Wines of Bulgaria

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a wine tasting featuring the wines of Bulgaria, hosted by Grapes and Barley importers at Chef Geoff’s downtown.

Bulgaria has been producing wine since the time of Alexander the Great. In the past several years, winemakers have been focusing on crafting high quality wines.  Grapes and Barley importers started importing many of these wines to the US in the past five years.

These were some of my favorites:

Bulgariana Pinot Noir 2011

K Cellars Pinot Noir 2011 (not pictured)

K Cellars Cabernet Syrah Blend
Castra Rubra Via Diagonalis Sauvignon Blanc 2014 

Villa Melnik Miroglio Elenovo Mavrud 2011 Mavrud is the grape indigenous to Bulgaria. If you find this one at your local liquor store, don’t hesitate to get it. (not pictured)

I already stocked up on K Cellars Pinot Noir and Syrah/Cabernet blend. I also found Bulgariana Imperial Red Blend at Costco for a very accessible price. This red blend is a mix of Bulgarian grapes (Rubin and Mavrud), and Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s well balanced, full bodied, and spicy. These would be a great addition to the Thanksgiving table, or to have around the holidays for when unexpected guests drop by. Most of these wines are under $20 but I’m sure they won’t stay at that price point for long. Once more people learn about them, prices are sure to go up.

You can find some of these wines at Costco in Pentagon Centre and Paul’s in Friendship Heights. You can find a more comprehensive list of stores that carry G&B Importers’ wines here.

Shepherd’s Pie Topped with Mashed Butternut Squash

shepherd's pie with butternut squash topping

I’m frantically trying to use up whatever I have left in my fridge, trying to make space for Thanksgiving grocery shopping that will happen over the weekend.

This shepherd’s pie is delicious, and you can make it from scratch in under 1 hour. The sweet butternut squash is a great replacement for potatoes. I love the sweet topping and savory filling. This is also a great thing to make with thanksgiving leftovers: just replace the ground beef with leftover turkey, and the topping with sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • one medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and cut into 2 inch cubes.  (or purchase about 2 lbs of ready to go cubes at the supermarket)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas.
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk
  • 3 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Lightly grease a 3 ½ to 4 quart oven-to-table baking dish with olive oil and set aside.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Place the butternut squash on the cookie sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake the butternut squash until soft. This should take 20-30 minutes.
  3. While the butternut squash bakes, prepare the filing. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet and place over medium high heat. Add in the onions, and cook until softened. Add the ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the beef is evenly brown. Add in the garlic, carrots, celery, tomato paste, thyme, and rosemary, and cook for about 5 more minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the beef, and cook for about 2 minutes. Add in the broth, and cook until the sauce thickens, 7-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the peas, and 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley. Taste the filling, and adjust seasoning as necessary. Set aside.
  4. Prepare the topping. Mash the butternut squash with 1/2 tablespoon butter, and 1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk.
  5. Place the filling in the baking dish, and top with the mashed butternut squash mixture. Bake for 15 minutes at 400F to heat through. Remove the dish from the oven, and carefully sprinkle the shepherd’s pie with the Parmesan cheese. Place under broiler for 2-3 minutes until the cheese is golden brown.
shepherd's pie with butternut squash topping before baking

Shepherd’s pie topped with butternut squash before baking


Book Shelf: The Little Paris Bookshop

I very rarely come across a book that I want to read more than once. The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George, is one of those books. If your idea of vacation is strolling the streets of Paris, looking over the Seine from one of the many Parisian bridges, and going on an adventure to the South of France, then this is the book for you.

It is a beautifully written book with a touching story. Of course, it helps that the story centers around many of my favorite things: travel, France, books, and food. Another bonus, the book includes recipes for bohemienne de legumes, pistou, lamb cutlets with garlic flan, and lavender ice cream.

I was mesmerized by the characters and their journeys, and delighted by the narrative. If you are looking for a romantic, light, feel good, warm and fuzzy book, then I highly recommend the Little Paris Book Shop.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Loving requires so much courage and so little expectation.”

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the The Little Paris Bookshop for review purposes. I was not compensated for writing this post. All views are my own.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

I recently read a fun book titled the Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert. It was a light and fun read. Luella, a talented chef, faces a number of obstacles, including the slow demise of her restaurant due to a food critic’s review. Luella ends her relationship with her manipulative fiancée, but soon starts spending time with Al, a handsome Brit, showing him all the good eats around Milwaukee. Although the book is predictable at times, it really made me want to go visit Milwaukee and eat all the delectable foods described in the book.

The cover of the book features a delicious looking coconut cake. From the very moment I opened the book, I was craving a slice of coconut cake. And since the book includes a recipe for it, I decided to make the cake before I had even finished the book.

The white cake is light and fluffy, and the frosting is rich and decadent. The cake has three components: the cake layers, the frosting, and I added a third component. I made a coconut custard filling to sandwich between the cake layers instead of using frosting for the filling, as the recipe calls for. I felt the cake needed something moist and creamy to offset the fluffy cake and the heavy frosting.

Make the cake as stated in the recipe. Then spread the coconut custard on the first layer, making sure to leave about a 1-inch border around the rim of the first cake layer. The filling will spread a little, and you will cover up that remaining empty space with frosting. Place the second layer on top of the first layer with the filling, then frost the cake as directed in the recipe.

You can find the recipe for the cake here.

Recipe for Coconut Custard
Adapted from this recipe by Bobby Flay

¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup coconut milk (do not use light coconut milk)
4 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons dark rum
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, sliced length-wise
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon coconut extract
6 tablespoons heavy cream

1.Combine the milk and coconut milk. Add ½ cup of the milk mixture to a small bowl. Add the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, rum, and pinch of salt.
2.Add the rest of the milk to a medium saucepan. Scrape the vanilla bean and add the bean and seeds to the saucepan as well. Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat off. Slowly add the mixture from the bowl into the saucepan, whisking constantly to make sure that you don’t scramble the egg mixture. Once all of the egg mixture is added and well combined, turn the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Whisk constantly, until the custard has thickened. Whisk in the vanilla and coconut extracts.
3.Transfer the custard to a bowl, until cooled. Alternatively, to make the custard cool faster, spread it on a quarter cookie sheet or a large shallow plate, cover it with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until completely cooled.
4.Once the custard is cold and firm, transfer it to a bowl, and whisk with a hand whisk or hand mixer. Add the heavy cream, one-tablespoon, at a time until all the heavy cream is incorporated. Return the custard mixture to the refrigerator until very cold and firm.

Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of the Coincidence of Coconut Cake for review purposes. I was not compensated for writing this post. All views are my own.