I think one of the most clever kitchen gadgets to come along recently is the panini maker. It's perfect for busy moms and vegetarians. If you've read The Diva Runs Out of Thyme or The Diva Takes the Cake, you know that Sophie and her mom are into panini sandwiches. A panini maker is basically a light press that heats on both sides. They're very easy to use, everyone has great sandwich ingredients in the fridge most of the time, and they're ready in a snap. Nothing, but nothing, is as fabulous for melting cheese in a sandwich. If you have a grilled cheese lover in the house, a panini maker is a must. Over at Food Network, Bobby Flay has a recipe for Grilled Banana and Nutella Panini -- who wouldn't eat that?
A word of caution, though, these gadgets get unbelievably hot. I would advise keeping little fingers away from them.
Sometimes I think I don't use my panini maker enough. So when I saw this clever idea, I had to try it. I love eggplant, but if you've cooked eggplant, you know it will absorb as much oil as you give it. A panini press is the perfect way to cook eggplant quickly, and without oil. I've tried eggplant slices with and without oil in the panini press, and honestly, there isn't much difference. I do however, like to salt sliced eggplant and let it "cry" for about a half hour before cooking it. Some say it reduces bitterness, and I think that's true.
So, for my quick panini lunch today, I sliced eggplant, salted it, and let my panini maker warm up. I also fried an egg. I slipped the eggplant into the panini maker and let it cook for about two minutes. The amount of time depends on the thickness of the slice. I also cooked the rest of the eggplant slices in the panini maker, two at a time, for use at dinnertime.
Almost any bread works well in a panini maker. For my lunch I used a Food for Life English Muffin made of sprouted whole grains, and added just a touch of mayo to the insides of the muffin. Then I assembled my sandwich -- muffin bottom, slice of eggplant, sprinkle of parmesan cheese, egg, salt and pepper, then the top of the muffin. The whole sandwich went back into the panini maker for a few minutes and it was delicious!
You can see that hundreds of combinations of ingredients would work. I also like the panini maker because if you have one person who loves tomatoes or avocado and another who doesn't, it doesn't take any extra time to make that special panini for each individual.
If you don't have a panini maker and you're thinking about buying one, there are a couple of things to look for. The most important thing is that the top is attached in a manner that allows it to float and come down flat on top of the sandwich. You don't want one that is hinged in the back -- it will squish the back of the sandwich. The other thing that I love about my panini maker is the detachable grilling surfaces. They pop out and can go into the dishwasher as soon as they're cool, which means very easy upkeep.
And now I'm off to try bread and chocolate in the panini maker. Hmm, I can see this will take a lot of experimenting on my part. The things I do for this blog . . .
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