Pumpkin Spice Chex Mix + A DIY Chex Mix Bar!

Do you know that last half hour or so just before a holiday party starts? That’s usually when I freak out a little bit.

It’s like time suddenly speeds up, nothing is ready, something always burns or spills or breaks (or burns AND spills AND breaks…eeek!). It’s also the moment when I start to worry that guests are going to show up early to find me in the midst of complete and total disaster.

Does this happen to you, too?

Orange Cranberry Pecan Coffee Cake

There's something about cranberries that instantly puts me in the festive spirit--does that happen for you, too? This season I've been working with Ocean Spray to share hosting tips and ideas to make your Thanksgiving go as smoothly as possible--especially for those of you hosting for the first time!

Earlier this week we talked about a few of my favorite hosting tips, and today I want to share a sweet recipe that will be one of your secret weapons when entertaining your Thanksgiving guests.  This one features Ocean Spray® Fresh Cranberries, which are my forever fave. I always make a point of buying a few extra bags each time I shop--some to use right away, and some to pop in the freezer to enjoy later! They're such a quick and easy way to add color, flavor, and a little holiday twist to all your favorite recipes.

7 Tips for First-Time Thanksgiving Hosts

Will this be your first year hosting Thanksgiving? (Or do you remember the first time you did?) I was in college the first time I hosted. My brother, who was in the Marines at the time, was unable to come home for the holiday so instead of celebrating without him at home, my parents came down to Washington, DC (where I went to school) for a low-key Thanksgiving in my tiny studio apartment.

I remember prepping for days and cooking WAY too much food for just three people.  (Seriously--I think I made a 22-pound turkey, which is way too much turkey.) It was all delicious, but I could definitely have used a bit more guidance to keep things streamlined and less stressful.

That's why I was excited to team up with Ocean Spray this year to help share hosting tips and advice for first-time Thanksgiving hosts (although these tips will work for everyone, too!).

The best advice usually comes from family, and Ocean Spray reached out to their family farmers to recruit a team of CranMas (AKA cranberry farmer grandmas!) to share their best tips for hosting Thanksgiving. Earlier this month I got to meet some of these amazing women at a Thanksgiving boot camp hosted in Rockefeller Center where we got advice about everything from decorating and planning to cooking, and even cocktails!

Below are a few of my favorite tips from these incredible ladies--as well as some ideas I've learned over the years. (You know...like how you really only need 1-2 pounds of turkey per person.)

Orange, Garlic & Paprika Rubbed Boneless Pork Loin Roast

I can barely believe it, but we’re starting to creep closer and closer to the Fall and Winter holiday season. Halloween and Dia de los Muertos decorations are popping up in stores, Thanksgiving recipes are appearing on magazine racks, and I even spotted a Christmas tree in my  hotel lobby in Edinburgh last week (gasp!). I’m not quite ready for the snow and Santa hats, but the thought of cozy Fall dinners shared in the company of family and friends is at least a bit tempting.

This recipe is part of my continuing partnership with Smithfield. As I mentioned this past summer, I’ll be sharing recipes highlighting Smithfield’s variety of great-quality fresh pork cuts. Last time, I shared a recipe for Carnitas-style Fajitas using fresh pork shoulder, but now we’re moving on to something a bit more cozy and perfect for parties—a pork loin roast!

Pecan Dulce de Leche Banana Bread

It felt brisk and chilly when I woke up this morning. While I admit that I have mixed feelings about this since summer is my one true love, there are a few things I appreciate about the new season.

Chief among those is the fact that cooler days are wonderful for baking cozy and decadent desserts like this Pecan Dulce de Leche Banana Bread.

A dense, moist banana bread topped with a shower of chopped pecans and plenty of dulce de leche caramel drizzled and swirled throughout seems like a nice way to start out this new season.

The basic bread is just as simple as any other banana bread: you mash and stir, but then you get a little wild with the toppings.

Chopped pecans--which I recommend actually chopping by hand for the best texture--form a gorgeous crust on the top of the bread. I prefer this to baking them into the batter because then you get that contrast of soft cake and crunchy nuts on top.

And then there is the dulce de leche, which is the best part. You can make it homemade if you prefer, but I actually just used a jarred one I got at the grocery store (it's usually near the condensed milk and other baking supplies). The trick here is to layer it into the cake. You want some mixed into the batter, then some swirled in on top. Then a bit drizzled on with the pecans just before baking, and then...when it comes out of the oven?

That's when you go wild.

Drizzle it on all over. Let it drip and ooze down the sides. Get messy with it!

(You can even add a bit more to each slice as you serve it.)

 This isn't an austere, breakfast-like banana bread. This is rich, gooey, decadent, go-to-town-and-enjoy-it kind of banana bread.

(Which, does NOT mean that you can't have it for breakfast, mind you!)

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Loved this recipe? Here are a few other banana bread recipes you might like:


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Thanks so much for reading!

Pecan Dulce de Leche Banana Bread
Makes 1 loaf (about 8 servings)

Ingredients
3 ripe bananas, peeled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups dulce de leche (homemade or store-bought)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt + more for garnish
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups pecans, roughly chopped


Directions 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease or line a 4x8” loaf pan and set aside.

In a mixing bowl or the base of a mixer, beat together the bananas, sugar, melted butter, egg, vanilla, and 1/2 cup of the dulce de leche (don’t use all of it!). Add the flour, baking soda, an salt, and stir just until evenly combined.

Pour into your prepared baking dish, and drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the remaining dulce de leche. Add the pecans and press in slightly with your hands, then drizzle on another 1/4 cup of dulce de leche (again…don’t use it all!)

Bake about 1 hour, or until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from loaf pan and let cool completely. Drizzle with all the remaining dulce de leche just before serving.

5 Reasons to Get Excited about Fall

As much as I appreciate the beauty of changing seasons, the chance to start again, crunchy leaves, etc., etc., I'm still always a bit sad to say good-bye to the lush languor of summer.

While it's still sunny and 80 degrees in New York right now, things already feel different. Can you feel it?

That said, I'm thankful for things like crisp apples and mulberry-colored dresses, which at least give me something to look forward to.

 In an effort to get myself excited for Fall, I brainstormed a few of my favorite things about the new season. Check them out below (there's even a video!)

My New TV Reel

This reel of my TV work is SO overdue. I've been meaning to make a new one for about a year and a half, but kept putting it off...and off...and off. (I have many many friendly follow-up emails from my agent's assistant to prove it!)

Editing video is not my favorite thing (nor is it something I'm particularly good at), but hiring someone else to do it also stressed me out since I would still have to go through all my segments and pick out the clips I wanted, then pay someone to edit them together. I figured that once I'd gone through all the work of finding the right clips and song (basically 80% of the job), I might as well just keep going and finish the job myself.

So I did!

Anyway, here it is!



My hosting and lifestyle expert reel featuring some of my favorite clips for the dozens and dozens of TV segments and other on-camera things I've done over the past couple years. My ultimate goal is a paid TV gig as a co-host or contributor or some other kind of fabulous TV project where I get to do this sort of thing every day!

I love being on camera and sharing ideas and stories that both entertain and inspire. I love interacting with people, laughing, dancing, and riding with the unexpected waves of TV production (it's the mistakes and surprises that are always my favorite!) and look forward to the moment when I get to do it all the time.

Thanks so much for your support over the years. I had no idea when I hit publish on that first post all those years ago, that it would lead to me laughing it up on national TV with legends like Al Roker and Harry Connick Jr., but man oh man am I ever thankful that it has!

Can't wait to see what happens next.

xoxo

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