Fall menus are often the beginning of comfort food season. All year long, many look forward to warm, hearty, stick-to-your ribs feasts with strong childhood memories served on the side.
Why not, though, start the comfort food coziness even earlier than that — with the appetizer course. Since comfort food is by its nature mood-altering, it's even nicer to get the serenity started as soon as possible.
It's memorable, too, since these are not decades'-old recycled comfort food concoctions, but new takes on well-loved favorites. Following are a few ideas. All ingredients are to taste.
PB&J FOR DIPPING FUN
In a microwave-safe bowl, combine peanut butter, no-sugar-added fruit spread, ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Heat for a few seconds, just until warm, careful not to burn. Stir cautiously. Serve warm with carrots, celery and small squares of rye and pumpernickel bread for dipping.
CHICKEN POTPIE BY THE CUP
Cook frozen chicken potpie according to package instructions. Meanwhile, lightly grease mini muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray and press in wonton skins with tops emerging above the rims. Lightly spray wonton skins with nonstick cooking spray. Cook at 375 F for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown. By rounded tablespoons, fill wonton cups about three-quarters full with chicken potpie, with a bit of the potpie crust ending up on top. Sprinkle with minced scallions.
MEATLOAF MINI SANDWICHES
Slice cooled leftover cooked meatloaf into one-inch squares. Top half of the squares with a mixture of barbecue sauce, spicy mustard and chutney. Cover with the remaining squares. Serve at room temperature.
MAC 'N' CHEESE UPGRADE
When preparing your favorite baked meatball appetizer recipe, combine a small amount of leftover cooked macaroni 'n' cheese into each meatball before baking. Serve with warm marinara sauce for dipping.
Slice store-bought or homemade cornbread into one-inch squares. Spread tops of squares with the filling of store-bought or homemade pumpkin pie and top with red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper.
AFTER-WORK GOURMET COOKBOOK SHELF
When you were a kid carving pumpkins to make jack-o'-lanterns, you probably never dreamed you might someday get just as much satisfaction from leafing through a pumpkin cookbook. DeeDee Stovel provides lots of grown-up fun in the second edition of her "The Pumpkin Cookbook: 139 Recipes Celebrating the Versatility of Pumpkin and Other Winter Squash." As an adult, the colorful book is also welcome in a world of pumpkin-spiced prepackaged goods. There is no questioning that Stovel's finished dishes are homemade and unique, such as currant-pumpkin oat scones, cheddar-pumpkin tart, pumpkin pizza with gorgonzola and golden pumpkin corn pudding.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook." To find out more about Lisa Messinger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.