Chef Carla Hall Shares Holiday Hostess Hacks to Save Your Last-Minute Thanksgiving

Plus, get the recipe for her holiday favorite.

With Thanksgiving just a couple days away, Chef Carla Hall gave us some tips and tricks to spice up our holiday meal, from recipes to table decor. The Chew co-host shared some of her favorite recipes for the season from her own family traditions. She recently partnered with TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Home Goods for the Gift My Gathering challenge to provide five families with a custom holiday gathering — and now she’s sharing her hostess hacks with us.

BET: What is your favorite holiday recipe?

Chef Carla: For every special holiday, we would have my granny’s Five Flavor Pound Cake, and I just dress it up for the holidays. I put a lemon glaze on it and I make these candied cranberries tossed in sugar, ginger simple syrup and decorate it with that. It’s just delicious and everyone expects this cake. It’s one of those things you can’t not have during family gatherings. 

BET: What tips do you have for someone throwing together a last minute Thanksgiving meal?

CC: I would say buy a chicken breast, depending on how many people they are having, because you need so many days to thaw a turkey, especially if you’re starting with a frozen one. Another thing is don’t overwhelm yourself. Think about things you can make and hold, for instance mash potatoes, which you can hold in a slow cooker. Think about other appliances you have in your kitchen that can help with the timing of everything. I don’t think people think about things outside of their stove, like the slow cooker or a toaster oven. For example, green bean casserole is something people know about, but don’t think that it can be fixed in your toaster oven.

(Photo:  Michael Simon)

Photo: Michael Simon

(Photo: Michael Simon)

BET: What are some good hostess snacks/appetizers for the holidays?

CC: There’s very little tradition when it comes to appetizers. I like to do things that don’t take a lot of cooking or space because you need that space in your oven or stove for your dinner. I’m a big fan of breads and spreads. You can get a hummus and put roasted garlic, lemon, olive oil and herbs in it. Then have some bread, like pita. You have to have things that are quick.

BET: What are some simple touches when it comes to your table settings that can make a plain Thanksgiving get together seem a little more glam?

CC: I think something people don’t think about is wrapping paper. You can get all of these designs and it is such an easy way to find some inspiration in terms of color theme. You can also find paper that is a chalkboard where you can write on it and make it interactive. Let’s say if you have condiments like the cranberry sauce, you can put gift tags on it so you’re telling people what's on the table. Then when the dinner is over, you can ball it all up and throw it away.

(Photo:  Michael Simon)
(Photo: Michael Simon)

BET: What are some of your Thanksgiving plate staples?

CC: I’m going to be making cornbread dressing, mac 'n' cheese, collard greens and candied yams. I’ll also be making roasted green beans and a roasted vegetable medley, with Brussels sprouts, carrots and fennel. Then a salad with a lemon vinaigrette because you need acid with all of that heavy food.

BET: Earlier this month, a Twitter debate sparked when one Auntie said she's charging $30 a plate at Thanksgiving this year. What are your thoughts on having family members and guests contribute cash for a plate?

CC: I don’t see as a charge as it is sharing in the cost. I think for the host family it’s a lot. So, that person is saying I will host and I will do everything all I need for you is to share the cost. In my family, I know the cousins at my dinner, we are hosting it so that the elders aren’t paying for anything, but the cousins are sharing in that cost.

Get Chef Carla's recipe for Granny's Five Flavor Pound Cake below.

(Photo: Michael Simon)

Photo: Michael Simon

(Photo: Michael Simon)

Granny’s Five Flavor Pound Cake

with candied cranberries and lemon glaze


  • 1 butter stick

  • 3 cups sugar

  • 6 eggs

  • 4 cups A/P flour

  • 1/2 tablespoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • 3/4 cup sour cream or heavy cream

  • 1 tsp each extract (vanilla, almond, rum, coconut & lemon


  1. Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.

  2. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. On low speed, add the flour by alternating with the sour cream...beginning and ending with flour. Add the extracts. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to mix batter thoroughly. Continue to mix for 3-4 minutes or until the batter is shiny and completely mixed.

  3. NOTE: The batter should be THICK! Spoon into prepared tube pan (buttered and floured). Place in COLD oven. Set temp to 300 degrees. Cook for 80-90 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.

  4. Garnish the cake: place it on a cake stand. Pour the top of the cake with a lemon glaze, and decorate the circumference of the cake with candied cranberries and small sprigs of mint.

Candied Cranberries

makes about 2 cups


  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided

  • 1 cup water

  • 1” fresh ginger, cut into ¼” thick rounds (no need to peel)

  • 1 bag (12oz) fresh cranberries, sorted to throw out any bad ones

  • ¾ cup superfine sugar


  1. Combine granulated sugar, ginger and water in a medium saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Off the heat, add the cranberries to the sugar liquid, stir to coat, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

  2. Drain the cranberries in a mesh strainer over a bowl, saving the syrup. Shake the colander to drain as much syrup as possible.

  3. Place the fine sugar in a shallow dish, and in batches, roll the cranberries to completely coat in sugar. Spread the sugared cranberries on a baking sheet for at least one hour or until the cranberries are dried.

  4. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.  

Lemon Glaze


  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

  • 3-4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice


  1. Place the sugar in a bowl or large glass measuring cup. Stir in the lemon juice until combined. Mixture should be thick, but pourable. 

(Editor's Note: Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.)

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