how to make a fucking great sandwich.

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There are people out there who reject the idea of sandwiches. They think sandwiches are lame and boring and not very good, and dry, and for lunch you should eat something cooked, dammit. Now, I’m a big proponent of eating leftovers for lunch, but if all of your lunches are fancy, then how does dinner stay exciting?

Furthermore, a sandwich can be an exquisite piece of art, a perfect piece of food. Behold, the magnificence of the sandwich. Here is the secret: there are many bad and disappointing sandwiches out there. You just have to make sure that this is not the kind of sandwich that you make. A really good sandwich…. hmmm. I rhapsodize a little bit. It is a noble lunch. If you are one of these sandwich doubters, listen up: you, too, can learn to love a sandwich.

The first step is to stop eating cold sandwiches. I mean, there are situations where these are necessary and sometimes even good, but really, you need to fry that sucker. Crispy bread coated in melted butter, melty cheese inside – there are very few ways to go wrong with a grilled sandwich. Even just a simple grilled cheese with no other ingredients is out-of-this-world comforting. So go, get out your frying pan.

Secondly, this certainly doesn’t have to be in every sandwich, but consider as your first step, this:

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Yup, before you fry your sandwich itself, fry an egg.

When I was in Portugal earlier this spring for summer school, I fairly blew my friend Arash’s mind when I pointed out that instead of having a fried egg on the side, you could just stick it in the middle of your sandwich. So fry up that egg. Leave it just a little runny in the middle, so that the yolk is pleasantly soft but doesn’t make too much of a mess when, later, you cut your sandwich in half. Really. Do this. It is life-changing.

I’d like to claim credit for the egg idea, but it’s a technique as old as time for spicing up meals when you’re cooking on the cheap. People far more brilliant than myself have written about this, from Mark Bittman in the New York Times, where I first learned spaghetti with a fried egg, to more recently one of my favorite sites, Food52, who for their last tip on “best of the Broke Kitchen” sagely noted, “when in doubt, put a fried egg on it.” Another favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, recently posted not one but FIVE egg sandwiches (all of which look mouth-wateringly good). Deb knows what she’s doing. So. If you aren’t convinced already, fry up that egg!

The next step is the bread. Find some good bread at a local bakery.

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Before putting your actual pile of sandwich innards on top, you’ll want some sort of condiment. There are many options. I hate mayonnaise so I’m going to recommend a good mustard. I’ve been enjoying this honey mustard made right here on Gotland. Carl Linnaeus himself came to Gotland and observed that on the clay soils here, mustard grows particularly well. So mustard is a unique and proud product of this little island. The stuff is delicious.

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So. condiment up your bread. Slap your egg on there.

The next step is to have amazing friends.

Timothée came to visit me from Zurich last week and before arriving he asked, “is there something, edible or drinkable, typical of Switzerland you specifically miss?” I said no… but that chocolate is never turned down. Timothée showed up with not only chocolate (and oh god, I had forgotten exactly how good Swiss chocolate is….) but two bottles of wine, three kinds of cheese, and some Spiess cured meat.

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This definitely improve the quality of my recent sandwiches. I actually don’t even usually put meat on my sandwiches, but this stuff? It’s great! yumyumyum. Thank you Timothée. If you don’t have amazing friends who are willing to import your sandwich ingredients for you direct from Switzerland, normal cheese and meat should do quite nicely. I like to add something green, for instance spinach.

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Re-butter your frying pan and put it on medium heat. Believe it or not, there is an art to grilling a sandwich. You can’t have the heat too high, or else the bread burns before the cheese inside melts. It can’t be too low, or else it will take forever. I use a pot lid to compress the sandwich a bit and contain some of the heat coming off the frying pan. Fry ’em up until the bread is nice and golden crispy, and the cheese is beginning to drip out and sizzle on the grill.

And! ta-dah! you have a sandwich you can be proud of and I promise, very happy to dig into. Enjoy. And never insult sandwiches again. That’s a command. To complain about sandwiches means that you’re too lazy to make a good one – and no other food is particularly good if you’re lazy, either, so it’s really not the sandwich’s fault.

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vernal veggies.

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When I moved into my little flat in Visby, I was ecstatic to have a space of my own, and a real kitchen. (Well, it doesn’t have an oven, but still – it’s mine and I don’t have to share it with anyone) After months of not really cooking, I was back!

Unfortunately, shortly after this I went to winter school in Portugal and we collectively realized that our last scholarship payment comes at the end of July. I and several others had assumed it would last at least one month longer than that.

Friends: I will soon be poor. I don’t graduate until November, so that’s several months I have to survive with no scholarship.

This immediately took a hit on my cooking. I still cooked good food, but I went completely vegetarian and stopped buying wine or beer to enjoy with dinner. I had already basically forsaken dessert, more for my waistline than my pocketbook, but it was also handy for that (not having an oven is very sad in terms of my baking obsession, but also probably healthy).

For me, vegetarianism meant a lot of legumes. I was able to find harissa in the grocery store, which was literally a miracle as I’ve rarely found it anywhere else and Sweden isn’t exactly a bastion of diversity, especially in the grocery aisles. I cooked up a delicious Tunisian stew from the Gourmet archives that lasted a few nights, the chickpeas delightfully exploding every time I microwaved a new portion.

But things have been getting hard at work. I’m sometimes at the university until 7 or 8 p.m. at night, and I come home exhausted and frequently discouraged. A pile of chickpeas just wasn’t always going to cut it.

So yesterday, I pulled out all the stops. I rampaged through the fresh vegetables aisle in the Coop, then splurged on a big slab of salmon. Get those omega-3’s. After reading Four Fish I now feel guilty every time I buy fish, but I did it anyway.

On the way home, I stopped at the Sytembolaget and bought a bottle of Viognier.

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With the vegetables, I made a small ragout (including some shiitake mushrooms). It was like a bowl of spring, steaming in a light-green porcelain vessel in front of me. If that couldn’t rejuvenate me, what could? I felt like the finished dish matched the blue sky and sun that have been gracing us with their presence here on Gotland every day. And that’s a very good thing.

Spring Ragout

Adapted from The Atlantic

1 tablespoon olive oil

a bunch of scallions (in Sweden, called “salad leeks”), white and light green parts chopped (discard dark green parts)

a bunch of asparagus, ends of stems discarded, sliced into 2” sections; if the stems are thick, also cut them in half lengthwise

2 tablespoons water

juice from half a lemon

splash of white wine

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon honey

1-2 cups sugar snap peas

3-4 large shiitake mushrooms; or use something local, spring, and fresh if you can!

¼ cup parsley, chopped coarsely

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot, then stir in the chopped scallions. Cook for 2 minutes or so until the scallions start to get soft. While that’s cooking, chop up the asparagus. Add it to the pot with the water, lemon, wine, salt, and honey. Stir together and then put the lid on the pot. Cook 2-4 minutes, depending on how thick the asparagus is – you don’t want it to be done cooking at this point, but it should be softening up. Add the peas and mushrooms, cooking 3 more minutes. Finally, stir in the parsley, cook one more minute, and then turn off the heat. Enjoy!

two cakes, part two.

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I’ve wanted to make this cake ever since Deb Perelman posted it on the Smitten Kitchen site sometime last spring. I don’t know if it was my obsession with bees, or the story of trying and trying but never getting the cake quite right, or the description of the cake itself, but Bee Sting Cake? It sounded great. I just never had the energy to make a yeasted cake, though. So I didn’t.

Then, when I was in Munich, I defended my thesis and stopped at the bakery on the way home. It was 9:30 in the morning and Daniel was going to be hard at work back at home. I wanted to get some treats for us to have as a mid-morning snack to celebrate me defending my thesis… and lo and behold, there, on the bakery shelf, was bienenstich! Obviously, I bought two huge pieces. The shop boy carefully wrapped them up in paper and I carried them, triumphant, back to the room. We feasted. Then Daniel said he felt sick, because he never eats sugar for breakfast.

So, now that I have a wonderful kitchen here in Sweden, I set out to actually make the darn thing. I had the perfect occasion: Johanna and her sister Matilda left on Tuesday morning to go travel around New Zealand for three weeks! They were giddy on Monday night thinking about all the adventures they were about to embark upon. I know that feeling. Now that they’ve been gone a few days, I am seeing a few of Johanna’s beautiful photos pop up on facebook, and so I know that they are having a great time.

It makes me smile to think of these two sisters traveling around together. They are both a combination of practical and whimsical. Johanna is a biologist who is also training as a teacher and is quite artistic as well. Matilda has been doing more on the artistic side, but is now preparing with exams to go into medical school. Actually, she’s the more practical one. Johanna will take pictures of everything on her phone, seeing beauty in every object and every angle. She’ll get distracted talking on the phone. She is a wonderful, fun, joyous, presence. Matilda is as well, but she’ll give a huff of friendly exasperation every once in a while.

“Johanna! We should go down to meet the taxi!”

“I know, just a minute!”

“What are you doing in there? Are you… you’re cutting your fingernails. Are you serious? We have to leave and you are cutting your fingernails?”

As my other housemate Marta said, they are in some ways very different, but they get along so well. The teasing is all in the name of love. “I wish I had that relationship with my sister,” Marta said. “We’re just different.”

Anyway, on Monday afternoon, the dough didn’t seem to be rising at all. I decided not to freak out. And in the end the cake tasted fine, and certainly wasn’t a brick. However, the bienenstich I remember from Munich was ridiculously light and fluffy, unlike any yeasted dough I’ve ever eaten. So that was one big difference; maybe I know, now, why Deb had such a hard time getting the recipe right. I couldn’t find instant yeast in the grocery store here so adapted to use active dry, which may have affected the rising and the behavior of the dough.

I was also too lazy to stuff the middle of the cake with pastry cream – something I really would like to do next time! But never fear, if you leave it out, the cake is still delicious. I upped the amount of salt in the topping and so it had a bit of a salted caramel taste. Yum yum yum.

two cakes, part one.

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Most of my friends know that I reallllly like to bake. And cook. But baking is something particularly satisfying: you follow some instructions, maybe it’s scary and complicated, but in the end, if you do everything you’re told, you come out with the end product you were supposed to get. It’s so great! That never happens in life. Over Christmas break I had my baking fix when Min Ya, Kristel, and I made an extremely complicated bûche de noël. I think they were a little incredulous as we were making the four different parts, and it didn’t turn out quite like the picture but it was still beautiful and very tasty. Maybe then they started realizing why I’m hooked on baking ridiculous, over-the-top complicated desserts.

I’m now living in Uppsala in a real apartment, with a real kitchen and all the kitchen-y things inside. So I finally, for one of the first times since beginning my masters program, can do some serious baking. Last week my roommate Marta’s boyfriend Gonçalo arrived from Portugal to work at the department here for a month, so it seemed like the perfect occasion for a cake. Marta and Gonçalo and I all lived on the same corridor in Flogsta during my very first semester in Sweden. So I was pretty excited to see Gonçalo again coming back to visit!

This is a heavy, dense chocolate cake. It’s tangy with buttermilk (or filmjölk, an even thicker version they have here in Sweden) and tastes slightly of coffee, with some seedy sweetness of raspberry jam and a thick coating of ganache. Mmmmm.

(A note about the ganache: it’s a great trick, covering a cake with ganache. The cake can be, like really ugly, but then you dump this chocolate mixture on top, swirl it artistically, and let it harden. Nobody knows how ugly the actual cake part used to be. In my case this was good, because while the house has many things, it only had one actual cake pan. The second pan that I used didn’t have the same finish in it and when I tried to remove the cake from the pan…. disaster. It was in a lot of pieces. I cobbled it back together, and then the ganache hid the whole thing. And! Ganache is super easy to make. I think I may use it to cover everything now.)

Welcome Chocolate Cake

Preheat oven to 325, and grease two round cake pans. Do whatever your chosen magic is to ensure that the cake won’t stick to the pan – flour it, dust it with cocoa, just grease it, you do you.

In a bowl, mix:

2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder (natural, not dutch process)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups dark brown sugar, lightly packed

Into the middle of this dry-ingredient mixture, add:

3 eggs

1 cup filmjölk + 1/4 cup water, or, just 1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

two tablespoons instant coffee granules dissolved in 3/4 cup hot water

Mix everything together until the mixture is smooth and uniform. Divide between the two cake pans and bake for about 40 minutes (check after 30 minutes). Let them cool ten minutes in their pans, then try to turn them out onto a cooling rack.

Once the cakes are cool, place one on a platter. Spread the top with a thin, but not too thin, layer of raspberry jam (not jelly). Place the second cake on top of the first one.

Make a ganache: this means equal parts cream and chocolate. I did 250 grams of dark chocolate and 250 mL heavy whipping cream, and it was a little too much, but who doesn’t want to have some leftover chocolate? Anyway, cut up the chocolate into very small pieces and put it in a bowl. In the meantime, heat the cream in the microwave or on the stove until it is almost boiling. Then pour it over the chocolate and stir, stir, stir. Eventually the chocolate will melt and the mixture will become thick and uniform. Let it cool for a bit until it begins to thicken up, then use a spatula to spread it all over the cake, like a chocolate casing.

As the cake cools, the ganache will harden into something almost like a shell.

finagling favorites.

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I’m home. Home! It’s been since last Christmas, and I couldn’t be happier to be, finally, at home. I imagined this as a working vacation, where I would hole up in my parents’ house and write my papers. But it’s far too luxurious to be home – there are a million things that I’d rather be doing, so I have done them. And not worked so much. Unfortunately I arrived home still sick, so I haven’t been able to do some of the hikes I had imagined, either – no Moosilauke, no Presidentials. But there have been beautiful quiet moments on the hill behind my house, at the Skiway and Pinnacle, and out at Trout Pond (above), where I took my friend Rosalie for the first time. My aged Australian shepherd, Bravo, found his short little legs again and was running joyfully back and forth ahead of us. Rosalie laughed at his bobbed tail bouncing up and down as he bounded along. I love, so much, being home.

I was worried that I would arrive after the best of fall had already said goodbye, but apparently it has been an unusually temperate autumn here in New England. So there are still some beautiful leaves, and some warm sunny days that retreat into freezing clear nights. The full moon loomed over the hills during that first week. I picked pumpkins at a pumpkin patch and marveled at beautiful apples. I wished my friend Sean luck as he headed out to his tree stand in his very first season of bow-hunting; I commiserated with my friend Tim when he ended up chest-deep in the muck of Little Hosmer Pond while retrieving a duck. When Bravo and I go for a walk, he wears a bright orange vest that he comically despises. The horses are getting shaggy and unkempt as they begin to grow their winter coats.

It is fall.

One night I wanted to make dessert for my parents, even though we’re all eating less these days and often eschew the treat. I settled on an apple and pecan tart recipe from Florence Fabricant. In a more rotund world, I’d make an apple pie one night and a pecan pie another night, but we don’t need that at this point. Instead, the recipe combines the two, along with a lot of maple syrup. God, I have missed maple syrup. The tart turned out to be incredibly tasty and an extremely classy way to combine two favorites. As always, Flofab is right. We ate half the darn thing the first night.

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Apple Pecan Tart

adapted from Florence Fabricant / New York Times

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

1 large egg yolk + 2 large eggs

4 tablespoons ice water

2 medium tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

2/3 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the crust: preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease a 10-inch fluted tart pan. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl and mix until blended. Add 8 tablespoons of the butter, cut into cubes, and mix with your fingers until the pieces of butter and dough are the size of peas. Add the egg yolk to the ice water and then pour the liquid into the butter mixture, stirring slightly. The dough does not need to form a ball, just come together in a shaggy falling-apart mass. Turn it out onto a floured surface and roll. Place the crust in the tart pan and weigh it down with pie weights or dried beans. Bake ten minutes, then remove weights and prick the crust with a fork a few times. Put back in the oven for 20 more minutes.

While baking, make the filling: place the apples in a saucepan with the remaining two tablespoons of butter, and cook just a bit until they begin to soften up. Add the brown sugar and pecans and cook two more minutes. This should make a syrupy, sticky, delicious coating for everything. In a separate bowl, combine the 2 eggs, maple syrup, and vanilla.

Assemble the pie: When the crust is getting golden, pull it out of the over. Spread the apple and pecan mixture in the tart shell, then pour the egg and maple syrup filling on top. Put everything in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350 degrees and bake 25 more minutes. Be careful that the pecans on top do not burn.

Especially delicious with vanilla ice cream on top!

Sunday Suppers in Flogsta.

Early on in this program, the seven of us heading to Uppsala for our first semester decided that we would have to have some group dinners. Ideas abounded: we would each cook something from our country! We’d have cocktails to match! It probably won’t end up being so fancy, but nonetheless we started our adventure on Sunday. Naturally, I volunteered to be the first cook. Really I don’t have many surprises up my sleeve.

I cast about for something suitably American, but was at a loss for what to cook. Hamburgers? Everyone has those. Fried chicken? I can’t cook that. I gave up on the all-American theme more or less.

It was a rainy day and after getting coffee for a long time around lunchtime, a few of my classmates came over to our dorm, eagerly awaiting dinner already. As I began preparing food, they sat at our table drinking tea and playing cards and chess. I kneaded bread; Katie taught some friends Fan-Tan, which she called “sevens”. It’s a favorite game of my family and I was so happy to hear that someone else knew what it was. I joked that if you cheat you’ll get thrown in the river, but nobody apparently knows the game’s (possibly revisionist and made-up) history so I drew no laughs.

It was my first time baking with fresh yeast rather than active dry, and I was totally winging it. The bread rose fast, much faster than expected; I tried to warm up the oven, but it is a tiny oven and took forever so it wasn’t quite warm when I put the bread in. Then, the stove’s periodic electrical mischief kicked in and the oven turned off completely for a decently long period of time. When I finally noticed, I had to turn on the other range and move the bread around. It never cooked at full temperature, but turned out okay, despite having a rather burnt bottom from all the preheating…. I’m learning. Use less fresh yeast, and be careful in the ovens.

Next I tackled pastry for an apple pie. Once again, I was guessing at proportions; things are measured in liters and grams here, not cups and tablespoons and pounds. The dough was wet. I put it in the fridge and then managed to roll it out without sticking too much to the counter. Into the pan it went, apples on top, crust on the very top, and into the wildly-fluctuating oven. It was a long-baking pie.

And all this time, people were trickling in and out of my kitchen. I was asked if I wanted help, but I didn’t; I just wanted to continue to be entertained by my neighbors and classmates as I worked. The atmosphere inside could not have been more different than the dreariness we saw out the window.

Finally, dinner. I put together a simple salad and boiled some potatoes before seasoning them with butter and dill. And I took the two massive, but cheap (sometimes I really love you, Sweden) slabs of salmon out of the refrigerator and slathered them with a homemade mustard glaze (more on that later). Why salmon? Well, as mentioned, it’s cheap – one of the cheapest protein sources you can find, although they do sell whole chickens for 37 crowns, about 1/4 of what you’d pay for a pair of chicken breasts. Secondly, I thought it would be fun to make some nod to the local cuisine. And finally, back when I was swinging through Colorado this summer, my friend Ed found an amazing salmon recipe which we cooked for my aunt Liz and her partner Paula. It was easy and delicious, and so it seemed perfect for me to cook for a crowd.

Into the oven it went. I joined a card game while it cooked – Uno, or what had to be the longest game of Uno in history, actually. We played with a single deck of regular cards, with aces reversing, kings meaning draw four, queens draw three, and jacks as wild cards. We would go through long stretches where there were no cards in the draw pile because they were all in our hands. A few people got down to Uno but would then shoot back up to 20 cards in their hands. We had to take a break for dinner.

Once again the salmon was a hit – as I said, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with drowning your dinner in a sauce that’s essentially butter and brown sugar – so thanks, Ed, for stumbling across such a great recipe on the internet.

One of the funniest things that happened was that I had asked whether anyone would be willing to bring drinks – of any sort, booze or not. Daniel offered to go to the store on his way over and arrived with a bottle of wine. When we opened the bottle of wine… it wasn’t good. Sweden has strict laws about who can sell strong alcohol, and normal grocery stores can’t sell beer or wine over 3.5%. (Hi, Utah!) When we read the label more closely, we saw that Daniel had bought non-alcoholic wine. Truly, it was disgusting. The Spanish and Portuguese members of our group were particularly appalled, but I certainly couldn’t drink the stuff either! It’s still on our windowsill, getting more and more foul.

After dinner, we finished our card game and then ate apple pie. It was well-received, even by Romain, our very pickiest eater. I was extremely flattered that he even agreed to eat a piece of my pie, quite frankly.

We finished by playing a few more card games; we didn’t want the evening to end. Despite only having known each other two weeks, our little group is coalescing very strongly and we get along so well. If the first supper was any indication, it’s going to be a very lovely term here in Sweden. I can’t wait for next week’s cook.

Salmon with Brown Sugar and Mustard Glaze

Adapted from Bobby Flay; original recipe here

  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 shallots or 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 one-pound+ thick fillets of salmon

In a pan, melt the butter and then saute the onion and garlic until soft, five to ten minutes on medium-low heat. While they are cooking, place the salmon in a 9×13″ baking dish that has been lightly greased with vegetable oil. You can also grill the salmon, if that’s your thing; in either case, also rub the salmon with salt and pepper.

To the saucepan, add the brown sugar, honey, mustard, and soy sauce. Continue to cook for roughly a minute, stirring, then remove from heat. Let cool slightly then pour over the salmon. Cook at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes (actually, maybe don’t believe this time estimate: my oven was messed up), or until the salmon is cooked through and the juices run more or less clear.

 

Cinco de Gimpo.

It has been ages since I’ve posted about cooking on here. Like, I am pretty sure I have aged since then. But! It doesn’t mean that I haven’t been cooking. I have been cooking, and baking, and eating. I’m still really into soup. I’ve also been on an asparagus bender, because, well, it’s spring!

This here, though, this is a recipe that I made up myself, and I’m so excited that I had to share. As I contemplate moving away from Eugene, I’m looking at all my belongings: costume items that I’ll send back to the thrift store, books sitting on the shelf that I’d like to read before transporting them back to New Hampshire, this giant desk that I will have to somehow sell… and random food in the cupboards. I’m looking at you, five-pound bag of masa flour. Conveniently, about the time I remembered that I should probably use it up, it was Cinco de Mayo.

I’m not sure I’ve ever celebrated Cinco de Mayo in any serious way, but I was determined to start. Well, sort of determined. I wanted to use up that masa flour, and to drink margaritas. So I talked to my friends Brian and Andrea. Andrea, you see, had just broken her ankle. She was on some pretty powerful painkillers, so she wouldn’t be able to have any tequila, but I tried to think of a way we could celebrate the holiday in a sedentary fashion. So I thought and thought and thought, and wished I had a tortilla press, and thought some more, and thought: stuff them!

I cooked up some onions, green chiles, carrots, cheese, and tomatos, and then we sat around the table on the porch making masa cakes. Brian drank beer and Andrea propped her leg up on a chair, and was disappointingly non-loopy. It was a beautiful, beautiful afternoon – it’s finally spring in the most glorious of senses – and we grabbed blobs of the masa/flour paste and kneaded them with our hands. Then we shaped them into a ball, flattened the ball, dumped some filling on top, and folded the masa over and sealed the edged. Like a hand-pie. Made of masa.

This makes it sound easy. It wasn’t hard, exactly, but it was messy. And at first, we stuffed too much filling inside the cakes. Then we tried to make them into balls instead of turnovers. By the time we settled on a form that didn’t fall apart or leak, there was masa everywhere. We headed inside, where Brian fried up the cakes in some oil while Andrea read out loud from an Amy Sedaris book. My favorite was the part about the mouse ghetto.

Anyway, we sat out on the porch, eating beans and rice, avocado and lime, and masa cakes. It was perfect. The cakes were delicious. Then we joined a few more friends for margaritas and Trivial Pursuit, girls vs. boys. Girls rule boys drool.

It wasn’t a crazy Cinco de Mayo, but it was a happy one, spent with good friends. And we didn’t make authentic Mexican food, but we made food with Mexican ingredients – isn’t that what America does?

Masa Cakes Stuffed With Green Chiles and Cheese

This makes about 12 to 15 cakes, depending on how big you make them. You have to sort of wing it on the ratio of filling to masa dough. It’s very easy to make more dough if you have leftover filling, or you can put the filling in an omelette, where it is also quite tasty.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 yellow onion

4 cloves garlic

3 Anaheim peppers

2 carrots (I used purple ones)

1 Roma tomato

salt and pepper

coriander

oregano, Mexican if possible

chile powder

a ball of Mozzarella cheese

4 cups (roughly) Masa Harina

water

a neutral, high-temperature vegetable oil for frying

lime slices; salsa and guacamole to dip in, if desired

Start by roasting the peppers. Set your oven to broil and place the peppers on a lightly oiled baking sheet, rolling them around to coat with a thin layer of oil. Place the pan in the oven and cook until the skin on the peppers begins to blister. Roll the peppers so a new side is facing the broiler element, and repeat. Most peppers have three flattish sides, and make sure that each begins to blister. Then pull the pan out of the oven. The skin should peel off of the peppers easily; make sure that you have it all off. Chop of the tops of the peppers, slice in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. Chop into small pieces and place in a bowl.

In a frying pan, heat the oil. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook for a minute; add the carrots, salt and pepper, and spices. You can make the filling quite flavorful as only a small amount will be in each masa cake. Cook until the carrots are soft, then add to the bowl with the chiles. Chop the tomato and add it to the bowl, then shred the cheese over everything and stir to combine.

In a larger bowl, place the masa and add water, stirring, until a dry dough forms. Take a ball of dough the size of a lemon and knead it in your hands for a few minutes. When it is more cohesive and pliable and seems strong, shape it into a ball, then flatten that ball on the countertop. Pick it up and use your palms and fingers to make it as thin as possible without ripping. Place back on the countertop, and spoon some filling into the middle, just to one side of an imaginary center dividing line on the disk of dough. Fold the edge of the disk together, crimp them, and place on a plate or baking sheet. Repeat until there is no more dough.

In a frying pan, heat 1/4 inch of oil until it shimmers. If there is not enough oil, the cakes will stick to the bottom of the pan and fall apart. Fry the cakes, flipping from side to side carefully, until golden all over and dark brown at the roundest parts. Dry on a stack of paper towels to remove some oil.

Serve with slivers of lime to squeeze over the masa cakes, condiments, and, if you’re like me, back beans and rice.