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Simple Sides: Apple, Ham ‘n Cheese Quesadillas!

Image of Apple, Ham ‘n Cheese Quesadillas
Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where can adult attention might be especially needed.
Image of recurring kids
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a” week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever. Enjoy your kids in the kitchen, they will be grown & gone before you know it! “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.

The quesadilla is one of the simplest of all dishes— still, there must be a first time for everything! Teach your kitchen helpers the art of quesadilla making with this tasty recipe that takes advantage of the new crop harvest of sweet apples this month and even comes equipped with a practical science lesson!

The word “quesadilla” comes from the Spanish word for cheese, “queso”. The dish has been enjoyed in Mexico for centuries; no doubt those foodie Aztecs probably had a primitive version of what now is a familiar menu item around the world that can incorporate a variety of fillings, including meats, beans, and/or vegetables. While not exactly Aztec authentic, the kid-friendly ingredients of a traditional ham ‘n cheese sandwich combined with the crunchy texture of a fresh apple with sweet apple butter laced into each bite should hold the interest of young cooks through the short preparation time of this recipe.

First things first…the science lesson. This recipe uses sweet apple slices, which tend to brown when the fruit makes contact with the air (oxygen) – the higher the sugar content, the quicker browning will occur. Storing the slices in lemon water eliminates this browning completely. (Demonstrate this to your young sous chefs by comparing a few slices left out of lemon water after several minutes.) By October, both the very sweet Honeycrisp as well as the semi-sweet Gala are in abundance at retail and the perfect varietal choices for this recipe. Both pair well with the tart mustard and always work with cheese. Both have a medium crunch that lends a pleasant texture.

Though the actual construction of each quesadilla can be done by a child of almost any age, both the apple and onion need to be thin-sliced in order to work in the “low-profile” of a quesadilla. This precision cut is great practice for an older child with some knife experience. If the supervising adult has doubts, then DIY and just let the kids participate in building each quesadilla. Every minute in the kitchen will instill culinary confidence, no matter the tasks assigned.

Ham ‘n Cheese Quesadilla with Apple
Serves 4
Image of Ingredients
1 sweet apple, sliced thin (Cosmic Crisp® Apples, Honeycrisp™, etc.)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
8 – 6” whole wheat tortillas
Cooking spray or olive oil for oiling tortillas
8 tablespoons Dijon mustard, country ground style, divided
2 cups low-sodium Swiss cheese, shredded, divided
4 slices low-sodium lean ham, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, extra thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup apple butter, divided

What the kids can do:
Image of apple slices in bowl with lemon juice
Immediately immerse the sliced apple pieces in 2 cups of cold water and the lemon juice to avoid browning while preparing the other ingredients.
Image of quesadilla preparation
Brush 4 of the tortillas with olive oil and lay them on a large cutting board, oiled-side down. Spread the mustard and then sprinkle about half of the cheese on each.
Image of quesadilla with ham, apples, onions and cheese
Top the cheese with a thin layer of ham, apple slices, onions, and a dash of black pepper to taste.
Image of apple butter on quesadilla
Top each with the remaining cheese. Brush apple butter evenly on the 4 remaining tortillas, place on top of a ham-and-cheese (apple butter side down), then firmly press the tortillas together to make a quesadilla.

What the supervising adult should do:
Either oversee closely the thin slicing of both apple and onion required or DIY depending upon knife skills of your helpers.
Image of grilling quesadilla
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Lay a quesadilla oiled-side down in the pan and cook until golden brown and the cheese starts to melt, about 2 minutes. Spray the top of the quesadilla with cooking spray, flip and cook another 2 minutes more. Repeat with the remaining quesadillas, keeping them warm in a 200° oven. Task your kitchen helpers to slice each quesadilla into 4 wedges before serving.
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