I’ve been editing a cookbook this past week. Doing so always leads to a new blog post where I need to vent.
This time the food writer is too fond of the word “mixture.” (What, you thought my favorite over-used word was “delicious?”) So, in an homage to cookbook editor Judith Jones, I’ve been deleting as many “mixtures” as possible and inserting more specific words.
Instead of my usual venting this time, I invented a little game for you to play. It’s my very first “Mixture” Quiz! (Vigorous applause from our studio audience.) I hope you’ll play. Choose an answer to each question below. Correct answers follow.
Let me know how many of the following seven questions you got right, and whether you think I’m wrong about any of them or have some new ideas for me. There is no reward for correct answers, just a feeling of superiority. Good luck!
1. Combine the evaporated milk, garlic powder, and the Italian seasoning. Bring the _____ to a boil.
a) milk b) sauce c) mixture d) Get rid of second sentence and write “and bring to a boil.”
2. Combine the mashed garbanzo beans, garlic salt, and egg. Divide the ____ into 8 patties.
a) beans b) Edit second sentence to read “Divide into 8 patties.” c) mixture
3. Whisk the remaining milk, flour, salt, and pepper until combined. Add the ___ to the sauce.
a) white sauce b) mixure c) thickened milk d) liquid e) Edit second sentence. Add “and add to the sauce.”
4. Cook and stir until the ___ thickens.
a) mixture b) sauce c) liquid
5. Pour the reduced evaporated milk and garlic into a blender. After the _____ is partially blended…
a) mixture b) Edit second sentence to say, “After it is partially blended…” c) garlic
6. Stir together the stock, yogurt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add the green beans. Transfer the ____ to a 1-quart casserole.
a) gloop b) mixture c) green beans
7. Add 1/2 cup celery to the oil and butter _____.
a) mixture b) eliminate the word.
First, if you chose “mixture” as the right answer to any of these questions, you failed. Well, not really. I’m going to let you have one of them. Keep reading.
1. a) is not quite accurate, but I could live with it. It’s still mostly milk at this stage. b) It’s not a sauce yet. d) I think readers will get it if you write it this way, but the current style in some cookbooks is to keep repeating what you’re working with, as if readers have a short attention span. Corrrect answers: a) and d).
2. This one is harder than it looks. The recipe is for bean burgers. Technically, they’re mostly beans, but in pre-cooked form, they’re called a mixture. OMG. I said it. It’s all because I consulted a high authority, Mark Bittman, in his recipe for Bean Fritters in The Food Matters Cookbook. He called it a mixture! So, properly chastened, I’d have to give it to you if you said b) or c).
But I’d still like to know. Is there another word for mooshed beans? Would “beans” be sufficient? In Bittman’s case he has 5 other flavoring ingredients, plus salt and pepper, but clearly, they’re mostly beans.
3. It’s not a sauce yet, so a) would be wrong. It hasn’t thickened yet so c) would be wrong. But I don’t really like d), so e) is best here.
4. It’s not a sauce yet, so b) would be wrong. I’ll go with c).
5. The most accurate answer is c) garlic. Since the milk is already blended, it’s the only ingredient left to blend.
6. Food writers are not supposed to make food sound unappetizing, so a) is clearly misguided.
7. Please. Oil and butter can just be oil and butter. They don’t have to be a mixture. Choose b).
And if you’re still not clear on why to replace the word “mixture,” it’s because good writing means using specific language. Don’t use a general word when you can substitute a specific one.