I have always loved grilled cheese sandwiches. My mother used to make the American cheese kind, but with whole wheat bread. Cognitive dissonance, I know.
Now that I’m an adult, I can and do make them with better ingredients. Real cheddar cheese, bacon and apple on white sandwich bread from Heavenly Hearth. Mozzarella, pesto, and tomato on ciabatta.
Grilled cheese is the perfect lunch with tomato soup, of course, but I also think it’s an easy and fun solution for entertaining. Not the big dinner party where everyone is expecting a gorgeous beef tenderloin, but on a Sunday afternoon when everyone is tempted to order pizza after the little league game or on a Tuesday evening when the husbands are out of town and you and your girlfriend have five hungry kids expecting food.
I used to pull out my large griddle to make even one grilled cheese. It covers two burners and makes perfect pancakes, but now I have a new trick. It started last summer when we were staying with my in-laws. They have a pool and once the children get in, no one leaves. So lunch is served at the little gazebo by the pool. After three days of dragging turkey and ham and bread and mayonnaise up the hill to the pool, we were all ready for a change. Plus we were out of turkey.
I thought about grilling sandwiches for everyone inside and then carrying them up to the pool, but my mother-in-law’s kitchen is under-stocked and her frying pan would fit exactly one sandwich at a time. But she has a George Foreman Grill. Seriously, the ubiquitous and unlovely George Foreman. Dusty, but available. Instead of standing in the kitchen, I hauled George to the gazebo, plugged him in, and got the kids busy.
The George makes perfect panini. Slightly smushed, perfectly toasted, melted cheese. They look as good as a restaurant’s, but taste better. Mostly because they’re not greasy, unless you choose to heavily butter the bread because you like them that way. You can even serve the dieting guest. Light on the cheese, heavy on the tomato or tapenade, and then spray the George with a little nonstick spray and skip the butter.
This customization is why I love it for entertaining. It’s not you, the host, trying to please everyone. You’ve purchased lovely ingredients, put everything on platters or in little bowls, and now your guests can get creative. Children can choose the white cheese or the yellow cheese, and you know they’ll eat it. Adults can customize and create, all while sipping their iced tea.
Here are some of my favorite combinations, but it’s far from an exhaustive list. If you have a combo you love, add it to this list with a comment.
Delicious Combinations for Panini
- Rosemary turkey slices with caramelized onion (or an onion jam) and camembert
- Ham and brie
- Mozzarella, pesto and tomato
- Leftover artichoke dip (this has a lot of cheese and mayonnaise in it, so it doesn’t need additional cheese) but you can add shaved carrots, chives, or thinly sliced scallions
- Farmhouse cheddar, apple slices and bacon
- Olive tapenade and goat cheese
- Mascarpone and fig jam
- Squares of dark chocolate and seedless raspberry jam (The chocolate melts like cheese would. If you love s’mores, add a few mini marshmallows.)