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Fats Can Help Guide You When Riffing in the Kitchen—Here’s How

Say you are making a beautiful carbonara. You’ve got the bacon crisping, the Parmesan shredded and at the ready, the pasta water simmering away, and—oh no. You used up all the olive oil making Maialino’s dreamy Olive Oil Cake! And all you’ve got on hand is… coconut oil. Drat. That won’t work!

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How to Chip Away at Your Stash of Bacon Fat
by Caroline Lange

Sure, it’ll fill the oily void, but the flavors of the dish will be all off. You might run out to buy more olive oil, or you might think of this instead as an opportunity for culinary experimentation. Up to you. Either way, it’s easy enough to tell that coconut oil isn’t exactly what the dish is calling for—and it’s certainly not what a nonna would reach for. At the same time, butter would be unusual in a stir-fry, and sesame oil very peculiar in a sauce for sole meunière.

In her cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, chef and author Samin Nosrat sums this all up cleanly: “Fat determines the particular flavors of regional cooking.” That means ghee and coconut oil are popular in Indian cooking, where cow dairy and coconuts are both plentiful. You won’t find much ghee in Caribbean cooking, but the coconut oil will be there in spades. Eastern European cooking loves schmaltz more than any other cuisine in the world, bacon fat has a special place in the cooking of America’s South, and sesame oil is beloved in Korean, Chinese, and Japanese foods.

Picking a fat to cook with is the first step to locating a dish in a region, and keeping in mind which fats are specific to certain regional flavors will help you choose one that’s true to the cuisine (thus giving whatever you’re cooking an even deeper sense of its roots). But what I’m taking away is that it also helps guide you when you’re riffing in the kitchen: Instead of an Italian olive oil cake, make a Caribbean-inspired coconut oil cake with lime juice and rum instead of orange juice and Grand Marnier. Change the fat and you begin to shift an entire recipe in a new direction. Try out your new-found freedom with fats by experimenting with these classic recipes:

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Reform Jewish Penicillin
by drbabs

Granola: For a masala-spiced granola, swap in ghee for olive oil or butter, and add cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper.

Seafood baked in parchment: Butter, white wine, and lemon would be at home for a French-ish meal; for one that nods to China, use toasted sesame oil (just a little mixed with some neutral oil!), lime, and slivered scallions.

Chicken soup: Classic Eastern-European chicken soup (with matzo balls, maybe) calls for schmaltz—but sauté onions in coconut oil instead, add some lemongrass and ginger, and you’re on your way to a Thai-inflected broth.

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Photo by James Ransom

All April, Kitchen Confidence Camp takes us through the four essential elements of cooking, inspired by chef and author Samin Nosrat’s cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Follow along here.

15 Travel Kits to Store the Littler Things in Life

We have travel on the brain. With our recent Food52 Goes to London launch in mind, here are just a few ways to help your packing strategy.

The humble toiletries pouch, wash bag, cosmetics case, dopp kit—whatever you call it, it’s the unsung hero of many a getaway. Whether you’re taking off for two days or three weeks, having a storage option dedicated to the littler things in life will help keep you sane and, if all goes according to plan, looking great. From Everlane’s no-frills option to a globe-trotting case fit for Gigi Hadid (and priced to match), here are a few of our favorites.

Everlane The Dopp Kit, $35

Sometimes simple is best—and Everlane’s twill dopp kit with leather trim proves it.

Newton Supply Co. Waxed Canvas Toiletries Pouch, $54-$62

These waxed canvas pouches are a great way to stash toiletries and other sundries—plus they’re water-repellent.

Jack Spade Ripstop Slim Travel Kit, $59

Water-resistant ripstop nylon is super-packable and super practical, and it comes in four fun colors.

Baggu Large Cosmetics Pouch, $94

This fully-lined cosmetics case might not be practical for the more adventurous, but for everyone else? It’s gorgeous!

L.L.Bean Carryall Toiletry Kit, $24.95

L.L.Bean’s carryall kit features zip-closure mesh pockets and a wide zip top for easy access. Great for anyone who’s ever asked, “What’s all that for?”

Tumi Monaco Cosmetics Case, $155

A wraparound zip and rolled handles make this boxy case featuring three vinyl-lined interior compartments a pragmatic choice.

Izola Toilette Shave Kit, $50

Yes, it’s technically a shaving kit, but that doesn’t mean this heavy-duty cotton canvas pouch isn’t also pretty cute.

Filson Travel Kit, $75

Filson’s compact kit features a bridle leather handle for versatile carrying options, plus a fully-lined interior.

Coach Dopp Kit, $175

A classic style from a classic brand, this handsome leather dopp kit will develop a patina over time.

Muji Nylon Hanging Travel Case, $22.95

This svelte nylon case comes equipped with a built-in hook for easy closet access.

The North Face BC Travel Canister, $39

This rugged travel “canister” is a perfect pick for those whose vacations lean more 127 Hours than Weekend At Bernies.

Want Les Essentiels Kenyatta Dopp Kit, $195

Want Les Essentiels’ organic cotton canvas kit features a two-way zip top and tech fabric-lined interior.

Smythson Greenwich Washbag, $550

This sleek washbag comes in lacquered cotton with calf leather detailing and features a detachable handle. It’s so chic it may be the only bag you need, period.

Valextra Small Leather Wash Bag, $590

Valextra’s pebbled leather wash bag in army green is made in Italy, which is exactly where you were planning to vacation before spending all of your money on a dopp kit, right?

Globe-Trotter 13-inch Vanity Case, $1,205

Globe-Trotter’s fiberboard vanity case is inspired by a midcentury suitcase design and features antique rose leather corners, interior trays, and a pull-out mirror. It also costs as much as a month of rent, but could perhaps do some mean business on Airbnb. Trade-offs.

Next Time You Eat, Season Your Food with Sound

It’s true! This is real science!

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This is what your dinner table set-up looks like, right?

In our latest episode of Burnt Toast, we talk to professor Charles Spence about the science behind how what you hear when you eat affects the whole multi-sensory experience. (Eating chocolate? Stay away from low-toned music, which will make it seem bitter.)

Download the episode here—or stream below. And hit “subscribe” to get each new episode downloaded to your phone automatically.

To learn more about our show, head here.

A 4-Ingredient Salad, from Tuscany Right to Your Plate

In spring, insalata di carciofi makes an appearance on trattoria menus across Tuscany. This antipasto is also a very simple and very quick one to make at home, containing thinly sliced artichokes, a good sprinkling of your best salt, and some shavings of Parmesan cheese, an excellent foil for the astringency of raw artichokes. Tart lemon juice and a rather peppery olive oil round things off nicely. It goes with everything from fish to meat, and could be a meal on its own—perhaps plumped out with a heavy ball of burrata, some really good anchovies, and crusty bread.

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Raw artichoke salad
Photo by Emiko Davies

In Italy we are spoiled with the most wonderful artichokes—they are native, after all. Every market and roadside stall is brimming with piles of long-stemmed artichokes spilling out over their crates at this time of year, perhaps soon to be stuffed and braised, or baked, or cooked in a medley of spring vegetables, or trimmed into a rose-like shape and deep fried whole alla giudia, a specialty of the Roman ghetto.

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Photo by Emiko Davies

First, you want to choose good artichokes. Here in Tuscany, you most commonly find the dark purple kind with a pointed head and tiny thorns on each leaf. For this raw salad, you want lovely, young, tender artichokes rather than older, hairy, tough ones that do better when cooked. Give them a little squeeze in the palm of your hand—young artichokes should be firm, not springy.

When you’re ready to prepare them, have ready a large bowl of cold water with half a lemon squeezed into it. Keep the other lemon half handy for rubbing any cut parts of the artichoke as you go (and squeezing the juice over as a dressing in the final stage). Artichokes oxidize when exposed to the air, and you will want to make sure they don’t go black for this pretty, raw and simple salad; so use that lemon well. Then, peel the leaves off one by one until you reach the most tender and pale-yellow colored leaves. It will look like you’re throwing away a lot of the artichoke, but you won’t feel bad once you’ve accidentally tried to eat the hard, woody, spiky, essentially inedible tough outer leaves. Pull them all off without regret.

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Trim down to the pale, soft leaves and take out the choke with a teaspoon.
Photos by Emiko Davies, Emiko Davies

The only thing slightly difficult about this salad is choosing what to drink with it. White wine will amplify the ‘greenness’ of the raw artichokes, and red will bring out their tannin-like astringency. Or—you could go orange. It may be best, though, to leave wine out for this course and go with a cool glass of water, which you will notice will taste so very sweet after a few bites of insalata di carciofi.

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Raw artichoke salad

By Emiko

  • 4-5
    medium sized artichokes

  • 1

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • extra virgin olive oil, for serving

  • 1
    handful Parmesan cheese shavings

View Full Recipe

Better Ways to Make Pot Brownies (According to Our Readers)

Last year, we posted a recipe for Mario Batali’s Double-Chocolate Pot Brownies—and got a reaction we never anticipated. Many of you commented on the post and the recipe that we had done it wrong, all wrong. The heart of the matter? Not that we’d suggested putting pot in these brownies, but that the technique was flawed: The recipe never calls for the pot to be strained from the butter.

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Mario Batali’s Double-Chocolate Pot Brownies
by Mario Batali

To be honest, and as you may have already guessed, we tested and photographed the non-pot version of the recipe (you know, since FreshDirect doesn’t carry marijuana, legal concerns, and the low productivity that would come with serving pot brownies to the editors).

Mario jumped into the conversation to point out that his process—of not straining the weed—is the old-school way to make brownies: “Imagine the 70s,” he wrote, “That’s where all my technique was born and lives while Jimmy Page was in charge…”

Raquel Pelzel, who’s co-authored eighteen books, including one she wrote herself, recently developed cannabis recipes for Cedella Marley’s (Bob Marley’s daughter) upcoming cookbook. She explained to us the differences between the old-school and new-school approaches to cooking with cannabis. She said that when cooking with marijuana became popular in the mainstream, in the 1960s and 70s, it was “used like oregano—you just threw it in.” But Raquel equates this with “throwing fifty-dollar bills into a coffee grinder.” As she puts it, “You’re using a lot of material and not really extracting the T.H.C., the compound responsible for the psycho effects.”

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Brown Butter Cupcake Brownies
by Phyllis Grant
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Super Fudgy Brownies
by Merrill Stubbs

Nowadays, people heat-activate the T.H.C. by cooking marijuana in a water and butter solution for 8 to 10 hours, then straining the butter to remove the buds—or by heating the marijuana then adding it to an oil or alcohol tincture. This, Raquel explains, leads to a better flavor (no munching down on marijuana buds) and saves marijuana. She did the math for us:

Mario’s recipe calls for 4 grams of marijuana. If the marijuana used contains about 20% T.H.C. (which is around average), then using all four grams for nine brownies (the yield of the recipe) as he proposes comes down to a serving of 88 milligrams per brownie. Most edibles contain 10 to 15 milligrams of T.H.C. per serving, so 88 milligrams would lead to an intense high that would last several hours, and may not be enjoyable to most.

Instead, Raquel proposes infusing—that is, heating together and then straining out the solids—that same amount of marijuana in 2 cups of butter to make a large batch of cannabutter, as it’s called. Just a 1/4 cup of it would go into Mario’s brownie recipe, yielding a more palatable 10 to 15 milligrams of T.H.C. per serving of—and leaving you with 1 3/4 cups cannabutter for other marijuana-laced creations. (It will keep in the freezer for months.)

To go this route and use strained cannabutter in Mario’s recipe (rather than folding the pot right in as he recommends), sub in 1/4 cup cannabutter mixed with 1/4 cup regular butter, since the recipe calls for 1/2 cup total butter. Raquel recommends this lower dosage to err on the side of caution—you can always eat more if necessary, and with a such low dose, the brownies will actually taste like brownies.

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Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies
by Genius Recipes
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Mollie’s Brownies
by Phoenix Helix

Here are some of our favorite comments from the recipe so you can decide whether to go old-school or new-school (or to skip school entirely):

Alicia wrote, “You should NEVER leave the weed in the butter. That’s just nasty! You gotta strain the butter.”

“Is pot the reason Mario is stuck in a wardrobe coma?,” wondered jk.

Jocelyn McAuley arrived at the same math Raquel did, adding “For the truly pot-brownie-curious, this dosage is NOT FOR YOU[…] shaking her head in legalized Oregon.”

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To leave the pot in the butter? Or not leave the pot in the butter?
Photo by James Ransom

“Naive me thought this was a recipe for brownies that required you to mix the batter IN a pot and right now I’m just enjoying all the comments,” said Liz Deutermann. (Others agreed.)

Some, like Chef Carlos, had other plans for game day, “Apparently we’ve learned a lot since the 70’s about making buzzy brownies, not going down this road even if it’s the Broncos. Going for margaritas instead!”

Heather Christine got to the root of the matter and tested them for herself, “This was a great brownie recipe! I did choose to add the optional ingredient and they were an excellent, dark and chewy brownie. I chose to add icing to mine and they were amazing~~!”

To strain or not to strain? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally published this story in February of last year. We’re republishing it in observance of today’s holiday. Happy 4/20.