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Family Central: Cooking with the Kid – Easy Quesadillas

In our house, and probably in many Texas homes, quesadillas have replaced the grilled cheese sandwich as an easy weeknight supper the whole family likes. They’re just about as easy as slapping together a sandwich, and, even better, you can easily hide a few veggies or some leftover chicken inside. Serve with some healthy salsa or guacamole and maybe some charro beans, and dinner’s done!

Quesadillas are also a great dish for the family to make together. As long as you’re there to supervise, kids as young as 5 can help assemble their own quesadilla; those ages 9 and up can grate cheese, slice vegetables and even grill their creation.

Another advantage is that you can mix-and-match cheeses, filling ingredients, and salsas, so that every family member can make something to their taste. You can create a kind of “assembly line” of fillings by filling bowls with ingredients, then letting every family member make their own.

For instance, we might have bowls filled with bell pepper strips, mushrooms and sliced onions; shredded rotisserie chicken; and several kinds of cheeses. Any kind of melty cheese works, but the kids usually go for shredded Monterrey jack or mixed Mexican cheeses. For adults, I might put out Beemster classic, an aged gouda with a nutty, sharp, almost caramel flavor, or Yancey Farms Habenero and Jalapeno, a very spicy-hot .American cheese that melts beautifully.

Here’s a quick primer on making quesadillas with the kids:

Wash hands: To create good kitchen habits, always have kids wash hands before handling food.

Gather ingredients: At a minimum, you’ll need flour tortillas (I find those made in FRESH bakery to be precisely the right size and texture) and cheese. Fillings, salsa, and some butter, olive oil or cooking spray are optional. For younger kids, I recommend gathering all ingredients before getting them involved.

Prepare ingredients: If using a block of cheese, grate. Using finely grated cheese works better, as it melts faster and more evenly. Place each kind of cheese in a separate bowl so cooks can mix-and-match. Next, slice vegetables and shred chicken, if using, and place in bowls. (Note: Vegetables taste better if slightly sautéed in a bit of olive oil or butter. To save time, and kids’ attention spans, I would do this step before calling the family in.)

Prepare pan: Heat a griddle or heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. If desired, swipe pan with a bit of cooking spray, butter or olive oil; this will keep the quesadilla from sticking. If you’re using a nonstick pan, this is unnecessary, but I find even in most regular pans, flour tortillas don’t usually stick.

Assemble: While pan is heating, begin assembling quesadillas. Place one tortilla on a flat surface (we use a large cutting board) and help your child arrange filling ingredients on top, then cover with about ¼ to ½ cup shredded cheese, depending on size of tortilla. Don’t fill them completely to the edge, or cheese will ooze out uncontrollably; leave about a ¼ inch border if possible. Next, cover with second tortilla and press together slightly.

Cook: Carefully transfer quesadilla to pan (we use a large, flat spatula) and cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until cheese is melted and tortilla has begun to turn a light golden brown. Don’t let them cook at too high a heat, or the cheese won’t have time to melt before the tortilla browns. Remove from heat and cut into quarters before serving. Kids over age 9 or so may help with the cooking and cutting process.

Serve: While you’re overseeing the cooking, older kids (7 and up) can set the table by themselves, and also set out sour cream, prepared salsa, and prepared guacamole.