Wednesday, September 23, 2009

School Column

Here is my unrevised article that I hope will make it into the school paper. Should be interesting to see how much of the first paragraph gets edited out.

How can I about food and simultaneously interest the students of Lower Merion? I thought when I first sat down to write this piece. After having my awesome article that was supposed to accompany my cookie recipe last issue scrapped, I had to think of something else. See that was my launching pad, my unpretentious attempt to win the attention of the students so that I could go on to describe more involved cooking. Alas, my accompanying article was blown into oblivion, and all that remained was a lonesome recipe without explanation. But my original question remains, and I think I may have found an answer. What if I told you that you could quite easily make Chipotle’s carnitas, the braised pork that they stuff into the burritos, at home?

Carnitas is my favorite meat at Chipotle. It’s tender, succulent, salty, even slightly crispy, and it has a depth of flavor that neither the steak nor chicken can match. The meat however is not predisposed to be so tasty. To get such satisfying results, carnitas requires slow, moist cooking, yet demands little effort on the part of the cook.

Carnitas comes from pork shoulder, a fatty cut of meat that is relatively tough, due to large amounts of connective tissue. In cooking, you must use some type of liquid so that the connective tissue can be dissolved and the meat pulled apart. My choice moistening agents are coke and orange juice, however even just plain water works fine. The basic process is really simple—the pork is cooked in the liquid with some spices until it is falling apart—and since the Merionite probably won’t let me take up another half page with a recipe, I’ll just describe it right now.

Ok so start out with a whole pork shoulder that you can buy from any supermarket, and cut it into manageable pieces (roughly the size of a tennis ball). Salt the pieces thoroughly, then heat a ½ inch layer of oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven. Sear the meat in the oil, browning it thoroughly on all sides (turn on the fan too, it might get smokey in there). Remove the meat and pour in a can of coke, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. At this point, preheat the oven to 325. Return the pork to the Dutch oven and cover 2/3 of it with coke and orange juice. If you have them, throw in a few cloves of garlic, a cinnamon stick, plenty of chili powder, some ground cumin, some thyme, and a bay leaf. Place the pork in the oven for 3-4 hours, until it is so tender that it is falling apart. Remove the pork from the liquid, and when it’s cool enough to touch, heat a film of oil in a pan over medium-high heat . Shred the pork, then throw it in the pan and just let it cook, don’t touch it, for about three minutes, so that it can get nice and crispy on the bottom. Remove the pork and stuff it in a taco, or burrito, or just a sandwich, you name it! Try it now, thank me later.


Irene said...

think you might be missing a word in the first sentence, other than that, good luck with this! I love your blog and read it religiously while at work (shh.. don't tell my boss)

James said...

Mmm pork baps!

Nicole said...

I hate to say this and I hope that you take this kindly, but I really wouldn't include some of those snide comments when submitting your column to the paper. Snide comments like that may just make the editors of the paper want to get rid of your column all together. I am sure that they empathize with you about cutting most of your column and that it was not done in a mean-sprited way.

I wrote for both my high school and college paper and know from experience that they are extremely limited on space. Do not get upset that they cut the majority of your column. It does not mean that it was not good writing.

I would also just keep in mind that students will not want to read the column if they feel that it has a condescending tone or that you are "dumbing food down" for them. You want to be seen as the smart, funny kid with cool food ideas, not as a pretentious kid who is forced to stoop down to their level if he wants to be in the paper.

I would suggest simple, fresh recipes with instructions that are easy enough for a complete novice to understand. I would accompany this with one to two short paragraphs giving the students a bit of interesting background on the recipe or ideas for when/why they could make it.

Just my two cents!

Sarah said...

I never knew I liked carnitas until I made it about a month ago. It really is so easy to make, I just used salt orange juce water cumin chili pepper and oregano. Cooked for about 2 hours on the stove no searing or anything and then after 2 hours turn it up to med high and cook all the juices off, stirring occasionally, this takes about 45 mins to an hour. Once those juices are cooked off, the meat is just delicious. In fact I think I may be making this this weekend. Thank you!

DrKoob said...

Great column. Did I miss your first one. If you didn't post it, could you? I know we have seen your cookie recipe before but I would love to read the column that went with it.

Keep up the great work. WIll your editor/adviser let you run a column and refer people to your blog for the recipe?

Mother of a 4 year old foodie said...

The recipe sounds delicious, but I agree with Nicole. This new column may also be too long. It's over 500 words. You might experiment with a shorter piece. Can you edit it down to half the size? Find out what kind of word count the editor is looking for.

If you can do what DrKoob suggests and list your blog in the article, you can always provide an expanded piece on the web for anyone who wants more detail or a formatted recipe.

Anonymous said...

I get the feeling that you writing for your school paper is like Bourdain writing for Ladies Home Journal. I liked the article, but it was blog-length not "Pom-Pom Squad Wins Regionals" kind of length.
I love snark, so the tone is what i read food blogs for. Writing for a 250 or 300 word column would be great exercise, much like frying the perfect egg (over easy, please).
The beauty of the net is no limitations on length, merely limitations on readers' attention spans. Maybe taking a journalism class will help you sharpen your second most valuable skill. I ain't tasted your cuisine, but I come back for your prose.

Rachel said...

I don't aim to offend, as I love your blog.

However, I agree with Nicole both about the newspaper snark but also the condescending tone. I am an avid reader of many food blogs, but I am not a very confident cook and I can count the number of times I've worked with meat on one hand. Baking, yes. Even homemade puff pastry. Cooking, no. I also have a very limited palate. So I'm pretty sure this would put me squarely in the category of much of your high school (I'm 16.)

Remeber, your comrades do not live under a rock. We may have not eaten at per se, but we have been eating, as you have, for our entire lives, and know a good food when we eat it. Yes, there is a fair amount of oreo/dorito/corn nut consumption, but please don't think that people in your high school have not eaten (or do not eat on a regular basis) some pretty sophisticated foods, as well as made it. No offense, really, but I think anyone at your school could handle pretty much any food you have posted about on this blog.

Equating it to fast food was catchy, and I liked it, but it's not like it was neccessary for anyone to be able to read/like/understand/appreciate the article.

Allison said...

I'd recommend focusing more on what is the food rather than how to cook it. The majority of your peers aren't going to care what carnitas is, just that they like it. Focus on the pork shoulder, what exactly it is, what makes it good, other dishes it's used in (Hey - carnitas at Chipotle!), etc.

I'm a newspaper editor (professional) and you need to find out exactly how much room you have to work with. Your column will likely fill the same size hole each time, so they should be able to tell you 500 words, or 600 words. When you give them the correct length you dictate what you feel is necessary, not the editors.

I would suggest also, that you kill the idea of putting in a recipe each time. Recipes are a pain in the butt because they're usually 8-10 inches long and you need some context before it, so in no time you've filled up a column.

Each column should have a tagline at the end of it. Have it refer to your web site for recipes, save the column space to actually talk about and share your love for food. That will make the reader want to make your suggested recipes and seek them out.

Nick N said...

I didn't mean for it to be so, but I agree that the article does sound somewhat condescending. Thanks for making me aware! I'll try and tone it down for the future.

limoncello said...

You've gotten lots of good advice, and I'd like to expound on one suggestion and add another:

Re not including a recipe in each column: besides taking up lots of space, it may look intimidating at first, so why not outline the most basic steps to make it approachable, and then include the URL for more detailed instructions/recipe?

You might also consider moving from your personal perspective to that of your classmates' -- 'cause they care more about their own interests than yours. I.e., kill the intro paragraph (which is about you) and start with something along the lines of "When the Lower Merion track team descends on the local burrito joint, carnitas is the team's tortilla filling of choice. While we all know how tasty and affordable the tacos [burritos] are, what a lot of the group *doesn't* know is how easy it is to make the tacos at home for friends or family."... And then a few basic steps to demonstrate how easy it is, followed by link to recipe on blog.

This could be expanded to something like "Baked Penne is one crowd pleaser at the Lower Merion cafeteria, but did you know you can make it at home with a few basic ingredients?" or "Soup and Sandwiches to Warm You and Your Friends on a Snowy Day" etc. People relate more to what speaks to them than to a personal passion from the writer, in other words.

Hope you take all the comments in the helpful spirit in which they're offered. And keep up the good work!