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Just like that, summer's heat can go from hot to too darn hot. The time of year we're now entering is known as the "dog days," a name that originated with the ancient Romans, paying tribute to Sirius, the "dog star," which shines brightly at this time of year. But most people, I think, associate the name today with days when the weather is just so sultry that even the most active dogs lie panting in whatever shade they can find.
Dedicated outdoor cooks, meanwhile, may think twice before heading out to the grill during the dog days. They may stare out the window and feel the urge to head out and fire up, but one blast of warmth through the open back door and they usually choose an air-conditioned kitchen instead.
With that situation in mind, I'd like to share with you another sandwich recipe, a follow-up to the grilled salmon sandwiches featured in my last column, that will give you the kinds of flavors and textures you yearn for from the great outdoors -- all easily grilled indoors on an inexpensive electric countertop panini maker or hinged double-sided "contact" grill.
In their twin ridged-metal cooking plates, these handy home appliances quickly build up heat intense enough to sear food in a way similar to the bars of an outdoor grill's metal cooking grid. The result is something remarkably close to grilling: The food's surfaces wind up attractively marked with a pattern of flavorful, deeply browned lines; and the interiors of proteins are all the more juicy for the fact that, cooked from both sides at once, they're done in half the time it would take outdoors.
Of course, that speed, along with the fact that the appliances are compact and reach cooking temperature quickly, means that your kitchen won't heat up as much, either. And you, standing cool as can be in your kitchen, have time to get a little more creative, as well.
The creativity in the recipe I share with you here can be found in the way you transform a big, reasonably priced steak, grilled and cut across the grain in thin slices, into generous filled panini-style pressed sandwiches. The inside surfaces of the bread are spread with a mustard-mayonnaise mixture that adds flavor and moisture to every bite. The outside of each slice, meanwhile, spread with a little more mayo, turns a lustrous, crispy golden brown on contact with the hot grill plates.
You'll be surprised by how delicious these sandwiches are; doubly delighted by how easy they are to make; and triply happy that you didn't even break a sweat to cook them. Happy (indoor) grilling during the dog days!
GRILLED STEAK PANINI WITH GRAINY MUSTARD AND BABY SPINACH
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon grainy Meaux-style mustard
8 slices country-style bread
3/4 pound hanger steak, flat-iron steak, or flank steak
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup organic baby spinach leaves
Preheat a panini maker or a hinged double-sided countertop electric grill.
Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, stir together 1/3 cup of the mayonnaise with the mustard. Generously spread 1 side of each bread slice with the mayonnaise-mustard mixture. Thinly spread the remaining mayonnaise on the other side of each bread slice. Set aside.
Season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper. Place in the panini maker or double-sided grill, close the top portion over the steak, and cook until done to your liking, 2 to 3 minutes total for rare to medium-rare. Transfer the steak to a cutting board, cover with foil, and leave to rest for about 5 minutes; but leave the panini maker or grill on, carefully wiping the cooking surfaces clean with paper towels. Then, with a sharp knife, cut the steak across the grain and diagonally into slices 1/4 inch thick.
Arrange the sliced steak evenly on top of the mustard-mayonnaise side of half of the bread slices. Top with the other slices, mustard-mayonnaise side down.
Place the sandwiches on the panini maker or grill, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding. Close the top plate over the sandwiches and cook until the bread is nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove the sandwiches from the grill. Remove the top slices of bread, add some of the spinach, and return the top slices.
Push two long sandwich picks down through each sandwich, placing them just off-center near opposite corners. With a sharp knife, cut each sandwich diagonally in half between the picks. Transfer to individual plates or a platter and serve immediately.