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.
I feel constantly guilty about buying my lunch. I live less than two miles from work (don’t get me started on my guilt about driving), so I wake up approximately forty-five minutes before I have to sit down at my desk. I can’t drag myself out of bed fifteen minutes early to slap some meat and cheese between two slices of bread. I can’t even force myself to run home at noon and pop something in the microwave. Unless I have something truly delicious waiting for me in the fridge.
In the summer, I’ll stand in front of the open refrigerator and eat this chicken salad straight out of the bowl. In the winter, it seems a little more hearty to eat it on toasted bread or pita. I recently discovered these little flat sandwich breads. They’re some hybrid of an English muffin, a pita, and a slice of bread. You can probably find them in the bread aisle of your grocery store.
My chicken salad is usually some conglomeration of the random produce I’ve collected over the week. This time it was chicken (duh), red grapes, celery, red onion, and pecans tossed with just the right amount of mayonnaise (add it slowly — you can always put more in, but you can’t take any out). I also like to make it with crisp apples and walnuts (instead of grapes and pecans). No matter how you make it (or serve it), it’s a satisfying lunch.
Until last weekend, Giacomo’s was a mystery to us — a deli our friends talked about, but we couldn’t find. It’s at the corner of Battleground and New Garden, they told us. Well, not exactly. You actually have to turn onto New Garden and Giacomo’s is on the right in the strip next to the gas station. You can’t see it from the road.
Getting there is half the battle. The other half is deciding what to order. Glenn had the Italian Stallion (top) and I had the Sausage and Peppers (bottom). I love that picture of Glenn’s sandwich because it looks like the check-out-this-fish-I-just-caught picture, which is kind of what holding these sandwiches felt like.
Giacomo’s Italian Market is located on New Garden Road near the Brassfield Shopping Center. It is an Italian market that sells subs, heroes, cheese, meats, sausages, homemade sauces, and more. Sandwiches are about $7 each and meat ranges from $6 to $15 per pound. They have limited seating for eating in.
What else can I do with leftover pepperoni and mozzarella? Pizza sandwiches. Pepperoni, ham, basil, grilled onion, tomato, and tomato sauce on toasted bread. Enough said.
“Has it been unseasonably hot in New York?” I asked Glenn the other day. For the last two weeks every article I’ve seen and every broadcast I’ve heard has used the New York heat as an excuse not to cook. I said, “In North Carolina, we can’t not cook because it’s too hot. We’d eat out for four months!” I would rather have eaten my words than made the excessively complicated from-scratch meal we made last night.
Black bean burgers, corn chips, pico de gallo, and corn on the cob. We cooked the black beans. We made the breadcrumbs. We fried the burgers. We made the tortillas. We fried the chips. We chopped the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cilantro. We boiled a gallon of water. It was way, way too much work for a 90 degree day. When we were finished, I wasn’t even hungry. I am sure the leftovers will taste twice as good.
The recipe is from Gourmet. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Buy a can of black beans and a bag of Tostitos.