When my mom got me a panini press for Christmas, I was a little upset that it wasn’t a food processor.  Or a standing mixer.  Or a Vitamix blender.  Really, I wanted any kitchen appliance other than the metallic jaws of death created to crimp sandwiches.  Due to its massive size and limited purpose, I was certain it would find no place in either my kitchen or my regular cooking regimen.  With some trial and error and a lot of food blog trolling, however, I have amassed a collection of dishes that makes the appliance nearly indispensible.  Beyond what can be smashed between two slices of bread, panini presses are a great tool for quick and delicious meals and snacks.

1. Sandwiches, duh.  Everything tastes better on toasted bread, and all sandwiches are improved with melted cheese.  Paninis are compact, inevitably gooey and mix-and-matchable with spreads and ingredients.  An updated classic: fresh mozzarella, basil pesto, bacon and tomato on thickly sliced French bread.

2. Dessert paninis.  As the sweet alternative to your standard sandwich, dessert paninis are delicious and easy to make.  Peanut butter and jelly instantly becomes gourmet with the help of a Panini press. Apples, raisins and cinnamon sugar cream cheese are a killer combo as well.  But the one that takes the cake is warm, gooey Nutella and sweet banana slices on whole wheat bread.

3. Grilled meat and veggies.  Achieve the perfect grill marks on a chicken breast or sliced zucchini without the hassle of using the grill outdoors.  Be sure to amply grease both the press and the piece of food to ensure an even char and to prevent sticking.  For a cross hatching effect, shift the piece halfway through the cooking process so that the lines made by the press form a series of X’s on the food.

4. Burgers.  A juicy burger is only a few minutes away with a panini maker. And it’s a healthier cooking option too! The press eliminates a lot of the patty’s fat by cooking under pressure.  I love Whole Foods’ salmon burgers, but any ground meat would do.

5. Burritos.  A Panini press burrito is as manageable and melty as a sandwich, but avoids the carbo load. Simply make up your favorite burrito with a little less filling than usual (this is not a Chipotle behemoth), grease the press, and allow the jaws to seal the burrito closed.