Prosciutto Panini

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If you are looking for a hearty weekend lunch or a weeknight dinner that can be varied according to individual tastes, a sandwich is a pretty good place to start.  Making a Panini is an easy way to spice up the meal, especially in cold weather with a side of soup.  To make the Panini today I started with small loaves of half-baked ciabatta bread from Trader Joe’s.  A hearty bread such as ciabatta or sourdough holds up nicely to the heat you will be adding to cook the panini and allows for a lot of ingredients stuffed inside.  A little trick to add flavor and a little more crunch is to toast the inside of the sandwich first.  Today I really went wild toasting the bread in a cast iron skillet that had a thin layer of bacon grease and roasted garlic…delicious.

Like I said you can really make any combination you want, I will share what I used today as it was amazing!  This is enough for 4 small sandwiches.

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Ingredients:

4 small loaves of ciabatta bread, fully baked.
3-6 Tbsp of oil of choice (I used bacon grease)
2-3 cloves of roasted garlic
8-10 slices of fresh shaved Prosciutto
4 Tbsp of light spinach and artichoke dip (see previous post)
fresh shaved parmesan cheese
4 thin slices of fresh mozzarella
1/2 avocado, sliced thin
1 handful of arugula
1 small zucchini thinly sliced, sauteed until cooked adente.

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Directions:

1. Prepare your bread first: Cut loaves in half.  Heat heavy skillet over medium heat to warm bacon grease (or oil of choice).  Add thinly sliced roasted garlic to hot bacon grease, stirring for about 1 minute.  Place sliced bread in skillet cut side down to brown in bacon grease, when you remove bread try to keep the garlic slices on the bread for extra flavor.

2. Prepare your sandwich by smearing spinach and artichoke dip inside top half of bread.  Place a slice of mozzarella cheese on bottom side of bread, layer with zucchini, followed by prosciutto, avocado, a few pieces of arugula, fresh shaved parmesan (to make this a breakfast sandwich we added thinly sliced hardboiled eggs to a few as well).

3. In your heavy skillet on medium-low heat place the sandwich in the pan.  If you have a panini press, use it to smoosh the sandwich gently.  Flip over after a few minutes when bottom is browned and cheese is starting to melt.

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A few secrets to a good panini:

-Place cheese in sandwich twice, once on the bottom and once on the top of your pile-up, this will keep the panini together better once cooked.  You don’t have to use the same kind of cheese, I used mozzarella on the bottom and parmesan on the top.

-Slice all ingredients very thin so they can be layered smoothly to prevent them from slipping out when you take a bite or press the panini.

-Cook on lower heat for longer periods of time to allow center to get hot and cheese to melt.

-If you are using sliced bread (like a grilled cheese), butter the outside with a mixture of butter and mayonnaise (50/50 mix) to avoid burning while cooking.

-A classic combination that never fails: tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil, and a smear of pesto.

Enjoy!

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Light Spinach and Artichoke Dip

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Last weekend I made a vegan spinach and artichoke dip from http://www.plantpoweredkitchen.com (great ideas on this site).  I really enjoyed the idea of pureeing cashews with almond milk to make a dairy-free creamy base for a dip or spread.  I took the recipe a step or two in a different direction to make a vegetable based dip (no longer vegan) with peppers, basil, and a little parmesan.   After a few trials I found a combination that is really good and very healthy.  Earlier this week I baked it with chicken over a bed of onions, not bad.  The real winner came today when I used the dip as a spread on a prosciutto panini (recipe to come), it was perfect. The spread alone is a simple snack to bring to a gathering or to put out on football Sunday.  Serve warm with veggies, pita chips or toasted bread.  If you are into the dairy-free thing, skip the cheese.

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Ingredients:

3/4 cup raw cashews
3/4 cup almond milk (more for consistency)
1/2 lemon, juice
2 cloves garlic
10 small fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (add more if you like it spicy)
1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 lb frozen spinach (you can use fresh as well, try 1 cup packed)
12 oz artichoke hearts (frozen or canned-drained)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

1. Add cashews, almond milk, lemon juice, garlic, basil, salt, mustard, red pepper flakes, and jalapeno to food processor with “s” blade.  Process for 1-2 minutes until liquid.

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2. Add red pepper, spinach, and artichokes to food processor and blend until combined to desired consistency.  Add more almond milk as needed.  If you are planning to serve this as a warm dip, just pulse in the vegetables to leave larger pieces of artichoke and pepper.  If using as a spread then pulse to the consistency above.  Stir in the parmesan cheese.

3. Spread the mixture into a small baking dish to heat for serving at 400 for 20-25 minutes.

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Vegetarian Squash Boats

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On my way home from a Fall weekend with my girlfriends, I found what appeared to be the worlds largest zucchini at a farmer’s stand in Wisconsin .  When I went to cut into it I was surprised to find out it was not a zucchini, but some sort of squash as it was hard and had a pumpkin-ish smell.  I did some research and I think what I had was actually a squash called Mo Qua.  My game plan completely changed with this discovery, I decided to make a roasted stuffed squash instead of grilled zucchini rings.  Usually I stuff squash with meatballs, pretty much the only way to get my husband to eat acorn squash, but I didn’t have any ground meat on hand so I made this veggie mixture instead.  Turned out to be amazing, sliced and served with salmon to complete the meal.  This stuffing will work in any squash, usually I prefer butternut or acorn squash for stuffing.

Stuffing Ingredients:

– 1/2 onion, diced
– 1 green pepper, diced
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, center stem removed
– 1 Tbsp fresh basil, roughly chopped
– 1 large tomato, diced
– 1/8 cup sliced kalamata olives
– 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
– 1/4 cup bread crumbs
– 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
– salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. On a baking sheet roast the squash of choice by cutting in half, removing seeds, spraying with olive oil, and seasoning with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven at 350 for 40-60 minutes, until pierced easily with a fork.  For a harder squash (butternut or spaghetti) , poke it with a fork throughout and put in the microwave for 5-7 minutes to soften up enough to easily cut in half.

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2. Make stuffing by sauteing onion, pepper, garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme, salt and pepper in a skillet over medium-high heat with olive oil.  Saute for 10 minutes on medium heat before stirring in the diced tomatoes, olives, and fresh basil.  Stir and cook for 5 minutes before gently folding in the Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.  Mixture should be soft and cohesive, if it is too wet add more bread and Parmesan, don’t over mix.

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3. When your squash are roasted remove from oven and carefully stuff with stuffing.  Return to oven and roast at 350 for 10 minutes or until stuffing looks a little browned.

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