Let’s just say cheese is involved. 

Summer entertaining, by nature, should be casual and simple. The grill rules the day, accompanied with some chilled salads or simple sides. Bags of chips, crudites, and bowls of dip, salsa, or hummus are the go-to standard for pre-meal nibbling.

But sometimes you want something to put out as an appetizer that is a little special but doesn't involve extra shopping and is still easy to whip up at the last minute. 

My new favorite cookout appetizer

Recently, I was at the home of a dear friend who is also an extraordinary chef and hostess. And she put out an appetizer that was not only addictively delicious, but it was also genius in its simplicity. She'd taken a small crock, packed it with soft, fresh goat cheese, topped it with hot pepper jelly, and baked until bubbly. Genius! Served with any carb in the pantry to serve as a delivery device, it is a delicious snack that feels fancy without adding stress.

I have unapologetically stolen the idea, adapting as needed. Don't love goat cheese? Blitz equal parts cream cheese and another grated or crumbled cheese you love, from feta to cheddar to Gruyère, in the food processor until blended, and use that. Or stock a cheese spread like pimento cheese, pub cheese, or Boursin and use that as the base. If you recently enjoyed a cheese board and have a ton of little bits and pieces left over, make a fromage fort and use that. Not a fan of hot pepper jelly? Try a bacon jam, onion jam, tomato jam, or a chutney instead. Play with different combos and your friends and family will have a new treat every time they come over. I told you it was genius!

Credit: Getty / Thomas Barwick

How to make the world's easiest baked cheese appetizer

It couldn't be easier. Ready?

1. Spray a ramekin or small baking crock with nonstick spray and heat your oven to 350°. 

2. Pack the container with your chosen cheese product, leaving about a half-inch space at the top. Top with a layer of hot pepper jelly, leaving about a quarter inch of space under the rim.

3. Place on a baking sheet to catch any drips, and bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes until bubbly.

4. Serve hot or warm with crackers, pita chips, bread sticks, or small biscuits.

Voila! To store any leftovers (if that's even possible!), pack the cheese back down, cover, and pop into the fridge. To bring back to life, just spread a fresh layer of jam on top and rebake or spread cold on crackers for an afternoon treat.