Food, Fun, and Freebies at Winter's Eve

Now that Thanksgiving has officially passed us by (for the complete breakdown on that fabulous holiday, check out this, this and this), I wasted no time jumping right into the next big holiday. And what better way to kick off the season than with a festival of food? Apparently Lincoln Center felt the same as the area was illuminated with food, lights, and holiday cheer on Monday night. An annual tradition, Winters Eve takes place each year on the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend. And I think it's the perfect kick off for my holiday season.

Featuring cheap-o food (in price, not quality) from local, high end restaurants and bakeries, live entertainment, bright holiday lights, people on stilts, long lines, and even a little tree lighting, this festival was one not to be missed...even though the day long rain beforehand had me questioning it for a while. Though the festival stretches from the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle all the way up to 68th street, I was indeed slightly deterred by the rain and therefore only did the Time Warner circuit, armed with a pal and following my How To Do The Festival Circuit guidelines. Let's dig in, shall we?

First Stop: Whole Foods
What: Free holiday food samples

Free sparkling cider with pomegranate seeds, a perfect way to kick off the night.

Free turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce, all jammed together in one little dixie cup. Thanksgiving never tasted so good.

Rum and almond stollen, a delicious sweet bread with bits of raisins and almonds, similar in variety  to panettone.

Sharp cheddar cheese dunked in sweet cranberry relish. I don't need to go into my thoughts on sweet 'n savory...(hint: I'm obsessed).

Second Stop: Williams-Sonoma
What: Free samples of their famous hot chocolate and peppermint bark

Sweet, rich hot chocolate with a dollop of marshmallow to complete this fabulous concoction.
A total splurge in the wallet and calorie department, but for a free tiny cup? I'm all over it.

One of my favorite holiday treats, peppermint bark. And I truly haven't found a better version than Williams-Sonoma. Though I've tried to recreate the recipe, it just doesn't compare.

Third Stop: Landmarc
What: Free cotton candy

Getting back to our childhood roots, Kristin and I scooped up these free banana-flavored sugary cotton candy concoctions (say that one three times fast).

Fourth Stop: Outside Time Warner
What: Cheap food samples from big, pricey restaurants

This is really my favorite part since many of the restaurants featured would likely not be ones of my usual repetoire. My first stop was A Voce, (where an in-restaurant ravioli would cost upwards of $22) which featured Vanilla Bean Crespella - a cool tortilla filled with Nutella mascarpone and topped with hazelnut brittle, snapped up for a mere $2. Yeah, it was as good as it sounds.

After having my dessert before dinner (hey, it's a food fest!) I stopped by the Landmarc tent for some oricchette (disc-shaped pasta) with sausage in cream sauce. For a mere $4, I got a full cup o'fresh pasta and the perfect warming, savory dish.

So that's my tale of Winter's Eve. I was bummed not to explore more - other food stands included Bar Masa, 'wichcraft, Magnolia Bakery, Bar Boulud, and P.J. Clarke's (though I did also pick up a Bouchon bite from Bouchon Bakery for a buck) - my stomach just really couldn't take anymore and the lifted rain had left behind a path of cold.

So what do you think? A fest worth checking out? All told, the night set me back $8 - not bad for a Monday. Any other food fests or free samples are out there this month?