Panini – fast food, good food

Panini are one of those great foods that is all about techniques with unlimited variations. Here is a pastrami and havarti cheese, with mayo and horseradish, one of my favorites.


This one was done with pugliese, but most any kind of bread will work, try Eastern flatbread for something different, or slice a baguette lengthwise.

For fillings, whatever you have on hand. Tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, onions, garlic, peppers, olives, eggplant, zucchini; really most any will work. Sliced beef, chicken, thin pressed ground lamb, salmi; again let your imagination run.

Melted cheese is one of life’s pleasures so any cheese works just fine.

Fill the bread, coat outside with butter or olive oil, then grill until golden with pressure. A panini pan is well worth the price, I have a Calphalon.


Yet for years I used a regular fry pan with a cast iron skillet for the press.

Making panini is another of those techniques that are simple, yet produce excellent results and wonderful variety.

Want to be a better cook? Learn techniques.

Want to be a better cook? Learn techniques. One of the easiest and best is how to do a chicken breast sautée. The variations are endless, the technique is simple.



This is sautéed chicken breast, with a mushroom and creme fraiche sauce, with crispy garlic, on a bed of spinach. Looks impressive, tasted great, AND was pretty easy to do.

Basic Chicken Sautée (will show this variation at end)

Either buy the free-range, organic chicken breasts sliced thin (the easiest way), or pound them between plastic until they are 1/4 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat a couple of teaspoons of good olive oil in a pan, medium heat, when it is hot add the chicken. because it is thin it should only take a about 2 minutes on each side, you want it golden but not overcooked or it gets dry.

Remove the chicken to a plate, cover with aluminum foil to keep warm while you make your sauce, it is the sauce that opens up endless variations.

A basic sauce would be to add some garlic and mushrooms to the pan, after the chicken is done, let cook for 30 seconds and add a couple of tablespoons of white wine. When the mushrooms are starting to get shinny, the wine will be reduced. Remove pan from the heat, whisk in a tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper if you like, and you are done.

When the sauce is done, place the chicken breast on the plate, pour the sauce over. Now how easy is that?

For the dish in the picture I varied it as follows:

I sliced garlic into slivers about 1/16th of an inch thick, heated the olive oil as I always do but before adding the chicken sautéed the garlic until it was just starting to show some golden color. Be careful not to over cook or it gets bitter. Then I removed the garlic to a paper towel to drain, save for the end.

Now the olive oil in the pan was infused with garlic so I added the chicken and sautéed as above. 

For the sauce I used the same process as the basic mushroom sauce already described except instead of adding butter at the end I used crème fraiche. 

To assemble I put a bed of fresh spinach on the plate, the chicken on next, then sauce over the chicken. To finish I sprinkled the crisp garlic over the sauce. Served with a couple of grilled baguette slices and it was ready to go.

Watch for more variations in future blogs, or email for ideas.



Eating and enjoying at 30,000 feet

IMG 0263Comedians love to poke fun at airplane food. Yet at times it is a joy. Last Saturday evening on a flight from Orange County to Seattle I had a memorable meal. Noise blocking headphones created a quiet oasis from the roar of the engines, some good Celtic music set the mood, the darkened cabin added to the relaxing ambience.

They served beef Wellington and it was quite good. The crust was not doughy or chewy, rather amazing considering that it had to be cooked, held, transported, and re-heated before it was on my tray. I had a decent Cabernet to go with it.

The often overlooked reward for flying is time to yourself. I spent two hours listening to music, enjoying food and wine, topped off by a wee dram of Glenfedich.  In this busy world that is a real treat.

As I write this I am on a Delta flight to North Dakota, seat 29D. I had a Boar’s Head roast beef sandwich with horseradish sauce, along with a Heineken. It was not beef Wellington in first class, but I have had worse food. And of course the space is a lot more minimalist. Yet why complain?

Some tips for making flying more enjoyable:

  1. Get to the airport early, rushing starts the whole event off on the wrong foot.
  2. Headphones – get the best noise blocking or canceling set you can afford. Bose are nice, I have Shure, and Sony makes some that are under $100. The quiet reduces the stress.
  3. Either stop at a good take-away in the airport or buy the food on the plane, go ahead and splurge for the wine if you are so inclined, it is no more expensive than at a wine bar, though maybe not as good, yet the self-indulgence is worth it.
  4. An e-reader or good magazine (I prefer ones that I don’t normally read, another splurge) tops it all off.
  5. And for me, rarely do I work, flying is my time, my secret hideaway where no one can interrupt.

Travel is pretty much what you make of it, attitude and preparation are the key. You may not be in first class, but you can have a first class state of mind, and that makes all the difference.

Shishito Peppers, chocolate chip cookies, over priced Scotch – life is good

There are hotels that break the rules the right way, DoubleTree is one of those. I am at the Disney Main-gate hotel, it is $129 for the night, and that is for a suite, a real two room suite. They waived the $16/night parking, and anyplace that has warm chocolate chip cookies on check in is a hit. The more I travel the more I love a suite, with real furniture, coffee table, etc. 

The Grappa Lounge is a hotel lounge, but when tired and not feeling like the excitement of Bubba Gumps a few blocks away it is a fine venue. The surprise of the evening was the Grilled Shishito Peppers, only $7.


The Shishito Peppers are a low heat pepper with just a hint of spice, the grilling adds a nice sweetness. An addicting appetizer for sure, all backed by a Stone Pale Ale.

A Scotch in the room made perfect sense, the MacAllen 18 seemed the perfect choice, and worth the $10 or $12 it would cost. What a shock to find that it was $22. But the bartender made it a generous pour yet my Scots thinking struggled as I buy a whole bottle for about $60.

Back in the room, slowly sipping my Scotch, which goes well with a chocolate chip cookie, all is well with the world. Now it is time to check out a rugby match. Six Nations starts tomorrow, and to think some folks think Superbowl is the hot ticket.