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Cooking at high altitude takes some adjustments

By Roberta Tolan
PREVIEW Columnist

Photo courtesy Becky Jacobson Archuleta County 4-H awards Pops with a certificate of appreciation. Over the years, Pops has generously supported the Sportsfishing program and has allowed students to persue their passion in fly fishing. The Archuleta County 4-H Sportsfishing Project meets weekly, February-July, and teaches the youth fly-tying, casting and hands-on fishing with trips to local lakes. Pops, center, is pictured with, from left: Ken Jones, leader; Becky Jacobson, 4-H Coordinator; and Bill Newell, leader.

Photo courtesy Becky Jacobson
Archuleta County 4-H awards Pops with a certificate of appreciation. Over the years, Pops has generously supported the Sportsfishing program and has allowed students to persue their passion in fly fishing. The Archuleta County 4-H Sportsfishing Project meets weekly, February-July, and teaches the youth fly-tying, casting and hands-on fishing with trips to local lakes. Pops, center, is pictured with, from left: Ken Jones, leader; Becky Jacobson, 4-H Coordinator; and Bill Newell, leader.

Mountain living is wonderful but presents challenges that don’t exist at lower elevations. Food preparation is one of these challenges, but you can be successful with some minor adjustments.

The following information was taken from a recently revised publication of Colorado State University Extension’s “High Altitude Food Preparation Guide” developed by Patricia Kendall, food science and human nutrition specialist and professor at CSU.

At altitudes above 3,000 feet, food preparation requires changes in time, temperature or recipe because of lower atmospheric pressure. This decreased pressure affects food preparation in two ways:

1. Water and other liquids evaporate faster and boil at lower temperatures.

2. Leavening gases in breads and cakes expand more quickly.

Cooking

The temperature at which water boils declines as elevation rises. At 7,500 feet, for example, water boils at 198 degrees, compared to 212 degrees at sea level. Because of this, foods prepared by boiling or simmering cook at a lower temperature at high altitude than at sea level and require a longer cooking time. Meats cooked by simmering or braising may require more time at higher altitudes, but oven temperatures are not affected. Hard-cooked eggs will also take longer to cook. A “three-minute egg” may take five minutes to cook at 5,000 feet. High altitude areas are also prone to low humidity, which causes the moisture in foods to evaporate more quickly during cooking. Covering foods during cooking will help hold in moisture.

Slow cookers 

At high altitudes, the slow cooker simmers at a lower temperature, making it more difficult for the food to reach a safe temperature and for bacteria to be destroyed. If your slow cooker has an adjustable temperature control, select a setting that will maintain the food at 200 degrees or higher.

If your slow cooker has a high and low setting, start the food cooking on high for the first hour; then either continue to use high or turn it to the low setting for the remainder of cooking. Allow longer cooking times at high altitudes and do not remove the lid.

It can take 20 minutes or longer for the lost steam and heat to be regained each time the lid is lifted.

Yeast breads

High altitude has its most pronounced effect on the rising time of bread. The shortened rising period can interfere with flavor development, thus less yeast may be used to slow the rise time. Also, the dough can be proofed twice to allow more time for the gluten to fully develop. Dough should rise only until just double in bulk, as over-proofing can result in a heavy, collapsed loaf.

Flours tend to be drier and thus able to absorb more liquid in high, dry climates. Therefore, less flour or possibly additional liquid may be needed to moisten the dough to proper consistency.

Cakes

Above 3,000 feet elevation, decreased atmospheric pressure may result in excessive cake rising. The cell structure stretches, making the texture coarse, or breaks the cells, causing the cake to fall.

This usually is corrected by decreasing the amount of leavening agent. Increasing baking temperature by 15 to 25 degrees can also help “set” the batter before the cells formed by the leavening gas expand too much.

Other factors that affect cake baking are excess sugar and fat. Greater evaporation of water at high altitude can cause sugar in recipes to become more highly concentrated. Compensate by slightly decreasing sugar and increasing liquid in a recipe.

For richer cakes, reduce butter or shortening by one or two tablespoons and increase the amount of egg to prevent the too-rich cake from falling. Only repeated experimentation with each recipe can give the most successful proportions to use, but the following information is a good starting point. Try the smaller adjustments first, as this may be all that is needed.

For 6,500 to 8,500 feet elevation:

• Reduce baking powder: For each teaspoon, decrease one-eighth to one-fourth teaspoon.

• Reduce sugar: For each cup, decrease up to two tablespoons.

• Increase liquid: For each cup, add two to four tablespoons.

For more information on food preparation at high altitudes, including deep-fat frying, microwave cooking, canning, freezing, candy, syrup and jelly making, bread machines, cookies, quick breads and pies, download the entire brochure entitled “High Altitude Food Preparation Guide” from the CSU Extension website at www.ext.colostate.edu.

4-H cookie dough sales

One of Archuleta County 4-H’s most successful fundraisers is underway. Local 4-H youth have started their annual cookie dough sale. Every 4-H member participates in selling $14 tubs of cookie dough to everyone in our community and beyond.

All funds raised will be dispersed between the five different 4-H community clubs and the 4-H Council. They will use it for sending 4-H members to educational programs such as: YouthFest, Leadership Development Conference, Colorado 4-H State Conference, community service projects, scholarships for 4-H member re-enrollment fees for next year or other individual club projects.

4-Hers will be selling these great flavors: triple chocolate with white and dark chips, snickerdoodle, monster cookie, peanut butter with chocolate chunks, chunky chocolate chip (made with M&Ms) peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, sugar, white chocolate macadamia and new this year, white chocolate cranberry.

The cookie dough comes in 3-pound tubs that can be refrigerated or stored in the freezer. The cookie dough can even be eaten raw because it is made with pasteurized eggs instead of raw eggs.

The cookie dough is an easy, quick snack, used for unexpected company or potluck functions when you have limited time to make something.

If anyone would like cookie dough, contact the Archuleta County Extension office at 264-5931 or any 4-Her.

CPR and first aid

CPR and first aid certification classes are now being offered monthly by the CSU Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6-10 p.m. Anyone needing to receive or renew certification can register by calling the Extension office at 264-5931.

We will also schedule classes on additional dates with five or more registrations. Cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid, $55 for individual CPR or first aid and $35 recertification with proof of current certification. The type of first aid information provided will vary by the needs of the audience.

This story was posted on February 27, 2014.