By Lisa Messinger
Author of: The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine
HARVEST THESE TUNA TOASTS
Transitioning into the holiday season is more than turning the page of a calendar. It often means --- almost literally --- turning your kitchen into a nonstop oven. The oven may be on what seems like continually for months heating, roasting and baking family favorites, most of which are toasty, hot, hearty entrees. Room temperature tempters, therefore, can be welcome time savers --- and surprisingly gourmet.
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 own up-to-the-minute flair.
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, first and then bring to room temperature before serving. All ingredients are to taste.
Fun fare like this also proves food preparation can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast. The creative combinations are delicious proof that everyone has time for creating homemade specialties and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness that goes along with it!
Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since these are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations. They can't help but draw "wows" from family members and guests.
Grate unpeeled apples and peeled carrots and mix with flaked, 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.
PIZZAZZ IN THE FORM OF POTATOES
Cut cooked, cooled unpeeled new potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Gently mix with lightly steamed, cooled bite-sized 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.
QUICK TIP: Is it holiday season or 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 will know the answer. Greenspan offers innovative creamy, dreamy fare in the form of chapters devoted to popular varieties, such as cheddar, mozzarella, blue and goat. However, 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 at Creators Syndicate is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.