Quesadillas

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It was my mother who first made a quesadilla in our home about the time I was in high school. Of course, she was the one who did the cooking, but there had never been Mexican food prepared in our home before. She cooked food from a lot of international cuisines, like Greece, Russia, France, India, Ethiopia, and China, but somehow had never been exposed to Mexican. Which is funny to me, because she really loves everything spicy. I think she eats more jalapenos than I do, and I love jalapenos!

The way we all discovered Mexican food was at a restaurant in Park City, Utah. It was there where we fell in love with cheesy quesadillas, as well as other Mexican and Southwestern specialties.

And being my mother, she went home and made them herself. So this is recipe I’m presenting for quesadillas is how I learned how to make them, from copying my mother’s technique. I honestly think they’re better than in any restaurant – browned, crispy, with cheesy wonderful goodness inside. Whatever ingredients you choose will work, I promise you, as long as there’s enough cheese to hold everything together!

And that’s the fun part. Today I’m simply using chicken, purple onion, red bell pepper, poblano pepper, cilantro, and lots of Monterey jack cheese. Plus tortillas, of course. But you can add any meat, any kind of cheese, and any accessory ingredients.

On two different occasions, back when I catered, I made quesadillas to order at parties. I had 2 skillets going, and used smaller tortillas, since one larger one can easily fill a person to the brim! The guests got to pick their ingredients. I even had chopped mango, which I love to mix with spicy beef and cilantro in quesadillas. Avocados work well, and are a good meat substitute, if necessary. It’s a really fun thing to do, even at your own party. For a smaller group, of course.

In any case, today I present to you my way of making quesadillas. This will hopefully inspire you to try your own, using your favorite ingredients!

Quesadillas

Olive oil
Red bell pepper, diced
Poblano pepper, diced
Purple onion, diced
Tortillas, I used a multi-grain variety
Grilled chicken, I used one I’d marinated in a lime-garlic marinade, then grilled, sliced thinly
Butter
Grated cheese, I used Monterey jack
Chopped cilantro
Hot sauce or salsa for serving


Heat a little olive oil over medium heat in a skillet, then add all of the peppers and onion. Saute just until soft and set aside.

Get out another skillet and place it over medium-high heat. Have all of the ingredients nearby; the quesadilla cooking process goes fairly quickly.

First begin by adding about 1 tablespoon of butter to the hot skillet. It will brown, but that’s good. Place the tortilla in the skillet.

Working quickly, place half of the cheese allotted per quesadilla on top of the tortilla, then place the chicken slices over the top.

Quickly add the chopped cilantro and the remaining cheese. Top with another tortilla. Press down on it, then reduce the heat to practically nothing, and place a lid on the skillet.

After a few minutes, flip over the quesadilla. That’s why it’s important to lower the heat, because you need the cheese to be melted to keep the two tortillas sticking together. Otherwise you won’t be able to successfully flip it.

Raise the heat just a little bit to get some browning on the other side, but leave the lid on to heat everything through on the inside. Remove the quesadilla from the skillet and let it rest for about 5 minutes on a cutting board. It will cut better when you rest it.

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Continue with remaining tortillas if you’re making more.
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I am a huge fan of salsa, but for these quesadillas, I used green and red hot sauces that were given to me by Richard, from REM Cooks, when I met him in Dallas. He has recipes on his blog for both of these hot sauces, so if you have an abundance of chile peppers coming up in your garden, check them out.

Quesadillas are best hot or warm, when they’re really crispy. The butter really does the trick in this recipe, but making adjustments with the flames help as well. If you have an electric stove – I’m sorry, I can’t help you. You probably have to be a little more careful!

Cauliflower Gratin

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Maybe I should take a break making gratins for a while. My last gratin didn’t come out well, the Potato and Salmon one, and this one was sort of a disaster. Don’t get me wrong, they both tasted good. They just didn’t cook properly. And I even followed the directions for both, which I don’t often do.

The funny thing is, the recipe I followed for the cauliflower gratin was out of Bobby Flay’s book, Bar Americain. I bought it because I’ve been to Bar Americain during a trip to New York City with my daughter. She needed to go for an interview, and so of course I tagged along for moral and dining support.

We sadly went to Bar Americain only for drinks, because our dinner reservations that night were at Le Bernardin (incredible!).

But it’s a very large and beautiful restaurant. It reminded me of some of Stephen Pyles’ restaurants – very chic, in a casual way. After seeing the menu, I knew I wanted the cookbook.

Bobby Flay is extremely popular in the U.S. It seems like he’s been around forever, yet he still looks like a man-child! He must have 30 cooking or food-related shows on tv, because it seems he’s always on when I pass through the food channels.

My favorite is still an early show, when he barbecued everything outside on his patio with a view of downtown NYC in the background. He barbecued meats, vegetables, limes for the margaritas, because he always made a pitcher of something alcoholic, and then he’d barbecue peaches for a dessert. He seems nice and easygoing as a person.

But back to this recipe, I’m not sure what went wrong. But here it is as I made it, and anyone who has actually gone to culinary school can perhaps figure out what the problem was.

Cauliflower Gratin

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2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
3 cups whole milk, or more if needed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
6 ounces fresh goat cheese, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets, each floret cut into 2 or 3 pieces
chopped fresh flat-leaf parsely, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 10-inch baking dish.

Pour the milk into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium heavy saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute; do not let the mixture brown.

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Slowly whisk in the milk, raise the heat to high, and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Monterey Jack, half of the goat cheese, and half of the Parmesan cheese.

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Season with salt and pepper. If the mixture seems too thick, thin with a little extra milk.

Transfer the sauce to a large bowl, add the cauliflower, and stir well to combine.

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Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking dish and top with the remainging goat cheese and Parmesan.

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Slip a rimmed baking sheet underneath and bake until the cauliflower is tender and the top is bubbly and golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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Garnish with chopped parsley.

Now the only thing I did differently, was because I was too lazy to go into my pantry. My pantry is so full of food stuffs, that it’s difficult even to go get flour. So I substituted Wondra flour for regular flour when I made the roux. I added the warm milk and the sauce looked beautiful, but when I added the cheeses, the sauce curdled. I’ve never seen anything like it. So when the gratin cooked, it become watery. I personally think there should have been some cream in the recipe instead of milk, but I still don’t understand the curdling. Anybody?

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