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.

img_7806Heidi Cooks | Heidi Writes | Heidi Teaches

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!

Patio Picks – Do it Dining al Fresco

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODDining al fresco – the art of eating outdoors is a pleasure that combines casual atmosphere, fresh air, cool breezes and great food and beverage. The venue can range from family style BBQ and picnic tables or even your car at places like BBQ King on Wilkinson Blvd. or Brooks Sandwich House on North Brevard Street to a setting with comfy patio furniture seating at places such as Osso Restaurant and Lounge at the Music Factory and Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Dilworth.

Lots of restaurants with patios offer opportunities for dining al fresco throughout the year, but late spring, summer and on into early fall is the time we want to enjoy the out of doors as much as we can. So lap up the sunshine or sit in the cool comfort of the summer shade. Join your kids in a game of shuffleboard at the patio at Zada Jane’s in Plaza Midwood while you wait for a table at breakfast or brunch; take in the splendor of our city’s skyline from the highest heights atop the patio at Chef Rocco Whalen’s Fahrenheit Restaurant  at the Hyatt Place Hotel uptown; or enjoy food, wine and occasional music at several eateries or wine shops with outdoor dining and tastings such as Napa on Providence in Eastover; and Vin Masters in SouthEnd.

Alfresco dining in the Queen City can range from large venues, such as the patio at Mimosa Grill, Uptown that over looks the plaza and a bustling sections of Tryon Street to small, much like the patio at Fenwicks on Providence Road,  with just a few tables on the front porch of this neighborhood gathering spot

Great patios to see and be seen abound at local breweries in NoDa; bars and restaurants surrounding the Music Factory; and in shopping “villages” around town where several restaurants might have patios grouped together off a main courtyard as at Ballantyne Village where patios from Mellow Mushroom, Terrace Cafe and Villa Antonio meet; or off South Main Street in Davidson where the back porch patio of the Pickled Peach looks over the patio behind Summit Coffee nestled up to an adjacent playground – on Saturday mornings this “common area” is home to the Davidson Farmers’ market where locavores can enjoy combine their morning coffee al fresco with a little fresh from the farm shopping trip.

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Tis the season, indeed, and so my June restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway features five of my favorite places to dine al fresco with some of my favorite summer menu selections as well… enjoy!

toscana logoWe’ll start with what I have always thought to be one of the most romantic patios in town, Toscana, located in Shops on the Park across from SouthPark, 6401 Morrison Blvd. 704.367.1808. Like all of Augusto Conte’s magical restaurants, the menu at Toscana offer high quality fresh made Italian fare and the patio is like sitting off a small village side street in Tuscany. Comfortable seating surrounded by a shrub lined fencing keeps it tight and cozy, A beautiful fountain offers the cool comfort and pleasant sounds of a water feature and  large pots of herbs define the heritage.  In the evenings the open sky view add the romance of moonlight and the stars. One of our favorite dishes at Toscana is the gnocchi, tender potato pillows bathed in a light fresh tomato sauce touched with basil and mozzarella – add a bottle from the well appointed wine list – perfecto! Toscana on Urbanspoon
Wp white logoNot far from Toscana, is Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza bar located in the Phillips Place shopping center 704.295.0101 Charlotte’s WP Pizza Bar is Puck’s flagship Pizza Bar Restaurant and offers  a relaxing getaway from to enjoy lunch and dinner. The patio is off to the side of the restaurant, away from parking and much foot traffic and offers a cozy comfortable place to great place to getaway from it all.  Perfect for business meetings, ladies who lunch or a midday tete-a-tete.  While the menu offers an assortment of appetizers and pasta dishes, for me this place is about the pizza done in Wolfgang’s signature style a la an aromatic wood burning oven.  While Wolfgang himself does occasionally make appearances at the restaurant, day to day it is the talented Chef Scott Whallen and staff who channel Puck’s vision and creative juices into beautiful  and delicious plates for lunch and dinner. We now enjoy WP as our go to after the movies spot and our go to order is the arugula and asparagus salad lightly dusted with grated Parmesan, teamed with any one of the lists of pizzas – our current faves are the mushroom pizza with rubiola cheese and the slightest drizzling of truffle oil and the margarita pizza – simply perfect for the two of us to share. Wolfgang Puck Pizza | Bar on Urbanspoon

Tupel Honey Cafe (Contributed)Next, Tupelo Honey at 1820 South Blvd. 980-225-9167. The restaurant and patio are located on the second level of the historic SouthEnd Building,  take the stairs or the elevator up and the fun begins. The restaurant is full of action and a buzz most of the time, so the patio offers a lovely slightly quieter dining option. Great for families or dinners for two, big overhead fans keep the climate cool and in case of inclement weather their are outdoor curtains drawn to keep the rain away. The vibe at Tupelo is reconstructed Southern and it is exceptionally well done from soup to nuts. Great service and an assortment of wonderful craft cocktails and local beers round out the experience. Must tries this season include the sweet potato pancakes ( breakfast is served whenever you want it at Tupelo), the black bean burger and tofu wings (three cheers for some great vegetarian options), the fabulous Southern Popcorn ( aka fried okra) and the Carolina Mountain Trout with Goat cheese grits – shooo mercy! and Tupelo’s own Brown Butter Pecan Pie.  Look for bar specials on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday ( the least crowded days and nights to dine at this Charlotte favorite); and while you are there shop for cookbooks, Tupelo’s biscuit mix and of course, jars of Tupelo Honey. Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon

summit logoThe Summit Room at 1531 East Blvd. 980.237.2227 is one of Charlotte’s newest places to dine al fresco. In a clever and creative move, The Summit Room owners also own the adjacent restaurant The MayoBird and the two dining establishments share this picturesque porch and patio. The MayoBird is open for breakfast and lunch, while The Summit Room with Chef Brent Martin at the helm in the kitchen is open from early afternoon till the wee hours of the evening.

Several years ago the Dilworth Communtiy made it a mission to  drive neighborhood foot traffic with more pedestrian friendly streetside dining. As a result,  many neighborhood places on the boulevard offer patio dining but not many do it better than this. Rocking chairs with side tables on the porch, patio tables in the sun or under umbrellas –  its a great place for everything from power lunches to a glass of wine or tea – with two very different dining concepts. At  The Summit Room, Chef Martin doing some really innovative things with the menu. Love that the menu changes at his whim, with the weather and with the availability of local product. Specials are always great – the hand cut fries are incredible and  my new favorite – a quenelle (or oval shaped scoop) of chicken liver mousse atop a house made waffle with candied and pickled fruit and microgreens is a real winner! The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

va de vie logo

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Finally, the newest patio on our list for today, at just a month old, is to be found in the unlikeliest of locations: the center of the Park Road Shopping Center parking lot!  This free standing building  with the little patio offers big flavors inside –flavors like homemade, almond,  pistachio, coffee bean, chocolate hazelnut, lemon ricotto, local strawberry and blueberry and pineapple and mango! It’s all in the guise of homemade gelato at Va da Vie Gelato, 4203 Park Road 980.201.9159  … owners John and Wendy Paglia use all local product to make their Piedmontese style gelato and sorbet. No bases or mixes just local Homeland Dairy milk and cream and real fruit, fair trade coffee, local cheese and imported Italian nuts –  no chemicals or preservatives.  As this product doesn’t travel well – you can’t really take quantities to go – just gotta eat it there and savor the moment.  During the heat of the  day enjoy the cool marble-lined comfort inside; and  in the evening mix and mingle on the patio with friends and neighbors of all ages, comparing flavors and deciding which one you will order next. Va da Vie Gelato on Urbanspoon

 

To watch the restaurant segment that  inspired this blog post and originally aired on WCNC-TV’s Charlotte Today, simply click on the  caption of the photo of Toscana’s beautiful Italian Patio, then go out and enjoy al fresco dining in Charlotte for yourself.