So Much to Be Thankful For: Savory Bread Pudding

Yes, Josh, I’m looking at you.

I really am pretty blessed.

I have a family who sees all of my idiosyncrasies, meltdowns and bedhair, and loves me anyway.

A home where I am safe, cared for, and kept warm.

A professor who makes a last-minute decision to cancel class on Thanksgiving-eve.

The unexpected joy of spending the whole afternoon snuggled with sweats, blankets, and cranberry-pomegranate green tea because class was cancelled.

An entire weekend with no deadlines to spend with cousins, aunts and uncles and my grandpa.

A great big extended family who hugs, talks loudly, and eats well in the good old Italian way.

A Thanksgiving eve service that reminds me from Whom all blessings flow; that life is about much more stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie. Yum.

Friends who invite us for Thanksgiving dinner.

The excuse to bake Thanksgiving-y dishes all week long, because, well, we’ll be at friend’s house for the actual dinner and what’s Thanksgiving without a messy kitchen and leftovers?

The butternut squash and Brussels sprouts falling out of the fridge just as I was contemplating vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving dishes.

A healthy, hearty, scrumptious dish to help combat all the sweets and treats I’ll be consuming this weekend.

Savory Autumn Bread Pudding 
~ Serves 4 as a main dish

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and subed
  • 1/2 lb Brussels Sprouts, cut in halves
  • 1 large apple, diced
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1 T. dried rosemary
  • 4 pieces whole wheat bread, cubed
  • 1/3 c. milk (I used almond milk)
  • 2 eggs + 2 egg whites
  • 2 T. raisins

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Arrange squash and Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Bake about 30 minutes, or until tender.
  • Meanwhile, saute onion in olive oil, salt, pepper garlic, and rosemary. Combine vegetables and onion in a medium casserole dish. Top with bread cubes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Pour mixtures over bread. Sprinkle raisins on top.
  • Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes, until egg is set.

This was baked alongside my sister’s egg-sausage-cheese-frenchfriedonion casserole. I’m thankful all our hearts are pumping.

Guess which casserole was licked clean within minutes? Apparently the beauty of Brussels sprouts is outshone by the glitz of cheese covered French-fried-onions. But I am thankful my family was considerate enough to leave me leftovers. What’s Thanksgiving without them?

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Quick Eatz: Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of looking at life through lab glasses: 

In attempts to stay healthy during my hectic life, I have been drinking a lot of this:

and consuming far too much of this (which has nothing to do with healthy, but everything to do with the hectic life):

When I get a chance, I let out stress in a run. Fall morning runs are the best. Especially when run with a good friend who has an awesome sense of style:

 I’ve not been neglecting pumpkin, either. I’ve probably been through 6 cans in the past two and a half months. That’s almost a can a week!

Don’t judge, please. Instead, make one of these recipes and you’ll understand. I hope.

Pumpkin Cake with Cinnamon Honey Buttercream (Heather’s Dish). If the name alone doesn’t have you clicking over, let me tell you that this is one of the most phenomenal recipes I’ve made all autumn.  The buttercream alone is out of this world. I had to hold myself back from sitting down to a bowl of it and calling it lunch.

Pumpkin Molasses Cookie Dough Balls (Peas and Thank You). Soft and flavorful, these cookies didn’t last long!

Pumpkin Smoothie (Edible Perspective). Pumpkin makes such a creamy smoothie! I only wish I didn’t slurp through this deliciousness so fast.

Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip:

  • 3/4 c. canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 c. cottage cheese
  • 3 T. almond butter
  • 1 T. cinnamon
  • 1 t. nutmeg
  • 1 T. maple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a blender or in a medium size bowl until blended smooth. Drizzle maple syrup on top and top with chopped nuts or coconut before serving. Scoop up with graham crackers, pretzels, apple and pear slices, or pita chips.

In just over a week, it will be Thanksgiving. I can choose to be stressed out by the way time is whizzing by, or I can choose to embrace this season of gratitude. I have so much to be thankful for. I have a strong and loving family, I’ve been blessed with good health, I have the opportunity to be in college, taking classes (difficult as they may be) on the way to the career of my dreams. Most of all, my life is marked by the love and grace of God. Every day, His mercies are new. Great is His faithfulness. 

In this hectic life, filled with both joys and stresses, moments of peace and moments of frustration, I choose to give thanks.

Not Your Italian Grandma’s Parmesan

Growing up in a New York Italian family was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. At every family gathering there are loud enthusiastic conversations, exuberant kissing and hugging, and everyone always congregates in the kitchen which always smells spaghetti sauce, roasted peppers, and olive oil. There we stand around the counter, munching drippy mozzarella cheese on toasted bread, cutting huge wheels of Locatelli with guitar strings (well, how would you do it?), popping olives, and making memories.Yes, I pretty much loved growing up.

I never got to know my Italian grandma, but her heritage is still very much alive in her descendants. From the pictures I’ve seen, I know my dad carries her features and that she gave me her dark hair, short legs, and olive skin. My grandpa tells me how they met after the war as he tenderly strokes her picture, and my aunts reminisce about her as they stir a bowl of steaming pasta. And through their stories, I’ve grown to love her.

Last summer, our big Italian family stayed in a huge house at the Outer Banks. There were many loud enthusiastic conversations, lots of exuberant hugging and kissing, and since the sun was scorching out and the ocean freezing cold, everyone congregated in the kitchen.One of my aunts brought along photo albums and Grandma’s recipe box and we all gathered around to relive preserved memories. Fingering through the frail, stain-splattered, well-worn recipes, cookbook pages, and shopping lists written in the faint script of my grandmother was like opening a treasure box. Her instructions for Italian egg-rolls, chamelli cookies and stuffed peppers were connections to my past, little clues into a woman who has passed on to me her love of family and food.

When I started to eat healthier, I did not want to give up the foods I grew up eating, that are so tied in with my ancestry of Italian deli owners. So I began experimenting, and recreating old favorites while keeping the flavors I loved. Kind of like how each generation changes hairstyles and locations, but maintains the family heritage — no matter how far we grandchildren roam, we still gather for loud conversations, exuberant kissing and hugging, and memory making in the kitchen.

Not Your Italian Grandma’s Eggplant Parmesan

  • 2 medium eggplant, sliced thin
  • 6 slices stale wheat bread
  • ¼ c. ground flax seeds, divided
  • ¼ c. sunflower seeds
  • ¼ c. wheat germ
  • 2 t. garlic salt
  • 2 t. basil
  • 1 c. almond milk
  • 2 T. hummus
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • ½ c. tomato sauce (Quick homemade sauce: Sautee tomatoes, onion, and bell peppers in olive oil until very very soft and the juices have leaked)

Cheez sauce: Blend all ingredients until smooth.

  • 1/3 c. hummus
  • ¾ c. silken tofu
  • ½ c. almond milk
  • 1 t. garlic salt
  • 1 t. parsley

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400. Spray a cookie sheet with non stick cooking spray. Prepare Cheez sauce by blending all ingredients together until smooth. Set aside.
  • In a food processor, grind bread, 2 T. flax and sunflower seeds, wheat germ, garlic salt and basil until breadcrumb consistency. Set aside.
  • For binding mixture, blend hummus, milk, and 2 T. flax seed in a blender until smooth.
  • Dip eggplant slices into the hummus mixture and then coat with breadcrumbs. Arrange on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
  • In a small casserole dish, arrange half of eggplant in a single (or slightly overlapping) layer. Spread ¼ tomato sauce over eggplant. Then spread  about half of prepared“cheez” sauce over  the sauce. Do one more layer of eggplant, sauce, and “cheez.” Top with sliced tomato, a sprinkle of parsley and oregano, and any left over cheez. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until cheez is somewhat set and  casserole is warm throughout.

My Italian grandma would have served her eggplant parmesan with a side of spaghetti. I ate mine with a salad. But while I was cooking, all the females of our family were in the kitchen together, laughing, spilling breadcrumbs and sneaking spoonfuls of sauce. I thought of my Grandma cooking with her two sisters and four daughters, creating delicious meals as gifts of love for her family. And if she could see me carrying on that tradition, even if I left off the mozzarella and pasta, I think she would be pleased.