When it comes to toasted sandwiches, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
I should know. I've been pressing panini like a mad woman this week. A spoonful of sautéed wild mushrooms? Yes, please. Swiss cheese? Uh huh. Arugula? Caramelized onions? Delicious all on their own. But slap these four humble items together on some crusty bread with a squirt of Dijon mustard, slide the whole package onto the press, and stand back, dear readers. The toasty sum of these parts is really, and I do mean REALLY something.
Loitering high on a shelf in its still unopened box, our panini press has been hiding out in our kitchen for three long years. It's a miracle that it has survived until now, in clear violation of a cardinal rule we hold dear: Thou shalt neither purchase unnecessary kitchen appliances, nor keep those that go unused. Eli and I came to this rule each on our own, thanks in part to our small square of a kitchen and lack of storage space, and in part to our sweet mommies.
I, it seems, inherited from my mother some kind of clutter-free kitchen gene. Mom has long had a passion for naked countertops. This woman can sponge down a surface like nobody's business. I swear, I've seen her wipe absolutely nothing from a perfectly clean countertop and beam with satisfaction. Mom renovated her kitchen a few years back, and lovingly selected granite for her new countertops. She even installed an appliance garage to hide unsightly mixers, sugar jars, and French coffee presses that might otherwise mar her dark, smooth expanse of pure counter.
My aversion to kitchen clutter is not quite as extreme. After all, my stand mixer sits permanently on my countertop. But that high I get from a thoroughly tidied kitchen, a blank canvas once more, is something visceral that - without a shred of science to back me up - I assume must be genetic.
If my mom's kitchen is spare, my mother-in-law Sarah's kitchen is brimming, and with good reason: The eating habits of her large family run the gamut, and Sarah, quite generously, caters to one and all. There's the vegan, white flour avoider, the voracious meat eater, the pickle devotee, the vegetarian, the fish hater, the oil averse, the liver lover, and on and on... Sarah makes it her business to feed us all, each according to his or her own picky palate. While there's often more shelf than food on display in my mother's refrigerator, Sarah's is so packed that you'd better be ready to catch the yogurt or leftover chicken that just might jump out at you when you open the door. This bubbling kitchen simply cannot contain its bounty. And that's where a basement underworld of pots, casserole dishes, appliances, and extra freezers comes in. It's wild. No wonder my poor Eli trembles at the thought of an unused waffle iron or rice cooker wedged high on a shelf, staring him down.
But back to the kitchen appliance at hand that, despite our cardinal rule, avoided a one-way ticket to Goodwill year after year. Over the last few days it has been making up for lost time. Could it really be that anything squeezed between the sizzling plates of a panini press emerges utterly irresistible? To find out, I've been pressing and eating everything in sight. (It's a hard life, I know.) Well, almost everything. From cheddar and apple to spinach and eggs, I foolishly stayed safely on the savory side, panino after panino. Until now. Praise be to my dear friend Sunny who, after hearing that I had at long last unleashed the panini press on my kitchen, uttered two delectable words: Banana. Chocolate.
I have a feeling that my panini days are just beginning. If you have a favorite combo, sweet or savory, please do let me know. I would love to try it. Don't be shy, now. I know that posting a comment in the wide open plain of the blogosphere can feel a little scary, but it seems we're a friendly bunch over here at Sweet Amandine, so there's nothing to fear. In case you'd prefer the more private space of e-mail, I've set up an inbox just for you: firstname.lastname@example.org. Connecting with you, dear ones, is one of my favorites parts of this little endeavor, so if you have the urge to write, please do!
One more bit of housekeeping: I've put together a recipe index for your convenience. You'll find the link over there on the right.
And with that, I'm off to contend with the few items in the kitchen that I have not yet squished between two warm, crispy pieces of bread. Once I'm done with the pantry, who knows. That pair of old running shoes is beginning to look mighty tasty. Pressed with a bit of brie and apricot jam they might just hit the spot.