easy place to start. There's no juice to deal with, and the little pieces of pepper help distract from any murkiness. Plus, recipes like this one only take a couple of minutes on the stovetop, since the quantity of liquid pectin needed takes just a minute or so to set.

Why I picked this recipe: Given my strong feelings about pepper jelly appetizers, this was an easy pick.

What worked: The recipe was easy and streamlined, leading to a well-set jelly with moderate spice. In other words: excellent for entertaining, cream cheese or no.

What didn't: No problems at all.

Suggested tweaks: Adding a smidge (pinky-nail sized) of butter to the jam along with the lime juice and pectin will help to eliminate foam without skimming. If you want a hotter jelly, include the seeds from the jalapeños. I used Certo liquid pectin, and it worked well.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Little Jars, Big Flavors to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American and Berkeleyside NOSH, and she blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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