Wine #7. On the 7th Night of Croatian Vino…

Call it a wild and crazy girls’ night out if you will, except for the fact that we stayed in.  Any way you want to call it, we were drinking wine! As a matter of fact, we were drinking the Ponos Plavac Pelješac Kuna 2009. And well, I guess I was the only one with a glass, but hey, we were all having fun.

My homegirls

The Ponos Plavac Pelješac Kuna 2009 is wine I know absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, about. It was recently brought to my house as a gift, and from the label I can discern simply that it’s a self-proclaimed  „high quality dry wine“ from a controlled vineyard in Pelješac.  Ok, let’s see what’s in the bottle.

Dark red color, with aromas hopping out of the glass. Andy, my husband, hears the cork pop and walks over for a glass. He thinks it smells good, but I just think it smells, meaning I can smell it as I pour it. My first concerted whiff of this wine reminds me 100% of rum-soaked fruitcake, or maybe just the artificial rum flavoring and jellied fruits. Actually it brings me back to the first time I bought Croatian spirits to make Mojitos and had to buy rum at the corner store. What I came home with was decidedly un-rum and much more like very poor quality brandy. Being a bit of a conniseur of the latter and certainly having slung back my share of mojitos in my day, I feel at least qualified to make that comment in all fairness.

But back to the fruitcake, er, wine.  On the palate it was, well, ok. I found that the flavors to be on par with Plavac, if a slightly more mature version. Lots of fallen fruit, mainly plums, and a bit of carob powder also showed up on the palate. The finish was short and uneventful. Too bad, because the simple, artsy label led me to believe this might be a little small-production gem that I could fall in love with and sing the praises of. And really too bad, cause the girls and I were in the mood to throw back a few bottles.  Well, next time.

We’re related, right? I’m totally Matryoshka.

Not exactly recommended, in the sense that this particular wine doesn’t do it for me. But Andy seemed to like it ok, which leads me to believe you could open it and throw it on the bar at your next party alongside some better wine. Your less discerning guests will probably manage to kill it.

New Classes Announced!

All classes at Brava Wine Studio in Zagreb!  Bijenik 99E.

Reservations: +385 91 455 2349

NEW!  Bring Your Own Bottle Evening
Meet up with fellow wine lovers and taste and try each other’s favorite wines! Starting in January, we’ll be inviting guests once a month to bring and share their own favorite bottles of wine.  Plenty of hors d’oeuvres will be offered, along with a few special bottles from Brava’s cellar. Themes will vary from month to month. Cost is 100 Kn.

Join us for Saberage fun!

Thursday, January 12th: Bring a bottle of sparkling wine to SABER! We will Christen this first BYOB evening by bringing our absolute favorite bottles of Champagne or sparkling wine, and we’ll step outside the studio to practice the art of saberage! We’ll discuss the various types of sparklers and anjoy an evening of delicious bubbles!

Thursday, February 16th:  “Somebottle like You” Bring a bottle of wine that represents YOU! Could be from a special year, maybe your birth year or a special anniversary in your life, from the land of your ancestors, or something that represents your personality (luscious and spicy?…). You decide, and we’ll all give it a try!

Blind Tasting- Will you win?

Thursday, March 15th: “The Wine is Right” with Grand Prize! On this occasion, guests bring two bottles of wine. The first one, your contestant for “The Wine is Right” will be brought completely incognito.  Wrap all but the mouth of the bottle in aluminum foil. The second bottle should be a bottle of wine you enjoy for everyday drinking.  Participants will try all incognito wines and vote on their favorite bottle.  At the end of the evening, the guest who brought that particular bottle leaves with all of the second bottles and gets to go home and stock their cellar!

Seasonal Flavor: Food and Wine Pairing
Join us for a class that takes inspiration from the Zagreb’s famous farmers market: The Dolac! Just as the market changes with seasonal abundance, so do the wines that pair with them. We’ll scour the market for the freshest offerings, prepare some simple but tasty dishes, then invite you to the table for an evening of seasonal, fresh wine pairings.  Food, wine and recipes included in the 300 Kn.  Tuesday, January 17th, from 1830-2030.

Bubbly! Yeah!

The Quick Sip on Bubbles (day class)
Join us for a very bubbly afternoon as we the different styles of sparkling wines, including beautiful bubbles from Croatia and abroad. The afternoon wouldn’t be complete without tasting and comparing Prosecco, Cava, Sparkling Rose, and Champagne. A few salty snacks will be served alongside the wines, to fully experience the magic bubbles bring to the table. 250 Kn. Sunday, January 22nd, from 1400-1600.

Jean Michael Morel of Kabaj Winery in Slovenia

Our Neighbor to the North- Slovenia!

The buzz is true! Slovenia is making amazing wines, often utilizing unique methodology for creating one-of-a-kind wines that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world. Join this most exciting class to learn what all the fuss is about and take a foray into the wine regions and interesting grapes of Slovenia. This small country is making some truly breathtaking wines! 200 Kn. Thursday, February 7th, from 1830-2030.

Delicious Rioja!

The Seduction of Rioja

Abrazos and Besos from beautiful Spain! Travel via your wineglass to one of the most intriguing regions in the world, producing stunning and iconic red wine. We’ll try wines from several producers in Rioja’s and discover which wines and the different styles we like for ourselves. Savoring these wines alongside some tasty tapas seems like the right thing to do. 300 Kn. Wednesday, February 22nd, from 1830-2030

Natural and Organic Wine on the mystical Leap Year night!
Back by popular demand, we’ll further delve into the depths of this subject. Here we explore the differences of natural, organic, biodynamic wines, what they mean, and how they are changing the way that wine is made. Expect some lively discussion at this class and prepare to try some unique and amazing wines.  NATURALLY, some organic snacks to go along with the wines! 300 Kn. Wednesday February 29th, from 1830-2030.

Wine #6. On the Sixth Day of Croatian Vino…

The sixth day of Croatian Vino occurs during the filming Vecera za Pet. By the fourth evening, pictured below, we’ve all become friends. Here we’re at place of another contestant, Igor. He lives in an apartment upstairs, but we filmed this episode in this konoba owned by his landlord. This picture below features the sixth wine on the right, Kutjevo Graševina 2009.

Kutjevo, fellow contestants, and one funky table setting in Velika Gorica.

Kutjevo sponsors the show and their wines appear in every episode. It threw me for a loop because I had agonized over which wines that would go with the different courses of my meal, and Kutjevo was not on that roster. I plead my case and they agreed that I could pour whatever I had planned if the Kutjevo bottle was on the table. But then, during my taping I presented the first course and was about to get the wine when they told me there was no time for me to pour wine, that we had to start eating and they would film. I was totally bummed out about this, because for me the wine was a huge component of my meal and I was delighted about the pairings I would present. The first course, which I would pour with my Minnesota Chicken Wild Rice soup, was to be Trapan Uroboros, a yummy white wine made of 50% Malvazija and 50% Chardonnay, with a touch of barrique. But instead we had water and empty wine glasses. Ah, well the show must go on.

Kutjevo is a huge winery in the continental part of Croatia, in an area actually called Kutjevo, with something like 6 million liters of production. They claim to have all of the best vineyards in this area and they primarily plant Graševina, of which they are reputed to have the best in Croatia.

The wine they gave us was from 2009. Not sure if this is the most current vintage. The wine is a very pretty straw yellow, reminiscent for me of a Mosel riesling. And a few of the notes on the nose were alike as well, there was definitely some orchard fruit here, but of the tart, slightly underripe variety.  Tart green apples up front and a little mandarine orange trailing through. All of this is backed by some earthiness in the form of wet stone, flint and steely minerality.

I’m usually a little aprehensive about the first sip of Graševina, as it’s hallmark is in its razor sharp acidity. Not exactly your garden variety cool-climate high acidity, this is more like having Edward Scissorhands for a dentist, slashing your mouth up style of acidity. In this vintage  Kutjevo has gotten a good handle on it, perhaps that little extra time in the bottle assisted the process.  Maybe ’09 was a nice warm year, and they saw bigger fruit than usual, but whatever the case, this wine is really decent.  It needs food, for sure, and I think Igor’s first course of Macedonian Palačinke filled with cheese, meat and egg, served with tartar sauce, was actually a good match.  It had plenty of fat for this focused wine to slice through. And, at such a table as this,  the wine is flavorful enough to distract you from all of the fake diamonds, glitter and other mock-bling on the table, in contrast with the traditional doily he also laid, a table I nicknamed Granny goes to Vegas.

If you haven’t tried this wine before, you should give it a try. It’s one of the most widely available Croatian wines and won’t be hard to find.  It’s not for the cocktail hour, but needs food to temper it’s high-toned acid, so take it for a spin with a mildly-flavored cheese course or maybe even a cream-based soup, like this:

Minnesota Chicken Wild Rice Soup

  • 3 cups wild rice
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 cup finely diced carrots
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes (or 2 TBSP fresh, chopped)
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 oz heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or additional chicken broth
  • fresh parsley for garnish



  1. Set water to boil and cook wild rice, about 30 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Sear chicken on both sides, cook through, let cool, then cube. Set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan, combine the first seven ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. In a Dutch oven, melt the butter. Stir in flour until smooth to make a roux. Gradually whisk in broth mixture. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Whisk in soup and wine or broth. Add rice and chicken; heat through. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve.


Igor, Wisam, and the house wine.

Post taping, this is how they roll after the good wine is gone. Igor breaks out the wine his landlord makes and they throw it back, topped off with some bubbly water. Thirsty yet?

Vino, interrupted.

Well, more like blog interrupted.

Last week I was approached about appearing on a Croatian cooking show called Vecera za Pet. I said that it sounded interesting and that I would be up for it, so the process got rolling and I had five days to prepare to appear on the show.  The show is part of a series that airs daily for an hour. I had never seen it before and have still never seen it in a language that I understand.

The premise of the show is this: You cook dinner in your home for 4 guests whom you have never met. They rate and review your three course meal and your table setting.

The reality of the show is this: It’s a reality show whereby four mismatched strangers (some of whom are extremely picky about food, i.e.  I don’t eat soup.) share a meal and have some awkward conversations about the dinner they are eating , all the while a camera and camera crew all up in your space. In my case, that conversation was all occurring in a language I don’t speak or really comprehend so the dazed and confused look on my face- not fake. Ah, good times.

We filmed all day on Monday at my house. It was about a 15 hour day with all the takes and do-overs because I kept forgetting, no matter how many times they told me, not to look directly in the camera.  That day one was the longest by far, with the other days usually closer to 8-9 hours each.

The point with all of this is, you can watch and make fun of me sometime in late February or early March. No, that’s not it. Actually, I wanted to explain the absence from my blog and my project. It was the week before Christmas so I was already up to my eyeballs and then I threw this 50+ hour Vecera za Pet project in the mix. Eeesh.

Filming after dinner at another contestant's house

But Christmas has passed, the filming has passed, and now I’m back in the saddle. I hope you’ll join me in continuing on the adventure of 12 days of Croatian Vino!



Wine #5. On the 5th Day of Croatian Vino…

On the fifth day of Croatian Vino, I was in for a surprise.  I was at another Christmas party, this one happened to be all comprised of Americans. Among this crew were a few of the A-Teamers, if you remember Kim and Christine.  Among this group of 15 we definitely had a mixed crowd of drinkers, not all wine aficionados by any means, but they were all game.

Korta Katarina Plavac Mali

After a fabulous meal of Caesar salad prepared by yours truly and Christine’s amazing lasagna, we cracked open the wine that I brought, which of course I previously cleared with the hostess. It was the Korta Katarina Plavac Mali 2007, from the Peljesac peninsula on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. Widely regarded as one of Croatia’s finer, more prestigious wines, we were about to get some feedback.

The bottle went around the table after dinner. Some wine-murmurs started bubbling to the surface. I myself noticed something wasn’t right- the wine clashed with the meal we had just eaten. The wine itself was sound, the problem was that the strong flavors from dinner were still prevalent on our palates. We had Caesar salad, which was fabulous but wicked garlicky, and lasagna, which was all meat, cheese and more garlic. I knew it when I tasted it, these were not the flavors I wanted dancing on my palate as we embarked on this style of wine.

As the bottle went around and the comments started flowing, some others found this to be the case as well. This wine, which I have presented in the past to remarkable reviews, was getting mixed reviews here. All of the pretty fruit and floral aromas that make Plavac Mali such a special wine were being sabotaged here, victims to our strongly-flavored dinner. Also, because I brought only one bottle, there wasn’t a chance for people to try it over the course of several sips, thus cleansing their palates with the wine and transitioning to these new flavors. Comments ranged from “it’s good red wine” and “smooth, with hardly any bite” to “it tastes like seafood, maybe walleye.” Huh?!? Can’t say I agree with that one.

The case in point is that there really is some magic to pairing food and wine. And those who didn’t like this wine at this tasting would likely swoon over it in another setting, with another meal or maybe just on its own.

When I’ve tasted this wine on its own, I found this wine to have all the seduction you’d expect from a big, lush Plavac, with really pretty floral notes backed by amarena cherry, blackberry and blueberry notes. I find some Plavac Malis to be totally in your face, but Korta Katarina’s got it all under control, and the wine is smooth with broad, velvety tannins. For me, it’s a bigger wine than I usually drink, but fans of this super-lush style of wine will be very pleasantly rewarded with a bottle of this wine.

Full disclosure: I ripped off this picture from someone else’s blog, called “Wine Words and Videotape.”  Sounds a little naughty, right?

Hilarious sidenote: Later on we had fun with a gift exchange of all types of gifts, and  “Tastes like Walleye” opened a very special imported cheetah-print Snuggie. For those who don’t know, this is an all-inclusive blanket/sleeping bag/fashion item for those who take maxing and relaxing on their Lazy Boy to a  hole.  nother. level. (HNL). It was stolen by another friend who is shown here modeling it and kindly stole it for good, as his wife is about to have surgery.  I’m sure she’s grateful.

Christmas loot galore!

Wine #4- On the Fourth Day of Croatian Vino

I was so hoping it wouldn’t come to this. Yet here it is, my first and I promise ONLY slacker post.

I did indeed drink Croatian wine last night, and it was in fact in the company of wine amateurs (lots and lots of them, actually), per my self imposed guidelines, but I didn’t do it in a thoughtful, concerted manner. But I did manage to snap a picture.

Truth is, I was at a party. Then an after party. This is definitely the MO for the next week and a half, but I’ll try to stay focused and carry out the project with integrity.

Disclaimer, check.  Here we go:

Tonight we drank Meneghetti Merlot 2010, at our after party in Velvet, which is a gorgeous coffee bar with nice desserts and a real wine list. This is another wine from Istria, and it’s not Meneghetti’s top tier wine, but rather the wine that has now effectively invaded EVERY SINGLE WINE LIST in Zagreb.  It’s their 50-or-so Kunas per bottle second label (retail price.  American friends, that’s about ten bucks a bottle.), with a jovial little Malvazija to keep it company on the white side.  And what can I say? It’s totally decent. It’s very likeable, approachable, soft, juicy merlot-y wine. And it tasted f*ing fantastic after that glass of Henkel sparkling I had to drink out of politeness. Cause I’m nice like that. But ew.

Did we discuss the Meneghetti as a group? No, but I have discussed the nuances, pricepoint, etc of this wine previously with a restaurant owner who is very proud to be pouring this as his by-the-glass red, along with (gasp, gag) Rosemount Red from Australia. By comparison of which it shines like the North Star, but of course that’s not saying much.

Actually, the wine does have some nice mineral tones and isn’t a super fleshed out fruit bomb, which I like about it. And there’s a hint at green pepper, a quality I used to detest, but on this wine I actually find pleasand as it seems to bring a nod of complexity. Listen, if you’re having a party and have to pour for the masses, this could be your wine. Everybody would like it, and while it’s not going to inspire, it can certainly delight. Hey, sometimes there’s no harm in an easy drinker like this.

Cheers! (And something really interesting tomorrow, I will make it up to you.)

Wine #3. On the Third Day of Croatian Vino…

On the Third Day of Croatian Vino…

With today’s wine tasters in tow, we headed on foot to one of my fave little restaurants, Lari and Penati on Petrinjska. We found our table and I ordered the wine that I planned on putting under today’s spotlight, only to find out that it was sold out. Tom, who runs the show, rotating roles as the owner, the DJ and all-things front of house shrugged his shoulders and offered up the short but concerted wine list so I could make an alternate selection. But I was set on tasting Roxanich’s new release, Ines u Bijelom 2008, or “Ines in White.”

Roxanich Ines u Bijelom 2008

This particular wine pulled me into its clutches long ago, prior to the first release, when the only way to taste it was from a barrel sample at their winery in Istria’s Nova Vas. These samples proved to be quite varied, depending on the time and even day, perhaps. And the concept is an uncommon one, at best: ferment all different sorts of grapes (7 varietals, to be exact) together, whole cluster, with Roxanich’s trademark prolonged maceration. Then see what happens.

The result has been fantastic, and while I’m often a purist when it comes to wine, and I also have a thing for championing indigenous varietals from their home lands, there is something so intrinsically likeable about this wine that I had to retract my preconceived notions. The chosen varietals are interesting, and proximally-close indigenous, as most of them are from neighboring Italy. But the question loomed large, would we get to taste and talk about this wine today, with this company I invited for this sole purpose?

The problem, it turned out, was easily solved with a quick text message to my friend, Mato. He’s often seen as the face of Roxanich Winery, running winery tours, sales and marketing, international promotions, and even delivery guy (in a pinch). I quickly relayed our quandary and he soon responded that he’d be by with a delivery. Wipe the sweat off my brow, order some starters, and we’re off to a decent start.

The group today was one I was excited to taste wine with.  We’re all members of the International Women’s Club, and today this wine and lunch date followed our monthly general meeting. Naomi and Orli are from Israel, Maria’s from Greece, and Renata is Croatian. We’d have a global palate coming together today to chat this wine up.

Orli and I originally bonded when she came on one of my wine tours through Italy. Originally having pitched it to her husband as a “photography trip,” she became a wine lover in no time flat. She snapped all the shots you’ll see today, and she’s a great amateur photographer.  Orli does everything in life her own way, and is hands down one of the most well-loved women I have ever met.  And while I’m pretty sure she’s not always trying to be funny, she seriously says some of the funniest shit ever.

April, Naomi, Mato, Orli, Renata and Maria. Anticipating that first sip!

About 30 minutes later Mato arrives bearing boxes of wine.  These savvy chicas are ready to delve into some wine conversation, and immediately the conversation turns to the color of the wine, which is a cloudy marigold color. Naomi compares it to a wine a few of us tasted yesterday, a Slovenian wine by Prinčič, one which they were on the fence about and I loved. It too was an unfiltered white wine which appeared to have been through a prolonged maceration period.  Orli comments that she can smell the flowers.  And the bees.  And feel the car driving up the hill to the vineyard. Huh? I’m not sure what the hell she’s talking about but she’s got me laughing.

The topic then switches to the label, and the name of this wine.  Roxanich’s chief winemaker (and owner) Mladen named this wine for his wife, Ines. Likewise, their Chardonnay bears Mato’s wife’s name, Milva.  While we’re all dreamy about the idea that someone would name a wine after us, Renata snaps us back to reality by quipping that it’s much better than someone naming their damn dog after you. Indeed.

Naomi undoubtedly contemplating what her namesake wine label will look like.

We go on to laugh and enjoy our wine and lunches.

I met Maria last year when she signed up to take my Wine Basics and Beyond course.  She was also a regular in my Wednesday Wine Sessions and also came on the “Italy by Storm” wine trip with her husband, Giorgos.  She loves her some sweet wine, and also has a keen appreciation for rosé. But in this past year she’s branched out quite a bit and enjoys a full range of different styles of wine.  She really likes this Ines in White.

Then Renata makes a good point. She says that she thinks “you really have to learn to like this wine,” and that the color is a bit confusing, “it’s almost like drinking a red without the color.” I agree and try to see it from this perspective. While I’ve been interested in this category of “orange” wines as they’re dubbed, for some people they’re still quite strange. And people who are especially used to drinking Croatian wines that are really ripe, fresh and fruity, this wine is the opposite, tending toward dried apricot and bitter orange, with some nice spice tones, including cardamom and clove. It’s a totally different animal. Naomi finds it to be powerful, a quality not everybody likes in their wine. Maria agrees but notes that it doesn’t have strong tannins and she also mentions that it’s great with her meal of pork chops and figs.

But Maria has the last word, and maybe this last statement sums it up best:  “… I don’t know, it’s just good.”

Wine #2. On the Second Day of Croatian Vino…

On the Second Day of Croatian Vino…

Saints Hills Nevina, Vinograd Sv Ante (St. Ante Vineyard) 2009

Basking in the light of the fireplace

Saints Hills Nevina 2009

Tonight we decided to go for it and open something special.  I’ve tasted the Saints Hills Nevina a couple times before, and have developed a fondness for this wine. In fact, for me it stole the show at VinIstra 2011. So, when I was gifted a few bottles of this wine, among some other goodies from the kind folks at the Saints Hills, (including a wine holster  which  I’m mildly obsessed with), I decided to give it all due respect and taste it in a quiet setting so I could really pay attention.

Andrea Holck, third member of the A-Team, came over to help me along with the task at hand, drinking and cooking.  We decided to whip up Vegan French-Style Gratin of Butternut Squash, mostly because I had all of the ingredients on hand, namely butternut squash and a bunch of leeks.  It was amazing, more on that later.

So, my pal shows up straight from work, in her worky-clothes.  She needs to get comfy and hits me up for a sweatshirt, which I ever so graciously provide.  To the tune of my 1995 “Only the Strong Survive- Spartan Cross Country” sweatshirt with my maiden name of Amys screen printed on the back.  Little shout out to SSHS.  This thing is older than just about anything else I own, it’s a freakin miracle I still have it.  Actually, sidebar, I still have my high school letter jacket which nobody will clearly ever wear again but it seems to be too meaningful to toss in the trash. And I did get one humiliating post-high school use out of it when my husband came to pick me up for a test ride of a new car and I put it on, just to be funny. Just for him to see. Then the car broke down (damn it) in the middle of town and I had to wear it, the humor long since gone from this situation, for about an hour in a gas station while we waited to get towed. Good stuff.   Anyhow, back to the story.  Andrea is donning my ratty old sweatshirt, which she modeled in a couple photos that you’ll enjoy in a bit.

Warm and cozy must have been the theme.  I built a fire in my fireplace and we settled in to crack open the Nevina, which has this sweet little Ram staring us down from the front label. Nice packaging on this bottle, and such an apropos and savvy bottle to tote along if you’re having dinner with your Aries friend (hint hint, that’s me). The wine displays a nice pale, golden color and a softly oaked nose.  Andrea picked up pear aromas right away, and I agreed that we were in the orchard but for me it had more apple and white peach tones. This wine is a blend of Malvazija Istriana (same as Istarska?- I’ll have to consult) and Chardonnay.  Theoretically there should be plenty of ripe fruit on this wine, but it’s actually more refined, perhaps due to the barrel ageing.  This particular wine from Saints Hills comes from their property in Istria, and I’m definitely picking up some of the clean minerality that is often found in my favorite whites from this region. I find it to be a bit austere at first, but I think that it will open and present more aromas in a bit.  That’s ok, we have time. We’ve got dinner cooking and plenty to chat about.

Portobellos with zucchini. A great side dish!

Florence is belting it out in the background and we’re back in the kitchen. We prepare our gratin, of which we totally decided to jump ship on the “Vegan” part and add a healthy dose of heavy cream, Parm and Gruyere, mainly because, well, we’re not vegan. We also make up a totally delicious and simple sauté of Portobello mushrooms and zucchini.  The recipe for that one goes like this: chop and sauté in olive oil. Can you handle it? Daunting, I know.  Score for you, two recipes in this post.

The timer goes off on our gratin and we plate up and return to the wine and fireplace. Maybe it’s something about this wine, or maybe it was something about this evening, but there’s real comfort in this bottle.  It’s not the super bright, freshy fresh white I want in the summer. This wine has heft, but not too much and definitely in check with its elegance.  Perfect weight, actually for cool weather drinking, and it’s absolutely right on with a dinner of winter vegetables , good music and great company.

(Un) Vegan French Style Gratin of Butternut Squash

by Andrea’s favorite chef Crescent Dragonwagon Revamped by April and Andrea.


Olive Oil

2 leeks, roots and all but 2 inches of green removed, slit down the middle, washed and sliced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 lg butternut squash, peeled and cubed


1 cup heavy cream

4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Panko breadcrumbs

Cook it:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.  Lightly oil a baking or casserole dish.
  2. Oil up the skillet.  Add leeks and sauté over medium heat, stirring often, until limp. About 10 minutes. Add squash and water, stir well and cook, uncovered, stirring often for 5 mins. Lower heat, add garlic, stir well and cover skillet. Let cook for 20 mins more (add more water or wine if you like) until squash is very soft. Mash it softly with the back of a spoon, (or completely pulverize it with a potato masher if you’re like Andrea; I think she’s got some pent up frustration going on).
  3. Add cream and Parmesan cheese and stir together. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. We topped it here with a light layer of Gruyere cheese before topping it with breadcrumbs (I had Panko, they’re my favorite, but any breadcrumbs would work well). Drizzle with olive oil and bake until golden brown, crusty and firm, about 25-35 mins. Let cool slightly and serve.  It’s AWESOME!
  4. I love Andrea with all my heart that’s why I can make her wear my ugly sweatshirt and poke fun at her in my recipe.  Plus, in her blog she made a comment that I went from cooking Julia Child style but later “sold out to Rachel Ray” which I totally didn’t.  I just use Rachel’s banana bread recipe…to set the record straight.

Beautiful photos in this post by Andrea Holck.  Sweatshirt pic coming, even if I have to bring the thing to her house and make her take a new one.


The A Team, so far

The A Team (so far):

Christine Carlsen, helping me jump my car!

Christine Carlsen– This hotsie-totsie pal of mine, originally from West

Virginia, is not only a maven in the kitchen, but throws some seriously fabulous parties and is one of the most thoughtful people I have ever met in my life.  She’s tons of fun to hang out with, and she totally loves wine to boot! When we’re not off on a European wine trip together we’re hanging out in Zagreb, which is home for both of us at the moment.

Kim Woods (and Dartanean)

Kim Woods – Kim’s totally my “here’s my idea” + street smart friend, making her a don’t-get-in-my-way tornado when she gets a bug up her behind and schemes up a plan. This is a good thing, as her ideas come to fruition to the benefit of the entire community, as demonstrated with her newly formed Underground Art Club. The kind of friend who would bend over backwards for you,  and funny as hell, Kim will not only charm your britches off, but will keep you coming back for more. Bonus: She’s a ferret enthusiast and can be seen most days of the week wearing a Fuggie.

Andrea Holck– What can I say about this girl? I love her so much I tried to talk her into moving to Croatia with us, and it worked! (Ok, maybe we co-concocted this plan). Yoga rockstar, English teacher, avid traveler and lover of life. This girl’s got it all.

Orli Landau– Orlandau Studios

Orli Landau

Naomi Kaufman

Naomi Kaufman– You gotta love any girl who’s married to “The Wolf.”

Renata Bačanek

Renata Bačanek

Maria Zioga

Maria Zioga– Bonafide Greek Goddess.

Wine #1, On the first day of Christmas…

On The First Day of Vino-Christmas, my True Love Gave to Me: Tomac Brut Rosé NV from Jastrebarsko, Croatia.

Wine #1

Season Premier to the 12 Days of Croatian Wine

Today ‘s wine was going to definitely be a sparkler, for a few reasons. First of which, my drinking partner Christine Carlsen and I had a smokin’ hot date to get together in the afternoon and bake Christmas cookies, for her holiday party later this week.  This would be her Christmas party in which we were all expected to show up with a satchel of Christmas cookies in tow for a jolly old cookie exchange. So I’m thinking, cookie dough batter pairs with…Bubbly! Well, any excuse to drink bubbly is good enough for me, but the ever-bubbly Mama C (as we’ve dubbed her) is reason enough. Bubbly also works here on so many levels, such as the fact that it’s the FIRST day of this project, and coincidentally, bubbles are the first thing I hand guests as they walk through my door for a party. Plus, my True Love, knowing me would definitely give me bubbles to set the tone for a great evening (or afternoon, as it were).

So, without any further ado:

Tomac Brut Rose NV from Jastrebarsko, Croatia.

April: At first this wine came off a little, well, alcohol-y. That was the predominant note on first taste. I didn’t study up on this wine because I just wanted to make an honest impression, so I don’t know what grapes they used. Also, it tasted a little over-the-hill, slightly maderized and lacking acidity.  This is a little tricky with NV wines, since you don’t know how long they’ve been sitting on the shelf, but I received this wine as a gift only a couple months ago so I would think it’s reasonably fresh…

The first taste was unanimously unimpressive. Bummer, since I’m usually a big fan of sparklers and I think I’m pretty forgiving in this category provided the quality at least hits the decent mark.  Both the A-Teamers (Christine and Kim, who joined us a bit later) were pretty unresponsive, leading me to believe that either the wine didn’t do much for them or that I needed to give them some more wine to get them talking.  I wanted to give this wine another chance, so we sat the glasses down and decided to revisit them later.

One hour later:

Christine busts out a suh-weet plate of cheeses she scored on a recent trip to Italy’s Northeast.  Once we’ve taken a stab at a few of these cheeses, namely the cranberry-studded crumbly cheese, the wine perks up considerably. Kim makes the comment that this would be a good wine for a pre-dinner drink, something that seems to work well with the salty foil of cheese. Christine agrees and also likes it with the cookie dough for my Chocolate-Espresso Snowballs.

I think that A) it takes a glass of wine down the hatch to lubricate your friends enough to give an honest opinion about the wine and B) some wines demand a companion nibble to make them rise to the occasion.


Give it a shot.  It’s not my favorite Croatian wine by any stretch, nor my favorite inexpensive sparkler (I’m assuming it’s inexpensive).  But it’s totally decent, a great party starter with some nice cranberry tones and, hey, it’s very pretty in the glass. I think that if you’re passing it with some salty apps, it’s a very appropriate wine to serve to get things rolling.

Can you see the recipe below? I tried to link it with the recipe from Food and Wine mag’s website, but it’s in the December 2011 edition (of the magazine) and it’s not online yet.  If you can read it, and you want to make these seriously killer Christmas cookies, I recommend adding another stick (1/2 cup) of butter to the recipe.  They were really crumbly prior to doing that. I also used salted butter which I preferred.

So delicious!

April, Christine and Miss Kim (and little Mira Grace)

Post wine tasting

And oh, did you see those adorable aprons (ok you can’t really see mine but it’s cute as heck)? Christine gifted these vintage gems to us last year around Christmas time (see I told you she was incredibly thoughtful!). I couldn’t resist the temptation to pair them up with my new patent leather red heels, which is a little ridiculous for baking cookies, but nobody said you have to be sensible all the time. Too bad they didn’t make the picture, they’re totally badass.