Be it Christmas or Festivus, whatever you’re celebrating this year will be more special with a little sparkle and light. We had our friend and prop stylist extraordinaire Penelope Bouklas help us prepare for the holidays. Follow suit with mercury votive holders and use them to infuse your dinner with candlelight or as alternatives to flower vases. Outsize glass candy and cookie jars are a great way to display shiny ornaments, and do break out from the usual reds and greens if you’re feeling less traditional — as you can tell, we love pinks and silvers in everything from our glassware to our Croteaux Vineyards sparkling rosé. And, if you’re opting out of a tree, there’s still room for presents in nooks and corners, and an evergreen wreath to bring the outdoors in and scent the air. We loved these twinkle lights sans the usual green or white plastic strings — they’re demure and perched onto wire for a pared down and elegant look.
If you’re skipping the pre-made cheese platter from the deli (and we suggest you do), take a look at some of our very classic but always festive finger foods—perfect because you can make them all in advance.
BRIE EN CROUTE
Buttery puff pastry and oozy cheese? It just never gets old.
All-purpose flour for dusting surface
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed according to package instructions
1 (8- to 9-ounce) brie
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Serving suggestion: Crackers, dried fruits, fruit jams
– Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
– Lightly dust a work surface with flour and unfold the thawed puff pastry. Set the cheese round in the center and make sure you have about 4 inches of pastry around it so you have enough to wrap it. Roll it out as needed.
– Fold the pastry over the cheese, pressing to seal. Place the cheese seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Whisk the egg yolk, cream, and salt together in a small bowl then brush over the cheese. If you have scraps of dough you can cut them out into decorative shapes and press them onto the cheese, then brush them with the egg-cream mixture.
– Bake until the pastry is golden brown, 15 to 10 minutes. Let cool at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.
– You can assemble the cheese up to 2 days in advance. Keep it in the refrigerator, wrapped in cling film. Brush with egg-cream wash before baking.
Makes about 3 cups
These nuts have a candy-like coating that shatters when you bite into them. You can use any type of raw unsalted nut, but we prefer a mix.
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups mixed raw and unsalted nuts
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
– Adjust 2 oven racks to the upper- and lower middle positions. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
– Whisk the egg whites, orange juice, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the nuts and toss until evenly coated. Transfer the nuts to a colander set in the sink and allow to drain for 5 minutes.
– Meanwhile, in another medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and spices. Add the nuts and toss until evenly coated. Divide the nuts evenly among the 2 prepared baking sheets and spread them into a single even layer. Bake the nuts until they have a crisp shell-like coating, 30 to 40 minutes.
– Transfer the baking sheets to cooling racks and cool the nuts completely. Break the nuts apart and serve them immediately or store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days.
One of our favorite drinks from “Winter Cocktails”
For the Blood Orange Sour Mix
Makes about 3 cups
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons finely grated zest and 2 cups fresh juice (strained) from about 6 blood oranges
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
For the Cocktail
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 ounces tequila
1 ounce ginger liqueur
2 tablespoons lime juice or Blood Orange Sour Mix
For the Blood Orange Sour Mix: Rub sugar and zest together to release the oils. The sugar will look damp and barely any strands of zest will remain. Combine water and sugar in small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is completely dissolved. Cool syrup to room temperature, then stir in citrus juices. Refrigerate for up to 1 month in an airtight container.
For the Cocktail: Scatter salt over a small plate or saucer. Rub the rim of the glass with the cut lime to dampen. Dip glass into salt, shaking off excess.
– Place tequila, triple sec, and lime juice or sour mix in shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into ice-filled glass. Serve.
Makes 2 (8-ounce) ramekins
This is classic elegance and easier to make than you ever thought. Look for organic chicken livers in the poultry section of the market.
For the Pâté
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, very thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 pound chicken livers, trimmed of fat and membranes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons dry sherry or port
2 tablespoons heavy cream
For the Jelly
2 tablespoons water
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons dry sherry, port, or unsweetened cranberry juice
1 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch ground allspice
Serving Suggestion: Toast points or crackers
For the Pâté : Melt 8 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, 1 more minute.
– Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the livers and season them with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes until the livers are browned on all sides but still pink in the middle. With a slotted spoon, transfer the livers to a plate (if some shallots remain in the skillet its alright).
– Add the sherry and cook, scraping the skillet, until it’s almost completely evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Scrape the skillet contents and the livers with any accumulated juices into a food processor and pulse until smooth. With the machine running, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and cream and process until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings.
– Divide the mixture between 2 (8-ounce) ramekins and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the paté. Chill for 2 hours and make the jelly.
For the Jelly: After 2 hours, combine the water and 2 tablespoons of the sherry in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over it and allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes.
– Bring the remaining port, sugar, and allspice to a gentle simmer over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Stir into the gelatin mixture until completely dissolved. Cool to room temperature and pour over the pâté, then return to the refrigerator and allow to chill until the gelatin is set, at least 2 more hours.
– The completed pâté can be made 5 days ahead and kept refrigerated. It can also be frozen for up to 2 weeks and thawed out in the refrigerator.