There's more to toasted sandwiches than cheese. In fact, call them what you will -- toasted, grilled or waffle-baked -- heated sandwiches are limited only by the state of your larder or refrigerator.

"Toasties," as a chef I know likes to call them, are the perfect autumn mini-meal, softening the impact of chilly days with their warm, rich and robust fillings -- both sweet and savory.

Grill-toasted sandwiches are traditionally sealed and cooked between sections of an electric waffle iron, in an electric or hand-held sandwich iron (with its large, deep, shell-shaped indentations that cradle two sandwiches) or directly atop a hot buttered griddle.

They should start out as slices of firm, high-quality bread, be it a country white, rye or multi-grained variety and fillings should be made up of ingredients that can stand up to the heat. After many sandwich-making sessions, I can conclude that lightly creamy (i.e. mayonnaise-bound), buttery or cheese-infused fillings make for some of the best sandwiches.

Meat and poultry tend to be less distinctive than cheese combinations, although smoked turkey is delicious when grilled with sliced avocado and a flavored butter. Sweet sandwiches, too, call for slightly rich, buttery fillings, such as apple slices saute'ed in butter, sugar and spices, or chunks of tinned apricots (canned in natural juices) sectioned and sprinkled with toasted almonds.

I have turned the sweet sandwiches, and some savory ones, into "dips." The assembled sandwich is lightly coated with a froth of mildly flavored, beaten eggs; the savory dip mixture contains eggs, milk and herbs. A "dipped" sandwich is thus lightly bound and moistened, a procedure that enhances the toasting process. Dipped sweet sandwiches, hot from the grill, look pretty when dusted over with sifted confectioners' sugar. Serve them as-is or with a cool dollop of sour cream, cre`me frai~che or whipped cream, and a little fruit sauce, perhaps.

The electric appliance especially designed for creating grilled sandwiches is called the Croque Monsieur, made by Vitantonio. It is available locally at Williams-Sonoma (5300 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 244-4800) and retails for $59. The manual Croque Monsieur pan, which is made out of cast-aluminum, holds two sandwiches and is available at La Cuisine (323 Cameron St. Alexandria; 836-4435, $24) and, starting Nov. 1, at Kitchen Bazaar (4455 Connecticut Ave. NW; 244-1550; $21.98.). The shell-shaped sections that hold the assembled sandwiches make an attractive-looking relief on the bread once grilled. The appliance produces two sandwiches at a time.

Warm and inviting, the following are new renditions of lunchtime favorites, and two sweet twists on the sandwich theme: TUNA-ONION-WATERCRESS MELT (Makes 4 sandwiches)

This sandwich, composed of tuna salad layered with thinly sliced red onion and sprigs of watercress, tastes creamy and piquant. The bite of the onion and watercress modifies the creaminess. This "melt" turns out ot be an opulent way to serve tuna, and the sandwich would be a good companion to a bowl of soup.

2 6 1/2-ounce cans tuna fish, well drained

1/2 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade

1 teaspoon tiny, nonpareil capers, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped green olives

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

8 slices whole-grain bread

8 thin slices of red onion

8 full sprigs of watercress, thick stems pinched off

1 cup shredded jarlsberg, or other swiss cheese

For the filling, combine the tuna fish, mayonnaise, capers and olive. Season with salt and pepper.

For each sandwich, spread 1/2 tablespoon of the softened butter evenly over one side each of two slices of bread. Place the bread on a cutting board, buttered side down. Assemble the sandwich by spreading 1/4 of the tuna salad on one slice of bread and covering that with two slices of red onion, two sprigs of watercress and 1/4 cup of the shredded cheese. Top with the second slice of bread. Repeat with the remaining slices of bread and filling.

Toast the sandwiches in a two-sided electric grill until golden, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Serve the sandwiches piping hot.

PASTRAMI-SWISS MELT (Makes 4 sandwiches)

The combination of nutty melted swiss cheese and peppery pastrami cushioned by two sides of sour rye bread makes for a hearty sandwich, and a quickly prepared cocktail savory, too. For serving with drinks, slice the "melt" into narrow strips or small triangles and serve with a sweet and spicy mustard.

FOR THE RUSSIAN DRESSING:

1 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons finely grated onion

1/4 cup chili sauce

1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet pickle

Salt and pepper to taste

FOR THE SANDWICH:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

8 slices sour rye bread, corn rye or seeded rye

3/4 pound thinly sliced pastrami

1 cup shredded swiss cheese, preferably imported

Blend together dressing ingredients and store in a covered container in the refrigerator until needed. Dressing will remain fresh for up to 1 week.

For each sandwich, spread 1/2 tablespoon softened butter evenly over one side each of two slices of bread. Place the bread on a cutting board, buttered side down, and spread 2 tablespoons of Russian dressing over both slices of bread. Assemble the sandwich by placing 3 ounces of pastrami and 1/4 cup grated cheese on top of one slice of bread. Top with the second slice and press down firmly. Repeat with the remaining slices of bread and filling.

Toast the sandwiches in a two-sided electric grill until golden, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Serve the sandwiches hot and crisp.

SMOKED TURKEY, AVOCADO AND CHUTNEY BUTTER DIP (Makes 4 sandwiches)

This is a fanciful toasted sandwich: Two slices of whole-grain bread house thin slices of smoked turkey and satiny, ripe avocado slices. A mango-butter blended with a bit of curry powder and a few spoonfuls of mango chutney is the bread spread. A chutney-flavored condiment is a good partner to anything smoked because its fruity sweetness plays nicely with the woodsy taste.

FOR THE CHUTNEY BUTTER:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

3 tablespoons good quality mango chutney

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

Pinch salt

FOR THE SANDWICH:

8 slices whole-grain bread

3/4 pound smoked turkey, thinly sliced

1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into 8 slices

FOR THE DIP MIXTURE:

2 large eggs, at room temperature

Pinch salt

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup milk

To make the chutney butter: Beat the softened butter with the chutney, curry powder and salt. For each sandwich, spread 1 heaping tablespoon of chutney butter evenly over one side each of two slices of bread. Assemble the sandwich by placing 1 1/2 ounces of turkey breast on one slice of bread; top with 2 slices of avocado and another 1 1/2 ounces of turkey breast. Press on the second slice of bread. Repeat with the remaining slices of bread and filling.

To make the dip mixture: Whisk the eggs in a shallow bowl with the salt and curry powder. Beat in the black pepper and milk.

Quickly dip both sides of the sandwich in the mixture, let drain, and toast in a two-sided electric grill (or on a buttered flat griddle) for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes until golden. Serve the sandwiches piping hot.

Dipping note: It is easiest to cover the sandwich lightly with the dip if you place it on a wide spatula, then lower the sandwich into the dip.

COUNTRY HAM AND PINEAPPLE DIP (Makes 4 sandwiches)

This sandwich is a pleasant play on the old pineapple-ham theme. Between 2 slices of wheat bread goes thinly sliced country ham, a slice of fresh pineapple, mustard and a faint dribble of apricot preserves. The flavor of the apricot preserves gentles the saltiness of the ham. Besides being a warming lunch, this toasty sandwich can be cut into fingers and served piping hot as a cocktail nibble.

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dijon-style mustard

8 slices home-style bread or coarse-grained 8 slices home-style white bread or coarse-grained whole wheat bread

1/2 pound country ham, thinly sliced

4 slices fresh pineapple

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon apricot preserves or jam

FOR THE DIP MIXTURE:

2 large eggs, at room temperature

Pinch salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2 cup milk

For each sandwich, spread 1 teaspoon dijon-style mustard evenly over one side each of two slices of bread. Assemble the sandwich by placing 1 ounce of country ham on one piece of bread. Top with a slice of pineapple and drizzle over 1 teaspoon of preserves. Cover with 1 ounce of ham and the second slice of bread. Repeat with the remaining bread and filling.

To make the dip mixture, whisk the eggs in a shallow bowl (or deep plate) with salt, pepper and thyme. Beat in the milk. Quickly dip both sides of the sandwich in this mixture and toast in a two-sided electric grill (or on a buttered flat griddle) for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, or until golden. Serve piping hot.

Dipping note: It is easiest to cover the sandwich lightly with the dip if you place it on a wide spatula and lower the sandwich into the dip mixture.

CANADIAN BACON-CHEDDAR CHEESE WAFFLE SANDWICH (Makes 4 sandwiches)

In this hot sandwich, a slab of Canadian bacon gets grilled with shredded cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of chopped pickled jalapenåo pepper. The "waffle" sandwich serves as a meaty, robust lunch, or light supper, if served with soup or salad.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

8 slices wheat or multi-grain bread

4 tablespoons mayonnaise blended with 2 teaspoons spicy mustard

4 1/2-inch thick slices canadian bacon, trimmed

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 pickled jalapenåo pepper, finely chopped

For each sandwich, spread 1/2 tablespoon butter evenly over one side each of two slices of bread. Place the bread on a cutting board, buttered side down, and spread 1 rounded tablespoon of the spicy mayonnaise on each slice. Assemble the sandwich by placing one slice canadian bacon, 1/4 cup shredded cheese and 1/4 of the chopped pepper on one slice of bread. Cover with the second slice of bread, pressing down firmly. Repeat with the remaining slices of bread and filling.

Toast the sandwiches on a two-sided electric grill until golden, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Serve the sandwiches hot and crisp, with slaw on the side, if you like.

APRICOT-ALMOND DIP (Makes 4 sandwiches)

This sweet sandwich encloses plump apricots and lightly toasted almonds between slices of enriched home-style white bread. Each plump package gets turned in a thin batter fortified with eggs, milk and vanilla before being grilled to a golden conclusion. Hot triangles of apricot-almond dip may be served with spoonfuls of sour cream or whipped cream and a splash of apricot sauce.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

8 slices good quality white bread, such as egg bread (challah), or brioche

8 tinned whole apricots packed in natural juices (not heavy syrup), halved and pitted

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sliced almonds, lightly toasted

FOR THE SPICED DIP MIXTURE:

2 large eggs, at room temperature

3 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and pinch salt

1/2 cup milk blended with 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

TO FINISH:

Confectioners' sugar for sprinkling

Beat the 4 tablespoons softened butter with the nutmeg and sugar until well blended. Spread 1 tablespoon of the flavored butter evenly over one side each of two slices of bread. Place 4 apricot halves, cut side down, on one buttered slice of bread. Sprinkle over 2 teaspoons of almonds. Cover with the second slice of bread and press down firmly. Repeat with the remaining filling and bread.

To make the dip mixture, whisk the eggs and granulated sugar blend together; beat in the milk. Quickly dip both sides of the sandwich in this mixture. Toast the sandwich in a two-sided electric grill, or on a buttered flat griddle) for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, or until golden.

Sift a little confectioners' sugar over each dip and serve piping hot.

Dipping note: it is easiest to cover the sandwich lightly in the dip if you place it on a wide spatula and lower it into the dip. Drain the sandwich of excess dip, then grill. SPICED APPLE-RAISIN DIP (Makes 4 sandwiches)

This is a sweet sandwich of contrasts: smooth, silky, lightly sweetened apple slices, covered with rum-macerated raisins encased in a cover of toasted bread -- hot, sweet and crunchy-soft all at once. Apple-Raisin Dips would make a fine Sunday morning breakfast offering, partnered with apple cider syrup and drifts of sour cream.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

3 tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced

2 tablespoons golden raisins, marinated in 1 tablespoon light rum (apple cider may be substituted for the rum)

3 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

8 slices good-quality home-style white bread, or egg bread (challah)

FOR THE SPICED DIP MIXTURE:

2 large eggs, at room temperature

3 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1/3 teaspoon ground ginger and pinch salt

1/2 cup milk blended with 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a skillet, add the sliced apples and cook over moderate heat until they are barely tender. Add the rum-marinated raisins and spiced-sugar; continue cooking until the sugar melts down and the apples are just tender. Cool slightly, drain the apples of any excess liquid.

For each sandwich, spread 1/2 tablespoon softened butter evenly over one side each of two slices of bread. Assemble the sandwich by placing 1/4 of the apple mixture on one slice of bread. Top with the second slice of bread. Repeat with the remaining filling and slices of bread.

To make the dip mixture, whisk the eggs and sugar mixture together in a shallow bowl (or wide plate). Blend in the vanilla milk. Quickly dip both sides of the sandwich in the mixture, and toast the sandwich in a two-sided electric grill (or on a buttered flat griddle), for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, or until golden. Serve the sandwiches piping hot.

Dipping note: It is easiest to cover the sandwich lightly with the dip if you place it on a wide spatula and lower it into the dip. Scoop up the sandwich, drain it of excess dip, then grill.