Pecan Trifle with Vanilla Bourbon Custard

If there are ingredients that are tied to a season, pecans and bourbon definitely go with fall. This time of year – when it’s getting into the 40s at night – is asking for a cup of hot tea in the morning, slippers on your feet, and something comforting for dessert. Maybe with bourbon on the side to really warm you up.

pecan trifle 1

While this trifle doesn’t call specifically for it, I used my Bourbon Orange Pound Cake in this, and it takes it over the edge.  If nothing else, I would definitely add in some orange zest to the custard or whipped cream – the tangy orange flavor is meant to go with vanilla and bourbon and pecans.

I never gave much thought to my surroundings growing up. Home was just home – the place I had always known. I had my chores, but nothing was completely dependent on me. I think that’s how it usually is – until you become an adult. And then suddenly, responsibilities that you never even thought of are on your plate along with everything else.


It’s become somewhat of a running joke in our family that I’ve turned into a “country girl”, but it’s true in a lot of ways. I am doing things I never, ever imagined I would be doing. Take the last few weeks – I’ve made jam, frozen figs for later, baked bread, made mayo, and baked up some granola bars for snacks.

Ten years ago, I didn’t know how to cook anything. And if you think I’m exaggerating…well, I wish I was. I could boil water to make boxed mac and cheese, but that was as complicated as I got in the kitchen. So to even think about making bread or cheese at home is still a bit shocking and unreal.

frei brothers zinfandel

After finally learning how to cook and having land of our own to take care of and preserve, Nick and I have found a good balance of using what we have available whenever possible.

And one of the biggest perks we inherited with this house when we bought it 3 years ago? The 2 fig bushes in our yard. Until 3 years ago, I had never had a fresh fig. I didn’t even know they could grow in Virginia! And now, all of a sudden, I’m drowning in fresh figs from August through October and I’ve had to learn to keep up, to use what we’ve been given, and to preserve them for the months to come.

wine poached figs 1

Besides freezing and turning into jam and slicing on pizza (or just eating over yogurt with honey and walnuts), another way I’ve been learning to stretch the fig season and enjoy what we have is to come up with new ways of serving them for dessert. There’s only so many times you want to have the same roasted or chocolate dipped figs. Thanks to a challenge with Kitchen PLAY and Frei Brothers Reserve winery, I came up with my new favorite way to eat figs.

wine poached figs 2

Figs, poached in Frei Brothers Reserve Zinfandel, some honey, a bit of vanilla, and some orange juice, that are then chilled and served over ricotta cheese with shaved dark chocolate.

It’s not complicated. It barely takes any time to make. But it sure does look impressive.

Zinfandel Poached Figs with Ricotta and Dark Chocolate

Looking for a new way to serve figs? This dessert is perfect for a fancy dinner party or a relaxing night at home. The cook time is minimal, and you just can't beat the flavor of the wine sauce paired with the creamy ricotta and dark chocolate.


  • 1 cup Frei Brothers Reserve Zinfandel
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • ½ tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 8 fresh figs
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • ½ oz. dark chocolate


  1. In a medium saucepan, mix the wine with the honey, orange juice, and vanilla bean paste. Bring the mixture to a simmer.
  2. Add the figs to the wine and let them cook, simmering, for about 10 minutes until the mixture has thickened and reduced.
  3. Turn the figs every few minutes so they cook in the wine on each side.
  4. Remove the pan from heat, and pour the figs and sauce into a bowl. Cover the bowl and put in the fridge to cool for at least an hour.
  5. To serve, spoon a ½ cup of ricotta into a shallow dish, top with 4 figs, spoon some of the wine sauce over them, and grate some dark chocolate over the top.
  6. Pair with a glass of Frei Brothers Reserve Zinfandel.

Like my property is my place worth preserving, Frei Brothers Reserve works hard to preserve Frei Ranch where they employ several sustainable practices including their 50/50 giveback program where they preserve an acre of land for every acre they plant in grape vines. Pretty awesome, right?

Frei Brothers Reserve together with National Geographic Traveler is currently hosting a photo contest on their Facebook page, encouraging others to share their “places”worth preserving for a chance to win monthly prizes as well as the grand prize trip to Frei Brothers Reserve winery and Yosemite National Park. Want to find more recipes or share your Place Worth Reserving? Make sure to check out Frei Brothers Reserve online and on Facebook for more information.

This post was sponsored by Frei Brothers Reserve in partnership with Kitchen PLAY. All opinions are my own.

I’ll admit it: I love having shortcuts. If the Easy Button was a real thing, I would own at least one. Maybe two.


Everyone is busy – I get it. We have a 40 minute commute each way to work, 40 hours of work each week, a house and yard and dog and cats to take care of, house projects to start (and hopefully finish), bills to pay, meals to make, laundry to do, and on and on and on. And we don’t even have kids yet! My days may just spontaneously combust whenever that happens.

And while there are some shortcuts I love when it comes to food (frozen veggies, fresh made bread from the bakery when I don’t have time to make my own), there are some things that are worth making yourself.


Things I’ve found that are worth the time:
Homemade breads / croissants / biscuits / pancakes / waffles
Homemade mayo (recipe coming soon – and it only takes 1 minute. I’m serious!)
Homemade jams

And now, homemade lactose-friendly sweetened condensed milk to use in all your incredible home-baked desserts.


I know – it’s another step. But if you have some time when you’re around the house anyway (doing laundry or painting, napping or watching football), it’s easy to whip it up on the stove top to use in your favorite dessert.

Plus, making your own means you get to customize it. Want it fat free? Easy. Lactose intolerant? No problem. Lactose intolerance doesn’t mean dairy avoidance as different people can handle different amounts of lactose. Try a small amount of low-fat or fat-free milk to find the amount that works for your tolerance. You can also substitute with low-fat or fat-free lactose-free milk, which has the same essential nutrients as dairy milk, just without the lactose. Your dessert can still be exactlywhat you need it to be, and it will taste even better since everything will be fresh and homemade.


One of my favorite things to make with sweetened condensed milk are these granola bars. I love having some no-bake options, but these bars are our favorites – they hold together really well, they aren’t too sweet, and you can add whatever mix-in you want to make them different every time.

In this batch, I did some of our top choices: sliced almonds, dried cherries,and chocolate chips. I don’t think a granola bar is worth having if there’s no chocolate….but that’s just me.


Cherry Chip Granola Bars and Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

Are you still looking for the perfect homemade granola bar? This might be it. After years of trying different recipes, this one has always worked for us. You can change the flavor with spices or different mix-ins and make it whatever you want. Easy to make - and perfect for a quick breakfast or delicious afternoon snack.


Granola Bars:

  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk (see recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled for a few minutes
  • 1 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Sweetened Condensed Milk

  • 1 and 1/2 cups lactose-free milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch mixed with 3 Tbsp water


For the bars:

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Spray a 9x13 baking pan with no-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Mix the oats, cherries, and almonds in a large bowl.  Add the vanilla, sweetened condensed milk, and melted coconut oil and stir everything together. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes (so the coconut oil can cool off a bit more), then stir in the chocolate chips.
  3. Pour the mix out into your 9x13 and press it into an even layer.
  4. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let the bars cool before cutting.

For the Sweetened Condensed Milk

  1. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and water together.
  2. Pour the milk, sugar, and butter into a pan on the stove top and cook over medium heat until the mixture just comes to a simmer.
  3. Once the milk is simmering, put 1-2 spoonfuls of the hot milk into the cornstarch mixture and stir together.
  4. Add cornstarch mixture back to milk/sugar and stir.
  5. Bring mixture back to a boil until thickened. Take off the heat and set it aside to cool before using.

Want to know more about LI-friendly dairy dishes?

Join National Dairy Council’s (NDC) Foodies’ Night In #FNIchat Twitter chat with culinary group Cooking with Caitlin on Monday, September 30 at 4 pm ET, featuring the #BeyondLI hashtag. The chat will cover tips and tricks for LI-friendly eating,
cooking, and meal-planning, including:

• Menu-planning techniques for entertaining those with lactose intolerance

• Clever lactose-intolerant friendly spins on recipes to include dairy in classic comfort food favorites

• Simple solutions for making on-the-go lactose-intolerance friendly dairy meals and snacks

And make sure to check out my other lactose-free recipes from this summer! I’ve had fun coming up with these in the kitchen, and they’re definitely part of the regular rotation:

Spicy Iced Chai Tea

Peach Clafouti

Easy Chocolate Coffee Pudding Cups

Cookie Dough Frozen Yogurt with Homemade Magic Shell

Vanilla Bean Pudding with Pineapple and Coconut

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by NDC – all recipes and opinions are my own, as always.

Ethiopia coffee Prize Pack Giveaway!

Some exciting things are happening around here! First, I started a new job this week. Yup. After almost 8 years of working in the same office, I officially moved to a new position / new office / new everything on Wednesday of this week. I am equally crazy excited and a little terrified. Change is always a little scary, isn’t it? But it’s a good change.

On top of having a new job and finishing up the garden and having football again (yay!!), I’ve got a fun giveaway for you guys!


Did you know that this coming Sunday, September 29th is National Coffee Day? Well, it is. And that just gives me one more reason to make a good cup of coffee at home.

Lucky for me (and for one of you!), Starbucks is celebrating National Coffee Day, too. They’ve got a new whole bean coffee, Ethiopia, a single-origin medium roast with notes of chocolate, citrus, and peppery spice. Believe me: it’s good. I’m a big sucker for coffees that have that mix of chocolate and citrus flavors. It makes for a balanced cup that’s perfect with whatever I’m having for breakfast.

If you’re a coffee snob like we are, you probably already know most of these, but if you’re just getting into making really good coffee at home, these tips will definitely come in handy. To make the best cup possible at home:

  • Always, always use fresh coffee. Get coffee that has been freshly roasted, if you can. Buy it whole bean and grind it yourself right before brewing your morning cup. Store opened bags of coffee in air-tight containers, but don’t freeze it!
  • Starbucks recommends using 2 Tbsp of coffee for each 6 oz of water, but that’s a little too strong for us. We normally do about 1 Tbsp for each cup that we’re making. This is just personal preference, so just try different amounts and see what you like the best.
  • Our favorite methods of making coffee are the french press and the coffee siphon. But, honestly, if you’re using fresh coffee and have the right amount for you, you can still have a great cup of joe, no matter how you make it.


On Sunday, Starbucks stores across the U.S. and Canada will be joining in by offering free samples of Ethiopia. Also, customers who purchase a 1-lb. bag of Ethiopia that day will receive a free Ethiopian-inspired commemorative ceramic cup.

And to celebrate even more, Starbucks is letting me give one of you this prize pack so you can try Ethiopia for yourself! The winner will receive:

  • 1-lb bag of Ethiopia
  • Starbucks Siren mug
  • $25 Starbucks gift card

To Enter:

Tell me your favorite place to have your morning cup of coffee.

For extra entries:

Tweet about the giveaway and let me know you did

Share your favorite recipe to have with your cup of coffee in the comments. Coffee cake? Homemade sweet rolls? I want to know!

Good Luck!



Flowers I bought for the house, just because, thanks to the LMWL Challenge.


The reddest lips I could do (I need to buy an actual red lipstick – help?!) and my favorite StitchFix necklace. Are you in yet? It’s the most fun thing ever! I need to do a post with all the things I’ve kept so far.

tomato pie

This dinner was ridiculously good. While we actually have tomatoes coming in, we decided on a tomato and basil pie the other night, complete with fresh mozzarella, a homemade pie crust, and a homemade mayo + cheddar topping.

Have I shared my new obsession with homemade mayo? I can’t stop making it. It’s so easy! There’s a post coming soon about that, I promise.


Our first year growing butternut squash = success! These little babies were roasted and then frozen to have later, and we still have 4 or 5 on the back porch, just waiting to be used.


Best weekend lately, for sure. Nick and I took a long weekend trip to Montreal to see the city, see Shovels & Rope, see The Avett Brothers, and see some friends. I fell in love with the city and already miss it terribly.

Missing recipes? I know. Me too. I’ve got some great ones in the queue, just waiting on me to write them up and get them posted – they’re coming soon! I’ve been enjoying nights without the computer most of the summer, but these recipes just can’t wait any longer.

A Trip to Richmond with Sabra


Holy hummus.

Earlier this year, I had the chance to meet the Sabra team – along with half of the Sabra Tastemakers for this year – and spend some time learning all about hummus in my own state of Virginia! Apparently, Virginia is for Hummus Lovers, too.

First of all, did you know that Sabra is making all kinds of things now? They’ve got salsas, salads, guacamole, and these veggie dips that are my new favorite. They even make the yogurt base for the dips – you can’t get any better than that.


A big part of trip to Richmond was to see their offices and to take a tour of the factory to see exactly how our favorite hummus is made. Being able to see how food gets from the farm to my kitchen is really exciting to me – I mean, the first show I got hooked on The Food Network was Unwrapped, so I’m always interested to see the process of how things are made and packaged.

After walking into the Sabra building, the first thing I noticed was how light and airy and beautiful the space was. The offices and kitchen area were separated by a little courtyard where sunlight was streaming in and there were seats for employees to sit and enjoy the space. I think all offices need an area like this! It felt so open and inviting – I was ready to just move in. Especially once I saw the kitchen.


On top of seeing the workspace and taking a tour of the factory, we had a hummus-based/inspired lunch, made the Sabra chef herself. All 16(!) flavors of hummus were out to sample, along with all their other salsas and dips, and we certainly made a meal out of it.


But the highlight of lunch was this spice cake made with – you guessed it – hummus! And a tahini glaze that was out of this world. I can’t wait to make this at home this fall.


And did I mention they were filming all this? I’m still not sure exactly how this footage is going to be used, but if I find out, I’ll let you guys know! The entire crew was so fun to spend time with.

While we were touring the actual factory, we weren’t allowed to take our cameras, but I will say this: everything was super efficient, insanely clean, and it smelled like chickpeas. And we got to wear hairnets! Not a bad place to spend the afternoon.


After lunch and our factory tour, we had the chance to visit a farm outside the city where they’re testing chickpea growth right here in Virginia. Chickpeas aren’t normally grown here, so part of this trial is testing different varieties of chickpeas to see which ones (if any) grow well enough to begin growing them close to the factory. It was a beautiful day to visit the farm.


See the chickpea? I had never seen one like this, pulled straight out of the ground. Maybe we should grow chickpeas next year?! J/k. I’ll save that for the experts. It’s hard enough for me to keep up with tomatoes.


I’m so happy to be a part of the Sabra Tastemakers for this year – make sure to check out the other Tastemakers for more information and hummus recipes. The trip was one of the best parts my year so far, and I’m happy I was able to visit and learn more about our favorite hummus and the company.

Want more hummus recipes? Here’s a few of my favorites:

Z’atar Spiced Chicken and Pasta Salad

Hummus and Olive Flatbread Pizza

Hashbrown Crusted Ham, Hummus and Feta Quiche


I am part of the Sabra Tastemakers for 2013. My trip and post was sponsored by Sabra – all opinions are my own.