"Comfort Food" means Merlot, Good Friends and a Bacon, Truffle Oil Macaroni and Cheese


Fall means comfort food, cozy sweaters and giant glasses of wine (or hot cocoa) by the fire. It’s my favorite time of year. Wine seems to just go down easier and tastes better when there is a slight chill in the air.

Now I’m not one to tied to certain varietals and blends. I am by no means a wine snob. If wine is delicious, then it's a favorite. That could be a 5 dollar bottle or an Opus One. I’m first generation Italian, so wine is wine to me. Heck, my Nonno made his own right in the cellar of his brother’s apartment building on Taylor street! The family story goes that he and my Uncle Tony used to sell glassfuls of wine for a quarter each in a small room off the back alley. This was a small room where all the old Italian guys would hang out and play cards during the prohibition era. Wine is my blood. And I love it more during fall.

 






So recently our small wine and diner club got together to have a “comfort food” themed dinner. We each had to bring two of our favorite comfort dishes and wine. I decided to bring some Merlot with my adult rendition of macaroni and cheese. Merlot is a drinkable wine that has gotten a bad rap among wine drinkers ever since the movie Sideways. This unsung hero of wines goes great with rich tomato sauces and earthy flavors like mushrooms, root vegetables and meat. To me, this seemed like the perfect pairing for many of our dishes to be enjoyed during our "comfort food dinner". And should I mention that every dish had bacon in it? No. We didn't plan that. It just kinda happened.

Oh well. Back to salads this week.

Anywhoo.


One of the Merlot favorites I brought was the Decoy Merlot from Sonoma County. Pairing it with my friend Jacki’s meatloaf, bacon laced mashed potatoes and my truffle oil and bacon macaroni and cheese turned a mouthful of this wine into a magical, smooth, cherry-vanilla seduction. It’s subtle smokiness went great with…well…all the bacon we were eating. It also brought out the layers of richness in the dishes. Another favorite was from Northstar winery out of Washington State. Their Northstar Premier was our favorite, with a lot of berry-cherry and chocolate notes that went perfectly with our French onion soup. It seemed to tone down the punchy onion flavors in the soup and bring out the richness of the meat in the broth and the cheese topping.

My fellow diners declared that they usually don’t go for Merlot but really enjoyed how this wine paired with our dinner. They all announced that they were going to consider Merlot more often when choosing wine.

The dinner was a huge success. We all felt sleepy-happy while lying around the living room chatting. Part of the attire request was comfy clothes-and thank goodness for that. Elastic was quite helpful-to say the least.

Here is a rundown of the comfort food menu with recipe links, as well as MY recipe I concocted for this event (that went perfectly with Merlot-by the way).

I urge you to have a comfort food themed dinner with just 2 or twenty to herald in fall! Tweet pics and recipes and make sure to have plenty of Merlot on hand. It really is a perfect pairing to all things fall! Tweet your recipes and pics with the tag #merlotme and join the wineversation. (Get it. See what I did there?)

"Comfort Food" Menu 



Apps and Starters


(chips, crudites, assorted hummus)


Main and Sides


Meatloaf with Red Wine Glaze

Green Beans and Bacon

Shredded Kale and Brussel Sprout with Cranberries and Toasted Almond Salad

My Truffle Oil and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese (Recipe Below)

Dessert

Apple Pie with Crumb Topping

Tiramisu




My Truffle Oil and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients:
8 strips of bacon
3 teaspoons truffle oil
18 oz. macaroni
6 Tbsp. butter
3/4 cup flour
2 cups whole milk (plus more if needed)
3/4 lb. cubed Velveeta
8 oz. shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

Topping
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. butter plus 1 Tbsp. truffle oil

Directions:




Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat oven to 400˚.  Lay bacon on the parchment and bake for 10-12 minutes, until evenly crispy. Once done, drain bacon on paper towels and let cool. Chop 5 strips of bacon for mixing in with the mac and cheese. Chop the other three strips and set aside for sprinkling on top.

 

Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain and set aside.




 


In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Have your milk, flour and cheese "mis en place" to move quickly. Once the butter is melted, whisk in the flour to make a thick paste. Cook the paste for a minute or two, then whisk in the milk until smooth and thick. I usually add another half cup to 3/4 cups a milk in case the mixture gets too thick to whisk. Turn heat to low and add the cheddar cheese and blend in, then add the Velveeta until smooth and melted. Mix the bulk of the chopped bacon. Turn off the heat and add the macaroni. Before mixing it in, drizzle the macaroni with the truffle oil to help it loosen up. Then mix it all into the cheese sauce evenly. Set aside.


Lower the oven to 350˚. Spray a 10 x 15 pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour the macaroni and cheese evenly into the pan.



Now make the topping.
In a small sauce pan, heat the truffle oil with the butter, melting the butter. Add the bread crumbs and mix well over medium low heat. The breadcrumbs should get toasted and aromatic. Add the chopped bacon reserved for the topping and sprinkle all over the top of the macaroni.



Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the dish is nice and bubbly and top is nice and golden. Serve hot.


Wine was provided by Decoy and Duckhorn wines, as well as Northstar Winery. All thoughts, reviews and obsessions around Merlot and wine in general are completely my own. You must be 21 years or older to enjoy wine, and please drink responsibly.


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