Sunday, January 20, 2019

Bakery Review: Homage Bakery

Homage Bakery - visited January 5, 2019
At the end of 2018, I moved to a new home. I'm not talking I packed my stuff in shopping bags and drove it over down the block or to the next town. No, I moved. After more than 4 decades in California, I packed up my whole house, scheduled honest-to-goodness professional movers and moved out of state. I landed in Reno, NV to hopefully soon-to-start my "semi-retirement". I say "semi" because I actually am still working, both remote and commuting back to the Bay Area. At least for a few more months.
The adjustment has been easier than I expected, maybe because I have family and friends here and have already been to Reno multiple times. It also doesn't hurt that one of the ways I familiarize myself with a new area (mostly when I travel) is I check out the local foodie scene. Actually, let's not kid ourselves. I google "top bakeries in (insert wherever I am)" and armed with the GPS on my phone and loose pants, I set off.
I have to give credit to my friend, Mary, though, as the first person to tell me about Homage Bakery. They did appear in the "top" list so it was an easy choice to go there on my first exploratory bakery run.

And I have to say, Homage did not disappoint. It's housed in what appears to be a former actual house, as I'm finding many places in Reno are. You go up a set of stairs to enter the "house". There are eating areas on both sides of the entrance and the counter and coffee bar are further in.
My greedy eyes drank in all of the baked goods and it was hard to narrow my choices. Past experience has taught me I can't eat all the things, no matter how greedy my eyes are. I was disappointed to find a sign for "kouign amann" and it's corresponding shelf was empty. Empty, I tell you. My hopeful query to the lady behind the counter brought the confirmation that yes, indeed, they were out of my favorite pastry.
At first I consoled myself with getting a "chocolate bombe" and a croissant bread pudding to go. I thought the bread pudding might be a somewhat-substitute for my erstwhile kouign amann. As I was paying for my pastries, I noticed the flyer at the counter announcing that one of the breakfast specials for the day was "Banana Bread French Toast". Whoa, unnotch that belt buckle, I'll have one of those.
Banana Bread French Toast
I've never had banana bread French toast. Thankfully I came to my senses and rectified that lack in my life. It was delicious. Freaking delicious. Worth every minute of the hour I spent in the gym later that day. It literally was slices of very delicious banana bread (and remember I am a snob about banana bread) made into French toast, topped with slices of fresh banana, drizzled with caramel and sprinkled with nuts.
I applaud Homage further for making a straight-up banana bread. No raisins, no nuts inside the bread, nothing but bananas and all the goodness required to make drool-worthy banana bread. Never mind that I was near-sick by the time I finished it. Because finish it I did. It was too delicious to leave a crumb on my plate, diet be damned. Oh wait, I forgot I was on a diet at this point. Never mind. It was worth it.

Hot Chocolate

Croissant Bread Pudding
And in case you're keeping track, I wasn't on a diet when I ate the bread pudding drizzled with caramel sauce either. So there.
with caramel sauce

The bread pudding was good, although a little wet on the bottom by the time I was not-full enough to eat it. I did warm it up in my little toaster oven at home before I drizzled the caramel over it and it was good but it wasn't a kouign amann. Still, it was good.

But, let's talk about the chocolate bombe. Holy chocolate gods, thank you. This was amazing. The chocolate wasn't too overpowering or so rich that you could only eat a mouthful. As I proved with every forkful that made its way to my mouth.

Chocolate Bombe
It was the texture of the cake underneath the dome that lured me. Perfect fudginess. More dense than a typical cake, not quite as dense as a brownie or fudge. In other words, let me say "perfect" again.

The best "homage" (get it?) I can pay to anything I try from a bakery is a desire to make my own. Sure enough, as soon as I finished this bad boy, I was on amazon searching for those dome-shaped silicone molds so I can try this at home. Yup, I'm willing to temper chocolate, brush the inside of these dome molds, fill them with (I need to find) an amazing cake and decorate/garnish it. Or go back to Homage at the first opportunity (and after I log another 20 hours at the gym) so I can have another chocolate bombe.
This was a great first introduction to Reno's bakeries.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Instant Pot Smothered Pork Chops

Instant Pot Smothered Pork Chops - made January 4, 2019 from Beauty and the Foodie
I love my Instant Pot. I've only used it a few times but that's enough to let me know I love it. Mostly because it almost makes me feel like a "real cook". Okay, not really. It's because the recipes I find to use it are really easy and thanks to its Instant-Pot-is-really-a-fancy-pressure-cooker capabilities, it's also a quick way to make a decent meal.
I've found it's especially handy when making pork chops. If you're like me and prefer the thick-cut boneless pork chops, the Instant Pot is an even better BFF. No more frying mess, burning it on the outside while the inside is still too pink (is that just me?) or it being too dry and tasteless (also just me?)
You do have to do a little work in terms of searing the outside first before you add the ingredients and turn on the Instant Pot to do its magic but even that's pretty simple. I omitted the mushrooms because I don't like them but otherwise followed the recipe almost exactly. Except I used the minced garlic from Penzey's instead of hassling with garlic cloves on my own.
Matter of fact, the main reason I cook - besides the fact that even *I* can't eat out all the time - is to use up my spices from Penzey's. Love their spices and I'm always on the lookout for recipes that use up the ones I've bought. This recipe came out well. The pork chops were tender but not too soft and the sauce was tasty. If you want a little more texture, you might want to reserve some of the bacon and fry it separately so you can have crispy bacon bits on top.
4 boneless pork loin chops
2 slices uncooked bacon, chopped (I used 4 slices)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon fine-ground sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup sliced white mushrooms (I left them out)
1 cup beef broth
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves or minced fresh parsley for garnish

  1. Sprinkle each side of pork chops with thyme, salt and pepper.
  2. Press Saute and add olive oil to the inner pot. Heat until the pot shows "hot" on the screen.
  3. Sear the pork chops on both sides for 2 to 3 minutes to just brown the sides in the inner pot. Remove the pork chops from the pot and set aside on a plate.
  4. While still hot, add the chopped bacon, minced garlic and sliced mushrooms, if using, to the pot and saute 3-4 minutes until garlic has softened and bacon is browning.
  5. Add the beef broth to the pot and scrape the bottom of the pot to deglaze. Stir in the onion powder and garlic powder. Press "Cancel" to turn off saute mode. 
  6. Add pork chops back to the pot.
  7. Secure and lock the lid. Turn the pressure release handle to Sealing. Select Pressure Cook on High Pressure (Normal) and set the timer for 10 minutes.
  8. Once cooking time is done, let the pressure naturally release for 10 minutes then Quick Release the remaining pressure. 
  9. Once all steam has released, open the lid and remove only the pork chops. Cover and keep warm. Select Saute and heat liquid in inner pot until bubbling. Add the heavy cream to the sauce and stir. Continue to heat on saute until bubbling. Press "Warm" on the pot. Plate pork chops and pour the sauce over the chops. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves or fresh parsley.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Homemade Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni

Homemade Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni - made November 23, 2018 from A Southern Mom
Although I made this recipe awhile ago, I postponed putting it up on my blog in favor of my holiday baking recipes instead.
Plus, this is generally the time of year when I post recipes for "real food". Yes, it's my usual new year "let's give cooking another try, shall we?" effort. Not that this recipe takes much effort, thankfully.
When I was in college and for some years after, I loved making hamburger helper. It was so easy. Brown some ground beef, tear open the box and let stuff simmer until the pasta was tender. That's my kind of cooking.
And although this technically wasn't from the Hamburger Helper box, it was also pretty easy. If you can brown ground beef, you can make this recipe. Bonus that it used some of my Penzey's spices. Double bonus that it tasted pretty good and made enough to feed me over multiple meals.
1 lb lean ground beef
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup hot water
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups macaroni
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  1. Brown ground beef in large pan over medium heat; drain the fat.
  2. Add cornstarch, spices, sugar, water, pasta and milk; bring to boil.
  3. Lower heat and simmer mixture until pasta is al dente.
  4. Add cheddar cheese and stir. Turn off heat and stir until cheese is melted. Serve warm.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Cookies

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Cookies - made dough December 9, 2018 from This Silly Girl's Kitchen
A late post from last month's cookie baking for the holidays. I'm torn about this cookie. As you know, I'm not a fan of cream cheese or the tang in its taste. Yes, I know, I still seem to keep baking with it anyway. Call me contrary.
These cookies look like snickerdoodles but they're not. They have that deceptively snickerdoodle-y appearance because I rolled them in cinnamon sugar before baking them. But they're a cream cheese-based cookie and have a more dense, chewy texture.

I liked the texture of these cookies as they give your teeth something to sink into. The taste was fine but because they look so much like snickerdoodles, my mind kept expecting they'd taste like them too but my taste buds said "nope". To trick your mind and mind's eye, you can also roll the cookie dough balls in colored sugar or plain granulated sugar and omit the cinnamon so you avoid the faux snickerdoodle conundrum.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
pinch kosher salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and cream cheese until smooth and combined. Gradually add powdered sugar, mixing until combined. Add egg, baking powder, vanilla and salt; mix until just combined.
  2. Gradually add flour in 3 additions, mixing after each addition until just combined; do not overmix. Portion into small dough balls, cover and chill for 1 hour.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix 1/4 cup granulated sugar and cinnamon in small bowl. Roll chilled dough balls into mixture, coating completely, and evenly space on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 8-9 minutes or until just set; do not overbake. Let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Red Velvet Chocolate Chip Cookies

Red Velvet Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough November 23, 2018 from Just So Tasty
I meant to post this recipe before Christmas but the time got away from me. So you might want to file this away for Valentine's Day for a color-appropriate treat,
The white chocolate makes a nice contrast to the red velvet cookie and provides some sweetness to what is essentially a chocolate cookie. I have a hard time baking it so that the white chocolate doesn't turn brown at the edges. You can see from the pictures that I was unsuccessful. But honestly, I took it out when they were just barely done and the white chocolate still browned.

As it was, white chocolate chunks aside, I thought the cookies themselves turned out perfectly baked, i.e. not too underdone but not overbaked either. They had a nice fudgy texture, exactly like how I like my cookies.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 teaspoons red food coloring, liquid or gel
3/4 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, cornstarch, baking soda and salt.
  2. In a separate large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg, vanilla extract and food coloring. 
  4. On low speed, beat in the dry ingredients in 2 additions, beating until just combined. Do not overbeat. Fold in white chocolate.
  5. Portion dough into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  6. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space dough balls. Bake 7-9 minutes or until edges are set and middles no longer look raw. Let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Homemade Nutella Oreos

Homemade Nutella Oreos - made dough November 3, 2018 from Crazy for Crust
I've mentioned before that one of the rare store-bought cookies I like are Oreos. (The other two are Tim Tams and Biscoff cookies for anyone keeping track.) I don't buy or eat them often but they're my guilty pleasure. So I'm always interested in any homemade version of them.

I have to admit though, I cheated on the filling. I listed it as originally found on Crazy for Crust in case anyone wants to make them as intended. Me? I used - what else - Nutella as the filling. An oft-used trick for the lazy or busy baker. It works, either way.
The cookies themselves turned out a little crunchy rather than soft, which surprised me at first but makes sense. Oreos are crisp in cookie texture. The homemade version shouldn't be soft or mushy and these weren't. Use a dark chocolate cocoa powder (another plug for Pernigotti cocoa) so the chocolate cookies will have a robust, dark, rich chocolate flavor. Also, make the cookie balls small and as uniform as possible. I also recommend flattening the little dough balls into discs so they'll bake to a uniform thickness. You don't want the individual cookies to be too thick or else the sandwich cookies will be too thick.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Nutella
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  1. Whisk flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa powder in medium-sized bowl;set aside.
  2. Cream butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Cream until smooth and combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in egg and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and beat until just combined.
  3. Scoop into small dough balls, cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight. 
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space cookie dough balls. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes or until the edges are set and middles no longer look raw. Remove to wire racks and let cool completely.
  5. Filling: beat butter, salt and Nutella with electric mixer until smooth and combined. Slowly add powdered sugar, beating until mixture is smooth and thick. Add vanilla and 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream. Beat for 30 seconds then add more cream as needed for consistency, up to 1 tablespoon.
  6. Pipe filling onto the bottom of half the cookies then sandwich with second cookie. Store in airtight container.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Coconut Cream Cheese Cookies

Coconut Cream Cheese Cookies - made dough November 23, 2018 from Vanilla Kitchen
I don't like cream cheese and normally avoid making a lot of stuff with it. I don't like the tang of cream cheese and the calories aren't worth it to me to eat desserts like cheesecake and the like. Even cream cheese frosting, which has its place, preferably on coconut cake or red velvet cake, does not hold a place in my dessert-loving heart.
HOWEVER, run, don't walk, to use cream cheese in these cookies. For one thing, you can't taste that tang. It was successfully buried underneath the butter and sugar. Plus the coconut. This might just be one of my new favorite coconut cookies. I love the taste and the chewy texture. The edges are crisp and the middle is nicely chewy. And it's delicious to boot.
I toasted the coconut for a little texture and that worked out well. There are no eggs in this cookie. The fat primarily comes from the butter and cream cheese which gives it that moist interior and chewy texture. Plus it doesn't spread that much so it stays thick. For a more uniform appearance, make the dough balls the size of golf balls then flatten slightly into thick discs. These stack well so they would be good to include in holiday gift bags.

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups coconut, toasted and cooled completely
  1. Whisk flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl; set aside.
  2. In the large bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine butter and cream cheese; beat until smooth. Add sugars and beat until combined. Add vanilla and mix until just combined.
  3. Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in cooled coconut. Portion dough into golf-ball-size dough balls and flatten slightly to thick discs. Cover and chill overnight or else place in freezer bags and freeze for several hours or overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space dough discs and bake for 12-14 minutes or until edges are set and bottoms are light brown; do not overbake. Cool cookies in baking sheets for 5 minutes then remove to wire racks to cool completely.