November 26, 2014 12:00 PM

How to Snap Food Photos Like a Pro

The most important thing to keep in mind when photographing your food? “Use natural light,” says Beth Kirby, whose blog Local Milk won Saveur’s 2014 award for Best Photography. “No indoor lights, no flash. And pull back a bit—negative space is pleasing to the eye.” As for filters, “skip them.” Also, remember, the food doesn’t need to be perfect. “Embrace cookies with character,” like these Fennel Rosemary Snowflakes from her blog, says Kirby (for the recipe, go to localmilkblog.com). “It’s really about the fun of making them and the joy of eating them.”

LIGHTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS

DESIGN DUO CORTNEY AND ROBERT NOVOGRATZ SHARE SOME BRIGHT IDEAS

Stylish Strings

“Add these gorgeous lights for a rustic feel.”

Moroccan Bauble Battery Operated String Lights, $12; lights.com

The couple also created the Novogratz for Shutterfly home decor collection.

Gold Garland

“The gold accent is a classic but trendy statement.”

Leafy Gold Christmas Lights, $38; anthropologie.com

Winter White

“We love decorating birch trees with these wires.”

Stargazer Lights, 15′, $38; shopterrain.com

What a Hoot!

“We love a quirky twist on a traditional item. You’re guaranteed compliments!”

White Owl Lighting, $28; anthropologie.com

Silver Statement

“During the holidays, mercury glass is everywhere in our home.”

Mercury Glass Globe String Lights, $39.50-$89; potterybarn.com

Bold Colors

“Our boys love a pop of something funky. We use these on the tree in their room.”

18 Green Battery Operated LED Fairy Lights, $13.99; christmas lightsetc.com

Festive Shapes

“The perfect mixture of eclectic yet tasteful—we added these to our home office.”

Christmas Tree Lights Garland, $35.90; zarahome.com

SCARLETT JOHANSSON & MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY

WHAT CHRISTMAS MEANS TO US

THE ACTORS—AND DOLCE & GABBANA SPOKESPEOPLE—TALK TURKEY … AND EVERYTHING ELSE!

What’s the very best thing about Christmas?

Scarlett Johansson Getting to see my family all in one place. I travel so frequently for work, it’s one of the only times we all get together.

Matthew McConaughey What I like most is getting the family together and the night before Christmas. Hanging up the stockings. Setting out the milk and cookies. Wondering how the heck Santa can get down that chimney.

What’s one of your favorite seasonal rituals?

MM Having a real tree in the house for the whole month. Every time we come in, the smell reminds you that Christmas is coming. SJ I like to watch old movies, read and bake. My favorite holiday movie is Home Alone 2, believe it or not!

How do you get ready for the holiday party circuit?

SJ Red is the perfect color for fun events. And if I’m not wearing a red outfit, I’ll rarely step out without a red lip. MM Over Christmas, I always enjoy wearing Dolce & Gabbana the One for Men. I think it’s a very unique, masculine scent that stands out but isn’t overpowering.

Best Christmas food?

SJ The smell of rice pudding always reminds me of the holidays. My father makes a traditional Danish pudding with a cherry sauce that is totally decadent and delicious. MM We usually have a big ham and a turkey. But what’s actually my favorite is not the sit-down Christmas lunch, but the late-night leftover ham sandwich.

Do you find it difficult to stay in shape over the holidays?

MM Absolutely! I let myself off. I say to myself, “You’re going to put on 10. Let’s do it!” It needs to be done. SJ I make sure I hit the gym a lot before the holidays. Then I don’t feel guilty about overindulging!

LISA VANDERPUMP MY PARTY ESSENTIALS

When it comes to throwing a holiday bash, restaurateur and reality star Lisa Vanderpump handles it like a pro—even if it’s just a last-minute gathering. “I can wing anything,” she says. “You’ve just got to have a few things as backup in your pantry.” On the list: “Always stick frozen shrimp in the freezer.” Add it to soup or put it with “a little bit of wine, garlic, mushrooms, onions, chopped tomatoes, pasta and, bang, you have a great dish.” For light bites, Vanderpump suggests sliced beef on toasted squares with horseradish and arugula or “smoked salmon on blini pancakes with crème fraîche and a few snips of chives served on a silver tray, which looks beautiful and is super simple.” For a festive drink, the founder of LVP Sangria suggests adding dark fruits like blackberries and raspberries to sangria for a drink that looks “really good for very little effort.”

MAD FOR MADELEINES

CLASSIC FRENCH MADELEINES

8 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus 2 tbsp. melted for pans (optional)

1 cup flour

½ tsp. baking powder

3 eggs

2/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1½ tsp. grated lemon zest

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°. Coat two 12-shell pans with baking spray or brush with melted butter.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Place 8 tbsp. butter in another bowl and microwave on low power for 1 minute or until melted. Cool. In a large bowl, using a hand or stand mixer, beat together eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until mixture is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add vanilla and zest and beat for another minute. Fold in flour mixture until just blended, then drizzle the cooled butter over the batter and incorporate completely.

3. Pour into shell molds until almost full. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until madeleines puff up and are golden brown. Let cool on wire rack for 2 to 3 minutes. Then remove madeleines from pans and cool completely on rack.

Makes: 24 Prep time: 15 minutes Cook time: 10 to 12 minutes

BLUEBERRY CREAM MADELEINES

6 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus 2 tbsp. melted for pans (optional)

½ cup flour

½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

¾ cup sugar, divided

2 eggs, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tbsp. heavy cream

¾ cup fresh or frozen (unthawed) blueberries

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°. Coat two 12-shell pans with nonstick spray or brush with melted butter.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Place 6 tbsp. butter and ½ cup sugar in a large glass bowl and microwave on low power for 1½ minutes or until melted. Let mixture cool 3 to 4 minutes, then add eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in vanilla and cream. Fold in the flour mixture until blended, then gently stir in the blueberries.

3. Pour into 18 shell molds until almost full. Sprinkle lightly with remaining ¼ cup sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until madeleines spring back when pressed gently. Let pans cool on wire rack, then remove madeleines and place on racks for a minute or two. Serve warm.

Makes: 18 Prep time: 12 minutes Cook time: 10 to 12 minutes

FESTIVE FLEA MARKET FINDS WITH LARA SPENCER

THE ANTIQUING EXPERT SHARES TRIED-AND-TRUE TIPS

Ornaments “You can buy vintage ornaments for next to nothing,” says the coanchor of Good Morning America and Flea Market Flip host. “Turn them into a centerpiece by putting them in a clear glass vase with votives around it.”

Holiday China “It’s really fun to mix and match different festive plates. I don’t mind if they’re a little faded, because you’re getting something with history. Just unify the table by making the tablecloth, napkins and candles all white. It creates a nostalgic feel.”

Nutcrackers “There is power in numbers, and nutcrackers look better grouped. I put seven or eight on either side of my mantel.”

Figurines “There are always a lot of Santa figurines available in varying sizes. Spray-paint them silver, and pair with red candles for a fun decoration.”

5 HOLIDAY PICKS FOR FAMILY-FRIENDLY FILMS

MUSICALS, DRAGONS & PENGUINS? WE’RE IN!

Annie

MUSICAL The sun will come out—again! Quvenzhané Wallis, who was only 9 when she was Oscar nominated for Beasts of the Southern Wild, is America’s favorite hard-knocks kid in this reboot. Jamie Foxx is the tycoon who gives her a home, and Cameron Diaz has the scene-stealing role of Miss Hannigan, hater of little shoes, little socks, little necks and little girls. (Dec. 19)

Penguins of Madagascar

ANIMATED You know those Madagascar penguins? Turns out they’re secret agents, and their nemesis is an octopus, Dr. Octavius Brine, a.k.a. Dave, who’s voiced by John Malkovich. (Nov. 26)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

FANTASY Luke Evans and Orlando Bloom return to wrap up the trilogy about Bilbo (Martin Freeman), who has a dragon breathing down his neck. (Dec. 17)

Into the Woods

MUSICAL Meryl Streep is a witch in this fairy-tale mash-up based on the Broadway hit and directed by Rob Marshall. Johnny Depp has a howlingly good time as the wolf. (Dec. 25)

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

COMEDY The third Museum adventure takes Ben Stiller to London. It’s a chance to see the late Robin Williams reprise the role of Teddy Roosevelt. (Dec. 19)

STAR TALK WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY MOVIE?

“I love Elf. Who doesn’t love Elf?”

—Julianne Hough

“It’s a Wonderful Life. There’s nothing better. It’s perfect. It’s a sad, deep, dark, wonderful movie.”

—Rashida Jones

“A Christmas Story is by far my favorite. It actually holds up! I saw it with my kids last year, and we cracked up.”

—Scott Foley

“White Christmas. My sister and I do the numbers ‘Sisters’ and ‘Snow.’ It’s a fantastic movie. Bing Crosby. Rosemary Clooney. They rock my world.”

—Alison Pill

“A Christmas Carol from 1951. That’s the best. It’s black and white. It’s real cheesy—but Alastair Sim was such a good Scrooge.”

—Jay Leno

“The Holiday! Every November and December I watch it. It’s my favorite music score of all movies.”

—Toni Braxton

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s tough to beat that one!”

—James Van Der Beek

POST-HOLIDAY PARTY HANGOVER CURE!

‘Tis the season of cocktails and carousing. If you’re feeling a bit under the weather after a big night out, comfort food is just what the doctor ordered. Here’s a great trick for reheating that leftover mac ‘n’ cheese in your fridge: Break out the waffle iron! “The great thing here is you’ve got the two-sided heat,” says food blogger Daniel Shumski, of WillItWaffle.com. “That makes the outside crispy and the inside all cheesy and gooey.”

WAFFLED MACARONI & CHEESE

Leftover macaroni and cheese

2 large eggs

Pinch of salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup seasoned bread crumbs

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Nonstick cooking spray

1. Preheat waffle iron on medium. Preheat oven to 200°. Remove chilled macaroni and cheese from refrigerator and cut into squares. (Or, for best results, bake the original mac ‘n’ cheese in a loaf pan, and cut into ½-in.-thick slices.) In a shallow bowl, mix the bread crumbs with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. In another shallow bowl, beat two eggs with the salt and pepper. Put 1 cup flour in a third bowl. Take a square of mac ‘n’ cheese and coat both sides in the flour. Then dunk both sides in the egg. Finally, coat both sides with the bread crumbs, pressing them in so they stick. Repeat with remaining pieces.

2. Coat both sides of the waffle grid with nonstick spray. Place two mac ‘n’ cheese pieces in the waffle iron. Close the lid, and cook until golden brown, 3 minutes. Use a silicone spatula to gently remove the slices from the waffle iron. Keep finished pieces warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining slices.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

PARTY LIKE REESE & DREW

Looking for a quick and easy dinner party idea? Take a page from BFFs Reese Witherspoon and Drew Barrymore, who went on a carb-loading adventure to the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley earlier this year. “#learning #eating,” Barrymore posted on Instagram, alongside drool-worthy shots of pasta, cheese and, of course, her famous friends. (Cameron Diaz was there too!) Here’s one of the recipes they perfected—a simple-yet-sophisticated entrée.

SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA

Kosher salt, as needed

1 lb. dried spaghetti

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

5 oz. diced guanciale (cured pork jowl) or pancetta

2 large eggs

2 egg yolks

½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the spaghetti and stir. Cook, uncovered, until the pasta is just tender (al dente), 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the spaghetti in a colander, shaking well.

2. While the spaghetti is cooking, heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the oil and the guanciale. Cook, stirring to heat evenly, until the guanciale is just starting to crisp, about 2 minutes. There should be about 2 tbsp. of rendered fat and oil in the pan. Set pan aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks, cheese and pepper until well combined.

3. Pour the drained pasta into the pan with the guanciale. Add the egg mixture and stir together with the pasta. The heat from the noodles should be enough to cook the eggs, but if necessary, you can cook very gently over low heat. Stop as soon as the sauce clings well; if you cook it any longer, the eggs will scramble. Serves: 4 to 6 Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 22 to 25 minutes (including bringing water to a boil)

MINDY WEISS’ NEW YEAR’S EVE

Ring in 2015 boho-style with tips from the event planner behind Ashlee Simpson‘s ’70s-inspired nuptials.

Set the Mood “Place large pillows on the floor. Top coffee tables with bud vases filled with feathers. For music, think Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.”

Comfort Food “Go potluck. You provide fresh pies.”

Countdown “Set alarms on vintage clocks—all for midnight!”

Favors “Give out sunglasses printed with sayings like ‘See you next year!’ ”

Why I Care

PERSONAL STORIES ABOUT GIVING BACK

TAMALA JONES’ HOLIDAY MISSION

HOW THE CASTLE STAR, 40, HOPES TO SPREAD CHEER TO CHILDREN WITH BRAIN ILLNESSES

I am a brain aneurysm survivor. I had one when I was 23 years old. One morning I woke up, got up out of the bed and had no balance. My head was pounding. It felt like someone had tied a rubber band around my brain and just kept pulling. Aneurysms can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Someone dies of a brain aneurysm every 18 minutes. Being the spokesperson for the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, I thought we should do something for children who have brain illnesses. So I’m joining forces with the Jingle All the Way program. In the past they’ve recruited different personalities like Michael B. Jordan and Bella Thorne to read stories and deliver toys to kids in hospitals. And the plan is to spread a little holiday cheer to families most in need at the most wonderful time of the year.

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