Sunday, August 11, 2013

Want to be a freelance food writer? Here's help

Food editors can be flooded with freelance pitches, yet good freelancers can be in short supply. Here’s how to make yourself stand out.
One pitch doesn’t fit all. Before you submit a pitch, take a good look at the publication. Suggest a story that complements but doesn’t duplicate existing coverage.
Start with the subject line. The editor probably gets hundreds of emails daily. Chances are, most of those are deleted without being read. Your subject line should convey the essence of your pitch – and that it is a pitch from a writer, not yet another press release.
Keep it short (see previous).  Introduce yourself in a sentence or two, and summarize your story in a paragraph.
Show your work. Link to your blog. If you’ve been published elsewhere, include links to those stories too.  Avoid attachments if possible.
When you get an assignment, pin down the details. When is it due? How many words does the editor want? Don’t assume that you have wiggle room. Turn your story in on time, and don’t write long.
Be style savvy. Every publication has a list of preferred style guides. If your editor doesn’t tell you which ones to use, ask. Before you write, read an issue or two of the publication with an eye toward style. You don’t want the editor to need to insert (or delete) the word “granulated” before every mention of sugar.
Check, then check again. Verify every fact. Double-check names, especially spellings. Be vigilant about ingredient amounts, cooking times and other recipe details.
Read your story aloud before you turn it in. That’s the best way to catch overwriting, typos and missing words.
Don’t fret about a lack of feedback. Today’s editors are so busy that you might not even get an acknowledgement of your submission. Try not to take it personally.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved. 

How to write a recipe

Whether you want to write a cookbook or share a favorite recipe with a good friend, these hints will help. I compiled them for a panel discussion at this year's St. Louis Food Media Forum

A good recipe paints a picture. It tells the cook what ingredients to use, how to prepare them and when to add them, and it gives visual clues as to when the dish is done.

Here are some guidelines to use when you write a recipe:

• List ingredients in the order that they are used. Make sure that all ingredients used are listed, and, conversely, that all listed ingredients are used.

• Don't abbreviate. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t sure if tsp. is a teaspoon or a tablespoon.

• Use exact amounts (1 ½ tablespoons, not a heaping teaspoon).

• Be precise, and pay attention to wording. “1 cup heavy cream, whipped,” means you measure the cream, then whip it. “1 cup whipped cream” is just that – cream that has been whipped before being measured. The difference is significant.

• Call for the measurements that home cooks commonly use (1/4 cup water, not 2 ounces; 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, not 1/8 cup).

• Be as specific as possible. (Canned pineapple packed in juice -- or light syrup, or heavy syrup -- not just canned pineapple.) If an ingredient needs to be at room temperature or drained, say so.

• Be specific about package sizes, and be sure that the sizes and products called for are still available. (Package sizes change frequently).

• In the directions, be concise but use full sentences. Be specific about pan sizes, cooking temperature and any other essential details.

• Don’t assume that readers understand cooking terms such as “cream” or “dredge.” Instead, define them: “beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy” or “coat fish lightly with flour.”

• When appropriate, give a range of cooking times and provide a way to determine when the food is done. (Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until golden brown.)

• Provide the number of servings that the recipe yields.

• If you adapted the recipe from another source, give credit.

When listing ingredients, three reference guides are especially helpful: 

“The AP Stylebook” has a section for food writers. AP is the default style for most publications.

“The New Food Lover’s Companion,” by Sharon Tyler Herbst (Barron’s, $14.95), is a comprehensive A-to-Z look at culinary terms. The appendix includes everything from a listing of trade groups to pan capacities to a pasta glossary.

The Association of Food Journalists has compiled a guide called “FoodSpell.” In addition to defining a host of terms, the 40-page guide notes AP style on words that can be spelled more than one way (use ketchup, not catsup) and lists common brand names, such as A.1. (with two periods).

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Pesto is perfect, no matter how you make it

If you're a pinch-of-this-and-a-handful-of-that cook, my pesto recipe is just for you. And if you're a follow-the-recipe-to-the-letter cook, this pesto is for you, too.

When I first planted basil years ago, I scoured Italian cookbooks for pesto recipes. This was before the Internet -- I know, I'm dating myself -- and pesto seemed exotic. The more recipes I read, the more confused I became. The ingredients were pretty much the same, but the proportions were different.

Then I started making pesto and discovered that the proportions didn't much matter. Use more or less Parmesan, however many nuts you like (or have on hand), a little garlic or a lot -- somehow, it's all good.

Although I usually take a free-form approach to pesto, I measured every ingredient that went into my most recent batch. Follow the resulting recipe to the letter or let your instincts be your guide.

While I whirled the pesto in the food processor, I brought a pot of water to a boil and cooked red potatoes, pasta and fresh green beans. As soon as they were done, I tossed them with pesto. The result could serve as a summery side dish or as an entree.

I had about 1/4 cup of pesto left over, so I mounded it by the tablespoonful on parchment paper and froze it until solid, then popped the nuggets of pesto into a freezer-weight zip-top bag. I'll add them, still frozen, to enhance sauce, soups and other dishes down the road.

Yield: About 3/4 cup

2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
6 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry
1/4 cup toasted walnuts or pine nuts
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
About 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or to taste

Place the metal blade in a food processor. Turn on the processor and drop the garlic down the feed tube. Process until minced.

Add basil to the food processor. Top basil with nuts and sprinkle with cheese. Pulse until coarsely chopped. With the processor running, slowly drizzle oil through the feed tube. Process until well mixed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. If pesto is too thick, drizzle in more oil. Add salt; pulse to combine.

Use immediately or scrape into a bowl, add a thin film of olive oil over the top, cover tightly and refrigerate for a day or two. To freeze, drop dollops onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until firm, then transfer to freezer-weight plastic bags.

Yield: 4 servings

3 medium red potatoes, scrubbed
6 ounces bow-tie pasta or another shape
2 cups fresh green beans, trimmed
About 1/2 cup pesto

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add potatoes; cook for 9 minutes. Stir in pasta; return water to a boil, then cook for 7 minutes. Add green beans; cook for 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Test potatoes and pasta for doneness; if any of the ingredients are not quite ready, remove those that are done with a slotted spoon or large strainer.

When ingredients are cooked to your liking, use a ladle to remove about 3/4 cup of the cooking water and set aside. Drain the ingredients. Cut potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Place potatoes, pasta and green beans in a large bowl.

Stir together pasta and about 1/2 cup cooking water, making a loose sauce. Add to the potatoes, pasta and green beans; mix gently but well. Taste; add more pesto or cooking water if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Copyright 2013 by Judith Evans. All rights reserved.