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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: April 2013

Saturday, April 27, 2013

QUEEN'S DAY IN AMSTERDAM!





   Queen's Day in Amsterdam is a unique night and day carnival like event on the 30th of April each year and during the night before...so called Queen's Night.  What is special about the Queen's Day?  How about  having elements of a huge party across the whole city, it is combined with the market in the streets in the whole entire city.
   Queen's Day in Amsterdam attracts 700,000 visitors, which makes the city crowded beyond any acceptable norm.  Despite overcrowding, the atmosphere on Queen's Day is traditionally relax and joyful.  The usually mild weather makes the Queen's Day the day to be in Amsterdam.






The Tradition of Queen's Day

   Queen's Day is celebrated in the whole country of the Netherlands for more than 50 years.  Amsterdam celebrations are the most raucous.  Over the years, the popularity of the event grows bigger and bigger, as crowds of people from all over Europe come to attend.





Free Market (Vrijmarkt)

   The Dutch love to trade, they have it in their blood.  Queen's Day is an occasion to trade all things that are unnecessary at home.  They come to trade with neighbors and visitors in town.  More a social occasion that a real commercial opportunity, the free market is a unique family event with children actively participating also, it's not just an event for adults.  Prices are symbolic and the most important thing isn't the trading but enjoying the day and having fun.




Transportation During Queen's Day

   As a large part of the Amsterdam center is filled with such a large crowd, no transportation is possible in the city itself, you will have to walk to wherever that you want to go.  No cars are allowed on Queen's Day in the Amsterdam center.  All public transportation, including trains are on a special schedule for this day and night.





Queen's Night (Koninginnenacht)

   The celebrating of Queen's Day begins on the evening of the day before, usually at 7 p.m., and goes on until the early hours of Queen's Day.  It is called Queen's Night, when all clubs across the Netherlands organize special festivities.  Especially for the younger adult crowds, this is the night to be in Amsterdam.  Amsterdam is bustling all through the night, as many young adults move across the city hopping from one party to the next, while others prepare for the market, the following day.
   The quarter of Jordan is one of  the most crowded places to be on Queen's Day.  Not only with traders, food concessions and beer stands, but also with large groups of people singing traditional Dutch songs.  These are simple, rhythmic songs, mostly describing the beauty of Amsterdam.  While you might not be able to follow the words, the whole atmosphere is always unique, friendly, and relaxed.




Some Dutch Pastries

   There are rock concerts that usually begin about 11 a.m. and go on until late in the afternoon attracting thousands of people.
   All clubs in Amsterdam organize special parties on this day.  In many parts of the city, you can hear the music blaring out of speakers around many corners of the city.  Many of these turn into improvised parties.  There are boats full of dancing people circulating up and down the canals in Amsterdam.



The Queen of Holland

Accommodations for Queen's Day

   If you plan to visit Amsterdam during the next Queen's Day, make your hotel reservations many months in advance.  There is absolutely no chance to find a good hotel or even a hostel at the last minute, any private apartment or bed and breakfast's are usually taken years in advance.





Tips if you decide to go for Queen's Day

  • As you are going to spend most of your day around big crowds, leave your valuables in your hotel.
  • You're going to be walking alot, so comfortable shoe are an essential.
  • Take a lot of change.  You may want to buy something in the market, plus you may want to buy food or beverages while you are out during the day.
  • All the main grocery stores are open on Queen's Day.  You may get food and drink at a better price than at a booth.
  • While you may drink alcohol in the streets on Queen's Day, it is not allowed to carry more than one drink at a time.
  • Consider leaving your camera at the hotel.  Take part in the event, there are many offering to take pictures, which you can always download later from the web.

MINT CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE POPSICLES! YYYYYYUUUUMMMMMMM!







Hey, GoodLife Etc. readers! I’m taking over the GoodLife Eats section today and filling in for Katie while she continues to unpack and organize in Colorado.
It’s scorching hot here in my neck of the woods, so just the thought of turning on my oven makes me break out into heat-induced hives. However, there’s one minor issue – I operate a baking blog.
Since I can’t leave my readers hangin’, I’ve been trying to come up with creative ways to satisfy their cravings for sweet indulgences without forcing them – or me – to break a sweat.
If you follow My Baking Addiction, you’ve probably realized that I’ve been on a pretty serious No Bake Cheesecake kick. With just a few simple ingredients, you can whip together a quick dessert that your whole family will love. And they’re pretty much foolproof so you can adapt the ingredients to add your own special twist and create a signature sweet treat.
When playing around with a mint chocolate version of no-bake cheesecakes, it occurred to me that freezing the base recipe might mean pretty phenomenal mint chocolate cheesecake popsicles. At first I was a bit skeptical that the base would actually freeze, but let me tell you, they were a raging success.
The frozen whipped topping and cream cheese allow the popsicle to maintain a slight softness – almost like a fudgesicle. Combine that winning texture with the crunch of Magic Shell and the cool from chopped up mint chocolate cookies and you have a dessert to remember!
If you’re curious how I served these up cheesecake style, head over and check out my post. I hope you’re having a fantastic start to summer. Stay cool – eat popsicles.




Mint Chocolate Cheesecake Popsicles


YIELD: 8-10 popsicles
PREP TIME: 10 minutes plus freeze time
Print Save Recipe

Ingredients:

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
1 (8 ounce) tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
12 Andes Creme de Menthe Cookies, finely chopped (see note below)
Magic Shell, optional

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add in the extracts and mix until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped topping until until it is fully incorporated into the cream cheese mixture. Fold in mint chocolate cookies.
2. Spoon the filling into a pastry bag or large zip top bag. Snip enough of the end off the bag to allow you pipe the mixture into your popsicle molds. Once your molds are full, gently tap the popsicle mold base on the countertop to help release any air pockets. Freeze according the manufacturers directions.
3. If desired, garnish each popsicle with Magic Shell and chopped cookies.
Tip: If you have an issue releasing your popsicles from the molds, run a little warm water along the sides of the molds, this will usually cause them to release with ease.

Notes:

- If you cannot find the Andes Creme de Menthe Cookies, feel free to substitute Mint Oreos.
- I have not attempted this recipe with a substitute for the frozen whipped topping (Cool Whip).
- Due to the soft texture of this recipe, it is not recommended for use in a Zoku Quick Pop Maker.

APRIL FOOL'S DAY TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD!!





   April Fool's Day is rapidly approaching, and April Fool's celebrations will be occurring all around the world.  But not all April Fool's Day celebrations will be the same; April Fool's Day in one country is often quite different than in another.
  • April Fool's Day in the U.S. is usually a day of trickery, pranks and outrageous stunts.  The media becomes involved, running bogus news stories or promoting false products.  The April Fool's Day celebrations can occur any time of the day and can be as simple or complex as the trickster wishes.  The victim of the prank is supposed to maintain good humor about it, and traditionally he or she will attract bad luck by getting upset about he prank.
  • April Fool's Day in France is traditionally call Poisson d'Avril, which translates to "April Fish".  The term refers to the fish that are recently hatches and therefore naive and easy to catch.  The traditional April Fish prank in France is to tape a fish to someones back, and call them a Poisson d'Avril when they discover it.  Originally, the fish was a real dead fish, but nowadays it is most often a paper fish.  April Fish is also a common prank on April Fool's Day in Italy, called Pesce d'Aprile in Italian, April Fish trickery can last all day, and may include other kinds of tricks.
  • April Fool's Day in Canada is similar to April Fool's Day in the U.S., and also incorporates the tradition of Poisson d'Avril from French April Fool's Day celebrations.  On Canadian tradition comes from investigator James Randi, who annually announces a tongue in cheek award called the Pigasus Award on April Fool's Day.  These "awards" seek to expose paranormal or psychic frauds or to ridicules institutions that promote paranormal claims.  Past Pigasus awards have been given to the Kansas school board, John Edwards and Nostradamus.  New "winners" will be announced on April Fool's Day.
  • In Scotland, April Fool's Day celebrations last for two days.  April Fool's Day in Scotland is sometimes called "Tally Day" or "April Gowk".  The traditional prank for the first day is to send people on a fools errand.  You give someone an urgent note that they are supposed to deliver, but the note informs the receiver that it is an April Gowk joke, and they send the person to yet another person, who sends them somewhere else...etc.  On the second day, the traditional prank is to stick an April Gowk sign on someones backside, similar to a "Kick Me" sign.  April Gowk pranks are usually only played in the morning, and if someone tries one after noon, they are considered the fool instead.
  • April Fool's Day in Poland is called "Prymas Aprylis".  In addition to being a day of pranks, April Fool's Day celebrations often involve dressing up in costumes.  April Fool's Day in Poland is largely a holiday for children, but adults also get in on the fun.  In recent years, Polish media has also taken part in the April Fool's Day celebrations.
  • There are a few countries that have April Fool's Day celebrations on days other than April 1st.  In Denmark, for example, April Fool's Day celebration are held on May 1st, and the day is called Maj-kat, or May-cat.  Hispanic countries such as Spain and Mexico observe the Feast of the Innocents of December 28th by pranking and tricking people just as in April Fool's Day celebrations.  Victims of pranks are not allowed to be upset, because the pranksters are representing the innocents.  Yet another prank day similar to April Fool's Day celebrations occurs in Iran near the beginning of April, called "Sizdah Bedar".

Thursday, April 25, 2013

COCULLO SNAKE FESTIVAL!






   The attractions of snakes seems to be a huge pull factor, and seemingly the whole world's major ophidiophillaccs (snake lovers) often accompanied by their snakes, alongside keen photographers, descend on the small medieval town of Cocullo, in the Abruzzo Majella Mountains, ready to take part in this festival which has been re-enacted in its current Christian format each year, apart from 2009.






   There are three supposed origins to the Cocullo Snake Festival....In the 11th century, apparently Saint Dominic cleared the local fields which were being overrun by snakes, and as a sign of thanks, since 1392, the locals parade his statue and snakes around the streets.  The second version dates to 700 B.C., locals experienced the same problems in tending to their field and Apollo ordered the village to entwine the snakes around his statue so that they would become tame and be able to farm once more.  The first origin dates back some 2000 years to the Marsi who were the original inhabitants of the area who worshipped the Goddess Angizia.  The goddess's official symbol was a snake and thus offering of snakes were presented to her to fend off attacks from local wolves, bears and malaria.






   The festival officially begins on March 19th, when local snake catchers/charmers around Cocullo begin to catch 4 types of local harmless snakes: (Elaphe quatuorlineata) and the Aesculapian snake (Elaphe longissma) and grass snakes (Natrix natrix) and its dark green sister snake (Coluber vindfiavus).  Once caught they remove the snakes fangs. (not a good idea when it comes to return them back to the wild).





   Following an early morning Mass in the town's small church, local inhabitants ring a small bell using their own teeth to protect them against toothache for the following year.  Local soil is blessed which afterwards is spread over the local fields to act as a form of natural pesticide.  The wooden statue of Saint Domenico is then taken out of the small church and the snakes are draped around and over the statue and the statue is then paraded around the narrow lanes of ancient Cocullo.






   Leading from the front are the brass bands, that ironically seem to be mostly composed of those most snake charmer-esque of instruments, the oboe and clarinets.  Another mass is broadcast over loudspeakers, which,  women traditionally dressed, recite and sing, followed by priests.  They are followed by girls in traditional laced costumes carrying ciambelli,  which are local cakes that have a texture like doughnuts and are decorated with pastel colored, by the hundreds and thousands.  Saint Domenic is carried up from behind, with the snakes and their charmers following closely behind.  The procession winds back down to the church where it all started, and on their arrival home, a huge fireworks display, which sounds more like cannon shots, begins its 10 minute overture.







   If you like something out of the ordinary , visit Cocullo's snake festival; your next door neighbor may be stroking their snake next to you, but it gives you something to talk about as you gasp and think of a reason to decline their generous offer of holding one of their snakes, while jostling to get that ultimate photo.






Tips

   Get there early, the procession begins at 12 noon and the parade lasts for an hour and a half (the problem is parking...you can end up, if you arrive late,  parking your car up to a couple miles away and have to hike uphill from the depths of the Sagitarrio Valley to get back to the small town of Cocullo, severely out of breath,  if you are unfit.
   You may hate the huge numbers of porchetta vans and mini market stalls up to the town itself and wonder why the police don't allow people to par there, but due to the huge number of people that attend the Cocullo Snake Festival, food must be had by attendees.  Local restaurants get booked out with celebrating locals, used the porchetta Panini rout.

THE ORIGINS OF APRIL FOOL'S DAY!!





  The first of April isn't just another ordinary day.  Also known as April Fool's Day or All Fool's Day.  It is celebrated in a number of countries including America, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.
   The origin of April Fool's Day is actually any body's guess, but it is known that it came to England from France or Germany in the mid 17th century.  At one time April 1st coincided with the New Year and was celebrated as such until 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII ordered the new Gregorian Calendar to replace the Julian Calendar.  With there being no computers, telephones and other speedy forms of communicating, word did not travel very fast in those days and therefore many people continued to celebrate New Years Day on April 1st, while some rebelled against this change in their old traditions.
   With some embracing a new system and others fighting progress it is thought that those following the new system mocked the others who were behind the times and sent them on fool's errands, such as to seek non existent objects like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow in order to have some fun at their expense.
   People in England, Germany, Denmark and Norway continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April 1st, up until the mid 1700's, the Scottish adopted the new calendar in 1660.
   April Fool's Day has also been associated with ancient festivals, such as Hilaria which was to celebrate the resurrection of the god Attis, in ancient Rome when people would dress up in various costumes and the Holi festival in India which celebrates the arrival of spring.  During this celebration people play jokes on each other.
   Tricks and hoaxes in England can only be played up until noon.  In France, the victim of the prank is called an April Fish, while in Scotland they are called an April Gowk (gowk is a cuckoo or another word for a fool).  Anyone who tries to continue the jokes into the afternoon re likely to bring bad luck upon themselves.
   According to the Museum of Hoaxes, the best April Fool's joke of all time occurred in 1957 when the BBC news program "Panorama" based a full program on the spaghetti.
Crops in Switzerland and how due to the mild winter and virtual elimination of the spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper crop.  Some viewers failed to see the funny side, others wanted to know where they could purchase their own spaghetti bush.
   Many people love the excuse to play pranks on others and take full advantage of this opportunity on April Fool's Day, others prefer to keep their heads down and breathe a sigh of relief when the clock strikes 12!

JAQUES TORRES' NEW YORK TIMES CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES!!


The Times recipe is adapted from Jacques Torres and some people refer to these cookies as ‘The Jacques Torres Recipe’ instead of the New York Times Recipe. Whatever title it’s given, the recipe has been discussed, dissected, and now I’m tossing my thoughts into the ring, too.
The recipe is full of nuances and uniquities, making it unlike any other chocolate chip cookie recipe I’ve tried. The full recipe yields 18 five-inch diameter cookies that use a whopping 3.5 ounces of raw dough each. That’s two to three times the size of most homemade cookies and puts these squarely into the jumbo-bakery-sized cookie realm. We didn’t need 18 whoppers all at once, fearing they would go stale before we’d eat them all, and so I halved the recipe, yielding nine jumbo cookies and one slightly smaller cookie. You could likely make the full batch of dough and either freeze the pre-baked balls of dough or freeze the finished cookies. I’m sure either freeze similarly well to other doughs or finished cookies if you prefer to make the full batch.
Halving the recipe was a good choice because the cookies are great on baking day as expected, but by the second day they were so-so, and what lingered into the third day was not my kind of cookie. They were hard, dry, and a bit crumbly. Some people expect that cookies just don’t hold up into the second and third day, but I am used to the Cooks Illustrated Thick And Chewy Recipe and various deviations I’ve created with it over the years. Those cookies do stay soft for days, thanks to a higher ratio of brown to granulated sugar. Because brown sugar absorbs atmospheric moisture, the cookies, paradoxically, get softer rather than dry out, as time passes.
The NYT recipe is unique in that it calls for two types of flour, bread flour and cake flour. Bread flour has a higher protein level than other flour, about 12.7% protein, which is a couple points higher than all-purpose flour, which is usually in the 1o- to 11.7-percent range, depending on the brand. The higher the protein level,  the more gluten that’s present, the stronger the rise, and also the chewier the resulting item. Bread flour creates chewiness in bread, and as I’ve discovered it does the same for cookies and I loved the resulting extra chewy effect.
Cake flour is on the opposite side of the spectrum. Soft, downy, light, and airy. It’s what angel food cakes and tender-crumbed birthday cakes are made from and although it’s great in cake, it’s typically not used for cookies because it’s too soft and cookies baked with it won’t have good structure. However, because it’s paired in conjunction with the big strongman known as bread flour, the two balance each other.
The downside of using cake flour is that it has a powerful aroma and smells strongly of a box of cake mix. I love the scent of cake mix, and the smell of birthday cake or Funfetti cake, but not inside my chocolate chip cookies. I have a very keen sense of smell and with every bite of chocolate chip cookie, it felt like I was simultaneously eating a white graduation party sheetcake or birthday cake and I did not care for this.
An additional consideration is that the average person may not keep both bread and cake flour on hand. I do, so not a biggie for me, but a consideration nonetheless if you have to purchase two bags of flour just to make cookies. However, buy the bread flour anyway because I have lots of bread recipes coming and you’ll need it.
The next consideration is that using a digital food scale is nearly mandatory for these cookies. Many grocery stores sell them in the baking supplies aisle near the flour and sugar and if you order online, you can find deals. I use the EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale in red. It’s $25, I’ve had it for years,it’s not super fancy, but it gets the job done. I don’t bake by weight as much as smart people in other countries tend to do, but when I do, I’m reminded that I need to do it more often because it makes things so much easier, faster, and more accurate.
For example, bread flour is heavy and dense, and cake flour is light and airy. If measuring by volume in traditional measuring cups, ’1 cup flour’ can be an inconsistent measurement, whereas measuring by weight on a scale is absolute. The scale also made halving the recipe a breeze. Halving numbers in ounces is much easier than trying to halve fractions and when I have cookie dough on the brain, I’d rather not try to halve fractions in my head with my stand mixer whipping and flour flying.
Additionally, there is no way I could have accurately guessed what a 3.5-ounce mound of dough looked like without using a scale. It’s much more dough than I would have guesstimated, and without a scale, I would have grossly under-estimated it.
 The next nuance is that the dough must be chilled for at least 24 to 36 hours before baking. If you are in a must-have-cookies-now mood, these are not the cookies for you as they do require at least a day’s worth of advance planning. The chilled dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours. In general, chilling cookie dough not only results in cookies that spread less when baked and that stay puffier, but in the case of these cookies, it’s been suggested this waiting period allows the flavors and flours to meld. Since I always chill my dough before baking cookies, sometimes up to four days beforehand, the chilling and waiting period was nothing out of the ordinary for me.
I actually find it easier to make cookie dough one day, store dough balls in the fridge in a little container, and bake them just before I want fresh and hot cookies. Sometimes I bake two balls of dough at a time because nothing beast a just-baked cookie. If within four days or so I haven’t baked off the dough, I toss it into a labeled ziplock and freeze it. When you’re ready to bake the frozen dough, you don’t even need to thaw it and I find baking for an additional minute or two is all that’s necessary.
The recipe also calls for specialty chocolate; chocolate disks which are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate, andValrhona fèves, which are oval-shaped chocolate pieces, sold at Whole Foods. I cannot afford to use high end chocolate in cookies, especially in ones I wasn’t sure I’d love. Instead I used my trusty Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chips and they were more than fine. Whatever kind of chocolate you use, you’ll need lots of it. Halving the recipe required 10 ounces of chocolate and so for a yield of nine cookies in the half batch, that’s over one ounce of chocolate per cookie. A standard bag of chocolate chips usually has ten to twelve ounces of chips in it; so for nine cookies, essentially a whole bag of chocolate chips is needed.
When mixing the chips into the dough, it almost felt like the dough couldn’t possibly hold one more chip and I learned by making this recipe that I can stuff more chocolate into other cookie doughs I make; it will all magically hold somehow. I loved that the cookies were bursting with chocolate chips and were intensely chocolaty. The one ounce-plus of chocolate per cookie is like eating a little chocolate candy bar baked within a cookie. Rich much?
When it came time to bake, almost two full days after mixing the dough, 44 hours to be exact, I weighed the dough balls to ensure I was doing everything as prescribed, down to the tenth-of-an-ounce.
The dough for one NYT cookie is like three of my normal cookies rolled into one massive hunk. Below are three one-ounce mounds that I smooshed together to create one bowling ball of dough. Well, baseball at least. The theoretical advantage to baking cookies this big is that the edges should bake up chewy, while the centers should stay soft. In reality, this theory did not work well with these cookies so I was very skeptical that the baseballs would give me the chewy-yet-soft results I wanted, but they delivered.
I learned something very valuable by making this recipe and if for no other reason than this discovery, I am glad I made these cookies. Since making the NYT cookies, I’ve tried making other types of cookies using two to 2.25-ounces of dough and realize I like them better than my typical one- to 1.25-ounce cookies. Sometimes bigger is better, to a point. I like cookies in the two-ounce range or slightly over, but 3.5 is just too big for a snack for me and is more like a meal, via one cookie.
I did not sprinkle sea salt on them before baking, a personal choice in the interest of taste-testing comparison. I wanted ‘classic’ chocolate chip cookies like I grew up with and since my mom and Grandma never baked cookies with sea salt, I omitted it here.
The recipe indicates to bake the cookies for 18 to 20 minutes at 350F. Because they’re huge, they need more time to bake than typical cookies. I baked the cookies one tray at a time because I have one ‘perfect’ rack in my oven and took no chances with these 44-hours-in-the-making bundles of joy. I baked the first batch of six cookies for 18 minutes and the second batch of four cookies for 16 1/2 minutes. I strongly preferred the 16 1/2-minute cookies and in my oven, baking for 20 minutes according to the recipe, would have ruined them. At 18 minutes, the edges were browned and the tops were on the glossy side; at 16.5 minutes the edges were slightly less browned and the tops were glossier, but still set. I allowed the cookies to cool on the baking tray for 10 minutes, then I placed them on a wire rack. They firmed up very dramatically during the ten minutes and by the time I transferred them to the rack, they had essentially finished cooling.
In any recipe, I tend to use the lower end of listed ranges and treat them as guidelines, not absolutes. Let common sense and your personal taste preferences be your guides when you deem something done. I frequently calibrate and test my oven temperature, and know that it’s functioning up to par. However, I believe baking times in many recipes are too lengthy to create soft and chewy cookies. I prefer Mrs. Field’s style cookies, very ooey and gooey, and overbaking is not the way to my heart. With most any cookie recipe, if you wait to pull them from the oven until they look done, most of the time as they cool, they will set up firmer and crispier than ultimately desired. These were just on the edge of that cliff and in my oven, 16 1/2 minutes (below) would be the max for future batches.
I wanted to love-love-love these cookies and wanted them to be the last cookie recipe I ever needed. I wanted to give them an A+ and if I was going by looks alone, they look exactly like a cookie ‘should’ look to me, and for appearance they get an A+. But we all know life, and cookies, is about more than just looks.
On baking day, for taste, I give them an A+. Fresh and hot out of the oven, they were simply stunning. Then again, most cookies are. In terms of texture, they center is tender and the edges are very chewy. If you like a chewy, sturdy, firm cookie that you really have to use your jaw to cut through, you will love these. They are the opposite of these, which melt in your mouth. There is nothing soft and airy about them, thanks in large part to the bread flour.
My major complaint is that the cookies didn’t age well and by the second and third day they became far too dry, hard, and crumbly for my preference. Especially considering the NYT cookies are so big, and because no one can realistically pound down an entire batch on the first day (holiday parties and feeding football teams not withstanding), I expect the leftovers to hold up for at least 48 to 72 hours. This lack of shelf life is was disappointing and the Cooks Illustrated recipe wins by a long shot here.
The other major issue is that the taste of the cake flour was unpleasantly discernible. I love cake and I love cookies, but not a cake within a cookie when I just want a good, classic, chocolate chip cookie. I do have a sensitive palate and keen sense of taste and smell, and I think things like this may be magnified for me, but even Scott who isn’t a supertaster and normally doesn’t know his zucchini flecks from his chocolate chips, asked me why the cookies smelled and tasted a little bit like birthday cake. Ahem.
Overall, the cookies fall in the B+ to A- range for me. I recommend trying them because you may absolutely love them as millions do and they may become your A+ never-need-another-recipe chocolate chip cookie recipe. Don’t be dissuaded by the two flours, the extended chilling time, or any trepidations in my review. I am simply being very cautious about proclaiming them as the ‘best cookies ever’ because as a food blogger who bakes hundreds of batches of cookies every year, I am judicious and on the tentative side when handing out those solid A ratings. I don’t want every single cookie I make to be ‘the best cookie ever that will change your life’ as I see happen so frequently on blogs.
And on baking day, these were the best and who cares if it was short-lived. That means you’ll just have to eat your way through a batch of these cookies, quickly. There are far worse things.
New York Times Chocolate Chips Cookies {from Jacques Torres}
Prep Time: 22 minutes
Cook Time: 18 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 18 large 5-inch cookies (I halved the recipe, see Notes)
These are possibly my new favorite chocolate chip cookies. I say possibly because with chocolate chip cookies, it's hard to pick a favorite and stick with it forever, but these will be hard to beat. The cookies are unique in that both bread flour and cake flour are used in the dough; the bread flour gives incredible chewiness and the cake flour keeps them light. *Note that the dough must be chilled for at least 24 hours, up to 72 hours, before baking the cookies. Although the active work time with these cookies is no more any other chocolate chip cookie recipe, be sure to budget in for the waiting period - they're worth the wait. They're also jumbo, big bakery-style cookies, just like you'd find at your favorite coffee shop with extra chewy edges and soft centers.
Ingredients:

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (chocolate disks available from Jacques Torres or Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are available at Whole Foods; I used Trader Joe's semi-sweet chocolate chips)
sea salt, for sprinkling over cookie dough prior to baking

Directions:

Sift flours, baking powder, baking soda, 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt into a large bowl; set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds (I did about 20 to 30 seconds). Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough (or place dough in an airtight container) and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours (I baked mine just shy of two days later, at 44 hours)
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.
Scoop six 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. (I baked first batch of 6 cookies for 18 minutes, and baked second batch of 4 cookies for 16 1/2 minutes; I prefer the 16 1/2 minute cookies). Transfer baking mat or parchment paper to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.
Recipe from the New York Times, adapted from Jacques Torres

Notes
I made a half-batch of what is written above and this was plenty. Although the full batch 'only' yields 18 cookies, they are jumbo cookies and 9 jumbo cookies was all we needed at one time before they would go stale. The pre-baked dough or finished cookies will likely freeze as well as other types of dough or cookies if you prefer to make the full batch.
I highly recommend using a digital food scale for this recipe. Because bread flour is so heavy and dense, compared to light and airy cake flour, measuring by volume in measuring cups, i.e. '1 cup flour' can yield very inconsistent results; whereas measuring by weight on a scale is absolute. The scale also made halving the recipe a breeze; halving round numbers in ounces is much easier than trying to halve fractions. The cookies need to be baked in 3.5-ounce balls and there is no way I could have guessed this accurately without using scale.
Although the recipe calls for specialty chocolate, the Trader Joe's semi-sweet chocolate chips I used were more than fine. I did not include a sea salt sprinkle.
I baked the cookies one tray at a time because I have one 'perfect' shelf in my oven and wanted to use just that shelf. I baked the first batch of 6 cookies (all cookies were 3.5 ounces) for 18 minutes, and baked the second batch of 4 cookies (3 cookies were 3.5 ounces and 1 cookie was 2.5 ounces) for 16 1/2 minutes. I prefer the 16 1/2 minute cookies and in my oven, 20 minutes would have ruined the cookies. At 18 minutes, the edges were browned and the tops were on the glossy and opaque side; at 16.5 minutes the edges were slightly less browned and the tops were more glossy but still set. With cookies, if you wait to pull them until they look done, most times as they cool, they will set up too hard.
Favorite Cookie Recipes:
Peanut Butter Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip Cookies – These are my favorite cookies I have on my blog (tied with the ones below). Peanut butter and oatmeal is combined, creating plenty of moistness and texture, and they’re paired with white chocolate. Because the cookies call for melted butter, no mixer is required and the higher ratio of brown to granulated sugar keeps them just as soft on day 4 as on day 1. Of all the cookie recipes on my site, people write to me the most frequently about these telling me they made them and really enjoyed them
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies – This is essentially the chocolate chip version of the cookie above. The dough base is slightly different, but very similar. I love either version depending on my mood whether I want white or semi-sweet chocolate chips
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Oatmeal Skillet Cookie – This is a play on the cookie above and combines three of my favorite cookies into one – chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal. The edges bake up crispy and chewy, and sweetened condensed milk is baked into the cookie, keeping the interior a literal hot, sweet, and gooey mess
Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies (GF) – The pictures don’t do these easy, four-ingredient cookies  justice. Sometimes simple ingredients can combine to create a sum greater than all its parts and that’s how I feel about these good old-fashioned peanut butter cookies that are soft and chewy and naturally gluten-free
Thin Mints (vegan, no-bake) – This isn’t a cookie I baked, per se, because they’re no-bake cookies.They’re a homemade knockoff version of Girl Scout Thin Mints and taking into account the work-reward scale, or return on time invested, and also based on authenticity, these cookies are a big win



Have you ever tried the New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe? Are you tempted to try it?
What’s your favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies?
If you have a favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies, please link it up and tell me why you love it so much. I want to find those buried gems.
My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe to date is the Cooks Illustrated Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe (with photo tutorial) on their site. Ironically, I have never blogged about that recipe. These are the closest.
Until very recently, I didn’t realize there are actually two Cooks Illustrated Chocolate Chip Cookie recipes; the Thick and Chewy, and their newer Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. That recipe differs from the Thick and Chewy in that browned butter is used, slightly less overall sugar is used while maintaining a higher brown to granulated sugar ratio, and slightly less flour is used, creating a slightly smaller batch size.
What I enjoy about the Cooks Illustrated recipes are that the butter is melted rather than creamed and so theoretically I don’t have to dirty my mixer to mix the ingredients. However, if I have time, I do get better results when I cream, rather than melt, the butter. And although their recipes don’t call specifically for chilling the dough in advance, I always do; it’s habit and I get better results. The cookies are just the right thickness, the edges are chewy and the centers stay soft. Making them also feels more fun, with less scientific precision required.
However, I have recently been testing some other chocolate chip cookie recipes, and creating some other dough hybrids, and the more cookies I make, the less certain I am of my favorites anymore.

Monday, April 22, 2013

ANGOLA PRISON RODEO!!








40 Years of Guts & Glory

   The Angola Rodeo, the longest running prison rodeo in the nation, got its start in 1965.  The first arena was small, built by a handful of dedicated inmates and personnel.  It wasn't much in those days, and the rodeo was stages just for the entertainment of prisoners and employees.  But it was fun.
   The 1967 rodeo was opened to the general public on a limited basis.  There were no stands.  Spectators had to sit on apple crates and the hoods of their cars to watch the performance.










   The success on the 1967 and 1968 rodeos prompted constructions of a 4,500 seat arena for the 1969 rodeo.  A near disaster occurred when the bleachers collapsed during one of the shows.  Spectators weren't alarmed, most didn't even get up.  They sat on the collapsed structure and continued to watch.  The 1971 rodeo was the wettest in history, but the show went on.
  As years passed, the rodeo grew in size, adding events and sponsorships.  The official Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rules were adopted in 1972 and the rodeo became a permanent fixture.










   The Angola Prison Rodeo is a professionally produced rodeo.  Angola contracts with professional rodeo stock contractors to provide the rodeo stock used in events; professional judges are contracted with to objectively judge each event.  In addition, to ensure inmate participant safety, professional rodeo clowns are always present in the arena during events.  A full complement of emergency services personnel are on site to provide medical assistance to inmate and spectators.










   In 1997, spectator capacity was expanded by 1000 seats and construction of a roof over the seating area began to provide increased comfort for spectators under Louisiana's blazing sun.  Hobbycraft space was also expanded to the point where it is no longer just a little concession area on the side for some inmate organizations to make a few bucks.  It is now an all day, full blown arts and crafts festival, complete with entertainment and food galore.  The arts and crafts festival begins at 9 a.m. and continues throughout the rodeo which begins at 2 p.m. each Sunday in October.  Many fans come to the rodeo for the arts and crafts show alone.










   Ticket, concession, and craft sales for the next two years broke all records, prompting the administration to build another arena.  Construction began on the new stadium in April 2000 and increased capacity to 7,500.  The new stadium was completed for the first rodeo in 2000.
   What began 40 years ago as a "fun" thing by a handful of rodeo loving inmates and employees is now big business.  Proceeds from the Angola Prison Rodeo cover rodeo expenses and supplement the Louisiana State Penitentiary Inmate Welfare Fund which provides for inmate educational and recreational supplies.









Angola Prison Rodeo Charter

   There is widespread recognition today about the Angola Prison Rodeo which was formally established in 1964.
   To clearly define goals and objectives of the Angola Prison Rodeo, the 2003 Angola Prison Rodeo Committee created a Charter, and amended it in March 2006.  This Charter demonstrates the Angola Prison Rodeo Committee's commitment to stewardship of any proceeds derived from the productions of the Angola Prison Rodeo.
   It is assumed that the rodeo was initially established to provide a source of recreation for the inmate populations as well as to provide a source of entertainment for employees of the Louisiana State Penitentiary and the immediate surrounding community.  Eventually, the Angola Prison was expanded to include spectators from the general public.










   Recognizing the potential for the growth of this unique event, since the 1995 rodeo season the Angola Prison Rodeo Committee has strived to provide a professional rodeo production which would prove beneficial to the internal inmate economy, but would also be beneficial to the Parish of West Feliciana tourism industry.  Soliciting help and  cooperation form the inmate populations provided an important mechanism to protect and improve the quality of the Angola Prison Rodeo, both economically and environmentally.
   The objective of the Angola Prison Rodeo remains to provide the prison population at Louisiana State Penitentiary with an opportunity for positive behavior changes.









Events

  1. Grand Entry-Angola Rough Riders enter the arena at full gallop and colors are presented.
  2. Bust out-All six chutes open simultaneously, releasing 6 angry bulls, with temporarily attached inmate cowboys.  The last man to remain on the bull wins the event.
  3. Bareback Riding-Riders are expected to keep one hand in the air, and must stay on the horse for 8 seconds to qualify.
  4. Wild Horse Race-Six wild horses are simultaneously released into the arena with short ropes dragging behind them.  Three-man teams attempt to grab the ropes and hold the horse long enough for a team member to mount.  The first team to cross the finish line while still on top of the horse is the winner.
  5. Barrel Racing-This is the only event in which inmates do not participate.  It is a tour stop for The Girl's Rodeo Association.
  6. Bull-Dogging-The animal is placed in a chute, with two cowboys positioned just outside the chute.  Their job is to wrestle the animal to the ground as quickly as possible.
  7. Buddy Pick-Up-This event requires one man on a horse (riding bareback) to navigate the length of the arena, pick up another inmate who is standing on a barrel, and race back to the finish line.
  8. Wild Cow Milking-Teams of inmate cowboys chase the animals around the arena trying to extract a little milk.  The first team to bring milk to the judge win the prize.
  9. Bull Riding-This dangerous and wide open event is what the fans come to see.  Inexperienced inmate sit on top of a 2,000 pound Brahma bull.  To be eligible for the coveted "All-Around Cowboy" title, a contestant must successfully complete the ride (6 seconds).  The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's rules govern this event.
  10. Convict Poker-Four inmate cowboys sit at a table in the middle of the arena playing a friendly game of poker.  Suddenly, a wild bull is released with the sole purpose of unseating the poker players.  The last man remaining seated is the winner.
  11. Guts & Glory-A chit (poker chip) is tied to the meanest, toughest Brahma bull available.  The object is to get close enough to the bull in order to snatch the chit.  This is the last event of the day, and perhaps the most exciting.