Some nights — maybe most nights in some households — the main culinary goal is simply an eat-quick-to-get-out-the-door sort of effort.
Other nights, you're in, but putting a huge effort into the meal is out of the question.
Either way, quesadillas fill the bill.
I'm not talking about just any, old quesadilla. With just one extra step, you can have an extravagantly flavored creation that, I am proud to say, is my very own. And even though I've shared it before, I've never described its evolution from a humble roll-up to unique treat.
It came into being several years ago, when our sons were still in the house. Whenever I would heat flour tortillas for them — be it for a healthy snack or a full-blown dinner — I would sprinkle a bit of shredded cheese onto the tortilla's hot surface. Naturally, some of the shreds would land in the skillet instead of on the tortilla. I loved how those pieces of cheese would immediately turn into a golden, delectable crunch that I would peel off once the skillet had cooled. Indeed, those accidental tidbits were always my favorite part.
So one night I decided to make an entire pan of them — which in itself is not new. Cuisines throughout the world have explored the fried-cheese maneuver. But my unique twist was that while the cheese was just beginning to melt, I placed a hot flour tortilla right down on the bubbly surface. Then I stood back and simply waited for the cheese to caramelize and brown. In the process, it attached to the underside of the tortilla. So by the time I scooted a spatula under the entire affair to flip it, this cheesy layer had merged right onto the tortilla, creating a golden, crunchy, cheesy surface.
As a family, we loved my "golden quesadillas." And as a cook I came to recognize their potential beyond the fast and flavorful holder of fillings. I would cut them into wedges and serve with salsa, sour cream and guacamole for a quick appetizer. Ditto, as a garnish for soups and salads. Or certainly, as a simple snack with no condiments needed.
So consider this fast and tasty concept for your autumn-into-winter meals.
Once you've made a batch of Golden Quesadillas, the direction you take with fillings is entirely up to you and the contents of your refrigerator and pantry. As you would expect, I've got my own ideas about what would turn this meal on its head (In a good way!), and I'll provide some details. But really, it's not rocket science; in that spirit, be freewheeling. In fact, when it comes to getting a decent meal into your kids, it's always more fun to simply set out bowls of ingredients and let the gang build their own creations. Perhaps the following ideas will help you with that approach.
1. Grated Monterey Jack, salsa, black olives and finely shredded, fresh basil leaves.
2. Grated mozzarella, crumbled and cooked chorizo or sausage, finely chopped sweet bell peppers and green onion.
3. Ground beef or turkey (browned with onions, ground cumin and Worcestershire), diced tomatoes, pickled jalapeno slices (Mezzetta makes a "tamed" version. Look for "Deli-Sliced Tamed Jalapeno Peppers."), shredded lettuce and sour cream.
4. Grated cheddar, roasted mushrooms (see recipe), crispy bacon, fried or scrambled eggs and chopped sweet bell pepper.
5. Strips of cooked chicken, pesto, Swiss cheese, pine nuts.
6. Cream cheese, salmon, capers and slender slices of sweet red or white onion.
7. Pulled pork or beef brisket, barbecue sauce, diced tomatoes, finely shredded carrots, chopped celery.
8. Fried or boiled shrimp, avocado, sour cream and cocktail sauce (whisked together in a 1-to-1 ratio).
9. Drizzle your favorite creamy dressing over rice, black beans, salsa, avocado or guacamole, green onions and freshly cooked corn kernels.
10. Roasted vegetables (consider onions, garlic, sweet peppers as a base mixture, adding whatever else your family would love), crumbled blue or feta cheese and fresh tomato slices.
11. Shredded cabbage, grilled fish and dressing of choice — such as creamy ranch or zesty tomato vinaigrette.
12. The leftover turkey maneuver: Face it, you've got plenty of Thanksgiving turkey for days after, so using it in a Golden Quesadilla is a brilliant maneuver. Consider pairing it with grated Monterey Jack, salsa, black olives and finely shredded, fresh basil leaves. Hold the dressing!
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.