Holiday 2015 Wine and Dine

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOOD

Just in the St. Nick of time, I’m here with a recap of my December restaurant segment on Charlotte’s WCNC’s Charlotte Today… read on for details and then watch the video of the December 19 spot using the link  at the end of this post – Thanks to Colleen Odegaard, Eugene Robinson, Natalie Ridley, Arve Byrd, Kim Thomas, Matt Hammond and Mary Alvarez and the team at Charlotte Today for making these monthly restaurant recommendation segments so much fun! And a special thanks to my wonderful husband, Tom Billotto who is always there on set – helping me set up the shots, and who keeps the food moving during the actual taped segment.   Cant wait to plan more for 2016, but first, lets talk about the next two week….

Lots of food and cooking going on this week and next –  here are five places I think can help you ease through the rest of the 2015  holiday season.

Lets start with a breakfast option – good for the holidays or anytime of the year…

Storefront of Brookyn Water Bagels at Ballantyne Commons East

Storefront of Brookyn Water Bagels at Ballantyne Commons East

Brooklyn Water Bagels  – Located at 15105 John J Delaney Blvd in the Ballantyne Commons East shopping Center; Open  6am – 3 pm   – New York’s borough of Brooklyn is the hot new food place to be; but fortunate for us in Charlotte, we don’t need to take a trip to the Big Apple to get the same wonderful bagels.  You see, when it comes to making bagels (traditionally prepared by boiling the round loops of dough first and then baking them) its all about the water.  They say that NY City water is some of the finest in the country – that’s because it comes from the Catskill Mountains.

bagels BWB

Nothing beats a perfectly made bagel – baked fresh each morning

So to make bagels like the ones you’ll get in Brooklyn, you need to have water like they have in Brooklyn and the fine folks at Brooklyn Water Bagels have figured out how to make it happen. These bagels are the real deal – made with specially filtered water that not only goes into the bagel preparation, but into the coffee and all the beverages as well.

At Brooklyn Water Bagel, Coffee Ice Cubes make a regular Iced Coffee a "Cubsta"

At Brooklyn Water Bagel, Coffee Ice Cubes make a regular Iced Coffee a “Cubsta”

Not to miss – the coffee ice cubes that come when you order a “Cubsta” iced coffee and the chocolate egg creams made with Fox’s U-Bet seltzer. Both are exceptional and the latter may be  my new favorite carbonated beverage.

In addition to the house blended cream cheese, and bagel sandwiches for breakfast or lunch,  try the Bagel Bites, as a great way to have a taste of it all the BWB varieties.  Holiday entertaining note: these bagel bites also make for exceptionally cute appetizers at your holiday party served with smoked salmon or smoked trout of your choice or BWB white fish salad.

If you don’t trust my opinion on the quality of these fabulous bagels, know that BWB now makes all the bagels served at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge –delivered fresh baked each morning. To pass the mustard of the likes of Chefs David Moore, Ben Kallenbach and Michael Rayfield, you know I’m not pulling your chain.

Like the bagels and the U-Bet seltzer Egg Creams, the Black and White cookies at Brooklyn Water Bagels are the real deal!

Like the bagels and the U-Bet seltzer Egg Creams, the Black and White cookies at Brooklyn Water Bagels are the real deal!

After the  bagel and the beverages,  authentic cake like, perfectly iced Black and White cookies are a must. Plenty of room to dine in or you can take out, of course; but if you stay and sit a while, you can enjoy another taste of old time Brooklyn culture by enjoy the reruns of Jackie Gleason’s classic – The Honeymooners while you eat. If I had one suggestion for Brooklyn Water Bagels, it would be to turn down the music and turn up the sound on the video – nothing like the fun and laughter these old reruns bring to the table.

 

Next up you’ll surely want to be wining and dining this week and next, or want to give a gift of a great bottle or two. Time to make a toast to the year that has gone by, the year that is to be, and the holiday season in between.  No where better to cover your bases on all angles than at the new location of

Foxcroft wine co barFoxcrefot wine co logoFoxcroft Wine Company  now in  Dilworth at  Kenilworth Commons Shopping as well as in their original SouthPark location at  7824 Fairview Rd.  The new location is taking the Dilworth Neighborhood by storm. The retail operation and wine bar Open 10 am to 11 pm; the kitchen opens at 5

This is the perfect place to celebrate with 40 something wines by the glass, hundreds by the bottle;  and while there is a fair share of beef, chicken and fish on the menu, I love and appreciate the fact that there are also great vegetarian and vegan entrees and well.

Turffled french fries and some of the best Brussels Sprouts in town are both a great way to start the evening at Foxcroft Wine Co.

Truffled french fries and some of the best Brussels Sprouts in town are both a great way to start the evening at Foxcroft Wine Co.

The flat breads are a divine way to start, and whatever you order by sure to add on  the French Fries and Brussels Sprouts as sides. My oh my – perfect fried potatoes with a dusting of Parmesan, a drizzle of truffle oil and a truffle aioli on the side for dipping. The sprouts are poached then sautéed with a mix of butternut squash, caramelized onions and a Asian glaze – possibly the best Brussels in the city right now and those may be fighting words…

In season, enjoy the  patio dining… and

Exciting news – and you heard it here first – Foxcroft Wine Co. is upping the bar as one of the two 2015 Competition Dining Charlotte Champs – Chef Brent Martin is joining the culinary team, so along side the talent of Chef Justin Solomon, Shawn Harrison and the rest of this talented culinary team – look for dynamic things to come with the new year.

 

The Speedway Club logoLooking for a fun family holiday tradition to start? Turn to Charlotte Motor Speedway, 5555 Concord Parkway S, Concord, NC, for the biggest light show in town and while you are there enjoy dinner at  The Speedway Club, open during the month of December to the public.  For the majority of the year, this is a members only club; but for the whole month of December the club is open to the public by reservations made by calling 704-455-3216.

The dining rooms at Charlotte Motor Speedway's The Speedway Club - over look the track and this time of year, give diners a birds eye view of the holiday light display.

The dining rooms at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s The Speedway Club – over look the track and this time of year, give diners a birds eye view of the holiday light display.

The cuisine is old country club style dining and I say that in the very best light –  a throw back to classic continental cuisine –excellent crab and lobster cakes with big chunks of lobster, perfectly done steak and a delicious take on fish and grits with a citrusy twist, and a beautiful assortment of desserts – its a back-to-basics old school approach to food in a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. At a recent dinner, as we were in the NASCAR mode, at least for the evening,  we opted to try of the Childress red wines on the menu – both excellent selections.

A delicious take on The Wedge salad from the chefs at The Spedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway

A delicious take on The Wedge salad from the chefs at The Speedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway

If you are interested in becoming a member and would like to see or know more, contact  GM George Krail who would be happy to help you arrange to come for dinner, holiday time or no for test drive – pun intended, thank you.

This time of year though, the added benefit to enjoying dinner at The Speedway Club is the spectacular holiday light display called “A Speedway Christmas”

speedway Christmas Now through Dec. 30 but closed on Christmas Day, you can enjoy the creative display of  Three Million Lights and  Holiday Music, , a huge infield Christmas Village with photos with Santa, a bustling Bethlehem village, petting zoo, holiday crafts and more  and the unique chance to drive the track, and  Classic Christmas Movies on the 16,000 square foot Big Screen

 

The Speedway Christmas drive-through light show is open nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. through Dec. 30 (closed Christmas Day). Christmas Village is open Thursday through Sunday. The movie schedule includes showings of Frozen Dec 21-24 and Dec 26 and 27 at 8 and 10 pm
For tickets, the pricing is as follows:  Christmas Village open: Thursday & Sunday: $25 per car; $50 per van (max 36); $175 bus (max 57), Friday & Saturday: $30 per car; $50 per van (max 36); $175 bus (max 57), Military Discount: $3 off, Fast Pass: Move to the front of the line with a fast pass for an additional $10 to the above price

Light Show only: $20 per car; $40 per van (max 36 people); $140 per bus (max 57 people), Military Discount: $3 off

Visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or call 1-800-455-FANS (3267) for pricing and more information about Speedway Christmas.

I just adore the light and crispy waffle cones at Elizabeth Creamery some of the best I have ever tasted!

I just adore the light and crispy waffle cones at Elizabeth Creamery some of the best I have ever tasted!

During the remainder of the holiday season it’s for sure you’ll be entertaining a bit, and if you are looking for a little homemade ice cream to go with your line up of holiday desserts look no further than Charlotte’s own Elizabeth Creamery.

Elizabeth Creamery, is located at 1535 Elizabeth Ave,directly behind Carpe Diem… 

With so many places to dine in Charlotte now, different places capture our attention at different times. This family owned and operated ice cream parlor came back onto my radar as I was writing an article about the Elizabeth Ave revitalized restaurant row for the new issue of Charlotte Living magazine out before the end of the year.  Owner Sun Jae Kim has been making ice cream in Charlotte since 1996. He believes in simple honest flavors that are steeped in tradition.

All of the ice cream is made fresh on location with the very best ingredients.  And the waffle cones are light and crunchy – they melt in your mouth along with your flavor of choice and are some of the best I have ever eaten…

Three favorite seasonal flavors you simply must try: Mocha, Ginger and Smurf!

Three favorite seasonal Ice cream flavors at Elizabeth Creamery you simply must try: Mocha, Ginger and Smurf!

Elizabeth Creamery is a great stop for a family outing after you drive the neighborhoods to see holiday neighborhood lights – or before or after a ride around through the Elizabeth Ave corridor to Uptown on Charlotte’s only street car in 77 years.

After you’ve enjoyed a cone or two –be sure to take home a pint of your favorite flavors –  perfect for your holiday desserts – try the ginger with a slice of gingerbread, a cinnamon rolls or ginger cookies; or a scoop of mocha in your next cup of hot chocolate! And, just because you’ve gotta love blue food and as a favor for your sweet tooth don’t miss the cotton candy flavored Smurf.

 

 

Here is a platter representing the incredible seafood display you'll find at Christmas morning brunch at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge

Here is a platter representing the incredible seafood display you’ll find at Christmas morning brunch at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge

Finally, a banquet at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge is the perfect destination dining stop and this year a great place to continue on the celebration the holidays with friends and family – once gifts are opened, take a deep breath and relax as the talented Culinary team at Ballantyne Hotel  & Lodge as done the work for you.

Snapper is also on the brunch buffet - prepared here pan seared with parsnip puree, candied pineapple and Spanish onion

Snapper is also on the brunch buffet – prepared here pan seared with parsnip puree, candied pineapple and Spanish onion

The hotel will offer Christmas Brunch on December 25, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. The elaborate buffet will include a variety of salads, an assortment of cheese and seafood displays, breakfast items, an omelet station, carving station and indigenous desserts. There will be live holiday music. Cost is $75 per person, $35 for children, ages 5-13, and complimentary for children ages 4 and under (pricing does not include tax or 23% service charge). Private dining rooms are available.

Gallery Restaurant will be open for dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas, 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. The restaurant will feature its regular menu as well as offer a prime rib dinner special.

Reservations are required for dining on Christmas Eve and Christmas. To make a reservation, please call 704-248-4100 or visit www.gallery-restaurant.com.

Be Sure to visit Gingerbread Lane at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge before the holiday season is over

Be Sure to visit Gingerbread Lane at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge before the holiday season is over

While you are there visit  the Hotels annual Gingerbread Lane open now through Sunday, December 27. Vote on your favorite entries with $1 minimum donation per vote. All proceeds will benefit Levine Children’s Hospital (LCH), dedicated to caring for the physical and emotional needs of children and their families.

Here I am with the Seafood Platter from Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge in hand, ready to tease the Charlotte Today segment just before a commercial break

Here I am with the Seafood Platter from Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge in hand, ready to tease the Charlotte Today segment just before a commercial break

 

 

 

To see the video with my take on all these December restaurants click here for the segment on Charlotte Today with Hosts and my friends Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson  http://www.wcnc.com/story/entertainment/2015/12/18/take-a-break-from-cooking-and-visit-these-5-restaurants/77567784/

Baking up Holiday Memories – Let Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge’s Gingerbread Lane Inspire You…

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgI am so excited to be a judge for this years’ Gingerbread Lane Professional & Amateur Competition at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge in Charlotte,NC.
The Gingerbread Lane competition offers two independent categories for professional and amateur entries. The grand prize for the professional category is an overnight stay for two guests in the Presidential Suite plus breakfast in Gallery Restaurant. The winner of the amateur category will receive an overnight stay for two in a Parlor Suite including breakfast in Gallery Restaurant.

Judging takes place today on Wednesday, December 11 at 5pm. So come on out for a preview of what these clever and creative area bakers have built and to see who wins the competition.
If the display this year inspire you to start your own little DIY project then consider this post your recipe for success. The gingerbread house photos in this post are from the 2012 competition at Ballantyne’s Gingerbread Lane- can’t wait to see what’s in store for us this year!

This Old Gingerbread House
Gingerbread_Lane_2012_013-1For me, as for many of you, the holidays are all about making memories. One of the best ways, I think, to do so, is to plan an annual family activity with which to enjoy the season.
So, what’s say we bake a gingerbread house? I won’t lie to you though, it’s a several day project, so you’ll need to set aside some special time, but the house you create can be kept to enjoy for years – that is unless little holiday nibblers get it to it all before you have a change to preserve it and pack it away!
If an actual house seems too overwhelming, then use the recipes here to bake cookies, but be creative! Don’t use the standard shaped cookie cutters – create designs of your own using poster board as directed in the gingerbread dough recipe on this page.

barbieI can remember one holiday season I baked gingerbread gifts for everyone I knew. Some people got large oversized gingerbread people in their own likeness– friends who golfed got cookies with carried nine irons sporting gold shoes, friends who were in business, got cookies with ties and briefcases, and friends with new babies got cookies complete with baby strollers.
If you like the idea, but are in need of a little creative shove, just walk down the Barbie aisle at your local toy store – Barbie has all the accessories necessary to life – I think you’ll get some good ideas.

Gingerbread_Lane_2012_007-1

For other friends with families I baked a large square of gingerbread and then decorated it to look like a checkerboard – complete with gingerbread cookie checkers of course – one time I even made a gingerbread monopoly set, but I’ll tell you, making the gingerbread house is easier!

Before you are the baker, you must be the architect
For the house, you’ll need to make a poster board pattern first. Cut two rectangles for the sides (approximately 5 inches by 10 inches) and then for the front and back you’ll need two pieces that look like a rectangle (approximately 10 inches by 5 inches) with a triangle (approximately 10 inches across the bottom with seven inch peaks) sitting on the top, then two additional rectangles for the roof (each of these is to be approximately 10 inches by 7 inches). This will give you your basic house shape – if there is someone in the family with an architectural bend, you can get more creative – feel free to start adding on porticos, dormer windows, split level additions and such!
Put your poster board house together first – just use small pieces of masking tape, to make sure all of the pieces fit together as they are supposed to, then use the patterns to cut the gingerbread before baking. Let the gingerbread pieces cool and dry out for several days so that they will be rigid enough to stand up, both to the glue which will hold them together and to heavy decorations. If this is a house you are going to keep, you can put them together with a glue gun, if its one you are going to eat, commercial tub frosting is probably a healthier choice.
Once your house is together, let it dry for one more day and then you can begin to decorate. Use wafer thin cookies connected to the house with tub frosting or Cake-Mate, for roof tiles or if you’d prefer the thatched roof look, use split wedges of large size shredded wheat. Long fat pretzels can give the outside walls of your house a log cabin look, while graham crackers or Captains Wafers make wonderful shutters. Fat straight candy canes make lovely window boxes and gum drops are good for outdoor bushes and flowers. Hershey bars work well for paved sidewalks or driveways and Snowcaps chocolate non-pariels make a great gravel area. Malted milk balls or any kind of chocolate or candy covered nut make for fabulous stones with which to build the chimney and of course, you can sprinkle everything with a light shaking of powdered sugar for the look of the season’s first snow.
Gingerbread_Lane_2012_003-8To keep your gingerbread house for years to come, wait until after the holidays and then spray it with your choice of either matt finish or high glass shellac. Let it dry completely and then carefully pack it up cushioned with Styrofoam peanuts. For the best storage results, try keeping you house in a spot that is dry and cool throughout the year.
Your finished gingerbread house may not come out looking like the cover of Architectural Digest, but then again it may be cuter than you ever imagined. Remember just to enjoy the process, have fun, take lots of pictures and cherish the memories.
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HEIDI’S GINGERBREAD FOR COOKIES OR HOUSES – my personal secret for houses in using the cake flour – it makes for a lighter cookie that is easier to assemble.
1/4 cup real butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses – use local NC molasses for the very best flavor
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. ground cardamom or ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. lemon extract
1/4 cup water
Cream butter and sugar together until smooth and a little fluffy. Beat in the molasses. Add the cake flour, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and salt. Gradually add in the water and lemon extract. Blend or knead slightly until the dough forms a soft ball. Divide the dough in half. Pat each half into a flat rounded disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least one hour. The dough may be frozen at this point for later use if you so desire. To begin, Roll the dough out onto a large sheet of parchment paper to about one quarter inch thick. Cut as you would like with cookie cutters for a gingerbread house or larger cookies, make a pattern from poster board, spray the slick side of the board with a bit of cooking spray and then place the pattern sprayed side down onto the dough and cut around it. Lift small cookies off of the work surface and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. For large pieces, just slide the piece of parchment paper onto which you rolled the dough over onto the baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before decorating.

SUGAR ICING FOR DECORATING GINGERBREAD
1 (1lb.) pkg powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. solid vegetable shortening
3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup water
2 tsp. light corn syrup
food coloring
Beat the powdered sugar together with the shortening, butter, water and corn syrup. Divide the mix between small bowls or paper cups – one for each different color you would like to use. Color the powdered sugar mixture in each cup with several drops of food coloring until you have created you color palate. Spoon the icing into pastry bags fitted with small decorating tips and decorated the completely cooled cookies. For a more spreadable icing or paintable frosting, increase the water in the recipe by two to three tablespoons.

gingerbread manMore for the holidays from Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge
Know that throughout the rest of the month, you can enjoy an enchanting collection of gingerbread creations from the competition: Thursday, December 12 through Sunday December 29, the creative display will be open daily from 9am to 5pm. Attendees may vote on their favorite gingerbread creation with a $1 minimum donation per vote. All proceeds will benefit Levine Children’s Hospital, dedicated to caring for the physical and emotional needs of children and their families.

Hot Chocolate & Toddies
Get cozy at the Veranda at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, Friday-Sunday, December 6 through December 29, 2pm- 5pm throughout December. Enjoy hot chocolate with the option to add Godiva or any other liqueurs along with a selection of garnishes. The cost is $6 and $9 with liqueur.

Holiday Afternoon Tea
This is one of my favorite events at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge – gather your friends and family and stop in to enjoy a lovely Holiday Afternoon Tea in the Lobby throughout  the month of December.
Holiday Tea includes a variety of seasonal loose leaf tea blends from Harney & Sons Teas and a selection of savory tea sandwiches, traditional confectionaries and holiday treats. Tea is served Wednesday – Sunday, December 4 through Sunday December 29, 1pm – 5pm. The cost is $32 for adults and $15 for children, ages 5-12, and complimentary for children ages 4 and under (plus tax & gratuity). A champagne tea is available for $40 per person and there is a live harpist as well to make it all the more special – treat your self and make it a holiday tradition! Reservations are required at 704.248.4100. Not available on Christmas Day.