The holidays are upon us and time seems to be slipping right past me. When I was younger, I couldn't wait to be an adult and now that I'm adult I want time to slow down. I guess we can't have it our way all the time.

The holidays are upon us and time seems to be slipping right past me. When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to be an adult and now that I’m adult I want time to slow down. I guess we can’t have it our way all the time.

I love the holidays because I love cooking for the family. My mom and grandmother would cook for days before a holiday — baking pies, making homemade noodles and all sorts of desserts. I kind of picked up the same habit and find myself up all hours of the night slaving away in the kitchen before a family get-together.

One of my all-time favorite desserts for the holidays is bread pudding. It’s fairly easy to make and it tastes so yummy when it’s fresh from the oven with a scoop of ice cream or white sauce drizzled over it.

The history of bread pudding can be traced back to as early as the 11th and 12th centuries when prudent cooks looked for ways to use stale, leftover bread. Often considered as “poor man’s pudding,” the dish has gained a reputation as comfort food over the years.

The dish was popular with the lower classes during the 13th century, but today having shed those humble roots, bread pudding is often a featured dessert in trendy establishments such as the Hocking Hills Dining Lodge.

Hocking Hills Dining Lodge is nestled in the heart of Hocking Hills State Park, next to Old Man’s Cave and surrounded by the beauty of the forest. Matt Rapposelli is the executive chef and proprietor and offers a wide range of culinary delights that will make your taste buds come alive.

“This is casual dining at its finest,” Rapposelli said. “We offer everything from American dishes to Sunday buffets filled with a variety of meats and other dishes.”

Rapposelli offers a diverse menu and all of the items are made from Ohio products, a lot of them locally grown. It’s casual dining, so there is no need for reservations. However, the lodge can accommodate large groups and also offers catering services for meetings, parties, reunions and weddings.

And for those who have special dietary requirements, including food allergies, just bring the issue to the attention of the server, who will in turn speak with the kitchen staff to make sure you are informed of all the ingredients in any menu item.

Everything is made fresh and is definitely homemade, so you won’t be eating food that has been prepared ahead of time, like a lot of other restaurants.

Rapposelli uses bold flavors in his cooking style and loves cooking ethnic food. And while most of his clients expect to see the usual buffet as before, it won’t be found on a daily basis. The buffet is reserved for Sundays and special occasions.

“We get special requests all the time,” Rapposelli said. “And we try to honor all of them. We can do that because we have a lot of flexibility with everything being made from scratch, including the dressing and tartar sauce.”

During the lodge’s transformation, the main focus has been the local people. “They are the backbone of this facility,” he added. “Without the local support, we wouldn’t be able to operate.”

Some may remember Rapposelli from his earlier days of owning the Big Chimney Bakery Company on the outskirts of Athens. Using that business to his advantage, his hope is to have another bakery within the lodge that will offer a variety of baked breads and other goodies.

While his main interest has always been with the food industry, at one time Rapposelli switched his interest to becoming a naturalist within the park service. When the opportunity came up for new proprietorship of the dining lodge, it was the best of both worlds for Rapposelli. With his passion for cooking and love of the outdoors, he was now able to pull both of his interests together in one packaged deal.

There will be many changes coming in the future for the lodge. The goal is to put in a small café, the bakery, rehabiliate the concession building, construct a grill pub to serve burger and fresh-cut fries, install a brick-oven pizza on the patio, and revamp the gaming room to accommodate birthday parties and other events.

The facility is now open year round. “It’s a great facility and needs to be accommodating for our visitors,” Rapposelli remarked. “I love this building. There’s so much we can do and so much to offer to the community and those who visit the Hocking Hills.”

“We’ve past our biggest hurdle,” he added. “And that is the reputation of how it was before. People come in and are so amazed at all we’ve done so far. It’s amazing what a little elbow grease and new carpeting will do.”

“It was a humongous risk for us, but I love this place and the park, so it’s well worth the risk,” he added.

Although Rapposelli has a full kitchen staff, nothing goes out of the kitchen until he has personally checked it to make sure it’s the best quality. “I want to make sure we deliver the best service to our guests, especially the locals,” he continued.

According to Rapposelli, the lodge will be open on Thanksgiving and a festive buffet will be served for those who would like to take the day off from the kitchen and have someone else do the cooking.

One of Rapposelli’s dessert dishes will be bread pudding. However, he makes his scrumptious dish with a twist. Instead of using stale bread, he opts for stale cinnamon rolls.

Normally, the dish is made by layering bits of bread and any add-ins such as raisins and covered with a custard sauce. However, his rendition kicks it up a notch and puts a new spin on the delectable dish. Once baked, some cover the pudding with a creamy thin icing drenched with some sort of booze such as whiskey. Yum!

Rapposelli was kind enough to share his special recipe, but if you don’t want to go through all the trouble of making it yourself, just visit the Hocking Hills Dining Lodge.

Hocking Dining Lodge Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding

4 to 8 day old cinnamon rolls, depending on size

4 ounces of sugar

4 eggs

1 quart of milk

Pinch of salt

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 tsp. orange extract

Butter a 9 x 9 inch baking dish and set aside.

To make the custard, beat eggs and sugar together until smooth. Add the milk, salt, vanilla and orange extract and mix well.

Cut cinnamon rolls into cubes and place in buttered baking dish, filling the dish to the top.

Pour custard mixture over the cubes until the pan is ¾ of the way full. Push the cubes down slightly to make sure they are saturated with the custard.

Cover the baking pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until the custard is set.

Cool slightly and serve with Velvet’s Honey Carmel Ice Cream.

I’m really excited to try this recipe.

Next week I will have another exciting column featuring a new business in Hocking County that many may not be aware of — the Hocking Hills Bakery. I spoke with the owner recently and she is baking up a storm for my interview next week.

Until then, happy cooking everyone!