Each year when the leaves on the trees make their autumnal change, not only does it mean winter will soon be on its way, but it also signals the release of new cookbooks making their way to our kitchen shelves.

This week I’m crushing on another talented food blogger (click here to see more food blogger interviews) who has made her foray into the cookbook realm, creating amazingly innovative recipes that are all created between two hot presses. Meet this week’s foodie crush, Kathy Strahs of Panini Happy, and win a copy of her new cookbook The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook plus Kathy’s must-eat-for-fall recipe: Roasted Apple, Brie and Pecan Panini.

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But first, I want to tell you more about the uber talented Kathy. Maybe beyond talented, because creating a blog using everyone’s favorite sandwich maker, and consistently creating unique recipes that continue to inspire, takes some serious skills. And Kathy does just that.

Blogging since January of 2008, Kathy found the source of her online recipe inspiration thanks to the one and only Oprah.

“I watched Oprah’s annual ‘Favorite Things’ episode where she raved about her panini press, and I was intrigued,” Kathy reveals. “That model subsequently sold out everywhere. The next month my sister gave me one for Christmas. We had a newborn baby at home and I was going to be taking some time off of work,” says Kathy.

“I decided to start a food blog centered around my new panini press, exploring creative uses for it,” she explains. “I started out with mostly sandwiches (of course) but it wasn’t long before I began branching out into making ice cream cones, cornish game hens, cakes and lots of other fun non-panini on the press.”

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Kathy and her husband Mike and at the Fig Fest in San Diego, CA.

Now, nearly 6 years later, Kathy considers herself a true food enthusiast. Incorporating the cooking inspiration she received from her mother—who loved to bake cookies for Kathy, her father and two sisters—Kathy shares ingenious ways to create a variety of recipes using the panini press on her blog Panini Happy, inspiring others to use their presses for far more than the standard sandwich between two slices of bread.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that at my kitchen table.

Now in her new book, The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook, Kathy divulges even more simple techniques for grilling panini in a variety of ways. Thanks to her cookbook’s tips and tricks, recipes like Turkey Jalapeño Melt Panini to Smoky Grilled Pork Tenderloin Medallions to Ice Cream Cones, come to life, proving anyone can put their press to work to create endless possibilities for this favorite kitchen companion.

When not at the helm of her beloved appliance, Kathy values her family time, especially  weekend romps with her kids and husband on the beaches and at attractions of San Diego. “It’s an incredible playground for kids, and the weather is usually pretty perfect, so we try to make the most of it—the beach, the farm, the zoo, Legoland,” she says.

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Kathy’s children are on each end with her nephew in the middle.

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Kathy debuts her turquoise cowgirl boots at BlogHer Food ’13 in Austin, TX.

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Kathy shares her secret techniques when making ice cream cones on the panini press with Whole Foods customers.

Thank you for sharing your blog and book with us Kathy, and for being this week’s foodie crush.

1. Describe your blog in 3 words:
Work that press.

2. If you could be one food blogger other than yourself, who would you be?
I think I would like to live on Sweetapolita! It is a pastels-and-sprinkles wonderland on Rosie’s blog. Her party cakes are so gorgeously festive. I made her Strawberry Layer Cake with Whipped Strawberry Frosting for my daughter’s 4th birthday – it was amazing.

3. Which 3 blogs do you follow/are obsessed with/can’t live a day without?
I have to admit the website I probably follow most closely is People.com. Everyone’s got a vice – mine, for some reason, is celebrity gossip! I follow a whole lot of blogs through Feedly—one that really stands out is my friend Kristen Doyle’s blog, Dine & Dish. Not only does she post recipes that propel me straight to the grocery store to buy ingredients, she really shares a lot of herself – triumphs, struggles, Adam Levine. There’s often a great conversation happening over on Dine & Dish, it’s a great place to visit and stay a while. I open every email from Eater San Diego. I love to stay current on my local food scene—which is getting better by the day—and Candice Woo has her finger on the pulse of this city!

4. What is the one kitchen tool you could never give up?
Well, now probably isn’t a great time to toss out my panini press, lol. Besides that, I’d have to say my most-used tools are my paring knives. I have a colorful set of four from OXO – I use all four pretty much every day. I guess I wouldn’t give up my corkscrew either, as I enjoy wine.

5. What dish are you obsessed with mastering that you just can’t get quite right?
I’m trying to master two things right now: yeast bread and pie crust. I’ve made good ones before, but I’ve also made abysmal ones. I’m not consistent at all and I haven’t quite pinpointed why that is. But I’m determined – especially heading into fall, there’s nothing like home baked bread and homemade apple pie!

6. What did you have for dinner last night?
A random hodge podge of things found in the fridge as I raced to get my kids to childcare at our gym and then to my son’s Back to School night at preschool.

7. What’s one secret talent outside of the kitchen nobody knows about you:
I’m a calligrapher. I became obsessed with penmanship, probably around the time I learned to write cursive. A friend’s mother used to write all the school certificates in calligraphy and I was intrigued. I started taking lessons – eventually I had to sign up for the adult lessons (when I was about 10) because I’d taken all the classes offered to kids. It’s been a while, but I used to do lots of calligraphy work for friends and family – wedding invitations, certificates, etc. I still enjoy drawing letters!

8. You’re happiest when cooking/eating:
…without time pressure. It is kind of a rare treat that I get to cook at a leisurely pace. Thanksgiving is probably one of my favorite days to cook – we stay in our pajamas, the kids have nowhere to be and can just relax and play, my husband has football games to watch. And then at the end of the afternoon we all get to feast together.

9. You definitely have the corner market on everything panini-centric. With hundreds of panini recipes, where do you draw inspiration from to create new and innovative recipes and is there anything you’ve tried that just didn’t work on a panini press?
I draw a lot of inspiration from eating. My husband and I love to try new restaurants – not necessarily fine dining (although once in a while we’ll splurge in Vegas) but just good, well-prepared dishes made by people who care about food. Every so often I’ll have a bite of something incredible that I think might be able to try on the panini press. 

I also kind of live and breathe food on social media – friends constantly share dishes they’ve made on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, their blogs, etc. There is really no shortage of food-spiration in my world.

I’ve had a few “it works, but…” experiences with the panini press. Chicken satay jumps to mind – it works, but the yogurt marinade really does a number on the grill. I don’t really mind making a mess when I cook – for me, it’s part of the process – but I know it’s an issue for some people so that recipe didn’t make the blog.

10. The one secret ingredient to your success is:
I’ve been doing my best to get out of my own way. Stop self-imposing barriers, remove fear from the equation, and just do it. It’s amazing what you can achieve once you allow yourself the chance.

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And now you too can have your own copy of The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook.  Just fill in the info in the widget below with one or more entries to be entered to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

With so many delish eats in the book it was hard to choose just one to give a try, but with apples falling from the trees and flooding the farmer’s markets, Kathy’s Roasted Apples, Brie and Pecan Panini was at the top of my must make list.

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Brie Apple and Pecan Panini, the ultimate autumn sandwich | FoodieCrush.com 028

Brie Apple and Pecan Panini, the ultimate autumn sandwich | FoodieCrush.com 028

Caramelized apples topping creamy, melty Brie, as Oprah says, is a very good thing. Add cinnamon raisin bread as the holder of autumnal goodness makes it even better.

And pecans for crunch? Forget about it. This is your new favorite sandwich for fall.

Roasted Apple, Brie and Pecan Panini
 
Blogger and cookbook author Kathy Strahs has created the perfect autumn flavored sandwich thanks to her handy panini press.
Serves: makes 4
Ingredients
  • 1 medium size apple, cored and cut into ¼ inch thick slices
  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 8 slices raisin bread
  • 4 ounces Brie cheese, with or without the rind, sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and arrange the apples on the sheet. Roast the apples until they're soft and beginning to caramelize, about 15 minutes.
  3. Heat the panini press to medium-high heat.
  4. For each sandwich: Spread butter on two slices of bread. Flip over one slice and top the other side with Brie, roasted apple slices, and pecans. Close the sandwich with the other slice of bread, buttered side up.
  5. Grill two panini at a time, with the lid closed, until the cheese i s melted and the brea toasted, about 4-5 minutes.
Notes
reprinted with permission from Kathy Strahs, The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook

Good luck in entering the giveaway, and let’s all get panini happy with Kathy.

Thank you for supporting me and my partners which allows me to create new and special content for my readers. As always, all opinions are my own. 

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