11.29.2018

Christmas At Biltmore in Asheville, NC: What a First-Time Visitor Should Expect

The Biltmore Estate located in Asheville, N.C. is expected to welcome more than 300,000 guests from November 1 to early January this holiday season. Each year, staff work an entire year to plan, coordinate and execute a new Holiday theme yearly. No doubt, the Christmas season at Biltmore is the busiest time of year for the estate and also one of the most beautiful seasons. In 2019, the Estate will also showcase Downton Abbey: The Exhibition. 

Christmas at the Biltmore Estate_2018 Theme is "Art of Christmas"
2018 Press Photos by Biltmore Company


I first wrote about Christmas at Biltmore in 2011, which was the first year I started this blog.  My most recent visit to the Biltmore Estate was this past summer in 2018 to see the "Chihuly at Biltmore" exhibit. Biltmore does a fantastic job of making visitors want to come back to the estate and often.

Here are some of the essential things I think you need to know to plan your holiday visit to Biltmore or at any time of the year.

Overnight Hotel Biltmore Estate Guest Get Extra Perks and the Ease of Not Having to Go Through the Visitor's Center When Arriving 

The Biltmore Estate has two hotel properties inside the gates. I've stayed at both properties and would be happy to visit at either one again.  I like the location of the Village Hotel in Antler Hill Village because it is walkable to restaurants and the Biltmore winery. Still, both properties are unique and offer different vibes. The Inn at Biltmore has beautiful views, afternoon tea, a spa, and is a 100-percent luxury in every way. 

All hotel guests can ride the complimentary shuttle on the estate. Ticketed admission to the home can be purchased with the concierge. Often times, the Biltmore Estate offers overnight packages that include admission tickets. If you are staying on property, you do not have to go to the Visitor's Center. The estate guard will have your name and reservation at the gate.

Biltmore Ticket Costs

During the holiday season, there are two ticketed admissions for visiting. One can visit the Biltmore Estate during the day, but to see the Biltmore Estate by candlelight then you have to have an additional entry time and ticket.  Depending on the day of the week, estate admission begins at $65 for an adult ticket, but the Estate offers $10 off if purchased seven days in advance and can be as high as $85 per person.  The Biltmore website has more on ticket prices. 

When picking up your tickets, prepare for lines. This is where you get your maps and passes. This summer, I was in line for a good thirty minutes. It moves fast, but during peak times, the visitor's center is busy.  Make sure you allow plenty of time for a restaurant reservation or house entry time.  Biltmore advises allowing at least 45 minutes drive-time between areas on the estate. 

Candlelight Christmas Evenings at Biltmore are more costly. Prices for tickets begin at $70 and can be as high as $90. Daytime visitors can get an upgrade for evening admission. Candlelight Christmas Evening guests can arrive as early as 8:30 am, and if you arrive after 4:30 pm, then you can visit the estate gardens the next day. 


Beautiful Biltmore Estate at Christmas
2018 Press Photos by Biltmore Company 


Biltmore Estate Grounds are Pet-Friendly, but the Main House, Restaurants, Estate Shuttles, and Hotels Do Not Allow Pets

We took Andy, our dog, to Biltmore on our last visit to the grounds. I really do not recommend taking your pet. The Biltmore  Estate does have some first-come, first-serve kennels for visitors to use, but animals are not allowed on any of the shuttles, overnight at the hotels, or in the Biltmore House. Cedric's Tavern does have a dog-friendly patio in Antler Hill Village for dining. 

If you are taking your pet on the grounds, you will need to tell the guard that you need to park in the closet parking lot to the house because you have a pet with you. Otherwise, they will steer your vehicle toward the shuttle lots. 


Holidays at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.
The Biltmore House in Asheville, NC in 2011

Is the Biltmore Estate Worth the Expense to See?

The Biltmore Estate in North Carolina is absolutely worth the cost of admission. It is a wonderful experience for all ages. The food on the estate is fabulous. 

You will fall in love with Asheville and the tranquility of the estate. If you think you want to go back often, then the annual Biltmore Visitors Pass is the way to go for admission.  Each holiday season, the estate offers a special discounted rate. 

The Biltmore Estate, an 8,000-acre estate, looks like a storybook wonderland during the holidays.  It’s absolutely gorgeous, and many North Carolinians go every year because it certainly gets you in the Christmas spirit.  

Known for being one of the largest holiday displays in the Southeast, guests will 55 decorated Christmas trees inside the Biltmore home, nearly 500 wreaths around the estate; 445,000-holiday lights and 150 candles inside the Biltmore House, with another 135,000 LED and Mini holiday lights found around the estate.

Biltmore at the Holidays, Biltmore Estate, Christmas, Candlelight Christmas Evenings
The Banquet Hall Christmas Tree is 34--foot tall Fraser Fir from 2011 press.

Around 46,000 lights illuminate the Front Lawn tree in front of the house. Two hundred fifty luminaries line the driveway and Esplanade in front of Biltmore House. Every day, staff lights all the luminaries for Candlelight guests and extinguishes them at closing. 

Here are some other fun decorating stats:

There are over 55 decorated trees in the house.  The largest is a 35-foot tall Fraser fir in the Banquet Hall.

Biltmore Estate, Biltmore at the Holidays, Asheville, N.C.
The Banquet Hall in the Biltmore House in 2011

Fresh garlands are made of white pine and Fraser fir. Biltmore changes them weekly to keep them fresh for guests.  They use over 7,000 feet of fresh garland during the season.  Silk, dried and artificial garlands add another 1,200 feet in Biltmore House and around 1,500 feet in other areas.

Biltmore uses more than 1,000 poinsettias and other fresh plants.

More than 7,000 feet of Garland is used in the Biltmore House
2018 Press Photos from Biltmore Company


Are you going to the Biltmore Estate? Be sure to use the hashtag #OutaboutNC, and I may just feature your photo.  My favorite room in the Biltmore Home is the library, and the kids love the pool.

The Library at Biltmore Estate at Christmas
2018 Press Photos from Biltmore Company


Photos are not allowed to be taken inside the home. These photos are from the Biltmore Company and are not my own.

Pin for Later:

Christmas at Biltmore: What to Expect for a First-Time Visitor. Costs. Breakdown of Holiday Decor


My time to write and update this post was made possible by local blog sponsor  Lane and Associates Family Dentistry in Durham, N.C. 

11.26.2018

All Dolled Up Labneh Dip and Zaatar Pita Chips: A Healthy Mediterranean Holiday Recipe

Does your family have a holiday tradition?  Perhaps, it is picking out a Christmas tree in the  NC mountains or simply serving hot cocoa to Santa on Christmas Eve. For my family, our tradition is a tree-trimming gathering. 

Last year, I didn't host one because we were still in the middle of our move to our current house. By skipping a year, I learned that I must have established a post-children "family tradition." My Mom told last week that she could not believe I did not do the tree trimming meal last year because she looks forward to the tree-trimming more than Christmas. 
Honestly, I think it's my chicken tetrazzini recipe the most. I usually make that entree with my wintry green salad with cranberries and citrus. But, regardless of what I make, our tree-trimming gatherings are often crazy family affairs. Like most days, the kids usually fight, an ornament or two get broken, Will usually complains I'm not helping enough with the tree. And, of course, we always have the traditional struggle with those darn holiday strands of lights. One bulb is out every single year. 
A great appetizer idea for a holiday gathering is a recipe I discovered the from the local Cary Mediterranean restaurant, Sassool.  Simone Saleh, shared her family's recipe with me when I met for her a media interview. This is a healthy holiday idea that sparkles. 

I interviewed Simone for a Live #OutaboutNC moment where she pulled items from the restaurant's new market area for this labneh dip recipe. She also gave me insight into Lebanese food.  In the live moment, we learn how labneh is used for many Mediterranean dishes. I had never tasted it before, and it's difficult to find, locally, except in specialty stores. Sassool carries it in its Lebanese market in Cary, NC.  Labneh can also be used as a substitute for recipes that use sour cream.  I think it is rich, creamy, and delicious.

Labneh is the critical ingredient for this "All Dolled Up Labneh Dip" along with mint, olives, olive oil, and zaatar spice.  You serve it with your own homemade pita chips. Enjoy this recipe this holiday season. 


Labneh Dip with Zaatar Pita Chips
Post Updated: 2018


11.14.2018

Eight Great Recipes Using Sweet Potatoes

North Carolina is number one in sweet potato production in the U.S. You will find sweet potatoes on many menus in North Carolina and at the Farmer's Market when you visit. We even make our vodka with sweet potatoes. However, North Carolina also ships sweet potatoes everywhere. This educational feature about the "Life of an N.C. Sweet Potato." makes me realize how important North Carolina is to the world when it comes to the crop and harvesting of sweet potatoes. There's a good chance that the sweet potatoes you use to make your delicious sweet potato casserole or sweet potato pie came from N.C.

As founder of @OutaboutNC on Instagram, I have learned from my NC travel community that culinary travel is a huge part of the charm when guests plan a first-time trip to visit North Carolina. That's because my home state is historically an agriculture state. Farming is at the root of our rich heritage so when you visit NC, you want to taste the food. Food needs to be part of the travel experience.

NC chefs and restaurants that specialize in farm-to-table cuisine are winning over visitors.regularly. As more national magazines highlight NC chefs throughout the state, reservations are getting harder to come by at many NC restaurants, unless you plan weeks or months in advance. The reason these restaurants are so popular is that they feature dishes using fresh ingredients from North Carolina farms.

Here are eight great recipes that put sweet potatoes as the star of the main meal to you in your own home.



Background on Sweet Potatoes 

Sweet Potatoes are a low-calorie vegetable and are good on the grocery budget. There are many health benefits for eating sweet potatoes. They are a good source of Vitamin C and A, and other nutrients. Even though they are a starchy vegetable, they are high in fiber and are a slow-burning carb which keeps blood sugar levels lower and sweet potatoes are rich in potassium, which can also aide in lower blood pressure.

Many people get confused between yams and sweet potatoes. We don't produce yams in North Carolina, and when Southern people refer to yams, they most likely mean sweet potatoes.  The N.C. Sweet Potato Commission sums it up best. A true yam is imported from the Caribbean and is quite different from a sweet potato.  But, a sweet potato has many, many varieties and its flesh can be white, orange, and purple. The orange variety was introduced decades ago, and in order to distinguish it from the white-flesh sweet potato, suppliers and producers chose an  English form from the African-word,"nyami" and labeled "yam."

Sweet potatoes are almost always incorporated into a Thanksgiving menu.  But, the vegetable can be used in so many recipes other than a sweet potato casserole. From pasta noodles to the filling for tacos, sweet potatoes are versatile. Many N.C. restaurants serve a side of sweet potatoes with their burgers, too.

The following eight recipes will help you put sweet potatoes on your menu. All recipes shared here are with permission in a collaborative effort.

1.  Easy Sweet Potato and Chicken Sausage Skillet Meal 

N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Easy Sweet Potato and Chicken Sausage Skillet Meal.


2. Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos from the N.C  blog, TwinStripe.

N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos from  TwinStripe Blog

3. Mad Sweet Potato Pasta from Nourish and Nestle.
N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Mad Sweet Potato Pasta from Nourish and Nestle

4. Pork Roast with Sweet Potatoes and Maple Syrup Katja Presnal of Skimbaco Lifestyle.


N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Pork Roast recipe from Skimbaco Lifestyle.



5. Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Toasted Walnuts from the Minnesota-based blog, Baby Loving Mama.

N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. A great side of sweet potatoes and toasted walnutes from Baby Loving Mama.

6.  Sweet Potato Souffle from North Carolina's third oldest town, Beaufort, N.C.  I love this recipe and now make it for Thanksgiving.





7.  Spinach Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust from A "Mind 'Full" Mom
N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Spinach Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust by A Mind Full Mom.


8. Quick Apple Sweet Potato Hash from Bites of Wellness  

N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Quick Apple and Skillet Hash from A Pancake Warrior  Blog.



Post originally published in 2015. Updated in November 2018.

My time for writing, updating and sharing these recipes are made possible by HinesSightBlog sponsor, Lane and Associates Family Dentistry in Raleigh at Wake Forest Road. 

11.06.2018

7 Delicious Soup Recipes for any Night of the Week

As soon as the temperature drops, I love to read soup recipes and put a pot of soup on the stove. In North Carolina, official soup weather begins late October through the winter months. This is when you will start seeing more soups offered in Triangle restaurants. I think many of our Raleigh area restaurants offer delicious soups in season. Each year, local Raleigh chefs get souped up and serve some of their favorite soup recipes for charity.


Delicious Soups

When I dine in Raleigh restaurants, I like to order a lot of creamy based soups such as butternut squash, carrot, potato, tomato, coconut curry, and even beet soup. Will jokes that anytime there is a butternut squash, carrot, tomato, or a beet soup listed at a local restaurant, he knows I will order it. The soup can be in a pub, deli or high-end restaurant and I order it almost every time.

The main reason I order that type of creamy-based soup out a lot is that I'm too lazy at home to make something pureed and creamy smooth.  I do not own a hand blender and I think that is an essential chef's item for rich, creamy soups. One fall, I was dining at our local five-star hotel property when I was on assignment for a Forbes piece at the Umstead Hotel's Bar and Lounge for lunch, and butternut squash soup was on the menu. I loved it so much I ordered a second bowl. Who does that when the soup is $9 a bowl? It was worth it to me at the time. I had to have more.

I still talk about a carrot soup I ordered at a pub in Ireland in 1998. No doubt, I like it when a professional chef makes a soup.

In my own home, I tend to make more stews and chilis. The soup that I make most often is a vegetable beef soup that is a combination recipe that I put together from both of side of my grandparents. It's my absolute favorite soup and I could live off of it during the winter months.

Once again, I am honored to be a local judge for Urban Ministries of Wake County Stone Soup Supper Event. This charity event is a highlight of the fall season for me.  Proceeds raised from this event support programs that feed, shelter and provide health care for Wake County residents. It is a fun night in Raleigh, and I love to taste the chef's creations. I also enjoy learning more about Raleigh each chef and the styles they tend to favor in their cuisine.

Urban Ministries of Wake County Stone Soup Supper


In honor of my being a judge for the second year in a row for the #GetSoupedEvent, I wanted to share some soup recipes from my virtual colleagues.  These are some of the recipes from their own kitchens.

Instant Pot White Chicken Chili by my business partner, Kim on Living Young and Healthy. This recipe can be made on the stove as well, which is how I had to make it since I do not own an Instant Pot. It is delicious.




Arizona Inspired Mexican Soup from Karen Dawkins, Family Travels on a Budget.

Arizona Inspired Mexican Soup #soups #chilis


Instant Pot Chicken Vegetable Soup from Diana Rambles.

Instant Pot Chicken and Vegetable Soup #Soups #recipes #chickensoups


Tomato-Basil Bisque Soup from Michelle, of Honest and Truly.

30-minute tomato basil bisque #soups #recipes #tomatosoup





Curried Carrot Soup from Deon van Schalkwyk of FoodJam

Curried Carrot Soup #soups #recipes


Tortilla Soup from Crystal Maleski of Make Dinner Easy

Tortilla Soup #soups #recipes


My vegetable beef soup recipe

Grandma's Vegetable Beef Soup

I would love to hear about your favorite soup. Put the recipe on my blog's Facebook page. 

Updated: November 2018
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My time for writing and sharing these recipes is made possible by HinesSightBlog sponsor, Auto Brokers of Paintsville where you will find a great inventory of new and used vehicles for sale. 

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