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)


Dairy & Oil

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


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
  • 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.



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:


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

Cast iron skillet

Very slowly, at the lowest heat


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.


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 (
  • Nodine's Smokehouse Apple Smoke Flavored Bacon
  • Applegate Farms Uncured Sunday Bacon