Bistro Panini

I love a good grilled panini.  And like lots of other Cheftovers tricks, it’s kind of a blank canvas.  Add your favorite creamy cheese to a crispy, chewy ciabatta roll, along with whatever veggies and meat move you…and you’re in business!  

This week I used one of my got-to’s for weekday meals, a roast in the slow cooker.  I made a London broil roast with pretty basic seasoning.  But as is often the case, I made more than we needed for just two of us.

sliced roast

So I sliced up the rest of the beef and immediately began drooling over my idea, incorporating one of the tasty Orlando baked goods I came across during my review of their new products (see previous post).  I was going to grill up a couple of paninis using their Heat & Serve Ciabatta Rolls.

ciabatta rolls 

Now that I had the canvas for my panini, (the rolls) and the protein (my leftover London broil) I was excited to find a couple of other elements to boost the tastiness factor.  And I knew caramelized onions would have to join the party!

sliced onions

I sliced up a whole sweet onion into rings, then tossed a couple tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil into a saute pan.  I added the onions to the pan, seasoned them and left them on a low-medium heat for about 90 minutes, stirring them only once every 15 min or so.

(Here’s the part of my process where I unload the dishwasher, feed my kids, flip the laundry, etc.  I’m so glamorous.)

caramelized onions

When the onions turned this beautiful color, I was ready for the final components.  I found the chunk of creamy Havarti cheese that my husband picked up at the grocery store this week to snack on.  But I got to it first!   And I was sure this would be a super compliment to what I was drumming up.  Now for a sauce, spread or condiment…couldn’t be something ordinary.

panini condiments

I decided to try two routes…using a deli horseradish sauce for sandwiches (something we like to keep around the house) and I was also going to mix up a balsamic mayo.  I have developed quite a collection of balsamic vinegar varieties in my cupboard… I’ve got Sicilian Lemon and Mango white balsamic, chocolate, and raspberry.  I don’t find use for them often, but when I do, they’re usually the MVP of the dish.  For this panini, I liked the garlic cilantro one.  I mixed a couple spoonfuls of olive oil mayo with a couple teaspoons of the balsamic vinegar….oooh yeah, that was what I was going for!   balsamic mayo spread

grilling the panini

I assembled two sandwiches using a couple slices of Havarti, a spoonful of caramelized onions, three slices of my leftover roast, and one of the spreads on each.  Then I placed them on my panini press and eagerly awaited their gooey goodness.  They sat on the grill for about 5 minutes until I saw those pretty grill marks on the outside of the ciabatta rolls.  Know that the contents may slide out a bit, or ooze out a little.

bistro panini with carmelized onions

Now it was pay off time, and it was sweet!  These were warm, chewy, tangy and sweet.  And the best part?  I have more of all of the ingredients so I can make this again.

Stone Soup

Seems like a soup-y kind of Sunday.  The snow hasn’t stopped falling all day and I want a warm belly full of something hearty.  As I usually do over the weekend, I cook ahead to make weekday evenings a little more relaxing.  After poaching a head of cabbage for stuffed cabbage, I realized I had half of it left, and hated to just toss it.  I poked around the pantry and fridge and thought of the children’s book, Stone Soup.  The lesson it leaves you with: make soup with what you’ve got.  Pretty soon I had a pile of veggies, (combination of canned, frozen and fresh) that were scraps and excess from other recipes, plus things I keep in the house for precisely this kind of occasion.

stone soup veggies

I started by chopping some garlic, onion and celery and sauteed that in a big pot with some hot oil.  Once those softened I added some carrots.

stone soup sauteed veggies

Found half a yellow zucchini and some kale in the vegetable drawer…why not?  Then I tossed in some frozen peas and canned corn.  I eyeballed the amounts.  You can’t really screw up soup, right?!  I also reached for whatever canned tomato product I had in the pantry.  In this case, it was crushed tomatoes.  I put about a cup of that in and a full carton of chicken broth and some water.  After I seasoned it, I covered it and brought it to a boil.  Then I reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 30 min.

ladle of stone soup

Since the cabbage was already cooked, I decided to add that last so it wouldn’t break down in the soup.

cabbage

As luck would have it there were some alphabet noodles in the cupboard too.  Sounds like this truly would be a literary inspired soup.  The letters were the final touch.

Tasty, hearty, healthy and cheap.  A lot better for the sodium levels and the wallet than a canned soup.  I’m already thinking about a corn chowder using the rest of the canned corn, and the potatoes sitting on my counter.  Maybe next Sunday.  Chances are, it’ll be damn cold, and snowy…again.  

Cheftovers Pantry Must-Haves

You can’t make Cheftovers magic without some must-haves.  I’m not suggesting you take this list, and go out and buy everything up.  However, these are the things I like to keep in my fridge, freezer and pantry, that allow me to successfully cobble together dinner or reinvent last night’s meal.

pantry must haves-pasta

Pasta.  Like any good Italian girl, I always have several pounds of pasta on hand.  Short and long, frozen and stuffed.  To me, pasta is the perfect canvas for a lot of things.  Think you only have enough chicken for one serving?  Not so, if you chop it up and toss it with a bowl of pasta and add a savory cream sauce or pesto.  Have leftover Chinese food?  Use some linguini to whip up a cold noodle salad/side for lunch the next day and toss in that excess beef and broccoli.

Tortillas.   Another great blank slate.  I love making a quick quesadilla for my kids.  They also take the edge off when I get home from work and don’t plan on eating dinner for a while.  So I always keep a variety of shredded cheese on hand to make ‘em melty, and marry the bits and pieces I have around from previous dishes.  These Mexican staples can also serve as a vessel for MYOP, or make your own pizza pockets…again, using things like veggies you’ve got around.

I made a risotto to celebrate our  anniversary using arborio rice and wine from Santorini.  (we honeymooned in Italy and Greece)

I made a risotto to celebrate our wedding anniversary using arborio rice and wine from Santorini. (we honeymooned in Italy and Greece)

Rice.  White, brown, long grain and Arborio.  I love making a risotto with the rest of the expensive asparagus or artichokes I purchased for a dish earlier that week.  Sometimes I’ll stuff a green pepper when I’ve got a few extra in the produce drawer.  Stuff a chicken breast with long grain or brown rice, onion, garlic and spinach.  It’s tasty and filling.

Bacon.  Wrap almost anything in bacon and it makes it instantly and infinitely better.

Produce.  Not a day goes by when I don’t use several of the following: onions, celery, garlic, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, lemon, lime, tomatoes, corn, peppers.  Frozen: corn, peas, spinach, kale.

egg bake2

Dairy.  Sour cream, cream cheese, and butter/margarine are “duh” items.  I like to keep a lot of half and half in my fridge, not only because I like it in my coffee, but also because I can use it where you might want heavy cream in a recipe.  Most of the time there is skim milk and whole milk in there too.  Having a dozen eggs around opens up the possibility for a lot of delicious dishes.  I like to concoct egg bakes using what I’ve got around…a little leftover ricotta from lasagna, sun dried tomatoes from a pasta dish, spinach from a stuffed chicken recipe.  You get the idea.

Spices.  Building a good spice cabinet takes some time.  If a recipe calls for a spice I don’t have in stock, I’ll search for a substitute or I usually move on.  Things like garlic salt, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, cumin, chili powder, paprika, herbs de Provence, ginger, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, thyme, and parsley I always keep in my cabinet.  It’s rare I find use for things like turmeric or saffron.  But it depends on your taste.

Dressings/Condiments: mayo, mustard, dijon mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire, hot sauce, peanut butter, salsa, and BBQ sauce.  These items find their way into many sauces, marinades or dressings that change yesterday meal into today’s “original” offering.

Almonds.  I use these as a nice substitute for most expensive and harder to come by pine nuts.  They also serve as a delicious stand-in for bread crumbs when breading chicken or fish.  But bread crumbs also make my list.  Turn leftover salmon from a cook-out into salmon cakes you can freeze (with some of the above mentioned veggies like corn and peppers, plus some cayenne or Cajun seasoning)

Stock or broth.  I go through this like water, literally.

Oils and vinegars.  Make a one-time investment in some of these and you’ll open yourself up to different dishes that you wouldn’t normally make.  I buy olive oil by the gallon sometimes.  Canola or vegetable oil is a must.  Sesame oil can is useful in many Asian sauces and marinades, plus you can make your own hummus with it.  Balsamic, red wine and white wine vinegar are pantry staples.  But cider vinegar makes its way into a lot of my recipes too.

I combined a can of diced tomatoes with some fresh tomatoes that weren't going to last much longer for the base of a fresh marinara.

I combined a can of diced tomatoes with some fresh tomatoes that weren’t going to last much longer for the base of a fresh marinara.

Canned goods.  Black beans can “pinch hit” for a protein in one of my quesadillas, or be added to white rice, leftover fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime for a side dish, a la Chipolte. Various canned tomato products are enormously useful.  I try to stock the cupboard with tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste.  And because I’m part Mediterranean, I always like to have olives within reach.  They’re like a great culinary accessory.

I’m always interested in an ingredient or tool to make things tastier, or easier?  What are your pantry #musthaves?