French Toast Casserole

I got this recipe from a colleague at work after she made it for a school breakfast. It truly is divine- and easy to make! I thought of it when we decided we’d be hosting Christmas brunch. It’s perfect because you prepare it the day before and then just throw it in the oven the next day when you’re ready. This saved me a lot of stress and time on Christmas day because I knew the main course was already prepared!

Ingredients for the French Toast

  • 1 loaf of French bread
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg (I omitted)
  • dash salt

Slice French bread about 1 inch thick. Arrange slices in a buttered 9×13 pan.

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In a large bowl, combine milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

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Beat with a beater or whisk until blended but not bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices making sure they are all covered.

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Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Ingredients for the Topping

  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg (I omitted)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (optional, I omitted)

Combine ingredients in a bowl and blend well. Refrigerate overnight in the bowl.

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The next day, take the casserole out of the refrigerator. Crumble the topping over the bread.

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Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes until puffed and lightly golden. I left the foil on about about 10 minutes and then removed it.

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Serve with maple syrup or apricot syrup. In a small sauce pan, you can combine 1 cup of maple syrup and apricot jam or preserves until melted together. I didn’t do this, but have tried it and it creates a nice, different taste. However, the bread is so sweet and soft on its own that it really doesn’t need the syrup.

This is perfect for a holiday, brunch, work event, etc because you can prepare it ahead of time! It will definitely wow your tasters and tastebuds ;).

What is a make-ahead recipe you enjoy?

Christmas Morning and Brunch

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope your holidays were great. I have one last holiday post to catch you all up on…enjoy!

Every year Pete and I sleep at my parent’s house after our traditional Italian Christmas Eve. In the morning, we sneak out to get bagels for the family and usually arrive back at the same time as my sister’s arrival with her family. Together, we all eat breakfast and open gifts. The tree is always packed with presents!

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And the stockings filled to the brim.

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The kids try to sneak peeks while we are eating…

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…and soon enough we all began unwrapping.

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After presents, we do stockings. After sorting through our trinkets, we all sit down and scratch off our lottery tickets.

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Can you believe that in all these there is not one winner?!

Soon after, we packed up and headed back home. Pete and I were hosting a brunch for the first time for his sister and her family.

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On the menu was homemade cinnamon buns, french toast casserole (recipe coming soon) apple crumb cake, and bacon.

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Lots of goodies!

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All delicious. The french toast was a big hit- I’ll be enjoying those leftovers this morning!

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We also exchanged presents and it was fun to see the kids get excited about their gifts.

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Cute hubs loving his new Rutgers gear.

After Pete’s family left, he and I finally exchanged our gifts. The first few years we were together, it kinda bothered me that we didn’t get to exchange until late. Now, I love it. It’s almost as if it keeps Christmas going a bit longer knowing that we still have that time together, just us, to look forward to.

It was a great Christmas filled with love, family, and generosity!

How did you spend the holidays?

A Traditional Italian Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve in my family…is, well, magical. It’s by far the best day of the year. I’ve taken pictures and will do my best to share our traditions, but it’s something that is really difficult to explain unless you’ve experiened it yourself. It’s a day where traditions that have existed long before I was born continue and come to life.

The night begins with antipasto.

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Lots and lots of appetizers, mostly fish.

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Family sits around the L shaped table that my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Bob set up.

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We wine and dine, catch up and gossip, and take lots of pics.

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As if the appetizers were’t filling enough, the main course comes next…Lobster!

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Now, I don’t eat fish so I typically fill up on lots of appetizers, but the lobster claws and lobster pasta is a tradition that is long awaited by many family members all year long!

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After dinner, my cousin Jackie assigns groups of people sections of the song “The 12 Days of Christmas” for us to sing. Every year people forget their lines, make up the words, or just get plain silly. It’s a riot. Below is a video I made this year of us singing. You can’t see all of the groups because they are spread throughout the house, but you can hear them.

Such fun!

Soon enough, it’s time for Santa’s visit. Every year, the males of the family take turns dressing up as Santa Claus. Santa passes out a present to each child in the family- it’s the most anticipated event of the year.

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The kids wait at the window and scream when they see Santa coming. Aunt Nancy’s living room becomes crammed with everyone trying to snap pictures of their child on Santa’s lap.

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It’s a pretty awesome moment! Once Santa leaves, the room erupts into a frenzy of wrapping paper and joy as everyone exchanges presents galore.

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As silly as it sounds, it wasn’t until college that I realized how special my family was.

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Call me naive, but I didn’t realize all families didn’t get together like this. I had no idea that a relative dressed as Santa Claus didn’t visit every family. That the seven fishes wasn’t something enjoyed in all houses. That chestnuts roasted on an open fire didn’t grace every plate.

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I truly didn’t. And once I did it made me appreciate it all that much more.

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Merry Christmas!

What are some traditions that come to life in your family on Christmas?

Neighbor Gift: Homemade Cinnamon Buns

Merry Christmas, everyone! There’s so much I need to catch you up on, including our fabulous-as-always traditional Italian Christmas Eve and the Christmas brunch I’ll be hosting today…but first I’ll be sharing what Pete and I do for our neighbors on Christmas. 

Every year, I like to do something for the neighbors around Christmastime. My favorite gift to make for them is Pioneer Woman’s homemade cinnamon rolls. In the past, I’ve made the rolls and placed them inside Santa Claus gift bags, but this year I wanted to step it up a little bit with some fabric and ribbon to make the presentation all the more special.

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And I love how they came out! Let’s back up to the process, shall we?

The night before delivering the buns, I make the dough. Since the recipe involves yeast and the dough needs to rise, this step is a little time consuming. Therefore, I prefer to get it done in advance of the actual delivery date. The next morning, it’s easy to start rolling out the dough and making the buns!

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Lots of ooey gooey butter tops the dough along with cinnamon and sugar.

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Roll that baby up into a log shape and then slice using a sharp knife. Each log (recipe makes 2) will produce about 20-25 buns.

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I buy 6 tins with plastic lids from the dollar store (sold in packs of 3 so it only cost $2) and put 8-9 buns in each tin.

Throw those babies in the oven and make your icing while they are baking.

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The icing is the best part. Made with coffee and maple extract, it has such a rich flavor atop the buns.

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Oooo those babies look good.

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Annndddd even better now.

From Walmart, I purchased some red glittery fabric. I really wanted holiday themed, but they were sold out when I went. Guess you gotta get that stuff in advance! But this was close enough.

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To wrap, I placed a tin on the fabric and then topped it with a Christmas card from Pete and I.

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My mom gave me the beautiful gold ribbon, which I used to tie the fabric once I had gathered it into a plume. Then, it was off to deliver the buns to our neighbors while they were still warm from the oven.

For us, it makes us truly happy to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” [Matthew 7:12]. Merry Christmas once again- hope you have a wonderful holiday with your loved ones.

Struffoli: An Italian Christmas Eve Tradition

If you’ve ever heard of Struffoli before, chances are you’re thinking of the honey balls sold at bakeries around this time of year. Yes, those are a version of struffoli…but not the version I grew up enjoying.

My grandma, nonna, was an amazing cook.

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She had her own special way of making struffoli, using a homemade icing instead of honey.

Yet, when my nonno passed away and she got sick, her cooking ceased. Me personally, being someone who sees the love and togetherness that food brings, felt that something was missing every Christmas Eve…nonna’s struffoli. Luckily, my cousin Jackie had the recipe and passed it along to me. I’ve been making it every Christmas Eve ever since.

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Now, you may be expecting me to share the recipe, as I typically do. But sorry bloggies…this one is on lock.down. It’s just something that’s too important to me, too meaningful to let go. As if it’s a secret that’s just between nonna and I.

Making struffoli can be very daunting, as it has steps with words like “volcanoes” and “snakes.”

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This year, I had a helper!

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Having the assistance of my friend Colleen was a huge help!

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The recipe fills two Christmas tins. Colleen kept one for being a prized helper and I’ll be bringing the other to our traditional Italian Christmas Eve this evening.

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Merry Christmas, everyone- and may you always keep family in your heart!

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What is a traditional recipe that you make every year for the holidays?