Friday, May 29, 2009

And Now a Word from Ms. Jones

Today WWEIL is debuting it's first contributing author. She's a cook, baker, and all around rockin' lady, she's Ms. Jones. Bon Appétit!

Eating in New York City is usually determined by time. Lack thereof leads to convenience and a lot of it leads to cooking at home or dining out. From my teensy kitchen in Brooklyn...a small preface.

Many consider NYC one of the culinary capitals of the world. I'd definitely agree, although the variety presented to you here and the fast paced lifestyle that you're forced to live makes eating insanely challenging. Eating healthy is an even more daunting task. Not many of us in the city have the luxury of 4-star restaurants every night. Sometimes, the only thing open when you get home is the seedy bodega on the corner of your street. (I know, I live right next to one.)

I'm a cook in Manhattan. Pastry is my forte, but in my time in kitchens here, I've been surrounded by cuisine prepared by some of the most respected chefs in the game. The reality is, though, as any other cook will tell you, staff least decent ones...are hard to come by. Family style chicken drumsticks, day old arugula salads, and egg and pepper dishes are not exactly haute cuisine. Plus, when the person responsible for it also has their station mis-en-place to take care of, chances are, they're not going to pour as much effort into it. Its not like your mom is cooking homestyle for everyone.

Personally, being a pesca-tarian pastry cook, getting sustenance for the day is like a scavenger hunt. Despite what you may have heard, genoise cake, whipped cream, candied fruit, chocolate, and pastry cream are not the 5 food groups. Realistically, there is no time for a proper meal break in the midst of service prep, too. So, when you finish a 12-14 hour shift, you'll pretty much eat anything you can get your hands on. Plus, by the time you make it home, (Brooklyn in my case) it's 1 a.m...which do you think will win out in the snack battle: a well balanced meal, or a few handfuls of animal crackers? Most of the cooks I know don't even have the workings of a full meal in their cabinets or fridges. You become MacGyver, fashioning things out of saltines, baby carrots, and mystery condiments.

I supposed it's my goal, as part of this blog, to bring you both serious and laughable food from a cooks point of view. Trying to eat cheaply and healthily in the city, while working just about 7 days a week. I'll even say that most of my posting on here will be savory. I am surrounded by sweets all day, therefore, most of the time, I kind of want a salt lick to carry around in order to balance my system out.

Thinking back to Tuesday, when I had the day off, I spent most of it refreshing my soul by biking around the Prospect Park area. I left at 10:30 a.m. and returned home around 6 p.m. After swinging by Bliss vegetarian cafe on Bedford Ave for an organic black bean burrito, then cleaning up and running errands and doing laundry, I finally returned home at 11pm and needed to consume something before turning in for the night. When I was out, I swung by Whole Foods and got a couple of scones from their bakery department. I am constantly trying sweets around the city looking for an interesting flavor or texture. Whole Foods does vegan and wheat-free cookies and baked goods, but this time around, I opted for a Strawberry Pecan Scone.

Scones are more than Scrooge McDuck's favorite food...Its a quickbread with Scottish origin, but is standard in British, Irish, and Canadian fare as an accompaniment for coffee or tea. In the U.S., scones are larger and drier than their European counterparts. For those of you who have never made scones before, there is a precise mixing process that takes place in order to achieve the perfect flaky texture of a scone. Cubes of butter are cut into the dry ingredients until they are the size of little pebbles. The mixture ends up looking like slightly damp sand before one would incorporate the rest of the wet ingredients. Its the little bits of butter than melt and create buttery pockets in the baked dough.

So, I am exhausted and just looking for something small to put in my system before hitting the hay. The outside of the scone is beautiful and I figure it'll be great with my NY local Macintosh apple. The outside is nicely browned and I can see chunks of strawberries in it. I'm psyched. I break it open only to see this:


About 1/8 of an inch of the scone all the way around is nicely baked, however the inside, while solidified, is not baked at all. Knowing ovens and baked goods, I can tell you that the lovely cooks at the Whole Foods kitchens probably had their ovens WAY too high up, blasted the scones for a a little while to make sure the bottoms were cooked, and never tested the insides of any of them. In the world of mass production, and even in small scale baking, every ingredient and cooking time is calculated with precision for a reason. If you're not going to take the time to do it right, then don't do it at all. As a cook, I was disappointed. As a consumer, I felt wronged. As a hungry and exhausted individual, I felt....hungry.

I ate it and my apple...and came to the conclusion that it was like eating an under baked cookie. It also probably could have used more pecan flavor, but then again some of that may have come out during a longer baking process. Belly full, I crashed for the night, knowing I could have done it better.


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