Since the new year, my housemates and I make it a point to eat together on a regular basis. We shoot for dinner once a week, though it is a beast of a task coordinating the schedules of six young adults. Seven days never seemed so cluttered, and sometimes it just can’t work out. But bless time for being such that another week is always on the horizon. Our persistence pays off and it is always, always worth the effort. I’m not sure how it works with the six really random people coming together, but chemistry can be a funny thing. It might make sense in a lab but less so when it roams the social world (chem majors, and I know you’re out there, feel free to correct me :)). All I can say is that these guys have made me a believer in spontaneous order, and sometimes stuff doesn’t need an explanation.
A brief bio on each of these characters:
1. L (male) – originally from China (first language is Mandarin), studied in Minnesota, degree in landscape architecture, in Boston job-hunting.
2. C (male) – originally from Spain (first language is Spanish), soccer-aholic, in Boston studying/practicing English for his job.
3. Jo (male) – from Florida, studied at Michigan, basketball fiend, in Boston getting an advanced degree in IT.
4. Ju (fem) – from Chicago, studied in Boston, currently working in video production.
5. H (fem) – from middle America (Milwaukee I think!), studied in Boston, spent time abroad, now a yoga instructor.
And there’s me. Dinners are always home-cooked, usually potluck style with one person taking charge of the main(s). Last week C cooked to impress with paella and a tapas-style side, something like a hot bruschetta made with beef, peppers, and onions. It was his first time making paella and he had his mom on the phone while making it. If I was his mom I would have been proud — I don’t eat paella a lot but this tasted legit — well-cooked rice, nice hue, the essence of seafood throughout. The clams were my favorite protein in this one.
Paella with shrimp, clams, and chicken. Plenty of garlic, too.
Another example of spontaneous order: not knowing what paella was, L decided to cook salmon. As it turns out, the fishiness of the salmon went hand in hand with the paella. If/when I try cooking paella, I might sneak some salmon in; which shows how much I liked the combo.
Steamed salmon with ginger and mushrooms.
My contribution: tortilla de patatas, in keeping with the Spanish theme. Layers of starchy goodness:
Best dessert in recent memory: Christina’s chocolate mousse and mint chocolate chip ice creams sandwiched between two chipless wonder cookies from Tate’s = one bad-ass dessert.
Tortilla de patatas
— serves 4-6 as an appetizer, 3-4 as a light main —
2 russet potatoes, thinly sliced (use a mandolin if you have one)
1 large onion (spanish or vidalia), thinly sliced
1/2-1 cup of oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a nonstick pan. When hot, add the potatoes and cook on medium to medium-low, for about 15-20 minutes or until cooked through. In a separate pan, cook the onions on low heat until caramelized, soft, and sweet (I think this took at least 30 minutes — I found the result worth the extra time). Remove the potatoes from the pan and drain all but a tablespoon or two of the oil.
Lightly beat the eggs with a generous pinch of salt. Heat the pan with reserved oil to medium-low, and layer the potatoes and onions (alternating or mixed together) until the pan is about half-filled. This is not a necessary step, but it is important if you want to see some of that potato at the top of the tortilla when it is served. Pour in the eggs and spread the rest of the potatoes and onions evenly throughout. Shake the pan gently so the eggs can fill in any gaps, and give them lots of time to set (more time than you think you’ll need). Do not scramble them or poke around once the edges have set. After 10 minutes, peek under to see if the top is browning; turn the heat down if the bottom is cooking too fast (there should be little browning, if any). After 15 minutes, or when only the bull’s-eye of the pan jiggles, slide out the tortilla onto a large plate. Cover the plate with the pan and quickly invert. Return the pan to the stove and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Slide onto a plate, garnished with greens if you have them, slice into wedges, and serve hot or room-temp.