Transitioning into autumn is more than a wardrobe thing; it's a food thing, too. After a summer of diving into icy, casual, outdoor dishes, and heading into chilly months filled with toasty, hot, hearty ones, early autumn can be the perfect time for room-temperature tempters.
Most tantalizing is the ease with which room-temp treats can be assembled — often with light cooking or none at all. Taking advantage of seasonal fare shows off your up-to-the-minute flair. If you're getting used to a newly busy fall schedule, skipping the heavy-duty slew of cooking that will fill the months to come is like getting an extended summer vacation.
Even though room-temperature dishes are neither hot nor cold, they should be refrigerated, covered, after no more than two hours. If not eating immediately, refrigerate, covered, and bring to room temperature before serving. All ingredients are to taste.
HARVEST THESE TUNA TOASTS
Grate unpeeled apples and peeled carrots and mix with flaked and drained canned tuna; diced, pitted black olives; currants; and a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and freshly ground black pepper. Spread open-faced onto toasted multigrain bread and sprinkle with cilantro.
GREAT GRAPE PASTA
Cook rotini pasta al dente, carefully drain and rinse with cool water. Gently toss with grapeseed oil, diced cooked and cooled store-bought or homemade skinless rotisserie chicken and halved preferably red grapes and sprinkle with basil and oregano.
EGGPLANT WITH EXTRA APPEAL
Gently mix small amounts of fresh orange juice and curry powder with store-bought or homemade red bell pepper hummus. Spread onto broiled eggplant "steaks" that have first been brought to room temperature.
PIZAZZ IN THE FORM OF POTATOES
Cut cooked, cooled unpeeled new potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Gently mix with lightly steamed, cooled bite-size pieces of raw broccoli and cauliflower and small amounts of white wine and balsamic vinegar.
OPEN-FACED SANDWICH COOKIES
Finely dice unpeeled pears and gently mix with chopped walnuts and poppy seeds. Remove tops of store-bought chocolate sandwich cookies. Place a dollop of pear mixture atop each. Finely crumble cookie tops and drizzle over open-faced sandwich cookies.
AFTER-WORK GOURMET COOKBOOK SHELF
Is it the beginning of autumn or the start of grilled cheese season? If you pick up a copy of "The Great Grilled Cheese Book: Grown-Up Recipes for a Childhood Classic" by Eric Greenspan, one of the most celebrated chefs in the country, you won't have to choose. Greenspan offers innovative creamy, dreamy fare through chapters devoted to popular cheese varieties, such as cheddar, mozzarella, blue and goat. Greenspan's creativity knows no bounds, as evidenced by his signature sandwich, "The Champ," developed at one of the award-winning restaurants he helmed. "I took a stinky Taleggio," he writes, "and put it between two slices of the raisin-walnut bread common to cheese plates but so uncommon to a grilled cheese. I blended dried apricots and capers into a puree and added sun-dried tomato as a nod to the dried fruits and pickles typically found on a cheese plate. For good measure, I added some shredded short ribs that happened to be lying around the kitchen."
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.