Room Temperature Foods
I recently reinvented my expectations regarding hot and cold food.

I can't help it if I believe all those food articles that say to serve hot food hot and
cold food cold. For one thing, serving food at the correct temperature cuts down
on food poisoning. For years I worked diligently at getting all the food on the
table at the same time, and at the correct temperature. I was getting pretty good
at it too.

Catapulting myself into a new job, new hobbies, and new aspirations toppled this
delicate operation. I couldn't, no matter how often and how hard I tried, sit down
to a hot meal. The whole situation made me crazy. Crazy is not a good state to be
in for long periods of time. After many years of unhappy meals, I gave up. And
once I stopped clinging to that goal, I found another way to be happy: I started
choosing recipes that instructed "serve at room temperature."

I am not talking about letting food sit around for hours, especially meat that isn't
thoroughly cooked [think salmonella and E. coli]. You do not want your pleasant
meal to be marred by bouts of throwing up and trips to the emergency room later.
Believe me.

Dishes served at room temperature often can be prepped in advance and then
taken out of the fridge about half an hour before you serve them, which sometimes
is the length of time between when I get a client call and when I personally take
that first forkful. Room temperature meals are often great for picnics, good for
parties and handy on hot days when you don't want to eat anything hot
anyway.Look for room-temperature foods around the globe. Middle Eastern and
Mediterranean cuisines have always known the value of food that is neither hot
nor cold. Tabbouleh and hummus are classic examples. Vegetable tarts, frittatas,
quiches, and focaccia-like breads are just some of the room-temperature dishes
that come from France.  I find inspiration in appetizers, which are often meant to
be consumed gradually. The ready-to-eat section of an upscale grocery holds a
lot of suggestions, too. A lot of the food there is kept refrigerated, under the
assumption that the chill will be off by the time you get back to the office or to the
park with it. These foods taste just as good on the dining room table when you
return to your plate after answering the phone, cleaning up and retrieving
condiments from the refrigerator.

Of course, you could just buy the food from the upscale grocery and take it home
for dinner. The following recipes, however, are easier on the budget and a snap to

Spanish Omelet

Try this with mayonnaise or a vinaigrette.

4 large Idaho potatoes [about 2-1/2 pounds], peeled
2 cups olive oil
1 1/2 onions, thinly sliced
6 large eggs
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the potatoes into small bite-size pieces. Heat the oil in a large skillet over
medium heat until the oil just starts to shimmer. Drop in a slice of potato; if
bubbles form, it's ready. Put in potatoes. Cook until soft, about 15 minutes. They
should not be crisp, Add the onions after 8 or 9 minutes. The onions should be
soft and light golden when the potatoes are done. Over a bowl, drain the potatoes
and onions. In a large bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the potatoes, onions and
salt and pepper to taste. Add ½ teaspoon oil to the still-warm skillet. Add the
egg-potato mixture. Cook on medium-low. Cook until you smell egg [4 to 5
minutes]. Put a flat dinner plate upside down on top of the skillet. Invert the skillet
and the plate so that the omelet is now on the plate with the skillet on top of it. Put
the skillet back on the burner and add ½ teaspoon of oil. Slip the omelet
[uncooked side down] into the skillet and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Serve
at room temperature

Orzo Salad with Fragrant Sesame Dressing

You can also add other blanched vegetables and
cubed cooked chicken to this dish.

For the sesame dressing:
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup corn oil
1/4 cup dark [toasted] sesame oil
1/2 cup rice vinegar or cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon orange zest, grated
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh peeled ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro or parsley, minced

For the salad:
1 pound uncooked orzo
1 tablespoon dark [toasted] sesame oil
3 cups carrots, shredded
2 cups raisins
1 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

For the dressing:
Combine all the dressing ingredients
by hand or in a food processor and set aside.

For the salad:
Cook orzo in rapidly boiling salted water until tender, 7 to 10 minutes or
according to the package instructions. Refresh under cold water; drain well and
let rest to finish draining, about 2 to 3 minutes. Toss with sesame oil. Cool
completely. Combine the pasta with the carrots, raisins, pine nuts, and dressing. If
you're making it in advance, add the carrots and pine nuts just before serving to
keep them crunchy. Serve at room temperature. This salad keeps for several days
in the refrigerator, which is good, because it makes a lot.

Marinated White Bean Salad
Serves 2

If you like less assertive dressing, cut back on the vinegar.

1 cup dried great Northern or small white beans
2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced to a paste with a pinch of salt
6 large basil leaves, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 small red onion, sliced paper thin
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, sliced

Rinse the beans, and soak overnight in water three times their volume.
Drain the beans in the morning. In a large stockpot combine 4 cups water with the
beans,chicken broth, bay leaf, salt and red pepper. Cook on low until the beans
are tender but not mushy, about 1 hour. Drain, removing the bay leaf. Combine
the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, basil and parsley.
Pour this mixture over the hot beans. Add the red onion and toss to combine.
Season with black pepper to taste, then cool to room temperature.
Spoon over sliced tomatoes to serve.

tom saaristo
© Thomas Saaristo  All Rights Reserved