Gina’s Quesadillas

If you think quesadillas are Mexican, you’re half right. Traditional quesadillas consist of corn tortillas folded over cheese to make half-moon-shaped turnovers that are cooked on a comal or griddle until the tortilla is done and the cheese melted. Maize, which we call corn, was domesticated by native Americans thousands of years ago, probably somewhere in what is now Mexico.

By 1521, when Cortés and his gang defeated the Aztecs and occupied their capital, Tenochtitlán, the Spaniards were amazed to see the great variety of fresh and cooked foods including “dough,” or tortillas being sold in markets throughout the city. Some of them may have been stuffed with vegetables or meat, but there was no cheese and therefore no quesadillas. Quesadilla is a diminutive of the Spanish word for queso and means something like “little cheesy thing.” But since they are always made with tortillas, I think that the name is particularly appropriate.

Cheese was unknown in the new world until the conquistadors brought cows and sheep to Mexico and taught the natives how to make cheese. As is the case with all traditional foods, no one really knows who made the first quesadilla or what it had in it. However, the odds favor a corn tortilla with cheese, chili peppers and tomatoes.

Some people say that the best cheese for quesadillas is now made in Mennonite villages in northern Mexico, which gives us a tie to Jerri’s Mennonite heritage. Similar to Monterey Jack, the cheese is referred to as queso menonito in Chihuahua, where it is made, and is marketed elsewhere as Queso Chihuahua. Jerri remembers her mother telling about making a white cheese at home when she was growing up near McPherson, Kansas, which may have been something like what those Mennonite farmers make in Mexico.

Besides dairy cattle, the Spaniards also introduced wheat to the new world, which led to the flour tortillas that are most commonly used to make quesadillas today. The gluten in wheat flour means that tortillas can be larger and more flexible, and this explains why quesadillas today are often dinner-plate-sized creations filled with a wide variety of ingredients.

Including leftovers.

Jerri’s niece Gina shares a number of traits with her Aunt Jerri, among them a belief that no edible food should be thrown out. The last time we visited Gina her husband Chris had grilled steaks for the family. Since, like me, he believes in putting plenty of food on the table, there were leftover steaks in the refrigerator.

Trust me when I say that leftover steak smothered in cheese on crispy tortillas is delicious.
When I emailed Gina for her recipe, she took the time to explain how she makes quesadillas, and I can’t do any better than to share her email with you.

Gina’s Quesadillas

“Here’s my effort to describe the Quesadilla. For a while, this was Carson’s [Gina and Chris’s daughter] only food choice – along with grilled cheese and mac n cheese. Quesadillas are a great way to use leftovers, and they are versatile, so everyone’s palate can be pleased.


Tortillas, flour or corn (we prefer flour)

Cheese. Any will do, single cheese or a mix, grated or slices. Common choices are
Monterey Jack
Smoked Gouda
Alfredo sauce

Any combination, preferably leftovers:

mashed potatoes
beef, pork, turkey, lamb, or chicken of any sort
fish – any type
hot peppers and sweet peppers
scrambled eggs

Seasonings such as garlic powder, salt, pepper

We prefer to use leftovers straight from the fridge, but if the ingredients you have chosen need to be cooked or sautéed, prepare those ingredients first. Then heat a large skillet over medium heat.

Place two tortillas on a work surface. Spread butter on one side of each tortilla. Place one tortilla butter-side-down in the heated skillet. Immediately layer the cheese, top with your other ingredients and add a second layer of cheese. Add any seasoning you like and cover everything with the second tortilla, butter side up. Flip the tortilla carefully with a wide spatula after about 5 minutes per side. Remove the quesadilla from the pan and let it cool for one or two minutes. Cut it into wedges. Serve with salsa or sour cream if you wish.

Of course, quesadillas can be cheese only. And peanut butter and jelly quesadillas are very tasty, too! (The jelly liquefies in the heat, so use sparingly and place mostly in the center two-thirds of the tortilla.)

NOTES: Gina says that you can use sliced or grated cheese.

I like just about all the ingredients listed by Gina, and you may like peanut butter and jelly quesadillas, but I repeat: Leftover steak smothered in cheese on crispy tortillas is delicious.

Check your refrigerator and make some quesadillas!

 Sally’s Hot Chicken Dip

My sister Barbara has been cooking almost as long as I have, and she knows a good dish when she tastes something. That’s how she got this recipe for a hot chicken dip from the beautician who has been styling her hair for many years. Sally, whose shop is near Seeley, Wisconsin, offered Barb some hot dip and crackers one cold winter day and then shared the recipe when Barb begged for it.

Sally told her that she got the recipe from a former co-worker years ago who had obtained it from a chef. If you like chicken and cheese, you will probably like this simple way to whip up a tasty appetizer in just a few minutes.


1 twelve oz. can cooked chicken chunks
1 four oz. can of diced green chilies
1 eight oz. package of cream cheese
1 cup Mayonnaise
1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Drain the can of chicken and use a fork to shred the chicken into a microwavable mixing bowl. Cut the cream cheese into chunks about a half inch on a side. Combine the ingredients in the bowl, cover lightly and microwave on high for a minute. Stir and microwave for another minute. Continue alternately heating and stirring until the cheeses are melted and the dip is steaming.

Taste and add a dash or two of hot sauce if you wish.

Serve hot with tortilla chips or crackers. This recipe will serve ten to twelve people.

NOTES: The flavor will change with the kind of cheddar you use, so experiment with mild, medium and sharp to find the one you think works best for you.

Sally says any store brand chicken will do. Or if you want to go fresh, use a chicken breast poached in bouillon.

If you want to add a little color to the dish, reserve three or four tablespoons of the cheddar cheese to sprinkle on top of the dip before setting the serving dish before your guests. However, if you are like my sister or me, simply stir in all the cheese before heating. If anyone comments that it looks a little white, just explain that it is an old Scandinavian recipe.