Press for success with the local Panini Queen

After graduating with an M.B.A. from Stanford, Northern California-born Kathy Strahs has gone on to earn her culinary stripes in the art of Panini-making. In her new book, “The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook,” (Harvard Common Press), Strahs will help you navigate your way through panini paradise to get the best and most out of this kitschy concept.

The grilled sandwich veteran, who has been waxing panini poetic since 2008 in her high profile blog, “Panini Happy,” told me, “my goal is to inspire people to take the panini press that was given to them as a wedding or Christmas present out of the closet and start to have some fun with it.”

And that includes whipping up some of the 205 innovative creations featured in her book — from savories like Grilled Shrimp Tostadas with mashed black beans and avocado salsa fresca and Potato Knishes stuffed with chorizo sausage, cheddar cheese and dried apples to sweets like waffle ice cream cones and grilled pears with honey whipped Greek Yogurt.

Strahs, a self-taught panini artist, has been embracing the grill since the birth of her first child five years ago, when they weren’t eating out as much. Like her love of knitting, sewing, wood and metalworking, she considers Panini-making a form of artistic expression.

This mother of two’s faves are the soppressata manchego and honey (Italian dry salami with spicy Spanish cheese) that blends sweet, salty and a little heat, and finishing off with some just desserts such as an apple pie panini that smothers thinly sliced grilled apples with honey whipped mascarpone cheese, cinnamon sugar butter and a dense slice of rustic white bakery bread.

She also promotes the appliance as a double-duty indoor grill for whipping up simple, healthful and elegant dishes — everything from killer French toast with deep ridges for syrup to succulent lamb chops, and perfect chicken breasts, burgers and steaks, crisp on the outside, tender, juicy with warm centers on the inside.

Along with acquiring her “Panini Bible,” Strahs recommends other essential cook’s tools for aspiring paniniphiles. These include an electric panini press (Breville has a full line up of panini grills at all price ranges, while the Cuisinart Griddler is a solid, reasonably priced choice), an OXO silicone panini brush that doesn’t damage the grill surface, silicone tongs, spatula, a meat thermometer when grilling beef and chicken, and a cheese slicer to ensure uniform melting.

To see Strahs in action (and buy a signed copy of her cookbook), visit Flower Hill Promenade, Del Mar:

• 6-8 p.m. Tuesday Sept. 10 at Whole Foods Market for a mingle-and-munch gathering, sampling treats from the book and local craft beer.

• 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday Sept. 25 at Venissimo Cheese (lower level) for a panini party and cooking class with food and wine tastings ($25 per person).

Grilled Pears with Honey-Whipped Greek Yogurt and

Toasted Almonds

From “The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook,” by Kathy Strahs (reprinted with



1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons honey, plus more for drizzling

1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1⁄4 cup blanched whole almonds

4 ripe pears, such as D’Anjou or Bosc

1 tablespoon butter, melted


Whip the yogurt, honey and vanilla in a blender or mini food processor, or with an electric mixer, until it’s creamy, smooth and shiny, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate while you prepare the other ingredients.

Heat the oven or toaster oven to 350°F. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake until they’re fragrant, about 5 minutes. Keep your eye on them so that they don’t burn!

Heat the panini press to high.

Halve each pear lengthwise and remove the core (an easy way is to scoop out the core with a teaspoon). Brush a little melted butter on the cut sides. In batches, place the pear halves, cut sides down, on the grill and close the lid so that it rests gently on top of the pears. Grill until dark grill marks appear and you can smell the aroma of burnt caramel, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the pear halves, cut sides up, to individual bowls or martini glasses. Top

with a few dollops of the honey-whipped yogurt, sprinkle on a few toasted almonds, and drizzle with honey. Yield: 4 servings

You can reach Kathy Strahs at