Cooking

Misc: 

Good ingredients

Finding the "best" ingredients can be daunting at best. There seems to be a million alternatives for most common cooking ingredients, and there's very little to help you decide. Here's a few tips I've found on line and in cooking magazines, which have helped steer me right.

Arborio Rice

Arborio rice is the main ingredient for any Risotto, and traditionally comes from italy. However, good rice can come for other places, as seen by the "winner" from Cook's Illustrated taste lab:

  • Riceselect Arborio Rice (from Texas!)
  • Riso Baricella Superfino Arborio Rice
  • Rienzi Permium Gourmet Arborio Rice
  • Pastene Superfino Italian Arborio Rice (good flavor, but not as creamy)

Misc: 

Dairy & Oil

Dairy products include cheeses, creams, butter, but I'm also including oils here as well.

Cheese

A favorite cheese in cooking is obviously Parmigiano-Reggiano. Make sure the rind has the proper markings (Parmigiano-Reggiano). A few recommendations from Cook's Illustrated (Sep-Oct 2007):

  • Boar's Head, found in supermarkets ($17/lb), aged 24 months
  • Il Villaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano ($17/lb), aged 24 months
  • http://iGourmet.com sells an excellent cheese for $14/lb ("regular"), and a Vacche Rosse ("Red Cow") for $26/lb

Olive Oil

For cooking purposes, the recommendation is to not use extra-virgin oil. Here's a couple of recommended brands:

  • DaVinci Olive Oil [best]
  • Colavita Olive Oil
  • FIlippo Berio Olive Oil For dressings and salads, extra-virgin oils are obviously a must Three recommendations
  • Columela Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Nunez De Prado Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Terra Medi Extra Virgin Olive Oil Another winner, which is noticeably cheaper is
  • DaVinci Extra Virgin Olive Oil The conclusion is, if you're looking for cheap, but good olive oil (for cooking or salads), the different DaVinci oils are both winners!

Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic Vinegar can be incredibly expensive, particularly when aged for a long time. They obviously must come from Modena to be "authentic", but you can find decent vinegars at the super market:

  • Lucini Gran Riserva Balsamico
  • Monari Federzoni Balsamic Vinegar of Modean
  • Ortalli Balsamic Vinegar of Modena For anextremely good, and expensive vinegars, try
  • Cavalli Gold Seal Extra Vecchio Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia (25 years old) However, on a noticeably smaller budget, also try
  • Oliviers & Co. Premium Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
  • Rubio Aceto Balsamico di Modena

Meat products

Various meat ingredients.

Misc: 

Bacon

There's a large selection of various bacon brands. Some are cheaper, but still good, while others are outrageously expensive and can only be bought from specialty stores. Here are some recommendations. Popular ways of cooking bacon:

Baked

Great for pepper bacon, because the pepper doesn't burn

Cast iron skillet

Very slowly, at the lowest heat

Microwave

Put paper towels in bottom of pyrex (or similar) pan, place bacon on top of paper towel, and cover with more paper towels. Cook in microwave on high speed for 3-5 minutes, depending on how many strips you have, and how crispy you like the bacon.

Tempura

Dredge in flour, and fry in skillet

Supermarket Bacon

In general, nitrite-free bacon is not generally as good as "normal" bacon, so they are not recommended.

  • Farmland Hickory Smoked Bacon, very meaty and full flavored

Artisanal Bacon

These are the "high end" brands of bacon, which use a real smoke process to produce outstanding flavors.

  • Vande Rose Farms Artisan Dry Cured Bacon, Applewood Smoked (http://www.gratefulpalate.com).
  • Nodine's Smokehouse Apple Smoke Flavored Bacon
  • Applegate Farms Uncured Sunday Bacon

 

Misc: 

High Altitude Cooking

This is a great article I found on http://www.ochef.com/ (the link is here). I'm quoting a few pieces here, since I find them extremely useful here in the Denver / Boulder area. Credits obviously to the OChef :)

Baking issues

With less air pressure weighing them down, leavening agents tend to work too quickly at higher altitudes, so by the time the food is cooked, most of the gasses have escaped, producing your flat tire. For cakes leavened by egg whites, beat only to a soft-peak consistency to keep them from deflating as they bake. Also, decrease the amount of baking powder or soda in your recipes by 15% to 25% (one-eighth to one quarter teaspoon per teaspoon specified in the recipe) at 5,000 feet, and by 25% or more at 7,000. For both cakes and cookies, raise the oven temperature by 20° or so to set the batter before the cells formed by the leavening gas expand too much, causing the cake or cookies to fall, and slightly shorten the cooking time.

Flour tends to be drier at high elevation, so increase the amount of liquid in the recipe by 2 to 3 tablespoons for each cup of flour called for at 5,000 feet, and by 3 to 4 tablespoons at 7,000 ft. Often you will want to decrease the amount of sugar in a recipe by 1 to 3 tablespoons for each cup of sugar called for in the recipe.

High altitude obviously also affects other cooking processes, in particular boiling.

Non-baking issues

On the non-baking front, because water boils at a lower temperature the higher you go (212° at sea level, 203° at 5,000 feet, 198° at 7,500 feet), foods cooked in water have to be cooked substantially longer to get them done. Pasta needs a furious boil and longer time. Beans need to be cooked twice as long at 7,000 feet, and above that height, it's nearly impossible to cook them through without the use of a pressure cooker (which raises the boiling point of water). Slow stews and braises may need an hour extra for every 1,000 feet you live above 4,000 feet.

I've followed these guidelines successfully to adopt a swedish recipe for pound cake (aka "sockerkaka"), and after 3-4 attempts doing small adjustments, it comes out perfectly.