The Best Gift Ever

My best friend Ilana lives in Edinburgh, which is a gorgeous and absolutely wonderful place to live and visit, but really inconvenient for us when it comes to typical best friend activities like grabbing coffee or shopping or laying about watching movies in pajamas, or really just about anything that requires that we both be on the same continent.

We do make a point of meeting up about once or twice a year, either here in New York or somewhere else interesting. (Past locations include Portugal and Palm Springs; we're hoping for a Greek island next year!)

But, as amazing as those trips are, they're never quite enough.

Fortunately, Ilana also happens to be really amazing at surprises! They show up every so often: a postcard with a recipe for deep-fried Mars bars (a well-loved Scottish delicacy), a set of Kate Spade bangles inscribed with inspirational messages, and--most recently--the most wonderful gift ever:

A custom-made necklace featuring a perfect mini slice of my signature cake: The Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake!

Ilana found this wonderful shop on Etsy and had the artists custom make the charm.

And they did such an incredible job! They even got the detail of the snowflake design on the chocolate frosting!

The texture of the layers looks so realistic I really had to resist biting into it...

I'm, admittedly, nowhere near equal to Ilana when it comes to thoughtful surprises. I come up with great ideas, but then my ADD kicks in and I get distracted trying to make ice cream out of wine or researching mid-century gelatin salad recipes or trying to figure out how to turn an old t-shirt into a throw pillow, and then I can't really remember what the great plan was.

You guys have no idea how many unsent postcards I have in my desk.*

But, I do, fortunately have this blog! And that means that on this blog I can let the thousands and thousands of you who come here every day know how wonderful Ilana is.


I also wanted you all to know about the wonderful little Etsy shop she found!

It's called Inedible Jewelry and you can visit it here:

If you have food lovers (or miniature lovers!) in your life--I bet they'd enjoy a sweet gift from there just as much as I did.

But hurry--Christmas orders have to be in by the 18th (aka...tomorrow!).

*I do have a good plan for Christmas this year, though I haven't quite made it to the post office yet. (Fortunately Ilana is Jewish, which I think gives me a bit of leeway in terms of the deadline.)

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Banana Bread Cookie Sandwiches with Honey Cream Cheese

Banana Bread Cookie Sandwiches with Honey Cream Cheese 
This past weekend, I was straightening out a few things on the kitchen counter when I realized I had a giant pile of ripe bananas that absolutely-positively-definitely needed to be used up THAT VERY DAY.

It's a common thing around here. We buy the bananas for Eugene's post-gym protein shakes, but he can only go through them so quickly. I don't really like to eat bananas in non-cake-or-dessert form, and while Hudson would eat them all if we gave him the chance...we will not be giving him that chance. (Sorry, doggy!)

Banana Bread Cookie Sandwiches with Honey Cream Cheese
And so, there was baking to do.

I put out a call on Facebook asking people what they recommended I make with them (and got some pretty fantastic ideas!), but the truth is that I already knew even before I asked.

I wanted to make banana bread cookies!

Banana Bread Cookie Sandwiches with Honey Cream Cheese
I was picturing a soft cookie--somewhere in between chewy and cake-y--studded with walnuts and filled with whipped honey cream cheese.

NOT cream cheese frosting, mind you...just real cream cheese, lightly sweetened with honey and a bit of cinnamon for that perfect combination of sweet banana and salty-sweet cheese.

honey cream cheese
Basically, I wanted a dessert version of one of my favorite breakfast treats (that would be toasted banana bread with cream cheese...oh yes!)

And so, that's what I made, and I couldn't be happier with the results!

Banana Bread Cookie Sandwiches with Honey Cream Cheese
This recipe makes some pretty giant banana bread cookies, which then become giant banana bread cookie sandwiches.

You could make them smaller, but I think the giant-ness is part of the charm here, wouldn't you agree?

Banana Bread Cookie Sandwiches with Honey Cream Cheese
And...I think it goes without saying that these are TOTALLY acceptable breakfast cookies.

Happy baking!

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Banana Bread Cookie Sandwiches with Honey Cream Cheese
Yields about 8 giant cookies sandwiches

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 very ripe banana, peeled and mashed
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup walnuts (optional)

For the filling
8oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat together butter and both sugars for 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, mashed banana, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg for 1 minute.

Add the flour mixture and mix well until evenly combined. Fold in the walnuts, if using.

Use a cookie scoop to scoop out about 1/4-cup sized spoonfuls of dough and arrange 2-3 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes, or cookies have spread, puffed slightly in the center and are golden brown.

Let cool on pan 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

While the cookies cool, prepare the filling by using an electric mixer to whip the cream cheese with the honey and cinnamon.

Once the cookies are cool, spread half of them with the filling and sandwich. Serve immediately, or wrap each one in plastic wrap to store.

Thin & Chewy Smoked Brown Sugar Cookies

I don't usually try to urge you to buy specific specialty ingredients, but today I'm going to make an exception. This incredible Thin and Chewy Smoked Brown Sugar Cookies are made with smoked brown sugar, which is a thing that I didn't even know existed until a couple weeks ago.

Golden brown and moist like regular brown sugar, this sugar is smoked, giving it a woodsy, smoky richness reminiscent of barbecues and bonfires.

It's incredible!

Just the sort of thing you might want to rub on meats or sprinkle on popcorn. And it is also amazing baked into cookies.

(Think about trying it in your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe!)

Wanting to make it all about the amazing smoky sugar with no competition from other ingredients, I made these simple thin and chewy brown sugar cookies. It's an easy recipe, but it's the awesome ingredients that make them super special.

I love how these have just the tiniest bit of crunch around the very edge, and then the perfect amount of chew all throughout.

Try these for your next cookie exchange or party; people will be begging you to find out how you made them!

BTW, if you can't get the smoked sugar, this recipe also works using all brown sugar. It won't be smoked, but you'll still have a pretty fantastic cookie on your hands!

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Thin and Chewy Smoked Brown Sugar Cookies
Yields 2 dozen (adapted from Epicurious)

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup smoked brown sugar (I like this kind)
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Flaky sea salt (use smoked Maldon salt if you can find it!), for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat together butter and both sugars for 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs and vanilla for 1 minute.

Add the flour mixture and mix well until evenly combined.

Use a spoon or cookie scoop to shape small balls about 2 tablespoons each. Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet, and press down lightly with finger tips.

Sprinkle with flaky salt, if using, and bake 8-9 minutes, or until flat and just slightly golden around the edges.

Let cool on pan 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Note: Cookies will crisp slightly at first as they cool, but will regain their chewiness once stored together in an airtight container for a few hours or overnight. (They're also amazing warmed up for just a few seconds in the microwave!)

Spicy Mexican Mole Baked Ziti

Well, it’s officially freezing here in NYC!

I’ve been spending my days layered up in leggings, sweaters, fuzzy socks and booties, even the occasional blanket-worn-as-a-shawl!

Very stylish, I can assure you.

The other thing I do to stay warm is look for any and every excuse to turn on the oven. Cake? Let’s do it! Reheat leftovers? Into the oven! Toast? Why not! I’ve been baking desserts, braising meats, broiling fish—really just about everything.

And since I knew I had to create another easy Latin-inspired dinner recipe for my sponsored Barilla partnership, I figured it was about time for a rich and comforting baked pasta dish. Hence, this gorgeous Spicy Mexican Mole Baked Ziti!

So much Latin-Italian fusion going on here.

Growing up in northern New Jersey, I ate a LOT of baked ziti. It was the ultimate cozy dish for cold winter nights, and a total crowd-pleasing recipe.

This is one of those Sunday dinner kind of recipes, when the whole family is over and you’ve got lots of hungry mouths to feed. The leftovers are amazing, too, making busy Monday and Tuesday just a little bit easier on you.

I added a bunch of Latin flavor to a traditional baked ziti recipe, by using a spicy, flavorful Mexican red mole sauce.

Mole is actually a name for several different kinds of Mexican sauces made from a mix of ground roasted chiles, tomatoes, chocolate, and spices. It’s rich, smoky, spicy, and full of complex flavor. Traditionally, making mole meant hours in the kitchen of roasting and grinding.

Now while I actually did make mine from scratch, you could easily use a good store-bought sauce—there are so many great ones available today so there is no need to spend hours in the kitchen like Abuela used to. Look for it in the Latin aisle of well-stocked grocery stores, or even online.

Mixed with regular old canned crushed tomatoes and a bit of chipotle adobo sauce (also easily found at the grocery store), it creates the most amazing smoky pasta sauce ever. It’s a really cool way to infuse a little bit of classic Latin tradition into your everyday.

For the cheese, I used ricotta cheese and shredded queso Oaxaca, which is a Mexican cheese that’s very similar in taste and texture to mozzarella.

I used Barilla Ziti for this recipe for obvious reasons (this is baked ziti, after all), but you could easily substitute your favorite Barilla pasta shape. Something like penne or rigatoni would work well, too.

Whichever shape you choose, I think Barilla's pasta is particularly perfect for baked dishes like this one because the quality is such that it really holds its shape once cooked, and doesn't break up or get all clumpy.

When making baked pasta dishes, it’s really important to undercook the pasta to avoid getting mushy pasta after the additional bake time. Even al dente is a bit too much in this case!

I recommend cooking the Barilla ziti for about 8 minutes, then immediately draining and rinsing under cold water to stop the cooking. When you put it in the oven to bake, it will finish cooking and your final dish will come out absolutely perfect!

Just 45 minutes in the oven until super bubbly and melty, and you will have an amazingly easy dinner to serve the whole family.

For more easy pasta recipes with Latin flavors, visit This is a sponsored post on behalf of Barilla, however, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive sentiments towards Barilla or their products. I only work with companies that I genuinely use and love. Thanks to them--and you!--for making all this possible.

Mexican Mole Baked Ziti
Serves 8-10 

1 box Barilla Ziti pasta (or other small tube shape like penne)
Kosher salt
Olive oil
1 pound button mushrooms, sliced
2 cups Mexican red mole sauce (store-bought or homemade)
2 cups crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons chipotle adobo sauce
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 pound queso Oaxaca or mozzarella cheese, shredded

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti for 8 minutes, or until just slightly harder than al dente. Drain, rinse under cold water, and toss with olive oil. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet set over medium heat and sauté the mushrooms until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Whisk together the red mole sauce and the crushed tomatoes. Add all but 1 cup of the mole-tomato mixture to the pasta, and toss gently to coat.

Add the ricotta, the adobo sauce, and 3/4 of the shredded cheese (reserving the rest), and the cooled cooked mushrooms. Fold in gently until evenly mixed.

Pour pasta into a baking dish, cover with the remaining mole-tomato sauce and top with the remaining shredded cheese.

Bake for 45 minutes or until bubbling.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.

My ebook: The Puerto Rican Christmas Table

I'm so thrilled to share my brand new (and very first!) eCookbook with you. It's called The Puerto Rican Christmas Table, and it features 40+ classic Puerto Rican holiday recipes, restyled for modern kitchens all in a beautiful, full-color digital format perfect for your laptop, iPad, tablet, or mobile phone! 

You can click here to purchase and download the book (only $9!), or scroll down to read a bit more about how it came to be!

I have a tendency to do things on a whim.

It’s how I started Always Order Dessert nearly 7 years ago. It’s how I subsequently quit my job and turned that blog into a career.

It’s even why my hair is currently a bright shade of royal blue!

And, it is how this book came to be.

The eCookbook
The Puerto Rican Christmas Table eCookbook
A couple months ago, I thought it might be a nice idea to pull together a few of my favorite Puerto Rican Christmas recipes to share in a small free PDF. I was thinking maybe 3 of the ones already on my blog with 1 or 2 new ones, all repackaged as a cute little document to go along with my holiday cards.

I started thinking about what could go in it, and that's when the trouble started...

The wheels in my head started turning (as they tend to do), and those 5 recipes grew to 10, then 20, then 30, and on and on. Within about 24 hours that "cute little PDF" turned into a full on 100-page digital cookbook!

And so, the marathon began. About 5 weeks, many (so many!) late nights, hours of research and testing, daily grocery store trips, 1 broken camera, an actual trip to Puerto Rico, and I can’t even tell you how many dirty dishes later, and I’m proud to finally share this eCookbook with you!

The recipes in this book are mostly ones that I grew up with. Classic side dishes like arroz con gandules and mofongo; desserts like tembleque (jiggly coconut pudding) and budin de pan (caramelized bread pudding); and classic entrees like pernil (roast pork) and pavochón (Puerto Rican style roast turkey).

There are also some new and totally not traditional twists, like my Pigeon Pea Hummus.

All New Recipes
Sample pages from the eCookbook

Slightly more than 80% of the recipes in the book are totally brand new and not found on this blog.

The ones that are also on the blog have all actually been retested, tweaked, and updated based on years of comments from you fine readers.

For example, my popular from-scratch rum cake recipe, which on the blog calls for you to create a separate homemade pudding mix, has been rewritten so that you only need one simple recipe--no extra steps!

Fresh Ingredients & Simple Techniques
Puerto Rican Pernil, from The Puerto Rican Christmas Table eCookbook
What do I mean by "restyled"?

It means that I took classic, well-loved recipes, and shook them up a bit. With very few exceptions, I replaced processed ingredients with fresh ones (for example--canned milk is replaced with fresh milk or cream), and eliminated unnecessary steps.

I also introduced the use of modern appliances like blenders and food processors to make somethings super quick and simple!

I'm so happy with the way this book turned out, and I hope that you will enjoy it. Whether you grew up eating Puerto Rican food, have enjoyed it on vacation, or are completely new to the cuisine, I think you will find plenty of recipes and ideas to stir up your imagination.

Click below to purchase and download now!
Add to Cart

12 Holiday Hostess Style Tips

It's the holidays!

I absolutely love this time of year, because there are so many reasons to celebrate and gather with friends and family. While we usually tend to focus on the menu and making our homes look amazing for our guests, it's also important to take a little time for yourself so that you can look and feel just as incredible, too.

For today's post, I was asked by Cosmopolitan and Calvin Klein Euphoria to share a few of my best holiday hostess style tips. From my go-to pair of hostess shoes, to my secret for perfect party nails, scroll down to learn my best tips for staying stylish while entertaining:

1. Stay cool and elegant in a sleek black tank
No matter how cold it is outside, things have a way of heating up quickly when you're hosting. Between the heat of the kitchen, the crowd of guests, and all the running around, you want to make sure you're comfortable.

A simple, but sexy black tank is the perfect top to keep you feeling cool, plus it will hide any little spills or splatters you may get while cooking. And don't worry about feeling too plain-- you can pair it with something more exciting on the bottom.

(More about that in a bit!)

2. Pin hair back with something sparkly
Keep hair up and away from your face by pinning it back into a simple twist. It'll stay neat, and you won't have to worry about frizz or stray hairs falling in your face.

Regular bobby pins can do the job, but why not add a little extra sparkle with some embellished pins or a vintage-style barrette? It'll make even the simplest chignon look festive.

3. Stay on your feet in a pair of pretty flats
I always have fantasies of pulling out my most fabulous heels when I host parties, but the truth is that when I do, I'm usually barefoot before the guests have even arrived.

Nothing wrong with that (hey--it's one last chance to show off your pedicure before winter!), but a pair of cute flats (like these lace-up ballet slippers!) is even better and show that comfortable can still be totally stylish.

4. Pour yourself a glass of wine
Remember that your attitude will set the tone for the party. If you're stressed and frazzled your guests will sense it. Lower the lights, start up your playlist, and pour yourself a glass of wine at least 30 minutes before the invite time.

It'll help ease you out of prep stress, and into relaxed party mode. If you're having a great time, your guests will, too!

5. Rock a pair of statement earrings
Skip the long necklaces (which can knock into food as you serve it) and bracelets (they get hot or can even melt from the heat!), and instead go for a pair of fabulous statement earrings.

Choose a pair of big dramatic hoops, or something dangly in a bright jewel tone. They'll catch the eye, without causing any kitchen disasters.

6. Set the mood by spritzing on a sexy fragrance
You wear perfume when going out, but do you remember to put a little on when staying in? As the hostess, you should feel sexy and a little bit glamorous, and nothing can create that feeling quicker than the perfect fragrance.

I'm currently smitten with Calvin Klein Euphoria (the reason I was excited to work on this post for them!). The perfume was inspired by the exotic notes of the black orchid and the scent is out of this world--with notes of tart pomegranate, dewy lotus blossom, wood, sensual liquid amber and so many other delicious things.

It's mysterious, feminine, and will make you feel totally confident and uninhibited--everything you need to be the perfect party hostess.

7. Dare to fake mega lashes
Major lashes are one of the quickest ways to transform your face. If you're feeling daring, try on a set of false lashes. I wear them whenever I host, and they always look amazing in the low party lights.

Not a fan of falsies? Pump up your lash look by combining a lengthening mascara with a thickening one. A couple swipes of each, and you'll have lashes for days!

8. Red lips = party lips
There is nothing like a bold red lip to make you look glamorous. I always keep a tube of my favorite red lipstick in my apron when I cook, and promise you it makes all the difference in the world!

If you're hosting and don't have much time for a full make-up look, a slash of gorgeous red will be just the thing to elevate your look.

Whether that's a bright cherry or a deep Cabernet, choose a red that compliments your skin and then wear it with confidence. You've totally got this!

9. Try a new eyeshadow
Parties are the perfect time to play around with new make-up looks. If you have a little time, why not treat yourself to a fun new shade or something glittery that you wouldn't typically wear?

10. Glitter polish is your new best friend
Keeping a perfect manicure when cooking can, admittedly, be a major challenge. But here's a way around it--go for a glittery gold polish before your next party.

The sparkles will catch the light, but the light color and textured pattern will easily disguise any small chips or nicks you may get during party prep. Total win!

11. Protect your style
Splatters and messes?

Totally inevitable, but that doesn't mean you can't look great. Protect your outfit with a cute hostess apron. I love retro-style skirt aprons in contrasting colors and fabrics; they sometimes look so great that the guests think it's just part of my dress!

12. Refresh with a pre-party mask
My pre-party shower is seriously one of my favorite moments. After a day of cleaning and cooking, it's nice to take a little time to relax and just be.

I keep a clay mask on hand and rub a little on my face and neck. I don't usually have time for a full facial, but even just a few minutes can help detoxify your skin, tighten pores, and leave your face glowing and ready for the night.

13. Wear a showstopping skirt
Pair that simple tank with a stunning party skirt!

You can go for something full and tea-length or satin maxi that sweeps the ground as you walk--being at home gives you the flexibility to wear something just a teensy bit impractical, so why not take advantage?

(I'm currently on the hunt for dramatic a high-low skirt like the one in this picture!)

I hope you enjoyed these tips. I'd love to hear your best tip for looking and feeling great when entertaining. Tell me now in the comments below!

This post was sponsored by Calvin Klein Euphoria. I was compensated to create this post, but all ideas, tips, and opinions are entirely my own.

Cornbread Pull-Apart Bread

cornbread pull-apart bread
I'm not sure how it happened, but this week somehow became crazy-town week for me. It's not because of Thanksgiving. I'm not hosting Thanksgiving. I'm probably not even going to be cooking anything at all for it. Hosting is my thing, and if I was, I'd probably just be super excited.

rolling out bread dough
Instead, this Friday, Eugene and I are leaving for the airport at some ridiculous still-dark hour to head down to Puerto Rico for my grandmother's 98th birthday. I'm excited about this, but the limited amount of time before we leave totally stresses me out.

(Nothing stresses me out like the handful of days before I travel!)

homemade pullapart breadMy friend (and fellow chef lady!) Melissa is going to be staying here house and Hudson-sitting, which means that instead of the crazy disaster I usually leave behind when I travel, I need to leave things clean and semi-organized so Melissa doesn't regret agreeing to this plan.

For the actual meal, we're going to Eugene's parents' apartment in Brooklyn, so I don't have to cook, but it means that everything needs to be done before we head over to their place (an hour away).

yeasted cornbread
And between now and then, I have a long list of things to get done. Articles to write.  Photos to edit. Clothing to fold. Toiletries to buy. Luggage to pack. Nails to paint. Hair to wash and blow-out.

Even a holiday e-book deadline (more about that, soon!).

So in the middle of all this crazy, I got an idea. The idea was for a pull-apart bread made out of yeasted cornbread. Something like a cross between brioche and cornbread.

pull-apart cornbread
A little bit sweet, but neutral enough to work as both a savory dinner roll, and sweet breakfast bread.

It popped in my head while I was working on something, and grew and grew to the point where I just couldn't ignore it, despite my major to-do list.

baked pull-apart cornbread
I jumped up and within seconds I was writing up recipes and proofing yeast and kneading dough. Testing. Trying.

And here's the thing. The results? So awesome.

homemade pull-apart cornbread
The bread itself came out amazing. It's probably a little late to include on your Thanksgiving table, but would still be super lovely any other day of the year.

And I'm ridiculously proud that I made it happen.

Because sometimes you just have to let the big ideas happen. Even if the timing isn't right.

pull-apart cornbread
I hope to post again tomorrow, but if I don't, I want to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.

I hope you know how grateful I am for all of you who read and comment and share and make it possible for me to make a living doing what I love.

Love Always Order Dessert?
Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!  

Cornbread Pull-Apart Bread Recipe
Makes 1 loaf

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup granulated sugar (you can do up to 1/3 for a sweeter bread)
3/4 cup warm whole milk
1/4 cup warm water
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, melted and divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
A few tablespoons raw sugar, for sprinkling

Whisk together yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, milk, and water in the base of a stand mixer with dough hook attached. Let sit 5 minutes until foamy on top.

Beat in remaining sugar, eggs, 1/4 cup melted butter, and vanilla. Then mix in cornmeal, 2 cups flour, and salt. Beat with dough hook, adding slightly more AP flour if the dough is too wet. It should pull away completely from the sides and form a ball. Knead at high speed for 3 minutes.

Pour oil into a large bowl. Form dough into ball, place in bowl, and flip around once to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for one hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 9”x5” loaf pan.

Punch down dough. Sprinkle counter with flour, then roll out dough to 1/2” thickness. Brush top with remaining melted butter. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut dough into 2” by 4” rectangles (don’t worry if they’re not all even).

Stack the dough rectangles, then arrange on their sides in the prepared loaf pan. Squoosh in any extra pieces that don’t fit!

Sprinkle with a bit of raw sugar, then bake for 40-45 minutes or until puffed up and golden. Keep an eye on it—if it starts to darken too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil.

Let cool in pan for 20 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Festive Finds with Nespresso and Sur la Table

Holiday gift ideas

Earlier this month, I surprised my mom with a mini birthday/early-holiday shopping spree in the city. I was able to do this thanks to Nespresso® and Sur la Table, who provided me with gift cards and everything I needed to create a special day for her.

I had my mom meet me at my apartment, keeping the plan a secret until we arrived at our first destination--the Nespresso Boutique & Cafe on Madison Avenue. She was amazed with the shop from the moment we walked in (her actual words: "This is like coffee...elevated.").

Alejandra Ramos
We started off with a light lunch, and then finished off with a couple cozy mugs of coffee from the amazing variety on their menu.

(I chose the coffee of the month, which was an amazing cinnamon honey latte that I plan to recreate on here soon). I then had a car service take us back across Central Park over to the Sur la Table store located in the Hearst Tower on 57th Street.

We spent a couple hours in the shop first browsing, and then finally making our choices for the items we wanted. With the holidays coming up, we both stocked up on a few entertaining basics, but then also picked a out a few fun gift items for ourselves (admittedly one of my favorite parts of holiday shopping!).

We then bundled back into the car with our packages, and headed back to my apartment for dinner and to go over our goodies. Just before she left for the evening, I gave my mom one final surprise--her very own Nespresso® VertuoLine® machine!

Here are my favorite Festive Finds from our shopping trip:

holiday gift guide
1. Gold-Rim Coupe Glasses
I've been searching for a set of vintage style gold-rimmed coupes for ages! The minute I saw them, I practically yelped before grabbing the box. So gorgeous for holiday entertaining--even the simplest cocktail looks super festive served in one of these. 

2. Gold Wire Napkin Rings
A little sparkle is the quickest way to glamor to your table setting. No need to buy all new napkins--just switch out your napkin rings and you have a whole new look!

3. Rocco Brushed Gold Flatware Set of 5
Are you sensing a theme here? I've been obsessed with gold flatware for a while now, and this set is particularly lovely. Adds warmth and elegance to the dinner table.

4. Urban Accents Mulling Spices
Add these to a bottle of wine or a jug of store-bought cider, and simmer. Your house will smell incredible, and it's also a wonderful thing to serve guests who are coming in (or heading out into) the cold.

5. Linen Kitchen Apron
I thought I'd had my fill of new aprons until I saw (and felt!) these. The linen is so soft, but still sturdy enough to protect your clothing. Perfect for both hosting and everyday wear. (They also make tablecloths, napkins, and runners in this same fabric!)

6. Nespresso® VertuoLine®
This gorgeous machine makes both classic espresso AND full cups of American-style coffee. The quality and flavors are incredible. I have the red one, and I gave my mom the chrome. All are sleek and gorgeous.

7. Organic Serve Bowls
I fell in love with these the minute I saw them. Hand-made in Portugal, they have a natural imperfect shape that adds casualness to the table. Perfect for salads, roasted vegetables, or other sides. I got them in gray, but the white is also lovely.

8. Winterberry Wreath
Sur la Table sells a variety of beautiful natural wreaths, but this fresh juniper one covered in a mix of real dried and faux red berries is my favorite (red + gold is my thing this year!).

9. Nespresso® Aeroccino 3 Black Milk Frother
If you follow me on Instagram, you might see that I'm a little bit obsessed with super frothy cream on my coffee. (Seriously. OBSESSED.) I have this whole ritual every morning of steaming and frothing the cream. It's the perfect way to start the day. This handy little gadget both heats up and froths your milk or cream (non-dairy milks, too!) so you don't need to fuss with the stove or microwave. Kind of amazing.

10. Gold Flake Truffles 
I've long loved Charbonnel et Walker truffles--they always come in such gorgeous little packages and are delicious. These are flaked with real edible gold. A unique and memorable gift for your favorite party host or tuck it into your favorite chocolate lover's Christmas stocking!

11. Peppermint Mug
A set of these festive red and white striped candy cane mugs would be perfect for your morning mug of coffee or a late night hot chocolate (add a shot of espresso to make a mocha!).

**I was compensated for this post by Nespresso and Sur la Table, who provided me with car service and gift cards to use at their stores. All opinions and recommendations are my own.