Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thomas Keller Oreos

Thomas Keller Oreos, originally uploaded by ParsecTraveller.

Here's a cookie that will knock most peoples' socks off: the Thomas Keller Oreo, or TKO.

Mr. Keller, the world-famous chef who owns the French Laundry restaurant, came up with his own interpretation of the Oreo, and his recipe has made it into the public.

These cookies are really good: the cookie part is actually chocolatey, with a buttery, crumbly, slightly crispy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. The filling really is a white chocolate cream filling, not some artificial concoction.

Easy to make and wonderful to eat, they're worth a try. The recipe is posted below (I got it from, where it was in turn taken from the cookbook The Essence of Chocolate, by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger.

Thomas Keller Oreos (TKO's)

From The Essence of Chocolate
Makes about 3 dozen sandwich cookies.

1 1/2 cups plus 3 Tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar – *I would use 1.5 more tablespoons*
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
15 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 3/4" cubes, at room temperature – *I used 1 more tbsp.*

1/2 cup heavy cream
8 oz. white chocolate, chopped

1. For the Filling: In a small pan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute, then whisk to melt the chocolate until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, and let stand for 6 hours to thicken up.

2. For the Cookies: In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt, and mix on low speed. With the mixer running, add the butter, a piece at a time. The mixture will be dry and sandy at first, but over 2 minutes, will form pebble-size pieces that start to cling together. Stop the mixer and transfer the dough to your board.

3. Preheat oven to 350° F (300° F in our too-hot oven). Separate dough into 2 pieces. Roll each piece of dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper to 1/8" inch thick. Using a fluted cutter, cut into rounds. Scraps can be pieced together and rolled out again. Place 1/2" apart on baking sheets lined with Silpat liners or parchment paper.

4. Bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating halfway through baking. Remove and cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

5. To Assemble: Lightly whip the white chocolate cream to aerate and fluff up. Transfer filling to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4" plain tip. Pipe about 1 1/2 tsp in the center of half the cookies. Top with another cookie to sandwich. Gently press down until the cream comes to the edges.

6. Cookies can be stored in a container for up to 3 days. Loosely cover.

Obtained from:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Homemade Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

Dark Chocolate Ice Cream, originally uploaded by ParsecTraveller.

I know it's not ice cream season, but just bear with me... ;)

A while back, a good friend of mine brought back some dark chocolate from France. After experimenting with many different ice cream flavors, including rose and lemon verbena, I decided I needed to make a good and simple chocolate ice cream.

Tasty ice cream can be surprisingly easy to make, and toying with a basic vanilla recipe can yield delicious results. In this case though, the chocolate needed to be melted with hot milk and cream, and then chilled, which added a few hours to the whole process.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

French Summer Color

French Summer, originally uploaded by ParsecTraveller.

Red-hot marigolds in a garden at a countryside home in the Dauphiné region.

The marigolds in France are amazing - they grow to be bushes 3 feet tall, the largest I've ever seen. Maybe it's the soil, maybe it's the weather, but the gardens in France grow lush and healthy. There are vegetable gardens, or potagers, in the yards of many of the old homes.

Have any of you grown marigolds that just get huge? Most of the marigolds around here are piddly little dwarves...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

La pâtisserie...

Maybe just one..., originally uploaded by ParsecTraveller.

Anybody want some?

These pastries, ranging from profiteroles, or cream-filled pastries, to tartes aux fruits, filled a glass case at a bakery in the French town of Morestel.

Profiteroles seem to be difficult to make, from what I've heard. Anyone have some stories to share?

Coquelicots - A Memory of Summer

Coquelicot at Sunset, originally uploaded by ParsecTraveller.

These coquelicots, also known as Flanders poppies, were growing along a country roadside in the Dauphiné region of France, near Lyon. Summer sounds so good right now...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Cascading Creek

Cascading Creek, originally uploaded by ParsecTraveller.

Another creek shot from last weekend in Las Trampas.

Right now California is being pounded by yet another strong rainstorm, and this one has dropped a few inches of rain in places. As the storm heads inland tomorrow, it will leave behind showery weather for what appears to be the remainder of the week.

All the while, the rain has caused the wildflowers to start growing and budding with high intensity, as evidenced by the poppies coming up all over the hillsides. On a recent hike, you could see that the poppies had flower buds...yes!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée

On a whim Friday night, I decided to make crème brûlée, as it is an easy but delicious dessert.

The recipe I used was from Anita Chu's blog Dessert First. I modified it slightly, such as adding more sugar and more vanilla flavoring. I also added Grand Marnier orange liqueur and rose water, as the recipe called for. Overall, the crème brûlée turned out great, with the smooth flavor of vanilla and the floral hint of rose water. The Grand Marnier was hard to discern, however, so I would add more than the recipe calls for. Speaking of the recipe, it's posted below:

Rosebud Crème Brûlée

makes about 6 servings in 4 1/2 ounce ramekins

2 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon vanilla seeds, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces egg yolks (about 4-5 eggs)
2 ounces sugar*
1/4 teaspoon Grand Marnier**
1/2 teaspoon rose water

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Find a baking pan that will fit all of the ramekins you plan to use. The sides of the pan should be at least as high as the ramekins. Line the bottom of the baking pan with a towel.

Heat the cream and vanilla in a medium saucepan on medium heat until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and let sit for about 10 minutes for the vanilla to infuse.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a bowl.

Slowly pour about a third of the hot cream into the eggs, whisking all the time to prevent the eggs from curdling.

Pour the tempered eggs back into the cream, whisking constantly until combined. Whisk gently to prevent bubbles from forming.

Strain the mixture into a clean bowl.

Add the Grand Marnier and rose water and let the custard cool slightly.

Arrange the ramekins in the baking pan on top of the towel. Using a ladle, carefully, pour the custard into the ramekins, filling just below the rim. Try to fill all of the ramekins to the same height so they will bake evenly.

Carefully pour hot water into the baking pan until it comes up about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Do not let the water get into the pan.

Carefully place the baking pan into the oven and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour until set. I checked at about half an hour and at 45 minutes, but don't open the oven door too often or you'll lose all the heat and the custards will not cook. You can check the progress of the custards by sticking a paring knife into the custard slightly away from the center. If it comes out covered in liquidy custard, it's not done yet. Also, if you lightly touch the center of the custard and your fingertip comes away covered in custard it is also not done.

When the custards are done, they should shimmy slightly when you move the pan (careful not to spill water!) but the center should not move separately. If, however, it has set like Jello and there are bubbles forming on the top it is becoming overcooked and you should remove the custards immediately. If the custards start rising at any point they have become overcooked.

After you remove the baking pan from the oven and the ramekins have cooled enough to handle, remove the ramekins, cover them, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving.

When you are ready to serve the crème brûlées, take one ramekin at a time and sprinkle the top with sugar evenly over the top. Using a hand-held blowtorch, carefully caramelize the sugar. Keep the flame at least 2 inches from the sugar to prevent burning the sugar. You can also caramelize the sugar under a broiler.

Let the sugar cool for a couple of minutes before serving. Do not brûlée the custards more than 20 minutes before serving or the sugar may melt.

Recipe courtesy of Anita Chu at

*I used more sugar (1/2 cup total instead of about 1/4 cup total).
**You may want to use more Grand Marnier if you want a more noticeable orange flavor.

Friday, February 20, 2009

In the Forest

In the Forest, originally uploaded by ParsecTraveller.

A small, lacy waterfall on a creek in Las Trampas Regional Park. The heavy rains brought water back to the creeks - and mud to the trails - in most of the parks in the Bay Area.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Las Trampas Cascade

Cascade, Las Trampas, originally uploaded by ParsecTraveller.

One of the multiple cascades to be found along an unnamed creek in Las Trampas. There are still colorful red leaves on the ground from fall...and spring is here!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Falling in the Woods

Falling in the Woods, originally uploaded by ParsecTraveller.

The recent heavy rains have filled up the creeks with water. This small waterfall is in Las Trampas Regional Park, a 5300-acre wilderness close by. It's amazing how green and lush it is up in the wooded canyons of the park...ferns and mosses coat every surface!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Rain Returns...

The rain has returned here in northern California, with nearly constant precipitation for the past week. To the south, the Santa Cruz Mountains have received over 8 inches of rain in the past 24 hours in some places! Creeks are flowing (in fact, flooding) and the rain just keeps coming. And as for the drought, at least in some places: busted.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Drought Busters

It looks like our drought is about to get busted... a powerful Pacific storm is going to make its way into California and dump several inches of rain over a 12-hour period. It seems that our dry waterfalls may actually show up this year!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The China Wall

The China Wall, originally uploaded by ParsecTraveller.

Here's a local rock formation that is (amazingly) known of by few people. Called the China Wall, it extends for about 1/3 of a mile across a gap between hillsides. And speaking of hills, they're starting to get really green out here in California. Looks like it might actually be a pretty good spring...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Singer Worth Listening To...

I recently found out that a friend of mine made it onto iTunes. Her name is Kylie Rothfield, and she is highly talented, with a smooth, resonant voice that I find separates her from so many other teenage singers out there. Look her up on iTunes - I think you'll be impressed.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Diablo Foothills

Diablo Foothills, originally uploaded by ParsecTraveller.

Here's a scene from a local hiking spot, Diablo Foothills Regional Park. When the rains come to California, they turn the hills a lush green. This week is looking good rain-wise; we're predicted to get storm after storm for at least the next 7 days, which is great for drought-stricken California.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A Trip to Annie's Annuals

Annie's Annuals is an incredible nursery in Richmond, California. They have the largest selection of rare and unusual annuals and perennials anywhere. Some rarities they carry include a double-flowered nasturtium, a large, blue-flowered form of scarlet pimpernel, and a freakishly amazing South African spider iris.

Although Annie's is a veritable gardener's heaven, you need to drive through some rough neighborhoods to get there. That didn't prevent me, however, from stopping by and loading up on California native wildflowers such as baby blue eyes, tidy tips, bird's eyes, and 'Apricot Chiffon' California poppies.

Annie's Annuals is definitely worth a visit if you live in the Bay Area or are ever passing through.

Anyone else have excellent nurseries nearby?