Editors' Picks

5 Ways (Genius) Recipes Can Change the Way You Cook

March 31, 2015

Today: What makes a recipe genius? The answer is simple.

The question I find myself answering most often (other than "What's the 52 in Food52?" Hint: It's because of the calendar, not the number of cards in a deck.) is "What makes a recipe genius?" 

I've been writing the column Genius Recipes for close to four years, and the Genius Recipes cookbook is coming out in eight days (!!!), so by now I have my answer down. It's simple: A recipe is genius if it will change the way you cook. But that tends to manifest itself in a handful of different ways. 

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Below, I've explained the five most common ways a recipe can be genius, and partly for a selfish reason. Genius Recipes is powered by this community and our collective cooking knowledge, curiosity, and intuition. Most of the recipes I feature—and the most unexpectedly brilliant ones—come from tips from you. So I'm reminding you all of your mission: If you see a recipe that fits one or more of the following criteria, send it my way. Pretty soon I can start forwarding my emails about that pesky 52 to you too.

1. It simplifies a technique.

Everyone always said you had to do it one way. Boom—you don't! Gumbo where you don't have to stir the roux for an hour. Potato gratin that you don't have to layer. Tomato sauce you don't need to chop a thing for.

2. It solves a problem.

What to do with already seasoned mashed potatoes? The fading herbs left from other recipes? Rock hard peaches? How do you make a salad a day ahead? We've got solutions!

3. It uses an unexpected ingredient.

A salad whose secret ingredient is ice cubes. Fudge made of tofu. Salad dressing made with the dregs of the bottle of red wine. A cake made of parsley. They made these waffles made with cornstarch or fish dusted with Wondra sound pretty tame.

4. It uses the best technique after testing a whole lot of alternatives.

Sometimes I go on the hunt for the best roast chicken (or ratatouille, or pizza, or banana bread), and test every promising recipe I can find. Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl of the radio show Off the Menu told me she thought the book would save her from "decision fatigue," which is exactly what I wanted to do. I am more than happy to suffer the decisions and the just-good or great versions till I find something genius.

5. It sounds just a little insane.

Whipped cream on asparagus. Meatballs made with 2 cups of water. Broccoli—cooked—forever. A hunk of beef tenderloin, wrapped in a dishcloth, thrown in the coals. If it sounds crazy, it might be just crazy enough to work.

Photos by James Ransom

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From our new podcast network, The Genius Recipe Tapes is lifelong Genius hunter Kristen Miglore’s 10-year-strong column in audio form, featuring all the uncut gems from the weekly column and video series. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ron Svetgoff
    Ron Svetgoff
  • Debbi
  • Traci Benish
    Traci Benish
  • Lia Saunders
    Lia Saunders
  • amazinc
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Ron S. August 18, 2015
kinda of a stupid wasteful article. Oh, I'm adding toffee brittle to my scrambled eggs and oh I always mix my baked beans with bananas. Does this nonsense ever end just to fill a food article???
JP October 23, 2015
That's kinda silly and wasteful comment, Ron
Debbi July 24, 2015
I thought I was done with cookbooks as most often I look something up on line. But you've got me! I need to hold this one in my hands! I love to cook and am curious about your genius recipies! Debbi
Kristen M. October 16, 2016
Very, very belatedly, thank you Debbi! I have to say, I love being able to pull it off the shelf, even if I know some of the recipes are online.
Traci B. May 23, 2015
Congrats on the cookbook. One of my favorite genius recipes is celery soup.
Lia S. April 8, 2015
Congrats Kristen from Oz. Please tell me we are going to be able to get a hold of a copy of this fantastic book down under??
Kristen M. October 16, 2016
I'm so very behind on responding to this, Lia, but I hope you were able to find a copy down under. I do believe they're available, and even saw someone from Oz doing a cooking challenge from the book on Instagram!
amazinc April 7, 2015
Congratulations! I've been waiting with longing for my issue (purchased at least
4-5 months ago). Will enjoy it, I know. And, btw I can't remember if I ordered one or two copies. What can I say??? I'm OLD!, but still cooking every day
Kristen M. October 16, 2016
I'm way—wayyy—behind on responding, but thank you so much, amazinc. And dang, good for you for cooking every day!
Pia M. April 1, 2015
MrsWheelbarrow April 1, 2015
Kristen - Enjoy your launch day. It only comes once. Revel in it. What a glorious accomplishment. I can't wait to hold this book in my hands. xoMrsW
jenniebgood April 1, 2015
Really looking forward to the cookbook, Kristen - Congrats!
amyeik April 1, 2015
Kristen- This column has both cheered me on and cheered me up. Your writing is so twistedly right that everything feels ok. I want to try those crazy combinations and I applaud your energy for doing the research - and everyone else who has contributed the ideas. Thank you all!
Kristen M. October 16, 2016
How on earth did I miss responding to these? Thank you both for your support (and I'm sorry for taking so long to do it) <3