Family Dinner: Easy Weeknight Panini

This post is sponsored by World Market.

This past summer, we made it a goal for our family to really try to start eating more at home, together as a family and cut out (or at least cut way back) on the takeout. We used to be really good about cooking most of our meals and eating together as a family, but you know, life happens, things get busy, and we were blessed with a VERY picky eater–despite my best efforts to expand her palate. We fell into a rut of coming to the end of our busy days, both exhausted, not feeling particularly inspired about what to cook, and inevitably, we’d end up ordering takeout. I don’t remember what really brought us to the decision–probably the realization on how much we were spending on takeout and how unhealthy it was–but we decided to get back to cooking meals and eating together around the dinner table (or at least around the kitchen counter). And we did a pretty great job for most of the year…until the Holidays hit. Then, we started to slip back into our old ways and takeout was becoming more frequent again. My husband and I found ourselves making something for our daughter and then just eating in front of the TV after she went to bed. It’s definitely not a healthy habit, and we missed that together time at night to come together and just “chill,” eat, and talk about our day. So, New Year, new beginnings right? I’m resolved to get back into regular family meals and making sure that we gather around the table at least four nights a week.family-dinners-myfabulesslife-com

When we originally set our goal of eating at home more, we realized that one of our biggest pitfalls that got us eating out so much was that we had this mindset that we had to cook some complicated meal. Some nights, just taking the time to thaw some chicken when I haven’t thought about it earlier in the day is enough to make me just throw in the towel. Not to mention, the thought of all of the dishes from cooking. Who’s with me? This may sound totally common sense and dumb to some people, but for us, changing our mindset that dinner could be as easy as a soup and sandwich was a pretty big game-changer.

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One of our favorite busy, weeknight go-to’s has become panini. It’s like a grown-up grilled cheese. I think these came about one night when I was searching through the fridge to see what we had to put together a meal and this is what resulted. Which is also why they’re great, because you can basically just throw together a bunch of things you have on hand and it turns into a pretty great meal. One of my favorite ways to really “turn it up” (I’m crazy like that ;) ) is with fruit spreads–we LOVE fig spread or Sour Cherry Spread on ours. I always grab one or two when I’m at World Market because I love to use them for these sandwiches, but they’re also great for cheese platters. World Market is my favorite place for entertaining essentials like tableware, flatware, and napkins, but I could literally spend hours in their food section because they have so many fun things from international foods to jams, spices, and olives (one of my favorites), and even healthy snacks.

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There’s no real recipe for these, you just build them like you would a regular grilled cheese, but there are a few things that seem to remain constant for mine.
1. I always use whole grain bread because it gives it a good, nutty flavor. Sourdough is my other favorite.
2. Havarti is my favorite cheese to use because it has great flavor, and gives you that good, gooey, stringy melt. Also, two slices of cheese, one on each side of the bread, so that it sandwiches your other ingredients between that gooey goodness.
And 3. Always, always, whole grain mustard, it’s just SO good.

One of my favorite combinations is fig jam, whole grain mustard, Havarti, ham, and caramelized onion. Spread fig jam on one slice of the bread and whole grain mustard on the other. Lay a slice of cheese on each slice of bread, top with ham and caramelized onions (to caramelize the onions, heat 1 TBSP olive oil over medium high heat and add 1/2 red onion thinly sliced and saute until browned). Put the whole thing together, spread the outside of both slices of bread with butter, and cook in the panini press for about 3-5 minutes until golden and crispy.

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If you don’t have a panini press, no worries! You can cook on a counter-top griddle, or just a regular frying pan on the stove. If you’re cooking on a stove or griddle, preheat your griddle or skillet over medium heat (you want to toast the sandwich slowly so it doesn’t burn the bread before the cheese is melted). To get that crispy goodness of the panini, place a heavy skillet or plate weighted down (soup cans work well) on top of the sandwich while it cooks. Cook roughly 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. The weight of the heavy skillet presses the bread against the pan so it gets nice and crusty. The best part too is that when you use the fruit spreads, they seep through the bread as it cooks and caramelize on the outside so it sweet and crunchy and just GOOD! You can see the mustard grain and caramelized fig spread on the bread in the photo below. Maybe I should have just titled this post, “The Post In Which I Profess My Love For A Panini.”

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Another one of my favorite combinations starts again with wheat bread, Havarti, ham or prosciutto, whole grain mustard, Sour Cherry Spread, and marinated artichoke hearts. The sour cherry is a perfect combination of tart and sweet and goes great with the vinegary goodness of marinated artichoke hearts. Basically, the approach here is think of some of your favorite things and melt them between two pieces of bread and cheese. That’s my approach anyway ;) Get creative, play around!

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World Market also has great soups that are quick and easy and finish out your meal without a lot of effort. We like the Loaded Baked Potato or Spicy Tortilla. Just add some of your own meat and let it do it’s thing on the stove.

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What are some of your favorite quick weeknight meals? How do you stick to eating and home and skip the takeout?

Fig Ham & Caramelized Onion Panini

Fig Ham & Caramelized Onion Panini

Ingredients

  • 2 slices whole wheat or sourdough bread
  • 2 slices Havarti Cheese
  • 4 slices Black Forest Ham
  • Fig Spread
  • Whole Grain Mustard
  • Mayonaise
  • Butter
  • 1/2 Red Onion thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • For Sour Cherry & Artichoke Panini, follow the same directions, but substitute sour cherry spread for fig spread, and artichoke hearts for caramelized onions.

Instructions

  1. To caramelize onions, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook onion, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and edges browned.
  2. For the sandwich:
  3. Preheat panini press or, if cooking on the stove top, a skillet over medium heat.
  4. Spread fig spread on once slice of bread and whole grain mustard and mayo on the other. Place a slice of cheese on each slice of bread and top with ham and caramelized onions. Put the two sides of the sandwich together. Spread the outside of both sides of the sandwich.
  5. If cooking on panini press, cook according to manufacturer's directions.
  6. For stovetop, preheat a skillet over medium heat. When skillet is hot, place sandwich in the skillet and place another skillet or plate weighted with soup cans (or something heavy to press down the sandwich) on top of the sandwich. Cook until golden and crisp (about 3 to 4 minutes) on each side.
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