Let’s Take the Baby Talk out of Recipes

Cute-BabyOh em gee! I am so tired of baby-talk words in recipe writing, especially:

  • Yummy
  • Sammy, and
  • Tummy.

While editing a cookbook manuscript for a publisher, I decided the author must have been a Rachael Ray groupie. How else to explain her use of these three terms, not to mention “easy-peasy” and exclamation points in almost every recipe headnote? At least she didn’t add “Yum-O.” [Read more…]

100 Verbs for Recipes, from Julia Child

Shakshooka-Israel
What is the most exciting way to tell people to make this dish? Julia knows.

You’re sick of writing “add” and “place” in recipes, aren’t you? (If not, you should be.)

Here’s help. Use powerful action verbs, the way that Julia Child did. I spent a pleasurable hour reading through Mastering the Art of French Cooking to [Read more…]

Do You Make These 5 Mistakes with Salt in Recipes?

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 [Read more…]

Use Active Verbs to Enliven Recipes

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 [Read more…]

What's With Passive Instruction in Recipes?

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 [Read more…]

10 Ways to Write Clear Recipes

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 [Read more…]

Secrets of Writing Recipes for Big Food Magazines

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 [Read more…]