Where Would You Eat if You Won the Lottery?

"If you won the lottery—"

"How much are we talking about here?"

"Just play the game, Jill."

I glare. "Are we talking big lottery? Like, more than $10 million?"

"Sure. Yeah. $10 million. Better, make it $50 million."

"Okay, go on."

"Let's say you won the lottery. Where would you go out to eat?"

I pause to think.

Boyfriend prods, "Top three restaurants in New York. Where would you go to celebrate?"

"I guess I'd start with Masa, but it's not like I could just go there."

"Sure you can! You just won the lottery!"

"Ha!" I laugh. "I'd need a month just to get the reservation! It's not like I could just go out to celebrate that day."

"For the sake of this conversation, you can. You just won the lottery, the money has cleared already, and you can go out to eat and celebrate wherever you want."

I get indignant. "You think you're going to call up the best restaurants in New York and tell them, 'I'm a rich guy and I want to eat at your restaurant tonight,' and they're not going to laugh in your face?"

"Just play the game."

"Oh," I open my mouth in a huge circle as I exhale the word. "I get what I'm doing wrong. In your imagination, winning the lottery means 'a perfect world.' In real life, if you win the lottery, the rest of the world is still the same. You want me to pretend like the whole world is different just because I now have millions of dollars. I get it now."

"Yes!" Boyfriend exclaims.

I never play this game correctly. I have a running answer to the question: "What is the first thing you would do if you won the lottery?" and it is, "Lie." I would lie and tell people I did not win any money. And to the people who would know that I won something, I'd like and tell them a much smaller amount.

Having a lot of money is not really a dream of mine. Money is stressful. It causes riffs between people. And the rest of the world doesn't change when you suddenly have more money. You may be able to buy whatever clothes you want, but you might also still have terrible sense of style. You may be able to take a vacation anywhere in the world, but you'll still feel horribly guilty when you get to that island get-away and see natives living in sheds with corrugated tin roofs.You may want to drop $1,200 on dinner for two at New York's most expensive restaurant, but you'll still doubt whether it was worth it. Was it wasteful? Could that money have been better spent?

With the exception of Masa and possibly Per Se, I could justify eating at all the other high-end restaurants in New York to celebrate something other than winning the lottery. I've had gorgeous meals at Eleven Madison, the now-closed Harbor (easily one of the top three meals of my life), Marea, Nougatine, and a few other less glorified restaurants. I've had five-star meals in Barcelona and London. I ate an unforgettable lunch at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia of all places.

I don't need $50 million to eat well and enjoy myself.If anything, the anticipation of waiting for the day of the reservation to arrive after two weeks of being frugal with the grocery budget makes the splurge more enjoyable.

Recipe: Chilled Cucumber and Yogurt Soup

This recipe for chilled cucumber and yogurt soup makes one very light lunch (pair it with a sandwich) or two appetizer portions. On a hot day, it's amazingly refreshing, and it doesn't require any heat to prepare.

Chilled Cucumber and Yogurt Soup
1 English cucumber or 4 Persian cucumbers
1/2 cup plain yogurt
7 or 8 fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
lemon wedges
Peel the cucumber, slice it in half the long way, and using a small metal spoon, scoop out some of the seeds. Cut it into smaller pieces and put them in a blender.

Add to the blender about a half cup plain yogurt; Greek yogurt is fine. Toss in the mint and parsley. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Turn the blender on low. When the ingredients liquefy, turn the blender to high, and let it rip for 15 seconds. Taste to adjust the salt, and add a squeeze of fresh lemon if you like. Pour into a bowl, cover and chill well. Serve with more fresh lemon and yogurt and mint to garnish.

See also this recipe for gazpacho.

Food and Tech Blog

I had been thinking for a long time about refining this blog. It's unfocused, although sometimes I like that it is. I don't feel restricted to write only about cooking, or only post recipes, or only review restaurants. I'm all over the map. I have a lot to say about too many things.

So instead of refining this blog, I've launched a new one.

The new blog, Food and Tech, looks specifically at what's happening in the technology realm of the food world. There I am reporting news and writing commentary about restaurant and home cooking equipment, apps for foodies and chefs, and other places where technology is moving into the food world.

I'm Eating This (the jilleduffy.blogspot.com address; the one you're on now) will stick around, too. This space will still be reserved for more personal expressions about food, eating, drinking, cooking, dining, and thoughts on food. 

I'm really excited to finally find a way to contribute something of value (I hope) based on the two seemingly disparate fields that I have been deeply involved in for years. Please let me know what you think, either in the comments here or in the comments on the Food and Tech blog. This summer, I'll be devoting a lot of time and attention to finessing the blog, so feedback is very much appreciated.

Happy eating, cooking, and tooling around in the kitchen!

Recipe: Poached Egg Ravioli

More than three years ago, I first ventured into making pasta by hand. The one thing I can never stress enough to people who are timid cooks is that pasta is remarkably easy. It's extremely difficult to mess up. The ingredients are cheap, so if you do make a mistake, it costs next to nothing to make a correction, or simply start over. And if you want it to take less than 30 minutes, it can, even though some styles of pasta certainly do require a time investment.

Last night, I taught my sister to make pasta dough from scratch. I think I won her over. We made giant "poached egg" raviolis, one per person. Filled with herb-flecked ricotta cheese and a single egg yolk nested inside, the raviolis were placed on a bed of salad, ready to spill their gently warmed yolks across the salad on which they were served. Making giant raviolis takes a minimal amount of time to prepare because the pasta is nothing more than a sheet of dough stretched flat with a rolling pin. Dinner was on the table in less than 60 minutes.

This recipe is so elegant, I'd gladly make it for company as a starter course.

Poached Egg Ravioli
Makes 3 to 4 giant raviolis
100 grams flour (all-purpose flour is fine; you can use 00 flour if you prefer), plus more for dusting
1 large egg
1 ounce water at room temperature
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon of 1 of the following (your choice): chopped fresh oregano, thyme, mint
3 or 4 large egg yolks

Start with a clean and smooth work surface. I use my formica counter top or a large bamboo cutting board. Measure the flour into a cup-like container, stir in the salt, and flip the whole thing over quickly onto your work surface so that it becomes a mound. Using two fingers together, gently draw a circle in the center, pushing out a little of the flour as you go. Aim to make miniature volcano shape that's wide enough to hold an egg.

Crack one whole, large egg into the volcano hole. Using a fork, gently pierce the yolk and scramble the egg. Continue gently scrambling the egg and let a little of the flour fall into it. After 30 or 45 seconds, when the egg becomes smooth and free of lumps, knock a little more flour into it. The volcano will become larger, but it should still have walls. Scramble some more, while disturbing the edge of the hole so that little by little, another teaspoon or so of flour is incorporated until you have pancake-like batter.

Pancake-like batter means that when you beat the egg quickly with a fork, the whole mass of it seems to jump up cleanly, away from the flour. It holds together.

Measure out 1 ounce of water and the olive oil into a small cup. Pour about a third of it into your egg mixture, while still maintaining the flour walls, wide as they may be. Using your fork, draw little circles along the inside perimeter of the flour, pulling a little more in. Make your way around the circle once or twice, then beat the egg gently some more to incorporate the water and flour. Add a little more water and repeat. Only add as much water as you need to obtain a gooey dough. You should still have some flour around the edges.

When the dough is loose and "gooey" looking, grab a scraper or wide flat knife and slide it under the mess you have created, then flip it over on itself. You are folding the rest of the flour into the liquid-y dough. Scrape and flip a few times more.

Before you move on, the trick to the next step is to not try and get every bit of flour into the dough. Some flour and dough will get left behind. Leave those scraps out.

Dust your hands in some new flour, then gently gather the dough into a ball. If some sticks to the work surface, leave it behind. The piece of dough might be small enough to fit in your two cupped hands. That's okay! It will go a long way.

Scrap from the work surface any bits that were left behind, and dust it with a little fresh flour if necessary. Knead the dough a few times by stretching (not "smashing") it with the heel of your palm on the work surface. Fold it onto itself, turn it 45 degrees, and knead it again. Knead for only a few minutes. Some people will say to do this for up to five minutes, but I think it makes the dough stiff. The dough should be warm and reasonably soft.

Wrap the dough in plastic film and pop it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (or up to a day) to rest.

Meanwhile, mix together the ricotta cheese and herbs. Add salt and black pepper or red pepper flakes to taste.

Divide the dough into three or four pieces so you can roll them out one at a time. Cover the other pieces in plastic or with a damp towel in the meantime. Dust your rolling pin and work surface in flour and slowly begin to stretch the dough into a rectangle. You're not pressing the dough down. You're stretching it.

From time to time, pick up the dough to make sure it's not sticking, and dust with more flour as you need.

The pasta sheet for ravioli should be thin, but not thin enough to see through. If you pick it up and it feels weak, like it might tear, it's too thin (so fold it over on itself and try again). When you've got something roughly in the shape of a rectangle, use a knife to trim it into shape.

Create a guideline in the center of the ravioli, a mark that shows where you'll fold one side of the pasta sheet on top of the filling. On the other side, place a scoop (about 2 tablespoons) of ricotta cheese. Make a well that's large enough to hold an egg yolk. Separate an egg, and place the yolk directly on the cheese.

Wet your finger with water, and trace around where you're going to fold and seal the ravioli. The water makes the pasta stick to itself.

As you fold over the sheet of pasta, try to make sure there are no air bubbles trapped inside. Air can make the ravioli tear open when you cook them. Seal them tightly by pressing around the filling. Trim up the edges again with a knife, and wrap the giant ravioli in plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator until you've made the others.

Boil a large pot of salted water. Gently lay one ravioli into the water at a time. When the water comes back to a boil and the ravioli floats easily, it's done. If you think it looks under-done, lower the water to a simmer and cook it up to 3 minutes. If you cook it much longer, the yolk may set.

Serve immediately over lettuce.

Chef's Assistant at The Brooklyn Kitchen

A new gig for me this year is that I've been volunteering as a chef's assistant at The Brooklyn Kitchen. The Brooklyn Kitchen is a large kitchenware store located in the Williamsburgh neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, that also has a butcher shop inside as well as two large teaching kitchens used for recreational classes.

To clarify, many of the instructors are not "chefs" exactly, which is fitting for The Brooklyn Kitchen's start-up roots. Some certainly do have culinary degrees, but others are self-taught or learn through apprenticeships and other kinds of hands-on experience. The teachers I've encountered have all been knowledgeable enough to teach the courses they're running.

Each class has somewhere between 8 and 12 students. One volunteer assistant is assigned to each class, although certain classes, like knife skills, don't require any help. What's nice is as a volunteer, I learn everything that a participant in the class does, and usually a little bit more because I arrive early and stay late to help set up and clean up, when I spend time talking to the instructors and other staff. The opportunity to network with different kinds of food experts is something I wouldn't get elsewhere. For example, the instructor in the class I assisted last night is a butcher by trade. He was teaching a class on bouillabaisse, but a good deal of what I learned had to do with fileting, deboning, and making stock out of a whole fish (we used a giant red snapper, whose head was roughly the same size as the rest of its body).

Taking cooking classes can become an expensive hobby. Each course at The Brooklyn Kitchen costs somewhere between $45 and $125 per class, and these are all single-session courses. Volunteers, of course, work for their keep.

For anyone looking to get a little bit more experience in a professional kitchen setting, I recommend asking other small cooking schools if they need a chef's assistant. The larger cooking schools tend to use their students and alumni as volunteers, so it's probably not worth your time to inquire with them. But for recreational courses taught through non-profit groups, small start-ups, and other community-oriented businesses and organization, it's a great way to get more experience and education.