The Sugar (& Cinnamon) To Sprinkle on Your Snow Day

make-it-a-cinnamon-rollDateline: January 6 2017 , Charlotte NC.

So they say its going to snow. That’s #SnOMG or #Snomageddon for those of you anxious to share the excitement on social media!

Although I’ve been Charlotte-based since 1975, I’m still enough of a Florida-raised girl that, for me, the words, “Snow Day” run synonymous with the term “Free Day”

Snow in Charlotte, and often the accompanying ice, cause a run on the bread and milk aisles in local groceries and a bit of a local panic. Truth is, in 2-3 days its usually all melted and gone. So, while the “free” time does provide an unexpected opportunity to take a deep breath and to catch up on cleaning and paperwork, I’d prefer to  look at it through adolescent rose-colored glasses and take is as a day off to play, make footprints in the snow,  drink hot chocolate and in the case of today’s post make cinnamon rolls.

Snow or not, you’ll find this recipe makes for a fun morning of winter’s baking, filling your home with the sweet strong scent of cinnamon. Traditionally I make cinnamon rolls for all of our neighbors and local family and deliver the warm pans of rolls tied up with a holiday bow to those on the cul-de-sac on Christmas Morning. But, you don’t have to wait for the holidays to circle back round, cinnamon rolls are a fun treat for yourself and your friends any time of the year.

img_7817What you will need:  Keeping the recipe as local as I can, I now love using Carolina Farmhouse Dairy plain or vanilla organic yogurt in place of the sour cream that I originally called for in this recipe. This yogurt, made in Bahama NC just north of Durham, gives a creamier lighter taste to the finished rolls; and as its local and organic I know where the milk that turns to yogurt come from and makes me feel better about what I am feeding my family and friends.  Same goes for the local eggs. In this case I used chicken eggs from Rowland’s Row Farms, but local duck eggs work equally as well and add a richer taste and texture.

Where to buy? Both Carolina Farmhouse Dairy Yogurt and Rowland’s Row eggs are available at the all new Queen City Pantry/ Vin Masters at Atherton Mill!  That’s right, Vin Master is not just a wine shop any more. Recently purchased by Queen City Pantry’s Rochelle Baxter, Vin Master now carries all the local product that Queen City Pantry has been know for as well as a terrific variety of wine and beer. (Note to self: in light of the upcoming snow, might want to  pick up a couple of bottles of wine while shopping for yogurt and eggs)

As far as the remaining ingredients go, if I can’t find a locally raised or produced option, I turn toward organic choices whenever I can. In this case, the sugar I use in the recipe is organic, as is the butter; and the flour is local Southern Biscuit Flour,  brought to you by Renwood Mills in Newton NC. This trio of ingredients is available at almost every local grocer.

imgres-2My personal preference in yeast is SAF Red Instant Yeast. The Healthy Home Market  with three locations in Charlotte usually carries this yeast in 1 lb. bags – which, in my experience, will last till you use it all, if you keep it in a sealed container in your freezer. if you can’t find it locally you can order it from the fine folks  at King Arthur’s Flour.  

Here’s the How-To when using yeast in a recipe. Proof the yeast ( to make sure it is good) when you first open the vacuum sealed bag , by stirring the prescribed amount into water that is tepid. That is no hotter than 110 degrees F. You can use an instant-read thermometer if you’d like, but if you want to go by feel, tepid water  is not as cold as what you would pour for a glass to drink; but not as hot as what you would use to wash your face. Think room temperature.  Stir the yeast in and wait for a bit of foaming of bubbling action to occur on the water’s surface, once that happens you are good to go. Store the remaining yeast in an airtight container in the freezer and use it as needed. Further directions in the recipe below…

 

img_7831Now about the cinnamon. My go-to spot for spice is the Savory Spice Shop in Southend Charlotte. Run by Amy and Scott McCabe and an incredibly knowledgeable staff, Charlotte’s South Charlotte Savory Spice Shop now enjoys new digs at the Atherton Mill & Market. Located right around the corner from their former location, between O-Ku Restaurant and Big Ben’s, they’ll set you up for success, making it easy for you to keep fresh fragrant and flavorful spices in your pantry of spice drawer all year long.

No more buying big jars and then having them grow old and stale between recipes. It’s always good to keep basics on hand, but for specialty items, buy as is needed and know that you may purchase as much or as little as you’d like. While the Savory Spice Shop in Southend carries several varieties of ground cinnamon and cinnamon chips ( ooh, wouldn’t those be a great addition to these rolls!) my favorite cinnamon for sweet and spicy culinary endeavors alike is the piquant, rich ground Saigon Cassia Cinnamon. Before you cook, go in and taste all the varieties on the shelves ( this is one of the pleasures of shopping at Savory Spice,  you may taste before you buy) and find the one that works best for you.

So there you have it – all that’s left is the fun that’s to be had in the baking. I fill my cinnamon rolls with a mix of the organic white sugar, cinnamon and my homemade brown sugar ( the how-to here is in the recipe) Be generous as you sprinkle for extra ooey-goo-iness. If you’re feeling adventurous, mix it up a bit with the addition of chocolate, cinnamon or butterscotch chips,  or cocoa nibs ( Black Mountain Chocolate cocoa nibs from Winston-Salem, NC are also available at the new Vin Masters, as well!)

Heidi’s Homemade (SnowDay) Cinnamon Rolls

1 cup organic sour cream or (preferably) organic yogurt – Carolina Farmhouse Dairy is my Go-to brand

½ cup organic sugar

1 tsp. salt

½ cup melted butter

½ cup tepid water

2 Tbsp. SAF Red Instant yeast

2 local chicken or duck eggs

4 cups organic or local unbleached flour

For the cinnamon roll filling:

generous amounts of melted butter
, cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar*

*Here’s the Brown Sugar How-To: Make your own brown sugar by using 2 1/2 cups of organic sugar and 1/4 cup of local NC Sorghum Syrup molasses ( Forget the commercial blackstrap molasses and go local here – it really makes a delicious difference! I love the sorghum syrup molasses from Harrell Hill Farms in Bakersville, NC and you will too; but any NC sorghum syrup works well) Blend the two ingredients together  by using quick on-off pulsing motions in a food processor until the sugar dissolves into the sorghum and viola! – Your own homemade brown sugar – yum!

 

img_7819For the dough: Dissolve yeast in warm water with one teaspoon of the sugar. Stir and when a foam forms on the surface it is ready. If no foam appears within five minutes, then either your water was too hat or your yeast was old. Start again with cooler water and another package of yeast. 
Once the yeast starts to foam or proof, combine it with the other dough ingredients to form a soft but sticky dough.
 Let rise 1 hour. Turn out onto a floured worksurface. Knead until smooth then roll dough out into a large rectangle about ¼ inch thick.

For cinnamon rolls: generously spread the dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugars and cinnamon. Roll up like a jelly roll. Cut the log of dough into 1 ½ inch thick slices. Place the slices in a buttered pan, cut side up. Drizzle with additional melted butter. 
Cover with a dish towel and let rise an additional 20 minutes. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 23-30 minutes.

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I can’t wait to see and hear how your cinnamon rolls bake up!  Post photos and then tag me on your social media posts – @HeidiBillotto and @HeidiBillottoCooks on Facebook; @HeidiCooks on Twitter and @HeidiBillotto on Instagram

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Stay tuned…my list of Jan, Feb and March 2017 hands-on cooking classes posts this weekend – can’t  wait!

Stuffed Squash Blossoms: A New Take on Ham and Cheese

img_5252I’ve been doing a lot of cooking this month on television and for catering jobs and cooking classes. As my regular readers know, I am all about local and cooking in the season, so this month, in particular, I have celebrated the end of the squash season with  several recipes for stuffed squash blossoms. Recently I made a delicious (if I do say so myself) ham and cheese stuffed version of my baked stuffed squash blossoms, originally for a brunch I catered for the Charlotte Food Bloggers.

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Earlier this week, I shared the recipe on WBTV’s new program, Morning Break, in the television kitchen with my friend Kristen Miranda  and you’ll find the video of this recipe prep is at the end of this post, as well as a special bonus recipe from the Charlotte Food Bloggers’ Brunch.

My friends from Goodnight Brothers Country Ham were good enough to help sponsor the brunch I prepared for the Charlotte Food Bloggers and so as a way of saying thanks I wanted to come up with several new and interesting ways to serve Goodnights thin sliced dry cured country ham. You might consider it North Carolina’s answer to Italian prosciutto. This thin sliced ham is locally available in Charlotte at Earthfare and Whole Foods.

dsc_0734What I love about the ham is first is all its a local North Carolina product all the way around. Goodnight Brothers, based in Boone, NC,  doesn’t raise the pigs – they just cure the meat, but they are selective in the meat they use.  The Goodnight products are produced from pigs pasture-raised on North Carolina family farms. These animals were raised in an antibiotic-free environment and when the meat was cured it was done so without the use of added nitrates or nitrites except for those naturally occurring in sea salt and celery. The ham comes thin sliced in 4 oz packages and slices are separated with parchment paper to make using the ham even easier.

 

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Heidi’s Ham and Cheese salad with Goodnight Brothers Thin sliced ham, grilled Bosc Pears, boiled quail eggs, Tega Hill Farm Lettuce and Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese, dressed with Blackberry Ginger Balsamic from Pour Olive in Charlotte

I’ve seen chefs across the state use this tasty ham in multitudes of recipes as Goodnight Brothers products have been featured in many of the GotToBeNc Competition Dining  series battles I have worked; and inspired, I have used it myself to make ham-wrapped everything from shrimp to pretzels, in salads, on biscuits and in combination with another local favorite of mine, Uno Alla Volta feta cheese to stuff local squash blossoms, available from Tega Hill Farms.

As I write this, it is the middle of October, and by the end of the month, squash season will be over in the Tega Hill Farm greenhouses and the vines of beautiful yellow blossoms will make way for pea tendrils and other seasonal greens. But don’t you fret, this wonderful ham and cheese stuffing can still be made and used in many ways – here are just a few suggestions before we get to the squash blossom recipe.

img_4985Cut jalapenos or small sweet peppers in half, scrape out the seeds, fill the pepper halves with the ham and cheese filling, top with a sprinkling of panko crumbs and grated Parmesan and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes or until brown for a great spicy or not ham and cheese popper.

The stuffing can also be piped onto toasts or into small savory pastry shells and baked as you would the peppers, or mix the stuffing recipe here in its entirety with 2 ( 8oz) blocks of cream cheese and then baked in small well greased muffin tins at 375 for about 30 mins to make bite-sized ham and cheese cheesecakes!

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You can also use the ham all by itself to make a mean mini ham biscuit – I particularly like these dressed with a new mustard I just discovered. Its Korean Mustard, produced by a South Carolina based company called Burnt and Salty and is available in Charlotte at the Savory Spice Shop in Southend. The sweet salty taste of the dry cured ham and the sweet spicy taste of the mustard are a match made in heaven and perfect on a one or two bite fresh baked biscuit!

 

 

So many variations -hope you have fun trying them all, but first back to the matters at hand. The Squash Blossoms and the master recipe for my local Ham and Cheese  stuffing.

Heidi’s Ham and Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Honey and Bechamel 

img_5267For the Squash Blossoms:

1 cup Uno Alla Volta feta cheese

3 local eggs, divided

1/2 cup chopped local parsley or spinach

½ cup shredded Goodnight Brothers Thin Sliced Dry Cured Country Ham

orange zest

12 squash blossoms from Tega Hill Farm

Flour

¾ cup breadcrumbs

For the béchamel

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

img_52571½ cups whole local milk ( I used Hickory Hill Milk produced just outside of Greenville SC and available in Charlotte at Earthfare – its a wonderful cream top milk and – fun fact – is the milk from which Clemson Blue Cheese is made!)

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard ( or you can use the Burnt and Salty Korean Mustard for a nice kick!

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

Directions for the blossoms:

Mix together feta, 1 lightly beaten egg, shredded ham and  parsley or spinach and orange zest. Season to taste.

Put the remaining 2 eggs in a bowl and whisk. Put the breadcrumbs in another bowl.

Carefully remove the stamen of each blossom and then pipe the  filling into each squash blossom and twist loosely at the end to close.

img_4991Dust the stuffed blossoms lightly with flour. And then dip each stuffed squash blossom in egg, then breadcrumbs, and transfer to a wire cake rack. This is the secret – allow the breading and egg to rest for about 5 minutes before placing the breaded blossoms on a parchment paper or silpat lined baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes, in a preheated 400 degree oven until the blossoms are lightly browned.

Remove from the oven. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

For a savory dish, top the blossoms with the béchamel. For a sweeter note, drizzle them with local honey from Dancing Bees Honey before serving.

Directions for the béchamel:

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foamy. Add flour and stir cook, until mixture is pale and foamy, about 3 minutes.

Gradually add milk, stirring until mixture is smooth.

Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove the bechamel from heat and whisk in mustard and nutmeg; season to taste with salt.

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And now click here to link to the video from my WBTV Morning Break cooking segment earlier this week. As I mentioned on air, the cheese from Uno Alla Volta and the squash blossoms from Tega Hill Farm and the honey from Dancing Bees Honey will all be available at the Matthews Community Farmers Market on Saturdays. The blossoms will only be available through the end of October, so get cooking and enjoy this special taste of the season.

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Chef Wolfgang Puck and Charlotte Based food & restaurant writer Heidi Billotto

Just as a reference, you will hear Kristen and me talking about chef Wolfgang Puck. The evening before my cooking segment, WP Kitchen & Bar restaurant in Charlotte had an event to raise funds and awareness for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. The restaurant used the occasion to kick off the new fall menu and Wolfgang Puck and his brother Klaus were in town to help celebrate. This was the second time I had the pleasure of meeting Puck – he’s a great guy with tons of contagious energy and enthusiasm and is a huge supporter of the Food Bank. “If all of us just do a little,”,he said.” It makes a huge difference.”

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Bonus Recipe… In addition to make the ham and cheese salad and the stuffed squash Blossoms for the Charlotte Food Bloggers brunch, I also made homemade fresh baked Cheese Danish and Sticky Cinnamon Rolls. I promised the recipe and so here tis – enjoy!

Heidi’s Homemade Danish or Cinnamon Rolls

1 cup sour cream

½ cup organic sugar

1 tsp. salt

½ cup melted butter

½ cup warm water

2 Tbsp. yeast

2 local eggs

4 cups organic unbleached flour

For the cinnamon roll filling:

melted butter
, cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar

For the Danish filling:
 1 (6 oz) block cream cheese
, ¼ cup sugar
, 1 egg
 Your favorite jam or fruit spread

For the dough: Dissolve yeast in warm water with one teaspoon of the sugar. Stir and when a foam forms on the surface it is ready. If no foam appears within five minutes, then either your water was too hat or your yeast was old. Start again with cooler water and another package of yeast. 
Once the yeast starts to foam or proof, combine it with the other dough ingredients to form a soft but sticky dough.
Let rise 1 hour. Turn out onto a floured worksurface. Knead until smooth then roll dough out into a large rectangle about ¼ inch thick.

For cinnamon rolls: generously spread the dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugars and cinnamon. Roll up like a jelly roll. Cut the log of dough into 1 ½ inch thick slices. Place the slices in a buttered pan, cut side up. Drizzle with additional melted butter
Cover with a dish towel and let rise an additional 20 minutes. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 23-30 minutes.

For the Danish: combine cream cheese, egg and ugar and beat until smooth. Spread the filling down the center of the dough rectangle. Top with your favorite jam or fruit spread. Cut small slits along either side of the dough so that the dough on either side of the filling will resemble fringe. Starting from one end, fold the “fringe” pieces up and over the filling to encase the cream cheese and jam.
Place the finished Danish on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with a dish towel and let rise an additional 20 minutes. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 23-30 minutes.