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Hot Off The Press Paninis

You can walk into practically any restaurant today and find paninis all over the menu. These are pressed, grilled, crusty sandwiches. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination. Kids love them and they make great busy-night meals either in your kitchen or on the grill.

My favorite panini is my annual day after Thanksgiving sandwich. I pile together turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, then grill it and serve it with gravy poured over it. Yumm! Don’t worry about buying an expensive panini grill. You can use your waffle iron with great results. If you just have a skillet, a cast-iron one is a good choice. Then all you need is a clean weight and the sandwich is practically on your plate.

LIGHT TUNA MELT PANINI
Nonstick cooking spray
8 slices whole-wheat bread
1 large stalk celery, chopped fine
3 Tablespoons light mayonnaise
2 (4-oz.) cans white tuna packed in water, drained
4 large lettuce leaves
4 large slices tomato
1 cup low-fat, shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Spray griddle or grill with nonstick cooking spray. Combine celery, light mayo, tuna, and salt and pepper. Layer sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, 1/4 cup cheese on each sandwich, and grill over high heat with panini grill or weight to compress sandwich. Grill on both sides. Makes 4.

HEALTHY VEGGIE PANINI
8 thin slices ciabatta bread (or any dense variety)
Soft butter
1 cup low-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cucumber, sliced into thin rounds
1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts
2 Tablespoons flat Italian parsley
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
2 small zucchini, shredded
2 large Swiss chard leaves, julienned
1 Tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare bread by spreading a light layer of butter on both sides of each slice. Sprinkle cheese on four slices and build upward with a little of each of the vegetables, sprouts, and parsley, topping it off with a slice of bread. Grill so vegetables will adhere to the melted cheese. Turn and grill on other side. Makes 4.

ITALIAN PANINI
8 slices Italian bread
Olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup marinara sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, julienned
1 cup fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces

Grill slices of Italian bread on one side and set aside. Brush olive oil lightly on sides to be grilled. Sear chicken breasts in olive oil over medium-high heat until browned. Lower heat and continue cooking until juices run clear, turning once. Place chicken breast on grilled side of bread and top with marinara sauce, salt and pepper, fresh basil, and pieces of fresh mozzarella. Place grilled side on top of cheese, facing sandwich ingredients. Grill according to panini-maker instructions or on preheated grill or pan with heavy weight. Makes 4.

TURKEY, BACON, AND GUACAMOLE PANINI
8 slices sourdough bread
Soft butter
4 slices turkey breast
8 slices bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro
1/4 cup prepared guacamole

Brush one side of each bread slice with butter. Starting on the dry side, layer sandwiches, dividing ingredients to make four sandwiches. Top with bread, with butter side out. Use preheated panini grill, or grill on other pan with weight, and cut diagonally to serve. Makes 4.

DELI PANINI
8 slices Jewish rye bread
Olive oil or melted butter to spread on bread
4 thin slices pastrami
4 thin slices ham
4 thin slices salami
4 thick slices Muenster cheese
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup roasted red pepper strips
Fresh parsley for garnish

Spread one side of each slice of bread with melted butter or olive oil. Layer sandwiches on dry side by dividing ingredients evenly to make four sandwiches. Grill on panini grill or preheated grill with weight until cheese melts. Makes 4.

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