Panini Magic

Kitchen gadgets are big in my family.  Though truth be told, I’ve gone a bit too far.  Like, approaching hoarders territory.  I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but we have a ‘magic closet’ where the oh-so-many large and/or not-often used cooking tools live (like my stash of huge, medium, small and mini crock pots – yes I have 4, yes that’s embarrassing.)  It’s like a clown car in there.

But by far, the most fabulous kitchen gadget I own is a panini maker.  It is not jammed in the magic closet – no siree!  My wonderful Cuisinart Panini Press has got pride of place, right out on my kitchen counter.

I can imagine your puzzled brow.  Let me explain why I love my panini maker so – and why it’s become vital to my lo-co cooking.

My love affair with my panini press didn’t start out as a lo-co undertaking.  I didn’t dole out $49.95 so I could cook low fat, low cholesterol meals.  I bought it because my teenage son said he’d eat more if I made paninis.  So naturally, I raced to the local Bed Bath & Beyond to purchase one.

And it worked!   It used to be that I’d 2 scramble 2 eggs with some cheese, and serve it with Morningstar Farms ‘sausage’ and toast – and he’d eat about 1/2 of what was on his plate.  But when I put those exact same ingredients and rolled them into a tortilla and then grilled it for 2 minutes, he ate it all, every time.  Now he eats a ‘breakfast panini’ nearly every weekend.

So then I expanded beyond breakfast into after-school snacks – and created a fabulous panini’d tortilla stuffed with nutella, chocolate chips and salt-free peanuts.  We graduated from ‘no thanks, I’m not hungry’ after school to him gladly gobbing 2 nutella paninis.  With milk, even.

Then I decided to see what I could panini for lunch for myself – because lunch is a tough meal for me.  I like leftovers warmed up – but don’t have leftovers every day just waiting to be microwaved.  And I really dislike cold sandwiches.  So for years, my default lunch has been a tuna melt – not such a great lo-co meal, what with the mayo and cheese, not to mention the potential mercury issue.

That said, I started with what I knew:  tuna and a bit of cheese on a tortilla.  I panini’d it for 2 minutes and voila – so, so much better than on an english muffin.  But obviously, this did not make it any more lo-co.

I chewed on this for a while (sorry, pun intended) and finally, the true potential of my new fave gadget hit me: I could use the panini press to quell my tuna addiction.  And eat a healthier, lo-co lunch with more fiber and veggies.

So I began experimenting. Leftover roasted veggies on a panini’d tortilla were good, but I didn’t have leftover roasted veggies in the fridge every day.

But what I did have, after making chicken-in-a-bag several times, was plenty of leftover chicken.  Without gravy, that chicken just looked unappealing.  And putting it on a sandwich, with mayo, wasn’t so lo-co either. Of course, it was useful to create a filling salad, but we all know how I feel about salad.  It just makes me sad.

Which is how I came up with the idea to place the chicken, lettuce, tomato and avocado I’d normally use in a salad on a tortilla instead of into a bowl…and then panini it. Some of you out there will be all “eww, warmed up lettuce – gross.”  But for me, this is just magic.  The chicken, lettuce and tomato are slightly warmed, and the avocado makes it moist and delicious – with no mayo.  Lo-co heaven.

And avocado – it’s a great lo-co food.  More on that in a later post.

Not only is this a delicious lunch, this recipe takes all of 30 seconds to set up and exactly 2 minutes to grill on the panini press.  So my lack of planning – when it’s 2pm and I’ve forgotten to have lunch yet again – doesn’t derail my lo-co meal plans (if they haven’t been derailed already).

Most people use a panini press with bread – that’s even in the picture from the Cuisinart site.  And if you prefer bread, go for it.  But it’s easy to use with a tortilla instead – plus it’s fewer calories and I just plain like it better.  Here’s how to make a tortilla panini:

  1. Turn on panini press to warm up, and spray one side of the tortilla with Pam…or I use an Olive Oil sprayer (because it’s my own olive oil so it has no preservatives and, hey, it’s another fun gadget, also from BB&B!)
  2. Place tortilla oiled-side down on a plate, then put your fillings in a long, thin strip (like a log) in the middle of the tortilla – leaving about an inch at each end.
  3. Prep for panini’ing:   a) Easy Way: Fold into half moon and put on panini press.  Or if you’re like me and prefer it neat, with folded sides that don’t leak out AND with the filling reaching all the way through, then do this instead:  b) Fold into a half-moon, then fold each of the ‘short sides’ down, then fold the long end over the short ends – this makes a rectangle. (See lame iPhone photos below!)
  4. Carefully place it on the panini press (it works best to put the folded side DOWN), and set a timer for 2 minutes.
  5. ENJOY!

1) Load filling in center, 1" free at top & bottom; 2) fold into 1/2 moon; 3) Fold sides; 4) Fold top.

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3 thoughts on “Panini Magic

  1. I loved this post because it just potentially solved one of the biggest school year problems of my life. What to feed the teenage boy for breakfast???

    My son is not a big breakfast eater–partly because we live right near the high school which should give us loads of time in the morning but has the exact opposite effect. No time to eat unless you can carry it…which often, unfortunately, means he’s eating a donut (bad Mom day) or a rolled up pancake (better Mom day) or an omelette on toast (really good Mom day). But I truly hate making omelettes…how DO you flip them??

    I am most definitely going to try the sausage/egg/cheese panini combo. Which I guess means I better go look for that panini maker.

  2. Thank you so much for the great idea! My husband does not like cold sandwiches, he does not like “bready” things and I don’t always have leftovers for him to bring for lunch: you have provided the perfect solution! Going to try it out for tomorrow’s lunch for him!

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