Holiday Countdown: Five Easy Ways to Add Glam to Christmas Entertaining

1. ICE BUCKET SPLENDOR: Freeze a bottle of vodka in a fancy-schmancy block of ice adorned with rose petals, thin citrus slices or fresh cranberries. Here is the path that Martha Stewart lays out on marthastewart.com. I choose a squat vodka bottle for this because my freezer won’t accommodate a tall slender bottle.
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1 bottle vodka
1 clean empty cardboard half-gallon milk carton
Fresh flowers or thinly sliced fruit (or fresh cranberries)
Utility knife
1. Pour water into the container, just covering the fruit and flowers. Place the carton upright in the freezer. When the liquid is completely frozen, add another layer of fruit and very cold water, and freeze.
2. Repeat, filling and freezing a third of the carton at a time, which prevents all the fruit and flowers from floating to the top until the water reaches the bottle’s neck. Remove from the freezer when it’s time to serve the vodka: Cut away the milk carton with a utility knife; wrap a dinner napkin around the bottle’s base, and serve the vodka with slices of lemon zest tied in knots. Source: marthastewart.com

2. POMEGRANATE SYRUP for Cocktails, Mocktails or Pancakes: This colorful syrup can be prepared up to two weeks ahead and stored in the fridge. Use a small amount stirred into flutes of Champagne or white wine, chilled vodka rocks, or sparkling water “mocktails”.

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To make the syrup, combine 2 cups fresh pomegranate juice (such as Pom) and 1 cup granulated sugar in a small saucepan on high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat and gently simmer until reduced in volume to 1 cup, about 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate well-sealed.

3. Oh-So Easy-But-Elegant CHEESE PLATTER:  Buy 2 or 3 delicious cheeses. I like to have one blue-veined cheese, one aged white cheddar and one washed-rind cheese, such as Brie.

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I arrange the cheese on a slate board and write the name of each cheese in chalk below. Then I scatter nuts and  dried fruit around the cheeses, or sliced apple and/or pear.

Sometimes I drizzle the blue cheese with a little honey. Provide crackers (or thin slices of baguette), cheese knives and  holiday cocktail napkins. Voila!

4. Super-quick PROSCIUTTO WRAPS for appetizers: Use thinly sliced prosciutto twisted around wedges of fruit. Fuyu persimmons are a favorite. Fuyu persimmons are the variety that are tomato shaped.

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5. Luscious THUMBPRINT COOKIES: Cookbook author and Food Network Star Ina Garten created my favorite recipe for Coconut Thumbprint Cookies. You can personalize them by adding your favorite preserves to the indentation made by pressing a thumb or finger into each coconut-coated sphere of dough.

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Ina’s Thumbprint Cookies

Yield: about 32 cookies

3/4 pound (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
7 ounces sweetened shredded (flaked) coconut
Raspberry or apricot jam, or your favorite
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar for 3 minutes on medium speed. Add in the vanilla and beat until combined. In a separate bowl mix the flour and salt with a whisk to blend. On low speed add flour mixture to butter mixture; mix until dough starts to come together. Dump on floured board and roll together in a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two or three baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. In a small bowl, beat together the egg and water. In another small bowl, place the coconut. Using a medium (1-ounce) ice cream scoop, scoop the dough into your hand and roll into a ball. Drop in the egg wash and then into the coconut. Roll it around and press to coat Place on the baking sheet. With your finger, press an indentation into the top of each cookie dough ball. Fill each indentation with 1/4 teaspoon of the preserves. Bake for about 20 minutes or until coconut is browned. Allow to cool on the baking sheets before removing to a wire rack to cool further.

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