The fortunate thing about a January birthday is that you are likely to receive all of the items that didn’t get crossed off your Christmas list, like this panini press that works with the grill Glenn gave me for Christmas. I have always thought of panini as a fancy variety of grilled cheese, but boy was I wrong. A panini press requires a slightly different technique than a grilled cheese and yields wildly different results.

Grilled cheese can be a challenge. How do you melt all the cheese without burning the bread? How do you add meat and tomato and still fit the whole sandwich in your mouth? I think there’s a place in this world for a simple grilled cheese sandwich, but, if you want to take it up a notch, go with a panini.

First of all, paninis are all about the bread, so make sure it’s freshly baked. When you slice it, cut the bread a half- to one-inch thick, especially if it’s not very dense. Then, make a “brush,” which is basically an oil-heavy vinaigrette, and spread it on both sides of each slice of bread. This will infuse flavor into your bread. Slap whatever you want between the bread and stick it on the hot grill. Now really press your sandwich down with the panini press and let it cook about four minutes. It’s all done much faster and with much more consistency than a grilled cheese.

With a panini, you get flavor-infused toast with a nice crunch to it, perfectly melted cheese, warmed fillings, a fully-loaded sandwich that you can still fit in your mouth, and a handsome presentation.

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