First of all, merry Christmas! May you have a wonderful day surrounded by loved ones.

I will be hosting my family and my husband's family today, minus two siblings who are going with their significant others to their families' events too far away to still pop in at our house.

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I said I was going to go low-key this year to cut back on stress, especially since it is my son's first Christmas and I want to spend as much time as I can with him and other family members, so as I write this on Christmas Eve, I'm hoping that's how my Christmas Day turns out.

I've prepared the vegetables in advance - balsamic carrots and roasted beets, and my mother is bringing sweet potatoes and my mother-in-law is bringing a green salad with apples and pear. I made the dessert ahead of time, a cranberry, apple and pear tart; and I made bread dough for an appetizer ahead of time, which will bake on Christmas morning (and should make the house smell delicious).

For the main course, the plan is for my husband to make the brisket, which is kind of a joke because he never cooks, but this is a slow cooker recipe. All he has to do is cut up onions, smash garlic and measure some broth. I was all excited to share this recipe when I looked up my column from last Christmas and discovered that apparently I made this as my main course last year - and shared the recipe then. I didn't remember that at all!

So since I cannot share that recipe, here is the recipe for the tart I'm making, which I plan to serve with vanilla bean ice cream. I wanted to keep the dessert "light" because we're going to visit another family member for dessert after dinner.

And then since this is my last column before New Year's Eve, I thought it would be fun to have some seasonal cocktails, featuring pomegranates, which are usually at their most affordable this time of year. The first recipe is for a pomegranate-spiked champagne, and the second is for a non-alcoholic cocktail, a "pomegranate julep."

Merry Christmas and an early happy new year to you!

Free-form apple-pear-cranberry tart
For the crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
2 medium (or 1 1/2 large) firm-tart apples (about 12 ounces total)
1 large ripe pear, such as d'Anjou or Bartlett
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
1 large egg, beaten well
To make the crust: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt until well combined. Sprinkle the butter cubes on top and use your fingers to work them in (you want to rub your thumb against your fingertips, smearing the butter as you do). Stop when the mixture looks like cornmeal with some pea-sized bits of butter remaining (try to work quickly so the butter doesn't melt).
Sprinkle the egg yolk-water mixture on top and stir with a fork until the dough begins to come together. If needed, add one more tablespoon water. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead three times. Gather into a ball, then press into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
To make the filling: Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and set a rack to the second-from-the bottom position. Peel, core, and cut the apples into 1/4-inch-thick wedges. Peel and cut the pear into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Gently toss together in a bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the sugar, the cornstarch, orange zest and cloves; set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a circle about 16 inches wide. The circle doesn't have to be perfect -- this is a rustic dessert -- but try to get it as round as possible, even if that means cutting a little dough off one side to add to the other. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Arrange half the apple and pear slices over the dough, leaving a 2 1/2-inch border all around. Sprinkle half the cranberries over the apples. Sprinkle half the sugar-cornstarch mixture over the fruit, then repeat with the fruit and then the sugar mixture. Fold the sides of the dough up and over the edge of the filling, allowing the dough to drape over itself at each fold. Brush the dough with the beaten egg, and sprinkle all with one teaspoon of sugar. Bake for 10 minutes; lower the temperature to 375 degrees and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes more. Let cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes, then transfer to a serving platter and serve warm.
Source: http://www.cookingchanneltv.com

Champagne and pomegranate cocktail
1 sugar cube
1 fluid ounce pomegranate juice
3 fluid ounces dry sparkling wine
Pomegranate seeds, optional

Place a sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne flute. Pour the pomegranate juice over it, then the sparkling wine. Drop a few pomegranate seeds into the glass. Serve. Makes 1 drink.


Source: http://www.foodnetwork.com

Pomegranate julep
2 mint sprigs
1/2 ounce honey syrup (mix two parts honey with one part hot water and stir to dissolve, cool)
1 ounce fresh pomegranate juice
1 1/2 ounce grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

Bruise 1 mint sprig in bar mixing glass with honey syrup. Add remaining ingredients and shake over ice. Strain over ice into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with the remaining mint leaves.
Source: http://www.pomwonderful.com

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