It’s 5PM and the house smells too clean for this time of day. Windex, Pledge, Clorox. Good smells, happy smells even, but not the right ones for this time of day. Where is the familiar smell of chicken and potatoes roasting in the oven? The comforting aroma of a pot of mushroom barley soup or a fresh loaf of whole grain bread? Or, at the very least, the promising scent of the grill being fired up in acknowledgment of the approach of dinner?

Alas, dinner is nowhere to be smelled, seen, or tasted. I have not made a trip to the farmer’s market since too long ago to admit, I didn’t even have the foresight to defrost a package of chicken or fish before rushing out the door this morning. Tummies are grumbling. Children are getting cranky, very cranky. Mommy is tired but resolved to put something somewhat nutritious on the table.

The only solution: Personalized Quesadillas.

They are surprisingly quick to throw together. They are surprisingly fresh. And the kids – not surprisingly – are delighted to be allowed to personalize their own meals. A meal I’d recommend for any hassled person who finds herself in this or similar predicaments. Not that it would ever happen to you. But just in case.

Twenty-Minute Quesadillas
This formula made more than enough for my family of six. We had some leftovers which will sit happily in the fridge till someone discovers what a nice lunch they would make. I should mention that the 20 minutes doesn’t include cleanup time. But that truly is the amount of time it took to get the food out of the pantry and into my hungry children’s tummies.

3 tablespoons oil, divided
1 bunch scallions, white and light green part only, sliced thin
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Whatever fresh herbs you have handy (I used 1 tablespoon each of oregano and thyme)
1 cup frozen corn
4 eggs
Shredded cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, or Monterey jack work great)
Parmesan cheese
1 can of tuna
1 cup frozen spinach, defrosted in the microwave
1 avocado
1 roasted pepper, sliced
Some pickled peppers
1 cup of cherry tomatoes sliced in half
6-12 flour tortillas (quantity depends on the size of those hungry tummies)

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, preferably cast iron frying pan over medium heat. Add half of the scallions and cook for a minute or two. Add the beans and cook, stirring from time to time, for about 5 minutes, till warmed through. Add some herbs (I used fresh oregano here) and continue to cook for another few minutes, mashing the beans gently with the back of a wooden spoon to create a bean mash a lot like refried beans. When the beans are heated through and through, remove them from the pan to a pretty bowl.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the remaining scallions, warm briefly, and then add some herbs (I used fresh thyme) along with the corn. Cook for about 5 minutes till the corn is warmed through. Remove from the pan to a second pretty bowl.

Add your last tablespoon of oil to the pan. Break open the eggs in a bowl, whisk them briefly, and then pour them into the pan. Let the eggs set for a minute or so and then scramble them. When they are cooked to your liking, remove from the pan to yet another pretty bowl.

Lay out the rest of your toppings in bowls – cheese, tuna (mashed a bit), avocado (sliced or mashed), peppers, and tomatoes.

Set the tigers loose and let them each create a personalized quesadilla. This is the fun part – everyone simply layers his favorite toppings on a large tortilla! While your loved ones are hard at work, heat up as many frying pans as you can, over medium heat. (I used four pans, one on each burner. We had some very hungry tigers.) Spray the pans with some Pam if they are not non-stick. Gently slide each person’s quesadilla into its own pan. Let it brown for a minute or two, and then fold it in half. Let it cook for another minute or two, then flip and cook a bit longer. Serve and enjoy immediately.