GINNA PARSONS: Hard to say goodbye to Christmas



My husband and I spent Saturday doing what most of you did two weeks ago: We took down the Christmas tree.

Normally, we leave our tree up until Epiphany, but for some reason, this year’s tree spoke to me and I almost couldn’t bear the thought of taking it down.

“What will the neighbors think?” my husband said.

“They won’t know,” I said, as I shut the blinds and turned on the twinkling lights.

But when I got home from the gym Saturday, Charlie had begun dismantling my beloved tree and I, begrudgingly, joined in. We didn’t stop until every reminder of the Christmas season was properly packed away in the attic.

That afternoon, I must admit I felt a sense of freedom. And with that feeling came an idea: a Sunday afternoon picnic.

I went online and found a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis for a panini made with ham, cheese and apples that sounded perfect for the occasion.

When I got to the grocery store, there was no Gruyere cheese, so I substituted smoked Gouda. Plus, the original recipe called for whole-grain mustard but all the recipe reviewers said it overpowered the sandwich, so I took their suggestion and went with Dijon. And we used a Braeburn apple instead of a Granny Smith because that’s what we had on hand.

We packed our picnic bag – I also made a side dish of orzo with garlicky spinach – and headed north on the Trace. We finally found a sunny spot to spread our quilt and enjoy our lunch, and then took a leisurely walk before heading back to a house with a bare corner full of warm memories.

Ham, Gruyere and Apple Panini

1 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 Granny Smith or Braeburn apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1⁄4-inch thick slices

1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon fresh)

4 (1⁄2-inch) thick slices country-style white bread

2 tablespoons whole-grain or Dijon mustard

4 thin slices Gruyere or smoked Gouda cheese

4 ounces Black Forest ham

In a 12-inch skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the apple slices and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are slightly soft, about 4 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes.

Preheat a panini press. Spread two bread slices with 1 tablespoon mustard each. Place 1 slice cheese on each of 2 bread slices and top each with 2 ounces of ham. Divide the apple mixture evenly on top of the ham. Add the remaining cheese and cover with the remaining 2 bread slices. Grill in the panini press until the cheese has melted and the tops are golden and crispy, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Makes 2 sandwiches.

Ginna Parsons is the Daily Journal’s food/home/garden editor.

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