August 31, 2015

Food52 Genius Recipes Interview + Giveaway

Food52 Genius Recipes | The Naptime Chef

I’ve been a long time fan of Food52 and have so enjoyed watching it become the powerhouse cooking site that it is today. Of all of the columns Genius Recipes is one of my favorites. Kristen’s writing is simultaneously powerful and amusing. She does an amazing job of unearthing truly fantastic recipes that stand head and shoulders above the rest. I am thrilled that she recently took time out of her busy schedule to chat with me about her new book, Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook, and answer a few questions!

1) I’ve followed this column since day one and am a huge fan. I’ve always wondered, how do you find the recipes you write about? Do you have a huge stack in your back pocket you dole out to us one by one, or do you come across them in your own kitchen randomly? How do you determine that a recipe is actually “genius”?

First off: Thank you—this means a lot. I find the recipes through all kinds of random pathways: friends and coworkers, Twitter, reading cookbooks. The James Beard Strawberry Shortcakes came from an Instagram Melissa Clark posted at the James Beard Awards a few years ago. But the majority come from tips from the Food52 community, for which I am so grateful. I love getting random emails every week from home cooks about recipes I’d never have heard of otherwise.

I recently wrote a post on Food52 about the most common ways I think a recipe can be genius, but the bottom line is that there is something in them that will change the way you cook for the better—an unusual technique, a surprise ingredient (or surprising lack of ingredients!), a completely wacky step. They’re usually simplifications or shortcuts (I’m a busy, tired person at the end of the day, too), but don’t have to be, if the outcome is worth it.

2) I need a good behind-the-scenes story. Is there a recipe that flip flopped on you when where testing? One that was finicky or caused a big mess when not followed correctly? I know from experience there are always a few tricky ones in the bunch!

My favorite recipes are the ones that look like they’ll be a complete disaster, but then magically turn out—like Rao’s Meatballs that call for 2 whole cups of water, or Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake with its suspiciously runny batter.

But sure, there have been lots of less redemptive moments too. I no longer trust recipes that rely on shutting the oven off to finish cooking, because some modern ovens are so much more efficient and retain a lot more heat than they did decades ago. I learned this the hard way, when some readers with newer ovens (my parents included) had Christmas roasts that weren’t exactly medium rare after following Ann Seranne’s method from 1966.

Food52 Genius Recipes | The Naptime Chef

3) Have you ever had a genius recipe de-throned? For example, you found a tomato soup that is actually better than the genius tomato soup recipe you already wrote about? 

One of the most exciting things about this series is that I’m not trying to establish the Ultimate or Single Best way of doing something: There really can be many different genius ways of cooking something, depending on what you’re hoping for, and the ingredients and time you have.

In one extreme proof of concept, I wrote about two different chickens in milk within a month last winter—Jamie Oliver’s simple braised version with cinnamon, lemon zest, and sage and Richard Olney’s more luxurious Chicken Gratin with cream, Gruyere, wine, and toasted breadcrumbs. Both are worth knowing, even if there are some similarities in the angle and technique. Both are cluing us in to the fact that the lactic acid in milk helps tenderize meat as it cooks. But how boring would it be if we only used that intel in one way all the time?

4) Since Labor Day is coming up can you give us an idea Genius menu that would come together in a snap and is perfect for sharing with friends outdoors? We always want new ideas!

Michael Ruhlman’s tomato water pasta is one that should be in everyone’s backyard playbook through the end of summer, while tomatoes are at their best. You salt some chopped tomatoes and basil and make a sauce out of the flavorful water that drains out, by swirling the tomato water together with garlicky melted butter. The salted, fresh tomatoes are plunked on top of the pasta with more basil and it makes people very happy.

5) It seems like this column could go on forever. Is there a chance for another book? I hope so!

I hope so too! Nothing is planned yet, but stay tuned. For now, the column lives on every week, and I’m always hunting for smart new tips—so email me!

Thanks for stopping by, Kristen!

To enter to win a copy of Genius Recipes:

  1. Leave a comment sharing one of your personal favorite “Genius Recipes” at home.
  2. Like Kelsey Banfield on Facebook.
  3. Contest runs from August 31st at 7:00am through September 7th at 7:00am ET.
  • Cecilia

    I love Mollie Katzen’s chocolate cake recipe that’s made in the pan with baking soda and vinegar. Brilliant! And delicious!

  • S.

    I make a chocolate “pudding” out of firm silken tofu–so much healthier and still a treat!

  • Steph

    I make a chocolate cake with mayo instead of eggs and oil…Its bad I know

  • Ali Celestino

    Banana Pudding.

  • Barbara

    I made the lemon chicken thighs from the book (thanks to the website!) last week. So so so simple and even more delicious.

  • cezovski

    A breakfast recipe we all love — Frittaffle (frittata + waffle)
    I follow Kelsey on FB as Carolsue Anderson