At the end of this winter, I found myself in the deep valley of a food rut. I was frying an egg with crispy kale for dinner as routinely and thoughtlessly as I swipe my MetroCard to get on the subway each morning. The main variation came from whether I had leftover quinoa or Finn Crisp crackers on the side. Sad.
When I sink into such a culinarily uninspired state, I generally text my friend Nicolette. “What are you making for dinner this week?” I ask. Almost always, she refers me to recipes or ideas from the website Food52, and patiently text messages me through a dish with the ruthless practicality of an experienced cook. (She recently saved me from giving up on this rice salad before I started making it, by telling me to just skip the frying step, and the sumac in a pinch.)
Food52, if you’re not familiar, features a growing collection of crowd-sourced recipes from its community of users, alongside columns and recipes from its staff contributors. There is a wealth of well-lit salads, artfully piled pastas, and organically garnished cocktails, and instructions for how to duplicate them. It is inspiring, to be sure, but to the hungry/busy/lazy/less-experienced cook, it can also seem, well, aspirational—as in, not grounded in the reality of a person with a full-time job and a half-empty fridge, who is starting to get hangry.
Now, Food52 has created something just for us: an app that’s essentially a portal to people like Nicolette. The new app, called (Not) Recipes, looks like an Instagram feed of users’ meals, captioned with their simple instructions for how to throw them together. And while many of these dishes are as well-lit as their counterparts on Food52’s website, they’re also riddled with real-life shortcuts and modifications—and even the odd mistake.
That looseness is precisely the point, says Food52’s creative director, Kristen Miglore. “When you publish a recipe on your blog or Food52 it feels kind of final,” she said. “This captures moments of discovery along the way.”
In short, the app keeps it real. It’s the food people are actually making and eating.
Here’s how it works. If you’re in need of inspiration, you simply open the app and click to see a feed of all the recently published recipes. (Clicking ”featured” will fetch you recipes hand-picked by Food52’s editors.)
The scroll will take you through photos of ”stupid easy frittatas” and cold soba salads, along with the sorts of food piles many of us make when pressed by limited ingredients: “My new favorite thing is mixing sautéed greens with mashed potatoes,” explained one user recently, along with a “(Not) Recipe” that included collards, garlic, olive oil, and potatoes, served alongside a piece of pan-seared salmon. Contributing is just as easy as Instagramming your meal—upload a photo, choose a filter, and write a caption (or even just a list of basic ingredients).
To be honest, my recent weekday dinners have still leaned heavily toward eggs—but the app has given me new ways to cook them. After I bought a bunch of lemony sorrel at the farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago—despite having no idea how to use it—I saw a (Not) Recipe for baked eggs that called for leftover greens. I sautéed the sorrel, dropped it into a buttered ramekin with a little milk (because I had no cream), grated cheese, cracked two eggs, and popped it into the oven, as a user called Jade DaRu had advised. It worked a charm—and then I snapped a photo and shared my own (Not) Recipe, with a hat tip to Jade for the original inspiration. The app recognizes the ingredients, so my recipe would show up in future searches—now it’s on the sorrel page!—and I even got to use a “Gwyneth” filter for my photo: a nod to my favorite aspirational cook.
Had I ventured off the egg-centric path and searched for dishes with sorrel, I might have ended up with something slightly more adventurous and ambitious, such as a lemony vegan potato and sorrel soup, or a halloumi and herb yogurt salad.
I saved both of those recipes to my “favorites” for future reference, and plan to start opening the app before I go to the farmers’ market or grocery store for dinner supplies. Clearly, I’m not the only one in a rut—many users resort to the same fallback ingredients, demonstrated by the frequent appearance of chickpeas and avocados in (Not) Recipes. But other people’s go-to dishes could be just the thing to vary my weeknight dinner rotation.
And ultimately, Miglore assured me, there’s no shame in eggs for dinner. ”Everyone is eating eggs for dinner,” she said. “I think we all felt secretly a little embarrassed about how often we eat eggs for dinner, but everyone does it.”