A favorite rite of spring and summer is the transition from hot to cold food. Warm weather may turn young people's thoughts to love, but the rest of the population, too old or too jaded to survive on such insubstantial fare, inclines toward delectable cold meals at this time of year.

Staying away from the stove is one way to avoid overheating, but too often this approach results in monotonous meals. When salads pall, thoughts turn toward cooking something good to eat despite hot weather. Once seized by the impulse to heat up the kitchen, however, the cook must remember to create a meal that is frigid and frost-nipped.

That means serving an exceptional cold dinner, one that is cooling in appearance as well as taste. By definition, such a meal is prepared in the cool morning hours and left to chill in the refrigerator until dinner. The food, prearranged on serving platters and kept covered with plastic wrap, is ready to serve at the right moment.

While poultry, a cold food cliche', is commonplace because it keeps well and tastes good chilled, rock cornish hens, served instead of the usual cold chicken or turkey, make a meal more interesting. And the chore of carving a big bird is eliminated. Each hen, when cut in half along the backbone--a job easily done--is enough for two people. Poached in vegetable broth until just tender, then skinned, split and coated with a simple green mayonnaise and garnished with fresh parsley and sliced cucumber, the birds look cooling and taste refreshing. In a satisfying reversal, the leftover chicken broth can be frozen for a cold weather meal months later.

A rice and vegetable mold serves as a red, white and green salad and starch accompaniment. The cooked rice is transformed by artichoke hearts, scallions, radishes, cucumber and other vegetables and dressed with a good quality olive oil spiced with a little dijon mustard.

Camembert "ice cream," really a nut-coated frozen cheese log, at the beginning, chilled strawberry-glazed nectarine pie at the end, and white wine sangria throughout make dinner complete. CAMEMBERT ICE CREAM APPETIZER (8 servings) 10 ounces ripe camembert cheese, rind removed 1/2 cup whipping cream 1/4 cup butter, softened 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 cup chopped walnuts

In the bowl of a food processor or blender place cheese, cream, butter and pepper. Process until smooth. Fold in 1/2 cup walnuts. Form mixture into a log shape on waxed paper. Coat with remaining nuts. Cover and freeze until firm but not too hard to cut. Or freeze until hard for storage and defrost to cutting consistency before serving. ROCK CORNISH HENS WITH GREEN MAYONNAISE (8 servings) 4 rock cornish hens 2 onions, chopped 2 celery stalks, chopped 2 carrots, chopped 4 tablespoons chopped parsley 2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon thyme 3 garlic cloves, minced 6 whole peppercorns 1 bay leaf 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried basil 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin 2 eggs 4 tablespoons lemon juice 1 teaspoon dry mustard 2 cups vegetable oil 1/2 cup fresh spinach leaves 1/2 cup sour cream 2 tablespoons minced scallions Salt and pepper to taste

Remove giblets from hens, discarding livers. Place giblets in a dutch oven with 10 cups of water, onions, celery, carrots, 2 tablespoons parsley, salt, thyme, 2 minced garlic cloves, peppercorns and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Add hens and additional boiling water to cover if necessary. Simmer 20 minutes, skimming broth. Cool in broth 1 hour. Remove hens. Strain and reserve 1/4 cup broth. Remove skin from hens and split lengthwise with a sharp knife, discarding backbone. Place hens breast side up on a large serving tray. Cover and chill thoroughly.

Combine reserved broth and basil in the top of a double boiler. Sprinkle gelatin over top. Let soften 10 minutes. Place over simmering water and heat, stirring, until gelatin is dissolved. Cool while preparing mayonnaise.

Place eggs, lemon juice and mustard in a blender. Add 1/2 cup oil. Blend 5 seconds. Turn to low speed and add remaining oil in a slow, steady stream, stopping occasionally to scrape sides with a rubber spatula. Blend 5 seconds to complete. Measure 1 1/2 cups, reserving remainder, and return to blender or food processor. Add spinach, sour cream, scallions, remaining parsley and garlic, salt and pepper. Process until smooth. With motor running, add broth-gelatin mixture and blend well. Chill 5 minutes.

Spread mayonnaise over hens, covering them completely. Chill until mayonnaise sets, at least 30 minutes. Serve cold. RICE SALAD MOLD (8 servings) 1 cup raw rice 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon dijon mustard 1/8 teaspoon pepper 3 1/2 ounces olive oil 1-pound can artichoke hearts 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions 1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes 1/2 cup cooked peas, optional 1/2 cup chopped pimientos 1 1/2 cups chopped cucumber Parsley sprigs

Cook rice according to package directions until dry and fluffy. Place lemon juice, salt, mustard, pepper and oil in the bowl of a blender or food processor. Process until combined. Toss rice with dressing. Drain artichoke hearts and slice into eighths. Add to rice along with scallions, radishes, peas, if desired, pimientos, and cucumber. Combine well and chill. Before serving, oil a mold and pack with rice mixture. Unmold on serving dish; garnish with parsley, additional radishes, and pimientos. NECTARINE AND STRAWBERRY PIE (8 servings) 9-inch pie shell, baked and cooled 6 ounces cream cheese, softened 1 cup confectioners' sugar 1 cup whipping cream 4 nectarines, sliced 1 cup strawberries, sliced 3/4 cup granulated sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Place cheese in a bowl and gradually add confectioners' sugar, beating constantly. Continue beating at medium speed until smooth and soft. In a separate bowl whip cream. Fold into cheese mixture. Spoon into pie shell. Arrange nectarines on top of filling. Refrigerate. Crush strawberries with a fork. Combine in a saucepan with sugar, cornstarch, 2 1/2 tablespoons water and lemon juice. Cook until thickened. Cool slightly and spread over nectarines. Chill pie for several hours. WHITE WINE SANGRIA (Makes 1 1/2 quarts) 1 bottle dry white wine, chilled 5 tablespoons orange liqueur 2 cups club soda, chilled 1 lemon, seeded and sliced 1 orange, seeded and sliced 1 apple, cored and sliced Ice

Combine wine and liqueur in a punch bowl. Add club soda, lemon, orange, and apple slices and stir. Add ice.