Sep 242013
 

Using-Salt-in-RecipesWhenever I edit recipes, I feel my blood pressure rising (and I haven’t even consumed the salt yet!) Three things about using salt set me off:

Why do so many recipes fail to specify the amount of salt? Why do recipes say to season with salt when you can’t know if you’re adding the right amount? Why do recipes say to add salt at the wrong time?

As you know, I have opinions on recipe writing, and specifying salt is no exception. Here’s my take on where many recipes go wrong, and how to fix them:

1. Adding “to taste” to salt in the ingredients list. The ingredients list comes before Continue reading »

Aug 272013
 

Cooking is about action, and that should come across vigorously in your recipe writing.

Last week I aroused passions about passive voice in recipes, not only here in the comments but on Facebook and Twitter.

My point was that cooking is an activity, so we need direct language that shows action. Active verbs are the ticket, an effective and efficient way to show movement.

In these examples below, you won’t find a whiff of passive voice. There is also no use of “you,” which some readers found objectionable. Others pointed out that active verbs are imperative, where the writer commands readers to action by implication. (Haven’t you always wanted to command?)

I plucked these examples from my bookshelf. Note how many verbs writers crams into a paragraph. It’s like watching a movie, sports event or ballet:

1. Julia Child

Scoop (peppers) into mixing bowl. Spread both sides of the bread with Continue reading »

Aug 202013
 

Passive voice would mean writing something like “the melon slices, quartered figs and goat cheese are added to the salad.” Why isn’t the person doing the action identified? After all, it will be you.

In every writing class or book about writing, it says: Avoid passive voice. (Passive voice is when you don’t identify the person or thing doing the action. It’s considered lazy and imprecise, everything that recipe writing is not.)

I do my best to remove it when I edit. Yet I read dozens of published recipe instructions like this in Continue reading »

May 212013
 

No matter what you want readers to make, instructions must be clear and concise. That sounds obvious, I know.

Writing is rewriting, as the saying goes, and that applies to recipe writing too. When I’m editing recipes for clients, whether individuals or publishers, part of my job is to line edit. That means rewriting to make the instructions clearer.

Line editing requires constant vigilance. I tighten, choose the most specific word, clarify, and strive for elegance. There’s a fine line between spelling everything out and not being too obvious. Sometimes I vote for the reader and common sense instead of more explanation.

Here are 11 recipe instructions I found recently that needed revision:

1. Avoid mixtures. This kind of instruction makes me crazy: “Mix together two mixtures with a mixer, and then mix the mixtures together in a mixing bowl.” First of all, there are six uses of versions of “mix” in one sentence. That’s just nuts!

If you keep referring to “mixtures,” your reader has to go back and figure out which ones you’re talking about. And trust me, you never want to mix up your reader. Substitute specific words or terms for a mixture, such as batter, custard, wet ingredients, and dry ingredients.See this previous post on using the word mixtures. And for heaven’s sake, don’t add more Continue reading »

Apr 302013
 

Kristine Kidd, former food editor at Bon Appetit magazine, ran the test kitchen for 20 years.

Guest Post by Kristine Kidd

When Kristine Kidd was food editor of Bon Appetit magazine, her staff tested recipes from writers and recipe developers, and she decided which ones would run.

A 20-year veteran of the magazine, Kidd is now self-employed and the author of several cookbooks, most recently Weeknight Gluten Free. Here are 14 insider tips. — DJ

At Bon Appetit, we tested hundreds of recipes every month. The ones we published were the ones that worked best in the test kitchen.

We rarely gave a new writer another chance if the recipes did not test well or if we had too much trouble with them. Editorial schedules are jammed and Continue reading »

Mar 262013
 

Let’s say you want to write a cookbook, and you live in the USA. Should you write recipes that include metric measurements (liters and grams) in additional to imperial (cups and pounds)? That’s a good question, and one that’s being asked more often these days.

First, let’s admit that the US is way behind in the metrics arena. It should not come as a surprise that, to quote Dave Barry: “The metric system is not going to catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimeter bullet.” We are one of only three countries that have not yet embraced the metric system, along with Burma and Liberia.

Second, many bakers are adamant about measuring dry ingredients by weight for accuracy, and more baking books sold in the US list them.

And third, a daily US newspaper has taken to including metric measurements in some recipes, as some kind of experient.

To get some clarity on the issue, I turned to Melissa Moore, an editor at Ten Speed Press specializing in cookbooks, about the state of metric measurements today:

Q. Is metric measurement in cookbooks getting more popular in the US?

A. There has been somewhat of a shift. More people have a digital scale in their homes Continue reading »

Jul 242012
 

Three figs, divided. Will your readers get it?

Food blogger friend Stephanie Stiavetti, who’s working on a cookbook, likes to use “divided” when listing ingredients in receipes. Then she got this email from her editor, shooting down its use:

Recipes into Type advises against using ‘divided’ in ingredient lists. These kinds of instructions belong in the recipe steps below ’97 where it will be clear HOW the ingredient is to be divided.”

“I’ve always used “divided,” she emailed me. “What do you think?”

Sorry. I don’t like divided either. Here’s why it doesn’t work:

1. People don’t know what it means. “Divided” is some kind of code that is left unexplained. When readers see “3 tablespoons honey, divided,” they might think it means cut in half, which is not necessarily so.

2. They have to read the method to find out. When they continue on to the method, it gets complicated. It says to use 2/3 now, and the remaining amount later, or gives Continue reading »