Great Ideas

updated 12/20/2010 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/20/2010 01:00AM

JENNIFER GARNER'S SWEET POTATOES

HOLIDAY SPECIAL

The movie star-and mom of two-shares a side-dish recipe she loves to make during the holiday season

LEMONY MAPLE SWEET POTATOES

Serves: 6 to 8

2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" × 2" chunks

1 tbsp. olive oil

½ tsp. kosher salt

1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

2 tbsp. maple syrup

2 tbsp. lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. Toss sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper in a large glass baking dish.

3. Cook until almost tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

4. Whisk syrup and lemon juice in a small bowl.

5. Remove the potatoes from the oven and drizzle ½ maple-lemon mixture over potatoes.

6. Stir gently, return to oven, and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and golden brown.

7. Remove from oven, drizzle with remaining maple-lemon mixture and serve.

Garner has teamed up with Frigidaire to support Save the Children. Learn more at maketimeforchange.com

HOLIDAY SPECIAL

Top Chef Just Desserts Winner

CHRISTMAS COOKIES

Pastry chef Yigit Pura-the champ of Bravo's sweets competition-provides a twist on a classic

ROASTED HAZELNUT SHORTBREAD COOKIES

Makes 150-160 cookies

2 cups (4 sticks) butter, room temperature

1 ¼ cups sugar

¼ cup light brown sugar

2 egg yolks

4 cups flour

1 tbsp. salt

1 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts (skin on), fleur de sel for garnish

1. In a standing mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and keep mixing until just blended.

2. Sift together flour and salt. Add to butter mixture, on low speed, until almost incorporated. Stir in hazelnuts and mix until just combined. Take care not to overmix the dough.

3. Divide dough into four portions. Flatten each portion and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill dough in refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 325. Take one portion of dough and place it on a piece of parchment paper. Lightly flour the top, and roll out to about ¼-in. thickness.

5. Punch out cookies using a round 1.5-in. cutter. Place cookies on a parchment-lined sheet, and garnish tops with a pinch of fleur de sel. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating sheet after five minutes, until cookies are golden brown around the edges. Repeat with rest of dough. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Note: Dough can be frozen.

HOLIDAY SPECIAL

Valerie Bertinelli GUILT-FREE PARTY SNACK

The TV star offers up a light, savory appetizer for your Christmas celebration

FILET MIGNON TOWERS Makes 32 rounds

1 8 oz., 4" × 4 " piece beef tenderloin (filet mignon) Salt and pepper to taste

6 oz. (2/3 cup) light cream cheese

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

½ tsp. sugar

2 tbsp. finely chopped basil

1 8-in. cucumber, sliced into 32 quarter-in. rounds

1 small tomato, seeded and finely diced (3 to 4 tbsp.)

2 tbsp. finely diced red onion

1. Season beef with salt and pepper and grill over medium-high heat until medium-rare, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Cut beef into 8 equal-size pieces, then slice each piece into 4¼-in. slices. Reserve.

2. Combine cream cheese, lemon juice, sugar and basil in a bowl. Using a spatula, transfer mixture into a large ziplock bag. Twist bag until mixture is forced to one corner of bag. Using scissors, snip off the corner of the bag.

3. Arrange steak slices on cucumber rounds.

4. Pipe 1 tsp. cream cheese mixture onto each round and garnish with onions and tomatoes.

HOLIDAY SPECIAL

FESTIVE COCKTAILS

Forget eggnog and Christmas punch! Three experts offer chic drink options that will impress all of your guests

Wynn Las Vegas mixologist Patricia Richards

BLOOD ORANGE MIMOSA

Serves: 1

3 tbsp. blood orange juice

½ tbsp. simple syrup

½ cup well-chilled sparkling wine

Pour juice and syrup into a champagne flute and top with sparkling wine.

New Orleans chef John Besh

HOT SPICED WINE

Serves: 6-8

1 bottle red wine

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup kirschwasser or cherry brandy

1 bay leaf

1 clove

½ vanilla bean or 1 tsp. vanilla

1 orange peel

1. Place all of the ingredients into a pot and warm on the stove until the sugar has dissolved. Do not boil.

2. Remove bay leaf and clove before serving.

San Francisco party planner Laurie Arons

CRANBERRY CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL

Serves: 1

1 sugar cube

¼ tsp. pure cranberry concentrate (available in all health food stores)

2 dashes of bitters

¾ cup chilled champagne or sparkling wine

1 orange twist for garnish

1. Place a sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne flute.

2. Pour cranberry concentrate and shake bitters over sugar cube. Top with champagne.

3. Garnish with orange twist.

HOLIDAY SPECIAL

Genevieve Gorder's PARTY ESSENTIALS

Playing host this holiday? The HGTV designer shares some favorite things that will make any get-together more stylish

HAUTE CHOCOLATE

Offer your guests these salt-topped chocolate caramels and "you will not only be the star of the evening, you will also be held prisoner until you tell everyone where you got them," insists Gorder. Gray & Smoked Salt Caramels, $25 for 20; franschocolates.com

A Hollywood Hostess Gift

Looking for a last-minute present? Beauty and fragrance guru Lisa Hoffman-who's married to Oscar-winning actor Dustin-recommends these Madagascar Orchid and Japanese Agarwood scented candles. "When lit, the organic wick creates the sound of softly crackling wood," she says. $46 each; lisahoffmanskincare.com

SWEET TREAT

This cake stand is "beautiful and timeless," says Gorder. "You can leave it out year-round." 6-in. Jadeite Glass Cake Stand, $40; poshchicago.com

TABLE TOPPER

"The holidays are all about wishing, and they're a chance to buy things you wouldn't normally buy for yourself-the purely decorative things," she says of this accent piece. Gold Wishbone, $48; jaysonhomeandgarden.com

LUXE LINENS

"I like a table that doesn't look like you've tried too hard," says Gorder, who's a big fan of these hand-embroidered vintage napkins. "Holiday decor should feel effortless." Folk Napkins, $75 for 4; matteohome.com

SPECIAL SEASONING

Gorder suggests using these Himalayan salt bricks as "decor for the middle of your table," or you can use a grater on them: "The shavings give salads and sweets a kick." Salt Plates and Bricks, $25-$40; deananddeluca.com

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