Chicken & Pear Paninis with Roasted Pear & Sweet Potato "Fries"

Anyone with Diabetes, high triglycerides, or an affinity for Dr. Atkins should just stop reading now. Even I find myself looking back on this indulgently carb-loaded meal and ask myself what I could have been thinking, throwing all of these ingredients together. I actually do remember my thought process and rationale, but I don't think that I would repeat the combination. Would I eat these two dishes again, separately? Absolutely! They were both delicious, different, and decadent - three words I love to hear associated with food. So, if my introduction to this meal did not yet scare you away, I ask you to hear me out for just a little bit longer, because it very well may be worth it.

One of my Everyday with Rachael Ray magazines presented me with a recipe for a Chicken & Pear Panini that I had to try. Chicken, sauteed onions, gooey cheese and sweet pears: it just sounded like an awesome and intriguingly original combination. This sandwich, I do not jest, delivered. The flavors were rich and worked extremely well together, with the pear bringing out the sweetness in the onion, the chicken and cheese playing off of that sweetness with their savory notes, and the chewy, nutty whole grain bread factor really rounding out this panini's arsenal of sensory explosives. There was only one of my five senses that was disappointed in this meal, and that was my sense of sight. Think about it: chicken breast, bread, pears, onions, cheese. Where's the color? The magazine said to pair it with an escarole salad which certainly would have helped, but I would still like to see more color in the actual panini - maybe some spinach? Aside from that, the only other complaint I had was the amount of oil, which I successfully (I think, anyway) halved.

But other than those two things, this is a must-make sandwich - again, if you feel that you can brave the carbohydrate-laden ingredient list (but here's a tip - use whole grain bread and the fiber will help slow those rambunctious sugar molecules down, and then it's really not so bad! Oh, and maybe don't pear it with starchy fries like I did).

Speaking of those fries, even if you don't make them as a side dish for this sandwich, I still have to tell you about them - first of all, because they're included in the picture of this meal and second of all, because they were pretty good. They didn't get as crisp as I would have liked, but keeping them in the oven for a little longer should do the trick. I actually don't know that pears have the ability to become crispy in an oven, but sweet potatoes do, and even they should have had a little longer to cook. You could try roasting them and then broiling them at the end to see if that helps the process any, too. Just some suggestions.

Chicken & Pear Paninis, just barely tweaked from Everyday with Rachael Ray
Yield: 4 sandwiches

The Ingredients
2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken
salt and pepper, to taste
2 onions (about 3/4 pound), thinly sliced
1 pear, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
4 dinner rolls, split, or 8 slices of bread

The Method
Season the chicken with salt and pepper* and then place in a large skillet, along with 1 tablespoon olive oil, over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until golden, 6-8 minutes, turning once halfway through. Transfer the chicken to a plate to cool, and then shred or thinly slice.

Return the skillet to the heat and add 3/4 tablespoon of oil, again over medium-high heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook until golden, around 7 minutes. Stir the pear into the pan and cook 3-5 minutes more, or until tender. Remove the skillet from the heat and toss the onion mixture together with the chicken and cheese.

Evenly divide the filling mixture among the rolls or bread. If you own a panini press, cook the sandwiches according to the manufacturer's instructions. If you don't own a panini press, you can make these as you would grilled cheese, filling the rolls/bread and cooking in a large pan in a scant amount of oil, flipping once one side is golden brown. I never have much luck flipping things in a pan, though, so I opted to toast the bread lightly, fill it with the filling (which is still warm and melty from cooking), and press firmly down on the sandwich to seal it a little better.

*I never salt my meat. I never quite understood the chemistry behind wanting to - anything I learned in science class always said that water follows salt, meaning salting the outside of your meat should dry out the inside of it. I do, however, season it with pepper and sometimes other spices.

Pear & Sweet Potato Oven "Fries"
Yield: 1 serving (adjust as needed)

The Ingredients
1/4 large pear, sliced fairly thin
1/2 - 1 small sweet potato, sliced into rounds slightly thicker than the pear
paprika, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste
canola oil (or a higher-heat oil)

The Method
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line and/or grease a baking sheet. Arrange the pear and sweet potato slices on the sheet, drizzle with oil, season with spices, and toss to coat. Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes, flipping halfway through.*

*I roasted mine for 20 minutes, with the pears going in at about the halfway mark, and neither piece of produce was done enough.

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