Cafe Paninis with Dehydrated Fruit & Homemade Mustard

Panini with dried local pears, fresh local greens, and leftover ham roast

Here we are in winter and the soup is overflowing at our house along with beautiful local salad greens. But that never seems to satisfy the appetites around here so I fall back on grilled sandwiches using leftovers from ham and beef roasts. I’ve been able to make them more healthy over the years doing the normal elimination of  fat thing. But increasing flavor and nutrients can sometimes be tricky when you are satisfying the growing appetites and changing tastes of children along the way.

One of the easiest ways to increase your fruits and vegetables is to change out the mayo on a cold sandwich for mustard, fruit or a fruit butter (made with juices).  The beautiful salad greens that thrive in the fall and early winter are great to add to your sandwich too. I use a heavy cast iron pan to make my grilled sandwiches. Even toast in the morning seems to taste better cooked in this pan. I also have a flat bottom cast iron pan and that works equally well with a foil covered brick on top.

I love pears and apples with ham or cheese sandwiches but the fruit can be difficult to keep once it’s ripe and many fall fruits actually come in during the late summer here in the South.  So I dehydrate them to eat all through the winter months. If you are working with beef, then you can pull out some of the grilled caramelized onions that I know you stored in your freezer in the spring and put those on your sandwich with a slice of local cheese and some homemade mustard. Are you hungry yet? The addition of a poached egg on any open face sandwich ham sandwich makes a great meal with a bowl of warm soup or a side of rice and beans.

Back in September, when the local organic apples and pears were in full swing, I gathered up a bunch, sliced them thinly, and put them in the dehydrator. They didn’t take long to go from juicy mess to dehydrated with a good chewy texture. If you dry them just to the chewy stage, you will need to refrigerate or freeze them because they won’t keep as long in the cabinet. For longer term storage in the cabinet, you need to take them to the crisp/dry stage. The very dry fruit is great to add to soups or re-hydrate for cobblers.

But for sandwiches, the chewy texture is fabulous. The fruit seems to steam back to life just enough using the moisture from the bread as you toast the sandwich in the pan.  Your sandwich will have all the flavor without all the mess of slicing fresh fruit and figuring out what to do with the extra!

If you are really in the mood for something extra special without a lot of cost and a great fun gift you can also make your own gourmet mustard. Elizabeth at Wild Onion Farm in Johnston County, NC sent out an email this week with a recipe for home-made mustard so I’ve decided to include that for you as well, just for fun. Please let me know how it turns out! I’ve just started a batch myself.

Elizabeth has a lovely sense of humor so I’ve left her comments intact. She has been obsessing on this mustard recipe for a while and according to her,  “you won’t taste the subtleties of nicer varieties of wine through the blaze of mustard so don’t bother spending money on expensive stuff, just buy the swill”(as she refers to it).  She remarks that “you can play around with different types of alcohol and vinegar but for a traditional grainy Dijon mustard, use dry white wine, rice vinegar, a touch of garlic and honey, & a dash of allspice”. Here’s her recipe.


  • 1/2 cup beer, wine, or other liquor (drink the rest for encouragement)
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard seeds (brown mustard seeds are too bitter)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion/garlic/shallots or other aromatics
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs or spices (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon sweetener (sugar/honey/maple syrup, etc)


  • Put everything together in a bowl.  Make sure the mustard seeds are submerged in liquid.  Cover tightly and refrigerate for 5-7 days.  Yes, days, don’t rush it, just forget about it til next week.
  • Dump everything into a food processor or blender after the week has gone by and run the machine on high speed for 5 minutes.  If it isn’t as smooth as you want it, continue running for up to another 5 minutes.
  • This should keep indefinitely in a jar in the fridge, or you can  water-bath can in 1/2-pt jars for 10 minutes for a shelf-stable product.  This makes about 1 pint (2 cups).

According to Elizabeth, “homemade mustard is always going to be spicier than store-bought versions.  You can stir in more sweetener at this point to temper the heat, or even more for something closer to honey-mustard”. I’m sure Elizabeth left hers spicy!

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